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Maybe Just Steam Them

Today on the site, a brand new Cartoonist's Diary begins, this time from Fiona Smyth, and on day one, it concerns online chess, back pain, and art shows.

We also have Greg Hunter's review of Michael Kupperman's All the Answers, a surprisingly straight graphic memoir from a cartoonist who specializes in absurdist comedy.

All the Answers documents Michael Kupperman’s efforts to learn more about the years his father, Joel Kupperman, spent as a child performer on Quiz Kids, first a radio game show and later an early television program. Throughout the book, he contends with both the hastening of his father’s dementia and a reticence about Quiz Kids that predates that diagnosis. The program had been a "forbidden subject” during Kupperman’s own childhood, and he devotes much of All the Answers to exploring how the experience might have damaged his father. This means also turning toward a curious intersection in US history.

Early in All the Answers, Kupperman looks at the concept of the child prodigy and its rise in popularity during the first half of twentieth century. As waves of immigrant families arrived in the United States, a prodigy in the family meant a possible shortcut to upward mobility. Kupperman’s father, who came of age in the 1940s, grew to see himself as having been groomed for the role. Although he did indeed have an exceptional talent for math, there were other forces at work.

The book describes Quiz Kids creator Louis Cowan’s plan to combat World War II-era anti-Semitism by spotlighting gifted Jewish youths, even taking them on tour. “So was my father propaganda?” Kupperman asks. “I now think he was.” All the Answers suggests a measure of success for Cowan and Quiz Kids, but at the expense of Joel Kupperman’s childhood. “By 1943, he was receiving 10,000 pieces of fan mail a week,” Kupperman writes. “He was soon the most famous prodigy in America.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian talks to Frank Miller about his new book, and the various controversies he's stirred up in recent years with books like Holy Terror! and his political attacks on Occupy Wall Street. Miller says he wasn't "thinking clearly" during that period. They also talk to Miller's friend Neal Adams:

In his last conversation with Miller, Adams says he told his protege he was going to die. “I told him he was white trash, and I’d be surprised if he makes it for six months, because he’s taken his life and ruined it, and he said, ‘Well, I’d like to show you I’m not that way,’ and I said, ‘If you recover, I’ll see you in six months, maybe a year.’”

“‘I think of you like a son,’” Adams remembers saying, “‘and I’m gonna lose you.’” Now he believes Miller “will mend”.

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews John Porcellino.

By the time I started King-Cat I had a pretty clear idea of the way I wanted to approach things. Coming from punk rock, I was interested in paring things down, leaving them unpolished, looking for the essence of things, instead of getting bogged down in the superficial. So I wanted my comics to reflect that. They were very spontaneous. It was interesting to me to throw ink down on paper and see what came out. Even the vagaries of using cheap photocopiers, the kind of distortion and unpredictability of it — it was all thrilling to me! Putting a page of comics on the glass and seeing what came out of the machine.

In the early days I didn’t edit things or worry about them or plan them too much. I’d make a comic and print it and then wonder why sometimes I was able to achieve what I’d set out to do and why sometimes I’d failed. But I wasn’t interested in making “perfect” comics. I figured there would always be a next one, and hopefully that next one would work a little better than the last.

—Reviews & Commentary. For her first New York Times column, Hillary Chute reviews new books by Eleanor Davis and Porcellino.

Just like Magritte’s famous caption, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Davis underlines in a fond, joking way how the representation of an image can dominate the image itself. The “blue” category also offers what looks to be a small toy pig (what other kind of pig would be blue?) standing near an amorphous monochrome blob. Davis wordlessly switches between images that are realistic and those that are abstract, a move that endows the book with an appealing tension from the outset, as well as with a kind of gag reel of effects that unfurls alongside nuggets of wisdom about art and audience.

She shifts in this way from the didactic to the fabulist — and at her best moments melds the two.

Caleb Orecchio writes about how cartoonists such as Connor Willumsen and Chris Ware use setting in their comics.

Every character, object, and environment is paired down to bare essentials visually. Everything is a symbol. There is very little confusion in a Chris Ware comic despite its intricacies due to the use of the symbolic rendering of the environment therein. When a character walks in and out various rooms, we can easily follow them. In fact, I feel I have actual awareness that is lacking in other comics because Ware often will show the reader the sum of the parts before exploring the individual pieces.

—Misc. The cartoonist Milton Knight has been evicted, and has various health issues, and is asking for help.

 

Hi Jeet!

Today at The Journal, Leonard Pierce is here, and you'll want to pull up a chair: it's time to talk about continuity, corporations and comic books. There's no better way to roll into the weekend than to get your blood all fired up about the moneyed class, and all that they're taking:

In any form of narrative storytelling with an element of continuity, there was the built-in problem of age: What happens to the world you’re trying to build when the people who live in it get older? Here is where commerce and art butted heads the most painfully: While readers were more than willing to take a chance on new characters, or throw old ones into extreme situations from which they might not ever emerge, the corporate gatekeepers were typically risk-averse. There was no reason that an alien like Superman or an immortal like Wonder Woman had to grow old, but Batman was fair game, and no matter how good a story a writer might come up with, nobody was willing to screw the pooch by killing him off. You don’t slaughter that golden goose.

But on the flipside, one wants to ask, can't these corporations get it right some time? Marc Sobel would say that yes, yes they do, and when you ask him for evidence, he's probably going to point right at Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design, which he's provided A Comics Journal Review for, this very day.

Reading Grand Design is like binge watching an entire Netflix series on fast forward. Given its ambitious scope, Piskor powers through a lot of ground very quickly, abruptly jumping from one milestone to another. In many cases, an entire issue’s worth of plot is reduced down to a single page. Recognizing that the series is unusually dense for a Marvel comic, Piskor sought inspiration, in terms of storytelling economy and narrative compression, from a variety of classic newspaper strips. “I created each page to function as its own unique and complete episode/strip that, when read in total, would tell a bigger story.” Though his influences are broad, close inspection of his studio in the author photo reveals bookshelves filled with Gasoline Alley, Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, and Peanuts hardcovers, as well as a complete set of the entire EC Comics line. Yet, even with Piskor’s diligent efforts, there’s a lot to absorb in Grand Design and the plot summarizations feel a bit relentless by the end. The best moments are those that focus on the main characters’ backstories.

Ah, but from the balconies, I can hear them, our very own Statler, our precious Waldorf: "I don't care about super-heroes," they say, "I prefer my companies less rapacious, less cruel". Well, we've got you covered there too: Jessica Campbell's back, or at least, she will be soon, thanks to Koyama Press. But don't take my word for it--just click through and read this excerpt of XTC69, her upcoming graphic novel with that stalwart Canadian publisher!

Elsewhere, the word is out: after ten years of putting in the work, I can officially say that my wife and I have been together for a decade. Was it really that long ago that I said "I do" while wearing a baggy pair of pants that made me look a 12 year old street urchin, all because the tuxedo place had given all the pants in my size to a junior high school prom? Yes, it was, ten years ago today. That's not all though--yesterday, I also found out that this very publication was nominated for an Eisner. Huzzah! But enough about us: here's the list for you. I've got other fish to fry, and I mean that figuratively.

(Nina likes her fish grilled.)

 

Pack Your Bags

Today on the site, the indefatigable Sloane Leong is back again to interview Nivedita Sekar, an animator and cartoonist who has a new comic out through ShortBox.

I feel like road trip stories are a classic American genre but one that mostly features adventurous young white men. It’s cool to see the lead character in your story, a young brown woman, upend that convention. How does her identity play into this story?

Ah thank you! The Instagram comic is very much actually a fairytale and was a ton of fun.

I mean — 100% the “freedom of the road” belongs to those safest in America, right? If you can walk on the highway hitchhiking, if you can sleep in your car or camp by yourself... There’s a bravura in being a woman alone (especially a brown woman) and I’m certainly drawn to accounts of solitary travel from perspectives outside the usual. And given all that, it felt only right that my main character have someone to travel with, someone big and old and more sure-footed.

And of course her identity plays into so many aspects of the story. It’s a bit of a diaspora narrative, I think (to use the term loosely) and — not that it’s made explicit in the text — there’s some tension over her sexuality. And she’s seen immediately as an outsider, or a curiosity, in some towns.

Rob Clough is here as well, with a review of Jaime Hernandez's new children's comic, The Dragon Slayer.

The fact that Hernandez chose stories that aren't strictly morally instructive, but instead convey other kinds of information, simply make people laugh, or act as shaggy dog stories makes this volume especially enjoyable. Seeing his work in color is a special treat (the colorist is Ala Lee) that likely allowed him to work a little looser here than in his usual Love and Rockets stories. Hernandez has always used women as his protagonists, so it seems natural for two of the three stories to focus on female characters. Throw in the historical context behind each of the stories in the afterword, and you have yet another alternative cartoonist make a smooth jump to the Toon Books line.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The podcast pipeline remains open, with new episodes of Process Party featuring Josh Simmons and Mindkiller featuring Gina Wynbrandt. (New York City area fans of Wynbrandt should take note that the Scott Eder Gallery in Jersey City will be showing her work in a show opening tomorrow, also featuring works by Gabrielle Bell, Trina Robbins, Mary Fleener, Lauren Weinstein, and Tommi Parrish, among others.)

—The Universal Fan Con debacle is still very difficult to figure out, but this report by Jazmine Joyner and Rosie Knight is the most thorough and sober one I've seen so far.

Universal Fan Con was meant to be a celebration of inclusivity and fandom. But as the show was unceremoniously canceled a week before it was expected to occur, fans are asking what happened. Many find themselves left out of pocket, having backed the Kickstarter and booked often non-refundable flights. We, Rosie Knight and Jazmine Joyner, have compiled a comprehensive investigation into Universal Fan Con and what went wrong. We’ve utilized the now-deleted Fan Con website, Twitter, Kickstarter page, interviews, and emails that were shared with us to put together this piece which we hope will help people gain a better understanding of what happened.

 

Houston, We Have A Dog

Today at The Journal, we've got the newest installment in Retail Therapy--this time around, Jared Smith from Big Planet Comics has the goods for you. Here's a taste of the goods in question:

How do you decide what titles you are going to carry in the shop?

Lots of input from lots of employees. We have a computer that tracks sales so we can guesstimate regular weekly comic book sales, so that's a little easier. But only if it stays with a consist writer and artist or creator, and there isn't a crossover no one likes, or the comic isn't late, etc etc etc. Other than that, it's learning what creators you like, and what the customers like, and how can you bridge the knowledge there to show people things they would enjoy reading. But it all comes down to sales. There are some amazing books and creators that just don't sell in our area, or will sell in one of our stores because every employee there is enthusiastic about it, and won't in others where it's not the thing they're into. But even that can get swamped in the massive output of things coming out. It's hard to remember your favorite new comic from 3 weeks ago when you've had to try to deal with 300 new comic books and graphic novels since then. Especially the graphic novels. It's not like reading a 20 page comic book #1 issue to see if a new series is worth recommending, a 300 page graphic novel is a whole other commitment. And there a lot of those coming out every week now. Even some of my favorite creators have put out stuff I haven't gotten around to reading yet.

The other thing we do it try to keep our eyes open at conventions and online. We're lucky that the Small Press Expo (SPX) is our hometown show, partly started by the founder of Big Planet Comics, Joel Pollack. The original SPX site was 3 blocks from our Bethesda store. We can walk around SPX and buy boxes of comics to sell at our stores, and be surprised how many local people didn't see them at the show, or didn't have time to make it around and see every comic. We just ordered Zainab Akhtar's ShortBox comic line, since it's a bunch of great comics published in the UK that might not make it over here easily. One of our employees, Kelly, got into those. Another employee Kevin, first spotted Peow! Studio in Sweden. A lot of these we order since they look great and we might want some for ourselves! But it's having a diverse store that will have something different. If you visit a lot of comic book stores, sometimes you can walk out without buying anything since it's the same as every other comic book store you've been to. 

Elsewhere? Elsewhere is a lot of articles about the Josh Brolin movie coming out. Lots and lots of those. The only one I've finished reading is this Groovy one.  It features the following page, which is as perfect a page of Marvel Comics. Who hasn't been assaulted by fists of shattered illusions and broken promises? That's one of the more apt definitions of growing up fiction has ever produced.

 

Cosmic Awareness

Today on the site, comics scholar Michael Tisserand tells the little-known but important story of Eugene Majied, the Nation of Islam cartoonist who inspired Muhammad Ali, and, in the process, changed history.

For Muhammad Ali, it was the right comic at the right time. As Chicago writer Jonathan Eig recounts in his acclaimed biography Ali: A Life, the young boxer, then named Cassius Clay, was standing outside a skating rink in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when a member of the Nation of Islam approached him with a copy of the newspaper Muhammad Speaks.

The man who sold him the newspaper — “a black brother dressed in a black Mohair suit, white shirt and a black bow,” as Ali later remembered him — hoped to convince Ali to go to a meeting. Said Ali: “But I had no intention of going to any meeting. But I did buy the Muhammad Speaks paper. And [one] thing in the paper [made] me keep the paper, and that was a cartoon.”

Not just any cartoon. In the list of cartoons and comics that changed history — think Benjamin Franklin’s "Join, Or Die" or Thomas Nast’s “Boss” Tweed caricatures — the four-panel comic "How We 'Lost' Our Language" in the December, 1961, issue of Muhammad Speaks is certainly more modest and lesser known. Yet its influence has been widely felt. By introducing Ali to the Nation of Islam, it not only helped shape the future of sports. It also changed the wider culture when Ali emerged as an outspoken political figure who championed black rights and protested American military involvement in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The New York Times is on the Nancy "controversy" case.

Olivia Jaimes is a pseudonym, and the cartoonist requested the email interview for fear that a conversation might reveal clues to her identity. “I’m a pretty private person and I want to be insulated from the whole ‘Big Thing’ that a classic comic strip is,” she wrote. “The pseudonym lets me do that, and I’m really grateful for it.”

It may have been a wise move. The transition from Guy Gilchrist, the previous cartoonist, has not been met quietly.

The nominees for the 2018 Glyph Awards have been announced.

—Interviews & Profiles. Over at LARB, Alex Dueben talks to the novelist and comics writer Mat Johnson.

I’d fallen in love with the novel. One of the reasons was because the novel was cheaper. For two dollars I could buy a brand-new comic book, or for the same two bucks I could go to the used bookstore that was in Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philly and I could pick up a novel that I would read for two weeks. The novel was easier to carry around. Girls didn’t look at me funny. I became a writer and a novelist and got my MFA at Columbia. I had one book that didn’t do particularly well, either commercially or critically. The second one did worse. I hit a dead end with that.

David Hyde was a former publicist at Vintage who was now working at Vertigo. I knew him and he knew about my love of comics. He said, you should come over and pitch. It seems so obvious now, but at the time there was far less collaboration going on between literary fiction and comic books. I was a Columbia MFA so it felt like I was a classically trained ballerina who was stripping out by the airport on the weekends. Comics have changed a lot in the American imagination. What we thought about comics then was superhero stories, and now superhero stories are primarily film and our understanding of the graphic novel exists in a way that it didn’t before. At the time it felt really crazy. The job I have right now I’ve had for 10 years and when I interviewed for the job, I had on my resume that my comics were coming out and they said, that’s just a crazy thing you’re doing on the side, right? That’s not what you’re really doing?

Fumettologica interviews Frank Santoro.

I do not use a computer. I do not know how to use Photoshop. Why teach the machine how to do my job? Everything is analog. I draw on conventional office paper and use conventional office supplies essentially. Pentel rolling writers which were the first rollerball pen. Alex Toth told me to use that pen. And I use color pencils and markers. Mostly Berol Prismacolor brand. As Art Spigelman says “it is more like writing” in that sense if one uses “dry” media. One of my jobs as a young man was to be an assistant to oil painters and I enjoy not having to have a separate studio in which to make art. Cartoonists are lucky that we can be relatively clean in that way. I do use the airbrush. That’s fun. But it is water based. I use the airbrush mostly for background paintings that I am hired to do by Dash Shaw. But I also did a Silver Surfer story for Marvel with the airbrush. The airbrush is fun because it is like drawing with colored air. And it is water based paint.

 

Happy Birthday Locust Star

Today at The Journal, we've got a nice long conversation with Craig Thompson, whose influential travelogue Carnet de Voyage finds itself entering the deluxe hardcover re-issue territory with an all-new publisher. Here's Craig on what happened when he got outside of the studio:

I think I was pretty good about it then. Before I did comics my modes of expression were letter writing and keeping a sketchbook. I did that since I was a teen. Like a lot of cartoonists I lost the habit of because you get into more of a productivity, this is my job sort of zone. You’re not keeping a sketchbook for fun and for play anymore. But at that time, when I was working on Blankets, I was trying to draw more from life. That original France trip in 2001 was right in the middle of working on Blankets so I was trying to discipline myself to draw anywhere. I guess that’s reflected in Carnet de Voyage. I was pushing myself because I came from that cartooning tradition of just drawing goofy cartoon characters from my imagination. I always had art teachers growing up who criticized me for never drawing from life; I just drew cartoons. Once I was in my twenties I was dabbling in that for the first time and trying to learn how to draw from life. And tapping the pleasure of that, too. It’s nice to get out of your own head. That’s a big moral from Carnet de Voyage. When I work on my graphic novels I’m isolated in my studio all alone and really sweating over everything in isolation, but Carnet de Voyage really got me out of my comfort zone and I was just drawing everywhere. I’d be drawing on trains and planes and on camelback while adventuring through the Sahara desert. I was also interacting with people and it wasn’t just that isolation.

And that's not all: today's TCJ Review turns towards...a pretty unusual way to promote craft beer, courtesy of Image Comics and Simon Bisley. It's Tegan O'Neil on Alpha King, or, as it would be properly referred to in court, "3 Floyds: Alpha King"

And perhaps that’s a very important point: youthful signifiers become sharply conservative with time. The powerful Bisley who made Slaine doesn’t seem to have much to chew on here. The protagonist is the Alpha King, and I’m sorry, you don’t need to know the plot. You don’t! It’s not that the plot is bad, it’s that the plot is basically an excuse for Bisley to draw his crazy-eyed muscle-man character breaking the laws of physiology by using exaggerated anatomy to express emotional extremity. Without Bisley it’s hard to imagine Sam Keith, working very similar fields at least through his 90s peak, and after him so many artists who absorbed the influence maybe at one or two generation of remove. 

Elsewhere, all of social media and more than a few comics news websites was on fire with commentary following the last minute cancellation of Universal FanCon, a comics-adjacent convention that had used Kickstarter as a funding source. There's a sober write-up of the story thus far at the Baltimore Sun (sober in that it relies less on social media posts, which ultimately makes it less fun to read than the Buzzfeed article, which is more of a chaos registry), and a few threads on twitter are working to unravel the history of the organizers, some of whom are allegedly involved with other conventions that were cancelled under mysterious circumstances. This story has been developing at an extremely rapid pace, to say the least.

Barnes & Noble will be adding a children's graphic novel section to their stores, Heidi got the scoop on that one. This is only the most recent change seen at Barnes & Noble this year--hundreds of their more experienced employees had a pretty lousy Valentine's Day

Twenty-two years ago today, Neurosis released Through Silver in Blood, an album of inexhaustible savagery, an honest passage through depression, nihilism and fear. It was as non-commercial one could get in a musical category not known for commercial properties, made by a band whose members were struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness. It resulted in the biggest hit of their lives, influenced countless musicians, and guaranteed them a career that has yet to conclude. This has nothing to do with comics, but around these parts, we celebrate our own holidays.

 

Too Much to Read in One Sitting

If you were intrigued by Joe McCulloch's review of Inio Asano's Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, you now have the chance to read a little of it for yourself. Or rather, a lot of it, as VIZ was very generous in allowing us to preview a whole sixty pages. It will only be up on the site for a limited time, so don't delay.

Also, Brian Nicholson is back with a review of Anna Haifisch's Von Spatz.

Let me attempt to begin with a joke. So Walt Disney, Saul Steinberg, and Tomi Ungerer walk into an insane asylum. No wait, I'm telling it wrong. Walt Disney walks into his therapist's office. The therapist says, "Why the long beak?" Because in this story, Walt Disney is depicted as a bird. I'm kidding; I wasn't really attempting to tell a joke, but summarizing the basic plot and visual sensibility of Anna Haifisch's Von Spatz, where Steinberg is a cat, and Ungerer's a mouse, but no one preys on one another. They are all in rehab due to the psychic toll being artists has taken on them.

This is not one of those comics where the biography of an artist is depicted in a cartoonist's approximation of their style. Haifisch has chosen as her subjects three people whose commonality is that they are all cartoonists of one sort or another, and she depicts them in her own cartooned style. The characters are simply delineated, essentially stick figures, distinguished from one another by their animal heads, but the backgrounds pop with color. Trained as a printmaker, Haifisch uses black lines and limited colors to convey pictorial depth and depth of feeling equally adroitly. There's respect for these artists, and affection for them as characters, but they exist on her terms: It's fiction, not biography. Not only did this never happen, there are many ways in which it never could have happened. Anachronisms and shifting contexts form the core of the book's sense of humor. A few moments suggest cartoon characters might be staying at the clinic as well as cartoonists. The book is a deadpan delight, as the logic, or illogic, of its world is slowly charted. The whole thing proceeds with a "ha ha what?" tension, not quite cohering into something that makes sense, and obliquely suggesting the nature of the characters' breakdowns. The tone is absurd but conveys a tired malaise, like a Steven Wright one-liner, or Zach Galifianakis at his most despondent.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Those of you who enjoy online arguments may want to dig into the various online controversies surrounding the new Nancy.

—And Vulture has continued to run side features complementing their big list of comics pages this week, including a short profile of Trina Robbins, and a discussion of Lynd Ward with Art Spiegelman.

 

These Halcyon Baes

Today at the Journal we've got an extensive look into the work of Olivia Vieweg's career as a cartoonist, illustrator and screenwriter, which is then used as a window into what Germany's contemporary comics scene looks like for readers and creators. It's Marc-Oliver Frisch's first article for TCJ. Here's a little taste of what he's got in store:

Curiously, the type of genre material that keeps industries alive in other countries is virtually nonexistent in German film and comics. Sure, foreign genre work is being translated and distributed en masse, but most German-language genre work—the kind of commercial work that won’t require public funding to be viable—faded away throughout the 1980s, and the industries that produced it never came back. As a work of genre, Endzeit happens to be a niche project, in comics as well as in the film industry. Vieweg wonders whether that’s another part of the legacy left behind by the Nazis, and by the public outrage and legislation against “trash” and “filth” that followed in the 1950s.

“People still think this way even today,” she says. “Comics are for children and for stupid people. And genre movies like Godzilla didn’t find any recognition, either.” Vieweg points out that some of the seminal horror films of the 1920s, such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, were made in Germany—just like the frequently horrific fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, which continue to be well-regarded to this day.

“So what the devil happened there?!”, she wonders.

And on the TCJ Review front, we've got a review of a super-hero comic from DC that's written by Kurt Busiek. You'll have to click through to find out which Intellectual Property it is, but i'll give you a hint: the review is written by Noah Berlatsky, and Noah wouldn't know who to enjoy an issue of Suicide Squad even if our decade long relationship depended on it. (It did, and we're through!) 

Harry Peter's art occupied an odd middle ground between Henry Darger, Beardsley, and Victorian children's illustration; his stiff figures and fluid lines lent a cheerfully quivering eroticism to images of battle kangaroos, women bound, pink ectoplasmic goo and more women bound. Together, Marston and Peter created enormously popular, sexually adventurous comics for eight year olds, as well as a brief for third-wave sex-positive feminism before the second wave had gotten off the ground.  Superhero comics would never be as weird, as daring, or as beautiful again.

Elsewhere, the Doug Wright Awards were announced. It's a fine list of comics and creators, and, if history repeats itself, will probably result in a fine list of winners. And just a reminder to those of you who don't like it when art is ranked against each other, you're absolutely 100% correct. However, caring about that particular argument is boring, and no one likes listening to you talk about it.