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!


Fear of a Black Penis

Every Tuesday brings Joe McCulloch with his guide to the Week in Comics! This installment's highlights include new books by Moto Hagio and Maré Odomo.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At Slate, Katy Waldman reviews Nadja Spiegelman's memoir, I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This, which is largely about her mother, Françoise Mouly.

Spiegelman has mapped not only her own inner landscape, with all the mom-shaped craters and streaks of ash, and not only Mouly’s, but also that of her maternal grandmother Josée—an equally fascinating, tempestuous figure. The book draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with both women. (After speaking to Françoise, Spiegelman flew to Paris to get Josée’s side of the story.) It shares DNA with Maus, the Pulitzer Prize–winning comic by Nadja’s father, Art Spiegelman, Part II of which is dedicated to then-baby Nadja. It is extremely similar to and extremely different from that work in the exact, vexing way that children are at once deeply like and deeply unlike their parents.

—News. March: Book 3, from John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, has been longlisted for the National Book Award.

IDW has signed a trade bookstore distribution deal with Penguin Random House.

With a client roster that now includes five of the top ten comic publishers in the direct market, plus book channel powerhouse Kodansha, PRHPS may now be the biggest graphic novel distributor to the book channel, if it wasn’t already. PRHPS graphic novel publisher clients include Archie Comics, Dark Horse Comics, DC, Kodansha, Legendary, Titan Books, and Vertical. Its last major client acquisition was Dark Horse Comics, three years ago.

After receiving complaints on Twitter, SPX has withdrawn a proposed badge for convention staff and volunteers which had been drawn by Keith Knight. The offended parties said the image's implied male nudity was "triggering" and/or inappropriate for an all-ages show. Knight seems to be taking the controversy in stride.


—Interviews & Profiles. Vulture interviews Alan Moore on the occasion of his long-awaited novel, Jerusalem, and asks him about the occasional criticisms he's received about the depictions of sexual violence in his work.

In V for Vendetta, there’s a part where the female character is saying she was going to be “ruh ruh” and she’s not even able to say the word “rape.” That was as close as you could get at the time to the subject. Having to do that made me think about the issue and ways in which I could actually improve. When we did Lost Girls, which is an erotic work, there was a point in the plot that one of the characters is raped. That happens completely offscreen because we didn’t want to confuse people. We didn’t want to suggest that we find rape erotic. As you progress through these different works, your thinking hopefully becomes more sensitive. I’m probably not where I should be on the subject yet.

—Misc. On Facebook, Sonny Liew opens up about the financial side of publishing The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

That translates into, over 24 months, about 2.5k/month
Which is not such a bad thing if you think of it in terms of “doing something you love”, but quite sobering when compared to other endeavours, from teaching to engineering or management, medicine etc etc.

Kevin Huizenga is teaching three comics courses at MCAD this semester, and promises to post content from them on Tumblr.



Today on the site, cartoonist Noah Van Sciver interviews Tom Gauld about Gauld's new book, Mooncop.

What does a typical day go like for you? Are you drawing everyday?

I share a studio with six other illustrators and designers, in a building with lots of other creative types. I work best in the morning so I try to get to my desk for 8.30am, the studio is usually very quiet until 10am so I try to get stuck into drawing straight away. People will filter into the studio throughout the morning and I chat a bit, but I try and focus on work in the mornings. We often go out for lunch at a local cafe. Sometimes I think I'd get more done if I was locked away in a room on my own, but I do enjoy the company. In the afternoons I'll draw some more and aim to finish by 5pm so I can get home to the family. If I've got a lot to do I might draw a bit more at home in the evening or make a few notes about an idea.

I aim to draw every weekday, but sometimes I get caught up in admin or emails or orders and the day gets away from me. When that happens I'm always a bit annoyed with myself because I know I should have done an hour's drawing at the beginning of the day when my mind was clear.

When you’re working on a story how much of it is open to improvisation? I mean do you tightly script everything out before drawing the final comic and stick to the script, or are you ever drawing the final comic and thinking “Oh yeah, and then that’d be funny if this happens…”

I do quite a lot of planning but I don't write out a whole movie-style script at the beginning.  Mooncop started as a tiny 20-page mini comic which I drew in pencil in an afternoon. I liked it but thought I could make more of the story and setting. So then I started sketching my ideas about the characters and the setting and writing scenes, sometimes typing on the computer and sometimes as scribbly writing and thumbnails.  When I felt I had enough scenes I drew the whole thing in pencil and had a few people read it, then I edited it a bit and then inked it all. All through the process I was tweaking and changing and adding, but not really improvising. 

I'm not sure that this is the best technique for making a graphic novel, I feel like for my next book is like to have a bit of a looser process. Though I don't know quite how.


Dash Shaw's My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is getting lots of attention for its Toronto debut. Here's a fine profile.

Raina Telgemeier's new book, Ghosts, is covered on NPR.

Alan Moore recommends books over at the NY Times Book Review.

I'm missing yet another SPX this year, unfortunately, but Frank Santoro isn't, and he's offering workshops with some of the festival's special guests. 



Today, comics historian Ron Goulart is here with the eighth installment of his column on Connecticut cartoonists. This time around he focuses on a Oskar Lebeck and a trio of cartoonists all working for Whitman/Dell.

Oskar Lebeck, editor, writer, cartoonist, settled in New York’s Westchester County, just across from the Connecticut border, along with his family, in the late 1930s. And he, with help from some neighboring young cartoonists, developed some of the bestselling comic books of the 1930s and '40s. These included Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, The Funnies, Looney Toons and Merry Melodies, Popular Comics, Crackajack Funnies, Super Comics, Little Lulu, Animal Comics and Fairy Tale Parade.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. For The New Yorker, Nat Segnit profiles Alan Moore.

Now that revisionist interpretations of the superhero genre are the Hollywood norm (in large part thanks to Moore), he has abandoned the form. “I would rather do things that nobody wants,” he said, of his decision to spend the past decade on a metaphysical, postmodern novel. “It’s the most interesting thing to do, to find the areas of culture that are not being paid attention to.” Characteristically, with “Jerusalem,” he has refused any intervention from his publisher. “What I wanted was to do something that was so completely unmediated and undiluted. I thought, I don’t want anybody making helpful suggestions.”

Incidentally, Moore claims to be retiring from comics. (Again.)

Over at CBR, Alex Dueben talks to Melissa Mendes.

When I was a student at [The Center for Cartoon Studies], I tried to get fancy with layout sometimes, but soon I realized that’s not for me and it doesn’t make sense to do that with the stories I do. I let go of that and started just following my instincts. It’s kind of like when you’re writing prose and you know when to end a paragraph. The panels are as much a part of the story as the drawings and the words are, and they all have to work in harmony, otherwise I think the reader gets taken out of the story. “Lou” wouldn’t make sense with lots of fancy shaped panels and grids because there are a lot of just regular everyday moments, and I try to be very straightforward and real in my stories. “The Weight” and “Freddy Stories” are the same.

—Reviews & Commentary. For The Nation, David Hajdu reviews Daniel Clowes's Patience.

The plot, like that of a vintage Hitchcock thriller such as Vertigo or Rear Window, is fairly complicated, tightly planned out, and ultimately incidental to the psychological content. There are two main characters, each nicely developed and flawed but also sympathetic: Patience, a young wife and mother with a sordid past, who is murdered by page 13 of the 180-page book; and Jack, the young husband and father who starts the story as a weak-willed loser, lying to his wife about being promoted to a dispatcher’s job when he’s really handing out porno flyers on the sidewalk. The second chapter jumps ahead 17 years, to a time that Clowes neatly evokes with the retro-future shorthand of elevated trains, women with blue skin, and men in caped outfits straight out of one of artist Al Plastino’s visions of the 30th century in the Legion of Super-Heroes comics from Clowes’s youth.

For Comics Workbook, Sacha Mardou writes about the transgressive openness of Julie Doucet.

When I was in high school a girl from another grade bled through her skirt and obliviously walked through the teenage crowd. A female teacher came up behind her with her sweater outstretched, tied it around the unsuspecting girl’s waist and hustled her away. There it was the biggest fear in all my years of high school in plain sight. I saw it! It happened to that girl I saw, it can happen to you too, teenage female! Never relax, never let down your guard! And…OH JULIE, you can’t do that! You can’t grow to King Kong proportions and drown the streets in your inky period blood whilst on the rampage for a box of Tampax. You just can’t do that!


Last Week Behind

Today on the site, Annie Mok interviews Tillie Walden.

ANNIE MOK: So The End of Summer is getting re-released?

TILLIE WALDEN: It went out of print and it’s getting a bigger edition.

MOK: With extra material?

WALDEN: There’s gonna be a little prequel strip. We’re gonna redo the design of the book, redo the covers. I can see the prequel strip on my desk right there.

MOK: What’s it like to revisit this story, which is this fairy tale, Little Nemo-esque story—there’s a big cat in it named “Nemo.” What’s it like to come back to this world?

WALDEN: It’s surprisingly enjoyable! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to re-engage with the story because once you finish something, you tend to put it away and lock it up. I thought that it would be gone from me. But sitting down and re-drawing the backgrounds and the characters, I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s why I did this book, it’s really fun!” It makes me want to draw old characters and look back at other things. I can only do it to a certain extent. I can do this short prequel strip, but I don’t have a sequel in me.

MOK: I always wonder about that stuff, I’ve never done that, except for my memoir comics which are sequel-y. Thinking of stuff like Hellboy and Peanuts, I wonder about a connection to characters over a long period of time.

WALDEN: I always wonder about people who work on something for like, ten years. I haven’t even done comics long enough for that to be a thing for me yet. It seems like a crazy ride.

MOK: How long have you been making comics?

WALDEN: I’ve been making comics for three, four years. Three years seriously, there was an extra year for my senior year of high school where I was just kind of learning.


Well, tonight in NYC you can come visit me at my exhibition of Hairy Who artist Suellen Rocca's 1965-1969 paintings and drawings at Matthew Marks Gallery. AND you should go see the excellent new Ben Jones exhibition at The Hole. Ben, always one step ahead, has basically re-configured what comics can be in a gallery setting.

The Comics Workbook Composition Contest winners were announced. 

Bill Griffith talks on Gromophoney Baloney.

Seth Tobocman does a Reddit AMA.

Tom Spurgeon reviews Cometbus 57.

Finally, here's a new bit on Glen Baxter at the NYRB.




Today, not long after the welcome publication of Peter Bagge's Complete Neat Stuff, John Kelly looks at Bagge's even earlier work.

I'd like to take a look at some of Bagge's earlier work, specifically some never before published or very little seen pieces that were done during the period just before he began Neat Stuff. In his introduction to the Neat Stuff box set, Bagge writes that in the early/mid-'80s he had a meeting with Fantagraphics and approached Gary Groth with two separate ideas for books; the first was to have Fantagraphics take over the publishing of Robert Crumb's Weirdo anthology, which Bagge was then editing, and the second for an unnamed all-ages and kid-friendly humor anthology, which would be along the lines of MadThat project never happened, but some materials were created for it, some of which made their way into Neat Stuff and Weirdo, while others never went beyond the idea stage and have gone unpublished and unseen before this article. 

Bagge's co-editor for that proposed anthology was New York cartoonist David Coulson, who now lives in Pittsburgh. Most of the images shown here are from Coulson's collection, with the exception of the Comical Funnies cover at the end of this piece.  I recently spoke with Bagge and Coulson and asked them to share their memories of the pieces and of the times in which they were created.

And we also have a new review by Rob Clough, of German cartoonist Christoph Mueller's first full-length English-language comic book, The Nincompoop #1.

Mueller's skill as a draftsman and illustrator is top-notch; he's one of those cartoonists who can draw in a naturalistic style and can draw anything convincingly. His hatching adds intensity to every page, his palette is tasteful and restrained, and he can go cartoony or psychedelic as the story demands. The sheer virtuosity of Mueller's drawings is remarkable.

Thankfully, Mueller brings a lot more to the table than just drawing skill. Mueller has noted that his two biggest influences are Robert Crumb and Chris Ware. The hatching and density of Mueller's drawings are straight from Crumb, while his design, color sense, and lettering style come from Ware. That said, his actual stories owe little to either cartoonist and reflect an artist who above all else is a humorist. That's especially true in "Freezing To Death In Durham", which is the best comics convention story I've ever read. Mueller flew out to my city for the inaugural Zine Machine festival, along with a number of other Mineshaft contributors, and the way he managed to describe true events while adding layers of what I can only call Gonzo cartooning had me laughing as hard as I have at any comic this year.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Paul Gravett profiles the French cartoonist (and collaborator with Jodorowsky and Jerome Charyn) François Boucq.

Drawing came naturally to the self-taught Boucq (rhymes with Luke), born in 1955 and raised in Lille, the second of four boys. His father ran a plumbing company, his mother traded in antiques. Boucq contributed artwork behind the scenes to the local theatre and designed huge-headed figures for the city’s street carnival. He became fascinated with drawings that blur the borders between the everyday and the extraordinary that can lurk beneath the surface. “Why do you stop drawing? Because everyone draws, even before writing. Drawing is a way of testing everything you say to yourself when you are a child. It’s only later, insidiously, that we’re taught to write. And that puts us into another universe. Anyone who carries on drawing resists that and can keep on experimenting.”

In recent episodes, the Comics Alternative podcast has interviewed Dash Shaw and a trio of 2dcloud creators (MariNaomi, Gina Wyndbrandt, Will Dinski).

io9 talks to Grant Morrison about his editorship at Heavy Metal.

As I’ve had to admit before, to my shame, I wasn’t a big fan of Heavy Metal at all when I was younger. I remember when it came out I was really impressed with the artwork, the Moebius stuff and [Phillip] Druillet and those guys. Although I loved the artwork, I just hated the stories. I was a real snob about stories; I kind of grew up on American comics and expected certain things to happen. So, for me, I was always kinda let down by the stories.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Charles Hatfield takes a critical look at Scott Bukatman's new book about Mike Mignola's comics, Hellboy's World.

Hellboy’s World promises Mignola’s brainchild an afterlife of a different kind, in university classrooms, in academic comics studies (a mushrooming field), and on the bookshelves of brainy comic fans with an appetite for self-directed study (also a sizable demographic). Happily, Hellboy’s World doesn’t seek to elevate its subject to some remote plane of disembodied thematic analysis, but instead seeks to understand Bukatman’s own pleasure in the Hellboy comics, and to explore what makes those comics, and comics in general, intimate spaces of dizzying imaginative play. Hellboy’s World is a very brainy encounter with the visual and material pleasures of the comic book as readable object.

For The Rumpus, Monica Johnson writes about Cathy G. Johnson's Gorgeous.

Gorgeous (Koyama Press, 2016) could easily be an epic long-form graphic novel. It is a compact work of tension-building and timing, it’s about action and openness. Each panel is a battlefield of graceful aggressiveness, and capoeira-like draftsmanship. The smokiness of Johnson’s push-and-pull pencil strokes will make you question why anyone would ever want to use ink in comics.

At Salon, Scott Timberg writes about the rejuvenated Bloom County, and talks to our own Chris Mautner in the process.

Breathed, for what it’s worth, says the only two strips he’d read before starting his were “Doonesbury” and “Peanuts”; this may, at least in part, explain his strip’s originality. “There had been fantasy strips, like ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Pogo,’ “ said Chris Mautner, who writes for Comics Journal and The Smart Set. “But they didn’t have the goofy, weird quality. [“Pogo” creator] Walt Kelly would never have had things like ‘the anxiety closet,’ or the characters forming a heavy metal band. Breathed struck me as someone who was very tickled by the absurdity of ‘80s culture.”

For The Atlantic, Asher Elbein writes about Marvel's treatment of Jack Kirby.

Marvel’s “Kirby Week” covers all of [Kirby's artistic accomplishments] in glowing fashion. But the articles all gloss neatly over the other side of the story: namely, the fact that Marvel fought a decades-long battle to keep Kirby from claiming creative and financial control over his creations, culminating in a legal dustup with his heirs that very nearly landed in front of the Supreme Court. The story of Kirby’s struggle with Marvel is also one of the most public examples of the lengths to which even the greatest of creators had to go in order to get credit—and compensation—for his work.

—News. Image Comics has announced that it will move to Portland, Oregon.

Image plans to relocate its staff of more than 20 people to the Montgomery Park Building in northwest Portland by early next year, adding its $50 million in annual sales to Portland’s already booming comics industry.


Afternoon Summer

Today on the site, Robert Boyd brings us a review of the comics-themed Cometbus 57.

Aaron Cometbus has been creating his zine,Cometbus, since 1981. He’s best known for his writing about punk rock—he was an early participant in the East Bay scene—and his hand-lettered text.  Despite the conceptual proximity of zines and small press comics, Cometbus has never covered comics all that much or featured them. One exception was issue 39 from 1997, which was done completely by punk rock cartoonist Bobby Madness (and it was great—Madness hasn’t gotten the due he deserves).

What makes his latest issue unusual is that it’s all about comics. The subject is a series of 14 interviews with cartoonists and people in the comics world in New York City. Cometbus, who is originally from Berkeley, apparently lives in New York now and is evidently familiar with many of his interview subjects socially.


Mould Map 6 has been announced, and this time it's an exhibition, not a book. Sounds great. 

Over on Patreon, Chester Brown strongly disagreed with my take on Pascin.

Here's a tour of a great-looking comic art exhibition in Frankfurt.

Here I am with Dash Shaw last week, talking about Cosplayers: