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Book of Life

Today on the site, Arthur Lortie and Michael Catron report on the life of the colorful comics writer Michael Fleisher, a well-known figure to longtime TCJ readers.

Michael Lawrence Fleisher, an often controversial and polarizing comic-book and comic-strip writer, died February 2, 2018, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in Beaverton, Oregon, according to his half brother, Martin Fleisher. He was 75.

Fleisher is perhaps best remembered in comics for his groundbreaking work at DC Comics on The Spectre and Jonah Hex, the authorized encyclopedias he wrote on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and a libel case he doggedly pursued and lost against The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics, Inc.), Journal editor Gary Groth, and the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Though comics would dominate the first part of his professional career, in later life Fleisher proved himself to be a dedicated researcher, scholar, and humanitarian.

Charles Hatfield is here, too, with a rave review of John Porcellino's latest King-Cat collection, From Lone Mountain.

John Porcellino, cartoonist, memoirist, poet, and zinester, is one of our greatest comics artists. Many know this; many more should. He remembers places and people beautifully—that is, he does a beautiful job of remembering through art. Increasingly, I find myself drawing an improbable sort of joy from Porcellino’s art, the more improbable because of what I used to think was a great gulf between his experiences and mine. His work has crossed that gulf, in fact persuaded me that it wasn’t there to begin with. That may sound facile—and why shouldn’t art be about the strange and unknown, as well as the worn comforts of the familiar? Actually, Porcellino offers both; he wonders at the world. I suppose that’s what we mean by art making the world larger.

From Lone Mountain, just out now, is Porcellino’s fifth book from Drawn & Quarterly, and the third in a D&Q series reprinting work from his near thirty-year-old, still-ongoing zine King-Cat Comics and Storiesfollowing King-Cat Classix (2007) and Map of My Heart (2009). I am most thankful for it: as good and beautiful a volume of comics as I hope to see this year.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Commentary. Michael Kupperman writes about sentimental death-tribute cartoons for The New Statesman.

The death tribute cartoon is different from simple tribute art, in that it uses a visual format designed to amuse, but to be maudlin instead. As near a perfect description for the death tribute cartoon as I can find is German writer Winfried Menninghaus summary of the concept of kitsch: “A simple invitation to wallow in sentiment.”

Every celebrity’s death is treated as an occasion for cloying fantasy or impossibly awkward visual metaphor.

The most common death tribute cartoon trope shows the celebrity arriving in heaven, most often encountering St Peter. It doesn’t matter what religion the celebrity actually practised (as with Steve Jobs, a Buddhist, who was placed in this context at least ten times, including on the cover of The New Yorker).

Rob Salkowitz writes about the current market for digital comics.

If you’re a sharp-eyed shopper, you’ve probably noticed that Marvel has been running some crazy deals on digital trade collections for Kindle and comiXology, blowing out collections for 99 cents that are list-priced at $19.99. Other publishers run the same kind of doorbusters on a regular basis, and subscription programs like comiXology Unlimited or Marvel Unlimited offer access to thousands of titles for a single monthly fee.

All this discounting means the effective price of digital back issues has crashed way under the "magic number" of 99 cents, the price point that everyone in the industry seemed fixated on just a few years ago. [...]

New release digital issues have, for the most part, held the line at the cover price of print editions. But with so much cheap content floating around out there, including a lot of stuff from the last year or two that is still being talked about and is still relevant to continuity, how soon before we start seeing price cuts on new material that has to compete with the publisher’s own recent backstock?

And more fundamentally, is the current shape of the digital market a sign of health, maturity and evolution, or should we be concerned that the model is failing?

At Slate, Marissa Martinelli makes the case that new (and old) readers should follow the recently begun annotated republication of Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie.

If you’ve already read Octopus Pie, the re-launch isn’t just a chance to experience it all over again (although it is that, too). You could easily zip through the archives at your own pace if you wanted to, but the daily schedule offers a unique opportunity to watch Gran’s art and storytelling change, if not quite in real time, then at least spread out over the two-and-a-half years or so it’ll take to get from start to finish—ten years worth of Gran’s work condensed into about a quarter of that time. The most obvious shift is the evolution of Octopus Pie’s art, especially the gradual creep of color into the comic before taking the complete plunge, with help from colorist Sloane Leong and, later, a lush palette by Valerie Halla.

—Interviews. The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Box Brown.

 

Tengo Hambre

Today at the Journal, we've got Nate Patrin's excellent review of Blutch's Total Jazz, which was released by Fantagraphics last month. 

Total Jazz is a tonally wide-ranging if relatively slim volume collecting French cartoonist Blutch's strips and illustrations for the now-defunct '90s-'00s magazine Jazzman, which he drew between 2000 and 2004. Creating work for a jazz magazine that was founded when jazz's mainstream commercial impact was largely relegated to the record crates of hip-hop producers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier relies on the likelihood that the audience you're creating this work for is well familiar with the subject already, and wants to see something more reflected in that subject than just a simple joke or an easy reference. And Blutch's work here is dedicated to finding the answer to what makes not just listening to jazz but finding yourself in it, dedicating yourself to it, obsessing over it, actually worthwhile -- and finally getting lost in that connection between the music and the people who play it.

And that's not all! The crew at Kilgore are working on a Kickstarter campaign to set up there next list of titles, and they've set TCJ up with a some handy previews to let you know where the money is going. Today, we've got a look at Blammo #10, from Noah Van Sciver. 

While I really liked watching Viggo Mortensen dismantle people in A History of Violence, I tend to roll my eyes whenever some throat-clearer tells you that his (it's always a he) favorite movie based on a comic book is Ghost World or American Splendor--I get it, guy who thinks he's 2 good for 2 Guns. And yet, like that backseat driver who still reps for Batman: Mark of the Phantasm, lemme tell you: The Death of Stalin will probably supplant Blade 2 in my estimation as the top of the heap of comic book related films. I just need to watch it a few more hundred times to see if its intensely, insanely acid-black comedy remains intact. It's a hostile movie, far crueler than I expected it to be, totally lacking in any sense that a better world is possible. In the world it depicts, any moment of joy or freedom occurs purely out of luck, and the best one can hope for is to be ignored long enough for your death to occur naturally. It's a deliriously mean vision of a country in the grips of the selfish, the venal, the stupid, and the cruel--and much like Blade 2, the survivors are those who are happy to stand atop a pile of bodies. 

 

In Battle

Today on the site, editor Mike Catron explains what exactly went into the new edition of Bhob Stewart's tribute book, The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood.

Bhob Stewart, who originally began this project for Fantagraphics, ultimately came to regard the version of it that saw print from a different publisher as a profound and bitter disappointment.

Despite the fact that it was well received at the time, Bhob cringed at the mediocre paper, the less-than-stellar reproduction, and the cheap binding. (Pages are literally falling out of my softcover copy.) But most of all — the thing that made him grind his teeth the hardest — was the censoring of Wallace Wood’s art. Bhob never got over that.

The other publisher required him to go through all of Wood’s art and delete anything the publisher felt was improper. Particular words had to be deleted or printed with asterisks, even when part of a direct quote. He was allowed to print semi-nude figures, but only if certain body parts were whited out — even when only shown in silhouette. Some of the Wood art he wanted to use was summarily rejected outright as unredeemable, and he had to scramble to find innocuous replacements that weren’t even relevant. This was especially evident in a chapter devoted to Wood’s infamous “Disneyland Memorial Orgy”. It offered some amusing panels poking fun at Disney characters that Wood had drawn for Mad magazine — but nothing at all from the “Orgy”, which was the subject of the discussion.

In another instance, Bhob had cleverly reconstructed an EC “prank page” in which Wood drew a nude female figure. It was so heavily censored that readers rightly wondered what all the fuss was about. (To set things right, an undaunted Bhob wrote an essay explaining the whole muddle. We re-reconstructed the prank and that became a new chapter in Volume 1.)

It was ridiculous. It was appalling. It was a desecration. But Bhob had signed a contract, and he felt he was stuck.

We also have Judy Berman's review of a comic with a very odd high concept: Derek Marks's Grace, Jerry, Jessica and Me.

Some historical convergences demand fanfiction. My own personal canon includes the first Redstockings meeting; the drafting of the Dogme 95 manifesto and “Vow of Chastity”; any given night at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire; Britpop’s Damon Albarn-Justine Frischmann-Brett Anderson love triangle; and the day Poly Styrene, Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sue, Chrissie Hynde and Pauline Black all got together for a class picture. For Derek Marks, nothing tops that time in the ‘70s when Grace Jones, Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange were roommates in Paris.

Like most great 21st-century discoveries, this factoid came to Marks, a New York-based cartoonist and illustrator who was once “a tragic gay teen goth” in Miami, via the internet. The first issue of his hilarious comic Grace, Jerry, Jessica and Me, from 2014, opens with the author stumbling out of a “Google hole” (wow, relatable) with the wondrous revelation clutched in his hot little hand. “The trio’s potential fabulousness blew me so far away,” he writes, “I found I had time-traveled to Paris and landed as their fourth roommate.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Reviews & Commentary.
BoingBoing has excerpted the introduction Lynn Johnston wrote for the first volume of the collected For Better or For Worse.

When I was barely 20 years old, I got married. My husband and I settled into an old apartment in Vancouver, near English Bay. He was working for the CBC as a cameraman and I was an ink and paint artist for Canawest Films. I wanted to be an animator and was learning the industry from the ground up. We did commercials, public service announcements and piece work for Hanna Barbera. I was one of 16 young women hired to hand colour acetate cells. Having signed an agreement to not join a union, we took shifts and worked around the clock for $1.50 an hour. It was hard work, but I learned quickly and I realized that an animator makes other people's drawings, other people's characters, other people's dreams come to life. With no children to occupy my time at home, I decided to try my hand at creating stories and characters of my own. I have always been more at home with realistic scenarios, so I decided to tell short stories about my childhood. Within a few weeks, I had a few tall tales worked out and perhaps, 15 coloured drawings. I wondered if they might even be published some day. It was 1968 and I was creating a graphic novel.

For the New York Review of Books, Dash Shaw reviews Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy.

One of the defining traits of 1980s New York City postmodernist writing and painting was the urge to deconstruct. This extended to the comics medium in Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly’s Raw, an oversized anthology magazine that serialized Maus and introduced readers to “art comics” from around the world. Spiegelman’s experimental work looked like exploded pages of Sunday cartoon battles between what was then considered “low” and “high” art. Richard McGuire’s short story “Here” dissected a single room across time using a panel-in-panel device also seen in 1980s painters like David Salle and Robert Longo. Gary Panter drew apocalyptic nightmares that dismantled and intuitively reconstructed drawing modes from Picasso to Jack Kirby.

In the midst of all of this deconstruction was a renewed interest among cartoonists in a humble, plain-looking gag strip that began in the 1930s: Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Nancy follows an eight-year-old suburban girl as she solves mundane problems and interacts with Sluggo, a fellow prankster and sometimes romantic interest. Bushmiller (born in 1905) drew it for most of his life, with each strip as a self-contained “gag”—a single joke that could be easily digested as the reader glanced across the strip. The imagery and jokes are so prototypical and simple that the American Heritage Dictionary uses it to illustrate the meaning of “comic strip.” The appeal of Nancy to the art comic crowd might seem counter-intuitive, but while Nancy was never particularly clever, it was always cleverly constructed. In fact, the accomplishment of Nancy, with its refined, reduced lines and preoccupation with plungers and faucets, might primarily be a matter of form. As Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead, also Raw) wrote in his 2012 introduction to a collected Nancy volume: “Nancy doesn’t tell us much about what it’s like to be a kid. What Nancy tells us is what it’s like to be a comic strip.”

At LARB, Jackson Ayres reviews Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward's Black Bolt.

Ahmed’s Black Bolt, then, springs from these two interlocked narrative and extraliterary developments: Marvel’s positioning of the Inhumans as cornerstones of their line-wide continuity, and the company’s push, via live-action adaptations, for broader public recognition of the franchise. Unfortunately the Inhumans television series debuted to some of the first truly bad reviews for the franchise since its 2008 launch in the first Iron Man movie. But the coup of hiring Ahmed, an acclaimed writer of prose SF and fantasy, to helm Black Bolt no doubt helped to introduce the character to those who may not previously have heard of him.

After a too-long absence, Janean Patience returns with a very long piece on the 1980s work of Howard Chaykin.

Because we like to arrange things in threes, because that’s our pattern, there’s long been a glaring gap in the history of comics. Everyone agrees on two sides of the triangle: Watchmen and Dark Knight, the autopsy and the brass band funeral. But who’s the third? Maus has been most often suggested, even though it was only half-out, came from a very different place than those glossy contemporaries and wasn’t part of the hip, cool graphic novel movement. No, the third of the three, alongside Moore and Miller, was Chaykin. There was only one problem; the work.

Because there is, ultimately, an obvious advantage to being with DC Comics, however they rip you off. Even if it’s how they rip you off: they make your work available. They get it in comics shops and bookshops and airports and all those places, all those disregarded distribution outlets that are the grass roots of the graphic novel revolution, that take it to a wider audience. Without that, without that splash, you can be a key player in the revolution, a pioneer of creative ownership, and nobody will even know.

Back up. American Flagg, the comic Chaykin created, wrote and drew, began monthly publication in 1983. Moore was doing great things in 2000AD and Warrior and preparing to bound across the Atlantic. Miller had concluded his first spell on Daredevil and was writing and drawing Ronin. The revolution was gearing up. Everyone was already doing their creator-owned work alongside or inbetween their work-for-hire; it was a part of comics growing up from the very beginning. But Chaykin was winning. Flagg, published (and, according to the indicia, to some extent co-owned) by First Comics, was a hit right out of the gate. Monthly, independent, sexy, unleashing new ideas and characters and complications with every issue. It tore through its first year, 12 issues of 28 pages telling one overarching story. It was hot and it was Howard’s; a commercial sensibility of colour and design and action brought to that sector of comics previously aligned with the black-and-white fantasy of Cerebus and Elfquest. Everyone knew Flagg. I was like 11 years old and I knew Flagg.


—Interviews & Profiles.
The Comics Alternative podcast interviews Ho Che Anderson.

 

Philip Glass, Knife Collector

Today at the Comics Journal, we've got a lovely interview with one of my favorite artists, Roman Muradov. I wish I could take credit for setting this up, but it was presented on a platter by Aug Stone. Picking a favorite passage was easy: here's Roman on how The Fall influenced his work and taught him English.

I started listening to The Fall when I was about 18, when I couldn’t really speak English particularly well. I sort of learned English through The Fall (laughs). A bit of an abstruse route. I realize that a lot of my pronunciation is from The Fall and that Mark E. Smith’s actually not pronouncing very well so...(laughs) They were possibly my earliest artistic influence in my entire life, and also the most lasting. Because English is my second language I had the benefit of experiencing The Fall as a pre-linguistic awakening. I would listen to it and not understand 90% of the things he’s saying (laughs). But there was a force to it that really appealed to me, and it’s the same force that I recognize in, say, James Joyce, who I also couldn’t understand, because my English wasn’t up to the task. But I could still feel it in my guts. And it’s this very primal feeling, words connecting, sending a shiver down your spine—the whole idea that the sound of the words is actually much more meaningful than their meaning—and that’s something I’ve carried through my entire work. And with The Fall there are many other things. First of all, they had this whole amateurish approach to art-making. I change my style quite a lot as I’m sure you’ve noticed, so when I decide ‘ok, the next one will be in paint’, there’s a voice inside me that goes ‘hang on, you can’t paint’. But then there’s a little Mark E. Smith in my head that says ‘well, it doesn’t fucking matter. Get these three random tubes of paint and start painting. You’re not going to take classes or lessons. That is not how it’s done.’ So in a way I treat myself like he treats his musicians (laughs). Of course it’s even more unhealthy, I am my own tyrant and my own servant.

That's not all though! Today we've also got Mindy Rhiger's first piece for The Comics Journal, a review of Jen Wang's The Prince and the Dressmaker, a new graphic novel for younger readers published by First Second.

It may not begin with the words “Once upon a time,” but The Prince and the Dressmaker is a fairy tale through and through. From the prince looking for a wife (sort of) to the magical transformations (in a manner of speaking), the story blends elements of a traditional tale with modern ideas and sensibilities in a way that is every bit as charming and cinematic as the animated fairy tales many grew up watching. Perhaps this is a fairy tale that will speak to a new generation.

 

Busy Day

Today on the site, Tegan O'Neil returns with a review of Sarah Graley's Kim Reaper.

I’ve been sitting here trying to decide what I wanted to say about Sarah Graley’s Kim Reaper, the first volume of which – aptly titled Grim Beginnings – was delivered to my address by anonymous courier. I like the comic: I want to get that out of the way right up front. It’s not a perfect comic but it’s really solidly put together and very cute. Oops! Did I say cute? I didn’t mean to say cute.

In an Irish Lit seminar in college our professor informed us that “cute” was an Irish insult. Even over here in the wilderness cute can be a kiss-off. I try to remember the Irish definition whenever I use the word. It’s not a word I want to abuse in any way. I’d certainly never wield it as invective, because not only do I respect the idea of cute, but as an aesthetic mood I consider it a virtue worth promoting.

There’s nothing at all ironic about being cute in 2018.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The New York Review of Books has published an excerpt of Eleanor Davis's Why Art?

—Caleb Orecchio writes about Julie Doucet's Dirty Plotte.

This encounter and subsequent reading of the issue reminded me of Doucet’s intensity as a cartoonist. An unfettered intensity and earnestness in both narrative and drawing. A simultaneity that basically went unrivaled among her comics graduating class (the exception probably being Chester Brown). Even in our current comics community, I am hard-pressed to think of any cartoonist that revels so deeply and gleefully in one’s day-to-day routine of life, fantasies and bodily functions—and in a completely fun and personal way.

—Boy, this CBLDF instructional comic for yesterday's gun protests sure seems concerned with teaching kids not to cause any kind of disturbance or distress to authorities and institutions. Is civil disobedience supposed to be disruptive and society-changing, or just a lifestyle signifier?

—RIP Stephen Hawking

 

The Blood and The Father

Today at the Journal, we've got a review from Alex Hoffman, who, in a turn of events that interest the 163,377 people who have registered as commenters on this site, is making his very own transition from their ranks of toil to Official TCJ Contributor with this very review. It's on a book called Eternal Friendship, which was published last year to almost no comics acclaim whatsoever--because the publisher decided to call it something else. Alex takes issue!

Originally published in France as Amitié Éternelle, and translated by Elizabeth Zuba, Durand uses official and personal photographs from Albanian state photographers to create a story of friendship, politics, and totalitarian power.

The strange nature of this print object is apparent even at first glance. Eternal Friendship is a narrative work comprised primarily of photographs and text. But Eternal Friendship is not traditional photo comics or fumetti. There are no word balloons, no dialogue, none of the ephemera associated with the conventional conservative definition of comics. And this is apparent in the way that Siglio Press markets the book, as a “photo-novel,” a term that is as much a hedge as it is a recognition that Eternal Friendship does not easily fit in the lines we draw around narrative form. Still, despite Siglio Press’ hedging, Eternal Friendship is clearly a comic. It is a combination of image and text used to tell a story that only works with both parts intact.

And that's not all--it's the day after Tuesday, which means that a new TCJ newsletter went out. You can read it here. And then, if you dug it, you can subscribe to it here. And if you didn't dig it, subscribe to it anyway, that way you can respond to it negatively when it shows up in your inbox, thus guaranteeing that you're ruining one (or both) of our day with your venom and bile! 

Speaking of venom and bile, I received an email while composing this blog post that referred to this old comments thread as having "invented 2017". It's possible!

 

Blam

Today on the site, Rob Kirby reviews the new Josh Simmons collection, Flayed Corpse.

[It] is a splendid collection of solo stories and collaborations with other notable cartoonists, most previously published in anthologies and zines like Mome, Intruder, Rough House, and Habit; also included are various unpublished drawings and odds and ends, all created from 2010 to 2017. The book is carefully curated, highly enjoyable, and more fun than Simmons's harrowing, almost nihilistic Furry Trap collection from 2012—though it is not without its upsetting moments (you wouldn’t expect any less from Josh Simmons, would you?). Working with other artists has only added further dimensions to his oeuvre.

Simmons's work has always presented a particularly unsettling aesthetic. His stories take place in an universe with an entirely indifferent moral structure, where life can be brutally snuffed out at any time, for no reason other than bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The brief title story, "Flayed Corpse", sets up this ferocious tone. In it, a group of medical forensic experts discuss the state of mind of a dead man at the time of his demise. What they ultimately decide offers no comforting view of death as a final peaceful departure into the ether: “He died terrified, in agony. And it echoed out and was absorbed into a cosmos already sick with pain.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—JHU Comic Books is hoping to stay in Manhattan, and raising money via GoFundMe in order to do so.

JHU Comic Books have been serving comic book fans in New York City since 2013 (and the owners worked at the legendary Jim Hanley’s Universe, which originated on Staten Island in 1985, before that). We opened our current store on 32nd Street after Hurricane Sandy, and now after 5 years, we lost our lease, and we need to move.

We have found a great new (and affordable) space a few blocks from our current location, in a residental neighborhood. We will be moving from a highly commerical area, and are looking to reestablish ourself as a mom and pop shop. However the new space needs some major work. Floor, lights, bathroom, an awning and more. This is where we need your help.

—Matthew Thurber brings us Military School:

—RIP

 

Look What You Made Me Glue

Today at the Journal, two of your trustiest souls return to these pages. The first is Marc Sobel, with a nice long read to start off your week. It's a deep dive into Yukinobu Hoshino's 2001 NightsThis piece has a bibliography, pal. Does your piece have a bibliography?

2001 Nights is the story of humanity’s exploration of the universe. Told in a series of nineteen episodes, each successive “night” represents a milestone in the gradual journey. As the title implies, the series borrows its narrative structure from 1001 Nights, a collection of Islamic folk tales from the 7th Century, and its epic scope, which spans several centuries and thousands of light years, was also inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix series.

Then we've got RJ Casey. The last time he was around these parts, he was pleased with his reading assignments, this time around? Well, this time around he took a look at the latest comic book launch of a Robert Kirkman intellectual property: it's called Oblivion Song, and RJ wasn't a fan.

I’m never sure if writers like Kirkman create comics like these to appeal to their predominantly white male fan bases, or, even when given a clean slate by Image, this is literally all they can imagine. And which one of those is worse? Every criticism of this comic (and I’m sure a television show is right around the corner) will be met with defenders rallying behind the idea of "escapism." But when brutal tragedies are actually happening and not merely plot points, it shouldn’t be too much to ask writers and artists to take a step back and reflect for one goddamn minute. If your escapism does not reflect those that are oppressed, harassed, and victimized—in short, people who need escape—then something is very, potentially harmfully, wrong.

Elsewhere, you'll find a lot of Stan Lee pieces going up regarding his current living & financial situation, with the Daily Beast being the most extensive and recent. It's a developing situation and an ugly one.