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Unsteady

Big day on the site today. First, we have Ryan Standfest’s report from the University of Chicago’s recent “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference. An excerpt from his write-up on the Art Spiegelman/W.J.T. Mitchell panel:

Addressing what happens when comics become wall art allowed into galleries and museums, Spiegelman noted: “There is more to the Faustian deal than I originally thought. There are sub-clauses. The mingling of words and pictures is now allowed, and what is being achieved is way past Lichtenstein, way past Barbara Kruger. Something new is emerging. The avant-garde is exploring a new place where the pictures are not as easily articulated, not as happily contained.” This led the conversation to a dual consideration of new media and how a younger generation of cartoonists is reconsidering the form itself. “A book is easier to make because of this thing that is supposedly killing it. There is now a focus on the book as object—a new function in the world of the iPad.” Spiegelman noted that the history of comics has been the history of printing up until now, and that the medium has looked to the book-as-object as an answer. “The book, or ‘graphic novel’ is the current dominant form of the comic. The problem is that it requires great labor.” He indicated, however, that the book does not play to the greatest asset of the comics form—that the medium is one of compression, of reducing-down— the shorter, the better. In response, Spiegelman sounded a note about a move away from the book and a return to short-form comics out of the necessity of doubling as “wall art.”

Yesterday brought with it, of course, another installment of Frank Santoro’s Riff Raff column. In it, he writes short reviews of comics by Tin Can Forest, Connor Willumsen, and Ed Choy.

Sara Varon, creator of Robot Dreams and Bake Sale, is the latest artist to agree to contribute to our Cartoonist’s Diary feature. Her week begins here, appropriately enough with an interdepartmental cookie bake-off.

And in our reviews department, Sean T. Collins tackles Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse. An excerpt:

Katie Skelly has an endearing cartooning style, an unlikely hybrid between Junko Mizuno and John Porcellino. While they’re in motion — and in this Barbarella-esque, demurely sexy sci-fi spaceship romp, that happens fairly frequently — her characters have a fluid, curving quality to them. Their designs are usually pretty strong, too. The title character, a young interplanetary nurse named Gemma whose inaugural assignment to treat colonists poisoned by alien atmospheres that goes badly wrong right out of the gate, and her eventual rescuer, a Inuit-like Martian named Träume, are strong enough that Skelly’s choice to duplicate them with clones and identical siblings is a delight in and of itself; the furious, furry black-and-white space pirate Pandaface has such a cool design I want to steal it wholesale.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—You have until midnight tonight to vote in this year’s Eisner Awards.

—Jeet Heer wrote to draw my attention to part one of a very in-depth look at Canadian cartoonist Jimmy Frise, which he compares to Seth and Brad Mackay’s work on their Doug Wright book.

—Interviews dept. Here’s part two of Michael Dooley’s interview with Squa Tront editor John Benson, this time focusing in on The Sincerest Form of Parody (which I highly recommend for Mad fanatics, by the way). Tom Spurgeon talks at length with Zack Soto. Michel Fiffe interviews Tony Salmons.

—Robin McConnell of Inkstuds weighs in on the Before Watchmen controversy, and Noah Berlatsky editorializes upon it for Slate.

—Andrew Rilstone tries to find neutral ground in the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee wars.

—A hand-drawn Tintin in America cover sold at auction for a record-breaking $1.6 million.

—As I believe we reported on the blog a while back (if not, I meant to), Ruben Bolling recently decided to begin offering digital subscriptions to his long-running Tom the Dancing Bug strip. Last week, he announced that it has already become his single biggest source of revenue.

 

Helpful Hints

Today on the site:

Nicole Rudick reviews Are You My Mother? and finds it a mixed experience.

Memoirs, even if they’re meant to describe the life of a person other than the author, are necessarily in part about the author—the story is, after all, from his or her perspective. Though Fun Home thoroughly traces her father’s life and works to show his interior life, the must haves and probablys Bechdel uses in imagining things he might have said or done make her the subject as much as her father; it is every bit about endeavoring to know a man she felt she may not have fully known. Mother, however, reveals little about its ostensible subject. There are too few details about her relations with her mother—we revisit some of the same events, each time with a new set of tools (courtesy Winnicott) with which to dissect the moment, to peer deeper into its inner workings, its dark corners. The results are sometimes fascinating—such as the multiple viewings of the same play at different points in the timeline—but it’s unfair to the potential richness of the narrative (and to the relationship) to make a handful of scenes stand in for five decades of mothering and daughtering.

And the mighty Tucker Stone, aided and abetted by Abhay Khosla, presents a more meditative column this week, taking in Chicago, the ’90s and the Wall Street Journal. Also, props to our own Mike Reddy! Now that’s a column.

Some quick links today:

Somehow these guys find time to talk about comics EVEN MORE. So here are Joe McCulloch’s latest notes on Comic Books Are Burning In Hell,with Matt Seneca and Tucker Stone. Intense comics tawk.

-This has been making the rounds and so why not a stop at the TCJ station: Bill Murray as the Human Torch in 1975. That reminds me of Saturday Night Live, which reminds me of two things: First, I still really enjoy early Chevy Chase movies: Fletch, National Lampoon’s Vacation… even that one with Goldie Hawn. And second: I’ve never seen Where the Buffalo Roam. Is it good?

-Ah, and step back in time, then move forward again and think of the lost stature of early 20th century illustrator Frederic Rodrigo Gruger.

-Well, I certainly love Jimmy Thompson and Robotman.

-Finally, and not that this matters, but my earliest comic book art memories are of Jim Aparo’s drawings. His fan club site hasn’t been updated in a while. Makes me realize I know very little about the man, so maybe I’ll just dip in for a minute this weekend.

 

Catching Up

First up, here on the site, Rob Clough is back with another High-Low column. In this one, he’s going international:

One of the interesting things about reading current comics is the truly international reach that small press artists now have. Thanks in large part to the internet, artists have a chance at reaching audiences from across the globe. It’s not just the web, however—in what seems like a fulfillment of Dylan Horrocks’s Hicksville, minicomics and handsome books are appearing from countries not necessarily known for their alt-comics scenes. In this column, I’ll be looking at comics by cartoonists from Poland, Latvia, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Turkey. (I’m still waiting for the Mongolian mini-comics mentioned in Hicksville to show up on my doorstep.)

Elsewhere there are a million things.

First, all the interviews. Every single one of these is worth reading, watching, or listening to, believe it or not. Don’t let your eyes glaze over. Daniel Clowes spoke to the AV Club, and to NPR. (Yr pal and mine Frank Santoro has thoughts on the latter here.) Alison Bechdel also spoke to NPR. Longtime Mad writer Dick DeBartolo talked to the Paris Review! Guy Delisle spoke to the Guardian. Comics scholar and Squa Tron editor John Benson talked to Print. Dylan Horrocks talked to the Italian website Conversazioni Sul Fumetto. (Barely comics–& some people could skip this one, actually: Glenn Danzig talks to the L.A. Weekly about his alternate-dimension movie performance as Wolverine.) Finally, via everyone, a really great Fear No ART interview with Chris Ware:

Awards winners were announced for both the Eagle Awards, and the Reubens.

Dept. of the World is Changing. Herman creator Jim Unger has passed away. Tom Batiuk was profiled on the 40th anniversary of Funky Winkerbean. Dave Sim announces a Kickstarter project to release digital editions of Cerebus (and more or less immediately reaches his goal). There is now a Jack Davis blog.

Dept. of Miskellaneous. Zak Sally follows up his recent Inkstuds appearance with a longer explanation of his position on Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Stan Lee and creators’ rights. Warren Ellis talks webcomics page (or screen) formatting. The Team Cul de Sac auction has begun (and is selling lots of great-looking stuff). Stephen Bissette shares some really early, rare gay comic books. Matt Seneca names Paradax as one of the Greatest Comics of All Time.

—There, that oughta hold the little bastards!

 

Gray Matter

Today on the site:

Ken Parille brings us Six Observations about Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Archive Are You My Mother?:

Bechdel subtitled Fun Home (her previous graphic novel) “A Family Tragicomic.” Are You My Mother?’s subtitle, “A Comic Drama,” echoes this phrase. Both genre terms (comedy and drama) are curious words to preface this book with. Though it includes a few lightly comic scenes, Are You My Mother? is relentlessly serious. Its non-linear structure often moves rapidly between scenes, excerpts from other writers, and personal archival materials —usually without identifying the chronology.

Elsewhere:

-Paul Gravett scoops us all with a check-in with the great Mark Beyer.

-Designer, illustrator and the author of a couple recent graphic novels, Seymour Chwast, has a new children’s book out.

-Paul Tumey dissects a classic Milt Gross Sunday page.

-Of course. What could be better?

-I may be late to the party, but I really enjoyed Angie Wang’s Girl Apocalypse mini-comic. Great imagery and pacing.

 

 

 

 

On Fumes

Today, we present Chris Mautner’s interview with Eddie Campbell about his latest graphic novel, The Lovely, Horrible Stuff. An excerpt:

CAMPBELL: Most people take a lot of things for granted, like what a thing is worth and how much they should get paid for an hour’s work etc., but for a few other people nothing arrives without a set of negotiations. Like agreeing on how much is to be paid then, when the time comes, having to phone up to make it happen, then having to shepherd the money through international exchange channels. Nothing is ever worth the same amount twice. I don’t take anything for granted. There was a time when I got two Australian dollars for one American. Now I get less than one. And I make all my income from foreign countries, so multiply the problem by Euros and pounds. So yes, I guess I see money differently from Joe Average. Explaining it to my wife is where the difficulty resides.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is back with his usual Tuesday column on the week in comics.

We’re still running on vacation time here, so undoubtedly we’re missing a lot, but here are a few comics-related links worth looking at.

—Perhaps the most surprising development was the Wall Street Journal‘s publication of this review, which uses the occasion of Christopher Irving’s Leaping Tall Buildings to display attitudes towards Marvel and DC and creators’ rights more typical of your average comics blogger than you’d expect to find in a financial newspaper. (A sample: “If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new ‘Avengers’ comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”)

—J. Caleb Mozzocco notes the appearance of a creator portraits page at the DC Comics website, which Mozzocco thinks may have been spurred on by some of Chris Roberson’s public comments upon his departure from the company.

—Finally, it’s always worth noting when Robert Boyd is writing about new comics. Here he is on three recent “art comics” he thinks show signs of being influenced by the more cosmic side of Jack Kirby.

 

Has the Three-Day Weekend Started Yet?

It’s coming up on Memorial Day here in the States, so we’ve got a meaty article to keep you going over the weekend, an excerpt from TCJ columnist Jared Gardner’s recent Eisner-nominated book, Projections. Among other things, this chapter features the now-little-known debate between Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and Cleanth Brooks (!) in the pages of The American Scholar. A taste:

In the next issue of American Scholar, Cleanth Brooks and his Louisiana State colleague Robert Heilman responded with a long, facetious account of their sudden conversion to Marston’s philosophy in their literature classes, claiming that they now will even employ models dressed as Wonder Woman to help illustrate their lectures and demonstrate female superiority. Brooks and Heilman maintain their deadpan approach throughout their letter, expressing their gratitude to Marston for inspiring their “conversion” to comics over traditional literature, and they conclude by calling on Marston and the editors of The American Scholar “to tell us more about the comics by means of comics”—even offering to furnish the editors with the zinc plates necessary to transform the journal into a comic book: “We are sure that there are literally thousands of Phi Beta Kappas who will happily contribute their keys, if need be, to bring the power of the ‘visual image’ to the aid of puny reason in the great fight to save the humanities to which we are all committed.”

And then of course, it’s Friday, so Tucker Stone is here (along with friend Abhay Khosla), with another hair-raising look at the commercial dregs of the industry.

Elsewhere:

—First Flannery O’Connor is outed as a closet cartoonist, now this. Maria Popova takes a look at Gertrude Stein’s forgotten picture books.

—Daniel Clowes talks to Wired about his aversion for digital comics.

—With this article on the history of gay characters in supehero comics, Alex Pappademas shows that his excellent Stan Lee profile at Grantland was not a fluke, and apparently they’re going to be featuring intelligent comics coverage on at least an irregular basis.

—Leonard Pierce has a good response to the recent Scott Kurtz anti-Kirby diatribe (which previously I felt was too moronic even to mention).

—Rob Clough surveys the current state of comics for children.

—I keep forgetting to link to this really great audio interview with Bill Griffith recorded by Benjamen Walker at WFMU. (You may remember his Chester Brown interview from last year. If not, check it out, too.)

—And finally, I missed this before, but Tom Spurgeon caught a fascinating article on Roy Lichtenstein and comics, featuring Hilary Barta among others. I wish someone would write or edit a book on this subject.

 

Fry Pan

Today on the site:

Michel Fiffe on the idea and history of one-man anthology comics:

As if it wasn’t enough that comics are the domain of the obsessive control freak, there is a cartooning sect that perfectly defines the creative mania responsible for some of our greatest works: the one-man anthology. It’s a publishing sensibility that may have had its moment in the sun decades ago, but it’s never really been a dominant point of interest for cartoonists.

And I’m really pleased to welcome Sean Rogers back to the site with this incisive review of the new Nancy collection:

Certainly, the comic’s self-contained gag-a-day format, along with the clarity and force of Bushmiller’s compositions, can often make each strip seem like an instance of emphatic singularity, a totem to be worshipped in dumb awe. But Nancy is Happy returns to this gag-a-day strip precisely its daily qualities, so often overlooked. There is, we rediscover, an aspect of the quotidian to Nancy, a rhythmic unfolding in time, an ordinariness repeated with such unrelenting frequency that we’ve opted to shunt it into the sublime. Reading Nancy in continuity, rather than in isolation, may be an unfamiliar experience, but it is one which reveals the strip’s patient and inquisitive reaction to the bric-a-brac and ins-and-outs of everyday life—an attentive curiosity whose effect is diminished by removing the comics from their daily or weekly contexts.

-From Forbidden Planet comes word of an Oliver Schrauwen exhibition in Antwerp.

-From TCJ-contributor Tucker Stone comes word of a Suicide Squad celebration by the aforementioned Michel Fiffe.

-From yet another TCJ-contributor, Matt Seneca: This week’s Greatest Comic of All Time.

-From me to you: Oh those little wise guys!

 

Warped Marionettes

Today on the site, Hayley Campbell returns after a too-long absence to interview Tom Gauld, the cartoonist behind the new graphic novel, Goliath. Here’s Gauld on adapting the Bible:

I don’t have a religious faith, but I’m interested in the Bible because the stories are such well-known, common parts of our culture. A few years ago I did a version of the story of Noah (for Kramers Ergot 7) and I liked that I could rely on the reader’s knowledge of the story, and play with their expectations. That story was one of the things which led me to do Goliath. I didn’t want my book to be anti-religious, or even to paint David as a fraud or a villain, but the God (or maybe just strong religious faith) which makes David so powerful is definitely not there for Goliath.

We also have a review from the indefatigable Sean T. Collins, who reports in on the latest release from the Closed Caption Comics group, Molly Colleen O’Connell’s Difficult Loves:

O’Connell’s weapons of choice are perspective and detail, throwing enough conflicting examples of both at you at once to make each turn of the page a “wait, what?” experience. Her characters limbs elongate at odd points so that you’re never sure exactly how large their bodies are in relation to their environments — is this some weird, deliberately inconsistent use of foreshortening, or are they just built like warped marionettes?

Elsewhere on the internets…

—Okay, easily the link of the week comes from Gene Deitch, who writes at length (and with copious illustrations, videos, and archival evidence) about his experiences adapting Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are into a short animated film.

—Your Alison Bechdel link of the day comes from Ng Suat Tong, who focuses in on the psychoanalytic content of Are You My Mother?, which is sounding more and more fascinating as the reviews come in. As Dan mentioned yesterday, our own coverage will be coming soon.

—Nick Gazin interviews Diana Schutz about working with Milo Manara in his latest Vice column. (He also falls for that Jack Kirby Spider-Man image hoax, so caveat lector.)

—I missed it on Monday, but the great Bob Levin wrote about his heart attack for the Broad Street Review.

—I also missed the Chicago Tribune‘s excellent coverage of last weekend’s “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference.

—The outrage of the moment just over came when McSweeney’s announced a cartoonist contest, which would award a $500 prize to the winner, in exchange for two cartoons a month. This sparked something of a revolt online, mainly from cartoonists concerned about what they perceived as exploitation, which eventually led to McSweeney’s apologizing and canceling the contest. This seems worth mentioning after the fact, if only for taking note of changing comics-community standards, and the force an internet-focused protest can have, at least when aimed at a smaller, community-minded organization.

—Finally, there’s apparently some kind of TV and tabloid frenzy going on over the fact that a few characters at DC and Marvel are about to be revealed as either gay and/or getting married while gay. I wonder how many times those companies can get PR mileage out of this kind of thing; it feels like they’ve already done this multiple times, but the media’s obviously still buying. In the meantime, someone should tell the New York Times about Maurice Vellekoop.