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Taking Things Too Seriously

Hi there,

On the site today:

* Frank Santoro’s latest Color Workbook focuses on the use of gray and color layering:

The reason for studying gray and how it relates to color is rooted in grisaille painting. Most traditional oil paintings before the 20th century were painted in gray first – then the colors were glazed over in very thin, transparent layers.

* Hayley Campbell reviews Even The Giants and finds it a mixed, but mostly good bag.

* Michael DeForge begins our cartoonist diary challenge! Well, he took it on early, and so we present a week in this whipper-snapper’s life back in March.

* And finally, did you hear that TCJ 301 is coming out? I bet you did. It’s been having what we like to call a “rolling release.” You can pre-order it here. Should be in all stores in early July. And it’s a doozy. So anyway, throughout June we’ll be posting excerpts from the issue, starting today with a selection from Gary Groth’s Joe Sacco interview.

On another subject… Harry Mendryk posted a response to James Van Hise’s comment on our Fighting American post, and it kind of triggered some thoughts of my own. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Harry’s dedication and am thrilled that the Titan Simon & Kirby Library even exists in the first place. These books are really the best reprints ever done of this seminal material. But something struck me about Harry’s post. He writes:

Readers of my previous posts on the subject of restoration should know that I do not recreate line art (a process that Marvel still continues to use for their reprints of golden age material). However the end result of my restorations is by no means just a scan. I have no problems with describing what I do as “touch ups” only not in the manner that the TCJ commenter uses the term. Frankly the original printing used in these comics was pretty poor. Now as far as I am concerned reprints of just scans is far superior to art recreation however I prefer to try to correct some of the printing flaws.

What’s interesting here is the notion of “printing flaws.” He’s undoubtedly right that the printing was hardly technically precise, and could obscure the line work. But nevertheless, there is real beauty in those “flaws,” and character, too. The old hand-cut separations and absorbent newsprint was the form for which these comics were made. The final art was not the line art on board, but rather the comic book itself. I know, this is basic stuff, but somehow we get lost trying to find the “perfect” form for things when, really, the form itself exists.

I should be clear that I’m not arguing against Harry’s process: It’s one of the best options for this work, and and in terms of showing us crisp linework with an approximation of the intended color, it’s by far the best, and it is historically invaluable because it allows us to really see the mix of line and color by a master, as rendered now, in a world of technical precision.

But we also lose a lot with this process: We lose the essence of the object itself, and all the unintentional, accidental information that object contains. And the fact is, that information was a big part of how these comics were read and absorbed. It is a kind of ghostly soul…  Over the last year or so John Hilgart has made a pretty convincing for this information, this soul, particularly in his “In Defense of Dots: The Lost Art of Comics Books“:

In the mid-20th century comic book, millions of details undermined sequential art time by making readerly time infinitely variable. Details – along with the color process – provided textures, way stations, and destinations for the eye. Choose your own adventure. Find your personal fetishes in the nooks and crannies. Comic book art’s backwater of purely instrumental and often arbitrary visual information was the horizon of meaning, the place where the reading experience became most individual. The tightly controlled wish fulfillment strategies of plot were unhinged by free-floating objects of desire – the details just out of reach, gazing back at us through the electrical field of process printing.

More recently, in an FAQ, he writes:

I believe that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jack Kirby developed an opposing meta-aesthetic of comic books. He embraced the underlying chaotic, radioactive dots and force fields of the printed page, and he enlarged them into entire galaxies and negative zones. When the Fantastic Four dove into another dimension, they were diving into comic books themselves, shooting past four-color planetoids and through the wavy energy of bleedy black ink. Kirby’s cosmic crackles are benday dots that have gone supernova and collapsed into black holes.

I can leave the theory there, as John nails it better than I can. I’m not posing this as the “right” way, just another way, and a way to remember. I respect what Harry is doing — it beats anything else out there for restoration work, but there is this other thing, which is being done well in the Fletcher Hanks and Ditko books published by Fantagraphics, or the John Stanley Library by D&Q. Those pages, noise and all, are more alive and more representative of the comic book itself. It may not be representative of the art as it left the drawing board, though, and that’s where Harry comes in.

I should note that this is a thing apart from the IDW “Artist’s Editions” and recent Toth book, which present the original art as drawings first, rather than comic-book pages. Or even the old Russ Cochran E.C. and Stanley editions, which were shot from stats and presented the cleanest view possible of the line art — not the comic books, but the line art itself. And there’s much to be said for both of these approaches. The former allows us to view the work as the artist did, and to understand more about the process, marks, smudged and erasures and all. It’s invaluable to deepening our understanding of what drawing consists of in comics. And the latter can be crucial to getting at the formal properties of comic book storytelling: Stanley’s rigorously structured stories and meticulous layouts are best understood this way. Likewise, Wally Wood and Graham Ingel’s horror vacui approach to drawing made color an intrusion, rather than a companion, and their work really is best seen with the color removed.

That’s the beauty of all these options: There’s no Platonic ideal for this work — just choices (some, of course, are flat out misguided, like the Marvel “restoration” process, which involves re-drawing) along a continuum populated, at last, by people intent on achieving one goal or another. Harry has his very noble, highly informed goal, Hilgart has his, I have mine, etc., but where they all intersect is a deep respect for the art and the artists rather than the properties or the merchandise. It’s this “art first” (however you define it) approach that’s made the last 6 or 7 years so exciting for comics scholarship.

 

Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

That’s right, I’m continuing my pointless quest to see every super hero movie this summer. So no links today. And anyway, what would you want to know? The sky is falling, so let’s go watch the real reason Marvel and DC keep publishing comics. Tuesday night I made Tim come with me to see a preview of X-Men: First Class because Dapper Dan sees these movies so you won’t have to!

As you may know, this installment in the X saga is a prequel. Or a pre-boot. Whatever, it takes places in the early 1960s and shows us young Magneto and Professor X becoming the mutants that they are later on. It also introduces a ton of characters for, I assume, future sequels. What at first seems like it might be a kinda cute movie about two opposing mutants set in the groovy 1960s (by the way, the ’60s stuff is done so badly that you gotta wonder if anyone even bothered to try google images or something. It’s all mini-skirts and turtlenecks, but none of the visual inspiration, which is kind of a shame. In other words, there’s no style in this thing.) just expands and expands like a checklist: The Holocaust, the Cuban Missile Crisis; go-go dancing; the CIA; The origin of Cerebro; the origin of the fancy plane; the origin of the Mansion; the origin of Magneto’s helmet; the origin of the costumes. I’m almost surprised they didn’t throw in a quick lesson on human reproduction … wait, they basically do! And then all around these bits there are submarines and planes and missiles and Russian hideouts and even a scene in a bar in Argentina that seems like a direct homage (too soon?) to Inglourious Basterds. Oh man, it’s endless.

It balloons so much that we even get an A-Team-esque (lord of prose forgive me for that) split screens of mutants training and high-fiving, frequent cuts to an enormous map of the world with cute little missile and tank symbols assembled to show the Cold War positions, and even this scene, which reminds me of the 1960s Batman TV show:

Yes, that’s a guy in red make-up named Azazel, a la the TV show Angel, and poor January Jones, absolutely wooden as Emma Frost, steering a submarine. There are lots of shots of them steering a submarine. Hilarious. Couldn’t Sebastian Shaw hire qualified submarine people? Like so much of the movie, it’s incredibly goofy, but not intentionally. I mean, I wish it had been goofy and fun, but there’s too much “Mutant and proud” talk and all together too much on the “tragic” bro-mance between Professor X and Magneto to really make it all together tongue-in-cheek.

There are some requisite crises, but there’s no time to actually focus on anything because the director, Matthew Vaughn, keeps moving us from origin/set-piece/set-up to another. For example, the three images below, all shot the same way, recur throughout the film: Two people talking earnestly to each other. This gets old, since the dialogue is so cheesy.

Matthew Vaughn and co. just couldn’t decide where to focus, and so the focus is nil. Couch talking to missile launching to beer drinking, all played the same, with no sense hierarchy. Just endless stuff thrown at us.

It’s funny, at least the Iron Man-model films, including Thor, as well as the first two X-Men films, have a clear dramatic arc and a central narrative, but here there’s just factoids. X-Men: First Class might be fun for trivia buffs, or if you have a macabre interest in “spot the swipes” but for the rest of us it’s a bit of a chore. But, I will say I was relieved to note that I didn’t spot a Stan Lee appearance. Tim says he will probably pop up in Green Lantern. Here’s hoping! See you next time, faithful readers.

 

From a Point Between Rage & Serenity

Good morning, boys and girls. I’m filling in for Dapper Dan this morning, as he’s busy prepping a review of the latest superhero movie extravaganza. I guess he’s doing to do this all summer…

Today on the site, Chris Mautner interviews Leslie Stein, the young cartoonist behind the recently released Eye of the Majestic Creature.

In other news, I don’t think I can bear to read or write any more about the DC renumbering/digital announcement, but it’s probably worth noting that Dark Horse has released a few details of their new digital strategy, which is clearly intended to appear more direct-market-friendly.

Other than that, there are a lot of artist interviews and profiles this week.

First, a Gary Panter video interview with French Vogue!

TCJ.com contributor Matthias Wivel has posted a 2004 Louis Riel-era interview with Chester Brown, which has never previously appeared in English.

There are two recent Ivan Brunetti pieces going around, one an excellent profile from the Chicago Tribune, the other an audio interview with someone named “Mr. Media.”

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but Tom Spurgeon posted a long, sure-to-be-worthwhile conversation with Ed Brubaker on Sunday.

Also, in big news that didn’t make as much of a splash as I would have expected (maybe some magic spell fogged the public consciousness): The real life alter ego of Doctor Strange was revealed last week.

Finally, the 2011 Reuben Award winners were announced this weekend. Congratulations to TCJ.com diarist Joyce Farmer for winning the graphic novel award. Alan Gardner rounds up info on the event here.

 

Is This Crisis Infinite or Final?

This morning we have an exclusive preview of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Fighting American. As Dan writes in his introduction to the excerpt, Fighting American was “Simon and Kirby’s Cold War parody of their own Captain America, in which they still had some stake—though how much, and when they realized that, is a little unclear.”

And Joe McCulloch has his report on the week in comics, as always. Despite the Memorial Day holiday, comics shops should be selling new titles today, but some stores may be waiting until tomorrow.

The Countdown is Over!

There probably isn’t a comic book store in North America that isn’t anxiously awaiting August 31, after yesterday’s announcement about changes at DC Comics—namely, a “historic renumbering of the entire DC Universe line of comic books with 52 first issues,” and “day-and-date digital publishing for all these ongoing titles, making DC Comics the first of the two major American publishers to release all of its superhero comic book titles digitally the same day as in print.”

This is potentially a very big deal, and all of the usual suspects have commentary on the announcement. Tom Spurgeon’s initial reaction: “This sounds completely idiotic.” The prominent retailer (and one of Spurgeon’s frequent debate opponents) Brian Hibbs, on the other hand, believes that it is “FUCKING insane.” Hibbs doubts that the market can handle a move of this magnitude in the current economy. Fellow retailer Mike Sterling is similarly worried about the impact, but cautions that it is “a bit early to enter panic mode.” Tim O’Neil is organizing drinking games.

And there’s a lot more of course. I’ll just point out a few landmarks of possible interest. JK Parkin at Robot 6 wraps things up here. TCJ columnist Sean T. Collins writes about the pros and cons, and says that “the most important question to [him] is ‘Will this yield more good comics?’” [My guess: not likely.] Jim Smith ponders the same question. The Beat collects various creators’ reactions on Twitter here, and an updated roundup of media speculation here. Elsewhere, Graeme McMillan catches a particularly pointed tweet from Brian Michael Bendis. That’s probably enough to get you started. I am sure there will be further updates and discussion in all of the normal places, so if you want to spend a lot of time thinking and arguing about the comic book business, the next few days are going to be heaven for you.

I don’t make any claims for myself as an industry analyst, but to my thinking, the “historic renumbering” of DC’s superhero titles (which seems to have garnered the lion’s share of commentary) isn’t nearly as big a deal in the long run as the announcement that DC will be selling all of the titles digitally on the same date as their print publication. It is hard to believe that this isn’t going to be a huge blow to the direct market’s sales. On the other hand, this development has seemed more or less inevitable for a few years now, and while people may not have expected the switch to day-and-date digital to happen this summer, everyone knew it was coming eventually. I guess I’d say to you that if you really like your local comic store, now is the time to frequent it — before it goes the way of your favorite local record shop.

But I’d like to be wrong.

 

Slow News Day

Welcome back. It’s been a relaxing weekend.

On the site Frank Santoro’s Color Workbook series is off to a bang-up start. Do your homework!

A few quick links and then we’re outta here.

-Contributor Joe McCulloch looks back on his own recent work.

-While we were reclining, Tom Spurgeon brought it! He’s got a great interview with Ed Brubaker and his annual, awe-inspiring guide to Comic-Con.

Frank Young finds some more hitherto uncredited John Stanley stories, and elaborates a bit on his search methodology.

And finally, Despot of The Fletcher Hanks Fan Association Paul Karasik wrote in last week with following argument, buttressed by visual evidence:

I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree with Ken Parille’s assessment that Chris Ware is the heir to Jack Kirby, whose, “Allegories of creation often involve the rhetoric of sexual reproduction”. This torch has been passed to Sammy Harkham.


 

Viva!

Hi there.

On the site today:

* Shaenon Garrity on Wandering Son Vol. 1.

* And note: We’re taking the long weekend seriously. Posting will resume (except for Frank, because he can’t be stopped) on Tuesday.

Elsewhere:

-I just recently came across this excellent overview of Zap by Steve Heller. Remember, New Yorkers, the Zap show is still up at Andrew Edlin and the catalog is available from yours truly.

- Sean T. Collins reviews the latest book from the Closed Caption Comics crew, whose work is always worth keeping up with. Rumor has it they’re soon releasing a porn comic compilation, which I look forward to.

This week’s TCJ Talkie interviewee, Jessica Abel, presents an interview with Howard Chaykin on teaching comics at Marvel itself.

Image from Pravda by Peelaert

Conflict of interest, but fuck it: I’m thrilled that mother company Fantagraphics is releasing two graphic novels by the great French artist Guy PeelaertThe Adventures of Jodelle (1966) and Pravda (1967). Peelaert’s books are part of an underexplored genre of European cartooning in the late 1960s: Pop-inflected, often psychedelic comics with female leads.

From the article at Previews:

The Adventures of Jodelle, whose voluptuous title heroine was modeled after French teen idol Sylvie Vartan, is a satirical spy story set in a Space Age Roman-Empire fantasy world. Its then-revolutionary clashing of high and low culture references, borrowing as much from Renaissance painting as from a fetishized American consumer culture, marked the advent of the Pop movement within the nascent “9th art” of comic books, not yet dignified as “graphic novels” but already a source of great influence in avant-garde artistic circles. Visually, Jodelle was a major aesthetic shock. According to New York magazine, its “lusciously designed, flat color patterns and dizzy forced perspective reminiscent of Matisse and Japanese prints set a new record in comic-strip sophistication.”

Guy Peelaert, circa Pravda-era, late 1960s. Courtesy Dan Donahue.

Peelaert later adopted a photo-realist style for album cover work, but in these two books and countless illustrations he was right in line with Peter Max, Heinz Edelmann, Keiichi Tanaami, Tadanori Yokoo and even Milton Glaser in his clean-line, pop style. Here we had the more traditionally rendered adventures of Phoebe Zeitgeist, Little Annie Fanny, Wicked Wanda, and a couple others, but nothing like the pop/psych explosions in France (Barbarella, of course), Italy, Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere. These comics even sometimes crossed into groovy fashion spreads, like this one:

Image courtesy Dan Donahue

Well anyway, should be interesting to see these books come out, and I hope to see more!

 

A Light Day

This morning on the site we have Jeet Heer’s interview with the important animator and cartoonist, R. O. Blechman.

But before you get to that, there’s some important news on the print front for the Journal, namely, that the legendarily elusive issue 301 is finally about to ship, and is available for pre-order now. As I’ve actually held a copy in my own hands, I can vouch for the physical existence of the issue. Very soon, you will see for yourself. Here’s a video with more proof:

And here’s some interior photos.

Elsewhere:

The late, great Bill Blackbeard wrote a memoir of his experiences with comic-strip preservation in 2003 for the International Journal of Comic Art, which has just republished it.

In a much-linked piece for the Guardian, the political cartoonist Steve Bell reflects on his own thirty-year career with the paper.

And here’s a video for that:

In response to to Frank Santoro’s many writings on color, Ed Piskor posts an old-school color chart.

 

Here We Go

It’s the mid-week break:

On the site today we bring you:

-Mike Dawson talks to cartoonist and educator Jessica Abel via TCJ Talkies.

-Hayley Campbell reviews Victor Kerlow’s Small Victories, starting with the envelope it arrived in.

-Sophie Yanow’s interview with Brecht Evens on his work and geography. Here’s a taste of what I think is a fine contextualization of Evens:

Evens is hesitant to call himself a part of a “scene,” citing his international outlook. However, this outlook seems to characterize a group of young, upcoming Belgian cartoonists, whose work is cross-pollinated by many art forms and locales: Evens’ former classmate and friend Brecht Vandenbroucke has found an international presence online and in various publications through the likes of England’s Nobrow Press and the Latvian anthology KUS!

And elsewhere:

Tom Spurgeon contributes a thoughtful obituary of the French comics giant Paul Gillon, and provides a link to a fine appreciation, to boot. I can’t figure out how Tom writes these things so well and so fast.

TCJ contributor Chris Mautner scoops us with this incisive interview with Dave McKean on the artist’s new book, Celluloid. We’ll have a review soon, just you wait. I’ve read and puzzled over the book. I’m curious what readers will make of it.

The New York Times on Paying for It, or as Jeet wrote to me, “The NY Times referred to Chester Brown as looking like ‘a praying mantis with testicles.’ That has to be the first reference in the Times to a cartoonist’s genitals.” I hope it’s not the last!

I’m very pleased a book is being planned about the great Don Donahue. There aren’t really any comparable figures, and he sure was involved in a lot of important culture outside of comics.

Over on his own site (sniff, we miss you), Dustin Harbin expands on his thoughts about comic book awards, sparked by his Cartoonist’s Diary stint last week. The comments here have some good back and forth.

The New Yorker has a video up of someone you never hear much about — Tom Bachtell, who does the Talk of the Town spot illustrations. It’s a pleasant diversion and insight into a very specific craft.

And, just for kicks, here’s an article I enjoyed about the Warhol market at New York magazine.