Today on the site, Paul Tumey brings us the Lost Sundays of Gus Mager, the second part of his examination of this amazing cartoonist's work. Here's part 1. I can't recommend this two-parter highly enough. I had a passing interest in Mager, but Paul has really opened up a whole new context for the work, not to mention uncovered a kind of great painting career.
This is the second of two columns I’ve written about the cartoonist Gus Mager (1878-1956). My previous column provided an overview of Mager’s cartooning career. Now, we wind the clock back to 1904 and take a look at what could be called the “lost” Sundays of Gus Mager – three short series that represent fascinating experiments in style and content.
Charles A. Mager: Painter and Fine Artist As has previously been mentioned, in addition to his popular comic strips, Mager enjoyed success as a painter. His specialty was flowers (as I write this there is a flower painting attributed to Mager on Ebay with a starting bid of $450). Mager had some flower paintings in the landmark 1913 New York Armory Show (along with paintings by his friend and fellow cartoonist Rudolph Dirks).
Though reduced to simple forms, Mager’s paintings have a presence that some find appealing. The French painter, Guy Pène Du Bois (father of the great children’s book author-artist, William Pène Du Bois), wrote about Mager as “one of the few ‘post’ modern painters whose sincerity is convincing.”
Mager’s work today is part of the permanent collections of several museums that might not know anything about “Gus Mager,” but may indeed recognize the name “Charles A. Mager.” Gus Mager also painted some impressive works with human figures that display the same playful plasticity one finds in his comics.
One of the few benefits of the ongoing superhero movie bonanza is that sometimes we get a little profile of a creator, in this case Louise Simonson (she wrote the Apocalypse character) at NY Mag. When I was 11 or 12 I remember lining up to meet Louise and Walter Simonson at a con, and both of them were as nice as can be.
Ah, welcome back from the long Memorial Day weekend. Joe McCulloch joins us with a guide to the Week in Comics. His spotlight picks this time include books by Shigeru Mizuki and Mary & Bryan Talbot.
These 144 pages concern Louise Michel, a Paris Commune activist deported to New Caledonia, where she embraced anarchism and supported an 1878 revolt by the indigenous Kanaks. As usual, I suspect these bookshop-ready items fly under the radar of Direct Market consumers -- the prominent positioning of Bryan Talbot in British SF/action comics history notwithstanding -- so be alert!
Only in 1965 were ‘incidental’ black characters seen [in Marvel comics]. Robbie Robertson, a minor recurring black character, entered [the[ Amazing Spider-Man cast in September 1967. Some comics took even longer: although X-Men is often hailed as an allegory of racial tolerance and Civil Rights struggles, the first black New Yorker in it appeared only five years in (#57, June 1969), while the series itself was still policing difference and advocating minority compromise with majority society; as Black Power grew stronger, so did X-Men’s backlash. Black Panther was cast into this white universe as Marvel’s first black superhero.
Volume one is essentially my mother’s generation making those comics (I was born in ’75) which makes the lack of respect for cultural niceties and cartooning norms seem even more punk rock and revelatory, as well as being somewhat nostalgic. It reminds me of looking though my aunt’s closet in the early 1980’s and finding all her old platform shoes and boots. My childish trespassing got me yelled at after the event, but I’m glad to own that childhood memory of trying on and walking around in those beautiful and weird, too-big-for-me ‘space’ shoes.
Read more on Comics Workbook: http://comicsworkbook.com/how-we-were-thinking-the-zeitgeist-and-the-complete-wimmens-comix/
For Vice, Nick Gazin has posted a video listing what he believes are the ten best comics of all time, and has annoyed many people in the process:
—Interviews & Profiles. Mike Mignola spoke to The Guardian about why he's ending Hellboy.
I’m painting and drawing. I think the drawing in the comic is fine, but none of the drawings get the kind of focus you would be doing if you were just doing a painting or a stand-alone drawing. Some part of me started saying, “You know, it’s been good that you’ve been able to do some stuff as a cartoonist writing and drawing your own stuff, but you always kind of wanted to be an artist.” And I just don’t think I’ve been doing artwork that’s up to what I could do if I focused all my energies on it.
For Broadly, Rachel Davies speaks to MariNaomi about her new book, Turning Japanese.
I set out to write a novel. I wrote it, but it was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. I'm pretty happy about it, I think it's an interesting concept. I sent it to my agent and he said he liked the concept and that it was good, but he asked me how I would feel about adding pictures!
The second guest on the new season of Comix Claptrap is Chester Brown.
—News. The National Cartoonists Society's Reuben awards have been announced, with winners including Michael Ramirez, Dan Piraro, Ann Telnaes, and Drew Weing.
Finally, this whole Captain Americathing has really been a clarifying moment. Could this be the stupidest comics controversy yet? Not that the people complaining don't have a certain point; it's true that the new storyline (Captain America is revealed as a secret member of the evil terrorist organization Hydra) trivializes real-world problems such as white supremacists and fascist paramilitary groups. But that criticism holds for any story featuring Hydra, regardless of whether or not Captain America is a secret member. And once you go that far, pretty much every colorfully costumed supervillain trivializes terroristic violence and every superhero is a travesty on vigilante justice and/or the police state. The genre is inherently messed up, politically speaking. So if you're a fully grown adult morally offended by this latest plot twist, maybe it's time to give up superhero comics -- or at least broaden the critique?
In Sir Alfred #3, cartoonist Tim Hensley turns Hitchcock’s life into sixty-five comic strips, most of which employ the look of Little Lulu comic books. Like Lulu’s pal Tubby, Hensley’s young Fred wears a jacket and shorts, and his adult Alfred sticks to a black suit. It seems natural, almost inevitable, that Hitchcock should receive the kind of ‘cartoon treatment’ that Hensley gives him since he had already given it to himself. Like so many single-outfit comic-strip protagonists, he inhabits a world of jokes and pranks. Perhaps the perfect expression of his cartoony self-presentation appears in the gag that opens the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. As the director strolls across the frame, reality and cartoon merge as Hitchcock’s profile aligns with a drawing of his profile:
Hensley finds in Tubby, a character with a portly silhouette, a more than suitable model for the director:
A detail from the cover of Tubby #5 (1953) followed by Hensley’s Hitchcock. Though Lulu and Tubby (first known as Joe) were created by Marjorie Henderson Buell (aka Marge), Hensley invokes the Little Lulu style associated with John Stanley and Irving Tripp.
One of Hitchcock’s actors described the filmmaker as a kind of stunted Tubby, “an overgrown schoolboy who never grew up and lived in his own special fantasy world.”
In the oversized, beautifully printed Sir Alfred #3, the cartoonist eschews orthodoxies of biography: he ignores chronology, omits milestones in the subject’s life, and even draws moments when young and old versions of the protagonist meet. By labelling the comic “#3,” Hensley alerts us that he’s not following the conventional order of things. (Note to collectors: #1 and #2 don’t exist.) On the book’s cover, the phrase “Apocryphal anecdotes biographically gleaned!” cryptically hints at Hensley’s comic-strip strategy: though relying on incidents from Hitchcock’s life, the cartoonist restages each by employing the look, rhythm, and exaggeration of classic funny-book cartooning. Hensley treats fidelity on a sliding scale, from strips that play it relatively straight to those that expand, compress, or combine incidents into an effect we could call “oblique biography.” Though the strips take different tactics, Sir Alfred #3 consistently amplifies the comedy and perversion of the director’s life. Hensley’s Hitchcock is equal parts punster, prankster, and predator.
AUG STONE: Tell me about Panther. It’s disturbing, niggling at the brain in a way I can’t put my finger on yet.
BRECHT EVENS: Yeah. I can’t totally put my finger on it and I’m not sure I’d want to. I never really plan any message in my books but I felt like I was toying, that there was something sardonic about doingPanther. I had a lot of fun making it, though I’m not sure that’s the vibe that comes across to people. It’s possible that the book might seem darker than the way I felt about it when I was doing it.
STONE: I saw it as both. Fun, that headed to a very dark place, as fun does sometimes.
EVENS: Yeah, yeah. (laughs) Exactly.
STONE: Was there a particular inspiration for it?
EVENS: There’s two things. It seemed that the basic idea for the story already existed. Years ago I did a book called Night Animals that was translated and published by Top Shelf in 2011. There’s a story in it called ‘Bad Friends’ about a girl being swooped up by a satyr and taken out into the forest. It’s a very short story but there’s already this idea of fun mixed with evil. A very sinister, uncanny vibe. But the Panther character came later. It was actually a character I incarnated for a game with my girlfriend at the time. She was a really fun girl to scare. If I would change my face to something more evil she would right away go ‘oh there’s a very unpleasant game about to start’. I developed many different characters, the cast got bigger and bigger, and the Panther was one of these characters I played, improvising to spook her. Every time she got too frightened, the character might become more humane and get some backstory. Out of all these characters Panther seemed to have a lot of potential and started ending up in my sketchbooks. A lot of the scenes that are in the book were already on paper in 2009. But then I put it away when I started doing The Making Of. Panther might’ve seemed like too simple a story or something.
The first episode of Paracuellos was published in 1975 shortly after the death of General Franco. What was the response to the series?
The first issue of Paracuellos–it wasn’t called that yet—surprised the editors of the magazine I was working for. At the time I was writing it for a humor magazine of the so-called “T&A” variety, but that strip had nothing to do with humor–much less T&A. The first episode caught them by surprise so they published it, but by the second or third they told me very politely, and with every reason, to get out. So I did. I tried some other magazines and was able to publish a few more issues. After forty years of fascist dictatorship and severecensorship the magazine editors wanted to publish funny stories about tits, but I was determined to publish stories about sad children in the “Homes” of postwar Spain.
Were you afraid to tell these stories initially and publish this?
No. I wasn’t afraid.
Your art style in Paracuellos is different from your earlier comics. Did you change your style because that’s what you thought the story needed?
To draw the stories of the children of the Social Aid “Homes,” I chose the type of drawing that seemed right. Just as you wouldn’t draw a humor comic in the same style as you’d draw an adventure comic. In this case it wasn’t about drawing pretty children; what I had to draw was hunger, fear, and helplessness. At first, making the panels so small was for space reasons. With very small panels I could tell a larger part of the story. Later I kept this formula when I realized that the small panels left no room for backgrounds. And the only backgrounds I wanted were those that were essential to making the story easy to understand. Backgrounds embellish images, and I didn’t want pretty pictures, but rather sober and, if possible, claustrophobic panels.
The longtime syndicated cartoonist Mell Lazarus has passed away. R.C. Harvey was kind enough to send along this notice from the National Cartoonists Society, which he has edited and expanded in places:
Mell Lazarus, 1927-2016
A press release from the National Cartoonists Society arrived just as we were going to post with this opus. Mell loved NCS, and I suppose he’s a little put-out that he died so close to the annual meeting: if he’d lasted another week, he could have made the Reuben dinner this coming weekend in Memphis. I knew Mell a little; we had some happy, humorous exchanges, and I spent a few hours with him a couple years ago, interviewing him for a video I’m working on with Tom Tanquary. Given a little time, I could probably come up with a joyful anecdote or two. But I haven’t time to re-write any of the release or add to it. Here it is, verbatim except for a few facts I added from other sources—:
We are very sad to report the passing on May 24 of Reuben Award Winner, Past National Cartoonists Society President (two terms, 1989-1993) and Medal of Honor recipient Mell Lazarus. Mell joined the NCS as soon as Miss Peach was launched in February 1957. In October 1970, Momma debuted, and for 32 years Mell wrote and drew both strips—over 30,000 of them altogether, he reckoned. Up until a few weeks ago Mell was writing and drawing Momma dailies and Sundays with the help of his wife, the wonderful Sally Mitchell, who Mell met through her father, renowned comic strip gag writer Ed Mitchell. Among those at their wedding were Bil Keane and Stan Lee.
The eponymous heroine of Momma was based upon Mell’s own mother, Francis “Frankie” Lazarus. He based the character of her son, Francis, loosely on himself.
Mell joined Creators Syndicate in 1988, as soon as his contract with United Features let him take Momma and Miss Peach there. Said Rick Newcombe, founder and CEO of Creators: “He was an adviser to me from the beginning. I loved Mell. He was so talented, so smart and so much fun.”
Mell began his career editing comic books for Al Capp at Toby Press. His time with Capp inspired his first novel, The Boss Is Crazy, Too published in 1963. Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22 (whom Mell met through Walt Kelly) wrote this blurb for the book – “Mell Lazarus is the second-funniest writer in America and has written the second-funniest novel.” Mell wrote a second novel, Neighborhood Watch, three off-Broadway plays, and several television specials based on Miss Peach. At the time of his death Mell was working on another novel and a screenplay.
“Writing novels doesn’t interfere with doing the strips,” he said, “—they use different creative muscles.”
The time I met Mell, he learned I had been an English teacher, so he asked me a question that came out of his novel-writing. It was about quotation marks. At the end of a quotation sentence, he wanted to know, do you put the period inside the quotation mark—or outside?
“Inside,” I said. “The punctuation mark—the period—is embraced by the quotation marks.”
He smiled. Mell was always smiling. Even when he was criticizing my Milton Caniff biography—half joking that it was too long—he smiled.
As President of NCS, Mell helped create regional chapters, and he was instrumental in moving the annual Reuben weekend out of New York and to other cities. The years he was President included two Reuben weekends on cruise ships that people are still talking about.
Parties at Mell’s house are legendary. One resulted in the piano in his living room being covered in cartoons. “We had a bunch of drunken cartoonists in the house one night and they just destroyed a perfectly good French provincial baby grand piano,” Mell said in an interview. Among those who have drawn on the piano – Charles Schulz, Cathy Guisewite, Garry Trudeau, Don Martin, Arnold Roth, Sergio Arragones, and Matt Groening to name a few.
Mell was beloved by all at the NCS. He was funny, charming, and full of stories, many we cannot repeat here. Talk to any NCS member who spent time with Mell, and they will surely have a funny Mell Lazarus story.
“Here are a few facts about Mell that he told me over the years,” says friend Tom Gammill, “He was a high school drop-out who later joined Mensa. For a time he lived in Palm Springs down the street from Milton Caniff. He was in Times Square on VJ Day and told me ‘everybody was banging that day.' And he loved the NCS. In an interview Mell said, ‘We have the best club in the world. They’re all terrific guys and girls. It’s a body of people like no other industry. They all become relatives very fast.”
Mell is survived by his wife Sally, three daughters Marjorie, Susan and Cathy, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
We will all be toasting Mell at the Reuben Awards this year. If you have a funny Mell Lazarus story we can share on this website, please send it to the editors.
RCH—Here’s the last of Mell’s autobiographical entries in the NCS Membership Album. It leaves out a lot, but he included the important cartooning stuff—dates and images.
What would happen if our government banned self-publishing? I mean, it’s easy to imagine a world where the government attempts to restrict or censor internet content—in part because we currently live in that world—but printed works? Come on now. So when French Parliament outlaws self-publishing in Pierre Maurel’s dystopian Blackbird, it’s a reminder of a time—at least in the U.S.—when published material was actually thought to be a weapon of influence. Think the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on obscenity that lead to censorship of underground comics, or the era of The Comics Code Authority. The printer mightier than the sword, as it were. The imagined world in Blackbird is simultaneously sentimental and dismal as it reminds us of the potential power of small, independently-produced works, but then ultimately shows us how easily the government can extinguish that power. I fear that this book will come and go without the props or the critique it deserves.
How would we describe the editorial culture at DC under Mr. DiDio?
I think there’s evidence in support of those who would use the phrase “Editorial Chaos.”
Here’s one of the most promoted New 52 creators Rob Liefeld talking about why he left DC in 2012: “Massive indecision, last minute and I mean LAST minute changes that alter everything. Editor pissing contests… No thxnjs.”
Or there was the time that DC editorial in New York “stepped in” to alter a comic handled by DC Entertainment in California — after its contents had been promoted in TV Guide, which was reported by Wired.
Or there was a report in April 2014 of Mr. DiDio stating at a retailer summit that he couldn’t tell them about a September event because “only about half the teams have been confirmed” at that late date, adding also that a 3d cover promotion from the year before had lead to DC destroying “125,000 copies due to blurry proofs and some had cover dimples due to heating issues in production.” Long-time readers might remember an article written by Brian Hibbs covering that 3d cover situation — an article entitled “The staggeringly epic incompetence of DC Entertainment.”
If this Bleeding Cool report regarding the new DC comics initiative, DC Universe: Rebirth, is correct, and from all appearances it is, DC's editorial strategy has now been reduced to straight-up trolling. Those critics responding to this as a positive or even promising move are either stunningly cynical or staggeringly stupid.
—Misc. Michael Dooley at Print has gathered various tributes to Darwyn Cooke from comics figures including Gilbert Hernandez and Rian Hughes, among others, along with a generous selection of Cooke's art.
In Brown’s world, Paul is the villain of the piece, telling the Corinthians that "the body is not for prostitution but is set aside for the Lord" and thus censoring Jesus’ much more accepting line on the issue (p. 177–178). It is clear that Jesus did not condemn prostitutes anywhere in the Gospels, and we might therefore with reason extrapolate that he did not disapprove of sex for pay (although we cannot say whether he gave it much thought either). It is further reasonable to assume, as Brown does, that worldly prejudices and social mores informed later interpretations of Jesus’ words, not least in the case of the Evangelists. What does not follow automatically, however, is that Mary was a prostitute, but Brown is most intent on proving just that. This is the more fundamental reason for his retelling of the stories of the four women mentioned initially: Matthew included them in his—unusually female—genealogy of Jesus along with Mary, according to Brown because he wanted to slip the truth of Mary’s profession by the censors of his day—you know, those who were intent on furthering the idea of the Virgin birth.
I am not a theologian, nor am I a Bible scholar—I am not even Christian—but I think I know a contorted argument when I see one.
—Reviews & Commentary. Over at The Smart Set, Chris Mautner's also taking on Chester Brown.
The best hint of Brown’s offbeat take on spirituality can be found in “The Twin,” a short story collected in The Little Man compendium. An adaptation of a Gnostic text, “Twin” depicts a young Jesus meeting his “twin brother” (i.e. the holy spirit), and ends with the two kissing and then meshing into one being, the sacred and the profane combining to make a whole, newly self-aware person.
But it is in Mary Wept that Brown’s interest in Gnosticism, Biblical studies, and re-examination of traditional Christian doctrine comes to the fore. Designed to look like a little chapbook or pocket Bible, the cover image features a yoni or vulva-shaped center panel, the inset of which shows Jesus’s feet and a slow drip of liquid posed above exactly where, as critic Ng Suat Tong notes, the clitoris would be. Meanwhile, two phallic snake heads adorn the upper corners. While the imagery is subtle, it is also clear to the reader that we are a long way from Picture Stories from the Bible.
Cooke, like Toth, devoted much of his creative energy to the cheap-jack, low-stakes world of corporate comics, where distinctive vision and personal style are not always valued commodities. Cooke, like Toth, bristled. His early projects—a Batman psychodrama from 2000, a revisionist take on the Justice League—would sometimes take years to come to fruition. Such delays arose partly because Cooke wanted to handle both the writing and drawing—a luxury the big companies rarely afford even to established auteurs anymore—and partly because he refused to be beholden to “continuity,” the editorial policy that dictates that each superhero character comes saddled with decades of inviolable history. Unlike Toth, however, Cooke did manage to steer ambitious, innovative projects through that recalcitrant system. The most significant of these was the six-issue, 400-plus-page, Eisenhower-era epic DC: The New Frontier (2004).
As well as brief reviews of Kramers Ergot 9, Aidan Koch, Rebecca Roher,
For more than a decade, editor Sammy Harkham’s Kramers Ergot anthology has been a standard-bearer for the newest, best crafted and most provocative pieces in comics. The latest instalment is a phone-book-sized behemoth, featuring more than three dozen contributors. Its prickly assortment of short gags and dense longer stories all seem united by a seething anxiety, distressed by violence and preoccupied with the past. Dash Shaw’s tale of Union soldiers raiding a “secession house” during the U.S. Civil War is elegant and morally murky, for instance, while underground legend Kim Deitch’s flashback to a massacre of intelligent monkeys is nutty and vaudevillian.
When Max de Radiguès began making comics, he had never taken drawing lessons. “I loved to draw but wasn’t especially good at it,” he explains. “I quickly stopped trying to draw in a realistic way and went for an efficient one.” He wanted the reader to understand instantly what he was trying to convey, and as he pursued this goal, his drawings became simpler and simpler. Now, after more than a decade, and with a rapidly growing list of published works, he has begun, he says, “putting in more details and more backgrounds”—though nothing too elaborate; he still wants readers to be caught up in the stories rather than in intricately rendered, virtuosic panels.
—Interviews & Profiles. Meg Lemke talks to Tom Hart about Rosalie Lightning.
When you experience something like this, it would have been easy to become self-destructive or numb. I wanted to let it be a part of me, not to deny it.
Peplum starts at the far reaches of the Roman empire, following an exiled squad of adventurers descending into a cave to find a goddess rumored to be imprisoned there. Finding her neither alive nor dead, they remove her from the cave, and are immediately cursed with the cravenness her visage induces in them. One dies of fever. Another finds his face eaten away by strange pustules. Madness overtakes the group, and in the end a lone figure stands atop a blood pile of murderous death. This man, goddess in tow, and bearing a resemblance to Martin Potter from Fellini’s Satyricon (1969), proceeds to go on a series of adventures throughout Ancient Rome that remix and refigure Petronius’ original work.
The effect is as alien as the original text, but in many ways much more brutal and violent. If Fellini’s adaption used the romantic cocksmanship at the heart of the original novel to depict a dreamlike bacchanalia of science fiction-like excess, Blutch blunts those ambitions into wild-eyed madness, interrogating the crippling obsession that the sublime experience induces within its possessed. If Fellini is the ecstasy of the high, Blutch’s Peplum is the hunger of purgatory.
In his writing and art, Schulz offers brutally frank self-assessment worthy of R. Crumb at his most lacerating; grim, grotesque imagery that often metastasizes into Cronenberg-esque body horror, and scathing outrage toward American societal inequities that any hardcore anarchist or hard-left political cartoonist would appreciate. In Sick, Schulz doesn’t just spill ink, he spills blood and guts: bright, red & squishy, in operatically grotesque, often nightmarish drawings. He depicts the title illness in full-scale body-horror mode, which in turn triggers an intensely self-loathing self-examination, which in turn bleeds into a scathing indictment of the American body politic. It's a challenging 82-page primal scream, like a performance art piece—the kind Karen Finley was famous for in the '90s—in illustrated form, viscerally tearing apart all the personal and social filters we construct like armor, to keep ourselves going, to stay sane.
—Interviews & Profiles. The University of Chicago has posted video of an interview of Daniel Clowes conducted by Daniel Raeburn, whose Imp #1 is still one of the very best pieces of writing ever to have been published about the cartoonist.
Michael Cavna at The Washington Post spoke to series designer Seth about the final volumes of The Complete Peanuts.
“Today, it seems like a no-brainer,” Seth says of collecting Schulz’s entire works. But more than a dozen years ago, he says, it still seemed like a no-go. When Seth worked with Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth years ago on a Comics Journal project, he tossed out the idea like a distant wish: If anyone ever published the entire catalog of “Peanuts” strips, Seth said, he’d love to design it.
Then one day, out of the blue, the call came. Seth and Groth were soon traveling to “Peanuts” headquarters in Santa Rosa.
Our most recent contributor to the Cartoonist's Diary feature, Sara Lautman, recently spoke to Sophia Foster-Dimino.
When I quit working corporate I was making my life more difficult in many ways, but I had faith (unfounded or not) that it would be beneficial for me. It’s very scary, especially for someone prone to instability, to take away routines, obligations, easy opportunities to socialize, security, creature comforts, job sponsored healthcare… but my thinking (and this is just a vague possibly superstitious conviction) is that by forcing yourself to get these difficult circumstances under control, you lay the foundations of your own stability, and prove to yourself that you’re capable of weathering this scarier life, which will prevent you from freaking out during worse crises down the road. And a comparatively more sheltered life wouldn’t have accomplished that.
—Commentary. The Doug Wright Awards has posted two tributes delivered at this year's ceremony: Seth on Darwyn Cooke
He was very mouthy and inappropriate, and i would say even pushy. These are qualities I respect.
A class action lawsuit has been filed by a former Emerald City Comicon volunteer—the organization calls them “minions”—alleging that the convention violates labor laws by treating their volunteers like employees, but failing to pay them.
The suit, filed in King County Superior Court on May 16 by plaintiff Jerry Brooks and naming ECCC and three members of the Demonakos family as defendants, alleges that as many as 250 people may be among the class.