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Sick as a Dog

Today Charles Hatfield returns with a review of Bernie “The Jam” Mireault’s latest self-published book, To Get Her. An excerpt:

My own knowledge of Mireault dates to his collaboration with Matt Wagner and Joe Matt on Comico’s Grendel, way back in 1987 (an arc later collected as The Devil Inside). That collaboration put Mireault on my radar, and so I dug into his quirky, low-rent superhero pastiche The Jam, a generally lighthearted riff on the genre but laced with semi-autobiographical, underground-flavored elements. The Jam began as a backup serial in the Canadian series New Triumph back in the early mid-’80s, then began to find its own way after 1987 (Comico published a one-shot after the Grendel run that I glommed onto very happily). By the mid-’90s I thought of The Jam as a humorous but soulful alternative to superheroes-as-usual, a project that, despite its fitfulness and its caroming between publishers, promised what Mike Allred’s Madman also seemed to promise at the time: life, energy, and homespun storytelling within the straits of that oh-so-familiar genre. I dug it the way I dug Allred’s work, and Mike Gilbert’s work on Mr. Monster, and the way I still dig Paul Grist’s myriad superhero comics.

Sara Varon continues her week contributing the Cartoonist’s Diary feature.

And we’ve also opened up the archives to bring out a 1986 panel discussion with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons about Watchmen, moderated by Neil Gaiman. Here’s an excerpt:

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Do you actually own Watchmen?

MOORE: My understanding is that when Watchmen is finished and DC have not used the characters for a year, they’re ours.

GIBBONS: They pay us a substantial amount of money. ..

MOORE: … to retain the rights. So basically they’re not ours, but if DC is working with the characters in our interests then they might as well be. On the other hand, if the characters have outlived their natural life span and DC doesn’t want to do anything with them, then after a year we’ve got them and we can do what we want with them, which I’m perfectly happy with.

GIBBONS: What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think that they’d do that. I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that, and we’ve certainly got no plans to do Watchmen II.

Also, I thought I’d draw attention to one other part of the interview, regarding the comic’s connection to Charlton comics. Moore explains:

I started mapping out a few ideas, and originally it was just a murder mystery, “Who killed the Peacemaker,” and that was it. We sent all this stuff to Dick Giordano and some of it was extreme. We were going to treat the Question as a lot more extreme than he’d been treated before. Dick loved the stuff, but having a paternal affection for these characters from his time at Charlton, he really didn’t want to give his babies to the butchers, and make no mistake about it, that’s what it would have been. He said, “Can you change the characters around and come up with some new ones?” At first I wasn’t sure whether that would work, but when Dave and I got together and started just planning these things out, it all really snapped into place and worked fine. I’m much happier now doing it with original characters. It’s worked out much better than it would have done if we had used Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and all the others, and I’m pleased with it.

Emphasis mine. The whole, depressingly common argument that Watchmen is just a ripoff of Charlton characters, and thus everything is now fair game is risible. The Question and Rorschach are not the same characters. If DC were planning a miniseries featuring characters who were sort of reminiscent of the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan and Sally Jupiter, etc., no one would be batting an eye right now.

Anyway, speaking of which, David Brothers has an enjoyably vicious editorial on the publication of Before Watchmen here. His thesis?:

Buying Before Watchmen is a vote for:

-A comics industry that prizes properties over creators
-A comics industry that will effortlessly use its legal muscle to screw over creators
-A comics industry that strip-mines the past at the expense of the future

Brothers draws attention to a recent USA Today story on the series in which DC co-publisher Dan DiDio offers the following mind-boggling quote: “The strength of what comics are is building on other people’s legacies and enhancing them and making them even stronger properties in their own right.” An inspirational way to start the morning! Maybe it’s best if we moved on to other topics …

—Such as DC’s sales figures, which Marc-Oliver Frisch analyzes here, and more or less convincingly finds (albeit with less than ideal information), that the New 52 initiative gave only a temporary positive push to sales.

—Dept. of Interviews. James Sturm talks to Julie Delporte. Graeme McMillan talks to Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Ashok Kondabolu (!) talks to Ben Marra. And finally, an interview with the late Harvey Pekar from close to his passing has come to light.

—I don’t think we’ve yet mentioned Tom Spurgeon’s annual head-exploding guide to attending the San Diego Comic-Con, and it’s probably because neither Dan nor I wants to come to terms with the fact that we won’t be there.

—Stephen Bissette reveals the secret cinematic origins of Ben Grimm.

—And if you’ve ever wanted a chance to talk (and buy) comics in person with our Sunday columnist Frank Santoro, this weekend in NYC is the time and place to make your dreams come true.

 

Five Card Stud

Well hello there. The book world, or parts of it, has gathered at Book Expo America. I’ll be there today, all day, attempting to sell books or myself, whichever comes first.

Today on the site Joe McCulloch brings us his wisdom pertaining to the comics scene of today and yesterday. And Sara Varon continues her tenure as diarist-in-residence.

Elsewhere in the universe… a series of bits of information:

-Julia Wertz nicely summarizes the comic convention experience.

-Oliver Schrauwen is self-publishing a “long story”. Looks good.

-Robin McConnell interviews Maurice Vellekoop.

– Jordan Crane has a Tumblr. The Seattle Star profiles Jeffrey Brown.

-Tom Spurgeon reviews some 1970s Avengers comics.

-Tom Gauld and Guy Delisle draw each other.

-And finally, the Stripper’s Guide profiles Tarpe Mills.

 

 

 

Unsteady

Big day on the site today. First, we have Ryan Standfest’s report from the University of Chicago’s recent “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference. An excerpt from his write-up on the Art Spiegelman/W.J.T. Mitchell panel:

Addressing what happens when comics become wall art allowed into galleries and museums, Spiegelman noted: “There is more to the Faustian deal than I originally thought. There are sub-clauses. The mingling of words and pictures is now allowed, and what is being achieved is way past Lichtenstein, way past Barbara Kruger. Something new is emerging. The avant-garde is exploring a new place where the pictures are not as easily articulated, not as happily contained.” This led the conversation to a dual consideration of new media and how a younger generation of cartoonists is reconsidering the form itself. “A book is easier to make because of this thing that is supposedly killing it. There is now a focus on the book as object—a new function in the world of the iPad.” Spiegelman noted that the history of comics has been the history of printing up until now, and that the medium has looked to the book-as-object as an answer. “The book, or ‘graphic novel’ is the current dominant form of the comic. The problem is that it requires great labor.” He indicated, however, that the book does not play to the greatest asset of the comics form—that the medium is one of compression, of reducing-down— the shorter, the better. In response, Spiegelman sounded a note about a move away from the book and a return to short-form comics out of the necessity of doubling as “wall art.”

Yesterday brought with it, of course, another installment of Frank Santoro’s Riff Raff column. In it, he writes short reviews of comics by Tin Can Forest, Connor Willumsen, and Ed Choy.

Sara Varon, creator of Robot Dreams and Bake Sale, is the latest artist to agree to contribute to our Cartoonist’s Diary feature. Her week begins here, appropriately enough with an interdepartmental cookie bake-off.

And in our reviews department, Sean T. Collins tackles Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse. An excerpt:

Katie Skelly has an endearing cartooning style, an unlikely hybrid between Junko Mizuno and John Porcellino. While they’re in motion — and in this Barbarella-esque, demurely sexy sci-fi spaceship romp, that happens fairly frequently — her characters have a fluid, curving quality to them. Their designs are usually pretty strong, too. The title character, a young interplanetary nurse named Gemma whose inaugural assignment to treat colonists poisoned by alien atmospheres that goes badly wrong right out of the gate, and her eventual rescuer, a Inuit-like Martian named Träume, are strong enough that Skelly’s choice to duplicate them with clones and identical siblings is a delight in and of itself; the furious, furry black-and-white space pirate Pandaface has such a cool design I want to steal it wholesale.

Elsewhere on the internet:

—You have until midnight tonight to vote in this year’s Eisner Awards.

—Jeet Heer wrote to draw my attention to part one of a very in-depth look at Canadian cartoonist Jimmy Frise, which he compares to Seth and Brad Mackay’s work on their Doug Wright book.

—Interviews dept. Here’s part two of Michael Dooley’s interview with Squa Tront editor John Benson, this time focusing in on The Sincerest Form of Parody (which I highly recommend for Mad fanatics, by the way). Tom Spurgeon talks at length with Zack Soto. Michel Fiffe interviews Tony Salmons.

—Robin McConnell of Inkstuds weighs in on the Before Watchmen controversy, and Noah Berlatsky editorializes upon it for Slate.

—Andrew Rilstone tries to find neutral ground in the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee wars.

—A hand-drawn Tintin in America cover sold at auction for a record-breaking $1.6 million.

—As I believe we reported on the blog a while back (if not, I meant to), Ruben Bolling recently decided to begin offering digital subscriptions to his long-running Tom the Dancing Bug strip. Last week, he announced that it has already become his single biggest source of revenue.

 

Helpful Hints

Today on the site:

Nicole Rudick reviews Are You My Mother? and finds it a mixed experience.

Memoirs, even if they’re meant to describe the life of a person other than the author, are necessarily in part about the author—the story is, after all, from his or her perspective. Though Fun Home thoroughly traces her father’s life and works to show his interior life, the must haves and probablys Bechdel uses in imagining things he might have said or done make her the subject as much as her father; it is every bit about endeavoring to know a man she felt she may not have fully known. Mother, however, reveals little about its ostensible subject. There are too few details about her relations with her mother—we revisit some of the same events, each time with a new set of tools (courtesy Winnicott) with which to dissect the moment, to peer deeper into its inner workings, its dark corners. The results are sometimes fascinating—such as the multiple viewings of the same play at different points in the timeline—but it’s unfair to the potential richness of the narrative (and to the relationship) to make a handful of scenes stand in for five decades of mothering and daughtering.

And the mighty Tucker Stone, aided and abetted by Abhay Khosla, presents a more meditative column this week, taking in Chicago, the ’90s and the Wall Street Journal. Also, props to our own Mike Reddy! Now that’s a column.

Some quick links today:

Somehow these guys find time to talk about comics EVEN MORE. So here are Joe McCulloch’s latest notes on Comic Books Are Burning In Hell,with Matt Seneca and Tucker Stone. Intense comics tawk.

-This has been making the rounds and so why not a stop at the TCJ station: Bill Murray as the Human Torch in 1975. That reminds me of Saturday Night Live, which reminds me of two things: First, I still really enjoy early Chevy Chase movies: Fletch, National Lampoon’s Vacation… even that one with Goldie Hawn. And second: I’ve never seen Where the Buffalo Roam. Is it good?

-Ah, and step back in time, then move forward again and think of the lost stature of early 20th century illustrator Frederic Rodrigo Gruger.

-Well, I certainly love Jimmy Thompson and Robotman.

-Finally, and not that this matters, but my earliest comic book art memories are of Jim Aparo’s drawings. His fan club site hasn’t been updated in a while. Makes me realize I know very little about the man, so maybe I’ll just dip in for a minute this weekend.

 

Catching Up

First up, here on the site, Rob Clough is back with another High-Low column. In this one, he’s going international:

One of the interesting things about reading current comics is the truly international reach that small press artists now have. Thanks in large part to the internet, artists have a chance at reaching audiences from across the globe. It’s not just the web, however—in what seems like a fulfillment of Dylan Horrocks’s Hicksville, minicomics and handsome books are appearing from countries not necessarily known for their alt-comics scenes. In this column, I’ll be looking at comics by cartoonists from Poland, Latvia, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Turkey. (I’m still waiting for the Mongolian mini-comics mentioned in Hicksville to show up on my doorstep.)

Elsewhere there are a million things.

First, all the interviews. Every single one of these is worth reading, watching, or listening to, believe it or not. Don’t let your eyes glaze over. Daniel Clowes spoke to the AV Club, and to NPR. (Yr pal and mine Frank Santoro has thoughts on the latter here.) Alison Bechdel also spoke to NPR. Longtime Mad writer Dick DeBartolo talked to the Paris Review! Guy Delisle spoke to the Guardian. Comics scholar and Squa Tron editor John Benson talked to Print. Dylan Horrocks talked to the Italian website Conversazioni Sul Fumetto. (Barely comics–& some people could skip this one, actually: Glenn Danzig talks to the L.A. Weekly about his alternate-dimension movie performance as Wolverine.) Finally, via everyone, a really great Fear No ART interview with Chris Ware:

Awards winners were announced for both the Eagle Awards, and the Reubens.

Dept. of the World is Changing. Herman creator Jim Unger has passed away. Tom Batiuk was profiled on the 40th anniversary of Funky Winkerbean. Dave Sim announces a Kickstarter project to release digital editions of Cerebus (and more or less immediately reaches his goal). There is now a Jack Davis blog.

Dept. of Miskellaneous. Zak Sally follows up his recent Inkstuds appearance with a longer explanation of his position on Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Stan Lee and creators’ rights. Warren Ellis talks webcomics page (or screen) formatting. The Team Cul de Sac auction has begun (and is selling lots of great-looking stuff). Stephen Bissette shares some really early, rare gay comic books. Matt Seneca names Paradax as one of the Greatest Comics of All Time.

—There, that oughta hold the little bastards!

 

Gray Matter

Today on the site:

Ken Parille brings us Six Observations about Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Archive Are You My Mother?:

Bechdel subtitled Fun Home (her previous graphic novel) “A Family Tragicomic.” Are You My Mother?’s subtitle, “A Comic Drama,” echoes this phrase. Both genre terms (comedy and drama) are curious words to preface this book with. Though it includes a few lightly comic scenes, Are You My Mother? is relentlessly serious. Its non-linear structure often moves rapidly between scenes, excerpts from other writers, and personal archival materials —usually without identifying the chronology.

Elsewhere:

-Paul Gravett scoops us all with a check-in with the great Mark Beyer.

-Designer, illustrator and the author of a couple recent graphic novels, Seymour Chwast, has a new children’s book out.

-Paul Tumey dissects a classic Milt Gross Sunday page.

-Of course. What could be better?

-I may be late to the party, but I really enjoyed Angie Wang’s Girl Apocalypse mini-comic. Great imagery and pacing.

 

 

 

 

On Fumes

Today, we present Chris Mautner’s interview with Eddie Campbell about his latest graphic novel, The Lovely, Horrible Stuff. An excerpt:

CAMPBELL: Most people take a lot of things for granted, like what a thing is worth and how much they should get paid for an hour’s work etc., but for a few other people nothing arrives without a set of negotiations. Like agreeing on how much is to be paid then, when the time comes, having to phone up to make it happen, then having to shepherd the money through international exchange channels. Nothing is ever worth the same amount twice. I don’t take anything for granted. There was a time when I got two Australian dollars for one American. Now I get less than one. And I make all my income from foreign countries, so multiply the problem by Euros and pounds. So yes, I guess I see money differently from Joe Average. Explaining it to my wife is where the difficulty resides.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is back with his usual Tuesday column on the week in comics.

We’re still running on vacation time here, so undoubtedly we’re missing a lot, but here are a few comics-related links worth looking at.

—Perhaps the most surprising development was the Wall Street Journal‘s publication of this review, which uses the occasion of Christopher Irving’s Leaping Tall Buildings to display attitudes towards Marvel and DC and creators’ rights more typical of your average comics blogger than you’d expect to find in a financial newspaper. (A sample: “If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new ‘Avengers’ comic, why don’t more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.”)

—J. Caleb Mozzocco notes the appearance of a creator portraits page at the DC Comics website, which Mozzocco thinks may have been spurred on by some of Chris Roberson’s public comments upon his departure from the company.

—Finally, it’s always worth noting when Robert Boyd is writing about new comics. Here he is on three recent “art comics” he thinks show signs of being influenced by the more cosmic side of Jack Kirby.

 

Has the Three-Day Weekend Started Yet?

It’s coming up on Memorial Day here in the States, so we’ve got a meaty article to keep you going over the weekend, an excerpt from TCJ columnist Jared Gardner’s recent Eisner-nominated book, Projections. Among other things, this chapter features the now-little-known debate between Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and Cleanth Brooks (!) in the pages of The American Scholar. A taste:

In the next issue of American Scholar, Cleanth Brooks and his Louisiana State colleague Robert Heilman responded with a long, facetious account of their sudden conversion to Marston’s philosophy in their literature classes, claiming that they now will even employ models dressed as Wonder Woman to help illustrate their lectures and demonstrate female superiority. Brooks and Heilman maintain their deadpan approach throughout their letter, expressing their gratitude to Marston for inspiring their “conversion” to comics over traditional literature, and they conclude by calling on Marston and the editors of The American Scholar “to tell us more about the comics by means of comics”—even offering to furnish the editors with the zinc plates necessary to transform the journal into a comic book: “We are sure that there are literally thousands of Phi Beta Kappas who will happily contribute their keys, if need be, to bring the power of the ‘visual image’ to the aid of puny reason in the great fight to save the humanities to which we are all committed.”

And then of course, it’s Friday, so Tucker Stone is here (along with friend Abhay Khosla), with another hair-raising look at the commercial dregs of the industry.

Elsewhere:

—First Flannery O’Connor is outed as a closet cartoonist, now this. Maria Popova takes a look at Gertrude Stein’s forgotten picture books.

—Daniel Clowes talks to Wired about his aversion for digital comics.

—With this article on the history of gay characters in supehero comics, Alex Pappademas shows that his excellent Stan Lee profile at Grantland was not a fluke, and apparently they’re going to be featuring intelligent comics coverage on at least an irregular basis.

—Leonard Pierce has a good response to the recent Scott Kurtz anti-Kirby diatribe (which previously I felt was too moronic even to mention).

—Rob Clough surveys the current state of comics for children.

—I keep forgetting to link to this really great audio interview with Bill Griffith recorded by Benjamen Walker at WFMU. (You may remember his Chester Brown interview from last year. If not, check it out, too.)

—And finally, I missed this before, but Tom Spurgeon caught a fascinating article on Roy Lichtenstein and comics, featuring Hilary Barta among others. I wish someone would write or edit a book on this subject.