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Pie Please

Today we have Chris Mautner on Mark Beyer’s Agony, the first release from New York Review Classics.

Most of us have at one time or another suffered from the nagging suspicion that the universe is out to get us. Or — even worse — that our suffering, whether brought upon by malevolent forces, just plain bad luck or random occurrence, will never end. That will always be just one damned thing after another, ad infinitum.

Which is exactly what makes Mark Beyer’s work so appealing and funny. Beyer takes that self-absorbed conceit (because, really, the basic cri de coeur of this type of angst is “why me”?) and expands it to absurd levels on the comics page, using his grotesque and at times primitive art style to create a hellish and unrelenting nightmare for his protagonists, where the basic question isn’t “will things ever get better” but “what type of misery awaits us around the corner?”

And R.C. Harvey on the meaning and origins of the ongoing newspaper downturn.

First, consider the source of the stories about the death of newspapers. That news is lofted  mostly by large, metropolitan newspapers. Small city newspapers (dailies and weeklies) aren’t complaining. Why not? Because they’re not in the kind of trouble big city papers are in. They still get sufficient revenue from advertising, display and classified: local businesses have no place else to advertise. In big cities with hordes of national chain stores (rather than small town Mom ‘n’ Pop establishments), businesses advertise nationally via television. Newspapers lose out. And classified advertising has all but disappeared. Newspapers lose out big time.

Finally, to drive the nail in the coffin, readership is evaporating. The most populous newspaper reading demographic is the 55-and-older category. And newspapers appear too busy wringing their hands at the loss of the 18-35 age group to find ways to exploit the other demographic. I’ll come back to this in a trice. But before I leave small city newspapers, their apparent fiscal health is small comfort to us: few of them run comic strips, and those that do, don’t run many. But that is, for the nonce, beside the point. The continued existence of small town papers serves simply to make my point: the newspapers that are in trouble financially in this country are big city papers.

Elsewhere:

Amazingly, Frank Santoro and Chris Diaz have unearthed and posted an interview I didn’t even know was recorded: My infamous (to me at least) interview/quiz with Dan Clowes in 2010.  Look how young I am! Only 6 years ago but oh how I’ve aged.

Paul Karasik’s final Angouleme round-up for the year 2016.

Dan Clowes (again!) interviewed over at Salon.

Paul Buhle on Bill Griffith and romance comics.

 

Garbage Day

Today, we bring you the final day of Jen Lee’s week contributing our Cartoonist’s Diary. Thanks, Jen!

And Greg Hunter is here, too, with a review of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s The Demon: Hell’s Hitman.

The issues collected in Hell’s Hitman, dating to the mid-’90s, are not much of a talking point, even among fans of the issues’ writer, Garth Ennis, and they’re probably best remembered as the birthplace of Tommy Monaghan, later the title character in Ennis’s Hitman series. DC released this collection with little fanfare, perhaps to coincide with Ennis’s recent All-Star Section Eight series, a belated Hitman spin-off surrounded by little fanfare itself. Ennis and Etrigan make for a counter-intuitive pairing; the Demon speaks in verse, precluding the scenes of between-fight bullshitting that fill Ennis titles like Preacher. (The release may also be part of an effort to put as many Garth Ennis collections on the market as possible before the Preacher TV series premieres.) Ennis himself admits in his author’s note at front of the collection, “I see some things I don’t like, but an awful lot more that I do.” In short: Hell’s Hitman is an especially weird bit of back-catalog excavation, both in its narrow appeal and its wild vacillations in quality.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Gilbert Hernandez is the latest guest on Inkstuds.

Alex Dueben talks to Jeff Nicholson about coming out of retirement for Through the Habitrails.

I was just not getting enough returns for the energy. Which is hard to really quantify. It’s not just financial. Some form of success whether it’s financial or fan reaction or critical acclaim. There are different degrees of success. Something could sell really well like “Ultra Klutz” #1 and make lots of money. Something could get really awesome reviews like “Habitrails.” Something could have a cult status. I don’t know, but there’s a threshold where you need a certain amount of whichever form of success it is to make up for the fact that you’re making comics on the evenings and the weekends.

Xavier Guilbert talks to Dragonhead creator Mochizuki Minetarô about a new story, Chiisakobe.

When I’m drawing, even if I’m not conscious of it, the situation of Japan always seeps through. It’s like I was feeling with my skin what is happening around me, in Japanese society. When I was working on Dragonhead, there was the Kôbe earthquake in 1995, and that tragic event probably influenced the narrative of this manga. Prior to that, there had been the bursting of the bubble economy in Japan, during which everything which was highly coveted became worthless overnight. There was nothing left for us, and for me it was as if invisible monsters where hiding out in the world.

—News. Ted Rall is suing the L.A. Times for defamation.

The suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also contends that The Times fired him unfairly.

Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for The Times, said in a statement that Rall’s allegations in the lawsuit were unfounded, adding: “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims.”

In sad news, Zainab Akhtar, who runs the valuable and well-liked Comics & Cola blog, has announced that she will be shutting down her site at the end of the month, citing racism and sexism in the comics community.

—Misc. Mental Floss has published an oral history of the Garbage Pail Kids, featuring Mark Newgarden, Jay Lynch, and many others.

Newgarden: Arthur Shorin was the final word at Topps, period. So the line was probably drawn depending on whatever Arthur had for breakfast that morning.

[John] Pound: Religious elements didn’t fly. One little gag sketch had a little kid like Moses receiving GPK stickers instead of the Ten Commandments tablets. Then things, gags that were suicide-related, like someone hanging themselves, you didn’t want to promote that as something kids might do or try.

Steve Kroninger (Freelance Artist): There was one of a kid in an oven. It was a sketch from Mark or Art. It got painted but didn’t get final approval.

Newgarden: I don’t believe we ever put a baby in an oven.

—Technical. It has come to my attention that several people have sent me emails over the past few months which I never received. I believe the problem has now been fixed, but if any of you have sent important emails and never heard back about them, please resend. Thanks.

 

Back in the Day

Hello people, today we have Annie Mok’s interview with Michael DeForge on the occasion of the cartoonist’s latest book, Big Kids.

DEFORGE: I frequently have a hard time organizing my memories, or certainly from key parts of my life, and particularly traumatic parts. A lot of the way I circle the same themes and topics… I would have a hard time writing something overtly autobiographical, but by having all these different fictional parts of me, or fictional vantage points of certain moments or thoughts… it’s the only way I’ve been able to maybe objectively… or not objectively, but come close to objectively, looking at what it was that happened, or what I was thinking, or the mental state I was in. I found my memory has been fairly unreliable, and it’s taken a lot of parsing. It took me awhile to feel like my life had a linear narrative. And I know, logically it actually doesn’t. But it’s easier to think of it that way than as a bunch of unrelated pieces of information. So I worked pretty hard to try to piece something together with what did seem sort of like a lot of loose change. My stories are pretty meandering, and sometimes possibly even arcless. That’s sometimes how I look back on how events actually unfold.

And Jen Lee’s diary continues with Day 4.

Elsewhere:

What you and I have always wanted: An oral history of the Garbage Pail Kids, featuring copious images, to boot.

Former (and perhaps future?) comics editor Marc Weidenbaum recalls his days in the strip trenches.

Pal Anne Ishii interviews Japanese artist Rokudenashiko, whose controversial fortcoming book Ishii has packaged for Koyama Press.

A surprisingly in depth profile of groundbreaking female manga artist Keiko Takemiya over at the BBC.

 

Equal Time

Today, we are happy to welcome Todd Hignite to the site, who has conducted a new, fascinating interview with Daniel Clowes.

TH: With Jack as a character, there’s this almost dream of omniscience running throughout, he’s the author of the story, ultimately directing events, but on another level, is he something of a stand-in for you, revisiting your earlier work? I got a real shock at a certain point and undoubtedly started reading too much into this, imagining clues and references in specific panels, backgrounds, locations, perhaps aged versions of previous characters, and dialogue…

DC: (laughter) I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case, but I can say that I was definitely very influenced in the story by my own work because I had spent so much time putting together the Modern Cartoonist art show and monograph, and then that was followed immediately by compiling The Complete Eightball, so I was very much in the world of my own comics in a way that I’ve never been. Normally, I try to not look at my own comics at all, and I try to be influenced by things outside of not only my own work, but outside of comics—I try to find unfamiliar things to be influenced by in each book, and in this case I was really kind of immersing myself in my own work, using myself as a reference in the way that in an earlier book I might have used Charles Schulz or Johnny Craig, or somebody like that (laughter). It was kind of an odd experience and I did find myself creating little glimmers of recognition with old characters and giving little nods to previous ways of working, maybe.

We also have Day Three of Jen Lee and her Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Eleanor Davis shares the unsurprisingly well-stocked comics shelves she grew up with at her parents’ home.

—Eve Kahn at the New York Times writes about an exhibit on display at NYC’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, featuring sketches from a WWII prison camp drawn by MAD magazine contributor Max Brandel.

—And this has been going around the internet, so likely many of you have already seen it, but R. Crumb took on Donald Trump in 1989. Further unforeseen developments make this not quite as harsh as you might like, but it’s still pretty mean.

 

Happy Birthday Monkey

Joe McCulloch files his weekly dispatch today and Jen Lee brings us day two of her diary.

Elsewhere:

There’s a newsletter of Comics Journalism now — subscribe here.

TCJ-contributor Tim Hanley has a new book out about the history of Lois Lane.

A review of the production-as-performance anthology made at Angouleme, Dome.

Mark Badger has gathered his intriguing “abstract Kirby” drawings into an e-book.

 

Spring Forward

Today on the site, we present the third installment of Ron Goluart’s Connecticut Cartoonists series. This time, he writes about Quality Comics — and Jack Cole.

In 1940, publisher Everett M. “Busy” Arnold moved his Quality Comics line (Crack Comics, Smash Comics and other percussive titles) from New York City to Stamford, Connecticut and brought a band of cartoonists with him. Among them were Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Reed Crandall and Gill Fox. The major characters that his magazines would deliver to the nation’s newsstands were Plastic Man, Blackhawk, The Spirit, The Human Bomb and, eventually Torchy.

Arnold had worked in printing since graduating from college. He was involved in printing the comic books that Cook and Mahon had begun since leaving the fold of the pioneering Major Malcolm-Wheeler Nicholson. This line included such winning titles as Funny Pages, Funny Picture Stories and Keen Detective Funnies. Busy had been following the lack of success of these comics, so he decided to start his own line and hook up with some affluent partners. He made a deal with The Register & Tribune Syndicate, owned by the affluent Cowles family, and acquired two more well-connected partners. He started with Feature Funnies, a simulacrum of the pioneering Famous Funnies, which reprinted newspaper comic strips. Soon after the advent and impressive sales of Superman, Busy realized that superheroes were selling better than reprints of Joe Palooka and Dixie Dugan. Changing the name of the magazine to Feature Comics, Arnold set about acquiring his own stable of super humans.

We also have the first day’s installment of a new Cartoonist’s Diary. The artist this week is Jen Lee.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Benôit Crucifix talks to Peter Maresca of Sunday Press.

After the publication of Little Nemo in Slumberland, So Many Splendid Sundays there was no real future imagined for Sunday Press. I had accomplished what I could not get a “real” publisher to do — create a fully-restored, full-size edition of the Winsor McCay classic — and I planned to continue to work at my “regular job” in digital entertainment. But the success of the book was rapid and widespread and after a few months I started thinking about another project, and when Chris Ware approached me to work with him on a similar volume for Gasoline Alley Sunday pages, I could not turn down that opportunity. After Sundays with Walt and Skeezix and McCay’s Sammy Sneeze I apparently was an actual (albeit accidental) publisher and then kept going. Looking back, I wish, as would anyone, I knew then what I know now about the process. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal on restoration and color as well as what makes a good book, and I think the latest, Society is Nix and White Boy display that education.

—Commentary. Ta-Nehisi Coates previews and writes about the creation of his upcoming run on Black Panther.

Ideally, the writer offers notes in his script on how the comic book should look. This requires thinking with intention about what a character is actually doing, not merely what he is saying. This is harder than it sounds, and often I found myself vaguely gesturing at what should happen in a panel—“T’Challa looks concerned.” Or “Ramonda stands to object.” I was lucky in that I was paired with a wonderful and experienced artist, Brian Stelfreeze. Storytelling in a comic book is a partnership between the writer and the artist, as surely as a film is a partnership between the screenwriter and the director. Brian, whose art is displayed here, doesn’t just execute the art direction—he edits and remixes it.

—Not Comics, But Close Enough. Edward Carey writes briefly about writer/illustrators such as William Blake, Thackeray, and Alasdair Gray.

William Makepeace Thackeray may not be thought of as an artist, but he was a very fine one. He longed to illustrate Dickens, but when he was turned down he wrote his own novel, “Vanity Fair,” partly so he could illustrate it himself.

—Misc. I didn’t realize Miranda July‘s parents published Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl.

 

Enter Here.

Today on the site:

We’re proud to excerpt Tahneer Oksman’s new book“How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs, which looks at the works of seven women cartoonists. Here’s a bit, beginning with Vanessa Davis.

Published in 2005, Spaniel Rage is a collection of what Davis describes, on one of its title pages, as “diary comics and drawings that I made in sketchbooks from 2003 to 2004.” Assembled in a thin, soft-cover book about 10 inches tall and 7 1/2 inches wide, the text can most accurately be categorized as a graphic diary or journal. In this chapter, like autobiography theorist Philippe Lejeune and others, I do not distinguish between the diary and the journal. Some critics make a debatable distinction by correlating journal writing with an intended public audience and content that is less so-called personal. This distinction sets up a hierarchical dynamic—with the diary often cited as a “feminine” and the journal as a “masculine” form—between two modes of writing that have, despite their differing histories and genealogies, become otherwise indistinguishable.

Elsewhere:

TCJ designer and illustrator Mike Reddy and TCJ writer Jay Ruttenberg have teamed up in the most delightful way: An illustrated guide to “Musicians You Should Know.”

Slate has published Colson Whitehead’s introduction to the New York Review’s edition of Agony.

Broken Frontier on Patience. 

Here’s a very brief profile of the fascinating Dorothy Woolfolk, an early editor at DC Comics involved with, among other things, Wonder Woman.

 

 

Me Me Me

Today, Tasha Robinson returns to The Comics Journal to interview the popular cartoonist and podcaster Alex Robinson (no relation) about his new graphic novel, Our Expanding Universe.

I had done Too Cool To Be Forgotten, and at one point I hit a rut with that, so I did this Lower Regions story, which was just fun to draw. There’s no dialogue, it’s just straight-up pantomime adventure. I had so much fun doing that, I was just like, “That’s it, no more people sitting around talking about their feelings. My next book is going to be a fantasy D&D type book.” Like most of my books, I set out with a vague idea and just started improvising from there. I got about 80 pages in, complete penciled and inked pages and everything. This one had dialogue.

And I just stalled out on it. I realized I don’t read fantasy novels, and I have a hard time taking it seriously enough to write a legitimate story about it. I could write the other story because there was no dialogue. It was very simple. The protagonist fights a monster, kills the monster, moves on to the next one. But any time I started having dialogue and characters, and “Okay, what’s this character’s motivation, and how are they relating to each other,” the whole thing just fell apart. It really rattled my confidence. I think that made starting another book extra difficult: “Oh my God, what if I start working on this and I flame out again?” I think that slowed me down at first. There came a point where the story kind of clicked, and I worked a little faster after that, but I was very gun-shy at the beginning.

Rob Clough is back, too, with a review of Whit Taylor’s Ghost.

As in Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, there is no pat ending with everything magically made better. Instead, there are affirmations of humanity and the power of creativity (it is implied that the two interstitial stories in this book, both regarding loss, were created when she chose to be treated at an inpatient facility), as well as a willingness to confront feelings of loss.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Gil Roth interviews Glenn Head.

I’d always been really wowed by the idea of artistic freedom, but that was all just an idea and not a reality. Actually being on the street and talking about artistic integrity is a joke. It’s a joke that’s laughing at you.

Neil Patel speaks to the Swamp Thing and Miracleman artist John Totleben.

[Swamp Thing’s look] evolved. I had a better handle on how the way how he should looked right from the start. I’ve been a fan of the original series right from the beginning. I introduced Steve [Bissette] to the series when we were in the Kubert School. He’d never seen it before. We were trying to come with our own thing, but I’ve got to say Swamp Thing is a hard character to draw. For one thing, he’s a difficult character to catch I think a lot of times.

—Reviews & Commentary. Susan Karlin writes about the decision to cut cartoons from the revamped Playboy.

“I think it’s a stupid move,” says Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who drew for Playboy in the late 1950s to early 1960s. “If it’s simply a matter of rebranding, why not just change the type of cartoons they run? There are more and better cartoonists today writing in alternative media and graphic novels. It’s a whole new golden age for cartoonists.”

Chris Ware writes about the inspiration behind his latest New Yorker cover.

Most mornings, after I drop my eleven-year-old daughter off at school in Oak Park, Illinois, I drive my wife to the west side of Chicago, where she works as a teacher in a public school. Along the way, we’ll frequently pass a few of her students waiting for the bus, huddled in hoodies with their backward backpacks and my wife—it’s against Chicago Public School policy for a teacher to offer rides to students—will recognize and wave at many of them, citing an affectionate anecdote (“He’s one of the smartest students I’ve ever had”) or a bracing detail (“She beat up her boyfriend”) or a horrifying story (“His brother got shot”).

For Today’s Inspiration, Joseph V. Procopio writes about the Italian pinup cartoonist Niso Ramponi.

—Misc. Retrofit has launched a Kickstarter for their 2016 lineup of books from Eleanor Davis, James Kochalka, Leela Corman, and other creators.