BLOG

Truth, Justice, and the Comic Book Way

Today we have a really substantial column from R.C. Harvey on Johnny Hart, B.C., and religion in the comic strips. Here’s an excerpt:

Berke Breathed gave Hart’s slam a creditable value. “The good news about Hart’s Islam-is-poo strip,” Breathed said, “is that at least you know a real human has shown up for work with his strip. The paper is littered with cartoonists too—well, deceased—to actually participate in their own strip. It’s a pity because there’s a rather agitated bunch of very alive cartoonists that are waiting for their space to show us what a little passionate cartooning can be. The other side of the Affaire Hart is his disowning of his gag. This is the part where he insults his audience, which he might want to avoid. I’m all for bigotry in the public square [but] for people to respond accordingly, they need to own it. Either Johnny is fibbing or he needs to get back in touch with his inner Id. …”

[...]

Every time B.C. was dropped by newspaper editors hesitant of offending one religion or another, the issue of freedom of expression was conjured up again. If Garry Trudeau is permitted to exercise his religion—“the secular religion of politics” as one wag put it—why can’t Hart do the same with his religion? By way of edging up to an answer, the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten took some B.C. strips around for Trudeau to look at. Trudeau looked at them and laughed.

“Please tell me this is not controversial,” Trudeau said. “What’s the problem—that, God forbid, Hart still believes in God? These are good,” he continued. “What’s important is that he still honors his first obligation, which is to entertain. If he wants to stimulate people into thinking about the nature of faith, more power to him.” Agreeing with the wag quoted above, Trudeau concluded: “Hart is writing about his values as much as I am writing about mine.”

We also have Sean T. Collins reviewing Jillian Tamaki’s webcomic, SuperMutant Magic Academy.

We rarely mention specific ongoing Kickstarters on this blog, at least for comic-book fundraising, mostly because once you’ve opened those doors, it’s hard to establish a consistent and fair policy about who gets the nod and who doesn’t. But I was sorely tempted to break my self-assigned rule when I heard about Ted May’s upcoming Injury 4—luckily for my integrity, before I decided to post it, May made his goal, and now it’s just happy publishing news. (Another interesting sounding project: Dylan Horrocks and Karl Stevens collaborating on The American Dream.)

Also worth a look: Dean Haspiel on coming to terms with his place in the comics industry, and ultimately being happier outside it; Robin McConnell’s road trip to Portland with Brandon Graham, with cameos from such as Zack Soto, Mike Allred, and Craig Thompson; Gary Panter on painter Yayoi Kusama; and Matt Seneca writing about an early, expressive Chris Ware page.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to take newspaper articles regarding science with enormous quantities of salt, but this New York Times article suggesting that the brain treats experiences read about in books in the same way as experiences actually lived couldn’t help but make me wonder how that would shape a person with a really restricted literary diet: someone who reads nothing but superhero comics, say. (It probably helps that I’m re-reading Don Quixote right now.) People often express wonder about the propensity for superhero fans to ignore the ethics of supporting companies against creators’ rights, based on the comic books’ repeated references to responsibility and doing the right thing, but when you think about it, there’s very little actual ethical content in most superhero comics: the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys, and very little short of the willingness to commit straight-up murder separates the two in terms of behavior. They both generally live outside the law and destroy a lot of public property, you know?

 

Rainy Day

Today on the site we have a special treat: An interview with Bill Griffith by Gary Panter; topics include: love, footwear, and scariness. Goodness ensues. If you stop and think about Griffith’s influence on Panter’s work, a bunch of things about the way the latter artist deals with dialogue and observation snap into place.

Elsewhere on the wild internet:

-Bryan Lee O’Malley has a thoughtful and empathetic post up in response to the perennial “how do I break into the biz” question. One interesting thing about for me is that how it’s such a different narrative than that of cartoonists a generation older, i.e. the Web, manga, etc.

-Our own Frank Santoro is posting some very nice drawings of his home environment.

-You had me at “George Cruikshank had a nephew, Percy Cruikshank, son of Robert Cruikshank, who signed himself ‘George Cruikshank Junior.’”

-Cartoonist and TCJ-contributor Jim Rugg has a nifty looking artshow opening in a week.

-I’m also an easy mark for all things Mort Walker. Here’s a scan of an early profile of the cartoonist. Should you ever wonder what to get me for my birthday, always think “Mort”.

-And finally, in the ongoing “How’d that Corto Maltese book get so fucked up?” saga, let me trace a few threads for you:

1) The fine people at Big Planet Comics explain, with visual aids, what they saw as wrong with the book as published by Rizzoli (and apparently in a few countries). I agree!

2) Then the designer of the book, Chris McDonnell, in a post that defended his own design and typography but not the actual book production, notes “I asked for the original format pages and better quality line art files but the files that we ultimately used were the only option for files provided by the licensor or the estate (I don’t know who) for this project.” Well, that explains something. The files as-supplied weren’t very good. Why? Well, Rizzoli released a statement :

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea was originally printed in the Italian comics magazine Sgt. Kirk, in 1967, and later in the French magazine Pif gadget in the early 1970s. Hugo Pratt collected the strips, had them colored, and published them in an oversized volume in 1978. In 1985, the colors were revamped in collaboration with Patrizia Zanotti.  In 1994, Hugo Pratt reworked the size of the strip to three rows of panels per page.  This new, smaller, more manageable graphic novel format was done to appeal to new Corto fans in the Italian market.

Universe/Rizzoli took the changes that Pratt himself made in the 1994 edition and reprinted this reworked format. We made no changes to Hugo Pratt’s 1994 version.

There have been other English editions of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea, but the Pratt estate wanted a fresh translation from Pratt’s original Italian text. Harvill Press published an edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea in the oversized format and in the original black and white. The translation for that edition was made from a French translation of the original Italian text. The NBM edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea also contained a translation twice removed from the original Italian.

We worked directly with Patrizia Zanotti and the Hugo Pratt estate on this project, they were fully involved, and we had their support and approval during every step of the process: from the much-improved direct translation from the original Italian; to using art that came from the Hugo Pratt estate via their European publisher; to reviewing multiple rounds of color proofs.

So what’s the lesson here? Dunno. Estates don’t always know best? Usually the original way something is drawn is best? Don’t go to press with lo-res files even if someone says it’s OK? The point is that it’s a badly done book, which is a shame. Not much more to be done, as the estate clearly doesn’t know or care about proper digital production. So, it is what it is, maaaan.

 

Now and Forever

Joe McCulloch really been on a roll lately, and continues it this morning with a column about Chantal Montellier, and the English-language translation of her adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. Her collaborator on the project was none other than David Zane Mairowitz, who many of you probably know previously wrote the text for Robert Crumb’s Kafka book. So there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit to work with, which Joe picks easily before moving to the higher branches where he likes to climb and forage. He also brings news of what comic books will be coming out this week.

Elsewhere on the interweb, Greg Hunter at Big Other reviews Kramers Ergot 8, and Richard Baez reviews Olivier Schrauwen’s The Man Who Grew His Beard. (That second book is one of the titles that got away from us last year, assigned for a review that never got written — that’s the way it goes sometimes, but this is a great book so it’s more regrettable than usual.)

Also, Mahendra Singh announces a series of posts on Moebius’s pen technique that I really hope he produces, Alan Gardern notes a new way to read cartoons from the great B. Kliban, and an anonymous critic has started a Tumblr devoted to criticizing the cartoons in The New Yorker. I don’t find all of his (her?) criticisms very convincing — especially many of the suggestions about what would make the cartoons funnier — but a lot of the insights are spot-on, and it’s a brilliant idea for a site overall, one I’m surprised hasn’t been done before. Unless it has. Send in the link(s) if so, please.

 

Country Fried

Today on the site we have a little round-up of recent books I’ve read. And Rob Clough reviews Kmart Shoes.

And elsewhere: Tom Spurgeon has a fine interview with cartoonist Ruben Bolling; Inkstuds goes on tour and reports back with pix. David Apatoff remembers illustrator-reporter Franklin McMahon; TCJ contributors Chris Mautner and Joe McCulloch list six English-language Moebius books to start with; Tom Conroy, avid commenter on Roger Brand, has a nice reminiscence of artist Doug Wildey; Matt Seneca interviews Michael DeForge about his latest comic.

Your old comic of the day: A good episode of Man ‘O Metal by H.G. Peter. I featured this strip in Art in Time but I think I remain its only fan. H.G. Peter was great and (still) under-appreciated, perhaps because he was overshadowed by Wonder Woman, which he drew for nearly two decades.

 

Suicide is Painless

You’ve probably heard tell of how doctors in war zones typically resort to gallows humor, madcap pranks, and hand-built gin stills to cope with the squalor and waste they encounter each day in their jobs. Well, that goes double for those who live and work in today’s comic shop, and Tucker Stone, the Trapper John of the Wednesday crowd, brings his column to the Journal to help our readers make the pain go away. And don’t worry, detractors, if Tucker gets out of line, we’ll replace him with a gentler B.J. Hunnicut type. (To answer the unspoken question: Fiore’s Hawkeye, obviously. Major Burns I will leave to the readers’ imaginations.)

I can’t think of a M*A*S*H character to assign to Charles Hatfield, so I’ll drop this painfully strained metaphor now, before things go too far. In any case, he has written a great and thorough review of the first two issues of Prophet, the new Brandon Graham/Simon Roy sf comic that’s been getting so much acclaim lately.

Elsewhere, Ben Katchor has a new strip up at Metropolis Magazine. I don’t like to link to webcomics too often (where would I stop?) but I’ll make an exception in Katchor’s case.

Garry Trudeau talks to Double X about the recent controversy revolving around Doonesbury‘s abortion-related strips.

The CBLDF has announced the withdrawal of all criminal charges against Ryan Matheson in the Canadian manga case that began in 2010.

Daniel Best brings an update on Brett Ewins’s health and legal situation, and how any concerned may be able to help.

Tom Spurgeon wants nominations of people in the comics world who deserve more recognition.

And not-exactly-comics: Filmmaker Ralph Bakshi gets interviewed for the 35th anniversary of Wizards.

 

Bluzzard

On the site today:

Sean T. Collins interviews cartoonist Jonny Negron (conflict alert: I’m publishing his book in September), who says of the influence of manga on his work:

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that it became much more popular. Part of the fascination for me in seeing that stuff was that it was really not like anything I’d seen before, especially in comics. Everyone’s androgynous-looking, it’s a lot more sexual, there was nudity. Everything was more adult-like, even the kids’ stuff.

Elsewhere:

-Top o’ the heap goes to Brian Chippendale who has posted a mammoth essay on Marvel, royalties, rights, and titles. He pretty much covers all the bases here.

-Former TCJ-editor Milo George on a fill-in issue of Daredevil.

-I’ve been seeing bits of this Kevin Nowlan Man-Thing graphic novel for a long time now and now it seems to have a publication date. Good news. Nowlan’s a perpetually underrated cartoonist and his process-oriented blog is a treat.

-Brandon Graham draws a tribute to Moebius.

-Oh a post of Dan Adkins SF covers and illustrations. Very nice. Always liked his work with and without Wally Wood. It’s a smoothly generic style.

-Pal Paul Karasik has an exhibition coming up called Graphic Novel Realism at The Northern Illinois Unversity Art Museum in DeKalb, IL.

-I just recently read the first two issues of The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred. Here’s writer David Hine on some musical influences.

 

It Lives

We’ve got two new posts on the site this morning: Katie Haegele interviewing illustrator/cartoonist Eliza Frye, and the latest episode of TCJ Talkies, in which Mike Dawson talks to Renée French about everything from changing community standards in the comics community to her pseudonymous second career in children’s books.

Elsewhere on the internet, tributes to Moebius continue to appear. There’s no way we will be able to link to all of them, but frequent Journal contributor Matthias Wivel has written a great one focusing in on the artist’s late works. Charles Hatfield is also worth reading, I believe we forgot to link to Matt Seneca’s reaction from the weekend.

Seneca has also just posted a short interview with the jaw-droppingly prolific Michael DeForge.

In the wake of John Carter box-office reports, Evan Dorkin turns his mind to comics, and wonders what the biggest money-losing bomb in this medium has been? Most of the speculation so far has revolved around series, but my guess is that it’s more likely one of the books signed to big contracts in the brief recent period in which big publishers decided to make a big push into graphic novels.

Gary Panter have a talk to MOCAD last week, and video is now online.

Tom Spurgeon has a nice solid interview with IDW’s Scott Dunbier about their seemingly quite successful Artist’s Edition series, and their decision to reprint the Wally Wood volume.

And somehow on Monday I neglected to link to Sarah Glidden’s translation of Lewis Trondheim proposal for changes to the Angoulême festival.

As always, it seems, the biggest story working the comics internet right now is a new interview with Alan Moore, this time conducted by Kurt Amacker for Seraphemera Books. It’s a typically sprawling thing, most of which covers ground that will be very familiar to regular Moore interview-dissectors, though it’s also probably the most comprehensive source for his thoughts on Watchmen and DC’s interactions with him that has appeared in years. Robot 6, which is generally a quite good comic news blog that I would recommend to anyone interested in the more “mainstreamy” side of alternative comics, has an annoying habit of trolling its dimmer readers by pulling out the most pointed and insulting excerpts from Moore interviews. This time may be their trolliest post yet, and their commenters don’t disappoint, if you’re into savoring reading-comprehension problems. It looks to me like most of these commenters prove Moore’s point quite well, and he’s right that he’s better off without them reading his work.

There are a few more interesting parts of the interview worth pulling out, though. Here he is on one of the key reasons he thinks Before Watchmen is a stupid idea:

You see, part of the problem with all this–and the reason why Watchmen was such an extraordinary book during its time–was that it was constructed upon literary lines. It had a beginning, it had a middle, and it had an end. It wasn’t constructed as an endless soap opera that would run until everybody ran out of interest in it. It was deliberately meant to show what comics could do if you applied some of those quite ordinary literary values to them. Like I’ve said, this was the one book that elevated the comics medium, the comics industry, above the point where it had previously been languishing. And where, when I had entered the American industry in the early ’80s, it was close to death. They were going down the tubes, and they desperately needed the shot in the arm that all of the hype surrounding Watchmen provided for them.

What the comics industry has effectively said is, “Yes, this was the only book that made us briefly special and that was because it wasn’t like all the other books.” It was something that stood on its own and it had the integrity of a literary work. What they’ve decided now is, “So, let’s change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs.” and “Let’s make it as unexceptional as possible.”

And here’s part of his defense against the accusation that he has used many other artist’ characters in his own books:

Other people’s characters, right. Yeah, I’ve heard that. Now, what needs explaining is that you’re talking about two or three different things, there. With The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, you’re talking about a literary phenomenon that has nothing to do with comics. I can get to that in a moment. But, in terms of comics, when I entered the comics industry, I was given characters that the company owned, which were on their last legs–ones which were so lame that they were practically on the verge of cancellation.

Swamp Thing had been, I suppose, created by Len Wein (although in retrospect it really wasn’t much more than a regurgitation of Hillman Comics’ The Heap with a bit of Rod Serling purple prose wrapped around it). When I took over that character at Len Wein’s suggestion, I did my best to make it an original character that didn’t owe a huge debt to previously existing swamp monsters. And when I finished doing that book, yes, of course I understood that other people were going to take it over. That went for characters that I had created, like John Constantine. I understood that when I had finished with that character that it would just be absorbed into the general DC stockpile and I believe that I’ve expressed my admiration. I think that Brian Azzarello’s editor had heard that I quite liked the job that he did with Richard Corben on Hellblazer and he phoned up asking me for a quote. I don’t know if they ever used it, but I gave them a fulsome one.

This is because those were characters the company owned and I understood that. And I understood that whether I had created the characters like John Constantine, or whether I’d simply recreated them beyond all recognition like Swamp Thing, that these would just go into the general comic company’s stockpiles. I’ve never objected to that. I mean, I don’t think it is necessarily the fairest thing, but I’ve not objected to that.

And how he feels about creator’s rights:

My position on all of this has hardened over the years. And, to say this is just what happens in comics–that this is just the tradition in comics–characters get passed from one creator to another and that’s just how it is–why is it like that? And, where did these characters come from in the first place? Did they all spring from the brow of Zeus, fully-formed? Or, was there somebody who created them at some point? Was there a sort of Jerry Robinson or Bill Finger? Or, was there a Siegel and Schuster? Or a Martin Nodell or a Gardener Fox [sic] who got robbed? And then, of course the attitude–and I probably shared in this when I first started working for American comics–the attitude now is that it’s just toys in the toy box, isn’t it? You get to play with your favorite toys from the DC or Marvel toy box. Yeah, I don’t want to do that anymore. Those toys were pried out of the fingers of dead men, and were pried from their families and their children. That’s just wrong.

 

What a Crowd

On the site: It’s Tuesday so that means you get a dose of schooling from Joe McCulloch. Chris Mautner reviews Tezuka’s Princess Knight. And we also continue to update the tributes to Moebius post.

Elsewhere:

-There is a whole raft of Moebius links out there, but my favorite is this blog post of photos of the artist with other artists over the course of his career. A close second is this fine appreciation of his influence on popular culture over at Tor.com.

-Ivan Brunetti has a New Yorker cover on the stands and a few words about it, too.

-Proof Instagram is useful: A shot of Jaime Hernandez at work on a new Love and Rockets page.

-The strange story of someone selling a fake Ernie Bushmiller drawing. If I was going to fake an artist I’d stay away from someone as clean-lined and precise as Bushmiller.