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Sleep a Million Years

Today on the site, Frank M. Young returns with a review of Marc Bell's long-awaited Worn Tuff Elbow #2:

A 15-year gap between issues? This might be a world record. But a new infusion of comics by Marc Bell is a gift to us all. In the interim, Bell has released the graphic novella Stroppy, two anthologies of various comics and fine art (Hot Potatoe, Pure Pajamas) and has been a contributor to Sammy Harkam’s Kramer’s Ergot, that annual tome of cutting-edge comics. He has also done recurring strips for Canadian weekly newspapers.

Marc Bell’s work stays with you. It is disarmingly funny, random, bleak and touching. It doesn’t explain itself or make a concerted effort to shepherd your attention. Its visuals suggest Crumb, Basil Wolverton, vintage black-and-white animated cartoons and off-brand funny animal comics. Bell’s work is also akin to the techniques of early newspaper cartoonists and to the artists of Harvey Kurtzman’s original Mad comic book. Visual information is everywhere on Bell’s pages. It clutters the corners, careens along the margins of its panels and often creates narratives within narratives. It’s compulsively readable and re-readable.

The pool of Marc Bell is all deep end, so the second Worn Tuff Elbow is a fine place to dive in if you’re new to his work.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Alex Dueben interviews Diana Chu.

So how did this project begin? Did you approach Kevin and L and say, “I want to make a Ley Lines comic”?

In a way, yes! I encountered Ley Lines the first time I attended SPX in 2016. Somehow the series kept cropping up in my life, and I loved the idea of comics that paid homage to the intersection of this traditionally mainstream, low-brow art form, with “various fields of art & culture.” That description created an entry point for me; I didn’t feel like a neo-comics-phony. I could use comics as a lens, a tool; it sounded freeing. Using my old Corona typewriter, I wrote a love letter to Ley Lines that expressed my admiration and interest in possibly contributing. I stuffed the envelope with a few printed samples of my drawings, addressed it to L. and Kevin, and dropped it off at their SPX table the following year. I remember that neither of them were at the desk when I mustered the courage up to drop that letter off — L. was out to lunch!

—This year's Hugo Award nominations have been announced.

—Martin Rowson talks Brexit:

 

Agenda Items

It's Wednesday at The Comics Journal, and Alex Dueben is getting you through it with a nice long conversation with Sara Elfgren, whose graphic novel Vei just made it over to the US this year.

According to the note in the back of the book, it sounds like Vei had a long and complicated process.

Karl was interested in the giants of Norse mythology. Most of the time they’re portrayed as the bad guys but he wanted to create his own mythology around them and tell the story from their perspective. There was this magazine called Utopi that Karl and a couple friends of his – I was involved in that circle, too – started. They wanted to promote science fiction, fantasy and horror comics. In Sweden for the past twenty-thirty years we’ve had a lot of great comics but often they’re political satire, humor, or autobiography. There was a group of people trying to do other things and make different types of comics and this magazine was supposed to publish these comics in episodes and then there would be books. So Karl started working on this comic for this magazine and I was there in the beginning as a friend and I got more and more involved. On chapter two he asked me, would you like to do this together? We ran the comic in the magazine for six or seven episodes, but Karl had developed so much as an artist and we had discovered so many things about the story that we realized we don’t want to finish it the way we started it. We made this huge decision – especially for Karl – to stop and redo the whole thing. [laughs] Sheer madness. Especially for Karl. He’s spent a few years on this now.

Last week at Her Campus, writer and editor Hannah Strader published an essay accusing comics writer Jai Nitz of sexual harassment. Within days, more women came forward with stories about Nitz, and then Nitz himself told Bleeding Cool that he was "stepping away from comics and public life" and "seeking counseling". Around the same time, Dark Horse annoucned  The story has also seen coverage at Comic Book Resources, Comics Beat (the Beat's piece extensively details one of the more recent series of allegations), with more sure to come.

Over at the Believer, there's new Tommi Parish comics to be found.

As a reminder, the Eisner winning Comics Journal is, and always has been, staffed by fans of the Snyderverse, so allow us to break ranks from our fellow comics websites who prefer their doomladen death worshipping super-hero movies to be of the Marvel variety and lack surprises and say: Bring it on, Warner.

 

An Emotional, Sensitive Work

Today on the site, we have Steven Ringgenberg's obituary for Ken Bald, who until recently held the World Record as oldest working cartoonist.

Veteran cartoonist Ken Bald is someone who can truly be said to have grown up in the American comics industry. Bald, who died on March 17th, was born on August 1st, 1920, went on to have one of the longest and most prolific careers of any cartoonist, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which honored him in 2017, not once but twice, as the "Oldest Comic Artist," and the "Oldest Artist to Illustrate a Comic Book Cover," which he accomplished in 2016 at the age of 96. Because of the many contributions he made to the comics industry, as well as the epic length of his career, Ken Bald deserves to be much better known than he is in the present day. Many comics creators are given legendary status if they hang in there long enough, but Ken Bald really was a legend.

Born in New York City, Bald grew up in Mt. Vernon New York and later attended the Pratt Institute, and at some point took classes at the Toronto College of Art in Toronto, Ontario. After graduating from Pratt, Bald moved to Englewood, New Jersey.

His first published work was a fan drawing printed in More Fun #9 (April, 1936) which had the distinction of being the first standard-sized comic containing new material. It was published by National Allied Publications, which later became National Periodical Publications, more familiarly known as DC Comics. After attending the Pratt Institute for three years, through 1941, Bald immediately joined the Jack Binder shop which packaged entire comic books for various publishers, Fawcett, Nedor, and Lev Gleason Publications. At first, the Binder shop was a modest affair, with Bald and a handful of other artists working in Jack Binder’s living room. However, within a year or so, business was so good that Binder was able to rent a Fifth Avenue loft and employed fifty or sixty artists. In addition to Bald, Binder employed such future greats as Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bill Ward, Kurt Schaffenberger and Pete Riss, among others. Studio mate Gil Kane recalled in a 1996 Comics Journal interview, “Binder had a loft on Fifth Avenue and it just looked like an internment camp. There must have been 50 or 60 guys up there, all at drawing tables. You had to account for the paper that you took."

Frank M. Young is here, too, with a review of the recent Jay Lynch anthology, Ink & Anguish.

Jay Lynch is the underdog of the first wave of American underground cartoonists. Had he been born 30 years earlier—or later—fame and fortune might have been his as a comic artist. Lynch went through much personal struggle to stay afloat, but he kept going, and always produced first-rate work.

[...]

Lynch is best-known for his “Nard ‘n’ Pat” series—an old-school style strip about a hapless, hat-wearing divorcee and his smart-ass cat companion. Like Robert Crumb and Bobby London, Lynch was inspired by the low art that he saw throughout his childhood. Early appearances in Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine and decades of work from Topps got Lynch’s work broad circulation—although he never signed his Topps work until the 21st century.

The comics contained in this volume are comical—sharply written, flawlessly constructed and, as the years go on, increasingly impressive as cartoon art. Lynch founded a Midwestern underground style, with Bijou Funnies, which also featured work by Crumb, Kim Deitch, Skip Williamson, and other major cartoonists, being his major contribution to comix. A hard worker, Lynch pursued the sheer craft of cartooning. By the mid-1970s, his comics and illustration work have a dazzling professional sheen. Gone are the callow, tentative lines of his work c. 1968—every pen stroke is unerringly right, and in service of whatever he’s illustrating. His 1970s color work for such magazines as Oui, Details, Gallery, and the Chicago Sun-Times is first-rate—and very much of its time. Given what a smart social satirist and deft humorist Lynch is, his talent feels wasted on the likes of Oui, but Lynch was always a professional, and his most commercial work still bears his stamp of individuality and quirk.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Last week saw the death of cartoonist Leslie Sternbergh Alexander, a longtime fixture on the New York cartooning scene well-liked by many. We will have more coverage soon.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Julie Delporte.

NATHAN SCOTT MCNAMARA: While This Woman’s Work doesn’t explicitly engage with the Kate Bush song it borrows it title from, it’s a fitting homage. Could you tell us about your history with Kate Bush’s music?

JULIE DELPORTE: One of the translators of the book, Aleshia Jensen, found this title. The original french edition had a different title which made reference to a French grammatical structure (the masculine takes over the feminine, something that literally every french kid learns at school) and couldn’t be translated. I like the English title because it adds one more inspiring woman to my research of desirable feminine identities — Kate Bush joins Tove Jansson, Chantal Akerman, Paula M. Baker, Geneviève Castrée, and other women present in the pages of the book. I like Kate Bush’s music, though I don’t know it really well, but it made total sense that the title references another woman’s inspiration, whether it’s my translator’s or the reader’s. The goal of my book is for it to be about something larger than myself. I wanted to ask readers: “this is what it’s like for me, was it like this for you?” The title Aleshia Jensen found makes me think of the idea of women as a working class… This Woman’s Work talks a lot about maternity — a subject I never planned initially, and only discovered when I finished drawing the book — which is considered the work of women above all. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici addresses it, explaining how capitalism was partly built on the appropriation and exploitation of the reproductive work of women.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Mark Alan Stamaty.

—Reviews. Brian Nicholson writes about Matt Fraction's Hawkeye.

[I] feel bad about trying to join in the chorus of people talking about how Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was pretty good. It is absolutely a fun and well-crafted comic, deserving of some praise. However, it’s already been written about a lot, and by people whose writing basically makes me want to kill myself when I think about how the distinction between me and them is virtually nil. I can write about some under-discussed alternative comic and feel like I’m basically doing literary criticism, but writing about a Marvel comic, published during the era of Marvel movies and Netflix TV shows totally dominating culture, makes me feel bad about myself at least in part because it feels like willfully choosing to do something I will fail at.

—Misc. The annual MoCCA Arts Festival is being held this weekend in New York, and the show's programming can be found here and here.

—RIP. Agnès Varda.

 

Fool’s Hardy

Today at the Comics Journal, we're bearing down for the annual onslaught of April Fool's themed marketing emails by reading Michel Fiffe's latest episode of The Fiffe Files. This time around, Michel is here to make the case for Mike Sekowsky...along with a whole mess of Justice League of America comics. 

And look at that amazing Mike Sekowsky art! Inked by Bernard Sachs this time around. Like Dillin, I've always thought Sekowsky had an old school illustrator vibe to him, but that he was more concerned with speed and efficiency than technical virtuosity... less concerned with showing off and more about meeting the deadline. Either way, I was all in, expecting a slog of pseudo science over-explained by a pack of humorless boy scouts. That's not what I got at all. I cracked open this new comic Christmas afternoon. A few hours later, the hooks were in. I wanted more.

Our review of the day comes to us from Matt Seneca, and it's a mixed take on Little Bird, one of the more visually compelling books to come out of the Image genre factory in a while. 

Still, to my eye at least, Quitely is the most apparent influence on the way Bertram draws. This isn't surprising; as one of a very few modern cartoonists whose work on corporate properties hasn't led to a bibliography comprised mainly of bad comics, Quitely is cruising toward elder statesman status these days with an ever widening circle of published acolytes. Bertram flexes a strong individual style while picking up on two important, underappreciated aspects of Quitely's: his markmaking and his passion for grotesquerie. Bertram's forms are his own, but they're shaped with profusions of crabbed, gossamer-thin lines that rarely extend for more than a centimeter before breaking off a micron from another, nearly identical stroke. Quitely fans will recognize this impressionistic, almost sculptural approach on sight, but Bertram brings a more frenetic, compulsive hand to his pages, locating a strong gristle of connective tissue between Quitely and Dave Cooper. And like Quitely, just about every one of Bertram's characters are imbued with Extreme physicality: a Strong guy looks like an NFL lineman with hypertrophy, a Regal dude's robe-swathed legs extend well over twice the length of his torso, a Small girl approaches a lithe brand of dwarfism. This is influence properly wielded, not copycat work but an identification and exploration of shared strong points.

Over at Comicosity, Mark Peters took a reverent look at Charles Glaubitz's Starseeds for his Kirbyology column. 

I had never read such a confident, surreal, mythological, entrancing comic. As Tom Scioli has said of New Gods #7 (“The Pact”), you could build a religion around this comic.

Over at Bleeding Cool, there's a fascinating look into the financial tentacles of IDW, a company that has spent the better part of the last twelve months involved in so many different types of drama, legal maneuvers and fiscal hopscotch that I wouldn't even know how to summarize it. 

The numbers show that IDW’s sales revenue percentage from direct market sales grew significantly more than traditional retail. Digital comics sales revenue percentage actually decreased from 2018 to 2019. We’ve prepared pie charts to illustrate the breakdowns.

Still don't even understand what this is, and i've read the NYT on it, and then I read the WWAC making fun of the NYT on it. Why is Garth Ennis so great at making war comics and Punisher stories and yet still so bad at picking business partners?

 

 

Graphs

Today on the site, Robert Kirby reviews Zidrou and Aimée de Jongh's Blossoms in Autumn.

Blossoms in Autumn tells the story of a man and a woman who become romantically involved late in life. Though at first they seem to be polar opposites, the focus isn’t on their differences, as it would be in a typical romantic comedy, but on their shared sense of making the last chapter of their lives count—of making up for lost time. While there are a couple of weakly imagined story points, it’s a sweet, skillfully rendered piece.

Zidrou takes his time to properly introduce us to his protagonists. His heroine is Mediterranea Solenza, a former model now in her early sixties who runs the cheese shop that has been in her family for a few generations. Having just lost her mother to cancer, Mediterranea is understandably thinking a lot about her own mortality and mourning the loss of her youth. When her brother tells her that she is now “the oldest Solenza!” she likens his words to being bitten by a viper.

We then meet Ulysses, a widowed blue-collar guy who is forced into early retirement at age 59, when the moving company he works for downsizes during an economic downturn. Ulysses is quite unhappy to lose his job and feels at loose ends. Though he has a good relationship with his adult son, a doctor, he’s lonely. He doesn’t appear at first to have much of an inner life and has no artistic outlet–in fact, early on he informs us that he hates reading. He joylessly ticks off the non-events of his day like grocery shopping, feeling at a loss for anything exciting that the future might hold. He does, however, make regular visits to a prostitute who offers him sexual release, but no lasting inner satisfaction.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Tom Kaczynski followed up his most recent column with a post on his own blog:

I did a lot of writing around this episode, much of which didn’t make the final cut. Here’s a bit that got left on the cutting room floor. One thing I found myself struggling with is the large body of Batman literature. Much of this literature is very similar to itself, with small differences. The more I thought about it, the more it resembled a fractal structure. And when zooming out on this fractal, Batman and superheroes in general acquire a fractal self-similarity. But I get ahead of myself.

BA(TM)AN
How do you write about Batman? How do you write about a property like Batman? Specifically, how do you write about a single episode of one of the longest running comics properties in the world? How do you write about something like Batman: Son Of the Demon ?

After 80 years of continuous publication — after countless issues, series, specials, graphic novels, novelizations, TV & film adaptions — what is Batman? Which Batman do you write about? Batman the character or Ba(TM)an the franchise? When you write about BSOTD, which Batman do you compare him to? Is it possible to evaluate BSOTD on its own merits? How can you evaluate Batman’s behavior and story arc in this book? If you don’t know the history between Ra’s al Ghul & Batman will this make any sense? If you know it only in-part, is that enough?

 

As A Dog

Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to welcome Katie Skelly back for another installment of Creators Talking To Creators. (We're still workshopping the title of these things, stop making that face.) This time, Skelly is speaking with Guy Colwell, whose book Doll is returning to print via Fantagraphics--where it will include a print edition of this very conversation!

Do you consider Doll an erotic work? Or do you view the sex scenes more as functional for driving the plot? 

Can I say the answer is both? I suppose I was inspired by Larry Welz’s Cherry books which were selling very well through Rip Off Press when I was working as art director there. So I wanted to do an erotic book and make some money, but something like the raw but trivialized sex in Cherry would not have been my way of approaching a story that had to rely on a lot of sex. Not very interesting and there were plenty of other pure stroke books out there already. I wanted something a little more serious that looked at some of the dark side and sadness and tragedy of sexuality, not just the bumping and pumping and grunting. So, yes, the sex is a driver of the storylines and, yes, it is still an erotic book meant to excite the reader.

 

Drop the Keys

Today on the site, Mark Newgarden returns with an excellent interview with Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith, largely revolving around his new book, Nobody's Fool, a biography of one of his major inspirations for Zippy, Schlitzie.

Mark Newgarden: Why Schlitzie (and not, say, Zip)?

Bill Griffith: Schlitzie's appearance in Freaks [1932], which I first saw in 1963, was the inspiration (years later) for Zippy. Barnum's pinhead, "Zip the What-is-it," only supplied me with Zippy's name. It's been pretty well settled that Zip was a fake. His sister said he could converse and behave like anyone else---so he was an actor. Schlitzie, on the other hand, was the real thing.

Couldn't a Zip biography (the life of a faux pinhead poseur) have piqued your interest in the way that the life of Schlitzie did?

Zip was an actor, though many many other sideshow acts were also less than truthful. While I find that interesting, it pales before the authenticity of Schlitzie. Schlitzie was an innocent in a fraudulent world. He was himself, incapable of acting. Zip was a fraud in a fraudulent world. I chose the innocent.

Nobody’s Fool is explicitly grounded in solidly researched historical material, yet there are many intimate details (which feel even more “real”) that must at least in part be invented, imagined, or divined. As a cartoonist, how do you approach biography?

I adopted the "fly on the wall" method in creating many scenes in the book. I always made sure I had the best evidence before doing this, but I took artistic license to flesh out interactions and events. After months of source reading and several key interviews I did with two people who knew Schlitzie in his later years, I felt I was well grounded enough to make educated guesses about how events would play out. Cartoonist's intuition!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At the London Review of Books, Namara Smith reviews Nick Drnaso's Sabrina.

Drnaso’s second book, Sabrina, the first graphic novel to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize, is a longer, more elaborate study of the desire for initiation and the fear of exposure. The title comes from the name of the young woman who disappears in its opening pages. ‘It’s one of those horror stories you hear about,’ another character explains as the story begins to circulate. ‘She just never came home.’ Surveillance footage from the night Sabrina vanished shows her a block away from her apartment in Chicago, then nothing. A month later, her bus pass is mailed to her parents. Soon copies of a videotape showing a woman who matches her description being killed by a man in a black ski mask are sent to news stations across the country. On the package is an Illinois return address. The landlord tells the police that his tenant, a 23-year-old called Timmy Yancey, rarely left the building and had few visitors besides his mother. In the bathroom, they find a set of neatly folded black clothes and a black ski mask. Lying in the bathtub, which is filled with water the colour of blood, is the body of a young man, his mouth still curved upward in a faint smile.

—Marilyn Berlin Snell enthuses over the cartoons of Charles Addams.

What’s typically unseen in his cartoons is the source of both the horror and humor. We often (but not always!) have deniability when we laugh. When I asked individual family members to name a favorite Addams cartoon, there was eerie consensus across the half century since last we’d perused the artist’s collected works together. Two stood out: A beach scene with the shadow of a giant bird on the sand carrying something big, and a woman in a bathing suit chasing the shadow, yelling up, “George! George! Drop the keys!”

New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss speaks briefly about his collaborations with Steve Martin.

 

Plane Cave

Today at The Comics Journal, we're still talking about the return of Mat Brinkman. This time around, it's by hosting a conversation between Jason Levian and Michele Nitri, the two publishers behind the recently announced distribution collaboration between their respective publishing houses, Floating World and Hollow Press.

Can you remember the first time you saw a Mat Brinkman comic?  What was that like? It took a couple years for a Paper Rodeo to make it across the country from the east coast to Portland, OR. It changed my life. How did you find his work in Europe?

The first Brinkman comic I saw was Multiforce. I think about 8-9 years ago. I was at home with one of my best friends Ratigher. He showed me the Picturebox edition, telling me that Brinkman was the Jesus of recent underground comics. I’ll always be thankful to Ratigher for that. I publish him too and he is really famous in Italy right now. He is the art director of one of the greatest publishing house here in Italy, Coconino Press. He has won several prestigious awards in Italy and sooner or later will be famous worldwide too. Great friend and great artist!

Also, Brinkman comics have a special way of spreading around the world. We all know that many artists love him. Everyone in the underground worlds love or respect him. So at that time in Italy many underground artists knew him. Readers didn't know him but artists did of course, and this is the indisputable proof of the worth of his art. Coming back to Brinkman, I was really curious, ordered my copy from Picturebox, read it and thought “what the fuck I have read!". That reading was something that really revolutionized my life and influenced my tastes in what kind of art I wanted to find.

Our review of the day comes to you from Edwin Turner. He's here talking about Kingdom, the latest from Jon McNaught.

Not much happens in Jon McNaught's latest graphic novel Kingdom. A mother takes her son and daughter to Kingdom Fields Holiday Park, a vacation lodge on the British coast. There, they watch television, go to a run-down museum, play on the beach, walk the hills, and visit an old aunt. Then they go home. There is no climactic event, no terrible trial to endure. There is no crisis, no trauma. And yet it's clear that the holiday in Kingdom Fields will remain forever with the children, embedded into their consciousness as a series of strange aesthetic impressions. Not much happens in Kingdom, but what does happen feels vital and real.