BLOG

No Ledge

Today at The Comics Journal, we're starting up another Cartoonist Diary--this time, it's with Jesse Reklaw. His week starts off with Tai Chi! I'm already at superfan level.

That's not the only thing we're launching--today also sees the first installment of Greg Hunter's two-part study in Robocop comic books. Young people may only have heard of Robocop via a series of Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials featuring the character, but prior to those appearances, the character was featured in multiple comic books. Mr. Hunter, please to enjoy:

Numerous iterations of RoboCop after 1987 exist outside of comics: two film sequels, a reboot, and multiple television series, none of which benefited from Verhoeven’s black humor or the push into the grotesque he gives eighties action-violence. Even a couple of the non-comics spin-offs have a notable sequential connection: Frank Miller. Coming off the success of The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Miller turned to Hollywood, with mixed results. Although he received a story and a co-screenwriting credit for RoboCop 2 (1990), the final film is far afield from Miller’s vision for the sequel. Miller returned to work on RoboCop 3 (1993), again receiving a story and a co-screenwriting credit, with the finished movie again disappointing him. “Don’t be the writer,” Miller later said of the experience. “The director’s got the power. The screenplay is a fire hydrant, and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it.”

The experience may have slowed Miller’s cinematic rise, but it did not mean a break with the RoboCop character. Before the release of the third film, Miller scripted perhaps RoboCop’s best-known comics appearance, the RoboCop Versus the Terminator mini-series (Dark Horse, 1992). At this stage, Miller maintained much of his deftness as a comics writer. He neatly combined the two franchises through the premise that RoboCop’s merger of human and machine supplied the self-awareness necessary for the eventual robot takeover of the Terminator films. (At first, the story’s Terminator machines seek not to destroy RoboCop but to defend him from a time-traveling revolutionary.) Miller also writes for his artist, Walter Simonson, a heavy hitter in his own right.

Our review for the day is of the first volume of Mob Psycho 100, courtesy of Tom Shapira. He's on the fence, but leaning pleased.

ONE’s other major effort is Mob Psycho 100, which ran from 2012 to 2017 and is just now being published in English translation. Looking at the surface it would be easy to criticize Mob Psyco 100 as derivative of the author’s previous work; the focus of the first volume is on ghosts and psychic powers instead of superheroes but otherwise much is the same: like Saitama the protagonist of the story, Shigeo Kageyama AKA Mob (as in ‘one of the mob,’ not a gangster) is overtly powerful in a way that allows him to end any conflict easily; like Saitama his biggest issue is his passivity which allows the danger to flourish until he finally arrives to deal with it; just as in One Punch Man there is a con-man who uses the hero’s powers to advance his social statue. Both series seem to exist as an inversion of popular shonentropes – in series such as DragonballBleach and Naruto the hero must become stronger through a series of fights, life as endless struggle that demands constants self-improvement. Both One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 start with hero already the strongest one there is and work from there.

Yet despite these similarities it would be wrong to brush aside Mob Psycho 100 as a case of second album syndrome. First, because even if it operates within the same perimeters they are narrow enough to make it feel unique compared to other works; second, because we often allow beloved creators to offer a corpus of work that is undeniably of similar bent; and third, because Mob Psycho 100 is just good; which probably trumps all other arguments. 

RIP Keith.

 

Bah

Big day on TCJ today. First, we have Alex Dueben's interview with Silver Age cartoonist Joe Giella.

You mentioned talking with Whit Ellsworth. Over the years did you have a lot of interaction with writers?

No, absolutely not. My relationship in comics was with the editor. I worked with Julie Schwartz for 45 years. He was a tough guy to work with but he was fair. We became very good friends right to the end. He was a tough editor. You tell him you’re going to deliver and if you didn’t deliver, you were finished. One time he said he could set his clock on me because I was never late. The one time I knew I was going to be late was when my dad passed away, but I alerted Julie and Julie understood.

So you would work more with Julie Schwartz and Mort Weisinger than the writers.

Oh god, Mort Weisinger. [laughs] He may have been a very talented writer but it was not easy working with Mort Weisinger. I quit the Batman strip twice after he offered it to me. For Mort it was a feather in his cap if he could go to DC and say, I got Joe to do the strip for only X amount of dollars. I would have been making less than I did in the comics – and I had to do carpentry work to make a living at the time. At that time doing a syndicated strip was the pinnacle for an artist. I really wanted to do it, but not on his terms.

The other person people ask me about is Carmine. He’s the one I collaborated with on The Flash and a few other characters. Carmine was an excellent – and underline excellent – layout man. His style was to draw this way and his concentration was on the layouts. That’s what he excelled at.

Glynnis Fawkes is here with the fifth and final day of her tenure creating our Cartoonist's Diary.

And finally, we also have a Tegan O'Neil's review of Corto Maltese: Secret Rose.

The Secret Rose should probably not be anyone’s first exposure to Hugo Pratt. This is later Pratt at his most esoteric, clogged to the arteries with ambiguous literary references masquerading as pointedly elliptical conversation. A gripping mens’ adventure yarn in the mood of Caniff? Certainly not! A trip to visit Herman Hesse in the Swiss countryside of 1924, that sounds more the ticket. At times, this album seems to live down to certain stereotypes held in English-speaking precincts regarding Eurocomics conventions - behold a tough guy stereotype from American adventure stories, your cowboy or your back robber or sea captain, sipping his drink at the bar before slipping out with the shadows to desultorily sock some local toughs on the jaw. But first he’s got some wry comments to make about Malraux, and doesn’t that woman have large breasts in the most literary way?

You can see the traces of early and consistent Caniff worship in Pratt’s faces, horizontal smears of ink to indicate mouths. Corto Maltese is always smiling but it’s a feline smile, the corners of the line of his mouth just barely creased. The smallest flick of the artist’s wrist. The present volume offers less of Corto Maltese socking local toughs and more an extended dream sequence wherein the protagonist undertakes a quest for the Holy Grail after falling asleep reading a copy of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s thirteenth century romance Parzifal. As one does. He wanders through a dream landscape inspired by certain American movies that hadn’t been produced yet in 1924, such as King King. More importantly he wanders into long and subtle dialogue with figures from medieval illustrations. The subject of these deliberations for much of the colloquy is a figure named Klingsor, a marginal figure in Arthuriana who serves as a foil for Parzifal, but who is also alluded to in Hesse’s “Klingsor’s Last Summer.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DragonCon co-founder Ed Kramer has been jailed again, after being arrested for allegedly taking photographs of a young boy at a doctor's office.

Kramer pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation in 2013 and was sentenced to an aggregate of 20 years, with the first five to be served in home confinement. He is no longer on house arrest, but still wears an ankle monitor.

On his Facebook page, cartoonist Milton Knight has reported being the victim of a hate crime.

The cops came. I went to the hospital. Cuts, a broken nose and more. He went to the same hospital; he had busted a fist!! I pressed charges; he went to jail for battery.

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Nicholson writes about Segar's Popeye.

While other masterpieces of the first half of the twentieth century comics page, like George Herriman’s Krazy Kat or Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo are definitely acquired tastes, Popeye was not only popular enough to make its creator a rich man back in the day, it remains functional as populist entertainment today. I feel pretty “what’s not to like?” about it, and would recommend it to whoever. It’s funny, the characters are good, there’s adventures. The humor is three quarters sitcom style character work and one quarter the sort of silliness that verges on absurdism.

 

Blade, Blade, Also, Blade

Today at the Comics Journal, it's time for our monthly visit to the Fiffe Files. This time, Michel is taking a look--a bit under protest, initially--at the Justice Society of America, and in doing so, he thinks he might have discovered a whole new style of reading.

It made me see "the page" differently. I didn't look at it with the expectation of natural transitions and "realistic" dialogue, I saw it as a map of information. Some of those panels are stuffed to the gills with characters in motion, bumping into one another, spouting battle cries and plot beats with identical vigor. Little of it makes sense -- visually or narratively -- if you apply a traditional read.

In today's installment of A Cartoonist's Diary, Glynnis Fawkes gets explicit about the costs--today for a family and tomorrow for us all--of short-sighted education cuts. I saw a thing last week on another comic site (a site that should know better) dismissing comics on topics like these as being slice-of-life trifles. I couldn't disagree more.

Today's review sees Nate Chazan falling pretty hard for Joe Kessler's Windowpane.

Windowpane, Joe Kessler’s debut graphic novel from Breakdown Press, collects four stories from the one-man anthology of the same name. However, rather than taking the form of a compilation for those who missed the single issues, the stories in Windowpane are deliberately arranged to speak to each other and continue into a larger thematic story, at once aesthetic and humane. As in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the disparate people in Kessler’s world constitute a grander narrative from youth to maturity. Kessler explores perspectives on experiences from different angles to attain a profound insight.

While I do wonder what sort of long term damage Douglas Wolk is doing to himself via his All The Marvels project, his struggle continues to bear some pretty ridiculous fruit.

Bleeding Cool picked up on the comics connections that Variety ignored in a story about Chris Fenton, one of those ancillary parasites who put in time at various comics companies trying to squirt movie deals out of whatever intellectual properties haven't already been beaten to death. Allegedly put in time. I hope he wins all the money in the world, i'm sure he'll use it for something really cool.

I'd always wondered why my pal Dominic Umile leaves his byline at TCJ out of his bio, and now I know: he was angling for some of that sweet LA Times money. His first piece with them, on Brian Fies A Fire Story, is up now.

Over at The MNT, Claire Napier lays the case out against DC for their de-prioritization of artists in some of their upcoming titles in the DC Zoom & DC Ink line. It's an area DC has failed in before--and as Napier points out, it's a failure whose impact doesn't end with the artist. 

 

Never Dreamed He Could Do This

Columnist Ken Parille is here today, and lately he's been feeling old.

I’m in my fifties, which, according to some, makes me old. Given that “50 is the new 40” (or "the new 30” or whatever), perhaps I’m not quite “senior” (though a few months ago, I got a senior discount on auto parts). They say you’re only as old as you feel — and I feel old. Especially when I enter that dangerous territory known as “online comics criticism.” As a part-time “comics critic,” I’m part of a world that worships the young. It’s fine, I suppose, to venerate youth; I certainly wish mine wasn’t receding into the past with such debilitating speed. What’s weird to me is that many of comics’ enlightened thinkers — critics and cartoonists who say they reject discriminatory rhetoric and its binary logic — eagerly use age categories as weapons. For them, young is good, old is bad. Put a little more directly, the online world of comics criticism is ageist AF.

Perhaps nowhere is this ageism more visible than in commentary surrounding the new Nancy comic strip. If you like it, great. But if you don’t, prepare to receive the absolute sickest of burns: “You are old.” Originated by Ernie Bushmiller in 1938, Nancy was recently revived by a cartoonist using the pseudonym “Olivia Jaimes.” I like most of Jaimes’s new daily and Sunday strips a lot. Others are solid, a few are bland, some are repetitive (too many cell phone gags), and some I just don’t get (likely ’cause I’m old). If you think the new Nancy is, like her pal Sluggo, “lit,” I’m perfectly ok with that (and if you haven’t read the comic, I recommend it). If you hate it and think it was only good when Bushmiller did it, I'm fine with that, too. I might have some trouble with anyone who thinks Guy Gilchrist is the best Nancy cartoonist. But even then, whatever.

Glynnis Fawkes is here, too, with the third installment of her Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Mo Willems has been named the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' first Education Artist-in-Residence.

Throughout the two-year residency, Willems and the Kennedy Center will develop new works for children, former children, and their families; curate collaborative experiences across artistic genres that spark creativity and invite hands-on, multigenerational audience engagement; and consult with the Center's Education division, which serves students, adults, and communities nationwide.

The New York Review of Books has named its new editors, Emily Greenhouse and Gabriel Winslow-Yost. I don't know if the same is true of Greenhouse, but Winslow-Yost will be probably the most comics-conversant editor of a prestigious literary magazine since Nicole Rudick was at The Paris Review.

—Interviews. At The New Yorker, Emily Allen interviews Mort Gerberg.

The show encompasses not just your single-panel gag work for The New Yorker, but reportage, syndicated strips, drawings for short animations. How and why did you develop such a diverse practice?

I think there were two main reasons. One was to produce an income. And secondly was because I was following some natural interests. In regard to the first part, when I started doing cartoons, which I guess technically was in the early sixties, and I was working my way up, the smaller magazines that were first available to me were paying maybe five, ten, twenty-five dollars. That meant I had to do a lot of drawings, make a lot of sales. Then, gradually, I worked my way up the ladder—Saturday Evening Review, Saturday Post, Look magazine, Esquire, then I sold to Playboy, and then, finally, a few years later, started to sell to The New Yorker. But still, and I think this is true for all cartoonists, it was just not possible to make a really decent living by selling to one or two magazines, even if you’re selling to The New Yorker. You needed something else.

 

Nobody Cares, Pal

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got the latest installment in Glynnis Fawkes' Cartoonist Diary. In today's installment, Fawkes makes her way to one of the parenting rites of passage few come home cheering about. A surprise, however, was in store.

That's not all. Today also sees an update from Alec Berry on the latest developments in the Cody Pickrodt lawsuit that we've been covering since last year. 

According to the office of Judge Thomas Feinman of the New York State Supreme Court, Nassau County, a motion to dismiss eight of the 11 defendants from small press publisher Cody Pickrodt’s defamation lawsuit is under review.

The judge’s decision will be made within the next 60 days. The process started Feb. 19, 2019.

If in favor of the defense, the decision will discharge cartoonists Laura Knetzger, Emma Louthan, Emi Gennis, Ben Passmore; publisher Josh O’Neill; comics critic Rob Clough; and cartoonists and publishers Jordan Shiveley and Tom Kaczynski/Uncivilized Books from a $2.5 million dispute.

While we usually leave the product announcements up to those sites who enjoy trawling through those emails, you'd be hardpressed to find a more welcome home than TCJ to the news that IDW is going to be A) releasing some kind of Clue mini-series written and drawn by Dash Shaw and B) graced with the presence of Stan Sakai, whose Usagi Yojimbo comics is the only living competition John Wagner has in the what-a-hell-of-a-run department. 

Over at Women Write About Comics, Brandi Estey-Britt drills down into Monstress, one of the more well-regarded Image Comics of the last few years, to look into one of the comic's major point of focus, female pain, and how rare it is to find that topic dealt with as intelligently as the Monstress team has.

I try to steer clear of Scott McCloud related topics, as criticizing that guy on a random podcast back when he was a New York Times Bestseller ended up causing me no end of annoying professional conversations with people who should come up with real things to be scared of, like bears, or typhus, but I made an exception for this piece at Lithub. It's good!

There's one article I look forward to every year, an article that signals, for me, the conclusion of the previous: and that's Shannon O'Leary's survey of comics retail, which popped up at Publishers Weekly last week. (I had been wondering where it was, and now I know: it was already here!) While portions of the article can always be pulled to prove whatever point someone wants to make at the time, it's best read in its totality

Over at Popula, Nate Powell has released a weird, poorly structured, rambling piece of random, almost trivia-focused scholarship, that functions as op-ed, autobiography, and call to arms. It's excellent. I think something like this--had it been more focused, and less of an anything-goes piece by somebody who is as scared by recent developments as any sane observer would be--is a perfect argument for a part of politicized webcomics that has always been promised but rarely delivered. It's too long for print, where it probably would've ended up being edited down into a more specific, trackable argument (something with two, obvious sides), nor does it read with the type of here's-what-just-happened quality that alt weekly comics used to traffic in. It doesn't play like the type of thing you'd find at a site like The Nib, a site whose brevity often turns their comics into Rorschach tests for pre-existing arguments. No, this piece is long enough, and so all over the place, that it can't help but become the best kind of non-fiction comic--one that exists purely as the exercise of one artistic mind cruising around an argumentative prism created by its cartoonist. Unlike the ugly, dogmatic op-eds currently churned out by newspapers in search of the clicks that the internet will ultimately deny them, Powell's comic is resolutely his, one stuck in an argument that's quite clearly consumed him. Following him around, being forced to interpret how a bit of learned history leads to his personal truths, filtering into observations backed by emotion, and then concluding with a pleading, sincere concern--it's a tremendously unique experience unvarnished by any attempt to score points or short circuit a criticism. I'm down for more.

 

 

Get a Clue

Today on the site, our European correspondent Matthias Wivel returns after a too-long absence with a look at James Pisket's Dansker.

Dansker (‘Dane’) is the story of a broken man, trapped in the shadow of the Armenian genocide and by the trauma of his youth. James Pisket was born in 1953 and grew up in the borderlands between Armenia and Turkey. We follow him as he deserts the Turkish army and emigrates to Denmark, where he struggles with a death wish as he embarks upon a life of crime. Key to his survival is the relationship to his neglected children, one of whom, Halfdan (born 1985), is the work’s author.

Dansker is part of a trilogy originally published in Denmark: Desertør (‘Deserter’, 2014), Kakerlak (‘Cockroach’, 2015) and Dansker (2016) and since collected as Dansker-trilogien (‘The Dane Trilogy)’. The first volume won the Danish Ping Award for Danish Comic of the Year in 201, and the French edition of volume three was just bestowed the so-called Series Award at the international comics festival in Angoulême, France—a major recognition. Sadly, we are still waiting for an English-language publisher to sign on.

Educated at the Danish Royal Academy of Arts, Pisket spent his youth making noise as part of the musical activist group Albertslund Terrorkorps, as part of which he developed his expressive graphic symbolism, partly through poster art and other paper ephemera, partly through a number of early and ambitious but also overly earnest comics. The Dansker trilogy, however, saw him mature quickly. The rich, lived experience it transcribed was an obvious catalyst. You can see him developing by the page, from an already strong start few readers familiar with his previous work would have expected.

These comics are the result of conversations between father and son. They are characterized by fragmentary, at times almost dream-like narration, is if distilled from deeper, partly suppressed memory. Pisket himself has emphasized that it is a fictional condensation of his father’s experiences, simplified, dramatized, and clarified to ring closer to the truth.

We also have a new contributor to our Cartoonist's Diary feature, Glynnis Fawkes. Here's Day One.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Tom Spurgeon interviews Aron Nels Steinke.

SPURGEON: What caused you to move from the teacher-centric material to engage first and foremost with the kids?

STEINKE: I wanted this project to be sustainable. Writing for kids is a bigger market and it was also the audience I was directly relating to day after day as an elementary school teacher. When I was making the Mr. Wolf comic strips about things that happened in the classroom I had to share them with my students. I couldn't not share them. I'd print copies of the comic strips without the text for students to fill in the speech balloons, captions, and thought bubbles. It was fun to see if they knew which moment or event I was depicting or what their interpretation was. Kids became the audience.

—For the New York Times, Ed Park reviews new political-ish books by James Sturm and Elly Lonon & Joan Reilly.

Mark, the narrator of James Sturm’s “Off Season,” wouldn’t classify himself as elite, liberal or otherwise. He’s a builder in Vermont, going through a personal crisis just as the presidential campaign enters the home stretch. “It’s hard to believe it was only three months ago that Lisa and I were together and both for Bernie,” he notes in the first chapter, which originally appeared on Slate in September 2016, with Election Day on the horizon. Separation from his wife means getting his own apartment, which means selling his truck, which means working for contractors like Mick, perpetually late with the check and with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on his BMW station wagon.

The class conflict is palpable. With Sanders out of the running, Mark isn’t sure whom to support. His wife knocks on doors for Clinton, but their marital split (she’s “got the house, the rich parents, and plenty of time”) sours his view of the candidate. (Hillary’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” gives the chapter its ironic title.) “Not that I’d vote for Trump,” he tells himself. “But at least he’s his own man.” When their young daughter, Suzie, tells him he has to choose, he just says: “I did pick someone.” End of conversation.

Also for the Times, Maria Russo writes an appreciation of Tomi Ungerer.

A good children’s book will clearly be on the side of the child, and yet what’s striking about Ungerer’s picture books is that they so often take that side while putting adults in the central roles. Adults, after all, dominate the lives of children, for better and — too often — worse. Ungerer knew that what children wish for most of all is to get the grown-ups to see things their way.

Some of his early books have no child characters at all, including two of my favorites, “Crictor,” from 1958, and “Rufus: The Bat Who Loved Colors,” from 1961. Both are sweet through and through, yet full of alarming imagery and sudden dreadful turns.

The adults, often benighted souls, are made to look comically knobby and misshapen. The real beauties are the friendly creatures from unjustly reviled species. Crictor, a sinuous boa constrictor, is the beloved pet of Madame Bodot, sent to her by her son, who is “in Africa studying reptiles.” Horrified at first, she comes to love the snake, even, in one of Ungerer’s fantastically shocking images, “feeding it bottles of milk” as it is curled in her lap like a baby.

—RIP Stanley Donen.

 

Cruise Vader

Today at The Comics Journal, we're launching a new column--but unlike our other columns, this one will not have a fixed writer or topic. Instead, it'll be an old school op-ed column, publishing submissions from comics critics, creators and the like. (We're calling it "Listen To Me".) This installment of the column could also be considered a bit of an expose. At this weekend's ComicsPRO trade show, an anonymous pamphlet is currently making its way around the show. That pamphlet's author has supplied us with a full version of the pamphlet's essay, and has agreed to be publicly identified--it's Menachem Luchins, the owner/operator of comic book store Escape Pod Comics. He's got some stuff to say. While it should go without saying, i'm going to say it anyway: Menachem's point of view is 100% his own, and does not reflect that of TCJ or its editors. 

To explain, you first have to accept a hard truth, one that I have come to grips with over the course of many years: Comic Retailers are the WORST PEOPLE to help save the direct market. Bold statement right? I mean… I just said I didn’t do research, so what can I use to back it up? How could all these people with so much to lose not be perfect to help fix it, to set it on the right course? The answer is easy, really; THE DIRECT MARKET IS ALREADY DEAD AND THE RETAILERS ARE THE ONES WHO KILLED IT. Comic retailers are moaning over the corpse of their beloved while gripping the bloody knife in their hands! 

Speaking of ComicsPRO, the coverage of the show has been scattered and unusual, with sites like Bleeding Cool publishing bold, dramatic stories regarding DC's plans (including an extremely unusual claim that Dan Didio asked retailers  "not to share their complaints about DC Comics – or others – with their customers"), only to see these articles dismissed out of hand by writers at other comics news sites, amongst more alleged criticisms that Didio reportedly was angry at Bleeding Cool's articles. It's all very dramatic--the sort of drama many of those retailers probably wish could be found in a DC comic book, as it seems to be very compelling.

A personal note: I could not be more pleased to have seen multiple outlets share the news that Michel Fiffe's Copra and Chuck Forsman's Revenger comics will soon be available via new publishers (which also means they will be available in a much more accessible fashion). Along with Tom Adams, I have been printing and selling collections of Copra for over seven years and Revenger for almost as long, via Bergen Street Press. It is has been a life-changing experience to watch these stories develop, but more so to have a front row seat to watch these artists grow into the successes they are today.

It would be impossible and inappropriate to use this space to describe the personal and emotional involvement that Tom and I have had in Copra and Revenger. But I will say this: I love those comics, and the fact that I got to be at the beginning of these two people's glorious and exciting careers is an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. To Tom, Chuck and Michel: thank you. It has been an honor.

 

Smak

Today on the site, we present the final installment of R.C. Harvey's epic chronicle of the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. Now that the story's been told, Harvey reflects on what it was all ultimately about.

No one decided to deny Ham Fisher a place in the history of cartooning. The profession’s odd silence on the subject is not the result of deliberation and design. It is instead an accident, an unforeseen constellation of circumstances, a happenstance of personality and event, which, invested with pride and ego and jealousy and vaulting aspiration, turned ugly. The tragic end of the Fisher-Capp feud could well promote vague feelings of shame and guilt among those who stood by, feelings that were suppressed by keeping silent. Fisher’s suicide was a blot on the escutcheon of the National Cartoonists Society. And it is therefore understandable if many cartoonists fell into the habit of not mentioning it. And by avoiding the subject of Fisher’s death, the subject of his attainments is likewise shunted out of view.

While I’m delving into unconscious motivations, let me toy with one more fanciful speculation. This time, on the matter of Fisher’s motives.

Fisher’s behavior strikes me as more than a little extreme. Capp’s appropriation of hillbilly characters for a comic strip doesn’t seem to me sufficient provocation for Fisher’s subsequent actions — the tirades, the smear campaign. Psychologically speaking, when someone’s behavior is excessive for the provocation, it suggests that the presumed motivation is not, in fact, the real reason for the reaction we see. And when this happens, it’s because the real reason must not be consciously acknowledged.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The finalists for the L.A. Times Book Prize have been announced, including five in the graphic novel category.

—Reviews & Commentary. The New Yorker has published an essay by Jennifer Finney Boylan, about how Peanuts taught her about queer identity and self-acceptance.

It was in reading “Peanuts,” lying on the floor beneath the piano in our suburban home, that I first grasped the terrible truth: my parents resided in a cartoon universe. It was Charlie Brown and his friends—children who lived in a world defined by unrequited love—who resided in the real one. I could imagine Charlie asking, with his usual anguish, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what love is all about?”

As it turns out, there was one person who could: Pigpen. Of all the characters in “Peanuts,” Pigpen seems most at peace with the life he has been given. Sure, he’s immersed in filth—he can “raise a cloud of dust in a snowstorm,” as Charlie Brown puts it—and Patty and Violet seek constantly to humiliate him. But Pigpen will have none of it. “Aren’t you ashamed?” Violet says to him, after making him look in the mirror. “On the contrary,” he replies. “I didn’t think I looked this good.” In a strip from September, 1954, Patty marches along with a bucket, determined to “personally give Pigpen a good scrubbing.” But when she finds him—sitting, as usual, in a sandbox—he looks clean and shiny. As she departs (“I guess there’s some hope for him, after all”) you see that only half of Pigpen is clean. The side facing away from Patty is still covered with grime.

Charles Schulz was said to have grown tired of the character in later years, in part because it was hard to write material for him outside of the one basic joke. But it’s not hard to understand his enduring appeal. He’s the closest thing the strip has to the spirit of total Zen. It would be nice, I thought, lying there beneath the piano, to live one’s life like this. It gave me “Peanuts” envy. I wondered: Did Pigpen never feel the yearning to be clean? Or had he accepted that purity was not in the cards? Was the secret of his grace that he lived in a world without desire?

—Interviews & Profiles. Vulture has a profile of Eli Valley.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Valley was an unknown and profoundly uncontroversial figure who barely engaged in the debates that he so energetically dives into today. Sitting in his cramped, comic-book-brimmed studio apartment in downtown Manhattan, I ask him about a curious professional irony that demonstrates just how much his life has changed in recent years. In 1999, Valley was living in Prague, giving tours of Jewish historical sites in Eastern Europe, and he published his first book: a hefty prose tome entitled The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe: A Travel Guide and Resource Book to Prague, Warsaw, Cracow, and Budapest. It proudly wore a blurb from none other than Nobel–winning writer, Holocaust survivor, and Israel advocate Elie Wiesel: “This beautiful and melancholy book is more than a guide to great Jewish cities: it is a book of tales.”

But flash forward to August 2014 and you’ll find Valley publishing a comic called “Wiesel, Weaponized” in +972 Magazine, a left-leaning outlet that covers the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At the time, Wiesel was emphatically advocating for the Israeli side in that summer’s war in the Palestinian territory known as the Gaza Strip. In the comic, sinister Israeli scientists affix Wiesel’s head and brain to the front of a bomb-dropping drone vehicle and use it to annihilate Arabs in Gaza while spouting platitudes like, “This is a battle between those who celebrate life and those who champion death!” At the end, the Wiesel drone flies off into the sunset, muttering fragments of pro-Israeli talking points: “Conscience of humanity … Civilization versus barbarism … Arabs … Death cult … Fires of Moloch … Israel chooses life …”

The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Karl Stevens.