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It Tastes Horrible

Today at TCJ, we're pleased to share the newest installment in Tom Kaczynski's line-in-the-sand study of what he's calling "Event" comics--this column sees him focusing on Eddy Current, by Ted McKeever.

Gritty, deliberately grotesque, messy, and challenging; these days you don’t see comics like Eddy Current. Many comics from the time of the Event had this quality. It was a deliberate distancing from the dominant styles established between the 50’s and 70’s, from the tight, abstract, dynamic pulp modernism (Kirby), and the elongated slickness of pulp neorealism (Neal Adams). In the 80’s, McKeever—along with his peers from that era, Kevin O’Neil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kyle Baker, Howard Chaykin, Keith Giffen, and others—were developing new stylistic innovations that mapped closely to what was going on elsewhere in culture and art: postmodernism. Many comics of the Event share many qualities with this much maligned & misunderstood movement (whether intentionally or not). This pulp postmodernism (for lack of a better term) was still redolent of pulp and serialized entertainment, but it questioned all established comics hierarchies.

Today's Cartoonist Diary sees Sarah Horrocks dropping some sportscasting for all y'all soccer fans.

And for your daily review, Leonard Pierce is here with his take on Running From The Devil, a memoir recently published by Markosia. Lukewarm responses were had.

Steve Kissing—who, according to his biography, is a sought-after motivational speaker and public relations executive—has a similar problem in his sometimes charming but overall flat adolescent memoir, Running from the Devil. Kissing grew up in Cincinnati as a smart and determined kid, motivated to excel and dedicated to his Catholic faith. Like, well, pretty much every American boy in the late 1970s, he told wild stories, drank, and lusted after every pretty girl in his class; but unlike most kids, he was visited by disturbing and sometimes terrifying visions that only he could see. Not realizing that he was, in fact, subject to frequent seizures and accompanying hallucinations, he attributed these visions to something that made plenty of sense to his religiously trained mind: the sinister hand of Satan.

The folks at Back In The Bronze Age have another one of their cover challenges up and running: I found it very entertaining. Prior to this one, they also ran a rare (for these sorts of enthusiast blogs) post where they looked at covers they didn't care for. It's also a good time. 

While I'm randomly linking to blog posts featuring covers, Kevin Huizenga's intermittent blog happened upon a couple of good looking oldies as well. John Severin! Save that horse!

 

Prickly Hypersensitivity

R.C. Harvey is here today with a lengthy review of The Goat Getters, the latest book from the cartoonist Eddie Campbell, in which Campbell explores the early history of the comics strip, and makes the case that the form was born in the San Francisco sports pages.

THE BOOK IS METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED and scrupulously referenced throughout in captions and footnotes. An impressive achievement. In his final edit, Campbell was clearly working from page proofs: he alludes to other aspects of his subject by quoting page numbers fore and aft.

His purpose, Campbell says, is to show “how and why” the sports page was the logical place for comic strips to begin “and, more specifically, why San Francisco was the place it had to happen.”

Not being an American, Campbell sees things that have long evaded our attention. And that’s invaluable in an enterprise such as this. But he also sees things that aren’t worth seeing. Goat getters, for instance.

Campbell explains the book’s title: “To get a person’s goat, meaning to aggravate and upset them, originated in the custom of keeping a goat in a racehorse’s stable to calm the horse.” Unscrupulous personages, aiming to affect adversely the horse’s performance, would steal the goat and “thus unsettle the horse in order to gain a betting advantage in the next day’s race.”

The phrase, Campbell says, was coined on the sports pages where it was a fad for a few years until it eventually entered common parlance. All that is true, but I don’t think “getting someone’s goat” is as common an expression as Campbell thinks it is. Not common enough, say, so that cartoonists can be described as “goat getters”—although that is what some cartoonists assuredly do. They get the goats of those they satirize thereby unsettling them.

We also have Day Three of Sarah Horrocks providing our Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The most interesting reading I've seen yet on Steve Ditko is this unfinished Daniel Clowes strip on the artist, which was rejected by The New Yorker.

Stephen Heller writes about Tom Wolfe's side career as a cartoonist.

His pictures were inspired by the turn-of-the-century German Jugendstil (“youth style,” or Art Nouveau), graphic artist provocateurs who regularly outraged both bourgeois and aristocratic Junker classes by poking holes in their masks and debunking their pretensions in the notorious weekly satirical journal Simplicissimus (also known as Der Simpl in the 1940s). He also owed a debt to his favorite visual trickster, Ronald Searle, whom Wolfe praised as a “giant of the graphic netherworld” on the front page of a 1981 Times Book Review. Wolfe surprisingly identified as much as a cartoonist as he did a writer, and many of his drawings were captioned. In 1979, the same year that “The Right Stuff” was published, he wrote the introduction to an exhibition catalog I edited on Simplicissimus. “Caricaturists, as any caricaturist can tell you,” he wrote, “live, work and die in a shantytown scarcely visible from that monumental Brasília known as the world of art.”

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Fiona Smyth.

 

Children Of Cough Syrup

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got an interview with Rob Guillory, who is about to begin his newest project with Image Comics following the conclusion of Chew, a well regarded series he created with John Layman. He spoke with Alex Dueben about his new book, and why he's moved into writing as well with his new book, Farmhand.

I think I needed the distance from my work. Working solo as a writer/artist, I don’t have the luxury of having that creative partner to bounce things off of. It’s just me, my wife, and the few trusted friends I occasionally show these early scripts off to. So some of this was just me trying to get far enough from my work to see if it’s any good. And some of it was just me wanting the peace of mind that comes with having a bunch of scripts in the can. Honestly, in a perfect world, I would’ve loved to have finished the entire story before drawing one page. But that just isn’t realistic.

And that's not all. Today is also Day Two of our Cartoonist's Diary, courtesy of Sarah Horrocks. She's out there making the case for the latest show from the Ryan Murphy universe: Pose, hmm?

But of course, that isn't all: today's review is courtesy of Tegan O'Neil, who got ahold of Seekan Hui's A Projection, and she came away with some comic book criticism for all to see.

Hui’s art rests in that niche between sinister and unsettled. Her art is dominated by her expressionistic character designs. For example: Cecilia has two heads, one on top of the other. The two heads talk to each other. The other characters notice this – one of the kids asks “Y do u have 2 heads?” on a piece of toilet paper passed under the door. But it doesn’t seem any more unusual than the fact that the kids are ladybugs. Hui’s style doesn’t always work that well in some instances. It’s hard at times to follow precisely who is who when, from a distance, the children can appear as angry squiggles.

Over at The New Yorker, they've got a nice piece (with little John Elway style onscreen markups) by Paul Karasik on a rarely seen mural by Charles Addams. Why wasn't this brought to our attention by either of our two Pennsylvania based contributors? Reader, I don't know.

Over at Your Chicken Enemy, Nick Hanover delivers a deep dives into Tom Kaczynski & Clara Jetsmark's excellent Cartoon Dialectics #3, one of the strongest single issues of the year.

 

 

The Unholy Three

Steve Ditko, an American comics titan, died last week, and Michael Dean wrote our obituary for the man.

Steve Ditko, the comics artist whose vision brought Spider-Man and Doctor Strange to life, passed away at his New York City home on June 29th, 2018. Stan Lee, in his credits for The Amazing Spider-Man, called the artist “Swingin’ Steve Ditko” (issue #10) and later “Scowlin’ Steve Ditko” (issue #27), but if you had to choose one adjective to attach to Ditko’s name, it might be “Uncompromising.”

Consider these facts:

  • At a time when Marvel cultivated a house look based on Jack Kirby’s muscular explosiveness, Ditko stuck to his own style — all rubbery sinews and urban shadows. In an extreme version of the famous Marvel Method, Ditko said he told the stories visually, often with little or no input, inventing villains and situations, which Lee retroactively scripted. When communications broke down between the artist and writer, Ditko simply walked away without explanation.
  • Ditko’s independent Mr. A comics for Wally Wood’s witzend magazine in the late 1960s expressed his objectivist philosophies in bluntly abstract scenarios, even though they had little appeal for most young comics readers and were out of sync with countercultural ideologies of the time. He continued to draw Mr. A for more than 50 years.
  • When Renegade Press publisher Deni Loubert accepted an Inkpot Award on Ditko’s behalf at the 1987 San Diego Comic-Con, Ditko was reportedly outraged and insisted that she return it.
  • Plans for a late 1990s comics series to be written and drawn by Ditko and published by Fantagraphics were scuttled after the first issue when Ditko took offense at a coloring mistake on the cover. Offers to make amends by printing the art with the correct coloring in a later issue were rejected by Ditko, who refused to do any further issues.
  • In 2007, a BBC documentary, In Search of Steve Ditko, tracked Ditko down to his New York office but could not coax him to appear on camera or be interviewed. Although Spider-Man co-creator Lee made a career of being in the public eye, Ditko gave no interviews after 1968, turning down even a request from his hero, Will Eisner.
  • He declined to cooperate with Blake Bell’s 2008 Ditko biography Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, calling the book, sight unseen, a “poison sandwich,” and turned the biographer away from his door, as he had many journalists over the years.
  • When prominent novelist Jonathan Lethem asked to include a Ditko story in the 2015 volume of The Best American Comics, Ditko turned him down.
  • Despite living a Spartan existence eking out a meager living his final years, he refused to sell his original art, which would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Small-press publisher Greg Theakston told of finding the artist using original Ditko art from 1958 as a cutting board.

We also have the final installment from our 2012 roundtable about fine arts and comics, with Michael Dooley's followup interview with Joe Coleman.

MICHAEL DOOLEY: Rather than “outsider” or “lowbrow” art, the important thing for you is, there’s good art and there’s bad art. Right?

JOE COLEMAN: Yes.

DOOLEY: So how would you define those terms, good art as distinguished from bad art?

COLEMAN: There could be a number of different qualifications for that. You know, I’m also someone who enjoys comics as well, so I don’t feel that comics are in some way an art form that is lesser. But just as there are good paintings and bad paintings, there are good comics and bad comics. In any art form, there are different criteria for what makes good and bad, as well. For instance, some works may be well executed with a formal quality that makes them stand out in a way, and with other works of art, there may be something that is very thoughtful and makes you really think. And there are other works of art that just reach you on an emotional level or hit you in the gut and your response comes from that. So, to me, it’s like the three places are the mind, the heart and the gut. And I think the works that are really successful touch on all of those, but are usually stronger in one or the other. Probably the most successful, are the ones that reach me in the gut first and then the other places later. Like if something is just, say, painted or written really well, that may be enjoyable to some degree, but it just doesn’t stay with you, or stick to your ribs. And if something is really provoking and you can’t add one thing, it kind of becomes like an infection and you’ve become infected with it and it changes your life. I remember when I read the prison diary of Carl Panzram, Killer: A Journal of Murder, it changed my life, changed the way I looked at the world. He had a certain quality about his writing. He had no formal education. But, here is a guy reading Immanuel Kant and Schopenhauer, searching for that kind of literature in prisons in the early 1900s. He spoke from his own experience. It is very profound and speaks in a way that touches anyone. He might be considered an “outsider,” but it’s powerful writing and it doesn’t need to be apologized for.  It doesn’t need to have parentheses around it saying it’s not literature or that it’s in some other category. And I think that’s true for any art form. It doesn’t have to be qualified, like the word “comics.” I have no shame in the word comics — you know how some people talk about “sequential art” or some other pretentious words.

DOOLEY: So your entry point, no matter what the medium, is a visceral one.

COLEMAN: Yeah.

And finally, we have a brand new contributor to our regular Cartoonist's Diary feature this week, Sarah Horrocks.

 

4:15

It's Friday, and you're at The Comics Journal: I hope that's where you intended to be. Either way, why not take a deep dive into our newest installment of Retail Therapy, with Leef Smith of Mission: Comics & Art? Here he is, giving a different answer to a question that usually gets dismissed with the kind of hand waving that causes scars!

Do you keep up with the comics news--and what does the term "comics news" mean to you?

Ha! Great question! I think for me it means what comics people are working on currently and how people's careers evolve, both creators and people behind the scenes in the "biz" side of things. But the news also includes publishing initiatives and promotional efforts, and of course all the comic book related TV and film news. I tend to use Facebook as my filter for most web-based news and rarely go to the front-pages of any of the big websites. I can't really keep up on Twitter or Instagram. For me they're too much like fire-hoses of information. I regularly listen to quite a few podcasts like Comic Geek Speak, iFanboy, Wait, What?, Off Panel, PW Comics World, Word Balloon, Process Party and I just recently added Contest of Challengers to the mix. Just listening to people's voices give me a better sense of people, and where they're at.

That's all we've got for you today--the title of this blog refers to the time of the morning at which I wrote this entry, my last night as a resident of the Northeast. I'll see you next week from a completely different region of the country. Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

Taking the Fifth

Welcome back to TCJ. Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews two recent autobio minicomics from Goda Trakumaite about birth control and women's health issues.

Trakumaite is a multi-media artist, and she includes a DVD with the first issue that explains why she draws herself so much. It's a trippy, funny video, and her entire aesthetic reminds me a little of the sort of thing that Dunja Jankovic used to do more of, back when she was actively pursuing sequential art. She uses her drawings for a stop-motion effect, swirling them around at certain spots to indicate her desire to do abstract comics, or history comics, or something about feminism. Yet she somehow always winds up back at herself, something even her friends notice. There's a hilarious anecdote about her making a drawing for her father, him getting upset because he thought she made him look old, and them offering to pay for drawing lessons!

Even with stories with beginnings and endings, Trakumaite's work has an in media res quality to them, as we're thrown right into the middle of her swirling line and the chaos surrounding these issues, and it's the reader's job to pay attention and catch up. There aren't any good comparisons to make regarding her style, other than to say that she's in the same continuum of Julie Doucet. Both artists crowd the page, making it uncomfortable for the reader and making them read it on the artist's terms. Both are casual and unapologetic about sharing incredibly intimate details with the reader, and those details are frequently bound up in confusion and frustration. Their character designs are distinctive, expressive and even funny to look at. In Trakumaite's case, her choosing to frequently alter line weights is a big key to the success of her work. It allows her to bend reality, making it solid in one panel and wobbly in the next. When she exaggerates facial features (like giving her gyn provider jagged, monstrous teeth), it fits right into the continuum of the rest of her character designs.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Evan Narcisse at io9 talks to Evan Dorkin.

I was telling a kid at Heroes Con, I was showing him the opening pages of Dork and Milk & Cheese, and Eltingville, and was like, “Look at these!” I couldn’t even do eyeballs inside glasses. I didn’t connect lines here. My lettering was horrible. It’s not really a self-deprecation like it used to be, it was “Look what you can do even when you stink.” I was in my 20s when I did all that stuff and now you see people on the internet every day who kick your ass, you know? And they’re like 15 years old and they’re doing beautiful work in a variety of styles. There’s the most amazing artwork out there, suddenly. And I try to make my peace with my artwork. It doesn’t always work, but I made my peace with my old work.

I got in at a time when there was a lot less people in the industry. Everything you saw was in print. And with the craze of post-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, black-and-white boom, lots of people got in. And even though my stuff sucked, unlike lots of people, I managed to get my foot in the door and get my fingers in there and stay. And I got better. So, you should buy my books just to see how that works. Even if they hate the book, drop the 20 bucks. You’ll learn something else.

Juxtapoz talks to Heather Benjamin about MAIDEN FORM, her first curated group show.

Betty Friedan wrote in 1963 that the key to women’s subjugation lay in the social construction of femininity as “childlike, passive, and dependent”, and called for a “drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity”. Over 50 years later, in many ways, we have progressed past some of the “classic” stereotypes about womanhood, but in just as many ways, we still struggle to throw off the same chains – and carry new ones as well. And that struggle has never been cut and dry – we can feel pulled in so many directions as we fight to hold onto pieces of our identities and shed others, to embrace one culturally imposed facet of femininity while transgressing against another, and all this happening under the shadow of what is societally or traditionally deemed appropriate or desirable. This show is a collection of artists making work about the multifaceted nature of that struggle, which can be so different for every individual and type of woman.

The most recent guest on RiYL is Nicole Hollander.

—Misc. The New York Times is soliciting reader feedback on that Batman wedding spoiler thing...

Tim Hensley has reposted a very rare 2003 story.

15 years later, it doesn't seem any more palatable and is appearing now mostly for the purpose of cold storage. It was before I settled into my "every comic takes 7 years" phase.

 

The Third

It's Harlan Ellison day today on the site, as we publish Michael Dean's obituary of the writer.

Ellison is known primarily for his work in science fiction (or speculative fiction, as he preferred to call it), including the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, the novella and movie A Boy and His Dog, and his editing of two Dangerous Visions anthologies. But though he scarcely wrote any comics stories, he has long been embraced by the comics community as a kindred spirit, a challenge to the hidebound, compromised conventions of traditional entertainment. Comics fans identified with his attitude, his wide knowledge of comics mythology, and his strongly held opinions, perhaps because when it came to comics he was more fan than pro. He loved comics and he was iconoclastic enough to liberate the form from its cultural ghetto, granting comics the same respect and high standards he accorded more mainstream literature.

If one were to draw a graph of Ellison’s creative career, it would appear as a rapidly ascending line in the early 1950s, bulging heavenward throughout the following densely productive couple of decades until around 1975 (roughly from Ellison’s early 20s to his mid 40s), when it would seem to fall off a cliff. Beginning around 1975, Ellison all but ceased to be a working writer, becoming instead a re-packager, an introducer, a creative consultant, a master of ceremonies, a cameo voice in video games and animated TV shows, a guest of honor, a website commenter, and a lawsuit filer. The first half of his career alone, however, was fertile enough to leave most other professional biographies green with envy. Ellison had written so many stories, novels, screenplays, teleplays, movie and television reviews and essays, won so many awards and assaulted so many publishers, critics, professors and Hollywood producers in such a short period of time, that an early burnout would seem to have been inevitable. His persona — the young, vital, aesthetically righteous punk who did not hesitate to kick the ass of the stodgy, greedy entertainment establishment — was so indelible, that it was hard to imagine Harlan Ellison as an old man.

We are also republishing one of the most legendary articles in TCJ history, Gary Groth's 1979 interview with Ellison, to which Gary has added a new introduction.

When I arrived at the midtown Manhattan apartment Ellison was staying at, I had no idea what to expect or what I would come away with. The original impetus for the interview was a review I had published panning a collection of comics adaptations of his short stories called The Illustrated Ellison (published, again, by Byron Preiss), which elicited a screaming phone call from Ellison.

I suggested that we record an interview where he could address what he considered the review’s shortcomings and critical inaccuracies. He agreed to meet me the next time he came east. I probably also wanted to interview him because he was familiar with and loved comics but traveled professionally in circles outside of comics; because he was not beholden to the corporate interests that controlled comics production and thus could speak more freely; and because he was notoriously outspoken about his high aesthetic standards.

The interview began about 9:00 p.m. and lasted until about 3:00 a.m. As it turned out, we both spoke freely — in the opinions of many working professionals at the time, too freely — often crossing the line into tasteless disparagement of good professionals and of the values of professionalism generally.

People who were not yet born when this interview was conducted have told me that today’s young generation may well be horrified by it. Maybe so. But I believed then, and I believe now, that it was a necessary corrective to the institutionalized complacency, sterility, and code of silence that had at that time settled upon the comics industry like a shroud.

We'll see you after the holiday.

 

Bones Like Wax

Today at The Comics Journal, it's time for another dive into the world of comics and fine art--via Marc Bell and Michael Dooley. Besides the living expenses thing, there's a bit of history to go around:

BELL: Yeah, I think so. It was pretty exciting when Kramers 4 was happening cause it seemed like a lot of these things were connecting up.

DOOLEY: “Connecting up,” how do you mean?

BELL: Maybe just for me, well from my point of view … Wait, let me just think about this for a minute. In the ’90s, comics were mainly about stories, but then all this other crazy stuff sort of started to come in. Fort Thunder came along and sort of changed things a bit. Their comics were more eyeball-y and crazy and fantastic than what had been happening. It was a different thing that was still somehow tied to genre.

DOOLEY: Well, their idea of narrative and the comics medium, in general, was more open-ended than what had come before. Would that …

BELL: Maybe open-ended but … Ah, I don’t know. Scratch that. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not a comic historian. I’ll leave that for the academics on The Comics Journal, right?

And that's not all--today's review comes courtesy of Tegan O'Neil, who found a lot in Peow's latest Al Gofa graphic novel to talk about:

If you like extensive crosshatching merely for the sake of crosshatching, you will find much to pore over in these pages. One of the book’s strengths is the way it weaves in and out of multiple approaches to action storytelling. Although the overall mood is definitely European – and you can see the Moebius in every long shot where Gofa uses delicate stippling to indicate scale – there are specific instances throughout where he also uses cutaways like American artists would use splash pages. He even swipes a few poses just for effect (either I’m losing my mind or that’s a Wild Thing Nikki Doyle swipe in there, although the former is a definite probably given a long enough time frame). Some of the character designs seem straight out of Morrison & Case’s Doom Patrol, others Tim Vigil. The variety works.

In a repeat of a story from last week, The New York Times is at it again: spoiling super-hero comics before they're released. After months of build up and shenanigans (in the form of the one-shot, mini-series, prequel and variant covers) to this week's release of Batman #50--where Batman and Catwoman are getting married--the Grey Lady recapped the entire issue, along with images and everything, all before it hit the stands. There's a few different perspectives coming out of this one--there's retailers who feel they've been screwed over by a giant build up that they financially supported, only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the finish line, while there's also retailers who feel like this kind of press--a print article about the plot of a super-her comic book in the Sunday NY Times--is exactly the kind of "mainstream" support that has been promised, but never provided. Then, there's the readers who, anecdotally as it may be, are disappointed to have a story they've been invested in for months spoiled prior to publication. (It would be interesting to know if there's DC employees working on the soon to be released and by all accounts disappointing DC Universe streaming service who feel like a spot in the NY Times might have been better utilized to promote something with a little more fiscal importance than a single issue of Batman.)

The history of The Comics Journal includes a lot of articles and asides about the downfall of super-hero comics, which is always right around the corner, you'll see, just you wait, we're sure this time, but the two companies have always proven those naysayers wrong. This isn't one of those asides, but I will admit: I'm curious. I'm curious as to why the New York Times is choosing to repeatedly publish article length recaps of super-hero comic books that wouldn't be out of place on any number of super-hero comic focused websites, I'm curious as to whether these sorts of marketing ploys are having a genuine impact on sales, and I'm curious about whether that particular part of the industry has any tricks left that don't look the same as the bait-and-switch ones they used when I was a teenager. I'm curious in a way that I haven't been curious about the content of those comics in a very long time. I'm like a guy with a thorn in his paw: I know I could take it out, but then what would I stick into my eye?