First, two great cartoonists speak to each other, as Peter Bagge interviews Chester Brown about his most recent book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.
CB: As I was saying, I had accepted Crossan’s view that Jesus had started out as an apocalyptic preacher who had become more mystically oriented, and that’s where my thinking was at when I began drawing Mary Wept. Then I decided to add the chapter about Mary of Bethany to the book. The more I mulled over Mary’s anointing of Jesus, the more I became convinced that there was a sexual component to it and that Mary of Bethany wasn’t a simple prostitute, but, rather, was a sacred prostitute who represented the goddess Asherah. That would imply that Jesus didn’t begin his movement, but that he was a figure in an already existing group of Asherah-worshipers.
PB: Your suggesting that Jesus may at one time have been polytheistic is the most controversial thing you've said yet! Though there's no doubt that his attitude towards women was markedly different than the way they were generally portrayed in the Old Testament: more accepting and sympathetic. This alone must have made him a radical figure for his time.
CB: I’m not sure that Jesus would have seen himself as polytheistic. I don’t think he literally believed there were two or more gods. Rather, he recognized that God can have a male and a female aspect — that God can be both Yahweh and Asherah.
—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon talks to Rich Tommaso about werewolf comics.
I was looking through some old sketchbooks and I would occasionally run into these odd, "elongated" figure drawings. They reminded me a little of Gustav Klimt's figure drawings. I thought, "These tall and lanky characters would be perfect for a werewolf comic." In every werewolf flick, there's always a lot of stretching of body parts going on, you know? American Werewolf is the perfect example-- his hands are stretching, his torso, his snout. So, I bought a few Klimt books and just sat around copying his paintings in pencil form. After sketching out some character ideas for about a week or so, I eventually came up with Gabrielle and her family. Even the chubbier members of her family looked interesting propped onto very long legs.
On the latest episode of Inkstuds, guest host Roman Muradov talks to Tim Hensley.
Excerpt from a letter to fellow Mad legend Sergio Aragones, April 1988: “I’ve been working hard on a number of projects and doing a lot of advertising– Perhaps you’ve seen a couple of things. It especially feels good being on my own and not giving my roughs and everything I do to Bill Gaines. I don’t know how or why I did it for so long."
Janean Patience writes about UK comics writer John Smith, and its relation to the abstract comics of Gareth Hopkins.
Comics fandom is a cult. The box-office successes of comic characters hasn’t percolated down to anyone actually reading them. And within the cult of comics’ fandom, mainly obsessed with American superheros and the clockwork of their universes, there is a small pocket of cultists, mainly British, who grew up on or read 2000AD, Judge Dredd and the rest. And within that cult are the few thousand people who revere the writing of John Smith.
And Greg Hunter is here to review Patrick Kyle's Don't Come in Here, and makes some good points about certain prevalent cartooning tropes. Every generation settles into a certain sameness -- we're there now with a certain flat abstraction and distanced narration, in part because of the rise of festivals and over-indulgent publishing practices. Those things, and this aesthetic, will pass and then be looked back on and revived, etc. etc. Just like many other aesthetics. Here's a bit of Greg's review.
Reading Don’t Come in Here is like navigating a built space. Kyle has subdivided the work into surreal vignettes, and the combination of the book’s dimensions and its use of tiered, two-panel grids makes each turn of a page feel like the next step down a corridor. This is not to say the space feels wholly new. The depth and the novelty of Kyle’s insights vary throughout the book—it’s the work of an artist who appears willing to try anything and unable to leave anything out.
At its best, Don’t Come in Here shows off a kind of Brechtian comics-making. Kyle’s pieces draw attention to different human dilemmas while also drawing attention to the comics form itself. In “Message”, the book’s main character knocks on a shared wall between its apartment and its neighbor’s, a move that creates a widening hole in the wall. Eventually, the neighbor appears at the hole, scolding the figure that knocked. In turn, the main character smears the hole and the neighbor inside it as if they were two-dimensional rather than existing in real space. It’s a funny, surprising formal trick as well as a vivid depiction of the challenge of living among strangers.
Geneviève Castrée has reached a fund-raising goal at gofundme, but there may be further challenges, so please continue to check the site.
Since its debut last fall much has been written about Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s sci-fi, retro, coming-of-age comic Paper Girls—the charming nostalgia of its 1980s setting and steady doses of pop culture, Chiang’s seductively bold graphics with coloring reminiscent of both Le Clic cameras and jelly bracelets, and the originality of Vaughan’s time-traveling narrative. To clarify: Paper Girls is a comic about girls on bikes who deliver “the paper”—girls with paper routes. Admittedly, I am one of the many who love this comic. And yet I’m distracted by something that I haven’t been able to reconcile since I noticed it. The covers of both issue #1 and the first collected book—which came out in April and compiles issues 1 through 5—feature striking illustrations of the title characters: Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany. Four twelve-year-old girls. In stark contrast, the inside covers lists the creators of the comic: Vaughan, Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K. Fletcher. Four adult men. Even though in every last review I’ve read Paper Girls is repeatedly described as “War of the Worlds meets Stand By Me,” no one is writing about how four adult men came to create a successful comic book about four young girls.
Meanwhile, elsewhere: —News. The family of Geneviève Elverum, better known to comics readers as Geneviève Castrée (see our 2013 interview with her here), is asking for financial help to deal with her inoperable stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Please consider helping out, or at least reading and sharing her request.
We are asking the world to please donate money to us. Treatment is ongoing. Nobody in our household has been able to work for over a year. Geneviève has not made any new work. Phil has not made any music or been able to perform or do anything. Life is 100% occupied by this humongous medical battle (plus the already overwhelming reality of raising a baby with less than 2 fully available parents). We don't know what the future holds and how long this uncertainty will last. In any case, the amount we've spent over the last year alone has left us in a precarious financial position as a family.
Is there any suggestion that Blutch’s Peplum is inspired by the Satyricon of Petronius apart from the fact that the author has told us so?
There is the presence of the protagonist’s young male lover, Giton, as well as the licentious poet Eumolpus (both unnamed in the comic but central figures in Petronius’ work). There are also at least two instances where Petronius’ Satyricon is “quoted” if not wholly then at least in part.
Yet the comic is fixed in a strange but plausible landscape; it is less earthy, less strange and altogether less theatrical and decadent then the book and Fellini’s film. Both the original and film versions of Satyricon are filled with the rank physical reality of sex, not the curious delusion which Blutch’s protagonist engages with throughout.
Douglas Wolk reviews a slew of recent books for the New York Times, including titles by Sonny Liew, Chester Brown, and the aforementioned Blutch.
[Brown's] evenhanded pace of four small panels on each page keeps the tone understated, and he gets a lot of comedic mileage out of rendering biblical dialogue into modern vernacular. (Jesus, on being told that he should be anointed, replies, “I don’t know — I’m not into ceremonies.”) But Brown zeros in on the human drama in each story — his images of David silently regarding Bathsheba make very clear the way power flows between them — and his visual craftsmanship is as sharp as it’s ever been. Brown’s drawing on the book’s front cover alludes to the historiated initials of illuminated manuscripts, even as it presents the Bible as a clitoris.
The calculation was made – and it’s probably a correct one – that anyone still pissed over DC’s treatment of Alan Moore left the building a long time ago. Before Watchmen met an underwhelming response in the marketplace, being a decent selling book with minimal impact in collected form, as opposed to the sales juggernaut they could have expected given the strength of the Watchmen brand name. But even if it underwhelmed, it still fulfilled the company’s secondary purpose: it normalized the kind of creative theft that would have been unimaginable with another generation of creators. A stink was raised, battle lines were drawn, certain creators (some of whom are no longer with us) permanently soiled their reputations through association with a project that was being conducted against the express wishes of the guy who wrote the damn thing in the first place. When pulling a Band-Aid, it is best to do so quickly. It hurts a lot at first and then you forget about it. Before Watchmen was the figurative Band-Aid. Anyone still pissed about Moore’s treatment, and therefore morally bound to withdraw their support from the company, has already done so. Everyone else moved on.
The Tijuana Bibles of the early 20th century were produced in secret by anonymous or unknown authors, but they reflected—and how!—the common patriarchal objectification of their time. Women were treated similarly in the underground comix of the 1960s, which were mostly produced by straight men, and, as journalist and lecturer Paula Kamen writes, “[t]he sexual revolution of the 1960s [ . . . ] was a boon for many men, who now had access to more women’s bodies and made the rules about what exactly took place in bed.”
—Interviews & Profiles. Chris Anthony Diaz speaks to Tim Hensley.
This week a bird built a nest in a crossbeam of our landing and was incessantly tapping on the window above the front door from dawn till dusk. My wife said the bird sees its reflection in the glass and taps at it because it thinks it’s an enemy.
I was thinking, “Oh, that must be where ‘bird brain’ comes from,” but then realized it isn’t so different with my comics. I’m probably compulsively attacking myself to protect some transitory whorl of twigs. Or maybe I’m just trying to break the glass to see what’s inside.
As a reader, I’m a short story guy. I draw comics, but I’m trying to create a body of work that reflects more the literature I’m interested in, rather than to try to create a traditional comic book series. If this was running in Weird Tales magazine, the old pulp magazine, it would run as a series of short stories, the way Conan or any of those series characters ran. That was the model more than any kind of comic book series model.
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.