BLOG

Roy G. Biv

Today, we are happy to present an extensive interview with Anders Nilsen, the ambitious and innovative cartoonist behind Big Questions and Dogs and Water, conducted by Marc Sobel. Here’s a sample:

Sobel: There’s a whole theme about faith and religion [in Big Questions] that comes through with Charlotte and Betty, and their ideas about the bomb. Do you see that as a commentary on organized religion?

Nilsen: It is sort of a commentary on organized religion, but it’s more a commentary on certainty, and people that want to be certain about their interpretations. Whether that’s religion, or politics, or whatever, I always rebel against that idea… although, it was important to me in the book to give it a little bit of credit, too, because I think that people who have a lot of certainty about stuff can often get a lot more done, maybe for worse, but sometimes for better, too.

Sobel: What do you mean?

Nilsen: I’m actually working on a piece right now about optimism in which I’ve come to the conclusion that optimism, whether there’s good reason for it or not, is beside the point. It doesn’t matter. It’s just something you either have or you don’t.

There’s a couple of quotes by Winston Churchill that I came across while working on this piece, one of which is “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” That is a great quote and it’s totally true. If you’re optimistic, you figure out how to make the best of any situation, which is really helpful, but if you look at Winston Churchill, yes, that philosophy helped him get through World War II, and helped him shepherd the nation through the blitz and win the war. On the other hand, he was the architect of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I, which was a complete and utter failure. Based on his great optimism, he managed to convince people through his charisma and will that if they put all the pieces in place, they could bust through the straits of Gallipoli, and, I don’t know, tens or hundreds of thousands of people died because he had this faith and this certainty that it was a good idea. Certainty and optimism can get a lot done, but not necessarily in a predictable direction.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At the Critical Flame, Kurt Klopmeier writes about comics and time, focusing on Richard McGuire’s Here.

Emily Greenhouse at The Nation is the latest to review Jill Lepore’s Secret Life of Wonder Woman.

Botswana Beast reviews Material #1.

Brian Nicholson recommends the work of JT Wilkins.

At du9, Pedro Moura also writes about McGuire’s Here.

—Interviews & Profiles. Also on that site, Xavier Guilbert talks to McGuire about returning to his original story 25 years later.

Jules Feiffer was a guest last week on NPR’s All Things Considered.

At Vulture, Abraham Riesman interviews Geof Darrow.

Connect Savannah profiles Dame Darcy, who has apparently launched a new local television show.

Lala Albert gives Zainab Akhtar a photographic tour of her bookshelves.

—News. The comics historian David Beronä, who focused his studies on wordless comics, has passed away. Matthew Cheney has an appreciation here.

As Robyn Chapman reports, Printed Matter in NYC is moving locations, and could do with some help.

 

Rabbit Hole

Today on the site Joe brings us the week’s picks.

Elsewhere:

Roz Chast was the big winner at this past weekend’s Reuben Awards.

More on that data analysis of the demographics of New Yorker cartoons.

History news dept.: The Chicago Tribune’s archives are now online and searchable. Here’s a great piece on Chester Gould. There’s a lot of comics history in there. Also, you can obsessively read the daily comics page for decades. Become a shut-in!

And here’s a look at the recent record-setting art auctions, with some discussion of how, or how not to deal with giving “royalties” to artists based on profit margins. This discussion has been ongoing since the early 1970s but is at fever pitch now as the money just gets bigger and bigger. There’re some lessons for thinking about “moral” rights in comics here as well.

 

Blind Registration

Today on the site we close out the week with Sam Henderson’s final diary entry. Thanks, Sam!

And Greg Hunter reviews the stellar collection of Tadao Tsuge stories, Trash Market.

Tadao Tsuge debuted as a cartoonist in 1959, a couple of years after he began work at one of the for-profit blood banks in postwar Tokyo. He would keep the blood bank job for most of the 1960s, long after his first appearance in Japanese comics anthologies. In that decade, he also began to create the stories that appear in Trash Market, glimpses of daily life in the city’s impoverished neighborhoods. A modest cult emerged around the comics—“If Tadao’s readers are few by Japanese standards, his supporters are wholly committed,” notes the book’s editor and translator Ryan Holmberg—leading eventually to this English-language collection (and hopefully not the last volume of Tsuge’s work to reach the US and Canada). Throughout the stories, Tokyo residents—students, hustlers, veterans—argue, make plans, and frequently avoid saying everything they have to say. Tsuge’s comics are often dialogue-driven, and usually dialectic too, charged by tension and contradiction on page after page.

Elsewhere:

It’s a sleepy Friday heading into the holiday weekend. Let’s see…

TCJ-contributor Prajna Desai reviews Bharath Murthy’s The Vanished Path.

 

Best news of the month: An online Seymour Chwast archive has launched. Go dive into the work of one of the best illustrators/designers of the 20th century. The way Seymour thinks about picture languages, color, and typography is extremely important to cartooning.

The David Letterman send-off is over, but here’s one last bit: A history of Harvey Pekar’s appearances on the show.

Two non-fiction graphic novels have been announced, covering the NSA and Edward Snowden have been announced, the latter by Ted Rall.

 

I Am Not an Animal

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey is back with another installment of Hare Tonic, which is this time both a history lesson and a thesis, that cartoonists can be divided into two camps: figure drawers and storytellers:

Artistic expressiveness of a highly individualistic sort had never been particularly welcomed by traditional comic book publishers. The corporate mind, ever focused on the bottom line of the balance sheet, favored bland “house styles” of rendering and committee-generated stories, neither of which, given the compromise inherent in the process, would be likely to offend potential buyers. But the medium had always attracted creative people, and they had lived and worked within its commercial constraints, sometimes happily, sometimes restively. And as direct sale shops began to prove their viability, the economics of the industry seemed beckoning to more adventurous, more personal, endeavors. Still, the route to individual expression in mainstream publishing was a long and tortuous one; it was, in fact, not one route but several, each a tributary that followed a different course to a seemingly different objective, but some culminated in the 1980s in an artistic renaissance that found its impetus in all of the creative impulses of the diverse endeavors. And the renaissance flowered in the fertile economic garden of the direct sale shops.

For the sake of discussion, let me simplify the progression by positing that there are two traditions in comic book creation— the figure drawing tradition and the storytelling tradition. Neither is wholly exclusive of the concerns of the other, but each pursued its emphasis with slightly different results. Jack Kirby belongs at the beginning of the figure drawing tradition. The artistic preoccupation is rendering the human figure, and the comics were all anatomy and the figure in action. Kirby was not so absorbed in this endeavor that he neglected storytelling; that’s one of the things that made him unique.

[…]

I put Will Eisner and Kurtzman at the headwaters of the storytelling tradition. Their preoccupation was less with drawing and more with story, with content. Their drawings were composed to serve the narrative, to time its events for dramatic effect; similarly, panel composition aimed at intensifying the impact of aspects of the story.

We also have the fourth day of Sam Henderson’s week creating the Cartoonist’s Diary column, in which the fledgling cartooning teacher ponders the perils of showing his students old cartoons.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The young cartoonist Atena Farghadani is on trial in Iran, facing a prison sentence for a drawing criticizing restrictions on contraception and birth control:

If found guilty of the crimes she is alleged to have committed, the 28-year-old could face years in prison.

What are those crimes? According to Amnesty International, they include “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting members of parliament through paintings.” Ultimately, the spark for her legal woes seems to have been relatively simple: a cartoon depicting members of Iran’s parliament as animals.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has an interesting interactive map showing various reactions to Charlie Hebdo (including censorship) around the world.

—Reviews & Commentary. The Doug Wright Awards site has posted a transcript of Seth’s speech at the Giants of the North Hall of Fame induction speech for Merle “Ting” Tingley:

Sometime in the late 1960s Mr. Tingley came and visited my grade one class in Strathroy, Ontario. I imagine that year we likely had a banker or a doctor come visit as well… And maybe a policeman too… but I don’t remember those other guys. All I remember is the cartoonist.

Illogical Volume writes about Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman.

A few thoughts about working for Marvel/DC, as stolen from a Canadian friend who was trying to add a bit of clarity to my rant about Chip Zdarsky’s inability to say the name of Howard the Duck‘s “original creator”:

(1) In corporate comic, everyone is a scab because there is no union.

(2) In corporate comics, no one can be a scab because there is no union.

(3) Join the union.

What to make, then, of Grant Morrison’s dedication to superheroes, his attempts to imbue them with some sort of positivist power of their own, to try and find transcendent meaning in a series of commercially dictated genre tropes and characters that were sacrificed to them? When presented straight, in Supergods, this stuff feels as silly and desperate as it is, like an attempt to put a fresh golden frame around a thrice-stolen turd in the hope of selling it on eBay again. But in All Star Superman? Not so much. The sales pitch here is a lot more successful.

—Interviews & Profiles. Jules Feiffer and Neil Gaiman appeared on a panel together:

Turning his attention to Feiffer, Gaiman said, “I had a copy of The Explainers [an anthology of Feiffer’s weekly comic strip in the Village Voice, which ran from 1956–66] when I was about five. I didn’t understand a word of it,” to which Feiffer quipped: “Many adults can say that, too.”

Blaise Larmee interviews Leon Sadler:

At what point did money become a concern?

When I was priced out of London, left all my friends behind, still working full time at a boring job and there’s no way I’ll ever repay my debts or be able to raise the money for a deposit on a house.

Oh god. That sucks

[Laughs] I can handle it its been like this for so long.

Where are you living now?

I think when you see money being thrown at just so much shit it makes u think “why can’t u make something really good and get paid for it”? I’m living in a cheap town near Nottingham called Loughborough. Hugh Frost (Mould Map editor) lives in Nottingham now so we can see each other more better.

 

Cash Dots

Today on the site:

Sean Rogers returns to the site with a very thoughtful review of two books with overlapping concerns:

What precursors even exist for comics like Colville by Steven Gilbert or Black River by Josh Simmons? These are books that use genre not to entertain, but to carve away at something rotten. They document a kind of moral entropy—the creeping disintegration of everything right and good. The universe they depict is unjust, indifferent; their nihilism can be suffocating. The stories proceed according to the predetermined, inescapable logic of the snuff film: the people you see here are destined to die, and you are reading these comics because they will die.

I have read only Black River, and it’s stuck with me. It is, if nothing else, a break from the friendliness of the “fest” minded comics culture of the day, carrying on an underground tradition of a certain kind.

And Sam Henderson logs in for day 3 of his diary.

Elsewhere:

The cartoonist Luz is leaving Charlie Hebdo, the NY Times reports.

Here’s Gil Roth interviewing the great Chester Brown.

Zainab Akhtar reports on her first trip to TCAF.

 

Future Hazy

Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his weekly guide to the Week in Comics!, this time with spotlight picks from Satoshi Kon and Adrian Tomine.

And the great Sam Henderson is on day two of his tenure creating our Cartoonist’s Diary. Inn today’s entry, he lays down the law to his new cartooning students.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a report on the threats facing cartoonists around the world, including “censorship, punitive lawsuits, physical assault, imprisonment, disappearance and murder.” It focuses on cartoonists ranging from Zunar in Malaysia and Aseem Trivedi in India to the staff of Charlie Hebdo in France, Arifur Rahman in Bangladesh, and Molly Norris in Seattle:

The fear of radical Islamic reprisal drove American cartoonist Molly Norris into hiding after she made a tongue-in-cheek call in 2010 on her Facebook page for an “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” Norris’s cartoon did not directly depict the Prophet Muhammad, but included caricatures of a tea cup, thimble, and domino, according to news reports.

Norris received death threats from religious extremists, including the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who, before he was killed in 2011, wrote an article in Inspire saying that Norris’s cartoons made her a “prime target” for killing. She was advised by the FBI to “go ghost,” changing her identity, home, and job to preempt possible reprisals. Her former editor, Mark Baumgarten, said Norris has not been heard from since sending a brief farewell email in the fall of 2010.

The photographer and comics creator Seth Kushner passed away this weekend after a long battle with leukemia. Kushner leaves behind a wife and a young son, and the GoFundMe page they had originally set up for helping to defray the costs of his medical treatment can still be used to help them with funeral and other expenses.

—Reviews & Commentary. Mark Evanier reviews Bill Schelly’s biography of Harvey Kurtzman. Tom Spurgeon reviews John Porcellino’s King-Cat #75.

—Interviews. Paste talks to Jason Little.

Archie CEO Jon Goldwater talked to CBR about why they decided to cancel their controversial Kickstarter, claiming they stopped it to protect the creators from “negative attention.”

—A/V. The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Chester Brown. The latest guest on Inkstuds is Last Gasp’s Ron Turner. The latest guest on Deconstructing Comics is our own Frank Santoro.

The great comics historian Patrick Rosenkranz recently posted rare video from Art Spiegelman’s 1991 Maus promotional tour:

 

Street Fantasy

Hi there,

Robert Kirby is here without our second report on the Queers and Comics Conference:

Not everyone was there, but a sizeable, intergenerational and international mix was. And that made for an historic Queers and Comics Conference, the first ever, held at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at The Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY). I was there for the whole shebang and will do my best to break it all down, blow by blow, panel by panel. Come along with me, won’t you?

First, this: Queers and Comics (Q&C) would never have happened without the vision of Jennifer Camper, one of the Godmothers of LGBTQ cartooning, and our premier event instigator and organizer. With the able assistance of andré carrington, PhD, the committee chair, Jen brought together a diverse mix of cartoonists, publishers, and scholars “to discuss their craft, and document the history and significance of Queer Comics.” The conference was a resounding success, with a particularly strong showing of the pioneering first wave of cartoonists, and two of our greatest creators featured as keynote speakers. And all it climaxed with a bunch of us going to a hit Broadway musical on Saturday night (a gay cliché, but true).

Today we welcome Sam Henderson to the site for a week-long residency as our cartoonist diarist. Here’s day one.

Elsewhere:

Ah, young underground cartoonists! Here’s Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman in the Arcade daze.

I have yet to see Mad Max, but I’m excited to go, and Brendan McCarthy co-wrote the script. Apparently his fingerprints are all over it. Love that Brendan McCarthy.

I didn’t know about this exhibition on the work of Ira Schnapp, comics book and pulp logo designer. It looks interesting, though it also looks like you have to get through a lot of bad photoshop work to see the actual subject matter. There’s something Freudian about the need comic book guys have to “curate” their heroes work by writing all over it. Penis envy? Oedipus? Just bad manners?

And speaking of sadness, here is a sadness over the state of the “popcorn” movie.

 

Please Proceed

Today on the site, we present the TCJ debut of Sara Lautman, who contributes a personal, illustrated report from the first Queers & Comics conference held in New York last week. Here’s an excerpt:

To be clear, Queers & Comics isn’t a convention with tables. It isn’t an entrepreneurial or even a primarily industry-oriented event. It’s an academic conference and cultural checkpoint.

My impression was that the conference was as personal as it was academic. Queer cartoonists making queer cartoons created a niche for themselves in the comics underground where none previously existed. We might have become cartoonists because of Hergé or Charles Addams or George Herriman or Bill Watterson, but see queer comics-making as a discrete and socially necessary act—because of each other. That’s very personal.

In prior generations of queer cartoonists (there are three), finding other gay voices who spoke in comics was a hero’s journey. Today, you get an email from Jennifer Camper.

If all goes according to plan, we should be publishing a larger, more comprehensive report on the conference next Monday written by Rob Kirby.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. One of the Q&C conference’s keynote speakers, Alison Bechdel, talked to the Times about her newfound acceptance, both as a lesbian and as a cartoonist.

Chris Randle profiled Lynda Barry for The Guardian, focusing on her work as an educator.

—Commentary.
In two posts, Tom Hart writes about his feelings after finishing Rosalie Lightning, his graphic novel about the death of his first daughter. (Dan linked to one of those posts yesterday.)

—Funnies. Sammy Harkham takes over Blobby Boys.