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Bones Like Wax

Today at The Comics Journal, it's time for another dive into the world of comics and fine art--via Marc Bell and Michael Dooley. Besides the living expenses thing, there's a bit of history to go around:

BELL: Yeah, I think so. It was pretty exciting when Kramers 4 was happening cause it seemed like a lot of these things were connecting up.

DOOLEY: “Connecting up,” how do you mean?

BELL: Maybe just for me, well from my point of view … Wait, let me just think about this for a minute. In the ’90s, comics were mainly about stories, but then all this other crazy stuff sort of started to come in. Fort Thunder came along and sort of changed things a bit. Their comics were more eyeball-y and crazy and fantastic than what had been happening. It was a different thing that was still somehow tied to genre.

DOOLEY: Well, their idea of narrative and the comics medium, in general, was more open-ended than what had come before. Would that …

BELL: Maybe open-ended but … Ah, I don’t know. Scratch that. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not a comic historian. I’ll leave that for the academics on The Comics Journal, right?

And that's not all--today's review comes courtesy of Tegan O'Neil, who found a lot in Peow's latest Al Gofa graphic novel to talk about:

If you like extensive crosshatching merely for the sake of crosshatching, you will find much to pore over in these pages. One of the book’s strengths is the way it weaves in and out of multiple approaches to action storytelling. Although the overall mood is definitely European – and you can see the Moebius in every long shot where Gofa uses delicate stippling to indicate scale – there are specific instances throughout where he also uses cutaways like American artists would use splash pages. He even swipes a few poses just for effect (either I’m losing my mind or that’s a Wild Thing Nikki Doyle swipe in there, although the former is a definite probably given a long enough time frame). Some of the character designs seem straight out of Morrison & Case’s Doom Patrol, others Tim Vigil. The variety works.

In a repeat of a story from last week, The New York Times is at it again: spoiling super-hero comics before they're released. After months of build up and shenanigans (in the form of the one-shot, mini-series, prequel and variant covers) to this week's release of Batman #50--where Batman and Catwoman are getting married--the Grey Lady recapped the entire issue, along with images and everything, all before it hit the stands. There's a few different perspectives coming out of this one--there's retailers who feel they've been screwed over by a giant build up that they financially supported, only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the finish line, while there's also retailers who feel like this kind of press--a print article about the plot of a super-her comic book in the Sunday NY Times--is exactly the kind of "mainstream" support that has been promised, but never provided. Then, there's the readers who, anecdotally as it may be, are disappointed to have a story they've been invested in for months spoiled prior to publication. (It would be interesting to know if there's DC employees working on the soon to be released and by all accounts disappointing DC Universe streaming service who feel like a spot in the NY Times might have been better utilized to promote something with a little more fiscal importance than a single issue of Batman.)

The history of The Comics Journal includes a lot of articles and asides about the downfall of super-hero comics, which is always right around the corner, you'll see, just you wait, we're sure this time, but the two companies have always proven those naysayers wrong. This isn't one of those asides, but I will admit: I'm curious. I'm curious as to why the New York Times is choosing to repeatedly publish article length recaps of super-hero comic books that wouldn't be out of place on any number of super-hero comic focused websites, I'm curious as to whether these sorts of marketing ploys are having a genuine impact on sales, and I'm curious about whether that particular part of the industry has any tricks left that don't look the same as the bait-and-switch ones they used when I was a teenager. I'm curious in a way that I haven't been curious about the content of those comics in a very long time. I'm like a guy with a thorn in his paw: I know I could take it out, but then what would I stick into my eye?

 

Weird Moment

Today on the site, Frank Young returns with a review of Cathy Malkasian's acclaimed fourth graphic novel, Eartha.

Eartha was created just before a certain unrestrained egomaniac gained control of the White House. Malkasian must have sensed something in the air. Her charismatic, volatile City leader, Primus, shares some off-putting and abrasive behaviors with You-Know-Who, but is not a caricature or satire of You-Know-Who. He embodies the pettiness and self-importance of the unchecked male ego—strutting and preening, absurd in a tiara and checkered sports jacket, seemingly sure of himself as he struggles with his confused libido and sublimates it through acts of greed and violence.

Primus has hooked the City’s residents on buttery pieces of shortbread stamped with random ennui-causing phrases (FAT JACKASS OOZES CALAMITY, reads one biscuit). These fattening crumbles of blank verse have the urban dwellers in hysteria. Due to this citywide focus on the cookies and their depressing messages—to which the residents are addicted—their dreams have almost ceased to be. A metaphor for Facebook, perhaps, or for the compulsive way we ingest social media, which confronts us daily with the ugliness of the world, alongside adorable cat videos and the occasional grain of good news.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The prolific, colorful, and controversial short story and television writer Harlan Ellison died this week. The Los Angeles Times obituary is here. Ellison dabbled in comics often during his career, and longtime TCJ readers of course know of his contentious relationship with the magazine. We will have an obituary early next week, and will republish other Ellison-related TCJ material as soon as we can prepare it. He was a legendary character, alternately brilliant and infuriating, capable of both grandly noble gestures and shabby, self-centered ugliness. He was a perfect writer to discover in middle school or junior high. I hope a good biographer is on the case, because the book that is possible now that the famously litigious Ellison is gone could be a masterpiece.

—Interviews. io9 talks to a Game Stop executive about the video-game retailer's decision to start stocking comics.

[We’re] going to align with Diamond. We’re doing tremendous business with them to date, more on the collectors’ statues, action figures, and the collectible side of the business. We’re going to be [rolling comics out] in a small subset of stores, probably in the next couple of weeks on both the GameStop and ThinkGeek side.

But truly, our biggest opportunity is around Marvel. Marvel is one of our largest fandoms, but also one of the fastest-growing fandoms. It’s actually out-performing Star Wars, currently, with some of our mainstream products. But the opportunity is just opening doors around the Marvel and DC categories. We really, truly have gone after Image and Oni and Boom, as well. Those are some of the indies we’ll be approaching. But, really, I think you’ll see most of our stores cater to the primary Marvel and DC fans.

The latest guest on Inkstuds is Tommi Parrish.

 

Their Tragic Future

Today at the Journal, we've got a debut reviewer: Daniel Schindel, who took a break from film criticism to reflect on Gumballs, the Top Shelf published collection of Erin Nations' comic series. Here's a bit:

Nations’ drawing style emphasizes angularity and few soft curves. He names Matt Groening as a major influence, and you can see it in the lovingly ugly-cute way he depicts people. Like many graphic novelists, the cartoony aesthetic cushions some intense subject matter, from physical dysphoria to mental illness to sexual assault. It also renders the mundane and the clinical, like descriptions of Nations’ physical changes during hormone therapy, into a visually engaging format. Nations continually expresses anxieties connected to his body, and in that light the abstraction of the human form on the comics page takes on new meaning. Gumballs isn’t a retreat from the real world, or precisely a safe space, but it lets him process the messier aspects of his life through a lens he controls. The book never preaches on any subject at a volume louder than respectful assertion, but that control imbues it with some hefty inspirational power.

With the news cycle is moving at an even more rapid pace than usual, quieter stuff slips by even the best of us (and I'm not even in the top 50%), so let me throw you back to June 14th, when The Village Voice posted Steve Brodner's cartoon history of the Trump family. There's some real charm and wit to the illustrations, but the limited text feels disinterested, uninspired--as if the work was made to fit a title. 

The infamous Stu Levy was just announced as an upcoming Guest of Honor at Anime Expo. I'd recommend getting in on the ground floor of this tweet, as the responses are only just starting to heat up.

There's a solid block of time devoted to Koyama Press on a recent episode of the Comics Alternative podcast--their full spring catalog, actually.

No disrespect for the graphic novel that is currently collecting reviews as fast as Denzel collects souls in Man On Fire, but the 2018 book i'm most anticipating is starting to appear on sites: Flocks, a Secret Acres memoir by L. Nichols. Here's Optical Sloth with what I imagine will be the first of many laudatory reviews.

If you had been operating under the impression that the Harvey Awards were fully dead, following that debacle a few years ago when their notoriously who-gives-a-shit disorganization had resulted in massive ballot stuffing, well, you happen to be wrong. Despite the fact that the Baltimore Comic Con (the traditional Harvey host) are now the home of a replacement award called The Ringos, the Harveys have risen again, this time, as part of the promotional efforts of ReedPOP. It's the comeback no one was asking for or cared about, but it's here. 

 

The Sniveling Beings

Today at TCJ, we've got that hot George Lucas action for you. Wait, really? Yup, it looks like that's part of the story that Shawn Martinbrough has to tell in his interview with Alex Dueben. Here he is on what it's like to look at his work via the medium of picture frames:

Seeing pages in isolation on the wall at a show is a very different from seeing them printed in a book.

Preparing for this exhibit has created an opportunity for me to appreciate my past work. Too often as artists, we turn the art around, move onto the next project and it piles up in a drawer somewhere. For me, this is a really good opportunity to stop and actually appreciate the work that I’ve done. I’m usually my biggest critic so I always see the flaws. The many ways I could have done something better. It was a nice chance way to just absorb the work and appreciate how others react to it.

An interesting example of seeing art in person versus in print was seeing Mignola’s show. I was really surprised how grey the original art was. His work prints as stark black and white but the originals were complete gray washes. It creates a completely  different effect seeing it in person. It’s funny because I’m always searching for THE black ink that will create the richest, deepest blacks. It was such a stark contrast seeing Mike’s work which was almost completely gray and my work which was stark black. The Society folks were like, “How did you get your blacks so black?” and I'm never satisfied that the ink is dark enough. It’s a different experience seeing original art in person.

While the "really?" horse left the barn a long time ago when it comes to what the New York Times decides to print about comic books, this article single issue recap by George Gene Gustines feels like something that even Jonah Weiland would have sent back for another round of journalism. To top it off, the article actually ran before the issue was published, which is just pointlessly mean.

Speaking of decisions Marvel has made that I don't understand, this is the ugliest cover I can recall appearing on one of any of their comics in recent memory.

Is that a photograph of an action figure in the center? Is that Mystique drawing pulled from an old Mystique comic book? Are the characters in the top right attacking the title? Look, I get it: Greg Land (whoa that image) can't seem to make the jump to Image Comics because nobody will take him with them, and Marvel has to hang onto somebody with a connection to the time when they weren't solely dependent on variant covers and relaunches, but still-do we get embarrassed anymore? Is that no longer a thing?

Rich Tommaso, who is a funny guy and a talented artist, will be teaming up with three people who have the same last name to tell Dick Tracy stories for IDW. I wouldn't want to be outnumbered by a family on a collaborative project as they have a bunch of vested interests in always getting their way, but that's what I like about Tommaso: the dude loves a challenge.

Speaking of challenges: I bet it was hard to maintain your mettle when a swarm of these helmets were coming at you. KIRBY!

 

Surprise

Austin English returns to once again to rethink comics cant. This time around, he wonders if Will Eisner really deserves more acclaim than Don Martin, compares Crumb's "Short History of America" to corny Green Lantern comics, sticks up for Carlos Burgos and Anke Feuchtenberger, and pans Kristen Radtke.

One of Eisner's acknowledged classic works is "The Story of Gerhard Schnobble", a Spirit yarn from 1948. Eisner said this was his favorite all-time Spirit tale, remarking, 'It was the first time I could do a story that I had great personal feelings about.' The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Book Comics selected "Schnobble" to represent Eisner within its authoritative pages.

A shame, then, that this is perhaps one of the most appallingly corny comics you'll probably ever read, genuinely creepy in its gross sentimentality. 'THIS IS NOT A FUNNY STORY!!" Eisner warns on page 1. Yeah, it's not funny, but it is laughable. The plot: a sweet nebbish (his name is Schnobble, if you didn't get the message from how he's drawn) is fired from his job. He has the ability to fly but has kept it a secret. After losing his job, to prove his self-worth, he decides to finally reveal this ability. As he jets around the city, he is 'tragically' caught in a stream of bullets that resulted from a conflict the Spirit was engaged in. But don't worry, Schnobble can still fly... as an angel!

What great personal feelings can Eisner have actually felt he was imparting us with here? I really have no idea. I can't even guess, that's how empty it feels. Even more mysterious, the world of comics continues to maintain that this story holds something mature within it. Comics self-caricatures itself as barren of thought, and then elevates attempts at complexity to the forefront. Of course, to accomplish this sleight of hand, actual expression must be either misunderstood or discarded.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Kiel Phegley talks to Mike Mignola.

But that [Parkland school] shooting piece – “Enough” – that one was really an eye-opener. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but to do a piece that doesn’t really rely on any of my usual subject matter and just funnels basically rage and horror into a piece of art? To not have to think about “Where will this be collected some day” or “Is this the part of a larger body of work”? Instead, it was just directly responding to this one incident. And in fact until you just mentioned it, it never occurred to me to ask “Will that piece be collected in a future body of work?” I guess it could be. But I’m so geared to doing stories and for everything I do being a part of something, it’s really hard to wrap my brain around saying, “I just want to do one drawing of something.” I don’t want to have to say, “If you do something, it needs to be collected. And if it’s going to be collected, it needs to have ten pieces with it in a similar theme.” I’m trying to break away from that mindset where everything is a book or is part of that larger thing and just draw, paint, whatever you want. That’s what my brain is trying to wrap around.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories show is Dave Calver.

Vice talked to Garfield creator Jim Davis:

—News. The nominees for this year's Ringo Awards have been announced.

 

Munday

Today on the site, we are publishing the second of Michael Dooley's followup interviews with the participants in his fine art and comics roundtable. Today's artist is Robert Williams, and their discussion is wide-ranging, to say the least.

WILLIAMS: So, Surrealism got really, really popular after the Second World War, but something that came along and stifled it was Abstract Expressionism. And so that’s where American modern art came in, and Abstract Expressionism, there was just no stopping it. It had a powerful reign for close to 30 years. But anyway, I got interested in drawing and painting at a very early age, and I loved comic books, the drawings in them. I could deal with the stories, but I preferred the drawings. Prince Valiant was the best. I liked Disney to a certain extent, but the ECs were killer. The ECs were the killer comics. Of all those that I preferred, of course, it was Wallace Wood. I didn’t have much of an understanding of fine art other than I like old Renaissance art and I liked Surrealism, especially Salvador Dalí. And I had no idea of the manifestos and whatnot, the pressures of the Second World War and stuff like that.

DOOLEY: Yeah, Dalí actually considered Disney an American Surrealist in his way [laughs]. Looking at Fantasia, that sort of transformative —

WILLIAMS: Disney started out on the right foot. He snorted coke and his buddy Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, and if you look at the very early Mickey Mouses, Mickey Mouse is making out with Minnie, and there’s stuff in there that wasn’t family rated. And that would have probably stayed that way. Early Disney would have probably had really good quality to it like Max Fleischer if they hadn’t gotten rid of Iwerks. Iwerks attempted to come up with his own studio and lost his ass and had to go crawling back to Disney and got a safe job with him. But he lost all his stock and his power and whatnot. His partnership was broken off. Iwerks’s [grand-]daughter is going around with a documentary about him. It’s really good. It’s in art museums, if you have a chance to look that up on the Internet.

DOOLEY: I didn’t mean to derail you. You were transitioning from Dalí to Abstract Expressionism.

WILLIAMS: There’s a couple of points of power with Abstract Expressionism. One, it was truly an American art form. Number two, of all the arts, it lends itself better than all the rest of the schools of art for architectural decoration. For modern art, it could not be beat. It was the best thing to go into a bank lobby or whatnot. It couldn’t be beat.

DOOLEY: [Laughs.] Is that the only benefit you see in Abstract Expressionism?

WILLIAMS: No, no, it isn’t. It is not.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DC has announced a deal with Wal-Mart to distribute four new comics anthologies exclusively through the retailer's stores, including both reprints and new stories.

Dark Horse Comics has announced that the health insurance they offer to employees will soon begin offering coverage for trans-related services. This change came after tireless advocacy efforts from Jay Edidin (a former Dark Horse employee)
and others.

—Reviews & Commentary. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson calls the firing of Rob Rogers a dangerous omen. (Anderson himself was laid off by his Houston paper last year.)

[W]hat's missing from the situation is the outrage for the quiet firing of over 100 cartoonists around the country over the past few decades. The generally accepted number by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is that there were about 180 staff cartoonists three decades ago. Now there are fewer than a couple dozen. My state, Texas -- the second-largest in the Union -- doesn't have a single full-time cartoonist.

Newspapers get tired of the controversy that a full-time cartoonist can cause. A staff cartoonist is someone who works as a salaried employee, much like a reporter. A syndicated cartoon is distributed to hundreds of papers by a news service. Editors get tired of the complaints from readers. But those firings could easily have been masked as layoffs, especially since syndicated cartoons are far less expensive.

It's harder to kill a cartoon from your staff cartoonist -- like a writer would, they complain. They fight back. They have a voice that they can raise with you in person. It's easier to kill a cartoon from a syndicate. You just quietly discard it in favor of a less controversial cartoon. The power to select content is also the power to stifle content.

Amy Ongiri writes about the connections (imagined and otherwise) between Black Panther the comics character and the Black Panther Party.

Released in September 1974, at the tail end of the conflict in Vietnam, “Panther’s Rage” also explores the cost of warfare on both warriors and their communities. By this time the BPP had become a global movement, with organizations calling themselves “Black Panthers” as far away from Oakland as Polynesia and Palestine. It had also already helped to spawn an underground, proactively military organization called the Black Liberation Army. In a history that finds echoes in both the cinematic and comic book representation of the Black Panther, it was discord within the leadership of the party that led to the formation of the Black Liberation Army. In 1971, Minister for Information Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party over a conflict between himself and Huey P. Newton about the efficacy of armed struggle. Cleaver’s expulsion broke the party into sometimes-warring factions. BPP co-founder Newton was more much more wedded to the idea of armed self-defense and change on the local level than Cleaver, who saw armed struggle and internationalism as the way forward. There are echoes of this conflict in both “Panther’s Rage” and in the film’s representation of Erik Killmonger as a lost son of the African diaspora.

Johanna Draper Carlson points out a tacky move by Boom!

—Interviews & Profiles. Studio 360 has an episode about Nancy and its new artist, Olivia Jaimes.

—Misc. Terrance Hayes joins the small but proud tradition of poets using visual images to make something akin to comics.

 

The Big Sleazy

Today at the Journal, we'll launch you into the weekend with sex on the brain: courtesy of Niki Smith, who stopped by to talk with Alex Dueben about her new book with Iron Circus Comics, Crossplay.

Have you been able to step back and especially now that you’re hearing from people about the book, think about how you feel about it after all this time?

I’m really proud of how it turned out. I wanted to make a book about queer friends figuring out who they are and who they love. There’s drama, but not trauma, if that makes sense. There are so many queer stories that focus on struggle and tragedy and I wanted to make a book that celebrates us and shows the found families that we can form.

Over at The Nation, you can see some of the comics that got Rob Rogers fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette--they're being featured as part of their OppArts series.

Roger Langridge put together a glorious adaptation of a classic Jeeves & Wooster story as a proof of concept, the concept being that he'd like to do a longer PG Wodehouse graphic novel--I still can't really believe this is something I'm just linking to, that was made for free, and that there are 15 pages of it. Go get you some.

Ryan Cecil Smith's most recent men's fashion comic--which he claims is a crowded field, which I believe is a complete lie, albeit an enjoyable on--sees him doing one of my favorite things that an artist can do, which is burrow deeply into the things that fascinate them. It's what Langridge does above, it's what Niki talks about with Alex today, it's the best thing that someone can do. Find that thing, answer that question, scratch that itch. I could not be more impressed.

I got on an elevator yesterday and Brian Hibbs was on that elevator, and neither one of us were in a city we lived in: and I realized it had been a while since I checked on his video interview series, which documents the guests he has for his graphic novel of the month club. Sure enough, there's a new one, featuring Hartley Lin. The graphic novel in conversation is Young Frances, which I thought had some tremendous back-and-forth dialog scenes, images that have stuck with me since I first saw them serialized in Pope Hats, and the interview they posted only made me like the book that much more.

 

 

World Almanac

Greg Hunter's latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue features guest Laura Lannes, and in it, the cartoonist behind By Monday I'll Be Floating in the Hudson with the Other Garbage and the upcoming John, Dear discusses Laerte, Puiupo, and Sarah Manguso, as well as the uses--and perils--of humor in art.

Matt Seneca is back, too, with a review of Anthony Del Col, Geoff Moore, & Jeff McComsey's Son of Hitler.

Part of the reason it's tough to escape the WWII-story trap of glorifying US military adventurism is because that's what the familiar template for a WWII story is. In a perfect world, of course, earlier entries in the genre a story exists in wouldn't affect its contours one way or another, because the only good reason for a story to get made is legitimate inspiration. But we're talking about mainstream comics, in which the most likely cause for a shift in a writer's style is a decision to switch streaming services. A frustrating amount of scenes in this comic are visibly indebted to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds - not outright ripoffs so much as dramatic set pieces that don't seem to have had more than that one input fueling them. And this in a world where pretty much every public library has a copy of Ivan's Childhood on DVD! But oh well, better to choose that one than a Clint Eastwood movie or something.

I'd like to stay with Inglourious Basterds for just another second though, because for a name director with as underdeveloped a visual sense as Tarantino, the set pieces in that movie are pretty well put together. Not stunning, but highly functional, doing everything they need to do to set up the mechanics of their action scenes before things begin detonating, laying out everything about an interior floorplan that an audience is going to need to know ahead of time. In this comic McComsey struggles again and again with doing the same, and in a medium much more conducive to schematic views and architectural precision than movies can possibly be. McComsey has an interesting drawing style, something between Steve Dillon and Philip Bond, and flexes the same white-highlighted, straight-from-pencils approach that Connor Willumsen was recently hailed for in Anti-Gone. But his ability to create a comic in which one panel leads smoothly to the next is sorely lacking. Characters appear in-frame as if from nowhere, claustrophobic-seeming shots open onto vistas of open space that make it uncertain if a scene change has taken place, and whenever actual physical action occurs (which, for a war comic, is pretty rarely) following who's doing what and to whom is a severe difficulty that robs the book of just about all its impact and vitality.