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Let It Snow

Today brings another two-fer. First, Matt Seneca reviews the latest from the enigmatic Blexbolex, Vacation.

Blexbolex has cracked the code. The French cartoonist with the name that sounds like a friendly robot has worked in a wide variety of styles, from the simple interlocking blocks of bright color seen in his kid's books People and Seasons, to the whirls of limited-palette decoration in his very not-kid's books No Man's Land and Dogcrime. His most recent book, the truly all-ages fable Ballad, added a profusion of neon dot screening to the mix. Through it all, the constant is that his imagery bypasses people's critical faculties and hits them right in the pleasure centers, from page directly into eyes and usually from there to the wallet. Putting a Blexbolex book right by the tiller was a great way to grab add-on sales when I was working comics retail. He makes stuff that people want before they even know what it is, just because of how good it looks.

And then Irene Velentzas returns with a take on Joseph Remnant's art world graphic novel, Cartoon Clouds.

What’s the point of making art in a technological era? This question, and variations of it, make up the heart of Joseph Remnant’s first longform graphic narrative, Cartoon Clouds. Clouds follows freshly minted art school graduate Seth Fallon through insecurity, uncertainty, poverty, and the pretentious Cincinnati art scene. A small nexus of art grads trying to “make it” as serious artists in an increasingly pop-culturized contemporary market succeed to various degrees — or get stuck in the cogs of unrelenting capitalistic machinery. The tale focuses on the humdrum futility of this post-grad life and the very real choice perhaps all young adults must make: to either follow or abandon their idealistic dreams. What prevents Remnant’s narrative from becoming a rote run-of-the-mill coming-of-age tale is the caricatured portraits cropping up throughout the text of newly-divorced art professors, established but jaded artists, and culture-vulture branders. These character sketches speak to Fallon’s artistic sensibility: art is capable of capturing a side of people that they cannot see in themselves.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Ward Sutton has won the 2018 Herblock Prize.

Matt Furie has filed a copyright suit against Alex Jones's InfoWars for its use of his Pepe the Frog character.

The lawsuit pinpoints one poster in particular as a source of copyright infringement. The poster features Pepe alongside InfoWars founder Alex Jones, President Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, Roger Stone and others with the text "MAGA," short for Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

Furie, represented by attorney Rebecca Girolamo at Wilmer Cutler, says he didn't authorize such use of Pepe. He alleges the poster is being sold by InfoWars in its online store.

This week features a silent auction to fund the Columbia College Chicago student anthology Linework. The auction is to help with the publication costs of the eighth and final issue, and features original Ivan Brunetti artwork (a rare page from Schizo and one from Kramers Ergot), as well as original art from several noteworthy Linework alumni (Nick Drnaso, Onsmith, David Alvarado, and others).

—Reviews & Commentary. The music site Aquarium Drunkard reviews the new Blutch collection, Total Jazz.

Jazz has long represented the very idea of “cool.” But while Blutch’s art is frequently elegant and sensual, some of the best stories here reflect not the effortlessness of jazz, but rather the intensity required to create it. In “Sonny Sharrock,” Blutch presents the enormous guitarist in the midst of his time with flutist Herbie Mann’s smooth jazz combo (long before he’d provide the indispensable soundtrack for Space Ghost Coast to Coast). Thick, jagged black lines hover above him, his hands a whirr of furious action, illustrating the incongruity of the late Sharrock’s violent playing on Mann’s pillowy records. In “Five Solos (A Selection),” pianists Jaki Byard and Don Pullen’s become blurs of motion; Sun Ra’s fingers become exaggerated apparitions and Charles Mingus’ hands are presented impossibly enlarged, heavy like stones — French pianist Martial Solal stares in disbelief at each, and then at their gravestones.

 

Sure Cougar, Pure Sugar

Today at the Comics Journal we've got Chris Mautner with one of his classics "I'm not sure about this one, but let me see it anyway" takes on a new comic. Will he be won over by Now, the new comics anthology from Fantagraphics, the publishing company that publishes The Comics Journal? Here's a bit of Mautner doing the work of journalism--you'll have to read the whole thing to get drunk on his criticism.

Now is edited by Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds, who, perhaps more notably for the purposes of this review, was the editor of the celebrated anthology Mome, the last volume of which came out in 2011. The impetus behind that series, at least initially, was to give up-and-coming cartoonists the chance to showcase their work on a semi-regular basis.

Now seems to have similar goals. Reynolds writes in a brief introduction in the first volume that he hopes the anthology will appeal to the “comics-curious” as well as the serious aficionado and be a platform for “showcasing diversity in the comics field.” One noticeable difference is a focus on short, self-contained stories, as Mome frequently featured serialized narratives.

The other thing that's out there for you today? Why, it's the TCJ newsletter. An email newsletter, you say? Why yes indeed, they're all the rage (again, for some reason). Here at TCJ, we've heard your complaints about "keeping up", and we've responded in kind. Go ahead and subscribe to the only All Killer, No Filler email in the game now, while it's free. (It will always be free, it exists to drive traffic back to the website.) No: subscribe so you don't miss a review, interview, column, hyperbolic essay, my favorite comment, and, maybe, eventually, sure, exclusive "content". Who knows what that could be! (It will be something Gary comes up with.) Just head over here and subscribe now!

 

Better Never

We have two things for you on the site today. First the latest episode of Greg Hunter's excellent podcast, Comic Book Decalogue, which this month poses its traditional ten questions to Whit Taylor. In the episode, Ghost Stories creator talks Junji Ito, Meghan Turbitt, Jeffrey Brown, and more.

We also have Rob Clough's review of MariNaomi's YA book, Losing the Girl.

I was intrigued when I heard that memoir cartoonist MariNaomi was going to be writing a series of young adult comics. In her many autobiographical comics, it's seemed like she labored to create as many different kinds of talking heads scenes as possible. That's because her comics are mostly about relationships and interactions, so there's very little action and a great deal of slowly revealed, painful emotional truths being put on display. She's developed a variety of techniques to keep the reader's eye interested and active on her pages, from near-abstractions of images, to greatly varying line weights, to extensive use of negative space, spotting blacks and/or gray wash, to using a variety of different fonts for characters and many other layout innovations. As a result of this toolbox she's been developing over time, her new book, Losing the Girl,  is a success from top to bottom; she establishes and expands upon the characteristics and narrative goals of each of the primary four protagonists primarily from a visual standpoint.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Slate has announced the nominees for its annual Cartoonist Studio Prize.

—Kilgore Books is crowdfunding its 2018 slate of books.

—Mutha Magazine interviews Katherine Arnoldi.

 

Who Needs Food When You’ve Got A Checklist

Today at the Journal, we've got the last installment in Katie Skelly's Cartoonist Diaries. That's five days of comics from the Skell-Nation. Did you catch them all? Go and catch them all then, you filthy so-and-so.

That's not all, though. Tegan O'Neil continues her journey through the tundra that is the contemporary landscape, with a dive into the recent revival of Kick-Ass, that storied franchise of violence, racism, sexism and superheroes.

Superhero stories are customarily regarded as power fantasies. They certainly are, and of the most basic kind: I can’t fly or bend steel with my hands, but Superman can and sometimes he even does interesting things with those abilities. Millar’s resentful manchildren graduate to super-status without ever learning the most basic Peter Parker lesson about responsibility. Their very limited power is only useful if it can be fueled by the kind of resentment that is customarily purged from the spandex fraternity at the point of entry. Millar’s great contribution to superhero comics was not in realizing that superheroes could be shitty people but that the audience could be shitty, too. There was a market for stories where people just didn’t give a shit and people who got kicked in the face just learned to kick back harder and with better quips. These aren’t power fantasies for children, they’re the fantasies of powerless young adults. 

Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive news about the launch of the new Sandman "universe" that DC will be publishing. If you don't feel like reading the regurgitation of the press release, no worries--you can click on this link and after a few seconds a little video will launch, where Neil Gaiman will tell you (in his own words) how much he likes money, and how happy he is to take more of it. If you're part of the audience that fell hard for Lucifer, Sandman Presents: Dead Boy Detectives, The Dreaming, Sandman: The Dream Hunters (either version), Sandman Midnight Theater, Death: At Death's Door, The Little Endless Storybook, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, then congratulations to you: more of that is coming! If you're the type of person who feels like you've had more than enough of Sandman and Sandman related properties, then my apologies. Hopefully the last 25 years of continually churning out more of these things has thoroughly prepared you to once again experience: more, of these things.

 

Portalac

Sloane Leong returns with the third installment of her regular Comics Dragnet feature, trawling the seas and evaluating interesting webcomics (and related genre materials).

Tapas (formerly known as Tapastic) has been an useful if not sketchy platform for cartoonists, hosting independently made comics and published comics that are in need of web distribution. Slavonica is a series of short fantasy stories inspired by Slavic mythology and culture drawn by Katarzyna "Panna N." Witerscheim. The art style is stripped down to pleasing shapes, a meek digitally-textured line and a tastefully limited palette, utilizing a swatch of muted corals and slate blues. The pacing and dialogue is stilted and matter-of-fact in the manner of well-trodden folktales but I find Witerscheim's art and layouts solidly cohesive and still developing with each page. It's not a comic that packs much of a punch visually but it's mostly attractive and easy to read and though it’s subdued to the point of lethargy, I’m still curious to see how her work grows.

And of course Katie Skelly is here with day four of her Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Abraham Riesman talks to the eccentric Rick Veitch about the republication of The One, among many other topics.

How do you explain the current superhero boom across all media?
Well, you could tie it to a lot of things. One of the things is the rise of nationalism and fascist thought. The superhero is kind of like a fascist art form. He is a fascist fantasy. His roots are in Nietzsche’s superman, which the Nazis used as a mighty propaganda tool back in the day. It breaks my heart that these issues are still being struggled with today. Even more so. On the other hand, we live in an age in which we’re going to be physically transformed. Science and medicine are changing what it means to be physically human. The idea that there might already be or will soon be what people call “trans-human” individuals is a reality, it’s not a fantasy. That’s part of thinking about superheroes and why they’re important now. It’s a way the culture sort of feels its way into its own future. By looking at Green Arrow and Black Widow and those guys, we sort of feel our way into, “What’s going to happen when we’re all super-gymnasts, or can live forever?” The other aspect that I’m perturbed about — and I hope The One can stand against — is the corporate control of superheroes. I think everybody gets the fact that superheroes are a replacement for myths, like Little Red Riding Hood, and the old gods, and stuff like that, but they’re owned by corporations. It’s a subtle way of directing people’s energy and creative flow into these preformed archetypes, if you will. I don’t know if you’ve been to any Comic-Cons lately.

Alison Bechdel was interviewed on Vermont Edition.

—Commentary. Yesterday came the news that Ta-Nehisi Coates will be writing Captain America, and he discusses his thoughts about taking on the project in a short essay.

In one famous scene, flattered by a treacherous general for his “loyalty,” Rogers—grasping the American flag—retorts, “I’m loyal to nothing, general … except the dream.”

I confess to having a conflicted history with this kind of proclamation—which is precisely why I am so excited to take on Captain America. I have my share of strong opinions about the world. But one reason why I chose the practice of opinion journalism—which is to say a mix of reporting and opinion—is because understanding how those opinions fit in with the perspectives of others has always been more interesting to me than repeatedly restating my own. Writing is about questions for me—not answers. And Captain America, the embodiment of a kind of Lincolnesque optimism, poses a direct question for me: Why would anyone believe in The Dream? What is exciting here is not some didactic act of putting my words in Captain America’s head, but attempting to put Captain America’s words in my head. What is exciting is the possibility of exploration, of avoiding the repetition of a voice I’ve tired of.

 

Authentication/Procrastination

Today at the Journal, we've managed to combine two of the most pleasant and welcoming people in comics into one article--Jeremy Sorese interviewing Kevin Czap about Kevin's comic Futchi Perf....and about 7 other topics. It's a wide-ranging conversation that lives comfortably inside the tent of creativity, and you should read the whole thing. 

My introduction to punk happened simultaneously with zines and DIY, and those are all linked together in my mind. At the same time, punk provided a model for political thought. I grew up downstream of Washington DC and I think that had a lot to do with that, although it wasn’t until I moved away from the area that I started to put together the pieces. I think overall the most resonant lesson that carries through in my work and life is the degree of intentionality - punk to me feels like, rather than going along with received life directions, it’s about working together to create something that works for everyone, and constantly reviewing, revising, and challenging to make sure that mandate is upheld. I mean, the music and fashion and stuff is appealing too.

Queerness for me can seem indistinguishable from all of that sometimes. Queer feels like the dream, it’s what was once impossible but is maybe really there. And actually, I’m surrounded by living proof that it is possible. I’m still processing that.

There’s also the degree to which both punk and queer community have been the pathways I’ve followed through life to end up where I am. Like I don’t know, maybe without either, I’d be working in mainstream comics or something. Or not making comics at all?

And that's not all! Katie Skelly is here, again, because she's here all week, and she's checking in with us about all things fashion. Go and see what her Valentine's Day was like. (It was rainy.)

You know, we still haven't totally recovered from the loss of Joe McCulloch's regular This Week In Comics column, and if y0u follow him on Twitter, you can see that he doesn't seem to either. So until he gets his dad to buy him a skateboard (which haven't gone up in price in decades), head on over and see what our former compatriot has to say about what you might see on the shelves today, if you're able to tear yourself away from all that Proust you've been reading.

 

The French Way

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose uses the occasion of two current René Goscinny exhibits to explore the career of the legendary Astérix co-creator and Pilote editor.

When the scenarist René Goscinny (1926 – 1977) died at 51, much of the world felt they knew him. With Astérix, he had created a hero who outsold Tintin. Yet Goscinny had also helped to found and run Pilote, a magazine often described as "MAD à la française". It was Pilote that won French cartooning back an audience – adults – that it had lost after the 19th century.

Forty years after Goscinny's death, two Paris shows are remembering him. One has taken over the Cinemathèque Française, the other is at the Museum of Jewish Art and History (mahJ). Goscinny and Film is a romp about his love for movies, but Goscinny Beyond the Laughter at the mahJ is more. It looks behind the author's orderly CV and discovers years of isolation and frustration. Two things helped Goscinny surmount his frequent setbacks: the outsize expectations he created for himself and his absolute refusal to surrender.

When he began as a scenarist the role was shabby. Those who scripted comics were not mentioned in contracts, they were badly paid and rarely credited. But his enormous talents turned it into a real profession and, eventually, they also made him famous. Goscinny stuffed his scripts with what the French call "second degree": puns, wordplay, double-entendres, cultural jokes and subversions. The comics expert Jean-Pierre Mercier contends that his use of subtext "has taught generations how to critique the media."

And of course Katie Skelly's Cartoonist's Diary continues.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—A/V. Criterion brings us a short video in which Stan Lee explains his ill-fated collaboration with filmmaker Alain Resnais.

And two podcast episodes are worth your attention this morning. Comics Alternative interviews Gary Groth, and Process Party talks to Lauren Weinstein.

 

This Land Is Quicksand

This week at the Journal, the domination continues-Katie Skelly's enthusiasm for writing reviews, interviewing people and being the subject of feature articles now sees her starting a five day tour of comics for our Cartoonist's Diary feature. Day 1 is up now--set an alarm for the rest of the week.

But wait, there's more: in today's clean up position, we've got Matt Seneca on Shaky Kane. And while this review of Good News Bible is unquestionably the first to utilize an Emily Dickinson comparison, keep an eye on that date stamp. It won't be the last!

Is Shaky Kane A Major Artist, though? If you're forking over the 25 pounds sterling (or however much that is in countries with proper dental care) for a collection of early work, you probably aren't much in doubt. Still, it's a question worth asking - this book adds to Kane's available output by a fairly hefty percentage, and none of that output goes down with particular ease. Dude is a weird-ass cartoonist, basically, and if anything the itchy, uncomfortable technicolor deconstructions of American pop culture his work currently trades in are a lot easier to grapple with than the comics on display in Good News Bible

This is difficult stuff, work that originally appeared in anthology issues alongside (somewhat) more conventional comics. To analogize with some other influential weirdo British art, Kane's strips in the Deadline comics magazine functioned a little like Brian Eno's synthesizers did in Roxy Music, adding outre bits of pure bizarrerie to a bouquet of forward-looking but still definable material. Like Eno, Kane eventually proved himself more than capable of putting together solo works that retained his individualism while acting, at least superficially, like the commercial objects they're packaged and sold as. But, you know, imagine an album of just the blorps and whizzies that Eno contibuted to those Roxy records! It'd be awesome if you're into that kind of thing, and so is this book. Kane's work on The Bulletproof Coffin is the kind of stuff pretty much anyone who's interested in comics can get something out of; Good News Bible is the connoisseur's choice, unfiltered and very strange.

I was in Portland to catch the 2018 Synchronized Skating Championships over the weekend, while I was there, I stopped by the Hilton to meet the team from Delaware, and ran into a whole bunch of some of America's best comics retailers. I was lucky enough to book a room across from the Valiant chill-out suite, which was open 24/7, but I wasn't lucky enough to get over there and grab my own commemorative shotglass featuring the character Bloodshot. It's an interesting show, not dissimilar to the ABA's Winter Institute in its mission to bring retailers together with publishing partners to promote the upcoming frontlist and forge stronger relationships, but because it's comics, it's also got a more wildcat quality to it, where retailers can really get into whatever particular issues they have going on in roundtable sessions or a more public forum, and this year's show was no different--there's been a lot of financial upheaval in the direct market in the past year (Shannon O'Leary's annual retailer piece for PW covers this well) and ComicsPRO's organizers had been upfront that this year's meeting would focus on problem solving a lot of those issues. The main response to the meeting so far has been the cloak and dagger methods used by Marvel during their portion of the meeting (due to their size, financial importance and history with the direct market, Marvel and DC have entire portions of ComicsPRO dedicated solely to them at the beginning of the weekend, whereas all other sponsors and publishers present in open door sessions during the final days), but it's my hope that ComicsPRO will make public the "conversation starter" portion of the "Industry Discussion" session they ran at the beginning of the wider meeting. A series of powerpoint slides containing the greatest concerns that retailers currently have, built off the aggregation of a membership wide survey with the intent of discussing solutions, I thought it was one of the most constructive sessions i've seen out of anything comics related. The conversation that followed those slides was broad ranging, intelligent and solution oriented. If some of the publishing partners don't want to hang out with that kind of conversation? That's their loss.