Good morning, folks. Today we have another review from the indefatigable Rob Clough, this time his take on Thomas Herpich’s White Clay. Here’s a sample:
“Mensch” and “The Wedding Cauldron” are examples of just how comfortable Herpich is working in a fantasy milieu, even if both go way beyond the scope of a typical fantasy story. “Mensch” is about a soldier in some ancient war who falls and is replaced by a different version of himself, a better version who had been the better nature of himself that he had long ignored. Once again, the idea that there’s a better version of one’s self that’s lurking out there, waiting to take over comes to the fore in this comic. The real kicker is that Herpich convinces the reader that this other self deserves to take over. “The Wedding Cauldron” is about a man discovering these impish little shape-changing creatures who perform mischief at a wedding he doesn’t really want to be attending. The melancholy fellow feels his spirits lifted by following them into the forest, even as the imps are terrified that he will kill them, especially since one of their disguises works so poorly. Once again, Herpich is interested in people hiding and literally changing their identities, only it’s from an outside perspective this time around.
—Interviews Dept.Journal writer Chris Mautner interviews Journal writer Marc Sobel about Sobel’s new book, The Love and Rockets Companion. ICv2 interviews the indescribable Jack Katz on the republication of his First Kingdom.
—History Dept. No one’s going to beat this series of posts by Todd Klein on the history of DC Comics for a while. Start here and keep going. And Ladies Making Comics does a short profile of the under-appreciated Dori Seda.
Tributes to Kim Thompson are continuing to come in, most recently from Paul Baresh, Bob Burden, Drew Friedman, Francesca Ghermandhi, and Jim Woodring. Here’s a bit of Woodring’s:
Kim was a master of social jiu-jitsu. When a well-known sci-fi writer gratuitously insulted him, publicly and in terms that would have driven most people into a vengeful rage, Kim absorbed it with his well-known chuckle, effectively neutralizing the venom and making the writer look like even more of a jerk. But his unruffled exterior masked a passionate nature and a gift for lethal invective. Like Mark Twain, when he had a grievance he would sometimes express his true feelings in a self-gratifyingly unrestrained letter that would never be sent, followed by the calm, rational, and eminently professional response that was his official reply. In my archives is a copy of a magnificently unpublishable screed he wrote but never sent to a business acquaintance, a letter which still makes my head spin with its relentless onslaught of caustic virtuosity. He could have been a polemicist as good (and as savage) as Philip Wylie or Christopher Hitchens if he had chosen to.
—Columbia University’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library has acquired the archives of Al Jaffee. This is excellent news. I once had the opportunity to look at some of that work in person, and it was among the most impressive original comic art I’ve ever seen.
Ware, who has often compared comics to music, uses the red circle as a visual leitmotif, a “short, repeated musical theme” that he associates with Brown and threads throughout the comic’s two narratives. It first appears as the razor’s cap and then as a pushpin holding up photos of the astronaut and his “first and only true love.”
It’s Tuesday, which means Joe McCulloch is here with his regular guide to the Week in Comics.
Also, if it’s been a while since you checked in with our collection of tributes to Kim Thompson, you’ll want to take another look at it soon. New additions have continued to roll in, most recently from Kim’s Fantagraphics colleagues Jason T. Miles and Kristy Valenti, as well as an essay-length remembrance from Gary Groth.
I’ve sketched the highlights of Kim’s “career” (he would understand and appreciate the quotation marks — neither of us thought of this as a “career”), but it barely scratches the surface — it’s impossible to adequately convey his devotion to specific projects and to the goals of the company generally, the all-nighters we pulled to get books to the printer, the tens of thousands of hours hunched over typewriters and computer keyboards and manuscripts, his above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty proofreading. What I’d like to do, though, is to offer a few words about something I’m uniquely qualified to talk about: the intersection between our personal and professional lives.
As a publisher of cartooning, Fantagraphics Books was an outgrowth of The Comics Journal, so a polemical chip-on-the-shoulder was built into its DNA. As recently as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the whole notion that comics was a bona fide art form was still alien not just to the culture at large, but even to the fan sub-culture, most of which inhabited this bland, gray area between a connoisseurial love of great cartooning and the worship of pure drek (often both at the same time). The only way to break this critical complacency, I thought —and it may not have been the most effective strategy (because it was less a strategy than a compulsion)— was to confront the artistic status quo head-on with the best criticism we could muster — and Kim was right there with me in this Quixotic endeavor, as his reviews of Ronin, Detectives, Inc., The Death of Captain Marvel, and other books attest. Without this zeal, I don’t think we could’ve made a difference.
Elsewhere, lots of catching up to do:
—The long nightmare surrounding Dragon Con and Edward Kramer is apparently over. (Context here.)
—If you read the two-part Peter Bagge/Zak Sally discussion we ran a few months back, you recall how much of it had to do with the difficult economics of comics publishing today. Sally is now releasing the second volume of his Sammy the Mouse series, and talks a lot more about all of that in his announcement, in which he suggests ordering the book direct.
—As with most (all?) art forms, the history of comics is perhaps most efficiently grasped as the history of the technologies involved with its production. Pioneering underground artist Justin Green is figuring out how the current technological changes affect his work in a brief blog post here.
Songs of the Abyss, which likewise collects a number of mini-comics he’s published over the past few years, is in many ways a more mature and cohesive work. At its heart, this book is about worship. It’s about what we choose to worship, why we do so and the implications of this act. The essential point that Espey gets across is that what we choose to worship as a society and a culture has a savage component that is not unlike the way the Aztecs went about their ways: a vast civilization built on blood sacrifice, spectacle, hierarchies, false mysticism and degradation.
Today on the site, we are reposting three of Kim Thompson’s most memorable early pieces for The Comics Journal, which, added to his review of Ronin and his famous 1999 manifesto calling for new “crap,” may serve as a sort of miniature Best of Kim Thompson. These five pieces are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and I hope that eventually we might see more of his critical writings (and possibly interviews—here‘s a good one he did with Sergio Aragones back in 1989) collected into print.
First we have Kim’s 1978 review of the then-ongoing National Lampoon‘s presentation of the French cartoonist Claire Bretécher, much of which revolves around translation issues:
Translation is a difficult craft (or art). If the translator is less than fluent in the language of origin but fully conversant with the target language, the result is frequently a grammatically, idiomatically, and dialectically “correct” translation, but unfaithful to the original and in some cases downright nonsensical. On the other hand, if it is the target language that is the weaker of the two, awkward and ruptured translations abound. Upon buying the book and noticing the name of the translator, Valerie Marchant, I expressed some concern that it might be one of Bretécher’s cronies with an M.A. in English and that the book would boast a conflagration of massacred pseudo-colloquial English with gallicisms running rampant. (“I demand pardon of you.” “Oh, that makes nothing,” for instance.) Happily, I found this not to be so, and with a few awkward exceptions, particularly when coping with the labored ironic politeness that is the staple of French argument (“Quit it with this shit, please.”—“Mood Music”), the English dialog flows nearly as well as the original. Sadly, several strips are rendered pointless or even unintelligible because Ms. Marchant’s command of French was shaky enough for her to misunderstand the originals. A few examples will suffice.
Our second selection, Kim’s 1979 review of a collection called Masters of Comic Book Art, displays more of Kim’s theoretical side, and is also just fun to read for sections such as the following:
Undoubtedly the worst chapter is the one on Barry Windsor-Smith. Smith rose to fame in the early to mid-’70s not only for his highly illustrative approach to comics and his tremendously effective mood in Conan and a handful of other books, but also for his unique pacing and continuity (involving, in particular, successions of high, thin panels), derived in part from Steranko. The book communicates none of this. Smith’s entire comic book career is encapsulated in two comic book panels (which aren’t even in sequence); then, having done his duty by establishing Smith as an artist who once worked in comics, Garriock proceeds to offer what looks like a catalogue for Gorblimey Press, all posters and prints and paintings. This is absurd; while the latter are undoubtedly better in terms of draftsmanship and polish, they are utterly irrelevant to the comics medium.
The question was thrown at me in person by Jack Harris, who then wanted to know why DC should help the Journal with news and cover reproductions when all the magazine does is denigrate his and his peers’ efforts; it was posed to the readers of The Buyer’s Guide by two of that paper’s most persistently lowbrow columnists; and it has surfaced in various guises in a number of letters of comment to the Journal.
The question is: “Why, if you have such contempt for the medium, do you publish a magazine about comics?”
If that one confounds you for a moment, as it does us, you can probably rally your faculties and mouth the predictable answer along with us: “Damn it, we don’t have contempt for the medium—we just have contempt for the vast quantities of dreck and drivel that deface it. The medium we love.”
Now this seems to me a pellucid answer to a question that was poorly thought out to begin with. Unfortunately, it appears not to be so. Generally, reaction to it is something along the lines of, “Well, yes, I understand that, but if you have such contempt…” etc. Clearly, a few words of elaboration on the subject are needed.
A note to our readers outside the States. Tomorrow is a big national holiday here, so we’ll be on vacation until next week. Elsewhere:
—A new documentary about Tomi Ungerer has been made, and the Alsatian artist talked to NPR for the occasion. The Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves blog has the first part of another interview with Ungerer here.
—Publishers Merging. Dennis Kitchen’s venerable Kitchen Sink Press is becoming an imprint of Dark Horse. Ross Richie and Jackie Cummins talk about the Boom!/Archaia merger here.
—Ng Suat Tong writes about Graham Chaffee’s Good Dog, a book pretty much guaranteed to appeal to (and possibly addle the critical faculties of) all dog people—amongst whom I count myself. Even the notoriously cranky Suat himself seems to have been softened up.