Welcome Back

Joe McCulloch is here to inaugurate the new year with a new installment of his invaluable column examining the Week in Comics! His breakout picks this time include new works by John Porcellino and Dan Méndez Moore. He also writes a bit about Chantal Montellier:

Another January has dawned, which means that it's time to revisit the great year of 2016 and all of the comics we've missed. For instance, did you know that a new translation of work by Chantal Montellier is now available? Maybe not, since it isn't in print - only through the Europe Comics digital portal can you obtain Lara Vergnaud's English edition of 2011's Marie Curie: The Radium Fairy, a split-format educational album pairing a 24-page illustrated timeline of the titular scientific icon by Renaud Huynh of the Musée Curie with a 20-page color comic by Montellier. It's the comic with which we will concern ourselves, accepting for now that these biographical projects seem to be the only avenue by which Montellier is allowed into English anymore; indeed, we may even find contentment in our reading 2008’s Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, an English original authored with David Zane Mairowitz, that Montellier does unusually interesting work with flatly declarative or pedagogical books.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—A/V: The Process Party podcast has an end of the year episode featuring many guests discussing their favorite comics of 2016, including the aforementioned Joe McCulloch, plus artists including Josh Bayer, Leela Corman, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Sarah Glidden, Sammy Harkham, Jim Rugg, Josh Simmons, and Gina Wynbrandt.

The RiYL podcast has recently interviewed both Dame Darcy and MariNaomi.

Virtual Memories talks to George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand.

—Interviews & Profiles.
Tom Spurgeon has posted his annual series of holiday interviews, including such guests this year as Tony Millionaire, Sammy Harkham, and TCJ contributor RJ Casey.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For Deadspin, Tom Scocca writes about the final joke of Momma creator Mel Lazarus.

For nearly 35 years, Mell Lazarus knew exactly how the end would go for Momma. In 1982, when the cartoonist began dating Sally Mitchell, who would become his second wife, he confided to her that he had already decided what the final installment of his comic strip would be, and he told her the idea.

Lazarus did not share the idea with the comics syndicate, Mitchell recalled in a phone conversation, nor with his daughters, nor even with his brother, Herb, who was his best friend.

“We never talked about it again,” Mitchell said, “but I always had it.”

For LARB, Osvaldo Oyola writes about Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreze's Black Panther.

Coates seems committed to doing for his readers what his professors did for him, disabusing them of a “weaponized history.” In the slowly (sometimes too slowly) building story that first appeared in four issues of the comic book and is now collected in the first trade paperback collection of Coates’s Black Panther — the first part of a 12-issue arc entitled A Nation Under Our Feet — Coates breaks “the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere” as they exist in the Marvel Universe through a critical investigation of the title character’s African nation of Wakanda.

John Porcellino picks his favorite comics of 2015.

They say that timing is everything, and in this age of nanosecond attention spans and constantly refreshing newsfeeds that's more true than ever. So it's with great delight that I present here a brief and certainly incomplete list of Some of My Favorite Comics of 2015.

Every year more and more cool comics are released in droves, and every year I have less time to read them. But I buy them, and they stack up in boxes and overflowing shelves waiting for that moment when I can retire from the daily grind and sit down and read all those DeForge books. And mark my words, friends -- That day shall come.


Year’s End

We've gone fishing until January 3rd. Here's our year in review to keep you busy. See you in 2017.


Choppy Waters

Today on the site, we are pleased to present Eddie Campbell's review of Michael Tisserand's much-discussed new biography of George Herriman, Krazy.

Of all the cartoonists in our starry firmament, Herriman is undoubtedly the one who has received the most attention over the decades. By itself, the introductory matter in the volumes of the Fantagraphics collection of the complete Sunday pages, by Bill Blackbeard and others, could be arranged to form a voluminous and comprehensive biography. And there was also the lovely biography/art book by McDonnell and O’Connell (1986). The sweet and poetic genius of George Herriman has been extolled, described, explained and "doped out centrifugally, centripedally and in the fourth dimension," to lift some of George’s own words from an unrelated situation. The continuous exposure of the last five decades has in no way dimmed my own certainty that he was the finest and most near perfect of our pantheon of cartoonists. The poetic world of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse remains as beautiful and haunting to me today as it was when I first peeped into it one day in 1970 (I’m recalling the three Sunday samples in the Penguin Book of Comics By Perry and Aldridge). Is there anything remaining to be uncovered? Is there any corner into which we have not already turned the beam of our searchlight? It turns out there is.

We also have the second part of another excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. This section's topics include uncanonization of a direct sales manager, criticizing Will Eisner, the mole in the Journal, Fiore vs. Pekar, and Capital City vs. Diamond.

Ilse Thompson:
The first collection of The Complete Crumb Comics that I edited started the first years of American Splendor. Because Crumb and Harvey Pekar both own the copyright on their collaborations, we had to get permission from Pekar to publish the work. He was against it. He wouldn’t. Crumb eventually persuaded him, and I got a memo from Gary saying that he had relented. When the book came out, I was arranging for complimentary copies to be sent to contributors, and calling people to confirm their addresses. I called Pekar, who popped a cork when I told him that American Splendor had been reprinted. He had forgotten that he’d OK’d it. “Gimme Groth! I’m going to sue him!” He demanded to speak with anyone in a position above me. I was afraid to tell him that I had edited it, and told him that everyone else was at lunch, because I didn’t want anyone to know I’d pissed him off.

The next morning, Kim told me that Pekar had called to apologize to me, and that I should expect a call from him. When he called, we spent an hour on the phone. He gave me a lesson in Russian literature.

Groth: At first, Pekar refused to give permission to reprint the strips Crumb drew from his scripts. I had to call Crumb and ask him to call Pekar and intercede, which he did. My impression was that Pekar refused permission either because of some feud he was having either with Bob Fiore at the time or an argument I had with his wife Joyce Brabner, but which I remember thinking was a petty reason to deny his collaborator the right to include those strips in his complete works.

R. Fiore: The Harvey Pekar business was one of the more idiotic episodes I’ve ever been involved in. One thing to remember was that it came during that whole period when the move was being made and my return from Seattle, and if you read anything I was writing at the time you’ll see that I was just in a foul mood. You could see it in that ridiculous feud we were carrying on with the Comics Buyer’s Guide, overheated rhetoric mostly provided by me, as if we were in a death struggle with Don Thompson for the soul of the comics, (a) as though they had one and (b) as though it would have been worth having. I am put in mind of Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Falkland Islands War: Two bald men fighting over a comb.

Thompson: The Fiore/Pekar feud highlights one of the problems, which is that people would inevitably take the writing of one person in the Journal as a company-wide broadside, and generalize their dislike of that person into a loathing for the Journal and Fantagraphics as a whole. So a lot of people hate Gary for nasty reviews of their work that Gary may not agree with, or even have read.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
In the wake of the recent tragic Ghost Ship fire, Brian Chippendale writes about artists and DIY living spaces, including Fort Thunder.

Far from the neighborhoods behind brick two feet thick, we could be anyone and do anything we wanted. Fort Thunder was my first zone, starting in 1995. By 2002 we were evicted by fire marshals and the building was razed for a shopping center. We had over 100 shows during the six years of the Fort’s lifespan, not a huge amount compared to other art spaces, but it was plenty. We didn’t pay the rent with parties; we paid the rent by cramming in roommates. Paying the rent using money the shows generated never really dawned on us since we made the shows super affordable, keeping only the change in the bottom of the donation bin. We had the Fugazi mentality: keep things cheap and do it for the people.

Our lease-free month-to-month 7,000 square foot space had a large cavernous side where the shows happened and bigger projects could be worked on, plus a music practice space, silkscreening area, kitchen, and a bike repair zone. The smaller side contained the library and living quarters where most of the six to twelve roommates built their rooms. The rooms were crafted from whatever we and the cats dragged in; found wood (mostly pallets), paper, cloth, cardboard, plastic. Anything that was cheap or free. If there is one thing that every broke warehouse dweller knows it’s that wood pallets are the cheapest wood you’ll find; available and plentiful.

Via an excellent, thorough interview, comics scholar Hilary Chute names and explains her five favorite comics of 2016.

One of the things that [Nick Drnaso] captures so incredibly in this book is that it’s not just a ‘slice of life’ look at suburbia. There are a lot of comics like that, capturing the texture of everyday life. Chris Ware is the master of that form. This book is about really dark things, from the very first, fascinating and incredible story about race to the story that feels really relevant right now, about a teenage girl who fakes an abduction and says that she’s been abducted by an Arab man. The community starts producing this anti-Arab sentiment. There’s the story about a child named Tyler, who has a form of OCD. He has these unwanted thoughts so that everywhere he looks, he sees people being killed and dismembered. I actually found that hard to look at.

—Interviews & Profiles.
The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Jessica Campbell.

For, Cath Pound writes about Tove Jansson's career as a painter.

The daughter of Finnish sculptor Viktor Jansson and his Swedish artist wife Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, known as Ham, Tove Jansson grew up in an environment where art, work and life were inseparable. By the age of 14 her work was already appearing in print and she soon followed her mother to the satirical magazine Garm. At art school, where her early work had a mystical, fairytale quality to it, she was considered a bright and promising student. The self-portraits she painted in the 1930s and ’40s reveal her development as an artist and, thinks art historian Tuula Karjalainen, are among her strongest works.


Whipped Nog

Today on the site we have another excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, this one entitled, "Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part 1)."

The Comics Journal vs. The Comics Industry

Barry Windsor-Smith, cartoonist: In the early 1990s, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and I were traveling to a downtown restaurant. We were crowded in the back of a yellow cab, and the chat was inevitably about the world of comic books. I wasn’t interested, so I was tuned out, thinking of things other than comics.

But then, the mention of The Comics Journal caught my attention and I briefly tuned back into the conversation as Bob snorted, “Fuckers!” with Jim concurring — “Those bastards.” It’s rare for Shooter to curse. I guess he reserves his expletives for The Comics Journal.

Chiming in, I said, “The Journal is the only real magazine we’ve got.” In that context, where Jim and Bob were openly hostile, my use of the term “magazine” implied an arbiter of taste, criticism and intelligence, like The New Yorker, for instance. They both looked at me briefly, and, turning away, Shooter’s ass tightened so fast that it almost overtook the speed of Layton’s gall bladder stricture — what little air was in the back of the taxi was immediately sucked into each of their lower guts with a thunderous stereophonic whistling sound. Following through, I said, “Damned good thing they keep us on our toes, right?”
The rest of the short journey down Broadway passed in silence. Staring out the window while returning to my private musings, I coined the ungainly term Reverse Fart.


Steven Grant: We felt all the comics-news outlets, not just the Journal, weren’t really serving the needs of the comics-professionals community, and there was really no reason to expect them to. We [WAP!, the freelancer’s rights newsletter] never really conceived ourselves as being in competition with the Journal in any way, though I heard rumors the Journalthought we were positioning the newsletter that way. But there was a general sense of outright hostility from the Journal toward the rank and file of comics professionals — which isn’t to say a lot of the Journal’s assessment of the business wasn’t accurate, just that they often professed their views in ways that were perceived as elitist and confrontational — and there were a lot of professionals who didn’t feel comfortable discussing their issues with the business with the Journal.

Gary Groth: The “industry” at large, of which 90 percent or more consisted of Marvel and DC (and Archie), had schizophrenic views of us. In the early days, we would give Gerber and Thomas and Englehart space to rant about Marvel and Jim Shooter, which they appreciated insofar as comics creators had never had a public forum available to them to voice their grievances; it was really the first time that a magazine would give them that kind of space and allow them to express themselves uncensored. Before that, fanzines toed the company line and the vast majority of creators were frankly too feckless to speak out. And to be fair, the Journal could be perceived as schizophrenic: We’d often run negative reviews of their books while championing their rights as artists. So there was always a tension there. Some comics creators respected our willingness to uphold artistic standards and give even creators we didn’t necessarily believe maintained those standards a place to speak out, and there were other comics creators who despised us for our “attitude.” Our attitude was a big problem.

Kim Thompson: That was the point, I think, at which the unity of alternative-minded mainstreamers and alternative cartoonists started to fray. It was a relationship that just couldn’t hold. They were based on improving the mainstream model, and we were based on bypassing it — or smashing it. There was also a residue of hostility because of all the mean things we said in reviews.

Groth: By the time WAP! showed up, I think the scales had been lifted from our eyes — or my eyes — and I realized corporations like DC and Marvel were not reformable and the only moral option was to not work for them — which was not something the Journal could effect. WAP! was interested in improving conditions so that artists could make more money producing crap rather than get fucked over for producing crap. I saw it as a venue confirming the work-for-hire status quo, which I was increasingly uncomfortable with. I came to the conclusion that producing crap was the problem, not how much one gets paid for it. Of course, self-publishing and indy publishing wasn’t the answer either, but I didn’t think it through that far. If I had, I would’ve realized there was no answer and slit my wrists.

Joe Sacco: I remember meeting Jim Shooter at one of the San Diego conventions and asking him for a quote about something or other, and him telling me, “I don’t talk to that rag.”

And more:

Tony Millionaire is ending his long running comics strip, Maakies. It began in 1994 and is ending now. The artist's announcement is here. Tom Spurgeon has some thoughts about that.

R.C. Baker on the Philip Guston's magnificently vicious Nixon cartoons.

Here's a very nice tribute post to the great Richard Kyle, including scans of many pages from his magazines. 

Jane Mai adapts a portion of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s novel The Return of Münchausen over at the Paris Review. 


Impossible Dream

Rob Kirby talked to Talk Dirty to Me creator Luke Howard about what it's like to teach at CCS, growing up with a mother diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and his creative process.

How is teaching at CCS for you? How does it aid or influence your own comics? Or does it hamper your process? 

It hampers my process in the way any full-time job hampers comics-making. There just aren't enough hours in the day and a big chunk of energy and time is being eaten up by something that isn't comics. So what's the solution? Either make less comics, or work two full-time jobs - your day job and your comics job. For the time being I've gone down that second route. It's rough, maybe not even sustainable in the long run. But there are things about my job at CCS that really keep the fire lit. My two years as a CCS student were the hardest and most productive work years of my life. As a faculty member, being around a tribe of young cartoonists that are going through the same things—pushing themselves to be stronger cartoonists with every assignment, and the constant flow of self-improvement—can be an incredible boon to my own productivity. And I think especially since I'm still relatively wet behind the ears when it comes to comics, being at the epicenter of an education system keeps me hungry for furthering my own education. Heading into my third year as a faculty member, I feel like I've almost been through four years as a student, if that makes sense. It's funny, though, you mentioning that it seems like I've found my niche. That doesn't feel all that true from my perspective. Not to say I haven't been lucky to have the opportunity to make books with both AdHouse and Retrofit—maybe that is a niche of sorts. From my side of things it all still feels very precarious, like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like maybe the next time I sit down to make a comic it'll be like I'm 10 years old again, and what comes out on the page will feel unacceptable—the spell will be broken. I still feel a lot like Emma does at the end of that story, the future is unclear.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Jason Lutes.

—The most recent guest on the RIYL podcast is Kyle Baker.

—The film rights to Daniel Clowes's Patience have been sold.

—Sarah Cowan writes about Philip Guston's Richard Nixon drawings.

“A lot of work after the election looks very different,” I overheard someone say in Hauser & Wirth as we followed the saga of Poor Richard, Philip Guston’s satirical drawings of Richard Nixon’s rise to power. The show had been installed on November 1 as a last minute idea; on opening night it drew an amused crowd of boomers and millennials, the distance in their experience bridged by the convincing sense of security many of us had that doomed week. When I returned to the show less than a month into the Trump transition, the drawings had turned on us: a joke at the expense of our smugness.


Wonder Stories

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings in some of the last comics of the year. 


Retired comics critic and TCJ-contributor Matt Seneca is making some of his best writing available in printed and bound form.

A local neighborhood story on SF and comics writer Otto Binder.

Leela Corman's We All Wish for Deadly Forced is reviewed here.

Check out some images from the great Ara Peterson's (Paper Rodeo, Forcefield) new exhibition over at the Paris Review.

Finally, Richard Kyle passed away last week. He was 87 years old. He edited and produced one the greatest magazine about comics until TCJ, Graphic Story World (also called Wonderworld) and contributed to Graphic Story Magazine . His taste was prescient in the extreme, running from Red Barry, Howard Nostrand, Jesse Marsh, and Osamu Tezuka as well as many other (especially European) artists who would not gain recognition until much later (if at all). It remains one of the great resources of comics history, and it was published in the late 1960s and early 1970s! Kyle is also generally credited with coining the term "graphic novel". In 1970 he founded and ran the Graphic Story Bookshop, where he imported and sold European and Japanese comics before, I think, anyone else. I remember him telling me he'd proudly sold a Druillet book to Jack Kirby in the early 1970s. Makes sense. Speaking of Kirby, it was Kyle who solicited and published Kirby's Street Code in 1983 (it was only published in 1990 in Argosy), and insisted on doing so as a pencil-only piece. A first for the great artist. Kyle also had a second career as a pulp crime novelist under a few different names, none of which he would divulge (and nor have I been able to discover them). Kyle was a man way ahead of anyone else. I spent a wonderful afternoon with him in 2010, and then lost touch. I hope to pull together the interview I conducted... soon.pages-2-and-3-graphic-story-world-2_-1971-july


It’s in the Headline

Greg Hunter is here today with his latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue, in which he talks to Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) about the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Angouleme festival has made its official selections for 2017.

—Reviews & Commentary. Edwin Turner reviews the latest book from Roman Muradov.

It’s tempting to read perhaps too much into Jacob Bladder’s metatextual self-reflexivity. Here is writing about writing, art about art: an illustrated story about illustrating stories. And of course it’s impossible not to ferret out pseudoautobiographical morsels from the novella. Roman Muradov is, after all, a working illustrator, beholden to publishers, editors, art-directors, and deadlines. (Again from the end notes: “DEADLINE: A fictional date given to an illustrator to encourage timely delivery of the assignment. Usually set 1-2 days before the real (also known as ‘hard’) deadline”). If you’ve read The New Yorker or The New York Times lately, you’ve likely seen Muradov’s illustrations.


So what to make of the section of Jacob Bladders above? Here, a nefarious publisher commands a hapless illustrator to illustrate a “career ladders” story without using an illustration of a career ladder (From the end notes: “CAREER LADDER: An illustration of a steep ladder, scaled by an accountant in pursuit of a promotion or a raise. The Society of Illustrators currently houses America’s largest collection of career ladders, including works by M.C. Escher, Balthus, and Marcel Duchamp”).

Glen David Gold writes about Michael Tisserand's George Herriman biography, Krazy.

Herriman had a longer apprenticeship than most, working on dozens of strips that never caught fire during the spectacular publication battles between Hearst and Pulitzer that led to the birth of full-color comics such as “The Yellow Kid” and “Little Nemo. ” He was learning his form at the same time that jazz, animation and slapstick comedy were likewise getting their cultural feet under them. Also boxing. Boxing had obeyed “the color line” until 1910, when, in defiance of racist attitudes, the country demanded that black Jack Johnson and white Jim Jeffries finally take the ring. (It’s of course ironic that overcoming racism involved allowing people of different races to beat each other up, but such is our way.)

Michael Dooley writes about the cartoons from Paul Krassner's satirical journal, The Realist, the subject of a new collection, and republishes a 2000 profile of Krassner.

Among the countless others for whom Krassner has been an important inspiration, the strangest may have been Andrew Breitbart, despite their diametrically opposite worldviews. Breitbart is the founder of Breitbart News, notorious for using fake news sites to source their dishonest and deceptive “journalism.” When Krassner interviewed Breitbart for Playboy in 2011, he said he admired Krassner’s “trailblazing and causing mischief and mirth and effecting the type of political and social change you were attempting.”

And now the Chairman of Breitbart Media is about to become the new President’s chief strategist. So, despite a somewhat tenuous relationship to design, it appears timely to revisit that AIGA Journal profile I wrote, “Here Lies Paul Krassner.” Among several other stories, I discuss the time the FBI anonymously distributed leaflets in black neighborhoods that called for the “elimination” of Krassner and other Jews. The headline was “Lampshades!” repeated four times. Fortunately, he’s still with us at age 84. But so’s the FBI: two weeks prior to last month’s Presidential election the FBI Director’s public, vaguely worded, announcement of a tenuously-related email investigation did manage to shoot down some potential votes for candidate Clinton. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


Recent Reading

No links today. Instead, here are some scattered thoughts on comics I've been reading. I suppose it's a somewhat conservative list, but it's what is at hand at the moment, and what I felt like writing about. There are lots of things missing but, y'know, I only get this energy going every so often,  so here goes...

Charles Burns: Last Look


What a thing. I know this was completed two years ago, but reading the three books in a single volume is an entirely different (and recommended) experience. It does not let the protagonist, Doug, off the hook for his recklessness. His culpability in the emotional devastation he has caused is not excused. It is explored, relentlessly, in the only terms available to him — comics, a la Herge and Romita. And Burns’ empathy allows the sub-narrative, which tracks Nitnit (a Doug dream figure) in a beige-hued nightmare world, to flourish. Formally,  there is so much about comics in there, in the sense of image repetition and immersion/escapism.It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. And the larger project around the book (Johnny 23, the Nit Nit portfolio, the current books from Cornelius, Vortex and Love Nest) make this a territory richer than any Burns has explored. It’s like he just keeps going, and makes us realize how an artist can blend aesthetic and procedural obsessions (here I think of Burns’ Marvel Try-Out Comic as key to Last Look) with an emotional core that clearly keeps this moving forward. The images in these other projects continue the world of Doug's obsessions, but blend them with the author's creating a kind of meta-fictional art that thrums with authenticity and urgency. 

Vanessa Davis: Summer / Autumn Hours (online only)

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-4-33-30-pmThese are among the most naturally funny and heartbreaking comics being published today. What strikes me the most is Vanessa’s natural line and sense of space and color. It’s a kind of calligraphic approach that seems informal, but could come with years of practice. She’s able to condense so much emotion and wisdom into a few pages. With the basic backdrop of the summer season as her narrative thread, Davis takes us through memories, physical transitions, and geographic relocations, all in an even tone, from  comedy (the peculiar problem of sweater weather and the definitions of fancy) to  real sadness (an elderly parent, a dead one; intense anger). In Davis’s work, an umbrella base becomes totemic in a tough, and not at all romantic way, and the habits of beavers provide some comfort in dealing with humanity’s foibles. I love these comics. Also remarkable is that the Paris Review is regularly running comics on its web site. And phenomenal comics, too.

Steven Weissman: Looking for America's Dog


Looking for the perfect cure to post-election blues? This is it. Weissman delivers his best book yet, in this odd, entrancing collection of linked short comics on the theme of Bo, the presidential dog. I'm still trying to figure out how to explain this thing. It's like a series of campfire stories, almost, sweet at first, but often acidic -- there is darkness here, as symbols of hope get lost, mutate and become sometimes sinister. Great, textured cartooning with the best use of zipatone this side of Wally Wood.


Ted Stearn: Fuzz and Pluck: The Moolah Tree

moolah_treeI have loved Ted Stearn’s work since his Rubber Blanket days, and this is a wonderful book. I would even go so far as to say it’s practically the best book you could give to someone you love, simply because it’s so full of kindness, beauty, and incredibly funny, brilliant cartooning. It’s a yarn, a la Carl Barks and Charles Portis, in which Stearn’s longtime protagonists, Fuzz (a bear) and Pluck (a chicken) embark on an epic quest a “moolah tree” that,  of course dispenses cash. The foolishness of such a task, and the many people they encounter along the way (including two of my favorites kinds of characters: hippies and pirates) each present their own difficulties and pleasures. I liked spending time with everyone and everything in this book, and that is partly due to the incredible artwork. It seems like Stearn has set the whole thing in a 17th century Flemish landscape, its terrain meticulously detailed, and every structure perfectly rendered. But it never feels like “background” material — it’s fully integrated as cartoon drawing, so you can fully immerse yourself in his world.

Lynda Barry: Greatest of Marlys

stl012230-thumb-250x294-497282The single best case for Lynda Barry’s important and greatness as a cartoonist. It gathers such versatile material all performed in a similar format, and with such verve. You don't need me to tell you to get this book. Just get it. Your life will be better.

Chester Gould: Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s

dicktracyIs this how it’s done? Damn near perfect. Great scholarship, perfect selections. I just want more writing about the visuals. I can never have too much. It’s actually thrilling to watch Gould’s cartoon language develop in a single book — you watch him grow into a masterful stylist and you see the Tracy world coalesce. This one is absolutely essential. 

Lauren Weinstein: Normel Person Comics (online and in The Village Voice -- click through online)

screen_shot_2016-11-08_at_5-39-16_pmI, like Lauren and her husband, my pal and co-editor, Tim Hodler, am a "normal" person in the sense that we just can't fucking believe what is happening around us but we are self-aware enough to understand the absurdity of that luxury. I think.  Normal here opens up to move away from the old "white straight guy" meaning and into a whole mindset of viewing the world and asking simple, structural questions and funny, moving observations. Halloween costumes, babies, food. The basics of our particular little kind of life. All done in Lauren's detailed line work and lush watercolors. A master at work.

Jonathan Chandler: You Are Crumbling All My Jonathans

A great pamphlet from Jonathan Chandler, who depicts a monologue directed at the reader. It's genuinely frightening, in a Kubrickian way. We are confronted with an aggressive, angry man who taunts us and another being, and preys on our inaction. Really good work, as usual. 

Jonathan Barli: The Gaze of Drifting Skies: A Treasury of Bird's Eye Cartoon Viewsdriftingskies

This book contains early-to-mid 20th century illustrations that seem to fall under the header of “single image narrative”. Barli seeks to establish these cartoons as a genre, but offers no proof other than, um, saying they’re a genre and citing Bruegel. Does Eric Fischl count? What about Chris Ware? I dunno. Some are, indeed, a bird’s eye view (i.e. seen from above). Others are from the ground, others are underneath the ground. Others are on a staircase. Barli pulls together some very rare images by rarely reproduced artists and then, um, doesn’t offer any biographical or bibliographical information. Like, none. He managed to over-design the shit out of the book, complete with a pointless die-cut and odd references to Jules Verne, but no actual information on the art he’s collecting. I get that it’s a nice gift book and quite a difficult thing to even find all the material, but smart merchandizing and rudimentary scholarship needn't be mutually exclusive.

Stef Sadler: The Kimberly Toilet Files

I couldn't find an image of this cover online, or anyplace to buy it, but hopefully one of those Sadlers will tell me. This is a change of pace for Stef, chronicling the daily life of Kimberly Toilet, who works at a "Sports, Spa, Soap" store. Kimberly is monitored, tormented, bothered, and altogether frustrated by post-Internet society. Told in a crisp, digital style -- very funny and sweet and altogether a descended of some 2000 AD backup feature that was too good to be published. 

Jessica Campbell: Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists.

61zkd2rypcl-_sx311_bo1204203200_l love this little book that does exactly as the title suggests: breaks down male artists into the ol' "hot or not" categories usually reserved for women, even, or even especially in the art world. Campbell nails the silly "objective" tone of it all, digs deep in her choices, and is very, very funny. Also, her unfussy, to-the-point cartooning removes any sense of artifice. The book moves along easily and you barely stop to realize how funny, weird, and uncomfortably natural it all feels.

Wally Wood Department:

Bhob Stewart and J. Michael Catron, editors: The Life and Legend of Wally Wood

lifeandlegend-wallacewoodWhat is this book? Nothing in or on it gives any clue. It is the latest in what is arguably a glut of Wally Wood publishing activity. This one is based on Bhob Stewart’s wonderfully eccentric volume from a decade back. That one, a shabbily printed paperback apparently divested of swear words and nudity by its publisher, was a shambling compendium of essays, interviews, memories, and biographical anecdotes. It was no more and no less than an old school fan’s memory book. It worked, and was a great resource for further writing on Wood. This one, somehow based on Stewart’s (though there’s no indication of that previous book outside of a one-line mention in the colophon) and with an additional editor, J. Michael Catron, but with no indication of Catron's relative contributions. The cover boasts of introductions by Howard Chaykin and Maria Reidelbeck, which is practically a distress signal. This is clearly for comics nerds of a certain age. And that's a shame, because Wally Wood, inarguably one of the greatest, strangest and most interesting comic book artists of the 20th century, has influenced a tremendous amount of visual culture, from superhero and SF comics to Robert Crumb to Kerry James Marshall to Elizabeth Murray to Gladys Nilsson to Mike Kelley to Dan Clowes to George Lucas to Sue Williams. Let’s pretend you’re a historian and you’ve noticed how a few cartoonists keep popping up whenever contemporary painters discuss their influences — Crumb, Wood, Wolverton, Kirby. Let’s take the next step and see if you can find anything of worth written about them. Wolverton you have, thankfully, Greg Sadowski’s Creeping Death. With Crumb you have a ton of interviews. The other two, you’re shit outta luck.

Anyhow, back to this thing. It seems to be chronological, but there’s no narrative through-line and no hierarchy of content. For example, four pages are given over to unpublished very rough sketches for an-unpublished edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the accompanying text by Stewart includes a complete account of that books’ hollywood fates. Diane Dillon’s moving account of her friendship with Wood is only 3 paragraphs and yet given an entire spread. We get four pages from Rick Keene ostensibly about trading cards Wood did for Topps, but it’s mostly about Keene’s own childhood. Six pages are devoted to TwoMorrows’ removal of some nudity in the first edition. There are interviews with John Severin and Al Williamson that provide little insight. You see where I’m going here. This thing is just a mess. There’s no sense that one piece of text (and corresponding work) is more important than another. There are multiple overlapping essays on Mad and EC, with little attempt to differentiate them. The best essays are those that attempt to understand Wood as a working artist and a human being, like Russ Jones’ moving memoir, West 74th St., and Ralph Reese’s account of his life as an assistant to Wood, “When in Doubt, Black it Out”

Then there is the bizarre art direction: Some images are printed as line art, some as objects, with no apparent guiding principle. Catron takes pains to tell us that Wood developed the visual look of Daredevil's sensory powers, but offers no visual examples. Numerous spreads are taken up with black and white reproductions of comic book pages printed too small (four to a page) to actually get anything from. Most of the color EC work is shown in contemporary digitally colored form, which is especially odd since that mode is particularly unkind to Wood’s linework. If you picked up this book hoping to see good examples of Wood’s art, you’d be sadly mistaken.

What you never get is any kind of evaluation of Wood’s talents. What made him unique? What was he best at doing? What this book needed was someone to look at it and say, “what are we trying to do here, and what’s the best way to accomplish this”? If the goal was to show Wood’s progress, it fails. And there’s no hint of what Volume 2 contains.

shattuck-cover_finalWorse yet is the collection of Wood’s western strip, Shattuck, which was completed for a military newspaper in 1971. It’s unclear, and editor David Spurlock never says, what exactly Wood contributed to this strip aside from an idea. The aforementioned Howard Chaykin, as well as Dave Cockrum, did a lot of the art. Chaykin tells the story of this strip better in his own introduction to The Life and Legend than David Spurlock does in his.  This is miserable, poorly drawn, and charmless work (even by my very forgiving standards), replete with pointless violence, rape fantasies and the like. Wood did a lot of dreck, but it was almost always beautifully finished. For unexplained reasons the art is reproduced from the original boards, like an “artist’s edition” which makes it look even worse. So why even publish this thing? There’s nothing to be learned about his work here — no entertainment value. There’s so much great work of his to be published nicely — the only thing Shattuck shows is how low Wood (and, I would guess his estate manager) could go. A sad affair all around.
Better, however, is Roger Hill’s Galaxy Art and Beyond. Hill contributed two excellent essays to the Life and Legend book, and here we get all of Wood’s astonishingly beautiful SF illustrations produced between 1956 and 1962. Hill wrote a detailed introduction that goes into the publishing history of Galaxy and other SF magazines, Wood’s relationship to them, and even Wood’s drawing techniques, this last bit being particularly invaluable. Like many other authors coming out of Boomer fandom, Hill doesn’t do much aesthetic evaluation, preferring a “just the facts” approach, but the facts here are deeply researched and well organized. The book itself is a tad crowded — with sometimes a half dozen drawings on a spread, but I’ll take what I can get. When the layout opens up and we get a full page or full spread illustration, it sings. This work was Wood right between his ultra-detailed EC period and his streamlined 1960s work. He’s at his peak in terms of design, brushwork, and spatial rendering. When we think of what SF looked like in the middle of the 20th century, this is it. Grab this one for a real masterclass in what Wood could do.