Pardon my typing this week. I am recovering from a cheese grater incident this weekend that took off part of my right thumb. I am having a really splendid holiday season all around. Meanwhile, elsewhere:
—News. The Montreal cartoonist Jacques Hurtubise, aka Zyx, has died. —Reviews & Commentary. Robert Boyd put together a list of his favorite comics of 2015. I don't like everything on his list, but I responded to it much more favorably than any other end-of-the-year list I've seen so far, maybe because it is so clearly personal. In any case, it makes sense, a low bar you might say, but one that none of the aggregated best-ofs that have come out this December have yet been able to clear.
—Interviews & Profiles. Jordanne Laurito writes a brief profile of the cartoonist and SAW co-founder Tom Hart.
“I chose ‘Sequential Artists Workshop’ for a couple of reasons,” Hart said. “One is because ‘sequential art’ is kind of a pretentious name, and I wanted to aspire to a slight level of pretense,” he said with a laugh.
“More importantly, I wanted to have ‘artists’ in the title. I was inspired a little bit by The Actors Studio in New York… I like that the focus is on the artist. It’s not so much about the comics as it is about the people who come in and try to learn.”
In his new book Test Tube, Carlos Gonzalez has populated the small town of Lensburg with a multitude of lonely, anxious, creatively frustrated souls who all seem to be yearning for a brush with transcendence. Peter Yolk is a projectionist at a second-run movie theater. His only friend is Richard Penny, the bartender at a girlie club called the Dollhouse, an establishment frequented by many of the characters in the book. A man named Jeff works at a diner called the Lensburg System, which is perhaps a reference to the New York System, a diner in Olneyville, Gonzalez’s own neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. After work, Jeff returns home exhausted and unable to do anything but stay up into the wee hours watching wrestling and B-movies on television. At one point Jeff states “I get high every night. It’s great. Sometimes I see shit. It never bugs me out though. There’s way more real stuff in life to be scared of.”
Hey, I can't remember if we've linked to Bill Griffith's amazing sale offer for his new book, Invisible Ink. Seems like a no-brainer.
In the introduction to a recent interview she conducted with Mai on TCJ, Annie Mok describes Tuesday as a "raucous collection of comics and scraps." “Scraps” is an apt description: many of these pages come across as little spur-of-the-moment exercises (in the interview Mai reveals she drew them on loose pieces of paper and not in a sketchbook). In her text Mai often eschews punctuation, which lends a distanced, stream-of-consciousness effect. Her line switches from scrawly and thin to a more directly appealing (and legible) bold line, while her persona alternates between bratty and vulnerable, and bewildered and snarky–all of which match her childlike drawings perfectly.
As a youthful reader of 2000AD in its early '80s heyday I grew up with compressed narratives, but this is something else: Druillet achieves almost Book of Genesis levels of symbolic density. Lone Sloane is a tripped-out attempt at creating cosmic myths, psychedelic visions, an assault on the fabric of reality on paper. The pages seethe with depictions of impossible machines, fantastic architecture, cosmic destruction, and ultra-absurd deus ex machina plot interventions. There is so much going on that the ideas and imagery cannot be contained in a traditional panel grid, so Druillet continues throughout to assault the reader/viewer with splash pages, jagged panels, pages without borders. It is the use of layouts in service of disorientation, breaking down the order of page to scramble the senses. And yet at the same time, Druillet "sees" these images with incredible clarity; the precision and meticulous detail of his imagery gives it an intense solidity.
With its emphasis on violence as a solution, the superhero genre often lends itself to simplistic solutions to complex problems. It is hardly an accident that in a New York Times Magazine interview, Ted Cruz named Rorschach as one of his favorite comic-book characters, the insane and uncompromising right-wing anti-hero from the graphic novel Watchmen. Campaigning in Iowa this summer, Donald Trump took a bunch of kids up for a helicopter ride. “Are you Batman?” a nine year old boy asked the real estate mogul. “I am Batman,” Trump replied. Trump is certainly as wealthy as Batman (a.k.a. billionaire Bruce Wayne), who in his latest incarnation in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) acted as a reactionary hero defending the wealthy of Gotham City from the envious rabble. Cultural critics like Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong long ago argued that the superhero genre was injecting fascist ideas into popular culture, a critique that cannot be easily dismissed. As Ong argued in a 1945 article for the Arizona Quarterly, “The notion of a ‘superman’ is part of the herdist economy of the Nazi Third Reich….The Superman of the cartoons is true to his sources. He is not another Horatio Alger hero or a Nick Carter; he is a super state type of hero, which definite interest in the ideologies of herdist politics.”
Today, Mizuki’s name is virtually synonymous with “Kitaro” and the yokai. Given the smashing success of this long-running kids’ franchise, which has appeared in fits and starts for more than half a century, it’s tempting to dub Mizuki the Disney of Japanese monsters. But Mizuki’s disinclination to whitewash the darker side of the human condition out of even his children’s fare makes him more like a Japanese Vonnegut. His comics brim with subtle and not-so-subtle references to the wars of his own and other nations, untrustworthy authority figures, and the consistent failure of violent solutions to problems.
In the USSR, Western comics, mostly American ones, were generally criticized, but the works of such distinguished authors as Jose Cabrero Arnal, Jean Effel, Herluf Bidstrup, and Ollie Harrington were willingly popularized, since they were communists. In the Great Soviet Encyclopedia the magazine Vesyolye Kartinki was cited as an example of comics.
But of course, official rejection did take place. One of the founders of Yugoslavian comics, Yuri Lobachyov, made an attempt to serially publish a story called “The Hurricane Comes To The Rescue” in the children’s magazine Kostyor (The Campfire), but had to shut down the publication mid-course.
Though ideologically, by Soviet standards, there was nothing blameworthy in Lobachyov’s story. On the contrary, it criticized colonialism. The disapproval of the members of the committee was caused by the visual form of presentation of history through comics.
This is a romance set in Manchester UK and drawn in a clean "cartoony-realism” style. It's a coming-of-age tale if there ever was one; we follow Iris as she navigates her late teens. Parents, religion, boys, drugs, fast food, and daily life are the fare.
There are a range of ways in which I could tell you about the story and how it unfolds and how it’s drawn. However, I would like to focus on the fact that I usually don't enjoy this type of story. There's usually something heavy-handed in the presentation. It’s too cutesy, or too serious, or just not well made. And here is a story that is not cutesy, or too serious, and it’s well made. It just breezes by like a good movie which you want to watch again, or a TV show that you re-watch rather than wait for the next episode. I can binge read this book.
Mizuki wrote multiple accounts about life on the front line in the South Pacific theater, full of honest horror and humanity. Two are available in English: the fictionalized Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths and the autobiographical, four-volume Showa: A History of Japan. They are tremendous works of art, both Eisner winners, and stand tall with any war story ever written in any medium. I encourage you to let Mizuki tell you himself about those years. But I will expound on two events during his time in Rabaul.
The first—and most obvious—was the loss of his arm. At the time he was out of his wits with malaria, recuperating in a military hospital. The doctors recommended stopping his food and medicine, since no one as ill as Mizuki could possibly survive. When he heard this, he rose from his sick bed like a zombie and proceeded to eat everything in sight, convincing the doctors to give him another chance. But his supernatural stamina couldn’t help him from the bomb dropped on the hospital. Accounts differ as to which Allied force dropped it—most say the U.S., but the majority of the Battle of Rabaul was lead by Australian forces. Either way, the result was the same. Mizuki lost his arm. His drawing arm.
The bad example set by Woody Gelman’s oblong books from 1977 (with old Scorchy Smith dailies by Noel Sickles, Nostalgia Press reprints, 3 daily strips per page) still wreaks havoc in our modern reprint business. Reprinted Wash Tubbs dailies continuously end up in unpleasant books, with too little horizontal space on the page, and with a nefarious split in the middle killing their overall design.
Salon's piece on the best comics of 2015 displays a shockingly blinkered and narrowly cramped knowledge of the form, going so far as to include a television show but not any work not published by one of the corporate genre machines.
When I became art editor, I had to clandestinely introduce credits for the writers, artists and letterers. In my early career, I’d worked as a “bodger”, removing signatures hidden in hedgerows and the like. We were told British comics had traditionally never had attributions, but IPC were actually scared: if they identified creators, they might lose them to other companies like DC Thomson. I said “This is bullshit”, stuck credit panels on and told management we were experimenting. They’ve been there ever since.
Looking for a good holiday gift? May I recommend heading over to Marc Bell's online store? Yes, I will. Prints, patches, sculpture, what else do you want? Marc has also completed the posting of his and Joey Haley's series of films, exhumed from a 1990s bank vault.
Today on the site, Eric Buckler interviews the cartoonist and educator Jessica Abel about her most recent book, Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.
How did you become interested in podcasts?
The journey does not really start with podcasting. It starts with This American Life on the radio in Chicago in the mid- ‘90s. I started listening to it before I left Chicago, and then when I moved to Mexico, Matt [cartoonist Matt Madden, Jessica’s husband] and I would stream it on RealAudio on a laptop in Mexico City over like 56.6K baud, dial-up service. It was a nightmare. But we were totally into it, so we did that. Then, when Ira called me and asked me to do the book, it was like this totally insane thing. I was in Mexico City and who was on my phone? I mean, This American Life was a phenomenon at that point, it wasn’t like I was the only person listening to it. It was still niche, we’re talking like 1998 here, but still.
So I did the book and continued to have somewhat of a relationship with Ira, you know, not like seeing him often, but we cross paths. And then I came back to him to talk about doing this new book in 2011, I guess.
Meanwhile, as a cartoonist—I am sure you have experienced this talking to cartoonists at The Comics Journal—we are a core public-radio audience, because we spend insane hours in front of our drawing tables. I can’t listen to talk radio when I am writing, but when I’m not writing I need something to fill that part of my brain. When I’m drawing or sketching and trying to get something down, or especially if I’m inking or doing something that is… it’s not mechanical, but it’s not using the intellectual part of my brain. As soon as that happens? Oh my god, coloring? You need something interesting to listen to. And music, of course, fills the bill to a certain extent, but scratch a cartoonist and you find a radio fan. We listen to radio all the time.
I’ve had disputes with critics in the past who say Dear Amanda is about gender, and it isn’t at all. It’s a romance. I’m a queer person, so I do explore gender in my comics sometimes, because it’s something I think about. I also think about romance, which comes up in my work a lot, too. And when you’re gay your romances are gay ones. It just is everyday. Being queer is my reality. It’s the reality of my friends, it’s the every day life of millions of people. I make comics about people’s lives. It’s important to me that my work is true and reflective of the world.
Here's Kate Beaton from the Toronto Public Library last September:
—Reviews & Commentary. Alternative Comics publisher Marc Arsenault writes about production problems with the most recent issue of Magic Whistle.
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I received a slightly cryptic email from an artist about his new comic that I was publishing. It started simply enough, “Just got my copies. There is no text on the inside covers.” There weren’t really any more informative details. It was a December book and the email didn’t sound very urgent… I hoped it was a fluke, a bad batch. Even with a worst case scenario we still had plenty of time to fix it. I went back to my tea and morning news.
The next email arrived an hour later. It was a little more to the point. The subject was “they fucked up”.
Mark Evanier remembers his work on a misbegotten DC Comics adaptation of the 1978 version of The Wiz.
Words were exchanged…and not the most pleasant ones. Some months later, all of this would be worked out with different contracts and a lot of soothing apologies all around. In fact, DC Comics became a lot more mature and sane about how they dealt with talent. But for the moment, Sergio [Aragones] was no longer willing to work for them.
This was not a problem for me. I'd already signed the old contract to do The Wiz and was just about done with the script. Suddenly though, Joe Orlando had no one to draw what I was about to hand in. He called and asked me who I'd like. I said, "How about Sergio signing the contract someone could have given him four weeks ago?" He said that was no longer possible and asked me to think about artists and we'd talk the next day. Okay…
I called Sergio and suggested I would withdraw from the magazine in solidarity. He said don't be silly…"They didn't ask you to sign a contract you wouldn't sign." Besides, he said, the perfect artist for the job — righter for it than him, he said — was our friend, Dan Spiegle. "Ever since they asked me to do it, I keep thinking he would be so much better at it than I would."