Rocket Science

Paul Buhle is here today with a review of Corrine Maier and Anne Simon's graphic biography, Einstein.

Since the distant days when Chomsky for Dummies sought to explain difficult ideas to popular audiences through an acute combination of art and text, comics have come to be a natural medium for scientific explanation. Indeed, Logicomix, the somewhat fictionalized biographical treatment of Bertrand Russell and his philosophical theories of math, proved a surprise bestseller a half dozen years ago. No others in the scientist-biographical category have been so successful, but as science, math, and the universe continue to get the comic treatment of various kinds, further experimentation is obviously ongoing.

This reviewer, an old-time historian of the Left, asks himself why Einstein is superior to Marx, the comics version of one famed Central European Jewish socialist over another. Most of Marx ended up treating his social life as radical exile, impoverished father and husband (very occasional adulterer), leader of the First International, and so on. The “Marxist” theories toward which he devoted his ardent energies got pretty short shrift. In fairness, such ponderous subjects as the Left Hegelianism of the young revolutionary romantic would prove daunting to any comics treatment.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Two artists who work in the comics form, Gene Luen Yang and Lauren Redniss, were awarded MacArthur "genius" grants yesterday.

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Mautner looks back at the work of Richard Thompson.

Once you start digging in, however, you realize this is no average four-panel sitcom. For one thing, there are those names. Blisshaven. Otterloop. Danders. Thompson had a deep gift/fondness for strange words and phrases and incorporated them in into the strip whenever possible (hence the pangolins and trebuchets), giving the strip a healthy sense of the absurd. Cul de Sac teemed with weird objects and concepts — a toy nobody knew how to play with, a compact car so tiny it tips over easily — that pushed the strip right up to the edge of the fantastic without ever truly crossing the line. And while it could be a very verbose strip at times, Cul de Sac never felt like it was drowning in dialogue.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jackson Ayres writes about the way AIDS was depicted (through the metaphor of "the Legacy virus") in X-Men comics.

On one hand, the comics featuring Legacy tended to evince sentimental liberal humanist attitudes toward AIDS, at times even reinforcing homophobic reaction. Understood in the light of popular fantasy, on the other hand, the moments when X-Men was at its most outlandish, eschewing even the pretense of mimesis, provided opportunities for more daring, even radical, interrogations of the AIDS crisis.

Jonathan Guyer writes about the Egyptian cartoonist Andeel.

Broadly speaking, Andeel’s oeuvre falls into two categories: snap political commentary and social criticism. The former body of work—including caricatures of the president, mockery of the military—has garnered international acclaim. But in fact it’s in cartoons about the quotidian—relationships, technology, hipsters, vegetarianism—where Andeel often shines brightest.


Dirty Johnny

Today on the site, Robert Boyd writes about Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo's new book, The Greatest Comic Book of All Time: Symbolic Capital and the Field of American Comic Books:

Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo begin The Greatest Comic Book of All Time by acknowledging that fans love to make best-of lists. I instantly thought of pop music super-fan Rob in the novel and movie High Fidelity. He is constantly making lists, and the lists tend to be “top five” lists. The listing activity is always in service of naming the “greatest” of whatever is being listed. Beaty and Woo then discuss about several top 100 and top 500 lists from the world of comics, including Hero Illustrated (remember them? They were kind of a low-level Wizard knock-off) list, “The 100 Most Important Comics of All Time” from 1994 and The Comics Journal’s 1999 list “The Top 100 (English-Language) Comics of the Century” (note: both Bart Beaty and myself contributed to that list). The authors point out that Youngblood #1 by Rob Liefeld was on the Hero Illustrated list but not on The Comics Journal list. This book doesn’t express an opinion on whether Youngblood #1 deserved to be on either list. They write, “We have no intention of lecturing you about the comics that we think you should read. Rather, we want to examine the very process of list making and curating. We are not interested in what makes great works so great but how any work comes to be seen as great.”

The conceptual framework they use is “symbolic capital.” This is derived from the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. They write, “Any given work or creator will have differing levels of economics (i.e., sales), social (i.e., buzz and connections), and cultural (i.e., prestige) capital, but symbolic capital represents an overall index of social capital.” For the most part, Beaty and Woo only look at economic capital and cultural capital. They have somewhat quantifiable ways of looking at each.


The 2016 MacArthur Fellows were announced today, and cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and picture-story artist Lauren Redniss are among the recipients. 

The great Kerry James Marshall writes on Black Panther at Artforum.

Fair round-up: Nick Gazin at the NY Art Book Fair, and here's Publishers Weekly on SPX.



Rob Clough is here with a review of Caitlin Skaalrud's Houses of the Holy.

Houses of the Holy is Caitlin Skaalrud's journey into the deepest, darkest memories and emotions. Clinically discussing the events that led to a certain conclusion would have done little to actually convey the experience, so instead Skaalrud chose to invent a visual language to depict and a poetic language to describe the events of a lifetime that led her main character to her lowest ebb. The book's blurb describes the journey as Dantean, but there's no Virgil present to explain what we're seeing to either Skaalrud's presumed stand-in character or to readers. Instead of a straightforward narrative, there's an emotional narrative wrapped in symbols, fragments, and genuinely harrowing sequences.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Tucker Stone is reviewing the comics he brought home from this year's SPX.

This collection is the most painful one Dustin [Harbin] has done, and considering the reputation that autobiographical work has for being lonely-worship solipsism, it's strangely courageous to see Dustin--one of the few people in comics that is funny in the sense that he makes you laugh, as opposed to being called funny because he makes you feel like you're safe--commit to the relative mundane topic of habitual exercise, middle-aged ennui and everything else that comes with break-up recovery.

Sean Rogers reviews new books from Tom Gauld, Jessica Campbell, and Riad Sattouf.

In this debut monograph by Jessica Campbell – whom the faux-scholarly preface deems “one of the world’s leading art critics” – the author serves as docent, guiding readers through the masterworks of 20th-century art. Emphasis on “master”: The dudes who ruled high modernism are the subject here, though it’s not their bodies of work that come under scrutiny so much as their bodies, full stop.

Andrew Hickey reviews Alan Moore's Jerusalem. (There are obviously a slew of reviews of this novel; I plan on mostly just linking to the most comics-familiar of them.)

If I were to attempt to summarise this utterly unsummarisable novel, the best way to put it would be that it’s plot is a history of Moore’s ancestry, both physical and literary, that its themes are those of From Hell (with a little of Promethea thrown in), and that its style is that of Voice of the Fire. It is, in short, a culmination of everything Moore has been working on throughout the last thirty years, and possibly his greatest work (though writing less than a week after the book’s release, it’s impossible to say for sure). It’s a book that not only resists criticism, it contains the obvious criticisms of itself in its last chapter—

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Anthony Siegel profiles Archie Rand, painter and creator of the comics-adjacent art book, The 613.

Rand considers “The 613” a single painting, but it is in fact a series of canvases illustrating the 613 commandments of the Torah, the backbone of Jewish law. It is self-consciously religious art — and yet maybe it isn’t. Rand’s style is derived from the EC Comics of the 1940s and ’50s — think Tales from the Crypt and early Mad magazine — and his imagery stands at an odd slant to the ancient Hebrew text. Commandment Number 10, “Not to Test the Prophet,” pictures a man standing in the open mouth of a brontosaurus. Number 80, “To Bind Phylacteries so that the Laws will be as a Sign upon your Arms,” shows an Alfred E. Neuman–type goofball playing with a yo-yo.

The Comics Alternative podcast talks to Carol Tyler.

The Virtual Memories podcast talks to New Yorker cartoonist and Peter Arno biographer Michael Maslin.

—Misc. Alan Moore endorses Jeremy Corbyn.

As an anarchist I don’t vote, preferring direct political action and comment without an elected intermediary. If I did vote, however, I would try to vote with the way that viable human history appeared to be going rather than against it. The economic and political agendas imposed in the West over the last thirty or forty years clearly lead only to a ruined environment, to international austerity while the planet’s billionaires attempt to become trillionaires, to Donald Trump, and to a horrific abyss that threatens to make the English Civil War look like a Sunday-school outing.



Today on the site, Joe McCulloch, fresh from SPX, gives us the week.


TCJ-contrib Katie Skelly and Sean Witzke talk movies over at Travis Bickle on the Riviera.

More audio: The CBC remembers a 1974 comic book convention.

Paste Magazine features Ben Katchor.

And Benjamin Marra's full Marra is on display in this short interview.



Fun Times

Today, Greg Hunter returns with a review of Tom Gauld's stylish Mooncop.

Like so many much-loved science-fiction stories, Tom Gauld’s Mooncop seems to be about this, but it’s really about that. In the case of Gauld’s comic, the this is a cop on the moon, and the that includes isolation, monotony, and obsolescence. As with Mooncop’s predecessors, a reader helps create these deeper meanings; the story’s rewards increase with a person’s level of engagement. So, potentially, do the disappointments.

Gauld draws comics in a singular, instantly recognizable manner, with linework that’s borderline cutesy (Mooncop occasionally reads like it ought to have been crocheted rather than printed) but also elegant and the result of clear technical control. As a storyteller, his pacing is deliberate and his affect his flat by design. Wes Anderson is an easy comparison but a fitting one; both artists mix melancholy and knowing understatement, whimsy and compositional tightness. And as with Anderson, it’s not always obvious whether the artist’s carefully-rendered world contains real insights or merely signifies insightfulness.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon talks to the very funny Jessica Campbell about her new book, Hot or Not: 20th-Century Male Artists.

Anyway, the idea for the book really came from two experiences. The first was that, when Cy Twombly died, I was still working at D+Q and Lynda Barry sent me an email that just said (facetiously) "Cy Twombly when he was my boyfriend" and included a picture of a handsome young Twombly. The second was that my former coworker in Chicago, a painter named Katherine Harvath, and I would gchat at work and at some point started asking each other to guess if certain male painters were hot and then would find images to prove/disprove each other's theory. There's a really nice nude pic of Frank Stella with one of his paintings that sort of kicked the whole thing off.

Michael Cavna talks to Matt Bors about The Nib.

We left Medium last summer and officially relaunched under First Look Media in July, but we’ve been working with them since January — on the building of the site and commissioning work in anticipation of the relaunch. Comics and websites both take some time to create, it seems.

—News. The Ignatz Awards were given out at SPX this weekend.

—Misc. The Chicago episode of PBS's Art21 features Chris Ware.


Hands Across Atlantic

Today on the site, Annie Mok reviews the wondrous Meat Cake Bible by Dame Darcy.

Fantagraphics has just released a collection of comics from Dame Darcy, the Mermaid-identified cartoonist and sometime reality show star, in the form of The Meat Cake Bible. Ornately designed by Keeli McCarthy, the die-cut hardcover opens to a scene of Dickensian magical realist debauchery, featuring some of Darcy’s core cast of characters, such as Strega Pez, Effluvia the mermaid, and Wax Wolf. They all live in Sobriety Straight, a Victorian hellscape/dreamscape, wherein the dozens of short stories from the Meat Cake comics took place, published by Fantagraphics from 1993-2008. The strips reflect the giddy viciousness of the best Riot Grrrl art and music from the early nineties, with a collection of mostly (white) women characters as cackling demonesses, taking up space and being loud.

We'll have Ron Rege's interview with Dame Darcy soon enough.


It's SPX weekend! You won't find me there (though I wish I was going). All your info is here. Instead you can find me at the New York Art Book Fair on Sunday at 1 pm, interviewing Suellen Rocca of Hairy Who fame.

SPX recommendation: Do yourself a favor and buy Anya Davidson's Band for Life. I'm in the middle of it now and it's incredibly warm, funny and brilliant cartooning.

Here's a cool-sounding event about underground press in Oregon.

The great store Quimby's gets the local legend treatment in the Chicago Tribune.

And here's our own Robert Boyd on Trenton Doyle Hancock.


It’s Not Easy

Today we have two pieces for you. First, R.C. Harvey on the late Alex Raymond and a new book on the Flash Gordon artist by Ron Goulart.

Among the achievements for which Alex Raymond is noted in histories of this oft-abused artform is that he drew three nationally syndicated comic strips simultaneously. Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon, both of which began January 7, 1934, and Secret Agent X-9, which began two weeks later on January 22. Given the high quality of the illustrative evidence available, Raymond’s achievement seems all the more remarkable. To do such good work on three comic strips at the same time attests, we are tempted to say, to Raymond’s towering graphic genius.

Before surrendering to the temptation, however, we might take a moment to reflect, and in that moment, remember that Secret Agent X-9 was a daily only comic strip and Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon appeared only on Sundays. Moreover, Jungle Jim was the “topper” for Flash Gordon—a one- or two-tier strip that filled out a single page, with Flash occupying the bottom two-thirds. The two Sunday-only strips made up a single page of the funnies, just as Bringing Up Father and Snookums or Blondie and Colonel Potterby and the Duchess did. Raymond may have drawn better (more illustratively, in greater detail), but he did no more strips in an average week than George McManus did with Jiggs and Maggie or Chic Young with Blondie and Dagwood. Six daily strips and one Sunday page.

And we also have Robert Boyd's review of Gilbert Hernandez's new Biblical adaptation, Garden of Flesh.

Can the Bible be made more interesting by the addition of huge amounts of explicit sex? Gilbert Hernandez’s Garden of the Flesh suggests that the answer is no. The first thing you notice is the beautiful package and design. The size of the book (6 x 4.75 inches), the lovely leatherette cover, the attractive debossed cover type—the title is surrounded by a beautiful garland of leaves—promises great things. The designer should be singled out for praise. His name is “J. Feeli Pecker.” Kudos Mr. Pecker!

It starts off promisingly enough. In the Garden of Eden, we see the primeval Earth disturbed, and on the 4th page Adam’s erect cock pierces through crust of the Earth as he is born into the world. The tumescent Adam announces his own existence and observes that he is alone, lacking “a companion like myself.” He lays on his back and jerks off, spewing splooge onto his ribcage, whence Eve is born. Regretfully, that’s the cleverest part of the book.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. A few days ago, a writer at Hillary Clinton's official website wrote a hilarious, inaccurate "explainer" about the origins of Matt Furie's Pepe character (without ever mentioning Furie's name), who has been unfortunately appropriated by some rightwing Twitter racists.

That cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize.

Though that particular piece has still not been corrected, Furie has since given several interviews clarifying that Pepe is not a Trump supporter, including at the Daily Dot

It's just a phase, it's not the first time Pepe has been reclaimed for evil, and no one will care about it come November. I predict that his sly, lovable, and charming status will be intact as early as next week.

and at The Guardian:

Beyond Boy’s Club, I think it’s even more familiar as a meme for youth culture and teenagers. It’s weird that people are saying he’s been “a longtime white supremacist meme”. If anything he’d be part of the Green party. He’s a frog, why would he support white supremacists? That doesn’t make any sense.

At Loser City, RJ Casey writes about the National Lampoon comics of Claire Bretécher:

Bretécher explores a unique form of late ’70s arrested development in each of her one-page stories. Her characters aren’t afraid to grow up; in fact they’re fully embracive of this stage of their lives. The step from one phase to the next though, it’s a doozy. In one story, Bretécher has three zenned-out suburbanites argue about Christmas traditions at a Buddhist meditation camp. Another sees a woman unknowingly transition from counterculture hellion to helicopter mom. Bretécher’s characters, for our sake and amusement, seesaw between being uneasy and unself-aware. The only solution to their problems is to “talk it out.”

—Interviews & Profiles. Emily Buder interviews Dash Shaw about his new animated movie.

When I started making this movie, I thought that [my experience in comic books] would be more applicable than it was. I thought, well, I can draw and tell a story, and I've created a lot of characters. I can scan it just like I would scan my comics, only now it's going to go into After Effects. I thought it would be a much smoother transition. But when I was in it, I realized that there were so many things that I had no experience with.

The movie does have a dry humor that is like my books, but in film—in some kind of bizarre, magical way—you can have people say one thing but it means something completely different based on how they say it, which is obviously something that you don't get from just reading words. Things are more powerful when the literal words that [characters] are saying aren't what's being communicated.

And for The New Yorker, Sarah Larson writes about Raina Telgemeier.

Telgemeier’s realistic, sometimes autobiographical books have helped popularize graphic novels for middle-schoolers, in a big way. Her past three books, “Smile,” from 2010, “Drama,” from 2012, and “Sisters,” from 2014, were all No. 1 Times best-sellers. She has won two Eisner awards and many other distinctions. This morning, “Ghosts” was already No. 13, out of all books, on Amazon’s best-seller list.


Two Down

Today on the site:

Cartoonist Wren McDonald, author of Cyber Realm, began a diary for us but it went into another realm, so here we publish it as... a comic!

And Rob Clough reviews Fatherland by Nina Bunjevac.

The first thing one notices about Nina Bunjevac’s work is its density. Her cross-hatching and stippling pounds the reader, letting them know that these images are not going to let them go easily. Her skill as a draftsman is astounding, especially given the labor-intensive methods she chooses to employ. In her first book, Heartless, Bunjevac combined a heavy use of blacks with a cartoony line that was both whimsical and sinister. Her character design was cute, but her characters lived in a grim and unforgiving world. I noted in a review that her comics were a combination of Drew Friedman’s early pointillism, Kim Deitch’s oddly cartoony characters, and Phoebe Gloeckner’s hyperrealism. Her new book,Fatherland, is an expansion on one of the stories from Heartless titled “August, 1977”, about the accidental death of her father, who happened to be a Serbian royalist terrorist, and a letter her mother wrote her after she took two of their children with her when she left.



TCJ contributor John Kelly has been named Executive Director of the ToonSeum, a comic and cartoon art museum in Pittsburgh. Congrats to John.

Here's an interesting look at the inroads one studio is making with VR technology, something that seems very much at the forefront of various animators minds.

Skip Williamson documentary coming right up!