Today on the site, Tim Goodyear talks to the eccentric British cartoonist Shaky Kane.
Tim Goodyear: The Shakyverse is a real place, it transcends the comics.
Shaky Kane: I like to imagine so. There's a certain familiarity to everything I produce. It's sort of populated or for want of a better word, furnished by the same stylistic tropes.
The very stuff I spent my time conjuring up onto the cheap sketch pads with wax crayons in my room as a child. It's genuinely heartfelt. It's a sincere appropriation of something very American. Something that resonated with me and I've kept close to me for the best part of 60 years.
Insects, especially giant ones; do they gravitate to you?
Giant insects have always held a fascination.When I stayed up watching late night TV, while my father worked nights, the giant ant invasion movie Them! made a real impact.
I thought it was the greatest. Likewise, I was thrilled to see American troops fighting off hoards of giant insects on the Topps Mars Attacks! bubblegum cards which were reprinted in Ireland and distributed over here by a company called A&BC. Giant Insects and GIs were as synonymous as Cowboys and Insects.
Eating bugs, zebras, hamburgers, human flesh; food plays a roll in many of your comix. Do you ask your collaborators to address diet?
Well, it certainly isn't part of my agenda. To be honest I've never really given it any thought. Cowboys and Insects, certain features a lot of Big Insect feasting. But that's what made Bug Town famous.
—Interviews & Profiles. For Hyperallergic, Nicole Rudick interviews Ben Jones.
NR: When I think of Christopher [Forgues]’s work, I think of pencil, but when I think of yours, I think of all the different media you’ve used, and I think of color. How do you know when you want to do something just in pencil?
BJ: I think I know why Chris does it. He lives a strict and severe existence. He’s a true believer. An analogy for Chris is that he’s in a war and he has to go into battle, so [you should] take your bulletproof vest. And he’d be like, “The bulletproof vest will slow me down and will affect my decision-making on the battlefield.” I think that’s what he’s doing with just using pencil and never erasing — he’s forcing himself in the moment to make confident decisions. You can see that in his drawings.
You have to say something very different for why I do it. I think it probably goes back to me copying Far Side comics as a kid. I did it two ways. I did it on a Macintosh SE by tracing them with a mouse, and I did it with a pencil in a sketchbook. Not to make this like a childish escapism thing about my process, but those are two tools that I think are great and I’ve stuck with them.
For The New Yorker, Sarah Larson talks to Richard McGuire, focusing primarily on his spot illustrations for the magazine.
In 2005, the artist Richard McGuire—now, perhaps, best known as the author of the lovely and powerful book “Here”—was living in Paris, working on an animated film, when he heard from one of his editors at The New Yorker. McGuire has contributed covers and illustrations to the magazine for many years. “They wrote me and said they had this idea,” McGuire said recently, at a café in the West Village, where he lives. The idea concerned spot illustrations—the cozy little drawings of, say, a fork, a chair, or a window dotted with hanging plants—tucked into long sections of text. For decades, spots had been drawn by many different artists per issue, as the cartoons are, each one doing its own thing while providing some relief for the eye. In 2005, for the eightieth-anniversary issue, “they said, ‘We want a whole issue done by one person,’ ” McGuire told me. So he began drawing some spots. “I think it was because I was working on the animated film that made me think of it as a sequence,” he said.
Michael Maslin talks to Arnold Roth about his John Updike covers.
I tell this story sometimes, like when I give talks in art schools, because people ask about those covers. We lived in Princeton then. It was a Friday evening. I had my studio in my house, naturally. The phone rang and it was woman who said, “I’m an art director with Knopf. John Updike has instructed us that he wants you to do a cover for a book that will be coming out, Bech a Book.” I was honored. We put it in action — I sent him a bunch of drawings — some of them ran on the cover flaps. About 11 years later, again — I got a call, and she said, “We have another Bech book.” [Bech Is Back] So same thing, I did the jacket. Thirteen years after that, the phone rings, the same conversation. I raced down to the kitchen where Caroline was making dinner, and said, “Hey — I have a steady gig.”
Also in Hyperallergic, Benjamin Sutton talks to Jessica Campbell about her book, Hot or Not: 20th-Century Male Artists.
One of the few rules that I set out for myself was that I could not immediately call to mind what the artist looked like. So, artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock were off the table. They are too iconic, too recognizable.
There are, unfortunately, thousands of artists who needed to be cut from the book, though this means that I can spend the rest of my career working on sequels to fill in the art historical gaps. I’m hoping it will turn in to the Fast and Furious of book series.
—News. The winners of the Joe Shuster Awards have been announced, including best cartoonist Jillian Tamaki.
—Reviews & Commentary. David Sipress remembers the late New Yorker cartoonist Bob Weber.
One afternoon, as we were leaving the restaurant, Bob asked me to walk a few blocks with him. He next reported something to me that I had been vaguely aware of, and more than a little bothered by—that there had been some grumbling about my drawing among the cartoonists.
“I was listening to a couple of guys say that your drawing is too awkward, or that you can’t draw, and I knew they were missing something, so I decided to find out for myself. So over the weekend I sat down and tried to draw like you. I tried and tried, and you know what? I couldn’t do it.”
This act of kindness and curiosity was pure Bob Weber, and it erased forever any anxiety I might have had about what others thought about my work.
Photographer Greg Preston is a good-natured, low-key guy. There’s an ease about him that enhances his subjects’ comfort amidst their already-familiar surroundings. It’s visible enough in The Artist Within, a handsome, generously-sized hardcover from 2007 with roughly a hundred “portraits of cartoonists, comic book artists, animators, and others,” as the book’s subtitle has it. He’s captured a broad spectrum of extraordinary talents, from Al Hirschfeld, Jules Feiffer, and Carl Barks to Jack Davis, Gahan Wilson, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and from Will Eisner, Neal Adams, and Frank Miller to Crumb, Spiegelman and the Hernandez Bros. The lush details and rich tones and textures of his full-bleed monochromes reward repeat visits.
Sex is also a key component to a lot of your work and just like your use of violence, you use it to various effects from sexy renderings of the human form, to titillating hardcore pounding, to the absurdly awkward, verging on disturbing… Is it a send-up of the genres you’re satirizing or are you trying to say more with these depictions of sex?
Yes, it is a send-up of the way sex is handled in genre and American visual storytelling. It makes me think about the power images hold. If my work were prose and I were writing about sex I don’t think it would get the same kind of attention, but because the sex is depicted it somehow becomes more significant. I think sex is a very human act but for some reason it’s largely missing from a lot of visual stories in the U.S. In television that appears to be changing. Television is a lot more daring these days with the themes it explores. It’s obvious to state, but in many feature films graphic violence is accepted where sex is not. One theme is about the destruction of life, what tears us apart as humans. The other is about creation, feeling alive, and what we share as humans. It’s strange, but also a very human fault to be obsessed with doom rather than salvation.
Well folks, if you're in NYC you might be going to CAB this weekend. Here's a preview of what awaits you.
Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews a new tribute anthology, The Shirley Jackson Project, edited by TCJ's own Rob Kirby, and featuring artists such as Eric Orner, Jon Macy, Gabrielle Gamboa, and Maggie Umber, among others.
Kirby’s tribute anthology was produced under one major constraint: Jackson’s estate holds the rights to her stories, precluding any straightforward adaptations. Many entries in the book are closer to meditations; the pieces will appeal most to existing converts, but they’re also evidence that these converts abound. Kirby, in his introduction, describes Jackson not as a horror writer—as she’s sometimes known—but as a writer interested in psychological states and psychological flux. This idea echoes throughout the anthology, especially in the autobiographical pieces (or comics that appear to be autobiographical). Several cartoonists use Jackson as a lens with which to examine fraught family dynamics and/or moments of instability in their younger years.
Eric Orner’s “Brendan in the Jungle,” possibly the best of these entries, documents a long-distance correspondence with a friend who’s beginning to self-destruct (and who’s reading a Shirley Jackson collection as he does so). Orner includes specific scenes from this collapse along with discrete, related images, while anchoring his panels with a tight grid and alternating white and gray backgrounds. On its surface, his story has less to do with Jackson than most pieces in the book, but in fewer than ten pages, “Brendan” manages to cover transitions, manners, and death—and if a reader reduced Jackson’s work to three elements, it might be these.
—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian profiles Lynda Barry.
“A parent company would buy the successful weekly papers in different towns, and the first thing they would do was kick out the cartoonists,” she says.
If saying things you shouldn’t say was what sparked Barry’s comic strip, it was likely also the thing that ended it: “For someone who had just acquired a weekly paper to have to read these really sad stories about childhood – I can understand why they would replace me with sudoku.”
Flood magazine talks to Julia Gfrörer about her new book, Laid Waste.
You’ve created a vivid picture of a medieval village and the people who populate it, but there’s plenty that’s strange here, too. How do you relate to this period of time?
It’s a fallacy to assume that our ancestors were enormously different from us, but inaccurate to imagine them being very like us, too. You sometimes get glimpses of things that are shockingly familiar—for example, an exhausted scribe noting in the corner of a manuscript page that his workday is almost over. But other things are very difficult for us to understand: it’s in vogue now to identify with historical witches and heretics, but we rarely see ourselves as the bigoted accuser.
Today on the site, I bring you my chat with Anya Davidson about all things Band for Life, as well as art and life and such topics that sprang to mind. Go out a buy everything you can by Anya. Here's a bit from the interview:
I somehow don’t think Guntit is actually based on your own bands (or maybe….), but the member do fit some rock archetypes. Are you a reader of rock bios? If so, which is your fave?
The name Guntit is taken from a real band. Lale Westvind, Thomas Toye and Laura Perez Harris were all living in New York (Lale’s since moved to Philly) and they started a band. When I heard they were called Guntit I was like “that’s the best band name ever.” You know, the reason most of us start cartooning is we’re in grade school and we draw our teachers boning or something and our classmates think it’s hilarious so we keep at it. I wanted to make Lale, Tom and Laura chuckle, because they’re some of the coolest people on the planet, so I drew this proto Band For Life Strip and that’s how it started. But all the characters are fictional in the sense that they’re 95% me, a sprinkle of my friends and a sprinkle of observation out in the world. As far as band bios, yeah, I read Come as You Are, the Story of Nirvana when I was a kid and that was a big deal, and Confusion is Next, the Sonic Youth Story. Get in the Van, the Rollins one, is great. I read White Line Fever, by Lemmy, while I was on tour once. That’s a great one for reading in the car cause the type is huge. And Patti Smith’s memoirs. I don’t know if I have a favorite, although the Nirvana one turned me on to a lot of other music. I did very consciously set up a rivalry between Annimal, the drummer in my book, and Linda, the frontwoman. I’ve always hated the Rolling Stones, but I find the rivalry between Richards and Jagger really entertaining in a camp way. So I sprinkled some of that in. But it’s just a fact that bands have conflict. I don’t know if collaboration can exist without conflict.
Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the most interesting-sounding books new to stores. This week, his Halloween-appropriate spotlight picks include new titles by Julia Gfrörer and Rick Geary.
Rarely do I encounter a perfect All Souls' Day comic, but Julia Gfrörer is a rare talent - wholly committed to a completely distinct vision and just going for it over and over again.
—Interviews & Profiles.Dilbert creator Scott Adams talks to Michael Cavna about his Donald Trump boosterism and "Master Persuader" theories. (I so wish Kim Thompson were still here, so he and Gary could do a part II of this epic argument.)
“My speaking career ended because of this,” the Bay Area-based cartoonist said of his once-lucrative side business.
Although his book sales have stayed healthy, Adams said that many off-put readers now view “Dilbert” through more critical glasses, which has affected his licensing sales. All told, Adams said, his income has dipped precipitously.
Yet the Reuben Award-winner says he regrets none of it.
I mean, I’m always looking at stuff. I’m seeing stuff from Japan, I like a lot of the older comics, but with Kramers, I realize there’s a certain thing that I go for. I like work that regardless of the decade that it’s made in, feels very relevant today. So it fits in aesthetically with everything else. So — with the stuff we’ve reprinted in the past, because we’ve also did Marc Smeets. So when we reprint something, it’s important to me that for the person flipping through, it all feels cohesive, you know ? Sometimes, there’s works that I like, that I’m like — argh, I don’t think that Kramers is the right place for this. Maybe I can help get it published as its own book, or do something with it. But for Kramers, it has to hit this sort of sweet spot of a very particular kind of comic.
In general, my job is to consider all of the comics that come to us through our open submission process and to keep my eyes open and reach out to artists and publishers to make sure we’re getting all of the work that we should be seeing and considering. I end up with countless piles of comics in many forms: graphic novels from large publishers, small hand-stapled zines self-published by artists, comics published online, and pretty much anything else you can think of. We’ll take anything as long as it’s previously published (in print or online) within the past year and is by a North American artist (which includes Canada and Mexico). I consider all of these works and select a pool of about 120 comics to send to each year’s Guest Editor, who then chooses the approximately thirty pieces that will go into the final volume.
The Hollywood Reporter talks to Frank Miller about Batman movies and his desire to create a Superman book exploring his Jewish roots.
When you tell a superhero story you tell it in broad strokes. You don’t sneak you message in. I would love to see the visuals of Superman facing a Panzer tank and the emotional release of him smashing a place like [the] Buchenwald [concentration camp].
I do think there’s sometimes been a tendency, when non-comics publishers approach comics, to focus on books that do recognizably “serious” things: nonfiction comics on worthy subjects, and graphic novels with elaborate literary structures and characters. It’s a way of saying that hey, comics can do it too — they’re real books! And plenty of really good comics fall into those categories, including some that we’ll be doing. But I think that what’s most interesting and exciting about comics is not how they can do what prose novels or journalism already do, but that they can do things no other medium can: how they form something unique and powerful, with its own possibilities to be explored.
The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Jim Woodring.
—News. Tim Pilcher has written The Guardian's obituary of Steve Dillon.
When asked “What do you like to draw?”, the comic artist Steve Dillon would reply: “A good story.” That retort explains why he was considered one of the best exponents of his craft, both by fans and by fellow creators. “I’m not one of these artists into drawing giant robots or soldiers or big-titted women,” he said. “Because, for me, it’s all about the story … The acting side of comics is quite important to me. The facial expressions, how they interact and all that sort of thing.”
—Commentary. Christian Heymans writes about the scandalous manga of Go Nagai.
The economic development and the social and political upheavals profoundly changed the Japanese way of life and the manga industry had to adapt. The Dankai generation, the baby boomers, who constituted the main readership of the school-life themed manga in the post-war period, and who had now grown up, were receiving more pocket money or their first salaries. The moralistic stories and good-mannered heroes of their childhoods no longer suited the tastes of these teenagers and young adults. Manga publishers did not want to lose these readers whose expectations they still had to meet. Elements that were once considered taboo (sex, violence, scatology) were introduced one by one in humoristic manga as well as action and adventure stories in order to accommodate this masculine readership.
This is the run-up week to not just next week's election, but also Comic Arts Brooklyn, which this year proudly features the great Dame Darcy, as well the debuts of Charles Burns' new book from Le Dernier Cri -- a collection of 180 pages of his "Free Shit" zines, as well as Richard McGuire's new book, Sequential Drawings. The fest itself is free and runs from 11am to 7pm at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with several related satellite events that kick of Thursday night at Desert Island, so check out the web site for info. Tom Spurgeon interviewed Gabe Fowler about the show here.
In other fest news: Here is Connor Willumsen's Lakes International Comics Art Festival report.
During the opening reception, show co-organizer J.P. Trostle said, "Wow, North Carolina is hell-bent on making this one of the most interesting and timely conventions we've ever had." Trostle was referring not just to the passage of the odious anti-trans law HB2, but also to yet another victim of police violence, this time in nearby Charlotte. Indeed, there was some internal debate within the AAEC as to whether the festival should be held in Durham, given HB2, but it was decided that an organization whose purpose is to make pointed political commentary would be an ideal match for this controversy.
What interested me most about this festival was what factors went into it being considered a success. Editorial cartooning jobs have been shrinking steadily for years as newspapers fold and budgets decree that such posts are luxuries for the survivors. Of course, people have been shoveling dirt on the relevancy of political cartoons as early as the founding of the organization, and yet it continues to adapt and persevere. From the heydey of alt-weeklies in the '80s to the movement to the web and multimedia platforms in the last few decades, editorial cartooning's ability to provoke with a stark image is still powerful and threatening, a fact reinforced when one considers the fate of many such cartoonists around the globe.
My husband and our 11-year-old daughter were downstairs watching an episode of Buffy, and I was sitting up here in my home office, blocking some of these people, responding to some of them. Strangers, yelling at me because I wrote a comic book that they didn’t like, and because I was a woman. And I got a text from my 11-year-old daughter. “I love you,” she wrote.
And I just thought, what am I doing? Why am I up here engaging with mean strangers, who couldn’t care less about me, when the two people I love most in the world are downstairs?
I posted a comment about how I was done with Twitter. And I went downstairs.
Jeet Heer reflects on the work of Jack T. Chick, soliciting opinions from cartoonists including Kim Deitch, Sammy Harkham, Dustin Harbin, and Mary Fleener. Jeet ultimately compares Chick to Leni Riefenstahl, which seems a little overblown. Chick was undoubtedly interesting, but I don't think his talent or influence as a cartoonist approaches Riefenstahl's in film. Still, a good piece well worth reading.
Mary Fleener, an alternative cartoonist from San Diego, has a more personal grudge against Chick. “In the summer of 1971 I was having a mad, ‘love the one you’re with,’ affair with this guy named Jim,” Fleener wrote to me. “We’d make huge salads, and then walk all night in the hills above Malaga Cove in Palos Verdes, then come back to his house, where his parents were never home, and I’d read his Tarot cards, and we’d smoke pot, and had the best time. We really had an ‘open relationship’ with no ties, no expectations, and it was working ... we were happy! Then he went to Hawaii for 3 weeks and came back a Born Again Christian, and told me we were finished, and as a parting gift, handed me a Chick tract that told the story of ‘Maria’ who was into astrology and how she was gonna burn in hell, or something like that.”
Art Spiegelman writes in The New Yorker about the painter Si Lewin.
I first met Si when he was a spirited and elfin ninety-four-year-old who still spent most of his waking hours painting—as he had since childhood. I’d stumbled onto his book “The Parade,” from 1957, while researching wordless picture stories—obscure precursors of today’s graphic novels that briefly flourished between the two World Wars. “The Parade,” obscure even by this genre’s standards, was drawn shortly after the Second World War, but was conceived while Lewen, a Polish Jewish refugee from Germany, was a member of an élite force of native German-speaking G.I.s who were in Buchenwald right after it was liberated.
I think it’s hard to capture the energy of a musical performance on the page. One of my primary concerns as a cartoonist is to make work that’s lively and captures motion really well. Having a free flowing line is important. I don’t want my work to look stiff. So I try to draw panels with a lot of movement in them. Another way is with colour. I’m also fascinated by the power dynamics in rock and funk music. The showmanship in those genres, the costumes, the poses, are so iconic and evocative. It’s something I try to capture as well. I’ve watched so many performance of the Plasmatics, and Wendy O Williams, their front woman, is just really owning these strong images of female empowerment. Same with the funk singer Betty Davis. She’s always dressed in these outrageous futuristic sci-fi outfits and she’s this tall statuesque woman. She just looks like a goddess.
—Misc. The aforementioned Rob Clough has launched a Patreon to help support his comics reviews.
I've been writing comics criticism for fifteen years now, in places like Savant, The Comics Journal, Cicada, Sequart, Foxing Quarterly, Sequential Magazine and the Poopsheet Foundation. Of course, my home base for a decade has been my own High-Low site: http://highlowcomics.blogspot.com I've been providing criticism about comics from across the alternative/indy spectrum, including shedding light on new artists, short-run minicomics, YA comics, and of course the major releases from Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, etc. Anyone who's been following my blog for the past six months has seen that I've been adding reviews five days a week.
Now I'd like to make the time and effort that goes into that work a little more sustainable.