Paul Tumey: How long have you had that remarkable graphic style — how far back does it go?
Emil Ferris: I think I really started developing that style when I was about eight.
Paul Tumey: And I agree―a flashy style with substance isn’t worth much, I think―facing off with the difficult feelings is what gives the whole enterprise depth. I feel that when I read Monsters. That pulled me through the narrative as much as plot.
Paul Tumey: You can see artists getting into that space and producing work of remarkable depth and complexity, and then backing off from it, perhaps out of survival. It seems very intense and consuming … although the work that can come from that state can bring rewards.
Emil Ferris: I agree. I think that’s the sacred geometry, if you will, that makes theater cathartic. The capacity we have to feel an emotional state and move through it towards empathy and understanding and yet have it all be ‘fictional’ ‘play-acting’ and thereby safe. The artist is a willing servant to those altered states and a shamanic being taking us down a dark path, meanwhile punching holes into the tunnel to allow us light and hope and a view as we travel that dark passage. That view is sometimes a page, a scene, a moment of film or a painting, poetry, music, dance, vision.
Paul Tumey: That shamanic journey, the transformation of one’s self and life, is captured with sensitivity and vision at several key points in Book One of Monsters. I’m thinking of Karen’s shift into werewolf mode and later, her psychedelic trip in the graveyard at night.
Emil Ferris: As unlikely as it is, there is some truth to that graveyard tripping scene. When I was a kid I belonged to the Marble Cake Kids, a little theatrical troupe of children of many different races run by two counterculture mavens called Leo and Mila. The troupe had their base at Hull House on Beacon Street, only a stone’s throw from Chicago’s infamous Graceland Cemetery. So necessarily as a kid obsessed with monsters, I decided I needed to sneak into Graceland and wait for wonders. When I was finally able to get into the cemetery, the actual wonders were the graves of famous Chicagoans whose stories I researched as I got older. There was also a ghost child rumored to live in the cemetery who I desperately wanted (and still want) to appear to me and befriend me. As for the marijuana connection, that occurred after I was a bit older, when imbibing of the weed and going into cemeteries became a pastime of mine.
In 1990, Taniguchi turned his eye away from gangsters and mountain climbers to look inside at his own life with The Walking Man. Here another Taniguchi hero emerged: the middle-class, middle-aged man becoming aware of his own surroundings. This Zen-like, introspective hero would appear again and again, in semi-autobiographical comics like A Zoo in Winter, the fantasy-tinged A Distant Neighborhood, and the foodie comic The Solitary Gourmet.
It is this aspect of Taniguchi that appealed to French readers. His simple, reflective storylines touched a deep cord in France, who resonated with the comics’ appreciation for nature and daily life that are not quagmired in nostalgia. From 2007-2008 French jeweler and luxury brand Cartier used Taniguchi’s art for a commercial campaign that spread his fame across the country—a bit ironically, considering Cartier is selling a lifestyle completely at odds with Taniguchi’s portrayal of middle-class life. France also loved Taniguchi enough to commission Guardians of the Louvre, a fanciful story about a lone Japanese man wandering through the ancient art gallery, conversing with famous paintings in a mad fever dream. And lest you should think of Taniguchi as only a wise prophet of the nobility of a peaceful life, while he creating these idyllic portraits of modernity he was also drawing Fatal Wolf, an ultra-violent wrestling comic. Taniguchi was a multi-faceted jewel. One of those facets was huge, rippling muscled men attempting to tear each other apart. The guy could draw an exquisite blood stream.
—News. The Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation has announced a challenge grant to raise money for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library's Lucy Shelton Caswell Research Award.
The endowment will provide funding for scholars to travel to Columbus and use the BICLM collections for research and publishing. A committee will be appointed by the BICLM curator to review applications and select award recipients. The Foundation will also contribute a stipend for the award each year until the BICLM can raise the matching funds to establish the endowment.
[My comics persona] is made up of exaggerated parts of me that I blow up and push to the maximum. I drew the most sordid, unacceptable parts of myself. I’m not as ugly as I draw myself. But when I was younger, that’s how I felt, so that’s what I drew.
In retrospect, I thought I’d bring out the worst part of myself and see if people still loved me. I didn’t do it on purpose ― to shock ― but it was shocking to people. I did it because I needed the ultimate approval.
For EW, Anthony Breznican talks to the novelist Victor LaValle, who is launching a new comics series riffing off of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
There are two different versions of the ending [to the novel]. The one we know is Percy Shelley’s ending. Mary Shelley actually had an ending where he pushes away from the shift, but Percy didn’t want that because he didn’t like that the monster was rejecting civilization. He thought civilization should reject the monster. It’s a tiny change, but it makes so much difference.
For HiLobrow, Adam McGovern speaks to the artist John Jennings about his work on the comics adaptation of Octavia Butler's Kindred.
When we first approached the adaptation, one of the things that was in the front of our minds was to try to make an adaptation that utilized the best aspects of the comics medium. You don’t want to make something where the first thing people say is, “this could have not happened.” We wanted to make something that had the underlying themes of the book, and was the story, but also did something with the medium of comics that the prose novel couldn’t do. The initial script was a lot more meta; it was almost like you had to read the original story to get the whole thing, but then our editor Sheila Keenan, in her infinite wisdom, was like, “No — you don’t wanna create a book that makes people have to go out and get another book.” [laughs] In the rewriting process we came up with something that was a lot more streamlined, and is an homage to the original story but also reified aspects of the emotional content of the work in a way that comics can do.
The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Rich Tommaso.
Month to month, reading superhero comics as an adult can be frustrating. No other medium with which I'm involved is as clearly deformed by the needs of the marketplace (like in its endless crossovers, to take but one example). So often it fails to realize its potential, brought down by simplicity, pathology, or the low and narrow expectations of its fan base. But every once in a while you get a comic like these two, and you remember why you're drawn to this medium, the connection it makes between your long-gone childhood self and the adult you who knows better but still looks to stories of people and events that are larger than ourselves but nonetheless, time and again, resolve to the human.
It was interesting at the outset to think about the vast mood influence the magic of one of Brown’s books had cast into the nighttime wells of millions of children over a period of several decades and still to this day. Then, to pause to consider how little any reader, be they parent or child, knew about the particular geometry of her life, to say nothing of the scores of books she wrote that haven’t yet enjoyed the same ascendency as Goodnight Moon including her Noisy Book series, or those she wrote under a handful of pseudonyms. Could it matter to our experience of the book to know that Brown didn’t live to see Goodnight Moon thrive, that she died young, at 42 in 1952, exiting life with the kind of boisterous exuberance she was known for: cause of death was a cancan-type kick of her leg into the air following a minor surgery. She died instantly of an embolism. In an equally strange twist of fate, in her will, Brown had named the child of a friend the right to all monies earned by her books should he survive her, but the boy, who never completed high school and who gained a reputation for destroying public property and beating people up, grew up to squander the millions.
Tucker Stone has reported that Dahlov Ipcar, who wrote and illustrated childrens books, has passed away. Via Facebook:
A few years ago, pretty soon after I started at Nobrow, my friend Jason and I drove to Georgetown Maine and interviewed Dahlov Ipcar, who was 96 at the time, about her children's books that we were getting ready to re-issue via Flying Eye. She was electric: 96 years old, living alone (it was her elderly son's job to supply her with groceries), very direct, funny and acerbic as hell. I loved her. I wrote her letters afterwards (that was her preferred method of contact with me) whenever I had something of note to tell her about my work on her books, and I spoke to her a few times on the phone to set up some interviews and assist her with supplying books for events she would do at a local children's hospital. She was always on top of it, and funny in a crusty, tough way that belied decades of commitment to craft and hardcore farmhouse living.
She just passed away, which was expected. I am sorry to her family for that, but I know how incredibly proud her sons were to work with her, and how much she loved and missed her husband, who passed away himself decades ago. Her life was lived as fully as one could dream of --a family she loved, and an art she devoted herself too. One of the first things that she told Jason and I when we arrived to make the attached video was that she had no interest in living to be 100 years old--as she put it, she was tired of spending so much of her morning going to the bathroom--and that was only the first of many things that made us laugh.
I just checked. Her 100th birthday would have been this November. Nice work, Dahlov.
And the great Ivan Brunetti wrote in to call our attention to an auction of his own artwork to benefit Linework No. 7, an excellent (I saw the first couple issues) student-edited comics anthology featuring the work of Columbia College Chicago students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Ivan teaches comics and illustration at Columbia College, and there is a lack of funding for Linework. In 2014 he sold a page of original art on ebay to fund the Linework project, and those funds helped sustain us through 3 issues, 2 exhibits, and some individual student projects. Here is a link to the auction. Go get some good art for a good cause.
Risograph. What is it? Where did it come from? Most of us comics makers never really even heard of risograph until 2009 or so. Recently, I was noting to a friend how much better looking most risograph printed comics look than most "print on demand" or even most offset printed comics—and how prevalent the use of risograph has become. We tried to think about the first risograph printed comic we saw--what it was and when it appeared. It was then that Providence-based comics maker Mickey Zacchilli's name kept popping up. Many of the people I interviewed for this series mentioned Mickey's comics printed with a risograph as an inspiration, and then they all seemed to have gone on their own risograph research and development program. So I decided to go to the source and asked the great Mickey Z to fill us in... what really happened? Read on below.
Every nonfiction comic must find a way to tackle this tension between the need to tell a true story and render a personal work of art in both image and text. Art Spiegelman’s Maus and David B’s Epileptic do this through using frequent symbolism to make it clear we are not reading literal truth. Journalist Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza becomes an investigation into whether or not the truth of historical events is even knowable. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is organized as a series of chronologically scrambled, thematically linked episodes, as if the page is mimicking both obsessive research (which she draws herself doing) and the searching qualities of memory at the same time.
“If I locked you up, it was so you could taste hate,” Dr. Amin Jaafari’s captor says in the extraordinary graphic novel version of Yasmina Kadra’s “The Attack.” “Anything can happen if you scratch at someone’s self-esteem. Especially if they are feeling powerless.”
This is not just a simplified explanation of the complex motivations of a suicide bomber. These words, in a sense, exemplify the brutal cycle of the Middle East tragedy: Injustice leads to powerlessness, to frustration to rage, and finally to acts of violence that undercut any attempts at peace or reconciliation.
When I’m reading a comic — especially some weak 1970s’ DC or Marvel book — I’ll often imagine Alvin watching over my shoulder, not at all happy with what he’s seeing. In a soft monotone voice he condemns me for wasting time on crap when there’s genuinely engaging, idiosyncratic work out there, waiting.
Ferris uses those early experiences as a loose backdrop in her stunning debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Set in 1960s Uptown, Monsters is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old’s diary as she attempts to solve the murder of her mysterious upstairs neighbor. The book, which is haunting, ambitious, and altogether remarkable, took Ferris more than a decade to complete. The story behind its creation is as astounding as the book itself.
A very brief excerpt of the book can be found at The New Yorker's website, along with a quick introduction by Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes.
On the eve of the publication of a work about the past, Ferris is surprised by its relevance to the present: “When I started on this—years and years ago—we were living in a different time,” she said. “I was wondering, Why am I doing this? I’m talking about the rise of fascism. I’m talking about racial inequality. I’m talking about the lack of representation for children who are lesbian and gay and trans.” She would ask herself, back then, “Is this just a history lesson that I’m making? I thought it’s good to be reminded that these are important topics.”
“Now, though, I’m a little astonished,” she said. “It has all come back.”
—Crowdfunding Requests. The family of artist Jeremy Treece is asking for help after a devastating series of health, employment, and housing issues.
Our hope is that this campaign will help our family move into a new home by February 28th, and help us find a decent used vehicle for getting the children to and from school and running errands, but also for helping Lisa (me) get to and from doctor appointments and making sure that I have the availability to accept interviews and possible job offers.
Why do we need help? Jeremy's freelance income varies month to month and it had been my income that stablilized us- up until the point I lost my job. Our car had been a wreck from the beginning and is now being torn apart for scrap by a local salvage yard. The community we are living in has issued us an unexpected notice that they will "not be renewing" our lease, which is up as of February 28th; if we are not out by that date, legal action will be taken.
In 2017, everyone knows that comics are a powerful medium for storytelling and beautiful artwork. But what other expressive possibilities are hidden in the form? What new things can we say with all the elements of the comics page—the panel arrangements, cartooning, word balloons and captions, lettering styles, and on and on? In short, what else can comics do?
We started Ink Brick to answer that question. We started it to create a home for this exciting form that most people still don't know about, to create a community. We've now published six issues featuring over 100 creators from across the world. We're getting more work than we know what to do with, and we need your help to expand our reach and embark on exciting new projects.
I've been around professionally for about 25 years. I edit a comic called MAGIC WHISTLE. I had a regular comic for NICKELODEON magazine from 1993 to 2009. I've done work for NEW YORK PRESS, OBSERVER, COMICS JOURNAL, DC COMICS, CARTOON NETWORK, MEDIUM, DISNEY, AOL, was nominated for an Emmy for my writing on SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS in 2001, still write for the comic, have had several book collections, a development deal, yet despite all this I'm always broke. Last year I made, uh, let's just say... less than you. Hoping this will be one of the things to change that.
Today on the site we have cartoonist Julia Wertz interviewing her friend and peer Sarah Glidden about Glidden's recent book, Rolling Blackouts.
Comics journalism is kind of new, at least to the general public. What do you think of the state of it now, and who’s doing good stuff? Or stuff you like?
I think it’s great! With places like The Nib, which are devoted exclusively to comics journalism. Other websites—or even magazines—which aren’t traditionally into comics, but adding comics journalism. I think there’s a lot of people doing a lot of really good work, like Joe Sacco, who’s been doing this for so long. He’s great. And he’s done work for Harper’s, publications that aren’t prone to using comics. But there’s a lot of great new people too. I really like Sam Wallman’s work. He’s an Australian cartoonist. A lot of the stuff on The Nib I think is really interesting.
Is it still a small field? A couple of you working, or do you think it’s a lot bigger than people assume? I assume it’s small.
It’s pretty small, but comics journalism—there’s a range of stuff. Lisa does comics journalism: her restaurant reviews and her movie reviews. She’s done things like the visit to the toy show. That’s comics journalism, also. I actually use her work when I do classes. I use her work as an example of comics journalism too, because I want people to know it’s not just stories about refugees. The things that you traditionally think about are Joe Sacco-style comics journalism.
Right. Very political.
I mean, you do comics journalism. I think that, in that way, sometimes people forget that there’s more to comics journalism than The Nib. Anyone working in nonfiction—basically, the lines can blur between memoir and journalism. I think that’s where New Journalism that started in the 1970s and ’60s comes in. I think that’ lots of things can be comics journalism. I’d be interested to see more movie reviews in comics form, or just like, “Here I am, dropping in to the swap meet for a day, in a new place. What is it like?”
You think it’s more palatable, especially for younger people, to see a comic, versus seeing a textbook or an article?
I don’t know about palatable, but I think that maybe comics can make people take a second look at something. At the moment, we’re bombarded by text and photos all the time. So, drawing and images that are hand drawn are more rare. When you see a comic, maybe you’ll take notice and want to read it, just because it’s different. What will happen when there’s as many comics journalists out there as there are prose journalists, maybe then people won’t really be into it anymore. At the moment, it’s an exciting time, because it is still fairly new. I think people can pay attention.
When you think about it, food is a pretty ingenious topic for studying a popular art form. Eating is something we all do; it’s woven throughout cultures and histories. Viewing comics through the lens of something so ubiquitous and essential reveals a “living art” aspect to the medium. For example, an E.C. Segar 1933 Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye comic strip in which Wimpy salivates copiously over a juicy hamburger is something a reader in 2017 America can directly relate to because that food is still a part of our culture today. Wimpy would not be amusing today if his ardent passion for a hamburger with “pickles, lettuce and onions both” were instead, say, dancing the Lindy Hop. Because of its universality and direct route to our brains, hardwired to crave and consume edibles every day, food as a theme can help make a comic strip relevant to succeeding generations.
Aside from the timeless aspect, broadly surveying food themes in comics from 1865 to 1954 reveals a fascinating correlation with social movements, trends and history itself. For example, comics in the mid-1940s depicted wartime food shortages and ten years later, they skewered excessive consumerism, mirroring America’s own changes through World War Two and into the prosperous 1950s. Comics, it seems, have often reflected the times in which they were made. The great comics both reflect and comment upon the times, all the while entertaining us.
Before we get into all dissecting and reflecting on this latest edition of the heavy weight championship of comics expos, Angoulême, let’s go for a stroll, take it easy and soak it all in. What do you say?
Many comics scholars arrive through fandom. Does a more traditional academic background provide greater critical distance?
I don’t think so. There are debates about fan studies and whether fans can be rigorous scholars. But people who study high texts — Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Toni Morrison — also have deep attachments.
I do think scholars of popular culture have a heightened sense of the need to defend their subjects. In some ways, it’s similar to black studies — which is why I’m interested in the nexus between African-American studies and fan studies. Certain kinds of fandom are like political commitments.
In his art, Pettibon only sometimes addresses topical politics, or topical anything, but he knows his archetypes, and it’s nice to have eschatological expertise on current events. How seriously to take it is an uncertainty that haunts all of Pettibon’s art, which is surveyed in “A Pen of All Work,” a retrospective at the New Museum of some seven hundred creations, mostly drawings with text. He has intrigued and befuddled a growing audience since the late nineteen-seventies, when he emerged, in Hermosa Beach, California, as a bookish surfer who made flyers and album covers for the punk band Black Flag (his older brother Greg Ginn was the founder and guitarist) and a flurry of zines. His fame took hold slowly, and it remains confined largely to fine-art circles. Seeing the show is like being lost in a foreign but strangely familiar city, where polyphonic disembodied voices whisper, yell, or sputter wit and wisdom that you’re rarely sure that you heard quite right.
The first person represented in Soft City is a baby, wide eyes and all. The book begins with the baby trying to figure out “what’s happening” as it gazes out a window surrounded by hundreds of windows just like the family’s own. While we eventually lose the outline of the baby, and their overarching thoughts strung across the page, the outlandish grandiose of adult life seems as if its been processed and regurgitated by an infant. As the parents climb out of bed, they’re already occupying their simplistic roles within the binary—the mother thinks “I must look for the baby,” while the father insists simply, “I must shave.” Soft City presents a dizzying, infant-POV understanding of our places in the world that is at once intriguing, and rather depressing. Every family in their apartment complex has one wife and one child, supporting their family by occupying the same job at the same corporation, Soft Corp. It seems that the only person who has somewhat escaped this cycle is their boss, who works in a private office, phoning in to his wife and kid who are somewhere on a beach, as well as the family’s child, who seems hesitant about this lifestyle.
Before the blurry “photo paintings”—large images based on family snapshots or magazine ads—that would establish his preeminence, Gerhard Richter experimented with another form of Pop: cartoon drawings.
Shortly after the Berlin Wall went up and the painter defected, or as he would say “relocated,” from Dresden to the West, Richter drew a series of images featuring a single protagonist going through an abstract landscape. Recently discovered in a 1962 notebook, these have been published by his archives in a facsimile edition titled Comic Strip—a sparely beautiful book-object that, like Krazy Kat or Little Orphan Annie, has a central character or rather an expressive motif.
In the late 1800s, London was swept up in the new craze of visual, satirical journalism. When Judy magazine, a twopenny serio-comic, debuted a red-nosed, lanky schemer named Ally Sloper who represented the poor working class of 19th-century England, it was one of the first recurring characters in comic history.
But credit for that character has long gone to the wrong person. Two people were responsible for Ally Sloper—and one of the creators has only recently been rediscovered by academics and comic fans.
New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress writes about maintaining sanity as an artist in the Trump era.
My own mental health has definitely taken a hit. From late last summer through early December, I drew a topical cartoon (the Daily Cartoon) five days a week for newyorker.com. I was forced to stay extremely well-informed in order to make jokes about the very stuff that was turning my head into a dark, scary place, and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. (It’s my habit to read or watch news during meals.) At night, I lay in bed, sleepless for hours, replaying the day’s events.
Best of all, perhaps, this exhibition lets the viewer see out of the eyes of one of Crumb’s women. The Crumb woman, maybe. Crumb’s comics are, to be frank, kind of sexist. He has also at times used racist imagery in his comics, to satirical but nonetheless unpleasant effect. The goddesses he manufactures are powerful but they’re not human. They’re iron buttocks, straining shirts. But Kominsky-Crumb is a person, and she draws through the experience of being desired by and desiring Robert Crumb. In this sense, the show is engaging and delightful but also, in a mutual kind of way, redemptive.
Bob Heer writes about some samples of the work of Dan Spiegle.
—Interviews & Profiles. Rivka Galchen profiles Mo Willems.
Last September, when I first met Willems, I had my three-year-old daughter with me. Willems, who is forty-eight, was wearing orange combat boots, black jeans, a black button-up shirt, and a dark floral blazer. He appeared to be about seven feet tall (though emotionless measurement says he is six feet two). My daughter has memorized much of Willems’s œuvre, an achievement that doesn’t greatly distinguish her from her peers. When Willems waved at her, she began to cry. “I understand,” he said. “It’s a big disappointment. The first of many.”
When did you start working together?
RC: In 1972 we were living in the sticks. She had a little trailer and I lived in a cabin next door. She was laid up with a broken foot and was pissed at me because this other girlfriend had come to see me. So to placate her I said ,“Let’s draw a comic together.”
What was the reaction when you starting publishing them?
AKC: I’ve memorized some of the reader responses: “Maybe she’s a good lay, but keep her off the fucking page” and “Let her do the cooking; you do the cartooning.” It was a real boys’ club.