Kim Thompson passed away this morning. He was an immensely important figure in comics history. On a personal note, he was very supportive of me and Tim, and we were thrilled to know him just a little bit over the last couple of years. We’ll miss him. Gary Groth wrote his friend and partner’s obituary at the Fantagraphics site.
Today, we bring you part two of Zak Sally’s enormously entertaining interview with Peter Bagge. This time around, they talk Bagge’s recent work, politics, piracy, and how selling convention sketches resembles prostitution. Here’s Bagge on editing Weirdo:
While I was the managing editor of Weirdo for that brief period, the harshest criticism I got was from the other contributors, who would be offended by the work of other artists I ran. For example, I reprinted a three-page comic strip by S. Clay Wilson that originally ran in Screw magazine. Screw magazine probably told him, “Be your S. Clay Wilson-est, go crazy and break every taboo.” So he just went nuts, drawing the most sexist and racist and scatological comic he could possibly think of. He really went overboard, and I loved it. [Laughs] So I reprinted it.
You see, one of the things that was great about early underground comics is the way they gleefully and compulsively broke every societal rule imaginable. It was very cathartic to see that, and it was one of many things that helped loosen up our culture. But by the ’80s, those rules started to tighten up again, largely from the left, surprisingly, and under the guise of political correctness. The false notion of direct causation—that, say, a depiction of rape causes someone to commit rape—was gaining a lot of traction again, which made it easy again for people to demonize and ban material that they didn’t like.
The S. Clay Wilson strip was obviously meant to fly in the face of this new political correctness, yet artists who were offended by it kept saying, “It’s been done before, time to move on.” To which I said, “No, it’s obviously time to do it again.” [Laughs]. I felt that critics of the strip were being disingenuous when they said “Wilson isn’t funny anymore,” since I don’t think they ever thought he was funny. They simply felt that now was the time to say it out loud, and over and over again. A number of artists said they’d no longer contribute if I ran a strip like that again. So I ran another strip by Wilson that was even more offensive. [Laughs] That may sound childish and spiteful on my part, which it was to some degree, but I also thought those strips were very, very funny, so it wasn’t solely about making a point.
Today marks the return of R.C. Harvey, who in his latest column takes a long look at George McManus’s classic Bringing Up Father. A sample:
In the strip, McManus never explained how Jiggs gained his wealth. In most histories and newspaper accounts over the years, it was said that Jiggs, who had worked as a simple laborer, got rich by winning the Irish Sweepstakes. But not according to McManus, who, in 1920, related Jiggs’ “autobiography” to a newspaper reporter, to wit: Jiggs was born in Ireland. He came to this country expecting to find gold on the streets of New York, but found bricks and cobblestones instead. He became a hod-carrier. Romance came into his life when he met Maggie, a waitress at a small café, who put heaping dishes of corned beef and cabbage before him. They were married, and Jiggs became thrifty. Instead of carrying bricks, he bought and sold them on commission. Then he manufactured them. Street brawls in the old days in New York provided a great market for Jiggs’ bricks, which were harder than ordinary bricks. He grew rich. (In another telling, Jiggs grew rich selling bricks to Ignatz in George Herriman’s strip, Krazy Kat.) At this point in his career Maggie and their daughter Nora acquire social aspirations. And that’s when the trouble began.
Zeke Zekley, McManus’ assistant since the mid-1930s, regaled me with yet another origin of Jiggs’ wealth. McManus told him the story, tongue-in-cheek no doubt. It went like this: When Jiggs was working as a hod-carrier, his employer was another Irishman named Ryan. Ryan liked Jiggs. He liked him so much that he gave Jiggs a dime every time he, Ryan, made a thousand dollars. Ryan got very very rich. And so did Jiggs.
Good morning, folks. Today we’ve got the latest installment of the indefatigable Rob Clough’s High-Low column, in which today he reviews six new cartoonists you’ve probably never heard of before. Here’s a bit:
[Matt] Rebholz is new to the world of comics after spending years as a print-maker and fine artist, as well as an art professor at the University of Texas. For fans of alt-comics who enjoy work with a fantasy or genre bent, these comics will be a revelation. Rebholz is an astounding draftsman who who is also a skilled and fluid storyteller. Fans of Brandon Graham, Kaz Strzepek, Brian Ralph, etc. will want to give these books a long look, because Rebholz not only is capable of delivering a tense and fast-paced action comic, he’s able to do it with a sense of humor and quirkiness. The Floating Head Bounty Killers is as descriptive a title as you’ll ever see, as one MODOK-like floating head is hunting a criminal in a bizarre landscape that mixes what seems to be Aztec or Mayan statues and images with weird trenches and creepy swarms of maggot-like creatures. After the heroic floating head completes his mission and is rewarded, Rebholz pulls the rug out from under the reader with a hilarious twist that leads into the second issue of this series of self-contained but connected stories.
GEHR: The New Yorker used to really depict the city through its cartoons. It taught people how to look at New York in a very specific way. It constructed a New York just as much as movies did.
KOREN: Well, it did that when New York figured more in the drawings, which it doesn’t now. There’s this great Ralph Barton drawing from the thirties, with garbage men throwing garbage cans around in a giant courtyard. It was a beautiful drawing. And that was New York. That was exactly what New York would be like. He had a way of characterizing the almost primal and demonic noise made by the garbagemen. It was fascinating. He got a lot the city’s abrasiveness as well. There were so many drawing like that. Alan Dunn was a consummate draftsman of the city. Charles Addams got a lot of the city with that Halloween cover [October 31, 1983], with the wonderful contrast and great point of view looking down on the taxi and the doorman. There was a lot of that. Now, I’m not so sure.
GEHR: Are you conscious of doing social journalism as a cartoonist?
KOREN: In a way I’m always conscious of that, because that’s what I’m really interested in. I hearken back to those nineteenth-century French caricaturists and, in particular, my mentor Monsieur Daumier. I just love his feel for subjects, his sense of the moment of their lives, and how he reads character in relation to their social situations, what they’re doing, and where they are on the social ladder. I draw a lot of inspiration from that. I’m not a sort of person who mixes that easily. I always sit on the sidelines looking, taking it in. I’ve learned a lot from artists like John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, and the Ashcan artists, who were really out there looking at New York in social terms. That fascinated me.
Today’s Tuesday, which means that Joe McCulloch has your Week in Comics ready for you, along with a long bonus essay on Jay Disbrow:
Needless to say, the Jay Disbrow comic most pertinent to this column is 1979’s The Flames of Gyro, a historic work not for its content but due to its positioning: it was the first all-original, full-length comic book published by the nascent Fantagraphics Press, until then notable mainly for its acquisition and recalibration of The Nostalgia Journal, a fanzine soon to undergo a title change.
Disbrow too was marginal. As with not a few artists, his career had been wiped out by the adoption of the Comics Code late in 1954; in fact, save for a small handful of romance stories with the Farrell Comic Group and an obscure two-color religious magazine in ’57 (Zondervan Publishing’s The Centurion of Ancient Rome), he had not published any sequential art since. However, as he told Zone, “[w]hen Gary Groth… offered me complete editorial freedom on the comic, I decided to go ahead with it.”
And because Joe is all about cramming all kinds of incongruous things into tiny spaces, he’s also hidden a short piece about the Walking Dead video game somewhere in there…
—First off, as all the vote-grubbers out there have already been telling you over the past few days, you only have a short time left to vote on the Eisner Awards.
—I hope you enjoyed last week’s Blood & Thunder archive featuring the J. Kochalka “Craft is the Enemy” debate. If there are any other classic letters-column debates or interviews from the Comics Journal past you’d like to see again, please let us know. Sifting through more than three decades’ worth of argument means we’re bound to miss out on some of the good stuff.
—Would you people like it if I posted book trailers when I come across them, or is that too weird?
—I don’t care what you guys want, I promise to never ever link to anything called a Google Doodle.