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Words and Pictures

Today, we present the great comics historian R. C. Harvey, and his obituary for the late Wee Pals creator, Morrie Turner. Here’s an excerpt:

Morrie met Charles Schulz at a gathering of California cartoonists, and they became friends. The civil rights movement was gathering momentum with sit-ins and marches in the South, and once while they were having lunch, Morrie asked Schulz why he didn’t have any black kids in Peanuts, and Schulz told Morrie he should create his own.

“I couldn’t participate in the marches in the South, and I felt I should,” Morrie later told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I was working and had a wife and kid. So I decided I would have my say with my pen.”

Right about then, Dick Gregory, comedian cum civil rights activist, came along and gave Morrie another nudge.

In 1962, Gregory had published a memoir, From the Back of the Bus, about his crusading adventures. (“Segregation is not all bad. Ever hear of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”) The comedian was working on a continuation of this literary venture, a more overt autobiography, which in 1964 he would entitle Nigger (so that every time his mother hears the word, Gregory explained, she’d know her son’s book was being discussed and promoted). And a friend brought Gregory around to Morrie’s place to meet the cartoonist. The two spent the day “rapping” (as Morrie put it), and Gregory suggested that Morrie illustrate his book with cartoons and comic strips.

“It wasn’t the kind of cartoon that I was drawing then,” Morrie remembered when I talked at length with him last spring. “At the time,” he said, “I was doing all right with industrial cartoons. They weren’t making a lot of money, but I was having a lot of fun. Gregory wanted me to do some cartoons that related to black people, and I liked the idea because it was me. All the drawings and cartoons I’d done up to that point were not really me. They were something foreign to me. I would create cartoons about golf, but I knew nothing about golf. Never played the game at all. And medical cartoons, doctors, dentists—not me.”

The cartoons Morrie did for black magazines and newspapers like the Chicago Defender were more to his liking. “Some were very close to being editorial cartoons—very close,” Morrie said, “—but they were not. They were humorous, funny, and then I realized they were funny because they were editorial cartoons.”

But they still weren’t Morrie. Gregory’s proposal, which eventually came to nothing, started Morrie thinking. And just about then, Charlie Brown appeared in a Civil War cap. Morrie pondered: what if Charlie Brown were Black? And what if the cap were a Confederate cap? “Now that,” wrote Tom Carter in the Cartoon Club Newsletter, “was indeed a laugh—a child so naive he could sweep away generations of ill will with one innocent, ironic gesture.”


Elsewhere:


—Reviews & Commentary.
Nicholas Theisen has an interesting academic response to Hannah Miodrag’s Comics and Language. Dan Kois writes at length about Michel Rabagliati’s Paul comics. Bob Heer talks about Preacher, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Stokoe’s Godzilla, and Tom Gauld. Christopher Stigliano on Charles Rodrigues’s Ray and Joe. Shea Hennum reviews Dash Shaw’s New Jobs.

—News. Tom Spurgeon reports that DC no longer retains the media rights to Preacher, for which there was just announced a major television adaptation. He also has published his own Morrie Turner obituary. The Billy Ireland library has announced two big shows starting next month, featuring original art by Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson. Slate and CCS have announced the nominations to their annual Cartoonist Studio Prize. Brian Cremins reports back from a Samuel R. Delany appearance supporting Bread & Wine, the graphic memoir he created with Mia Wolff.

—Misc. Chris Ware was among the writers the New York Times asked to share the literature that taught them bout love. Occasional TCJ contributor Sean Michael Robinson got involved in a complicated, protracted discussion on a Cerebus printing snafu.

 

Moving Day

Today on the site:

Rob Clough on Matthew Thurber’s INFOMANIACS, which was my very last book via PictureBox.

Matthew Thurber’s INFOMANIACS is my choice for best comic of 2013. Thurber is perhaps the funniest cartoonist working today, though in more of a narrative sense rather than the gag-built work of cartoonists like Michael Kupperman, Lisa Hanawalt and Sam Henderson. That said, INFOMANIACS has a looser and sillier structure than his previous book, 1-800-MICE. The latter book, originally published in comics form, had the narrative structure of a serial, with multiple and intersecting plots that were pulled together ever tighter as the story went along. INFOMANIACS begins as a mostly improvised web comic, and its page-to-page structure reveals how Thurber tries to end each page or every couple of pages with a definitive gag and punchline. Thurber uses visual gags to some degree (simply the way he draws his characters is amusing), but he loves diving into puns, bon mots, and clever references that still manage to resonate with the story’s themes. Both books use deadpan descriptions of absurd ideas rooted in science and medicine. And while INFOMANIACS has the feel of a shaggy dog story (it doesn’t so much end as it just stops), it nevertheless gives a thorough airing of all the various aesthetic, cultural and political critiques that resonate throughout Thurber’s work.

Elsewhere:

Ng Suat Tong brings us the best online comics criticism of 2013.

Henriette Valium comics in Macedonian via Last Gasp.

Classic Mad covers by Norman Mingo.

Preacher is coming to television with a good team behind it.

Finally, Matt Madden and Jessica Abel’s photos from Angouleme.

 

Sure

Today we present the second part of my interview with the great Tim Hensley. This time, he talks a lot more about comics in general, as well as his own Wally Gropius, closed captioning, Alfred Hitchcock, serialization, and his latest project.

[Hensley:] You know, actually in general, a lot of times if I get confused about the process of writing something, I’m more interested in somebody who’s a novelist than reading about a cartoonist’s process, because at least with a novelist they’re used to the idea of failure and something that takes a long time [laughs]. Sometimes with comics they just wanna say like, oh, I’m prolific and there’s a lot of things, and everything’s going well.

[Hodler:] It’s interesting you say that because I feel like the prevailing stereotype these days about cartoonists is that they’re all, you know, lonely…

Like a self-loathing kind of thing, you mean?

Yeah, I feel like that’s normally what people say about modern cartoonists, that that’s the image that’s promulgated.

But that’s considered more what their expression is or what their work is about, more than it’s not that there’s a small amount of it [laughter]. You know, like, Joe Matt seems prolific to me.

It’s been a long time since Spent came out.

I’ve seen him around the city in the past and he said he was working on more comics.

Oh, that’s good.

Sometimes it seems likes he’s bragging that he’s not working. I don’t really know him at all.

I don’t know him well either but he does seem to make fun of himself in his comics, and get joy out of making himself look as bad as possible.

Yeah, I admire that [laughter].


Elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. For Open Letters Monthly, Joanna Scutts reviews Joe Sacco’s The Great War. Samantha Meier looks at the feminist context of Wimmen’s Comix.

—Interviews. J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Michael DeForge about his new Ant Colony. On the anniversary of what would have been William S. Burroughs’s 100th birthday, James Reich talks to his artistic collaborator Malcolm Mc Neill.

—News. Chester Gould’s family has donated a collection of original Dick Tracy-related art to the Billy Ireland library. Also, Koyama Press has announced its fall 2014 lineup, including books by Renee French, Patrick Kyle, and Michael DeForge.

 

Back to the Snow

I left Tim home alone and came back to a buncha snow. L.A. remains my favorite city in these United States. I had a ball. Also, it’s warm there.

Today on the site, Graham Kolbeins premiers a short film about Edie Fake.

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The Chester Gould archive has been donated to Ohio State.

Lots of talking links today: Sean Howe speaks to The Nerdist. Evan Dorkin on Super Live Adventure. Paste interviews Matt Fraction.

Bob Fingerman previews an upcoming issue of Minimum Wage. Michael Cavna reviews Ant Colony.

 

Almost There

Tuesday means Joe McCulloch and his weekly guide to the most intriguing-looking new releases available through the comics direct market—plus, if you’re lucky, an enthusiastic mini-essay about a semi-obscure piece of comics history.

Elsewhere:

—Podcasts. For the 500th episode of Inkstuds, and Frank Santoro, Brandon Graham, and David Brothers are guests. Also, Gil Roth interviews comics historian/curator/etc. Paul Gravett.

—Misc. A fifth Paul Karasik report from Angoulême. Tim O’Shea selects and presents some pages from Dustin Harbin’s sketchbook. Dark Horse’s announcement of a volume to raise medical funds for Stan Sakai and his family reminded me that it’s probably not a bad idea to remind people about the ongoing CAPS-sponsored fundraiser for the same purpose.

—Archives.
And you might also be interested to know that in the past few weeks, two more years of TCJ back issues have been added to our online archives, which you can now subscribe to through a digital subscription.

 

Situation Normal

Dan’s still gone, so I’m still blogging. Today, we are publishing the first part of my lengthy interview with cartoonist’s cartoonist Tim Hensley. Here’s a brief exchange from it:

[Tim Hodler:} What were some of your early jobs?

[Tim Hensley:] There was one part-time job I used to have where we used to go and just put check bank statements in envelopes all day, kind of office temp jobs like that. I worked in a place that made safety films for fire departments and stuff and I took care of the paperwork revolving around that. I worked as a proofreader of wedding invitations.

[Laughs.] I didn’t know they had those!

Yeah, [laughs] that was a strange job. It was a place which did thermography, which is this kind of printing that involves raised ink; when you feel it, it kind of like has a tactile sense to it. It’s kind of hard to proofread wedding invitations because they’re all pretty much the same. You know, on this day, so and so meets so and so and gets married on this date or whatever. And we did business cards and there was one guy who would be offended if there was anything vaguely pornographic in the business card and he would just stop work and walk outside if that happened.

What would set him off?

I don’t know. I mean, you know when you get into these editor type jobs or like a proofreading position too, sometimes there’s a skewed moral sense that [Hodler laughs] comes into play that transcends whether words are in the correct order. That happened when I was working in closed captioning too, because you’re sort of not supposed to make mistakes. I mean, the general gist of it is, as a proofreader, don’t make any mistakes. We definitely had certain people who had a frame of mind like “I don’t make any mistakes; that’s why I’m here.”

Elsewhere:

—Interviews. Seattle Weekly speaks to Julia Gfrörer.

—News
The New York Times has now published an obituary of Gary Arlington. DC’s Batman group editor Mike Marts is leaving DC to join Marvel as Executive Editor. The Young Adult Library Services Association has announced its 2014 list of “great graphic novels.” (In the current market library sales are a big deal, especially for bookstore-oriented publications.)

—Angoulême Bill Watterson has been awarded the Grand Prix.

Paul Karasik and Jen Vaughn are still reporting from the festival.

The art site Hyperallergic reports further on the Angoulême/SodaStream controversy, including the festival’s response. In the meantime, another group of artists have signed the open letter protesting SodaStream’s involvement, including Jacques Tardi, Igort, Baru, and Sarah Glidden.

—Misc. Chris Mautner previews six comics he’s looking forward to this year. J. Caleb Mozzocco chronicles a DC supervillain from the Golden Age to the New 52.

 

Upset Feelings Everywhere

Our columnist and longtime reviewer Rob Clough decided to start his own small-press comics festival in his home town last year. Today he tells us what he learned from the experience:

We wanted to create a show that would interest us. I’ve attended shows like SPX and MOCCA for years, and have found them to be inspiring in a number of ways. SPX in particular inspired my interest in small-press works and minicomics and indirectly led to my becoming a critic. SPX has a strong programming track and that was something I knew that I wanted to emulate. However, what I didn’t want was another “flea market” style show that forced artists to stay chained to their tables for the duration of the show and focused on commerce above all else. I was tabbed to pick most of the guests for the show. I chose to invite participants who I thought would be a good fit for our aesthetics and goals instead of making it an open call like other cons. I also wanted to emphasize local artists as much as possible. Here’s a list of things of the things we wanted in a show and how we made them happen:

1. An interesting, interactive space. I didn’t want a show in a hotel or convention center space. I wanted a funkier, more intimate and creative space. That’s where Bill was so incredibly generous as to donate the use of his amazing screenprinting studio near downtown Durham. During the opening night of the show, a screenprinter was actually working there and happily chatted with the public about what he was doing, including an interesting hand-crank print scroll. Supergraphic is one of many reclaimed spaces in Durham; it used to be a machinery shop years ago.

2. A gallery show. Gallery shows at large events like SPX are untenable for any number of reasons, but this was a priority for me for DICE. [...]

Elsewhere:

—Commentary. Michael Dooley has a brief profile/recap of the Mike Diana censorship case. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be. Qiana Whitted wonders what comics should be considered African=American. Adam Roberts considers Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.

Johanna Draper-Carlson writes a post wondering why more isn’t being made of the re-release of Miracleman. Others have been asking the same thing. I sympathize in that it’s strong work that hasn’t been officially available for a long time, but I’m not sure why anyone is spending time worrying about this; it sure feels like that book’s gotten a lot of attention to me. A worthy comic being released and not getting an across-the-board freak-out ecstatic response seems a little dog bites man.

MariNaomi writes a personal essay on apologies and forgiveness touching on her own story of sexual harassment at a comics convention and the Shia LaBeouf plagiarism incident(s).

—Publishing. Phil Foglio of the long-running self-published Girl Genius series has posted a lengthy complaint about his treatment by the book publisher Tor, which he claims mishandled his work and is ignoring communication. A Tor editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, responds and attempts to clarify some of the situation here.

—Paul Karasik’s still in Angoulême.

—A group of cartoonists, including Joe Sacco, Ben Katchor, and Sue Coe, have signed an open letter asking for the Angoulême festival to drop SodaStream’s sponsorship of the show.

 

Tag

It’s always a good day when a new Ken Parille Grid column shows up, and today he’s got a long look at that most underappreciated and unusual cartoonist, Abner Dean, whose example is if anything even more instructive and relevant today. Here’s how Ken’s column opens:

After years of reading Abner Dean, I still can’t answer a fundamental question: Are the drawings in the books he released from 1945 to 1954 cartoons? In one sense, of course, what we call them is irrelevant: they are beautifully drawn, thought provoking works of art. Yet the question gets at issues central to Dean’s philosophy and the trajectory of his career. Prior to releasing It’s a Long Way to Heaven in 1945, he had worked for over a decade as a commercial artist. Having drawn countless ads for products like crackers, cereal, and insurance, as well as hundreds of cartoons for popular magazines, he felt burdened by the limitations of contemporary cartooning formulas. Looking to create complex works of lasting value, in the early ‘40s he took the vocabulary of the single-panel gag cartoon — a genre he had long since mastered — and began producing “drawings” (his preferred term) that he thought of as something original, even “striking.” These innovations expressed his belief in the power of images, not simply to get a laugh, but to get readers thinking about themselves in new ways. The typical gag asks only for a quick chuckle at how we — or, more often, other people — act. But for Dean, the combination of image and text could stimulate a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses: delight, frustration, provocation, bewilderment, sadness, or illumination. To bring about such reactions, Dean created “cartoons” (a term he also used) that placed a greater demand on readers than typical gags and generated more questions than answers. Take Dean’s “Opportunist in a Strange Land”:

dean1

What’s the opportunity presented the protagonist? (To be a voyeur who can’t be caught looking?) Why don’t the others just remove the sacks from their heads? (Are they content in their blindness?) Why is he wearing a hat? (After all, no one can see it). But most importantly: What’s in the bag he’s carrying?

We also have Rob Kirby’s review of Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer:

In this follow-up to his acclaimed The End of the Fucking World (a/k/a TEOTFW), Charles Forsman introduces us to a new pair of alienated, apathetic teenagers, Mike and Wolf. Wolf, an awkward, taciturn lump of a boy with a Mohawk who lives with his grandmother, has just graduated from high school and is quietly freaked about what’s next. Mike – lean, lank-haired and a bit older – is more established and outwardly sure of himself. At the outset of the story, the boys drop acid and, like Fucking World’s James and Alyssa, take to the road, heading no place in particular. Thus begins their “celebrated summer,” a reference to the Hüsker Dü song that gives the story its name: “It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around.”

Rather than finding the life-changing transcendence or groovy adventure depicted in acid trips of movies and other popular media, the boys – particularly Wolf – turn inward. Their ambivalence towards each other and their lives fuels the narrative. Celebrated Summer is a quiet, funny-sad character study in which what isn’t said speaks volumes; its broader subject is the liminal state of teenagers standing uneasily on the cusp of adulthood and responsibility, anxious or just plain numb at the prospect of leaving the “carefree” days of childhood behind forever.

Elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Edie Fake reviews the new Mould Map 3. Brian Cremins reports on the Chicago performance of Art Spiegelman’s Wordless! Greg Hunter on Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. Rob Clough reviews MariNaomi, Sean T. Collins & Julia Gfrörer, and Spencer Hicks. Wim on Olivier Schrauwen’s My Boy.

—News.
Paul Karasik is reporting from Angoulême. Uncivilized Books has announced its spring 2014 lineup.

—Spending Opportunities. Here’s a Kickstarter for a new Kim Deitch collection that hits its funding goal almost immediately.

—Interviews. J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Lucy Knisley. And here’s Matz on collaborating with David Fincher on a graphic-novel adaptation of Fincher’s aborted version of Black Dahlia.