Welcome back to the funny pages. This morning, R.C. Harvey returns with a look at the life and work of early comics master Art Young.
ABOUT THE SAME TIME as his marriage was dissolving, Young's political views were taking their final shape. In 1902, Young had returned to Wisconsin briefly to lend his pen to Robert La Follette's Progressive (Republican) campaign to be re-elected governor. But by 1905, Young had rejected the Republican politics of his heritage— including "all bourgeois institutions." And he had resolved never again to draw a cartoon whose ideas he didn't believe in.
Not all of Young’s cartoons were “political cartoons” in the current sense. He also drew cartoons that were simply humorous. And even his political cartoons were seldom of the modern sort, skewering politicians by name. Not at first. Instead, Young sent out barbed shafts aimed at general targets: bloated businessmen who ignored the plight of their workers. And it was for these that he declared his independence from any imposed point of view.
“I would no longer draw cartoons which illustrated somebody else’s will,” he wrote. “Henceforth it would be my own way of looking at things—right or wrong. I would figure things out for myself. If success came, well and good; but to win at the price of my freedom of thought—that kind of success was not for me. Though I perceived that much of life was compromise, in dealing with world affairs or with my own, I would have to sink or swim holding on to my own beliefs on questions of vital importance.”
In 1906, he graduated from Cooper Union where he had been taking courses in debate and public speaking. And in 1910, he realized that he belonged with the socialists "in their fight to destroy capitalism."
“Speakers for the Social Democratic party provided me with much food for thought,” Young wrote. “They attacked the whole capitalistic system, showed how its different units combined to exploit the producing masses to the nth degree, and how the press distorted or suppressed news to protect this system, of which it was a part.
“Listening to lectures on the class struggle (after I discovered that such a struggle had been going on for ages), I found that I had a great deal in common with the everyday workers. ... I was living in a world morally and spiritually diseased, and I was learning some of the reasons why.”
Matt Seneca is back, too, with a review of Shintaro Kago's Dementia 21.
For a mangaka whose work has just begun edging into official English translation, Shintaro Kago is in the rare and enviable position of needing little introduction. If you're reading about comics on the internet (you are), you've probably seen his art somewhere - that Flying Lotus album, old issues of Vice, random can't-unsee-it images on tumblr, or any one of numerous scanlations. It's actually somewhat surprising that Kago books haven't had a longtime presence in the comic stores of the West. I don't know that guro manga has a particularly large fandom here numbers wise, but it's certainly got a passionate one, and after Junji Ito and maybe Hideshi Hino, Kago is one of the idiom's biggest names. At its best (and especially when it's in color), his imagery transcends simple grossness for the truly uncanny, opening page- or screen-sized portals into a world that's impossible to get your head all the way around.
—Gasoline Alley. This weekend saw the 100th anniversary of Gasoline Alley, which, at least in the original incarnation drawn and written by Frank King, is one of a small handful of works that could plausibly be held up as the greatest comic strip ever created. We've covered it many times in the Comics Journal, and today's a good day to look back at a few highlights, including R.C. Harvey's history of the strip's early years, a conversation with Jeet Heer about the recent Drawn & Quarterly reprint series, and Frank M. Young's review of a recent Sunday Press collection of Frank King work.
—News. Abrams Books has cancelled a forthcoming book by Jack Gantos and Dave McKean called A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, after widespread criticism online.
The graphic novel, written by the Newbery medal-winning author Jack Gantos and illustrated by Sandman artist Dave McKean, follows a young, brown-skinned would-be terrorist. It was due to be released in May 2019.
“When a young boy enters a library wearing an explosive vest hidden underneath his lovely new red jacket, he has only one plan on his mind. But as he observes those around him becoming captivated by the books they are reading, the boy can’t help but question his reason for being there,” reads a description from its publisher, Abrams.
Comics publisher Zainab Akhtar described the comic on Twitter last week as dealing with “an illiterate brown Muslim boy who goes into a library with a suicide bomb only to start having second thoughts because people seem so into the world of books and if only he could read”.
“Because reading will help the ignorant brown Muslim boy question/renounce his beliefs, you see, in addition to being some vague kumbaya about how a specific interpretation of culture will save the barbarian,” she wrote.
—Interviews. On last week's episode of Behind the News, Doug Henwood interviewed Mark Dery about his new biography of Edward Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous. The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Tom Tomorrow.
—RIP. Nicolas Roeg