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I Say It’s Spinach, and I Say the Hell With It

Joe McCulloch’s got the Week in Comics covered again this morning, along with a short essay on an obscure example of bande desinée.

Laura Hudson interviews Achewood creator Chris Onstaad about his recent return to webcomics. In it, Onstaad talks a bit about Jim Woodring:

Jim Woodring is great, and is one of those people who will honestly admit to you that, “Yeah, my brain’s a little f**ked up.” His comics are sort of a manifestation of his brain. It works for him. He’s a really wonderful guy. He has this big three-story place with big, gothic abbey rope hanging in front of the front door. The rope rings a little bell to let you know that someone’s at the door. One time it rings in the foyer so his wife opens the door, and there’s this little cat there that came in from the road. So they let the cat in, shut the door, and we all go about our night. Then we watched Popeye for two hours. That’s Jim.

Chris Mautner puts together a solid list of six books from 2011 that deserved more attention.

The A.V. Club has their own list of fifteen comic strips that were adapted into “forgotten” television shows. Not all of them are equally forgotten, though. The Far Side, I’ll grant you, but Garfield?

Robert Boyd doesn’t seem to write much about comics these days, but I check in to his blog now and again all the same just to make sure he hasn’t tried to slip something through unnoticed. Last week, he pulled out an excerpt from the late short-story writer Donald Barthelme talking about conceptual art:

BARTHELME: Conceptual art isn’t something I’m overly fond of. It seems to me entirely too easy…

RUAS: Why would you say it’s easy?

BARTHELME: Well, because it is easy.

RUAS: To be able to delineate concepts and have people understand the concept?

BARTHELME: Yes. I think as art it is entirely too easy. [...] Had I decided to go into the conceptual-art business I could turn out railroad cars full of that stuff every day.

There’s a bit more at the link. I’m not personally acquainted with how easy it is to turn out conceptual art, but knowing Barthelme’s work, I tend to believe his claim about his own facility for it. (I assume it goes without saying that people tend to devalue whatever comes naturally to them.)

For some reason (perhaps because of Barthelme’s frequent pseudo-comics use of extensive illustrations?), this reminded me of my long-time privately held theory that conceptual artists do more or less the same kind of thing that gag cartoonists do, only without using paper and ink, and without necessarily going for laughs—though a fair amount of conceptual art doesn’t attempt much more than that. The title or artist’s statement is frequently used as something equivalent to a cartoon’s caption. Light amusement to refresh the tired gallery-goer, I guess. This is not a comparison meant to reflect poorly on either genre; there are at least as many bad gag cartoons as there are bad conceptual art pieces. (And of course, not even gag cartoons are always meant to be humorous, as witness Abner Dean.)

Marcel Duchamp, who is of course usually credited with starting the whole conceptualism business off, began his career as a gag cartoonist submitting panels to Parisian literary journals (have his cartoons ever been collected into a book? I’d love to read them), and comics historian M. Thomas Inge has suggested that the “R. Mutt” signature Duchamp scrawled at the bottom of his most famous “readymade” was an explicit reference to Bud Fisher’s A. Mutt from Mutt and Jeff.

This connection between gag cartooning and conceptual art seems too obvious to be genuinely original to me, and I assume I must have gotten it from some now forgotten source. So I poked around online seeing if I could find anyone else saying the same thing, and the best thing I could come up with was a 2009 New York Times op-ed by Dennis Dutton that I’m pretty certain I’d never seen before. In it, Dutton says:

The appreciation of contemporary conceptual art, on the other hand, depends not on immediately recognizable skill, but on how the work is situated in today’s intellectual zeitgeist. That’s why looking through the history of conceptual art after Duchamp reminds me of paging through old New Yorker cartoons. Jokes about Cadillac tailfins and early fax machines were once amusing, and the same can be said of conceptual works like Piero Manzoni’s 1962 declaration that Earth was his art work, Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 “One and Three Chairs” (a chair, a photo of the chair and a definition of “chair”) or Mr. Hirst’s medicine cabinets. Future generations, no longer engaged by our art “concepts” and unable to divine any special skill or emotional expression in the work, may lose interest in it as a medium for financial speculation and relegate it to the realm of historical curiosity.

This is another interesting point of comparison, but as Dutton’s implicit admission that at least Duchamp’s work hasn’t dated too much makes clear, some concepts are sturdier than others. And of course many New Yorker cartoon gags are as funny now as they’ve ever been.

But not necessarily the best gag cartoons. Cartoons, like many pieces of conceptual art, are meant to be ephemeral—amusement or provocation for a particular cultural moment. There’s nothing wrong with that—amusement and provocation are as necessary now as they will be in the future. But because of that ephemeral nature, there is usually something small-seeming and limited about them. In that sense, even Jeff Koons’ forty-three-foot sculpture of a puppy is a miniature.

 

Inspired By…

There’s goodies about… yesterday Edie Fake gave us the rundown on the Chicago scene. And today we present Gary Groth’s remembrance of a bygone dinner with Christopher Hitchens, along with his thoughts on the writer’s legacy.

Elsewhere on the internet there’s a random jumble of points of interest. These are some fine looking drawings by Lorenzo Matotti, inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. And these are some unexpectedly… tender? … drawings by the late Joe Simon. On the Alan Moore beat, here’s a well-informed article he wrote in 1983 (!) on women in comics, championing some really great cartoonists. Following the old fanzine hole, here’s cartoonist David Hine on our fearless leader’s late, lamented Fantastic Fanzine. And the creators on comics dept. might also include this lengthy post by artist Ross Campbell on the 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. This, my friends, you need in your life.

And on the interview front, here’s Tom Spurgeon talking to Chester Brown. And here’s an interview with Forming cartoonist Jesse Moynihan.

Finally, just for fun, hey, The Guggenheim has digitized a ton of its publications. This is a ton of fun to browse through.

 

One Down

Today we bring you Warren Bernard‘s obituary of the late, great Ronald Searle.

Elsewhere on the comics-sphere, things seem to be a bit quiet.

Vanessa Davis has a new comic strip about dancercize up on the Tablet site. Which couldn’t help but remind me of the Cartoonist’s Diary entry she did for us last March.

Vice has posted the letter of a retired prostitute who objects to a recent Johnny Ryan comic strip mocking Chester Brown’s Paying for It, as well as Ryan’s reply.

And finally, Warren Ellis has made some very plausible sounding predictions about the comics business in 2012, mostly involving digital publication.

 

Graduation

Well, I hope you’re sitting down at your computer rather than using some sort of podium or standing desk arrangement, because Ryan Holmberg is going to blow your minds to bits. In today’s column he introduces us (and I mean everyone) to the funk and frenzy of Akahon Manga. With three nameless early 1950s books he manages to rewrite some history. I can’t say enough good things about this fresh territory he’s staking out. But if you don’t believe me, just look:

Ok? Ok.

If you really need to read more about comics after experiencing this piece then I suppose you could mosey over to The Comics Reporter for interviews with Steve Bissette and Rina Piccolo. And then stroll over to Robot 6 for a close look at Batman: Year One, from Matt Seneca. You might meander through part 3 of The Beat’s year-end survey, and then click over to this cult-like add for a Grant Morrison convention.

And finally, you could end your internet morning/afternoon/evening with the utterly depressing news that the Village Voice has let go of the great film (and occasional comics) critic J. Hoberman, which is a huge loss for critical writing in general, though I imagine some smart media conglomerate will snap him up.

Have a nice day!

 

Lopsided

And we’re still back!

Rob Clough gets things underway this morning with his review of Seth’s G.N.B. Double C, one of the artist’s lighter “sketchbook” comics, in the vein of Wimbledon Green.

Linkblogging’s gonna be a little weird for a while, since we’ve been gone for so long and so much material has been missed and/or is already ancient in internet terms (by the way, spending no more than fifteen minutes a day using a computer and/or reading the internet is a highly recommended way to spend a week or two, if you can swing it). But here are a few highlights from recent days that are worth taking a look at if you’re so inclined.

Joe Sacco has a new story out at Caravan magazine, about Dalit villagers in Upper Pradesh. It looks to be available in print form, as well. (Courtesy Ethan H.)

Steven Heller, the former New York Times art director who gave Bill Griffith his first job in comics while working for Screw, writes a brief profile of the artist for The Atlantic. I’ve been slowly making my way through an advance copy of Lost and Found, and I think it’s really gonna be revelatory for a lot of people.

Here’s a brief video interview with Maurice Sendak for the Tate, in which he tells people who want a sequel to Where the Wild Things Are to go to hell:

There’s also a three-part video interview with Art Spiegelman from Angoulême that was posted recently. I haven’t watched it yet, but plan to do so as soon as it’s feasible.

Friends and family of the late publisher, cartoonist, and writer Dylan Williams have started a memorial site for him.

The Rumpus interviewed Adrian Tomine.

Domingos Isabelinho reviews the recent Carl Barks collection.

Finally, I really liked this Eddie Campbell blog post.

 

Happy, Merry, Rested

Happy New Year. We’re back and getting into the groove here. Today on the site we bring you Frank Santoro’s epic Motorbooty retrospective. I remember finding the magazine at Tower Records, where I found many good small press things, and it blew my mind. It was like it arrived from mars to make me happy. Well, Frank’s gone back and interviewed the man behind the content and posted numerous images, too. Dig in. If that’s not enough Santoro for you, then check out his year-end post from Sunday. As ever, no matter the holiday, there is Joe McCulloch with his first “This Week in Comics” of 2012

And today we’re also re-publishing Gary Groth’s 1998 interview with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator and Tundra and Heavy Metal publisher Kevin Eastman. It is so damn long, and so intense, that we had to break it into two parts and add a selection of letters that came in in response to the piece. In it, Eastman explains all about the Turtles, money, losing a ton on Tundra, friendships, ethics, and so much more. It’s one of the all-time great TCJ interviews in its portrait of one man’s journey into the heart of comic-dom. Part 1. Part 2. The letters.

Why, you might ask, are we only just now gifting you with this bounty of history, gossip and financial ruin? Well, Eastman’s been in the news a bit lately. He’s auctioning off his studio and its entire contents on eBay (the video must be seen) and is doing a series of events at Meltdown Comics in L.A. So, now’s the time…

Speaking of Tundra, Steve Bissette is oft-mentioned in the Eastman interview, and he posted a brief note about the status of his 1963 comic book series and his relationship with Alan Moore.

Anyhow, it being the end of the year and all, there were a ton of year-end best-of lists. Sean T. Collins, AV Club, Robot 6, Comics Alliance, Tucker Stone/Flavorwire, Matt Seneca, and probably a million more. But those stuck out.

And of course no holiday season is complete (well, at least for me and Tim) without Tom Spurgeon’s interview series. They are all worth reading, but for me the highlights were: Todd DePastino on the author’s work on Bill Mauldin. I agree with Tom that Wille & Joe: Back Home was one of the very best books of 2011 and DePastino is a game and lively conversationalist; TCJ-contributor Chris Mautner giving a big picture view on recent developments in art comics; The Secret Acres publishers Leon Avelino and Barry Matthews were very candid about the publishing life/vocation/spirit, and smart besides. Any interview with Kim Thompson is a hoot, and I confess that one of my favorite perks of working for TCJ is getting to bug Kim about stuff as frequently as he lets me. Tom, as usual, asks all the right questions. Ethan Rilly produced one of my favorite comic books this year, and I know nothing about him, so his interview was a treat. All right, that’s enough about Spurgeon! We love him too much.

Elsewhere on the internet you will find TCJ-contributor Ryan Holmberg’s latest piece, a review of A Drifting Life, quite fascinating. And wait until you see what he has later this week. Charles McGrath wrote about Tintin in the NY Times. Robot 6 has steamrolled into the new year with a ton of new content, including interviews with Tom ScioliSammy Harkham, and a ton more. And fresh off the internet is The Beat’s Year-End Survey part 1 and 2011 in review.

And finally, the great British illustrator Ronald Searle has passed away. He was famous for his curling and darting line, and cutting observational wit. The Guardian has a brief obituary.

 

 

Holiday Break

Well alright, dear reader, that’s (almost) it for TCJ online in 2011! Here’s our year-end post. Have a great holiday. Posting will resume Tuesday, January  3rd.

 

 

A House Divided

Well, folks, we’re starting to close things out for the year here, but we’ve still got a few items in store for your 2011 reading year.

This morning, we present the great and inimitable Bob Levin’s reflections on the one-of-a-kind “lost” anthology The Someday Funnies, which it probably wouldn’t be too much to say he had some part in bringing to print, if only for revitalizing interest in the book through his great piece,“How Michel Chouquette (Almost) Assembled the Most Stupendous Comic Book in the World”, which you may remember from TCJ issue 299. Here, from Levin’s new piece, is a brief explanation of just what he means by stupendous:

In 2004, it was suggested I write about Michel Choquette and The Someday Funnies, a veritable Lost Dutchman’s lode of comic history. The story, as it had come down over three decades, was that Choquette had been commissioned in December 1970 to produce a 20-page cartoon history of the 1960s for the May issue of Rolling Stone, and that he had tuned that into a contemplated several hundred-page book on which he spent nine years, receiving in the process contributions from William Burroughs, Salvador Dali, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, John Lennon, Frank Zappa, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Tom Wolfe, while squandering so many advances from so many competing publishers that he had made publication impossible. Then, the story spreaders said, he and the art he had collected vanished.

Our other offering this morning is my co-editor Dan’s review of the same book.