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.



Don’t Interfere

Today on the site, we present an excerpt from the long-awaited We Told You So: Comics as Art, an oral history of Fantagraphics put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. This particular chapter covers the years from 1978 to 1984, when the company was headquartered in a three-story house in Connecticut, and began publishing comics as well as criticism. Watch out for appearances by Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, the Hernandez brothers, Peter Bagge, Jack Jackson, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Heidi MacDonald, R. Fiore, Bud Plant, R.C. Harvey, and Carter Scholz.

Groth: I knew nothing about Connecticut, had never set foot in the state before. But, New York was too expensive (although I don’t know if Brooklyn was more expensive than Connecticut at the time) and Connecticut sounded like the kind of place we could rent a house rather than an apartment.

Thompson: The move to Connecticut was a pretty big deal in one way: At that point we both quit our day jobs. I was a general office worker. Gary was doing freelance typesetting. He didn’t so much quit a job as stopped doing it. At that point we realized we had to do this as a full-time job or not do it.

Groth: When we got to Connecticut, we rented a house. It was only the two of us at the beginning. We worked in a basement in the house for about a year, but the basement flooded at least once, causing havoc with comics, files, everything on the floor (which was everything). So, we moved to this huge three-story house, in an exclusive section of Stamford. Everybody thought I was nuts, since I was the one who engineered this move, but I thought we needed more space and I thought it was something of a deal. It had five bedrooms, two living rooms, three sundecks, a ground-level “basement” that wouldn’t flood, a two-car garage. It was in this area surrounded by other huge houses, owned by TV-network executives and doctors and lawyers. We clearly didn’t belong there.

Dwight Decker, editor: Some people called it the Ski Lodge because it somewhat resembled one, built into a hillside so the second-floor back door was at ground level while the first floor/basement had a front door. It was well back from the street and pretty well surrounded by woods. There were other houses in the area, and I wonder if there was a potential conflict with zoning laws since Gary was running a business out of his house and there were UPS and other delivery trucks making frequent stops.

Kenneth Smith, cartoonist and writer:
Every closet and shelf-system was crammed with reference copies and Fantagraphics publications. The living room was rather shadowy and very amiably laid out, nearly a conversation pit. It must have been a fun place to work, even with hell-on-wheels deadlines over everybody’s heads. In retrospect, I guess I wonder why there weren’t more tables and working surfaces. I know I always have a shortage of unencumbered surfaces, not to mention shelving.

Thompson: It was the same thing, different place. We just lived in a nicer house.

Steven Ringgenberg, editor: It was in a beautiful neighborhood and I liked to go running when I lived there.

Groth: We shared a really long driveway with one other house. Five of us lived in the house. The office was on the ground floor in a large wide-open space, which included a bedroom and a sauna. Yes, a working sauna! The living rooms and the kitchen and two bedrooms were on the second floor and on the third floor were two more bedrooms. Our neighbors put up with us for six years. I don’t know if they knew quite what we did. I think they probably thought it was some drug-dealing operation, and the fewer questions asked the better.

Decker: Because housing was so expensive in Stamford, Gary sublet bedrooms to a couple of people who had nothing to do with Fantagraphics and worked elsewhere (I can’t remember if it was more than one). I can only guess what they thought of the mad goings-on.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The University of Guelph profiles Wendy creator Walter Scott.

“A lot of the first Wendy comics were inspired by the punk scene,” says Scott, whose artistic influences include Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Matt Groening and Tanya Linklater.

They also drew on his experience of what he calls loss and yearning, as well as issues of identity that stemmed from the push and pull of hiding and exposing his aboriginal roots.

“I wanted to create a character enough like me but different enough — to talk about my experiences but not have to be me. That difference allowed me to open to other people,” he says.

Ben Navotny profiles Laurenn McCubbin.

How do fine art and comics compare as industries in which to work? How do the opportunities compare, and how do the chances of getting exploited compare?

There are a lot of similarities, in that they are both very white, and in both there is a stratification of worth. The people whose work is perceived to be worth more in comics and in fine art — there’s that five percent in either that people are going to pay attention to. It’s hard to get attention. It’s hard to do something new because, again, in both fields there are standards that we already think of that people need to reach before we will actually consider them artists. There are weird cliques in the working world of both. The indie kids of comics and the warehouse gallery kids are very similar. The superhero kids and the blue chip artists are very similar. And then the people who consume these arts, they like the things that maybe are not the great art. They’re not getting the good stuff because it’s not part of our common parlance. But, boy oh boy, do they love it when somebody draws photorealistically at a really large scale. That’s the thing in fine art that drives the fine art people crazy. “Why do you guys keep liking this stuff?” And in comics it’s, “Why do you guys keep liking Jim Lee?” No one makes money in either field. It’s hard to make money in comics; it’s hard to make money in fine art. Very few people do it. It is a very rarified group of people who actually can make a living at this. And the people who do work their asses off. Which is not to say that the people who don’t don’t also work their asses off!

Steven Cuevas profiles Steven Weissman.

“[Trump]’s more like a professional wrestler character,” explains Weissman.

“When I drew comics about President Obama or Hillary, they seem like real grown-ups with real grown-up problems,” he says. “You can relate to someone who seems to have some real (inner) conflict. I don’t see conflict in Donald Trump. You just sort of see this ego.”

—Reviews & Commentary.
Chris Mautner writes about Moto Hagio's Otherworld Barbara.

Barbara is dense with ideas as well. Influenced by Noam Chomsky, Ray Bradbury, Carl Jung, genetics, neuroscience, and more (there’s even a joke reference to Last Year at Marienbad), Hagio explores identity, aging, and our flawed perception of reality. But the high-minded philosophical explorations are grounded by the fraught emotional landscape of the characters. As mentioned before, broken or dysfunctional families are familiar territory for Hagio (she has spoken publicly about her own issues with her parents), as are characters who are so emotionally reserved they could fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Here, though, the anger over neglect from parental figures (and adult authority in general) constantly threatens to spill over into violence — it is frequently suggested that the withdrawn Kiriya could do Tokio real harm — as though despite the relative lack of blood on the page everything is building inexorably toward a tragic climax.

Brian Nicholson writes about Ron Wimberly's Prince of Cats.

It’s a take on Romeo and Juliet, told from Tybalt’s perspective, with a primarily black cast, built around the author’s realization that the way the characters in the play act violently, indifferent to death, never seemed surprising or weird to him, presumably because growing up in New York City, he witnessed people who lived the same way. Some of them are white, but race doesn’t factor into their interactions: They are all living inside this milieu, sharing the same assumptions about codes of behavior.

In order to tell this story, Wimberly works out an elaborate system of cultural reference. The language is a mixture of iambic pentameter and Notorious B.I.G. allusions, but with the opening scene-setting text ending on a Langston Hughes reference. It takes place in the 1980s. 1980s New York, in comics, is also partially defined by the work of Frank Miller in Daredevil, which he filled up with ninja. The swordfighting is played up in a way that recalls the Wu-Tang Clan’s love of kung fu movies, but also present in the mix is Walter Hill’s The Warriors, which itself had a structure partially modeled on The Odyssey. This, then, creates a good deal of artifice, despite the fact that it is talking about some of the realest stuff there is: Both in terms of hip-hop’s insistence on “the real,” or notions of “real shit” meaning the threat of a body count, and the archetypal story we are all supposed to relate to.

Magdalene Vissagio promotes a movement in comics she calls "The New Sincerity."

For a crop of comic creators who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, every genre convention was questioned and every piety challenged, where the snarling, gun-toting heroes of Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld formed the gold standard of the medium. Today, there’s a growing emphasis on comics simply being…fun. My own miniseries Kim & Kim aside, it’s not hard to point to the books joyfully pushing forward without a hint of ironic distance: Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes, Jonesy, Jem and the Holograms, the aforementioned Teen Dog, The Backstagers, and to a lesser extent, Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberly’s run on She-Hulk.

Stylized, youthful, increasingly female and often queer, these books are almost (read: explicitly) a deliberate slap in the face to a toxic fandom culture and a broken business model that has focused exclusively on 45-year-old white dudes. And I find it interesting how much these books joyfully and deliberately dance right past everything we’ve always been told American comics are supposed to be—serious literature—while wearing a Walkman and a high-top fade.

—Misc. For The Paris Review, Kevin Huizenga adapts an excerpt from the new translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s novel The Return of Münchausen.

Though Krzhizhanovsky wrote for some twenty years, Soviet censorship and World War II conspired against him, and none of his fiction was published in his lifetime (he died in 1950). “A fantastical plot is my method,” he once wrote. “First you borrow from reality, you ask reality for permission to use your imagination, to deviate from actual fact; later you repay your debt to your creditor with nature, with a profoundly realistic investigation of the facts and an exact logic of conclusions.” In Münchausen, Krzhizhanovsky borrows from the life—both real and legendary—of Baron Münchausen to spin his own absurd tale involving the baron’s post–World War I perambulations in Berlin, London, and Moscow on a diplomatic mission. Bizarre and fantastic, Münchausen (or is it Krzhizhanovky?) defends imagination above all else.



Sneaking to Bronx

Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews Drew Friedman's More Heroes Of The Comics.

In many respects, More Heroes Of The Comics is more in line with Friedman’s traditional interest in b-grade, obscure, and discarded American culture than the first volume. That first book, which had 83 illustration plates, included Friedman’s heroes from EC Comics and a number of obvious choices like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Bob Kane, etc. He threw in a few more obscure choices in an effort to make the book more than a line-up of dead white men, but the history lessons came more from Friedman’s visual interpretation of each artist through his portrait/caricature than via the accompanying text, even if Friedman took great pains to have his biographical copy reflect the controversies that might have surround each subject, especially with regard to issues like exploitation. In this new book, Friedman tackles one hundred subjects, and has the luxury to go in some offbeat directions.

For example, the Three Stooges-obsessed Friedman includes Norman Maurer, a cartoonist who happened to marry Joan Howard, the daughter of Moe. A couple of years later, he wrote and drew the first Three Stooges comic book (featuring Friedman favorite Shemp) and later worked on early 3D comics, including the Three Stooges in 3D. Maurer’s portrait is a profile shot at his drawing desk of an unassuming young man with the typically slicked-back hair of the era. Also featured in the book are Hy and Bill Vigoda, brothers of the well-known actor (and another Friedman favorite) Abe. They are featured not just because of Friedman’s fan interests, but rather because they represent something that Friedman repeatedly makes a point of emphasizing: people who worked in the industry for a long time, on comics that aren’t lionized today in the same way that popular culture has seized upon superheroes. The Vigodas, for example, after working in some of the early comics sweatshops, went on to long careers working in Archie comics.

I loved this book. It's so much fun, and like Rob notes, full of oddities and never-beens. The true heroes.

Some links:

Glen David Gold reviews Michael Tisserand's Krazy.

Leslie Stein perfectly sums up the holiday spirit right here.


I Drink Your Milkshake

Today on the site, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the best-sounding books new to stores. Spotlight picks this time include Michael Tisserand's much-anticipated George Herriman biography and a new collaborative effort from Stanislas Barthélémy and journalist Laurent Rullier. Joe also writes about a Disney comic by Lewis Trondheim, Nicolas Keramidas, and Brigitte Findakly.

The album is technically part of a line of artist-driven Mouse comics at Glénat, with additional contributions by Régis Loisel (who's done work for Disney's animated films) and "Tébo" (also the writer of Keramidas' Alice au pays des singes series with Glénat) -- along with a book by Bernard "Cosey" Cosendey that IDW also plans to release -- but really it's part of Trondheim's continuing project of summoning works and traditions from comics' past and making them his own.

However, I am at a disadvantage. For one, I've not read what I suspect is this book's closest relation, the 2010 Spirou et Fantasio sub-series album Panique en Atlantique, which Trondheim wrote for artist Fabrice Parme with purportedly similar throwback flair. Moreover, I *have* read this very good review of the Mickey book by Jonathan Bogart, whom I fear has plumbed all the depth this piece has to offer. Of particular note, Bogart reads the book's central conceit -- that the comic we're seeing was not really created by Trondheim & co., but found by them in a hidden stash of regional European Disney comics from the '60s, serialized at only one page per issue by anonymous talents -- as a means of re-framing Mickey Mouse and all his baggage as something suddenly native to the small-format serialization of Franco-Belgian children's comics: a truly BD Disney at last.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. James Yeh reviews Richard McGuire's new book of New Yorker spot drawings/comics for the Times.

As in his loudly (and deservedly) praised 2014 graphic novel “Here,” McGuire’s singular, virtuoso approach to storytelling is again the star. Whereas “Here,” with its static living room scene and bold leaps forward and backward in time, explores a simultaneous vision of space and history, “Sequential Drawings” takes a more playful, spare and gag-like approach, wordlessly shuffling between imaginings of the secret lives of diner condiments (“Scenes From a Table”) and stylish insects (“Insect Fashion”), inventories of funny hats (“Hats”), obstructed faces on the subway (“Subway”) and ice (“Ice”).

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Newman profiles Drew Friedman.

Years ago it could be a little nerve-racking if the phone wasn’t ringing with work as much as I’d like, but now I basically decide what I want to create. I make my own hours and for the most part decide what I want to work on. The solitude isn’t a problem because my MacBook is right by me at the desk, so I’m never really alone for too long—I’m always connected with my fellow travelers, that is, if I wanna be.

The New York Times interviews Zunar.

I’m facing so many laws three laws have been used against me so far. But one thing I keep in my mind — one very, very important thing — is that the biggest enemy for anyone in the world is self-censorship. For me, talent is not a gift but a responsibility. People ask, do I have fear? Yes, I have fear, I’m human. But responsibility is bigger than fear. So I don’t want to really think what the government will do next to me. I just concentrate on what I’m supposed to do. That can help me continue and draw more cartoons. If I start to think about law, I start to think about prison, I start to think about government action, I will definitely start to practice self-censorship — and this is no good. So I will draw as usual.

The most recent guest of the Process Party podcast is Rina Ayuyang.

—Misc. 2dcloud has launched a Kickstarter to fund their fall 2016 lineup, including new books from Sab Meynert, Tommi Parrish, and Jake Terrell.

We've been using Kickstarter as a mechanism for pre-orders and curated book bundles since 2010. This is our 8th Kickstarter. It's been a powerful tool allowing for discovery, discussion and distribution.

Our Kickstarters are simply put, how we keep the lights on for our company. Think of them as NPR style fundraisers operating as a way to sell small curated book bundles.

This is the final week of the Kickstarter to fund a new documentary about the aforementioned Drew Friedman.

For years, artist Drew Friedman has chronicled a strange, alternate universe populated by forgotten Hollywood stars, old Jewish comedians and liver-spotted elevator operators.

Vermeer of the Borscht Belt is an in-depth documentary tracing Friedman's evolution from underground comics to the cover of the New Yorker.

Friedman grew up in the New York literary scene of his father, writer Bruce Jay Friedman, but he was more at home with the Three Stooges, Car 54 and MAD magazine. Vermeer of the Borscht Belt traces fifty years of American popular culture through the unique lens of Drew Friedman.


Model Building

Today on the site, we revisit Dana Gabbard's 1989 interview with Don Rosa, whose Disney Duck work is presently being reprinted by Fantagraphics.

GABBARD: There’s a lot of pacing, suspense and detailing. Very vivid and very immediate is how I would describe your work.

ROSA: One problem I’ve always had is when somebody has invited me to speak at some school about creative writing or to give a lecture on this or that, I’ve always refused because I don’t consider myself an expert on this stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing — I just do it! I’ve never tried to figure out what my style is. I just sit down and do it. My training came from not trying to please anybody — just to do it for the fun of it. I made comic books for myself when I was little. And I just did it the way it seemed it should be done. I’m not saying this is the right way to do it. I just never thought about it and just sat down and started doing it.

And I never concentrated on developing any particular art style, since I wasn’t planning on doing it for a living. If I had, I’d have tried to learn how to draw a bit more in a Disney style rather than something that comes out looking like Robert Crumb. But I know where that comes from. Once I started doing stories for Gladstone, people said “they look like a cross between Carl Barks and Will Elder.” And there’s a lot to that. Because when I was little with all those Dell Comics my sister had, the only ones I really liked were Barks’ ducks and the Little Lulus. It’s much more difficult to explain to somebody what’s good about Little Lulu. I mean, what’s good about Carl Barks’ ducks is pretty evident. It stares you right in the face. The artwork is good, the stories are complex. More than anything else, I liked Barks’ style. But Little Lulu is a bit more elusive to explain … Anyway, after that I moved right into Mad Magazine (1957-1958) because my sister was in high school in those days and that’s probably what she started bringing home instead of Dell comics. So I was just a Mad Magazine fanatic for the next seven or eight years. I went right from Carl Barks to Will Elder and Basil Wolverton. I am a Robert Crumb fan. Of the so-called “underground” artists, he’s one of the only ones I really liked. But I never tried to imitate his art. I’m sure whatever drawing style I had must have developed by the time I first saw Crumb’s comics. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Sometimes I try to explain it to myself, that neither I nor Robert Crumb took the stuff seriously. So we didn’t try to make it look pretty — we just started putting all that noodling little cross-hatching in there. From what I’m learning in the Robert Crumb sketchbooks and Complete Robert Crumb stuff from Fantagraphics, he used to make all these comic books for himself, too, just like I used to do. All sons of silly stories.

(Ooops, that wasn't quite ready yet).

At the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Boxer reviews Krazy.

Great interview with cartoonist Laurenn McCubbin over at the LARB.

The great French cartoonist Gotlib has passed away.