Uh Oh

Today, Greg Hunter returns with the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast. This time, he talks to Ben Sears.

Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas!

Also, Robert Boyd reviews Crawl Space, by Jesse Jacobs.

Crawl Space’s cover is a rainbow-color explosion—a geometric face on the cover with a screaming mouth and an eye in its forehead. Filled with colorful detail, it looks like the cover of some forgotten psychedelic record album.

It doesn’t let up inside. The inside cover pages feature grids of 71 grinning, wide-eyed faces, all drawing with multicolor lines. They appear manic and alarmed. The title page is basically similar—a single somewhat sinister grinning creature staring at the reader, portrayed in intense rainbow colors. Then the first page brings it down to earth—a washer and dryer portrayed in stark black and white, floating in a page of full-bleed black. Then there are several more pages of psychedelic color as two characters start interacting in a densely-drawn environment of pure color. One of the characters, Daisy, seems to be guiding the other, Jeanne-Claude, who is experiencing anxiety. Daisy is guiding Jeanne-Claude on her first trip down the rabbit hole. They drink tea from a little tea-pot-shaped creature (that changes color in each subsequent panel), which causes the hallucinations to intensify.

Then the two rainbow colored people climb out of the washer and dryer back into the ordinary world. Daisy quickly reverts to a black and white being while Jeanne-Claude takes longer. Black and white in Crawl Space symbolizes ordinary reality. Daisy asks Jeanne-Claude not to tell other people about the washer and dryer experience. She is “still trying to fit in. I don’t want to be known as the girl with the magical appliances. I just don’t want that stuff defining me.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes writes about cartoons and freedom of the press.

It was 1903 and Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker had had enough. After a year of being depicted as a parrot by the cartoonist Charles Nelan of the North American newspaper, the governor wanted the satirical drawings stopped. The reason for Pennypacker’s frustration was that the cartoonist was using this visual metaphor to portray him as a mouthpiece for special interests. The governor did not take kindly to that and had an anti-cartoon bill introduced into the state legislature in order to silence his detractor. The bill proposed a ban on “any cartoon or caricature or picture portraying, describing or representing any person, either by distortion, innuendo or otherwise, in the form or likeness of beast, bird, fish, insect, or other unhuman animal, thereby tending to expose such person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Pennypacker’s attempt to silence his critic backfired, though, when another cartoonist proceeded to draw the governor as a tree, a beer mug and a turnip.

—Gabrielle Bellot writes about Moebius, focusing particularly on Edena and gender.

Despite his fame in France and with renowned directors like Miyazaki, however, Moebius still, arguably, remains too-little-known in America. “You see it everywhere,” Ridley Scott said in 2010 of the French artist’s influence, adding that “it runs through so much you can’t get away from it,” but this is precisely where Moebius unfortunately lies for all too many people: beneath the surface. This is partly cultural; in France and Belgium, comics, or bandes dessinées (literally, drawn strips), tend to be held to a much higher esteem, even being classified as “the ninth art” alongside cinema, photography, and many others, and the Western stigma that labels cartoons as a form for children holds less true in Japan. Moebius’ relative obscurity in America is partly because comics, themselves, have only recently begun to attract the wider critical attention they deserve. And this is truer, still, of one of his most underrated, yet most ambitious, solo works: the lush, extraordinary cycle of stories, The Gardens of Edena, which freely blends fantasy and sci-fi, and which was released as a whole in a gorgeous new edition last December. Reading the stories for me was a revelation: here was a luxuriant grand narrative that, like an operatic Midsummer Night’s Dream on the starry deck of a spaceship, asked where the nebulous road of dreams ends and the road of non-dreams begins, all while telling a byzantine tale of love, politics, the body, and evil. To me, Moebius’ Edena cycle may well be his masterpiece—and one I find even more interesting due to its intriguing explorations of gender.


Name Game!

Today on the site, Tim closes out his wide-ranging chat with Sammy Harkham. Part 1 is here. Here's a bit of part 2:

How do you approach composition? Is it intuitive or is there more of a considered method?

It starts for me with the tone of a scene and trying to find the right composition that conveys that tone. I don’t think of my art as being very expressive, so if I want something that feels oppressive or sympathetic, it’s all about where we’re seeing it from, and the number of panels, how large the image is. I have a lot of pages where if you flip the originals over, it’s the exact same page penciled a little differently, where it wasn’t feeling right. One that comes to mind is in issue 4, after the whole Palm Springs sequence. Seymour goes to his boss’s house and his boss is by the pool. It was such a subtle thing in my mind of wanting Seymour to feel like he’s not really welcome in this situation. Where he’s slightly not at ease, and it’s almost by design of his boss. His boss is trying to put him in the position of insecurity. So besides dialogue and story, you try to do that literally in the framing. I’m not going to do anything dramatic like put a spotlight on him or have like giant letters over his head. I’m not going to do anything formal, because I don’t want to get in the way of the storytelling. But it should just read a certain way.

It’s funny that you don’t think of yourself as an expressive artist, because that’s not what I would have said about your work. I mean, this is the most reductive level, but your characters often have very intense facial expressions.

They do, but how they communicate, their body language, all that stuff, I try to suggest things their body language or words are betraying. It’s that Bressonian method of casting. [Robert] Bresson never called his actors actors; he called them models. The idea being that the way someone looks and the way they deliver a line, that’s what they are, and you’re not trying to bend them into something else. and that becomes the springboard for anything else that character does. I don’t know how much this comes through, but there’s an element of trying to play with this idea of typecasting, where a certain kind of disposition and manner will imbue everything with a subtext. So even if they’re saying stuff thats totally in opposition to how they look or how they honestly feel, it creates a nice sort of tension.


If you're looking for a little desert after your Harkham dinner, here's Brian Nicholson on Crickets 6.

Also, Tim mentioned Alasdair Gray in the interview, and here's a vintage Paris Review conversation with the great author.

Finally, today, the moment you've been waiting for: Let's pause and appreciate this magnificently strange page of comic book art by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia from Sub-Mariner #3 P, 1968. There's so much happening in this page. There is a seaweed monster made out of repeating thin pen scribbles enclosed by thick black fills. Next to that is an oddly carefully rendered fish swimming in the foreground. Why? Why not. Ambiance. Then on the bottom left of this page is some prime Kirby-tech seen as though through the eyes of Milton Caniff. And over on your right are three generic sea fellers and one of them is coming right at you, just like Buscema teaches in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Some days I like comics.


Death Comes to Us All

Joe McCulloch is taking a much-deserved vacation this week, so we've brought in a ringer to fill in for his usual guide to the Week in Comics: Katie Skelly. She highlights the most interesting-looking new releases to comics stores, and her spotlight pick is Sasaki Maki's Ding Dong Circus. She also talks a little bit about a topic usually underrepresented on this site: fashion.

"Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between" opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week, and I still haven’t been up to see it. A stalwart of avant-garde fashion, Kawakubo’s designs tend to extend or distort the human form with unnatural volume and raw, unfinished materials and rejection of demure feminine beauty. A Kawakubo dress both protects and alienates the wearer; for example, a CDG puffer coat broke my fall a few years ago when I got hit by a tow truck, but no one could squeeze next to me on a subway bench.

But of course silhouette- and beauty-obsessed Hollywood rejected the theme (except, always except Rihanna!) at this year’s Met Gala, probably because everyone just wants to keep their jobs and no one wants to land on some basic’s “worst dressed” list in hindsight. I turned to my comic book collection to see which characters might fit the Kawakubo theme better.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire talks to publisher Annie Koyama.

I started Koyama to do art books the same year [local bookstores] David Mirvish Books and Pages Books & Magazines closed. Where else do you sell art books in Toronto? In the ’80s all the big gallery shows had catalogues, but pretty much no one makes gallery catalogues anymore. So the art books stopped.

I met Chris Hutsul at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. One day he put this hilarious comic online about a little kid hanging out with Kraftwerk. I convinced him to make that into a chapbook and I published it. It’s long out of print now but it was pretty fantastic.

The most recent guests on Process Party are Bill Kartalopoulos and Austin English.

Friends and colleagues (including many writers on comics who readers of this site will be familiar with) remember the recently departed comics blogger Tim O'Shea. Here's an excerpt from Brigid Alverson's remembrance:

Tim faced the trials, the indignities, and the uncertainties of brain cancer with incredible grace. He found humor in the most unlikely places, often cracking up his doctors and the other medical staff who cared for him. (In this we are kindred spirits—I laughed my way through my cancer treatment, not because I wasn’t scared but because it made me feel better.) Comics fan that he was, he wore a carefully selected comics-themed T-shirt to each one of his radiation treatments. In between treatments, he enjoyed life, taking a trip to Nashville and going out for karaoke with friends.Even after he went into hospice, he remained gregarious, and his Facebook page was a parade of well wishes and photos of visitors.

The horrifyingly titled website Nerdophiles features a guest post from Hope Nicholson on five prominent female comics publishers.

A product of the traditional model of work (that has now since faded!) Helen Honig Meyer worked her way up from a clerk in Dell Publishing to vice-president, to president. A practical and strong-willed woman, Helen is best known for the way she cut through the bullshit at the hearings for comic book delinquency hearings in the 1950s. Rightly pointing out, with some beautifully arranged data, that her books were few in number but accounted for most of the comic industry sales, without any horror at all, she clearly saw no need for the assumption that comics in of themselves were detrimental. Sniffing at the rest of the comics industry that decided to enforce a code of conduct, Helen kept her company doing what it did best – selling good comics. Negotiating deals with top licenses (yes, movie and tv show tie-ins were essential to comics even at the very beginning!) Helen was responsible for one of the most significant and powerful publishers in comic book history – and one that was notable for marketing directly to the all-ages market.

—News. As has been widely noted, in the Fantagraphics comic released for last weekend's Free Comic Book Day, Matt Furie portrayed the funeral of his now infamous character Pepe the Frog.

“A lot of the Pepe controversy has really troubled him,” [Eric] Reynolds said of Mr. Furie, who did not reply to requests for comment on Monday. “I think the strip was less about saying Pepe the Frog is dead — because Pepe is a fictional cartoon character — and more about him just sort of processing everything that’s going on.”

You can see the strip in question at The Nib (which is I believe the only site publishing the strip to have paid for the privilege.)


Starting Place

Today on the site, Tim Hodler brings us part one of a two-part life and career spanning interview with Sammy Harkham, whose latest comic, Crickets 6, is out now.

Were there any issues of Kramer’s that in hindsight you aren’t as happy about?

Just this last summer I was in Minneapolis for this French/American drawing club thing. and in the work room there was a table of everyone’s books so we could get familiar with each other and a copy of Kramers 7, the big one, was there. I don’t think I’d looked at that book since I sent in the files. Looking at that again was interesting because of how fucking dumb some of my decisions were. Some of it worked very well. When I picked that up, I thought, ah, if I’d cut twenty pages, and I was a much more hands-on editor, I think it would have made it a better book.

Are there any bad decisions you feel okay sharing?

What comes to mind are simple things, like artists not using the dimensions of the book properly, and I should have just asked them to re-letter their titles to fill the empty space better. Little things like that would have helped a lot, since each page really mattered.

Was that because that was an issue where you were working with a lot of very established artists?

Not at all. I think it’s feeling timid. Asking people to make changes or being anything more than a cheerleader is difficult, or was for me at the time. After Kramers 7, I realized that I wanted to spend most of my time doing my own work. I enjoy doing Kramers but if I’m going to do it, I should make the stories as good as possible. And then I realized that there’s a certain amount of mutual respect between me and the contributors. I’m not asking them to contribute if I don’t already think they’re great, so surely I can tell them, thanks for the story but I think you should tweak this. I think most artists are open to that and so the new issue has a lot of editorial input.

Is that just revision or are you requesting the actual themes of the stories?

Mostly revisions. Some artists if they ask about a theme or a direction and I would talk generally about what I am looking for. I have certain things I’m interested in reading. I always tell everybody [I’m looking for] a strong narrative. Of course, that means different things to different people. Also, treat the visuals seriously. Because the page is fairly large. It’s almost 9 by 12, so it’s a good size for reading as well as looking. You want the pages to be very visually dynamic. It doesn’t have to be showy, but you want it to be strong, so that when you flip through the pages, it’s really something. And then narratively that conversation is a little different. I will tell some people, you know, why don’t you do a wordless story? Especially when I’ve been working on the book for a while, and I can see what the book needs and there are artist friends of mine who I can push around [Hodler laughs] and say, I need this kind of story right here. And often, they come through. But when I look through previous issues, that’s something that pops out at me, that I could have brought a more critical eye to the work and the artists would have been receptive to more editorial input. There was no need to keep my concerns to myself.

How old were you when you did Kramer’s Ergot 1?

I was 18.


The very first comic book artist published by Fantagraphics, Jay Disbrow (Flames of Gyro), has passed way at age 91. Joe McCulloch reflected on that first comic a few years back.  Disbrow was an excellent horror, adventure and SF comic book artist the 1950s and after a hiatus, was published by Fantagraphics (the circumstances of which are recounted in We Told You So..., did a computer instruction comic, and eventually serialized his own series online. 




Today on the site, Rob Kirby interviews the newly Eisner-nominated artist Eric Kostiuk Williams.

Rob Kirby: I wanted to give readers the full Eric Kostiuk Williams experience, so would you kindly give us a brief summary of Hungry Bottom Comics? You know, your impetus in starting it, the autobiographical aspects, etc. 

Eric Kostiuk Williams: Hungry Bottom Comics was my means of processing the experience of coming into my own as a young gay guy in Toronto. The prospect of moving to a big city with a vibrant gay community felt like some utopian happy-place I'd been working towards -- a place I deserved, having put up with so much shit as a fey, sissy kid.

I quickly realized, however, that the sissy disposition didn't fare much better in the gay world than in the straight world -- especially in the late 2000s, when hookup apps were on the rise, along with their encouragement of a straight-acting "masc4masc" criteria. I was briefly dating a guy, and when we were getting ready to go out somewhere, he noticed I was applying eyeliner. He said, in the most derogatory tone, " are a hungry bottom." The cumulative impact of internally-homophobic, body-fascist dudes made me want to take a big step back, reflect, vent, and figure out why we were in this place as a culture... and comics presented themselves as the perfect means for that.

I'd made a ton of comics growing up (mostly weird superhero stories, cribbing off X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a means of escape. So it felt very intense and potent coming back to comics, but for kind of the opposite purpose. I thought about the "hungry bottom" jibe and seized on the power of reclaiming it for my own purposes. There's a real magic in taking something hurtful, and twisting it into something subversive, funny, and without shame. You take away its power... you invert it for yourself.

As I got going, a few comic strips turned into a few pages, which eventually turned into three whole issues. While the series was technically autobio, each issue also incorporated elements of fantasy and cultural criticism. Man, they were hella fun, and healing, to work on. And as I self-published each issue and they made their way around Toronto, I was really happy to hear that the comics were healing for other folks, and that they could see themselves in the stories -- even if they were straight, or not male-identifying.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. For the SF Weeky, Jonathan Curiel profiles Roz Chast.

“For some people, their cartoons come out of a completely closed cartoon universe, and that works for them and that’s all they really want to do,” she says. “For me, the boundary between my life and the cartoon universe is a lot more porous. I do things from the cartoon universe. I love the end-of-the-world guys, with sticks, but they flow into one another more.”

As she talks, Chast sits in the middle of the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s second-floor exhibit space — on a bright red couch that’s a fill-in for the kind of furniture Chast would sit on with her parents in their longtime Brooklyn apartment. Nearby, under glass, are decades-old mementos from her parents’ home — some of the scores of books, photos, and memorabilia that her parents hoarded away and that Chast documents so funnily in her memoir.

The paranormal-focused website Daily Grail talks to Alan Moore.

Jerusalem wasn’t a call to somehow reinstate the past, or a suggestion that the past should have remained static, but rather was merely pointing out what an enormous fuckup we’ve made of the future: a future geared towards seemingly endless novelty and change for its own sake, where even the basic principles of progress and moving forward seem to have been completely abandoned and forgotten. There is absolutely no reason why things couldn’t genuinely progress while still respecting and retaining everything that was good and valuable about the situation they were progressing from.

As for the currently highly visible racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class prejudice and general anti-intellectualism that pervades what’s left of our culture, I can’t help noting that it’s usually when people are being trampled financially that they seem most prone to seeking some other, weaker social group to blame for their government-generated problems, and seem most prone to ugly but thoroughly predictable outbursts of fascism. Perhaps if society was in any way endeavouring to treat people fairly, then they might be more inclined to treat each other in a similar fashion. After all, if society was at all serious about wanting to get rid of these bigotries, then with more rigorous press control and more authentic understanding in the way we run our education system, it doesn’t seem impossible that they could be eliminated within a generation. We somehow never get around to doing that however, perhaps because under our current system it will always be expedient to have some demonised minority to act as a buffer between an electorate that feel victimised and the people in office who are actually responsible for that victimisation.

On The Treatment, Elvis Mitchell talks to George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand.
The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Thi Bui.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sam Ombiri writes about Sammy Harkham's Crickets 6.

Harkham said in the past that he doesn’t want things to be expressive and moments to hold value over others. I think Harkham must see something similar in Brian Chippendale’s Ninja, where every panel has the same intensity. Or it’s like how Robert Bresson says he wants his actors to be like a virtuoso in portraying their afflictions. Of course other directors do this too – I only bring up Bresson because for me he has exhibited the most success with this mode of approaching expressiveness – in the way that I think Harkham is talking about.


Telling You, Man

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey presents a piece from his vault -- his account of, and interview with, cartoon editor Michelle Urry.

Harvey:Did you have anything to do with Harvey Kurtzman?

Urry: I did. For a little while, I was the intermediary between Hef and Harvey. Harvey and Hef worked out their deal together originally, and they drove each other a little crazy— and whoever was functioning as their intermediary.Harvey would submit his ideas, and Hef would send it back with comments, and—

Harvey: They strike me as both being very exacting people.

Urry: They were— very specific. And they were very different, each in his own way. But I think they loved each other for a long time, and then Harvey became a little more conservative. Perhaps he played it a little safer than he really should have. While he was doing Mad magazine, he was as zany as could be. And he started doing his own thing, and then he got into Hef’s turf.

Harvey was interested in satire and wit, political and social commentary. So Harvey started doing political and sexual humor. And Hef knew a lot about the sex part, and Harvey didn’t. Harvey was married and had kids. Hef had lots of ideas, and Harvey would go to the Mansion and look at the hot tubs. There was a slight discrepancy between life styles. Harvey lived in a suburban house. And Hef was constantly pushing him. Harvey would say— There’s too much sex; and Hef would say— More sex. Harvey would say, Less sex. Hef would say, More sex. And they’d go back and forth. But Harvey— Hef found him early and they bonded, and nobody could really get in the middle of that.

Harvey: How about Will Elder?

Urry: He went along. He contributed his talent and did what Harvey wanted. I’m not saying he wasn’t brilliant and didn’t contribute to that strip. He was and he did. That strip cost a bloody fortune! All the people working on it— all the inkers. They always had three or four or five people on it. Always. It was like producing a small book every time they would do it. Brilliant work. Absolutely brilliant.

Harvey: Too bad it’s not there anymore.

Urry: Too bad Harvey’s not here anymore. People say, Why don’t you get somebody else to keep it going? That’s like saying, Get somebody else to do Pogo.


My Favorite Thing is Monsters reviewed at Hyperallergic.

A truly rare thing: a new comic book store is opening up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.


Dance Dance Dance

Today on the site we have two reviews for you. First, Rob Clough writes about Foggy Notions, a collection of autobiographical humor comics by November Garcia.

Garcia is funny because she zeroes in on the weird, the inappropriate and the extreme--and that's just with regard to her own behavior. There's a hilarious sequence where she's at a house party with her musician boyfriend, and she starts swigging whiskey like it's beer when he starts playing. In a real-life version of The Hangover, she spends the rest of the story going through her post-bender protocol (assessing damage to herself and others as well as seeing what might be missing) and then tries to recreate the events of the evening. One of Garcia's strengths as a storyteller is escalating the stakes of a story while maintaining an even keel as a narrator. Her increasingly poor decision-making is exacerbated by she and her future husband Roy getting spotted by the cops (who at first threatened to run in Roy and then Garcia) before finally making it home--when she drunkenly proposes to Roy, calls him chicken when he hesitates, and then does a chicken dance to drive home her point. It's a story that's equal parts distressing and hilarious, as even Garcia starts to think she may be drinking too much.

Then Annie Mok is here with a review of Jen Lee's Garbage Night.

Jen Lee’s characters, like Pinocchio or a Dickensian hero, are always hungry. The title Garbage Night refers to the hallowed night that three teenage animals wait for, but never comes because all the humans in the neighborhood have moved on. It's a dystopian, possibly post-apocalyptic cartoon setting. Soon the dog-deer-raccoon trio meet a scroungy dog named Barnaby, who promises a shortcut to a town where humans still reside. Bright colors and bouncy drawings carry this story of friendship, trust, and fear.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The nominations for this year's Eisner Awards have been announced, and as always (for almost all awards), they're the usual mix of solid, semi-solid, and WTF. Sonny Liew's Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye earned six nominations, and among publishers, Fantagraphics and Image led the field, with 20 and 17 nods respectively.

Former New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff has accepted a similar position at Esquire, which is good news in terms of opening one more potential major market for cartoonists. In an interview with Michael Cavna, says that in his new job, he will completely abandon the selection process he used at The New Yorker for two decades.

“That selection process,” Mankoff tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “is delusional.”

That’s right — as much as he relied on this gags-in-hand approach, the veteran editor is convinced that it wasn’t the best system for consistently developing the best humor. Each line drawing effectively only got an instant audition, so even promising gags that didn’t quite “sing” right then and there were quickly shown the stage door.

He says that his new collaborative approach wouldn't have made sense in the "context" of The New Yorker, but it's not clear from this piece exactly why...

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire profiles Katherine Collins of Neil the Horse fame.

When I visited Collins in February, a pile of original art spread out on the dining-room table was the only visible evidence that this 69-year-old woman with perfect pitch once was the cartoonist Arn Saba, creator of Neil the Horse, a rubber-band-legged character drawn in a style reminiscent of early Disney cartoons and best remembered for a unique 15-issue run during the black-and-white-comics boom – and bust – of the 1980s. Saba spent more than 15 years combining his love of cartooning with his love of music to produce the adventures of Neil and his friends: Soapy, a feline grifter, and Mam’selle Poupée, a living doll in search of true love. Collins had dusted off the large boards and sheets of film in preparation for a collected Neil the Horse volume Conundrum Press will publish this spring, the first time the character will appear in print in nearly three decades.

Adolescent has a short video interview with Ginette Lapalme.
The most recent guest on Process Party is Julia Wertz.


Broadcasting Humor

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us the first new comics list of May. It's a new month! And John Kelly previews Drew Friedman's new exhibition, which opens Thursday here in NYC.


Hillary Chute has an insightful and wide-ranging review of Guy Deslisle new book, Hostage, at the NYR Daily.

Gengoroh Tagame previews his new book, My Brother's Husband (which Joe also writes about this week), over at Vice.

I could read Todd Klein writing about logo design and lettering pretty much all day long. 

This footage of Marvel and DC in the 1970s is pretty incredible. I love that Steranko plays "Steranko". I love how casually original art is handled. I love it all.