Frank Santoro is here with a new column. This week, after reading a somewhat depressing book on general popular culture, he’s excited about comics:
I just read Retromania by Simon Reynolds. It’s mostly about pop music but some of the ideas made me think about comics. There’s an idea out there that everything that happened to the music industry is going to happen everywhere else. And all that may be true–we all may have to give our work away for free and digital technology is changing the equation, and maybe all the best ideas have already been thought of–but I must admit I felt more hopeful about comics when I finished this book. Music is, according to Reynolds, caught in a retromania that can’t sustain itself. Music deals in “pasts” the way the stock market deals in futures and they both crashed. There is no new language in music right now.
However, in comics there is a new language: the scroll.
Saint Cole himself, a young guy with a live-in girlfriend and unplanned baby, is … already in trouble before the mother-in-law moves in. He takes all the hours he can get as a waiter at a pizza joint. He means well, but self-medicates, i.e., drinks too much. He is, most of all, the only one in the household bringing in money. His alienation is financial pressure, the same pressure on college drop-outs (or never-starteds) in an economy where the unionized factory jobs, even the non-unionized factory jobs, have just about disappeared. The service economy needs millions of workers like him but has many millions who would be just as happy taking his job. The downward spiral is multifaceted. It has him deeper in debt, it has him fantasizing about sex out loud, in a repulsive, self-destructive, uncontrollable fashion. In short: acting like one more loser in a sports bar that could be anywhere, from noon to midnight and beyond. This is pained realism, not even “ripped from the headlines” because it is sub-headline, everyday news.
This volume, the first of two, or perhaps three, in an art-filled biography, covers Wolverton’s life from birth and childhood up to the first few years of Spacehawk and the first shakings of Powerhouse Pepper, landmarks in Wolverton’s career and features that will be familiar to any fan. The book is roughly eighty-percent art and twenty-percent text. Sadowski’s well-written, densely detailed narrative is organized into chapters of illustrated biography separated by generous chunks of “art pages,” which have their notes. This is a thoughtful and successful design.
One of the interesting things about Sadowski’s books is that he manages to find a way to showcase reprints of carefully selected and restored comic art without sacrificing detailed narrative and notes. In his 2009 book, Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 (which includes some Wolverton comics), Sadowski hit upon the scheme of presenting his selected stories up front as a thick portfolio, with a second section of detailed commentary on the stories and their contexts in the back. One can read these books just for the comics, or for the full experience offered. It works well both ways.
I’m gonna guess that Ta-Nehisi Coates, who I usually enjoy, is not responsible for the regrettable headline for this short little enthusiasm burst about Matt Fraction and diversity in superhero comics.
Interesting piece in Art in America about “appropriation”, this time involving two very cartoon-influenced artists. I know both artists involved, and it’s sorta sad but also, if you read between the lines, very telling about today’s market and, if I was gonna take it further, what might be called social media-driven art. But that’s another story.
And hey, Congo or no Congo, here’s a new auction record set for original comic art with this Tintin piece.
—Interviews & Profiles. We linked to an excerpt from Jeet Heer’s epic Paris Review interview with Chris Ware a while back, but now the whole thing‘s online. The Review also has a talk with Tomi Ungerer.
Ian McQuaid at i-D talks to Daniel Clowes in anticipation of the upcoming Complete Eightball collection.
Overall, however, the general mood seems to be one of wishing to move on and concentrate on other things. There are so many wonderful things happening in comics, so why not concentrate on some of those? Perhaps that’s even the best way of honoring the dead? Certainly better than ringing the bells of Notre Dame in honor of a fervently atheist journal, as happened in Paris a few weeks ago. As cartoonist, publisher, and child of Charlie Jean-Christophe Menu, who accepted the award on behalf of the journal, said, “The spirit of Charlie is not to turn into heroes satirists who shat on people in power, to ring the bells of Notre Dame for anti-clericals. It is to call the mayor of Angoulême an asshole when he fences in public benches.” The last is a reference to a decision taken in December and since reversed to prevent the homeless from sleeping rough in public.
But we were talking about good things in comics. Among them are several good exhibitions. Chief among them is the Alex Barbier retrospective. Barbier is one of those comics makers working on the margins, slowly creating a highly distinctive if mostly ignored body of work. His painted comics are hallucinatory, internal, and intense explorations of sex, power and alienation, rendered in saturated if often murky watercolor over think inks. Appropriately, he debuted in Charlie with the first installment of the now classic Lycaons in 1974 when Wolinski (RIP) took a chance on the young artiste.
Did the strip start with the syndicate and then they recruited Hammett?
William Randolph Hearst at King Features saw how successful Dick Tracy had become in just a couple of years and he wanted something similar for King Features. Just like Tarzan and Buck Rogers were popular for other syndicates, he wanted something similar for King Features and so he published Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim. It was initiated by Heart and then Joe Connolly, the editor at King. With X-9, Hearst specifically wanted Dashiell Hammett. Also at the time, King Features was syndicating The Thin Man in newspapers so they already had a relationship with Hammett.
Hammett wasn’t on the strip for long and neither was Raymond.
Raymond was on for about a year and ten months, and Hammett much less than that.
So what exactly is in the book?
It collects all of the Hammett and all of the Raymond. When Hammett left they brought in Leslie Charteris, who created Simon Templar, The Saint. He wrote it for a short while and then got a great deal in Hollywood so he left too. Shortly thereafter Raymond had to give it up because he just couldn’t do Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, and X-9. X-9 was apparently more of a headache and he enjoyed working on the other strips, so he had to give something up. The syndicate found Charles Flanders, who did a really great job of mimicking the look and the finish of Raymond. He didn’t get the substance and the structural work and composition that Raymond had, but he improved very quickly. At the beginning he was trying to be a clone, but they probably asked him to make it look like Raymond.
A dozen or so vans of the special police force CRS are parked along the back of city hall, while a press conference on the establishment of a permanent pavilion dedicated to Chinese comics is being conducted in the great hall press area. This year, the capital city of Guandong province, Guangzhou is the official partner, and the mayor is here along with a group of his officials.
Clearly part of a wider diplomatic effort in French-Chinese relations (the French prime minister happens to be traveling in China at this very moment), this is a major development presumably undergirded by a robust infusion of Chinese cash to the festival.
In the midst of all this, the bizarre choice to announce the year’s grand prix, and next year’s festival president, Otomo Katsuhiro this morning makes for decidedly anticlimactic PR. Otomo has been in the running for the honor for years, and has been very popular in France since his masterwork Akira was published here in the nineties, so it is hardly a surprising choice, though certainly a positive one, honoring as it does a major creator while simultaneously enhancing the festival’s international profile and outlook further. The later is clearly a priority for the festival, as festival director Franck Bondoux is telling the visiting Chinese officials at the moment of this writing. ‘About time,’ is my first thought.
So is Luz’s depiction of the prophet showing Charlie solidarity racist? For many Muslims, this is of course a secondary discussion, because it is the very act of representing him that causes offense. This, however, does not make it a less important discussion to have for those insisting on engaging in this particular kind of blasphemy.
So Yes, they are racist. And No, they are not. A depressing lesson driven home by the reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, and to the Danish cartoons before them, is just how limited an understanding most people seem to have of images and how they work. Across the political spectrum. Let us leave aside violent demonstrations against images not even seen, as well as the depressing notion that any man-made image could be perceived as a threat to a centuries-old, deeply complex, and meaningful faith, and concentrate on the apparently widespread notion that images, like text, are “read” and understood literally, with fixed meaning.
Language and text can be ambiguous, but not in the same way that an image can be. It is much harder to control how an image is received than it is with language, even if one adds a caption. This unpredictability has been an important motivation for iconoclasm historically, and it surely informs those who want to prevent non-believers from drawing the prophet today. They see the image one way: as an insult, for some serious enough to act upon violently. Others see these images as drawing the frontlines of free speech, and cannot accept—or do not care—that they are insulting.
The reality is that they are both, and many more things besides.
The cover of Chloé Cruchaudet’s Mauvais Genre (“Trashy Types”) from Delcourt makes you think it’s a story about stylish lesbians. Yet the French bestseller – which won both the critics’ Prix ABCD and last year’s Angloulême’s Prix du Public – takes place during and just after World War I. The couple on its cover are in fact working-class Parisians, Louise Landy and Paul Grappe, whose strange story is actually true.
Married to Louise on the eve of World War I, Paul was a draftee who deserted the ranks. He spent ten years hiding in plain sight – by living with Louise as a woman called “Suzanne Landgard”. Less constrained than freed by his female identity, Paul took to cruising after dark in the Bois de Boulogne. (Eventually he also pimped his wife to other park habitués). In 1925, when the French offered deserters an amnesty, “Suzanne” dumped the dresses and returned to a life as Paul.
Ah, a new comic from Kevin Huizenga is always cause for happiness.
John Hodgeman name checks Jeet Heer in this Twitter-essay on “political correctness”, inspired in part by various reactions to Charlie Hebdo.
A documentary about the National Lampoon magazine which shares the titles of, if it’s not based on, Rick Meyerowitz’s excellent book, Drunk, Stone, Brilliant, Dead, is headed to theaters. I really wish someone would put together an anthology of the best Lampoon comics. There is so much rich material there.
And finally, there’s this fascinating press release from the Portuguese publisher Marco Farrajota about a new edition of TinTin in the Congo, with a distinct twist, debuting at Angouleme. I’m posting the press release verbatim because it’s fascinating theory and history, not to mention the commentary on Herge, which is not especially new but still somehow fresh. Also, the subject matter brings me back to one of the very best graphic novels of the decade, Arsene Schrauwen. Also, I’m just fucking relieved and heartened that a group of people was courageous and dedicated enough to do this and then write the below. Not much of that full throated activity going around North America these days. Anyone with more info (like, who is “the artist”) or better yet, an actual copy of the book, please drop me a line: dan (at) tcj (dot) com. I also wonder if this is related to the all-cats version of Maus that appeared at Angouleme a few years back. Anyhow, here it is:
Tintin Akei Kongo (2015)
Tintin au Congo (1931) is the second volume of the famous comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. It was commissioned by the conservative Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle and tells the story of young Belgian reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy, who are sent to the Belgian Congo to report on events in the country. Although it came to be a commercial success and became a defining work of the Franco-Belgian comics tradition, it came under harsh criticism for its perceived racist colonial attitude to the Congolese, portraying them as backwards, lazy and in need of European mastery. Although Hergé might not have been more racist than the average Belgian, his main charge was to persistently align his views with the lowest common denominator without never questioning racial consensus and colonialist politics that were overtly criticized by other contemporary French artists and intellectuals.
Tintin Akei Kongo is the translated version of Tintin au Congo in lingala, the official Congolese dialect. The translation was commissioned by the artist and has been conducted in a collaboration with a certified translator during a prolonged art residency in the island of Ukerewe in Tanzania. This translation belongs in the lineage of similar rip-offs, such as Katz, Noirs or Riki Fermier, books presumably made by Ilan Manouach. The artist, well aware of the material properties of the original edition, replete with its own signifying potential, made explicit his faith in the societal forms of this commodity: the new book is an exact facsimile of the original edition and follows the industrial standards and layout of classical comics. The goal of this endeavour was not simply to construe the artist’s tasks through a redefinition of the possible interventions, by commissioning a translation himself; neither to emphasize the importance of discursivity and self-referentiality as a way to address comics both as a language and a form of logic.
The goal is neither to fill a historical error by making accessible this work in the language of the mainly interested, the oppressed, the insulted. One should never forget the implicit consensus that stands behind the choice of languages for translated works. Isn’t it surprising after all, that “post- colonial” Africa is still using French and English as official languages, for education, legislation, justice and administration? Tintin au Congo reflects the opinions of Belgian bourgeoisie of the 30s. This conception of Congolese people, niggers like big children, is a part of the History of Congo in the same way as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, are part, as a popular false anti-Semitic propaganda, of the History of Jews. Tintin au Congo should have been translated in Lingala.
National identity is not only built by an internal crystallization process, a constant consolidation of the national and cultural feeling, but is mainly defined by external pressures. Tintin au Congo, the original version in french language, is still, disturbingly, one of the most popular comic books in Francophone Africa. The fact that it hasn’t found its way to the African market with a Congolese edition, reminds the reader of Tintin Akei Kongo that distribution of cultural products is not solely governed by profit and market values. Adding lingala to the 112 different translations of the Tintin Empire, Tintin Akei Kongo reveals blind spots in the expansion of the publishing conglomerates.
Tintin Akei Kongo will be presented during the International Comics Festival of Angoulême.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (Simon and Schuster, 2014) Horror comics can gross me out, but they seldom scare me. This anthology’s comics are genuinely scary and disturbing — and a few are gross, too. Yet, in terms of coloring, paper, and printing, the book’s aesthetic is the antithesis of gross: it glows, with glossy paper and colors ranging from hushed browns and grays to electric blues and reds.
In every story, a page’s art or colors bleeds to the book’s edge: the horror is not confined in the way it might be in a conventional comic-book, with a grid layout that’s bordered by bright white margins. On the back cover, the publisher directs readers to its teen website, but I hope this doesn’t scare any adults away from this collection. “A Best of 2014.”
Tomahawk #116 (DC, 1968) I can’t recall seeing a mainstream Silver Age comic with this peculiar feature: twice in the story, artist Fred Ray shifts page orientation, moving from the traditional comic-book “portrait” alignment to “landscape,” a tactic that requires readers to change the book’s physical position.
In fact, I’ve seldom seen this mode of widescreen reorientation used pre-2000, let alone used as well as Ray does; all of his scenes have a disturbing, visceral quality, communicated by the characters’ thickly-inked grimacing faces.
(A recent series of Darwyn Cooke covers for DC takes this inverted approach — but it’s weirder when used inside the narrative. And the master of unusual panel dimensions and page orientation certainly must be Chris Ware.)
—News. SPX has posted an explanation of their exhibitor lottery process. Alternative Comics and 2D Cloud have both announced their 2015 spring lineups. 2D Cloud is also expanding hiring a new publicist (Melissa Carraher) and a new marketing director (Blaise Larmee!).
Yes, it’s the blizzard of 2015, and I’m hunkered down with my laptop and my dictionary and I’m ready to do some blogging! But I bet Joe McCulloch will top me as usual, because no natural (or otherwise) force can keep him from bringing you the week in comics.
Hollywood Report has a long piece on the just-debuted film version of Phoebe Gloeckner’s contemporary classic, Diary of a Teenage Girl. Phoebe deserve all the recognition and success in the world. Stone cold brilliant cartoonist.
This freewheeling interview by Grass Green touches on Williamson’s early influences, his fellow underground cartoonists including Jay Lynch and Gilbert Shelton, and the trajectory of his own comics career. Continue reading →