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Beginnings & Endings

Good morning. First, Kim Deitch’s amazing memoir-through-music continues today. If you skipped last week’s because the name Dorsey scared you, you’re missing out on something majorly entertaining, and enlightening. This time, he talks about his father (Gene Deitch), Alan Lomax, Jelly Roll Morton, and cowboy records.

My father’s interest in art had been long standing. He’d been a huge fan of Mickey Mouse growing up. By the time he was a teenager, he was putting out an amazing magazine called The Hollywood Star News. When I say amazing, I’m not kidding. It was produced on a hand cranked mimeograph machine. What’s that? Well, before photocopiers people could make cheap copies by typing onto wax sheets. Then you’d put the typed sheet onto a rotary mechanism filled with ink. Turn the barrel one revolution as you feed a piece of paper under it and you’d have a copy, in ink, of what was on the typed wax sheet. Keep turning as you feed more paper under the barrel and you’d get more copies. You could do at least quite a few hundred copies this way. You could also draw on the stencils and have crude illustrations, or not so crude in my father’s case. My old man, genius that he is, came up with a way to do four-color illustrations with good registration in The Hollywood Star News.

Elsewhere:

Eddie Campbell has republished an introductory essay he wrote about Batman and the Lew Sayre Schwartz on his blog, and added another afterthought here. (He of course wrote another tribute to Schwartz for this site earlier this week.)

Rob Clough has reposted his 2008 review of Bill Mauldin’s Willie & Joe: The WWII Years. It’s worth reading in conjunction with his recent piece on this site about that book’s sequel.

Tom Spurgeon reports on Bud Plant’s announced retirement. Above and beyond the many hours I am sure lots of readers of this site have spent browsing through his catalogs, Plant has had a major impact on the evolution of the comics business. Spurgeon talks about some of those reasons at his post. Also, I believe—and hope to be corrected if I am wrong—that by ordering large numbers of this magazine in its early days, Plant gave the Journal some important assistance when it was much needed.

I’ve been waiting for Charles Hatfield to weigh in on Chester Brown’s Paying for It. And now he finally has. A must-read even if you’ve had your fill of prostitution talk.

Finally, occasional comics writer Paul Di Filippo has tracked down what he believes may be the very first review of a science fiction book in the New York Times, from 1943. It is fascinating for how closely the reviewer ties the genre to comic books (the best stories are “a good deal more than True Comics for adults”, and the worst are “gibberish” which “may deserve a place in a volume like this as signs of an age that produced Superman”).

 

Lumpin Day

Well. It’s Wednesday and Dapper Dan still hasn’t seen Green Lantern. It’s not looking good, and Tim thus far has refused refused Dapper Dan’s requests for a “man date” to go see it together, even though I’ve promised to buy him nachos. So, you readers may have to live without a Dapper Dan special on this one.

On the site:

Today we present part one of Jeff Trexler’s investigation into what exactly became of the record of the Comics Magazine Association of America:

Understanding how the CMAA worked–and why it failed–can provide vital clues for helping today’s comics business adapt.

And Mike Dawson brings us TCJ Talkies focusing on four graduates from The Center for Cartoon StudiesLucy KnisleyMelissa MendesJoe Lambert, and Steve Seck. Here’s an aside: True story — I’ve had to cancel three different trips to CCA for various stupid reasons, entirely my fault, but James Sturm still talks to me. That’s what a nice man he is.

In the “man, they just don’t get it” department: One Robert Greenberger cold lifted Eddie Campbell’s heartfelt obituary yesterday, changed around a few words, added a quote, some sloppy analysis, and slapped his name in it. He even used the same art. There’s no excuse for swiping, Robert! We’re watching. Not all of you (we have limited resources). But some of you.

Anyhow, elsewhere:

Our fearless leader, Gary Groth, is interviewed over at CBR. He’s very kind to us, and has fine things to say, like this, about the DC renumbering, which pretty much explains why we can’t be bothered to cover it, though perversely I’d like to lock someone in a room and make them read it all and explain it to me:

I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to accomplish. It seems like a pitiful attempt to con more people into buying the same old shit. I probably shouldn’t be so cynical. I’m sure that some brilliant talent could breathe some life into this stuff. Like I said, I’m not one to talk. I haven’t read this stuff, but it just seems so completely uninteresting to me, and in a way, it’s idiomatically alien to me.

Over at the Mindless Ones, the, uh, ones are beginning a discussion of bullshit and John Constantine. So far, so good. This I can read.

Speaking of reading, I’m currently immersed in Stephen Bissette’s Teen Angels and New Mutants. It’s a phenomenal read. Really great, and the kind of book I always hope will be written about comics. Bissette wisely does not separate art and commerce, and is no bullshit about the complicated life of a comic book. Grant Morrison’s Supergods, on the other hand… let’s just say it takes a very uncomplicated view. Time permitting I hope to write about the two books in a single essay. Why? Because the culture is still interesting, even if the product is not.

Incidentally, back ’round to that complicated view. Many have linked to Brian Chippendale’s latest text, but my favorite bit is Brian questioning, via Twitter, various comics writers about the renumbering of X-Men. Jason Aaron, who Chippendale goes on to praise, says it’s the contents that count, not the number. And that’s fair, but I think Brian made a good point that the number does count — that it signifies both a reader-publisher bond and a chain link back through history. It’s also a kind of sign that the publisher doesn’t think you’re an idiot. Commerce and content are really inseparable, is one thing I think Brian drives home. That’s comics for you — and renumbering sends a signal to readers clear as day: Fuck you.

 

The Ghost Artist

Lew Sayre Schwartz, most well-known in comics circles for the many pages of Batman he drew as a ghost artist in the “golden age,” has passed away at the age of 84. In a tribute to his friend, Eddie Campbell writes: “Lew was my rainbow-bridge connection to the great age of American cartoonists, a world full of larger than life characters, who all seem much further away now that Lew has gone.”

Also new to the site, another excerpt from the long awaited (and nearly mythical at this point) issue 301, this time Tim Kreider’s essay on Dave Sim’s Cerebus. That’s right. Gary made him read the whole thing. This is really great stuff. Here’s a taste:

Dave Sim is the single most passionate and outspoken advocate of his own work, and also its most reductive and unreliable interpreter. Having finished his magnum opus, he seems unable to let go of it, and continues to hand down authoritative misreadings of the work that do it a serious disservice. He tries to rationalize the kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions that are only inevitable in a work that was written month by month over 30 years; he issues contemptuous dismissals of (female) characters who might have seemed to the reader to have had some depth and complexity; and he sometimes makes assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text. It raises the troubling possibility that what seemed like Cerebus’s literary quality may only have been so much projection on the part of its readers. What’s more likely is that Sim, like a lot of artists, is less than fully conscious of what he’s doing and is the last person who should be consulted about the meaning of his own work.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is here with the latest installment of This Week in Comics—this time taking a detour to study José Ortiz and Bruce Bezaire (I’ve never heard of him either).

Elsewhere:

After a year’s hiatus, Brian Chippendale returns with superhero comics analysis. This time, he’s mostly worried about renumbering, and the X-Men.

Douglas Wolk writes about the iPad’s possible threat to the print comics market’s bottom line for Wired.

Journal reviewer Tucker Stone, Abhay Khosla, and a bunch of the other writers at the Savage Critics are discussing the big “summer events” at Marvel and DC.

Somewhere in your internet browsing recently, you probably came across the story about medical researchers counting the number of head injuries found in Asterix. And then, if you’re anything like me, you probably thought, that’s kind of a stupid thing to count for a medical study… could there possibly be a legitimate scientific reason to do that? Then you started thinking about what you’d get for lunch. Anyway, it turns out that me and you aren’t the only ones to doubt that medical paper’s importance. One guy’s even angry about it.

 

The Greatest!

Welcome back. It’s summer, things are slow. My sleeping patterns are changing. And thus we bring you some fresh content.

We lead off today with Warren Bernard’s epic tale of a 1917 baseball game played in Chicago by some of the world’s greatest cartoonists:

The “home team” for this game was deemed to be the Chicago Herald. Pitching for the home team was a young, raw talent (both baseball and cartoon-wise), 22-year-old Elsie Crisler Segar. Segar joined the Herald staff a few years prior to the game, following an introduction by the famed Richard Outcault. In March 1916, he began his run as the cartoonist for Charlie Chaplin’s Comic Capers, the strip by which the audience at the game would have recognized his name. In 1917, he was two years away from starting Thimble Theater and a dozen years out from creating his character masterpiece, Popeye.

There are a trillion amazing things about Warren’s discovery (and, as far as we know, it really is his discovery — this game has gone unmentioned): First, cartoonists once played baseball. Second, it says a lot about the lives these guys led in relation to the public — they were actually celebrities in a sense. Third: Holy shit, Frank King and E.C. Segar played baseball together. Anyhow, besides this amazing bit of archeology, Warren is the co-author of the upcoming book Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising, and Mail Order Geniuses, covering the old correspondence courses. He’s also the executive director of SPX. That Warren: A man of many talents.

And Frank Santoro manages to squeeze in his third color workbook between traveling and exhibiting and everything else.

And elsewhere:

I, like everyone else, love these short self-interviews by Kim Thompson. Here’s one on an upcoming Tardi book.

Finally, Myron Fass, the much maligned maniac behind some of our goriest, gnarliest horror comics, also made some pretty good ones himself.

 

From Page to Screen

First off, no Dapper Dan this morning. Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping he would tell you whether or not the new cinematic superhero extravaganza was worth watching, but somehow the publicity department neglected to send him screening information. (I wonder why?) So you’ll have to make up your own mind.

But here’s another comics related film worth watching. I’d seen links to it going around all week, but didn’t think the concept (Ken Burns meets the history of comics) sounded very promising—or at least I thought what it promised was not the kind of humor I’m interested in. But after Jeet e-mailed it to me last night, I finally took the plunge and watched it, and it’s pretty funny. (TCJ.com columnist R.C. Harvey is a prominent figure.)

Today on the website, Kristy Valenti reviews Jess Fink’s Chester 5000 XYV. It’s an, um, erotic robot comic book.

Frank Santoro rules.

Jeet Heer reminded me of a quite nice short profile he wrote in 2004 about John Gallant, Seth’s late father.

Not comics: For the Walrus, Jeet has also written an appreciation of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, with a special emphasis on the man’s Catholicism.

I never would have guessed that Marjane Satrapi was such a big Sin City fan!

Patricia Mainardi writes about the transition between popular prints and early comics here. (via)

The New York Times is apparently planning to start publishing comics again soon.

And an argument that cartoonists write the best culture diaries. (Don’t say it.)

 

Haircut Day

Oh well, ok, it’s Thursday.

On the site today:

The third and final part of Amy Poodle’s epic study, Hauntology and the Invisibles. A taste:

Over the course of these essays I’ve talked about how The Invisibles returns time and time again to the metaphor of things lurking on the outside as a stand in for the denied and forgotten in our own lives and how these things, while alarming in the first instance, can’t be ignored because they give shape to our world.

And elsewhere, internet fiends:

-In case you somehow missed it, Life Magazine has a photo history of Mad on its site. Awfully fun stuff.

-Here’s a fine, slightly, but lovably, awkward Atom-age SF British comic strip. Those elements can only add up to something worth viewing.

-Over on my own PictureBox, Beth Kleber has posted a fine appreciation of West covers by the great James McMullan, an illustrator who, while not in comics, has taught many a cartoonist, and whose evocative sense of line and color should be an inspiration to anyone drawing.

-Can I ever have too much Steranko? No, I cannot.

-I don’t entirely understand this, but this blog will chronicle one man’s recreations of Miller/Janson Daredevil comics, along with commentary. I will check that out again for the sheer obsessiveness of it.

-I love reading comics gossip of bygone days and Greg Theakston’s new blog is no exception.

-And finally, fans of Jacky’s Diary (featured in Art Out of Time) should be sure to check out the new Alter Ego, which has the first part of an interview with Jack Mendelsohn, whose comics career has run the gamut from anonymous funny animal work to his own strip to… much more.

 

Smorgasbord

Today we introduce a new column, Mad About Music: My Life in Records, which is more or less what it sounds like. The surprising part is its author, one of the greatest working cartoonists alive, Kim Deitch. This should take some unexpected twists… First installment here.

Also, we have a review of Sam Kieth’s Arkham Asylum: Madness, written by a new reviewer, Nicholas Gazin. You may know him from his regular comics column in Vice.

We have missed sending you to many, many links lately. Here are a few of them.

The Paris Review stole our concept! (Don’t say it.)

Rob Clough supplements his TCJ 301 article on the Center for Cartoon Studies with a couple of online spinoff pieces on visiting artist Eddie Campbell, and some of the school’s more offbeat advisors.

Marc Sobel makes a case for Emmanuel Guibert’s The Photographer.

James Romberger makes a case for the really late Jack Kirby stuff. I love the man’s late work, but this is around when I start to lose interest.

If you follow all the links in a typical Mindless Ones blog post, you can lose days of your life. So beware this one on Mark Millar.

They also have an interview with Chris Burnham, a new superhero artist whose work is actually worth seeking out.

Michel Fiffe is an under-appreciated comics blogger. This is funny.

I haven’t read this whole Chris Claremont interview yet, but I like anecdotes that include Al Jaffee and Stan Lee.

We’ve barely begun to get good critical work done on Harvey Pekar.

The skeptic PZ Myers recaps a recent Alan Moore appearance at the Cheltenham Science Festival, in which Moore explained his views on magic to a group of scientists. Essential for Moorologists. (via)

Finally, two convention reports from this year’s HeroesCon, one from Shannon Smith, and another from former organizer Dustin Harbin. I’ve only been to one of the HeroesCons, but it was one of my favorites, and I like keeping up with the event’s evolution.

Finally, this doesn’t sound like a good idea, but somehow I doubt it will happen. Dapper Dan is already contacting publicists.

 

Know Your…

Today on the site:

Richard Gehr returns with his third installment of Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists, this time with the great Roz Chast. If you haven’t been following Richard’s journeys into New Yorker country, you better catch up! It’s best ride. Next up is Lee Lorenz.

And elsewhere, in case you missed it:

-Over on Daniel Best’s blog he has the filing papers for a since-closed 2004 lawsuit by Carmine Infantino, claiming ownership over some characters. The most interesting aspect in the post is a letter from fellow old pro (and now deceased) Mike Esposito. All these lawsuits, all these claims. All the hoopla around the relaunched DC, in all its silliness, just makes me think about lawsuits.

-Speaking of which, Tom Spurgeon interviewed Archie’s Jon Goldwater on Sunday about the publishing company’s new initiatives.

-And finally, David Apatoff asks if it’s OK to like pulp art. I’m going to give this one an enthusiastic yes.