Columns – The Comics Journal Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:53:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 (Mike Dawson) (Mike Dawson) 1440 The Comics Journal 144 144 The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson no no THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/22/17 – Welcome to the “real” world.) Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This past weekend I had the great fortune to pick up the Spring 2017 issue of Shogakukan’s quarterly Golgo 13 magazine – a nearly 300-page compendium of complete storylines featuring Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, the Perfect Machine of Snipe, a hyper-competent assassin created by gekiga founding father Takao Saitō way back in 1968. Next year it’ll be half a century of people getting shot directly between the eyes from a faraway perch, but don’t fool yourself into thinking the franchise is irrelevant; later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan will be hosting an online manual in which G13 will dispense valuable (and presumably non-murderous) safety tips for business travelers abroad. Canny move for a comic aimed squarely at aging men, but as I was soon to find out, the feature is not without a lingering energy.

If you’re as familiar with Golgo 13 as I am, the above sequence will seem almost pornographic. Why is Duke suffering like this in a random hotel room? It’s like seeing the Shadow slam his hand in a car door; Saitō and his large crew of assistants at Saitō-Pro — which put out another 40-or-so pages of this stuff every two weeks, without fail — are well aware of the iconographic power of seeing their unbeatable champion marksman writhing from physical illness, his drippy skin a putrid salmon in the opening color sequence. Per a 2015 NHK television documentary (unofficial subtitles), the now-octogenarian Saitō still draws images of Golgo 13 himself in the comic, though I wonder if he pushed himself here to present the character in so agonized a state, or if Duke’s infirmity rendered him a conceptually lesser being, passed off to supplemental hands.

The story is titled “Messenger from the Canopy” – it’s dated to January of 2011, clocking in at Episode 508 per the franchise’s terrifying storyline wiki. Immediately after the dramatic open, we’re thrust into a flashback detailing G13’s typically amoral attitude; he’s been contracted by a Big Pharma fat cat to eliminate a pesky biologist whose research in the Costa Rica rainforest is threatening profits. Ever the professional, Duke makes it look like an accident.

But alas, Duke’s identity is discovered by the biologist’s subordinates, who plan a most awful retaliation – smearing a special toxin on the doorknob of his hotel, to infect him through contact with the skin.

I can’t say I’ve had the chance to look at every one of the preceding 507 adventures in paid murder, but my sense is that it’s somewhat unusual to depict Golgo 13 physically suffering from the fallout of his deeds. Indeed, the client — the aforementioned Big Pharma fat cat — is soon depicted succumbing to his own sudden bout of mystery flu.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that we’re seeing a newly ‘moral’ Golgo 13. From what I have read — including the thousands of pages translated to English — the series endeavors to maintain a very even tone, never aggressively cruel, but unwilling to allow too much in the way of empathetic concern to trouble its holy mission: presenting Duke Togo as the most marvelous man who ever lived. In this way, it makes perfect sense to kill the fat cat: he’s a gratuitously greedy, mean villain, and it would be sad if he got away. And, moreover, the sight of his mashed potato physiology succumbing to death’s embrace in 2.8 seconds contrasts nicely with the sweat-drenched survival of the impossibly manly title character.

Still, he’s gonna need a little help.

LOOK AT THAT FIRST PANEL. It takes a comic more-or-less explicitly aimed at middle-aged men to really nail the business supremely normcore business casual shit going on in here, and I don’t think any American comic can compare. Also of note is the local specialist brought in to aid Duke’s condition; Golgo 13 storylines tend to spend a great deal of time explicating the problematic international situations into which the title character fires bullets, but the studiousness generally stands apart from the ‘thrill’ portion of the comic: the exotica, on which G13’s international travels depend for their escapist kick. Thus:

Hot enough for ya? It was hot enough for Golgo 13 magazine that one of the panels was reproduced in color on the back cover, highlighting the cadaverous tone of Duke’s skin, and perhaps the mystic foreignness of the darker-hued men surrounding him.

Meanwhile, word has spread about G13’s condition, and vengeful motherfuckers from a totally different assassination are en route to finally settle the score. One can scarcely imagine the power vacuum that would be left in place of the departed Duke Togo, given that he’s been involved in a wide variety of world events since 1968, while somehow remaining 30-ish years of age, a la Batman. Did you know Golgo 13 clinched the 2000 election for Bush? The incredible facts are in vol. 13 of VIZ’s English books. Two years ago, there was a suggestion that Saitō would soon wrap the series up, but nothing seems to have come of it; perhaps he too (or the suits at Shogakukan) understood the implications of a financial vacuum as well.

Anyway, the revenge squad sets upon Duke’s sickbed, but even on the verge of death he remains the most outstanding shootist who ever bent a finger:

Ha ha, he even did a Buffalo Bill trick shot knocking the pistol out of that guy’s hand!

As expected, everything wraps itself up by virtue of Golgo 13 being inarguably better than everyone else. The natural therapy specialist gets paid, the various aggressors and betrayers are all killed, and — duly restored to health — Duke sets off to take care of those who dared make him bend the human knee in a manner not completely dissimilar to Nancy Allen and John Travolta at the end of Carrie, although maybe I’m just imagining the frame spinning around and around.

And while I don’t know if some photo-reference specialist at Saitō-Pro had to draw the panel of the muzzle flash on pg. 81 or simply copy it from the extremely similar image of such from the jungle assassination nine JPEGs above, I would place a very modest amount of money on Takao Saitō himself drawing the final panel of Golgo 13 surveying his handiwork. That, friends, is an anti-hero shot.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero: Being the newest Drawn and Quarterly collection of work by Michael DeForge, this time a weekly webcomic that approximated what the artist’s presence in an alternative weekly could have looked like in an era when those things were more common. A very particular melange of family drama, outdoorsy Canadian literary burlesque, overt self-parody and bleak gag work, presented as a 96-page, 10.9″ x 5.8″ two-color hardcover; $24.95.

The Interview: And here is the next Fantagraphics release from Italian-born cartoonist Manuele Fior, following quickly on last year’s translation of 5,000 km Per Second. This is a newer work, released in Europe in 2013, concerning a psychologist and his patient encountering what seems to be an interstellar message from an alien race. “[A] science fiction novel that eschews the stars in favor of the delicate, fragile, interior world of human emotion,” sez the publisher. A 6.75″ x 9.5″ duotone hardcover, 176 pages; $24.99.


The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation (&) Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel: Two very different, opposing strains of thought here. Torture Report is the work of Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, a pair of longtime genre comic hands who, in 2006, achieved a new degree of visibility through their production of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, a comics version of findings by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States which proved novel and perhaps more readily accessible to some readers than the source text. Many nonfiction works followed, with The Torture Report, a 144-page Nation Books release, providing a presumably similar rendition of 2014 findings by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concerning CIA practice during the George W. Bush administration. Terms and Conditions, meanwhile, is artist R. Sikoryak‘s parody of this impulse, transforming the October 21, 2015 update to the iTunes Terms & Conditions into a conceptual graphic novel, with each page finding the style of a different cartoonist or creative team seeking poignantly to dramatize the most skippable text ever drafted. A huge swathe of international styles are attempted, ranging from newspaper strips to manga to Euro masters to recent Image Comics and bookstore market hits. A Drawn and Quarterly softcover, 108 color pages; $16.99 (Report), $14.95 (Terms).

Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (&) A Treasury of XXth Century Murder Compendium Vol. 1: More from our world of nonfiction, courtesy of two alt-comics lifers. Fire!! is the latest comics biography from Peter Bagge, whom I cannot say I predicted would be heading in this direction. Busy Drawn and Quarterly publishes 104 color pages on the author and folklorist of the title, a divisive figure in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. A Treasury of XXth Century Murder is the most recent iteration of a longstanding passion of artist Rick Geary, detailing various historical killings from a sober perspective. The 240-page NBM “Compendium” collects three earlier volumes (The Lindbergh Child, 2010; The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, 2010; Madison Square Tragedy, 2013) into a single hardcover; $21.95 (Fire!!), $27.99 (Murder).

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie Adaptation: If you thought writer/artist Tom Scioli was finished playing with Hasbro toys… you’re sort of right, but not entirely! This 40-page IDW special represents Scioli’s ‘adaptation’ of a (wholly imaginary) movie based on his own 2014-16 series with co-writer John Barber, which will be getting an all-in-one collection of its own next month. I really enjoy this stuff – some of the only throwback map-of-my-interests genre work to incorporate the influence of stuff like Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X among the poppier cartoon standards. Preview; $4.99.

The Black Flame Archives #1 (of 7): Speaking of offbeat fantasy fare, this Devil’s Due/1First series — “1First” being the present form of the former First Comics — promises a re-colored presentation of a backup feature Tom Sutton pencilled for Starslayer in the mid-’80s with inker Don Lomax and writer Peter B. Gillis. I’ve never read this stuff, but I’ll look at Sutton’s art, sure; $5.99.

Judge Dredd: Deviations (&) Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf (&) Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls: Three distinct flavors of authoritarianism from both sides of the Atlantic, sometimes all at once. Deviations is part of the U.S.-based strain of Judge Dredd comics from IDW, albeit written and drawn by a longtime 2000 AD contributor, John McCrea (colored by Mike Spicer) – it’s a What If…? type of thing, following up on a 1983 storyline that saw the title character transformed into a werewolf. At the same time, Cry of the Werewolf is IDW’s new presentation of that very story, written by John Wagner & Alan Grant and drawn by Steve Dillon, who died last year. The 48-page special is structured, in fact, as a memorial to Dillon, with pieces of tribute art accompanying the b&w/color main story and a portion of the proceeds donated to the Hero Initiative, apparently Dillon’s preferred charity. Every Empire Falls, on the other hand, is a Rebellion collection of seven recent stories from 2000 AD, written by Michael Carroll and drawn by various artists, including Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra; $4.99 (Deviations), $5.99 (Werewolf), $25.00 (Empire).

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 5 (&) Master Keaton Vol. 10 (&) BLAME! Vol. 3: All the manga of note to me this week comes from continuing series, so I’ll do this quickly. Goodnight Punpun is VIZ’s two-in-one release of brutal youth comics by Inio Asano, I believe set to be complete, therefore, in 7 books. Master Keaton is yet more episodic insurance investigation suspense/sentimentality created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika. There should be 12 volumes of this in total, unless VIZ is also planning on releasing the 2012-14 revival series, which would up it to 13. BLAME! comes from Vertical, dropping another 354 pages of Tsutomu Nihei’s architectural action comics in a very flattering oversized format. There should be 6 of these; $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton), $34.95 (BLAME!).

Starstruck – Artist’s Edition (&) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar: At the Earth’s Core: Finally, we have a pair of releases representing older works by a colleague of the late Bernie Wrightson, the still-active Michael Wm. Kaluta, whose Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die series with writer/co-creator Elaine Lee is currently ongoing from IDW. Naturally, that same publisher is behind the Starstruck – Artist’s Edition, a 12″ x 17″, 144-page hardcover presenting the original 1980s Heavy Metal/Marvel Graphic Novel serial along with two issues of the subsequent Epic comic book series in the form of Kaluta’s original art, shot in color. Pellucidar is a 104-page Dark Horse collection of ’70s DC comics, including a 1973 issue of Weird Worlds drawn by Kaluta (written by Dennis O’Neil), along with other stories drawn by Alan Weiss and Dan Green; $150.00(-ish) (Starstruck), $12.99 (Pellucidar).

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/15/17 – Temple of Water) Tue, 14 Mar 2017 12:44:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Everything is closed, but we’re still open.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Eartha: Being the newest graphic novel by Cathy Malkasian, a longtime operator in television and feature film animation who has since carved out a strikingly assured and personal space in allegorical humane fantasy comics. The scenario involves a mystic quest to a city from where dreams emerge: “an expansive tale of pastoral life, city corruption, greed, and addictions,” per Fantagraphics, which has published all four of the artist’s book-format works. A 256-page two-color release, 11.5″ x 9.625″ in hardcover; $29.99.

Island #15: It seems circumstances arranged themselves quickly enough that the solicitation text could not reflect it, but this is the final issue of the Image comics anthology magazine fronted by artists Brandon Graham and Emma Ríos, a forum for long-ish chunks of serial works in a primarily visually-driven SF/fantasy genre vein, with some notable delving into anthropomorphic animal drama. Or, at least *I* found it notable. I also understand that Graham himself will have some work in this one, along with Farel Dalrymple and Dilraj Mann, the latter a young artist whom I suspect found an early introduction to a wider readership through his participation in the series; $9.99.


The Metabaron Vol. 2: The Techno-Cardinal & The Transhuman (&) Siberia 56: Two French comics here in a familiar ‘dark’ SF vein. The Metabaron is an ongoing spinoff-of-a-spinoff sourced back to The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius, now concerned with space mercenary action co-written by Jerry Frissen and drawn by various hands. The Canadian artist Niko Henrichon, recognizable from assorted DC and Marvel works, is up this time for a 112-page, 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover. Siberia 56 is a 2014-16 SF/horror series written by Christophe Bec, who’s done some work for Les Humanoïdes in the past, although this Glénat series has been picked up as an early all-in-one release from Insight Comics, a new subdivision of the art book publisher Insight Editions. The artist is Alexis Sentenac, and the hardcover dimensions appear to be 8.5″ x 11.2″; $29.95 (Metabaron), $24.99 (Siberia).

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir (&) In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living With Cancer: Autobiographical comics in the bookstore-ready vein over here. The Best We Could Do is an Abrams release from Saigon-born artist Thi Bui, “[e]xploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family,” having attracted some praise from the likes of Leela Corman and Craig Thompson. A 336-page two-color hardcover. In-Between Days is from House of Anansi Press, a Canadian outfit which I haven’t before associated with comics publishing. The artist, Teva Harrison, has worked extensively on the topic of living with cancer at The Walrus, and this 128-page work was apparently a finalist for a 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award via the Canada Council for the Arts; $24.95 (Best), $19.95 (Days).

A Contract With God & Other Tenement Stories (&) Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration, 1917-2017: It’s a commemorative year for Eisner, as you can see, so here’s a pair of items reflecting that fact. A Contract With God is a new 224-page W.W. Norton hardcover compiling various Eisner works as sourced from high-resolution scans from the original art, the centerpiece being his titular 1978 urban drama. The Centennial Celebration is a Dark Horse release – a 10″ x 14″, 176-page hardcover catalog for exhibitions at Le Musée de la Bande Dessinée and the NYC Society of Illustrators (through June 3rd), presented in French and English; $25.95 (Contract), $49.99 (Centennial).

2000 AD’s Greatest: Celebrating 40 Years of Thrill-Power!: Meanwhile, the party continues apace for the venerable UK genre comics weekly with this 112-page themed collection, in which various contributors to the magazine from over the years select a short piece by another contributor and explain why they like it. Should be fun; $17.99.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 1: Finally, here is VIZ with some highly-relevant video game tie-in manga. As you may know, Nintendo recently released a new title in its popular The Legend of Zelda franchise of fantasy adventures. Titled Breath of the Wild, the game draws rather extensive artistic influence from the works of animator Hayao Miyazaki — both in terms of visual texture as well as the vaguely ecological, memento mori tone of its scenario — while sewing together bits of game design from a wide range of recently-popular global sources (as well as its own extensive history). It is very much a magpie work, though certainly not the first time the people at Nintendo have looked to outside influence; recently, Dark Horse published an English edition of the franchise’s Art & Artifacts compendium of production art, and I was very interested to find one of the primary artists, one Yusuke Nakano, alluding to the influence of “an overseas comic I was a fan of at the time” over his illustration work on the 2000 title Majora’s Mask:

He’s talking about Hellboy, right? Certainly this looks like an unusual fusion of the Zelda series’ rather anime-informed design interests and the hard shadows of Mike Mignola – and imagine my surprise, then, upon reading a sidebar, to find Nakano praising the American likes of Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben(!) and Sam Kieth(!!) as artists he respects. And while Art & Artifacts does not go out of its way to clarify the identities of the people responsible for much of the art therein, further examination of the Majora’s Mask section reveals some further work in a relevant vein.

That’s some Arthur Suydam shit right there! Anyway, Nakano also headed up the designs for 2006’s Twilight Princess, a game redolent of a certain Tolkien calendar approach to ‘realism’, but this latecoming manga adaptation, begun in conjunction with a 2016 HD re-release of the game, is the work of Akira Himekawa, another longstanding figure in Zelda history – “Himekawa” is actually a pair of artists, the ‘official’ manga adaptation team for the franchise since the late 1990s, working in a much more distinctly (read: conservatively) commercial manga vein than the games’ actual production staffs. Nonetheless, if you’re hankering for more stuff, it’s stuff you’ll have; $9.99.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/8/17 – The Patter of Rain on the Roof Brings Me Blessed Sleep) Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:00:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Desperate moments from Cloud Stories, a long-gestating self-published work from artist K. Thor Jensen; I backed a Kickstarter campaign for the project in 2013, though I can find references to the title as early as 2007, the year Alternative Comics released his first book, Red Eye, Black Eye, an anecdotal memoir. Cloud Stories is quite different – its 216 pages encompass everything from poetry to fantasy to superheroes, nonfiction, wordless flights of drawing… all linked by the presence of clouds. Also, there is a gritty sci-fi crime story titled “Vape”, which inevitably is what I have excerpted above. What will vaping be like in the near-future? Dangerous. Vaping will be the most dangerous game, one we are all going to lose. This and more, available to non-backers through Amazon at the moment.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



I Thought YOU Hated ME: Retrofit/Big Planet has been on a run lately with long-short comics, somewhere south of 100 pages. The other week we had Anya Davidson’s Lovers in the Garden, and now we’ve got this 64-page piece by MariNaomi, experienced purveyor of autobiographical comics. A series of comic-strip vignettes covering three decades, the book surveys “female friendship,” vowing to avoid “stale tropes like acrimonious competition or fighting over boys,” as the publisher puts it. Landscape format, 9.5″ x 7″; $9.00.

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant: Kodansha Whoa, look at that cover – surely this is one manga that’s shooting for the general graphic novel audience. I actually saw some of this when it was serialized in Kodansha’s line-leading weekly seinen magazine, Morning, starting in 2013; at the time I wondered if artist Kazuto Tatsuta wasn’t a former assistant on Golgo 13, given that he draws eyebrows in much the same manner. As it turns out, he’s an amateur artist who found himself with a lot of free time after absorbing the maximum advisable radiation while working cleanup at Fukushima Daiichi following that much-covered disaster. The result of his labor was a highly-successful entry in one of Kodansha’s new artist competitions, and ultimately this 536-page comics memoir, a detail-oriented account of what the day-to-day affairs are like on such a heavy vocation. Though the work occupies three volumes in Japanese, I believe this Kodansha USA softcover should collect everything; $24.99.


California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas: Sometimes it feels like these biographical comics are liable to usurp ‘people with their clothes off in the future’ as the most readily stereotyped iteration of French comics in English; obviously there’s a lot of stuff to choose from. This week’s entry comes courtesy of First Second and artist Pénélope Bagieu, who saw the work published in French in 2015. Across 272 b&w pages, we follow the future Mama Cass as she navigates the entertainment scene of the ’60s bereft of the kind of looks favored of star performers. A hardcover release; $24.99.

Sky Doll: Sudra #1 (of 2): On the other hand – there’s always a place for this. The creation of Disney Italia artists Alessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa — the former draws, the latter colors, both write — Sky Doll blends religious and social satire with far-future concepts and a not-inconsiderable amount of cheesecake in a manner long-favored by American consumers of BD, though since it’s the 21st century the visual approach also strives to approximate a heavily candied feature anime aesthetic. I’ve kind of lost track of the various side-stories and whatnot, but this is the long-delayed fourth album in the ‘main’ series (another colorist, Cyrille Bertin, is now involved), released in French just last year and presented in English by Titan initially here as a small comic book miniseries; $3.99.

Nightlights (&) Street Tiger #1: Two comics from artists with which I’m unfamiliar, selected mainly on the character of the art. Nightlights is a 64-page Nobrow hardcover from Colombian illustrator Lorena Alvarez. A debut comic, the very lushly-colored story concerns a little girl who makes a new, possibly supernatural friend. Street Tiger is the comic book-format work of Madrid’s Ertito Montana, “a violent, revenge thriller” about a helmeted killer told in a very gestural format. An Amigo Comics release, this edition colorizes the work from a 2015 black, white and red format; $18.95 (Nightlights), $3.99 (Tiger).

Man-Thing #1 (of 5): Marvel has not given up on securing celebrity writers for their comics, and so we now have a new swamp monster miniseries scripted by juvenile horror impresario R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame. Note, however, that Stine dates back a lot further than that, having edited the youth magazine Bananas at Scholastic in the ’70s and ’80s (where his wife was a colleague of future DC publisher Jenette Kahn), at one point collaborating with a young Stephen R. Bissette. The artist here is German Peralta (of various Marvel projects over the last few years), colored by Rachelle Rosenberg. Preview; $3.99.

The Manara Library Vol. 1: Indian Summer and Other Stories SC: Finally, if you’ve been enjoying those Corto Maltese collections over at IDW, but you just wish there was a little more… Milo Manara involved, Dark Horse has you covered with this new softcover edition of its first Manara omnibus, notably containing Manara’s & Pratt’s titular 1987 collaboration, an (imo) hugely uneasy blend of 17th century familial drama and glossy sexuality/violence. I actually enjoyed the backup album more, 1982’s The Paper Man, a solo Manara reflection on cowboy fiction that speaks to genre devices perhaps more relevant to European comic readers than us children of different market forces. Translated throughout by the late Kim Thompson; $29.99.

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Risograph Workbook 3 Thu, 02 Mar 2017 13:00:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Style and Fashion Zine #3C by Ryan Cecil Smith

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series where I speak to some of the pioneers of risograph printing. Check out Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey Z and Risograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing.

Now Ryan Cecil Smith weighs in with his riso story.


Santoro: Ryan, legend has it that you were one of the first American small press comics makers to employ risogragh printing of your comics, and that you basically introduced the process to the States. I remember you were in Japan making comics around 2008. Can you give us your “Risograph Origin Story”?

Smith: I heard that risograph was “a thing” but I didn’t know what it was. I guess I’d heard that Mickey Z was using it and Ryan Sands was using it. I discovered that my office workplace (in Japan) had this weird photocopier that was used for mass handouts on cheap paper. It was manufactured by “Ricoh” not “Riso,” but I eventually figured out it was the same technology. (This was 2008.) I loved how the prints from this machine lay on the paper; they seemed to soak into the paper, yet they lay flat and matte. They weren’t glossy or threadbare like laser prints/Xeroxes tend to look. So I was very happy that I had this machine that could make prints which didn’t look like anything else I’d ever seen! I made several books and tens of thousands of prints on my office risograph machines over the next few years.

Loop Poster made for the LOOP de LOOP Animation Challenge’s screening at Meltdown Comics

Tell me about your current setup. What kind of machine(s) do you have?

I don’t have my own risograph, thankfully! Basically since 2010 or so I’ve used a risograph print shop in Japan called Retro Jam for all my color prints, and then after leaving Japan I’ve continued to use them for everything I make. I love working with them and I don’t want to change my process if I can help it. The tricky part, honestly, is the logistics of paying them and getting everything shipped to me in the US. But they do such good work, and I like working with them so much, that I’d rather figure it out than start working with someone else. And… well, it might be a good investment to buy a risograph for myself… but I don’t really have the space for it. I like my deal now.

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed the landscape around making color comics. Before risograph, as you know, the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene—which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books)—and I was hoping you could speak to that?

Well, my print shop Retro Jam is kinda a mix between those two things. They are a big commercial shop with an official process and are quite strict about how they do things. They’re very professional, clear, and fast. Actually it took awhile for me to get used to this. But now, I like it! And, I think that if you only worked with them over email, they would be basically faceless and get the job done. However, thankfully I have gotten to know everyone at my print shop (they have a staff of 25 or so) and am happy to be friends and know that many of them are artists and designers, too. Which, of course, is clearly reflected in their website, print material, workshop space, etc.

SFVPN Plus is a supersized foldover version of the comic SFVPN made in 2014

I do enjoy knowing the faces and names of people in risograph publishing. Everyone is very excited by how accessible this medium is – we can easily experiment, publish small or weird projects, or just print something very basic, very easily. This is so great! And much nicer than having to dream of an offset budget, or wishing print-on-demand looked the way we wished it could. Because (unlike owning an offset press) risographs are sorta accessible, the scene is pretty nice and helpful – you don’t feel like there are gatekeepers here.

Can you talk about how (riso) printing your own work has influenced the way you make comics? For example, you might have had experience using a limited palette or spotting colors before using riso but has the riso process changed the way you approach making new work?

There are two ways I can speak about this. First, when I started using risograph, I loved the way it cleanly and flatly reproduced my lines and spotted blacks, with no grey scuzz. It made my black and white drawings look great, which encouraged me to use screentone as a tool with more projects, and just made me love graphic drawing. Second, when I started figuring out the color experiments I could do, I dove in and couldn’t stop trying new things with color — probably to my detriment, as I haven’t done as many long stories since then. I spend too much energy and enthusiasm doing weird color stuff. But that’s great about the risograph: it gives us exciting new options (“I can publish this book” or “I can print in color!?”) and we can pursue whatever we want.

Diptych risograph print – an experimental 4-color “freak-faux-CMYK” print using  pastel hues instead of Ryan’s usual relatively-representational-riso-polychrome

Four “faux-CMYK” screentone test cards, one Copic marker print chart, two sample prints, and a booklet with instructions/explanations of how they were made and why Ryan approaches color-mixing this way.

I just got your Riso Color Sciences Multipack in the mail and beyond being beautiful, I find it to be a very useful guide, a tactile show and tell exhibition of color, paper stock, and so many other things. It’s remarkable. Kind of what I’ve been searching for to explain to non-initiates what risograph is. Tell us about the genesis of this riso sciences multipack?

I have always made smaller versions of these print charts before doing a multicolor risograph book. I’d usually make 15 or maybe 50 copies, just for myself (since you can’t make just one copy on a risograph), and then use that chart as a key to coloring the next book. I was still figuring out this process of mixing screentones, so they were formatted roughly, often had little mistakes, and were hard to explain. Once I had them really nailed down, I wanted to make a final, good version of the chart for my own use – and of course I know it’s something others will be interested in, especially if I can include good instructions and explanations.

I’ll share some of the weird questions I worked out on the way to a “Good Enough Version,” over countless dumb (and expensive) trial and error test prints: What’s a good frequency for the screentone? (A: I like 55-75.) How many values do I need to include for each color? (A: 7 values is pretty useful before returns diminish quickly.) Where on the scale are there lots of important differentiation, and where can I mostly skip? (A: My grid is weighted to mostly measure 0-50% tones, because above that it gets too saturated and dark.) Anyway, the point of publishing these is to publicly share what works well for me. I hope I’m clear in helping others make their own and figure out what looks good to them. There are a thousand ways to go about this, and I hope artists can learn from what I’ve done.

There’s a Copic marker reference chart in there, too. That’s a pretty guileless (but careful) CMYK separation. After I had figured out screentone mixing pretty well, I wanted to try something different. It’s different! It’s weird. It’s maybe overkill. But it’s fun to try.

Those rare SF riso test print secret folios – were those things that you made yourself or were those things that you sent out to be made? Tell me more about those. I find the secret folio to be an interesting precursor to the riso pack. You’ve always been interested in explaining the process to your readers as well as entertaining them.

Those Folios had a similar origin. I had done so much test printing, figuring interesting stuff out, and I wanted to share it! I was sure there was a small audience for them. I think the Multipack is better because it’s a bit more carefully and considerately assembled. It just feels like a waste to figure out all this stuff and not share it!

You threw a couple of other booklets into my recent package. Tell us about Zine Field Supplement Issue #2: Meet Nixel Pixel?

Oh yeah, the Zine Field Supplement! That’s the second one I’ve made. I’m overdo to publish a third. Nixel Pixel is an artist from Moscow I met on Instagram (@nixelpixel). I love her work, but most of it is in Russian! She had a few small zines in English so I asked if I could sell them for her in the USA. (I still have a few on, and also interview her for the ZFS. The first ZFS featured reviews and an interview with Sarah McNeil, a zine artist (and risograph printer) from Australia. Actually, I have a zine of hers in my store, too, Peach Spell. She has an online store of her own, but she ships from Australia so it’s a lil cheaper to try to buy it from me, if you’re in the US.

I make these Supplements because it’s fun to make an interesting looking print (I’ll try some new paper and some new inks), and I get to promote some books and artists I like, and hopefully spread good vibes. They’re cheap to make and fun to share. My goal is to stay positive and not ramble on!


Check out more work by Ryan Cecil Smith on Get a copy of the Riso Color Sciences Multipack!

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Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II) Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:00:39 +0000 Mary Perkins On Stage, and the hazards of autobiography. Continue reading ]]>

On the seventeenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Eddie Campbell talks Jack Kirby’s place in the canon, Mary Perkins On Stage, and the hazards of autobiography.

Previous Episodes

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:27:18 On the seventeenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Eddie Campbell talks Jack Kirby's place in the canon, Mary Perkins On Stage, and the hazards of autobiography. On the seventeenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Eddie Campbell talks Jack Kirby's place in the canon, Mary Perkins On Stage, and the hazards of autobiography. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/1/17 – Little Strips of Coast) Tue, 28 Feb 2017 13:00:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Nothing much up here this week; mostly I’ve been returning to comics I’ve admired in the past. I dearly love these short pieces from artist Jacques de Loustal and writer Philippe Paringaux – this one’s from Catalan Communications’ 1988 English edition of their ’82 story collection Love Shots (“Clichés d’amour”). It’s a pair of French guys surveying a mythic USA through the lens of crime fiction, movies, postcards, murder sprees… all the exportable media. But what’s most interesting to me is the means of narration, with Paringaux’s text running in the gutters below Loustal’s images, which remain slightly out of step with the tempo of the writing.

The activity depicted on the bottom 2/3s of the pages takes at most a few seconds to occur, while the text lingers, adding details that aren’t drawn, elaborating upon the psychological state of the observing character. It’s not as heavy as the old EC comics captions, which sat heavily on top of every panel, specifically because the juxtapositions of words and pictures *don’t* exactly match; furthermore, by setting the text apart from the panels — it doesn’t occur here, but sometimes one portion of the text will snake beneath multiple panels on one tier — the creators promote an especially aloof and contemplative tone, which is apropos for a series of fantasies on manufactured narratives. You see a picture or two, read the text, maybe glance back up at the pictures, then down to the next tier, without really feeling like you’re violating the narrative flow as you would with ‘tighter’ comics. Instead, you survey the information given, until a conclusion is met…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



All Time Comics – Crime Destroyer #1: Comics publishing isn’t what it was decades ago; a publisher like Fantagraphics can release Peanuts, Mickey Mouse – even a longform homage to the aesthetics of bygone Marvel comics a la Hip Hop Family Tree. Moreover, launching a new shared universe of superhero characters in the stapled comic book format arguably ranks pretty high on the perversity scale in these days of franchise consolidation and alternate distribution mechanisms, so: here is the 36-page debutante release for All Time Comics, probably the most nitty-gritty genre-focused Fanta has been since Monster Comics in the early ’90s, although this *particular* issue offers its own rather retrospective poise. The penciller is Herb Trimpe, a Marvel comics mainstay who died in 2015 at the age of 75; while sometimes described as a quintessential reliable craftsman, for many years indie comics people would whisper about a 1971 issue of Iron Man that Trimpe turned around in just a few days’ time, resulting in a more gestural texture than typically allowable by the House of Ideas. Crime Destroyer is his final comics work, inked by Benjamin Marra of Terror Assaulter, whose own taste for askew genre styling may find subtler purpose in such a role. The writer is Josh Bayer, a hard-drawing small-press mainstay who looks to be working in a more deliberately constrained throwback mode than the likes of Michel Fiffe’s Copra or Tom Scioli’s recent Transformers vs. G.I. Joe (co-written with John Barber), which are extremely specific auteurist takes on a pool of corporate images. This looks to be very much a team effort circling a bygone impulse, albeit with many different artists (and maybe approaches) yet to come. Preview; $4.99.

Animal Noir #1: Hey, I wrote about this last week. In fact, I thought it was coming out last week, but Diamond is saying this week, so: IDW presents Slovenian creators Izar Lunaček & Nejc Juren, who’ve put together a new comic book series about a giraffe detective investigating the porno underground of lions and gazelles in a city of civilized critters informed by detective fiction and European comics such as Dungeon. Actually, didn’t Zootopia just win an Oscar the other night? I turned the show off after Suicide Squad won Best Makeup and Hairstyling, because my body was overwhelmed with ecstasy. Preview; $3.99.


Simply Samuel: A new release from Tommi Musturi, an energetic artist and one of the principals behind the recently-shuttered Finnish comics publisher Huuda Huuda. I’m always glad to see his works in North America, and this 160-page, 8″ x 8″ Fantagraphics hardcover is a swift new edition of a wordless graphic novel released in nine European nations last year. It’s Musturi’s second color book featuring a ghost-like character, very slick and brightly cartooned, with “themes of individuality and loneliness, and of freedom, pondering our daily actions and the choices and values behind them,” per the publisher; $24.99.

Corto Maltese: In Siberia: Being the fifth IDW softcover collection of refined adventure comics by Hugo Pratt, now seeing the artist exit the youth comics zone of France’s Pif Gadget (where the prior four books’ worth of stories were initially published) for the adult-targeted Italian comics magazine linus, 1974-77, and later the newly-launched mature bande dessinée venue (À suivre), 1978. The Great War is over, and Corto Maltese is on a globe-trotting hunt for treasure spanning all 120 of these 9.25″ x 11.625″ pages; $29.99.

Star Trek Gold Key 100-Page Spectacular: More from IDW, which sometimes puts out special-format samplers for their various wares. The publisher has been releasing collections of the Gold Key Star Trek comics (1967-79) since 2014, and this fat, low-priced comic book promises a selection of three stories (one of them scripted by Len Wein, making this a big week for fans of the early Wolverine talents) and an essay on the long-running series; $7.99.

Reich #4 (of 12) (&) Cerebus in Hell? #2 (of 4): This isn’t a very busy week in terms of new books that interest me, so let me draw attention to two ongoing miniseries seeing the brisk release of new issues. Reich is Elijah Brubaker‘s comic book biography of Wilhelm Reich, initially published by Sparkplug and now distributed by Alternative Comics. Apropos of nothing, orgone is my all-time favorite esoteric energy source, a fact I plan to put into use in the near future across several different formats, such as adults-only performance art. Cerebus in Hell? is a cut ‘n paste humor series from Dave Sim and Sandeep Atwal, released by Aardvark-Vanaheim in commemoration of the Cerebus series’ 40th anniversary. Issue #1 had a catalog page with the motto “LONE WOLF & CUB IS DEFINITELY LONGER AND MORE POPULAR” which made me laugh pretty hard; $3.00 (Reich), $4.00 (Cerebus).

Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer – Artisan Edition (&) Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man Vol. 2 (of 2): And here’s two throwback entertainments (of sorts), back on the market. The Rocketeer Artisan Edition is kind of a budget-deluxe offering, with all of the art presented as shot in color directly from writer/artist Stevens’ original pages, but in softcover form at smaller (8″ x 12″) dimensions than publisher IDW’s similar Artist’s Edition line. Of course, I expect this 1982-95 serial of old-timey derring-do would be a handsome read in most formats. Mr. Hero has Neil Gaiman’s name in the title, but it was primarily the work of writer James Vance and penciller Ted Slampyak, pushing against the dictates of Tekno Comix’s shared-universe ambitions to present an unusual robotic superhero series. Super Genius’s concluding 232-page collection, available in two formats, should also feature a new introduction by Vance; $39.99 (Rocketeer), $14.99 (Mr. Hero softcover), $24.99 (Mr. Hero hardcover).

Revolutionary Girl Utena Deluxe Hardcover Box Set: Finally, a bit of personal narrative – among the high-profile television anime of the 1990s, the two I think about most today are Neon Genesis Evangelion and Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of which accosted the seemingly generic qualities of their market-ready concepts with artistic daring. Ostensibly a gender-bending heroic tale a la Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight and Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles, the Utena anime erupted into a theatrical riot of vivid emotional and metaphysical colors. Also like Evangelion, a manga was produced in conjunction with the television show, intended to arrive first in the public eye. But while Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Evangelion comic famously took over eighteen years to finish, artist and project co-creator Chiho Saito managed to lay down the entirety of the Utena serial between 1996 and 1998, while working on a totally different series (the award-winning music-themed Kanon) for much of the same period. That said, the Utena comic ran in the young-skewing shōjo magazine Ciao, and I don’t recall it retaining all that much of the anime’s presentational bravado; it’s more of a traditional concurrent franchise item, albeit one drawn by a principal of the franchise at large. Nonetheless, VIZ has now afforded the series a fancy 960-page two-volume hardcover slipcased format, with special color segments, a poster, and the entirety of Saito’s 1999 comics adaptation of the franchise’s full-throttle movie iteration Adolescence of Utena. Crack the world’s shell; $49.99.

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Risograph Workbook 2 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 13:00:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A selection of books made by Colour Code Printing

In part 1 of this series I spoke to Mickey Z about how she got started with risograph printing. Check out Risograph Workbook 1.

Now Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing tells his riso story.


Jesjit, you were really one of the first printers I encountered who garnered a reputation for doing great work. I remember hearing about Colour Code from Michael Comeau. Did you actively “try and get work” or was it something you just fell into?

A bit of both. I got my first riso in 2011 to make my own prints and to start publishing comics and zines. I started to learn more about printing, making books, prepress, binding, etc., and I really loved the process. Less than a year after that I started Colour Code and was actively pursuing work.

Tell me about your shop. From your website I see what kind of machines you use, but paint a picture for us of day to day life. What is a typical week like?

I run Colour Code with my girlfriend Jenny Gitman. More often than not we are working six or seven days a week, printing books, posters, cards, etc. Jenny handles most of the pre-press and I will do most of the production, though if one of us is away from work the other can pick up the slack on either end. It depends on how busy we are, but in a week we will generally divide up the work, i.e. a day for printing, a day for binding and finishing.

One of Colour Code’s first 4 colour, faux cmyk projects with the Risograph. Artwork by Terrence Reeves. 2012

What is your risograph origin story? When did you first encounter risograph? I assume you were interested in printmaking before you discovered riso printing.

I studied printmaking, primarily screenprinting, at OCAD in Toronto. After graduating I did a residency at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island, where I got to learn how to use a small offset press. While I was there I visited Mickey Zacchilli and saw a riso for the first time. I think I had a vague idea of what they were but when I saw one working for the first time it blew me away. At that time it perfectly encapsulated what I loved about screenprinting and what I wanted to get out of offset printing, but it was so much easier to handle in terms of costs, materials, and space. As soon as I got home from the residency, I was on the lookout for a used riso and soon after I went splits on one with Patrick Kyle and Michael Deforge.

I’ve noticed risograph printers have “meet ups,” little fairs and conventions. I imagine it is like any other subculture. However, this one interests me because of the direct connection to bookmaking. It reminds me of zine culture and comics fandom in a way. Can you speak to how risograph printers are different than other printers beyond obvious differences in materials?

I think a large number of riso printers probably have some background in self-publishing, printmaking, comics, or whatever, experiences that give us an appreciation of the process and how accessible and easy it is to use. Riso is sometimes looked down on by other printers because of the way the ink dries, the resolution, the misregistration, etc. but as artists and designers ourselves, we come to this medium with an understanding of its limitations and are eager to explore and push those limits.

2-color risograph cd sleeves for Winkie’s Force on the drying rack. Designed by Michael DeForge. 2012

3-color risograph insert for Gang Bang Bong. Illustration by Ginette Lapalme, 2012

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene – which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books) – and I was hoping you could speak to that a little bit.

The significance of the riso with small press is because it is something that anyone can get into and start doing. Cartoonists and self publishers have created a mini boom of riso printing in the past few years from seeing what everyone else is doing with them and because of how easily used inexpensive riso’s can be found on Craigslist or eBay.

Over the past five years we have delved deep into working with riso machines, working with different machines, figuring out how they work, how to fix them and how to make them do things you don’t expect from a riso. We have a lot of experience with riso and we try to share that with the people we work with because more often than not we still have to explain how it all works. It is rare that someone hires us to print and they know much about the process besides having seen a few riso prints on the internet or somewhere. It’s up to us to share our excitement for the process and it’s potential. We have to temper people’s expectations because the riso has a very particular quality and look. If you want to print something with a riso and you have a very specific idea of how it will be reproduced you will likely be disappointed by the process.

Can you talk about how you take on projects? Makers bringing you work and paying for the job? I’ve heard about the ebbs and flows around TCAF or NYartbookfair. If a comics maker wanted to hire your shop how would they go about that?

Simply emailing or calling us up and asking us to print! There are definite ebbs and flows around big book fairs, but we print almost every day all year long – we are always up for taking on new projects.

Check out Colour Code Printing here and visit their store here.


Next week will be Ryan Cecil Smith!


Here’s a video from when I saw Jesjit Gill, Mickey Z, Ben Marra, Ginette Lapalme, Brian Chippendale, and Michael Comeau at TCAF 2016!

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The Emil Ferris Interview: Monsters, Art and Stories (Part 2) Wed, 22 Feb 2017 13:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Emil Ferris, author of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS


“She uses the sketchbook idea as a way to change the grammar and syntax of the comics page …”

– Art Spiegelman in The New York Times, February 17, 2017 (“First, Emil Ferris Was Paralyzed. Then Her Book Got Lost at Sea.” by Dana Hennings)

This interview with Emil Ferris (see Part One here) was conducted February 7-10 2017, just prior to the long-delayed release of Book One (of two) of My Favorite Thing is Monsters. The book was due to come out on Halloween 2017 and then the shipper, the giant Hanjin, abruptly sank into bankruptcy and the copies were stranded in Panama. This was only the latest in a series of events that Ferris refuses to assess as unfortunate. Mid-way through the multi-year process of creating the novel while working 16-hour days and living extremely frugally, it became necessary to find a second publisher (the first publishing house, when they saw the book Ferris was creating, realized it was beyond their scope to properly market).

All of this came in the years after Ferris contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito bite and fought her way back from paralysis. Among other setbacks, Ferris’ computer, needed for the creation of Book Two of My Favorite Thing is Monsters gave up the ghost (see her crowd-funding campaign here)  Despite this astonishing backstory, her novel must be―and deserves to be―assessed on its own merits, which are considerable.

During the days we spoke, My Favorite Thing is Monsters received attention from several media outlets including a write-up and a generous preview in The New Yorker and a staff pick selection in Publisher’s Weekly. Right after Part One  of this interview ran, The New York Times ran a full page profile on the Chicago artist and NPR’s Fresh Air praised it in a particularly lucid review. It’s no surprise that book has gone into a second printing. Ferris has expressed gratitude and joy at this attention, and remains grounded and focused on the aspects of her life that led to the creation of this extraordinary work.


Paul Tumey: I just read your new auto-biographical comic in Chicago Magazine, “The Bite That Changed My Life,” which was published today. You join a rich tradition of gifted visual storytellers published by the Chicago Tribune, including Frank King (Gasoline Alley), Garrett Price (White Boy), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy) and E.C. Segar (Popeye). To me, your work in My Favorite Thing is Monsters is every bit as fascinating.

Emil Ferris: Thank you! It was a hard piece to do because it required that I encapsulate and objectify a difficult time in my life. I’d never done anything graphic/textual about it. But the reward is always in the same place as the difficulty.

Paul Tumey: I especially loved the bit where you tell about meeting Art Spiegelman. I understand he was pretty nice to you?

Emil Ferris: He is one of the most legendary forces within comics and one of the kindest and most sensitive and generous people I’ve ever met. He liked and has championed the book.

Paul Tumey: You write in your Chicago Magazine piece that, after receiving Art Spiegelman’s praise, you excused yourself to go hug an octopus. This is perhaps an image of the embrace of attention your work is generating, I think.

Emil Ferris: Hah! You divined that! You are very sensitive and really very correct. Yes, it’s been rather daunting and pleasing at the same time.



Paul Tumey: Part of answering “the call” is, I think, not just making art, but living in synch with the ripples in the moonlit lake radiating out from that bold act. I’m guessing you are in for some ripples as more and more people discover your work. As we sit down to talk, we are about one week away from the release of the book – delayed for months.

Emil Ferris: I could draw your questions. They’re such beautiful images!

Paul Tumey: Wasn’t Book One originally scheduled to be released on October 31, Halloween? And then that whole thing happened with the shipment of books being “arrested” by the Panamanian government.

Emil Ferris: Yes, that’s correct. There are two important dates in the book – Halloween and Valentine’s Day. The book actually ends up beginning on the same day that it is released. That is the day a bullet tunnels through Anka Silverberg’s heart, which begins the mystery of her death―and her life. I didn’t pick the date of the second scheduled book release – it’s the inspiration of Jacq Cohen at Fantagraphics.

Paul Tumey: Another bit of synchronicity is the classic Universal horror movie Dracula, was released on Valentine’s Day in 1931. I think the timing on your book, with the help of Jacq Cohen, turns out to be poetic.

Emil Ferris: The whole story of the book is like that … catastrophes followed by what amounts to windfalls and blessings, if you will.



Paul Tumey: I’d love to discuss your method to creating art and comics. The page layouts of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters are complex and organic. Each page is unique. You don’t use the device of panels very much. How did you construct this book? Was there an outline?

Emil Ferris: There should have been far more of an outline than there was. I allowed the writing and the drawing to simultaneously direct the story.

Paul Tumey: What was/is your method for constructing a page? Do you have a thumbnail, or do you just start drawing?

Emil Ferris: I discovered things by virtue of both the writing and the drawing. I am attracted to certain images in context of the portion of the story. I know they have to be there. I let them suggest the next images to me. Then I begin to collect them and think about them in a purely visual way. I draw in the Golden Mean and repetitive shapes and textures.

Paul Tumey: I really enjoy the playfulness in the juxtaposition of the elements.

Emil Ferris: Thank you! I like the pages to echo certain subtle things. Sometimes I like a word you read to be near an eye so that when you read that word you take in a ‘sense memory’ – if you will – of an eye. These things collide in the mind and the attempt is to heighten the evocation and resonance for the reader. This was something that the Surrealists taught and something I think I understood and wanted to emulate but it requires intuitive drawing to do that.

Paul Tumey: That helps me understand why the reading experience of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is different from most other comics I’ve read. There’s layers and connections. This is a very different approach to making comic books than the one I know — which is to have script, block it out, layout the panels on pages, pencil, letter, ink, color, and so on. This assembly line method was created in the late 1930s by Will Eisner, among others, to allow multiple people to crank out pages. Of course, later on, in his own work, Eisner because a master of organic, innovative page layouts. Your pages to me feel like SPIRIT splash pages in the sense that they work both as a kind of poster, a narrative and as a text-image poem – they are both part of the narrative and stand outside of it. Many of your pages work this way.

Emil Ferris: Those pages that defy time are some of my favorites. I refused to learn how to tell time. I did not learn till I was almost 12. I felt it was a dangerous artificial construct. The pages use time in an emotional way, that isn’t always linear.

A tribute by Emil Ferris to Alan Rickman and his modern monster creation, Severus (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

A tribute by Emil Ferris to Alan Rickman and the character of Severus Snape, a modern monster in the tradition of Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Paul Tumey: I’ve worked out you averaged a page every three days. Does that sound about right?

Emil Ferris: Actually it was probably about a page every two days.

Paul Tumey: That is impressive, to say the least. Earlier, you mentioned the story of the making the book was “… catastrophes followed by what amount to windfalls and blessings.” Can you share a little of that story? I’d love to know more.

Emil Ferris: Yes, There were a lot of setbacks and challenges in the process of making the book. I’m glad to relate them; it might be instructive for people who also have a story to tell. During the production of the book I went broke, experienced some homelessness due to various catastrophes, lost important relationships and had myriad physical disability setbacks and obstacles. But I believed in the story and I narrowed my focus and just kept going.

Paul Tumey: Books One and Two together are about 600 pages? It’s an ambitious work. And, like Maus, Fun Home, etc. it’s got something different and new and, if you’ll pardon the word, strange, to offer. Was it hard to find a publisher?

Emil Ferris: The two books together are coming in at closer to 800 pages between the two. And yes! It was a challenge. I have a great agent who held with me throughout the trials of the thing. The book was noticed early on by Katie Adams and initially the book was slated to come out with the extremely wonderful publisher for whom she worked, but, when finally they had the book in hand the publisher felt that I would be best off to do it differently. (The head of this company, Judith Gurewich is a total mensch!) That publisher decided to ask nothing back from the support they gave me to complete the work. I was deeply grateful, utterly broke and completely lost when they decided not to publish it. So Holly Bemiss and myself, we hit the (publishing) street like two Depression Era sales dames carrying worn suitcases full of encyclopedias (my book, “the big monster”). We went from town to town and then were ‘taken in” by the kindly folks at Fantagraphics, Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds, who just threw everything behind the book they could.

Paul Tumey: I’m glad they did, and I predict they will be very happy with their decision. Just today (two days after we started this chat) I see you’ve gotten a great write-up and preview at The New Yorker, and Publisher’s Weekly choose Monsters as a staff pick.  Did you get many rejection letters?

Emil Ferris: I think the rejection math, was 48 rejections out of 50 submissions. I want people to know that. It’s important for them not to give up.

Unpublished page from the original submission packet for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS, showing an character drawings of Karen and her brother Deeze

Unpublished page from the original submission packet for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS, showing early character drawings of Karen and her brother Deeze (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Paul Tumey: What’s the genesis of My Favorite Thing is Monsters? What’s the earliest form of the idea for you that you can recall?

Emil Ferris: More than twenty years ago I took a screenwriting class at what was the Center Theater over on Devon in Chicago. I was working on a screenplay based on this vision I had of a werewolf lesbian girl being enfolded into the protective arms of a Frankenstein trans kid. That idea never left me. That vision of two ‘monstrous’ outsiders was then the impetus behind a short story I wrote in 2004 that was published in an anthology. Karen was still talking to me (growling at me, really) and it was on that short story that I based the book.

Paul Tumey: When did you start creating the book in earnest?

 Emil Ferris: Six years or so ago I began drawing. I have been drawing ever since. I am in the service to these characters and now I love them and I do their will.

Paul Tumey: And so when did you get “the bite” of West Nile virus?

Emil Ferris: I got that bite 14 years ago.

Paul Tumey: So you created My Favorite Thing Is Monsters after fighting your way back from paralysis that kept you from being able to draw. You’ve written that making art healed you.



Emil Ferris: It really did. I was told by the Head of Neurology at a really major hospital that I would never walk again. He was quite sure that I wouldn’t but I think the experience of going to the School of the Art Institute was just what I needed. Making the decision to grasp at a better thing – I had no college level art education – was like this statement to the universe that I refused to take the paralysis, ‘lying down’ if you will. All of a sudden there I am, surrounded by these marvelous, talented, largely generous younger people.

Paul Tumey: How did the younger students react?

Emil Ferris: Their eyes went wide first day of class, as oftentimes I was the oldest person in any of my classes and at first I was in a wheel chair – so I was very different than they were. But they delighted me. There is so much talent and decency among those whom people call “millennials” that I have come to hate hearing them dismissed and denigrated.

Paul Tumey: I know! I think that generation is so special, from what I’ve seen.

Emil Ferris: I do, too! I love them. So many of the younger men are free from misogyny. They had strong loving mothers whom they respected and the younger women are just such all-out badasses!

Paul Tumey: Did you conceive of the book as a spiral bound diary from the start?

Emil Ferris: Yes. That was what I knew it had to be. I had many spiral bound notebooks as a kid. Just like Karen’s. That part was utterly autobiographical.

Paul Tumey: I find it interesting the cover of Book One shows Anka, and not the main character, Karen. It’s sure a compelling image and she is beautiful as you draw her.

Emil Ferris: If you look closely into Anka’s eyes on the cover, you will see Karen’s reflection.

Paul Tumey: I’d like to talk about the characters in the book a little. Is the character of Karen’s older brother, Deeze based on anyone in particular?

Emil Ferris: Yes. His various attributes make him a complex, sympathetic and yet not entirely ‘good’ character. In that way he is like quite a few people whom I know.  His penchant for ‘womanizing’ (in the parlance of the time) is legendary. Yet he is a soulful person. Can I tell you who he is based on without alienating some important people? Nope.

Paul Tumey: Fair enough. I’m impressed you gave an informative yet diplomatic answer. Deeze is a great character, and I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but I love how you subtly foreshadow his story in the early scenes. I also love Karen’s mother in the novel, she is so flawed and yet so lovable in spite of the flaws. She’s shown more than once in bed, asleep and I thought of that Tom Waits song, “You’re innocent when you dream.”

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS featuring "Mama"

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS featuring “Mama”

Emil Ferris: Awww! Yes, I love Mama. She is so desperate to protect those whom she loves. She isn’t educated in the common sense of the word but has a deep and dedicated sense of decency. I love her superstitions, I remember my grandmother making me lift my feet when the car we were in crossed over a railroad track and I remember what she called ‘padiddles’ which was when an oncoming car had one busted headlight. Can’t remember what we did to protect ourselves from that curse … which was basically that we would never find our true love. Yeah, superstition and a very early childhood in New Mexico went hand-in-hand.

Paul Tumey: If I recall, Mama’s superstitions in Monsters are from an Appalachian background?

Emil Ferris: Yes, Mama is from the Ozarks originally. She is of Irish and Cherokee decent.

Paul Tumey: I was fascinated, as well by Karen’s friend, Sandy, who comes from mining country in Kentucky. There are a lot of characters in Monsters, and they have a rich variety of cultural backgrounds. I felt so sorry for Sandy — she seems so sad, and hungry.

Emil Ferris: Well her story was based on a true experience of mine. I went to the birthday party of a child and those were the circumstances in which she was (very barely) surviving.

Paul Tumey: That’s so tender and sad. And then there’s Anka — a truly complex and great character. Her back story is nested inside the book and takes us back in time to Weimar Germany.

Emil Ferris: Weimar Germany represents one of my favorite time periods in all of history. Socially. such a contrast between dark and light – and in that way very much like the severe, almost carved, juxtapositions of dark and light within the work of such artists as Beckmann, Kollwitz, Grosz, Dix, Nolde.

Paul Tumey: You captured that feel very well, I thought. That shift was for me totally unexpected, and it put much higher stakes on the table, and not the kind of stakes that defeat vampires! As we wind this up, we are just a few days from Book One’s official release. Book Two is in the works, yes?

Emil Ferris: Yes, I’m drawing, drawing. Drawing and drawing. My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Book Two is scheduled to come out in October of 2017.

Paul Tumey: Is there anything you can share about Book Two, due out Halloween this year?

Emil Ferris:  A lot of the focus is on the parallels between what is happening in Karen’s life―her questions about her sexual identity―and Anka’s difficult choice regarding how best to save the six children she has rescued. Essentially, Book Two is about how we survive the most difficult things within a broken world, and about how love and art can save us.




Additional Links:

Part One of this interview

The Comics Journal review of My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Note: To raise funds needed to complete Book Two, Emil Ferris is running a crowdfunding campaign. Among the different levels of support, for $108 (the Chicago Cubs waited 108 years to win a World Series), Ferris will put a contributor into Book Two of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. See YOU CAN BE IN MY GRAPHIC NOVEL, here.


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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/22/17 – World of Thanks) Tue, 21 Feb 2017 13:08:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I generally don’t dwell very much on what kind of perception I encourage of myself while doing this column — I merely trust that universal acclaim and riches are gradually forthcoming, in the manner of Zeno’s paradox — but sometimes I’m forced to admit that certain types of comic are maybe more readily applicable to discussion up here than others. For example: a bandes dessinées-inflected funny animal detective comic about the porno underworld from a pair of Slovenian creators? Yeah, that *is* the kind of comic book you’d send to me, and so IDW did exactly that – they physically mailed me a copy of Animal Noir #1, which will be released to comic book stores this week at a cover price of $3.99.

Apparently the project came about when IDW CEO and Publisher Ted Adams encountered the creators — writer/artist Izar Lunaček and writer Jernej “Nejc” Juren — at a recent Barcelona International Comics Festival; Adams is credited as editor on the book, and one does imagine the IDW brand (and the advantageous placement of its offerings in the Previews catalog) will offer some semblance of natural advantage to the project, though of course there’s probably a limit on something that looks like it could have run in the hallowed pages of Critters. That’s not a great comparison, though. Lunaček offers a much better one in an interview toward the back of the book, when he cites Juan Díaz Canales’ & Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad and Joann Sfar’s & Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon as an applicably “catchy combo,” and indeed the comic thus far (21 pages of sequential art and 3 pages of in-story illustrated prose) marries the detective tropes of the former to the antic and rather perverse cartoon drive of the latter.

Juren notes in the same interview that the creators are less interested in weaving human allegory than creating “a fun and complex animal world where cool stories could happen.” Nonetheless, I will suggest that the first issue of Animal Noir is pretty much drenched in allegory – look at the hoodie on that zebra toward the bottom right… these are not uncharged symbols, and the creators are not unaware of that charge, suggesting an animal metropolis of upper-class lions (royalty of the animal kingdom, natch) who for some reason have managed to stem their predatory impulses into socially acceptable means of feeding on the less-advantaged classes of zebras and gazelles. Animals now behave as humans, complete with interracial (species) relationships; in fact, some of these relationships are strictly economic, as in the shadowy world of “hunt porn,” where certain species simulate the process of being hunted and devoured by predators, for the gratification of those same predators flattering themselves as old-fashioned wild animals at home.

The best move Lunaček & Juren make is in depicting their detective protagonist, Manny, as a giraffe. First and foremost, it’s really funny to see such a huge, lumbering creature as a man of action, immediately identifiable as an outsider simply of virtue of not being able to physically fit into many social situations. Metaphorically too, we can ascertain that Manny, a herbivore, is both literally and psychologically ‘above’ the prurient impulses of his investigation into the flesh-eating porno racket — his uncle, a judge, is married to a celebrity gazelle with a past in the game, and doesn’t want the information getting out — marking him as something of a child of privilege. “I still think it says something about her, getting involved in that filth,” our man hisses, his massive neck protruding from the open roof of public transport, but he is also, ultimately, potential prey, both of feline aristos with dirty hands and the organized criminal scene of hippos, which we all know are among the most dangerous of cute-looking beasts.

The danger here, obviously, is to stumble into racial determinism in depicting these animal societies; perhaps this is why the creators seem to distance themselves from allegorical takes. Of some interest there is the prose segment, which chronicles the downfall of an “equality” school for lions and zebras; the public perception is that the zebras beat a lion classmate unprovoked, though in reality the lion student was involved in the drug trade to an extent not readily assumed by the public at large. A similar sense of social unease hovers over the comic proper: a ably and amusingly drawn bit of familiar genre poking that probably won’t immediately convert anybody with severe reservations over the concept, not at this early scene-setting stage. Nonetheless, I found it put together well enough to look forward to future installments; it is a rare specimen in stapled comic books, particularly those a semi-wide swathe of stores may carry.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Spaniel Rage: It’s valuable returns up here in the spotlight this week, starting with this signature collection from artist Vanessa Davis, its 2005 initial release the first dedicated book of comics published by the quickly-prominent Buenaventura Press, though its contents were drawn from yet smaller-press works. Regardless of format, these autobiographical pieces match delicacy and drollery in their depiction of a less sensational NYC youth existence than many cool-chasing media depictions of the ’00s. Now, this 124-page Drawn and Quarterly edition can function as present-tense impressions that reveal something offhanded and genuine about the era, something inspirational to not a few prominent cartoonists of today – Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt and Eleanor Davis all o the record at the publisher’s site; $16.95.

Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die #1 (of 6): Ooh, this one’s been a long time coming – exactly how long, though, depends on your perspective. The creation of writer Elaine Lee and artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, Starstruck was one of the standout ultra-dense genre comics of the 1980s, a universe-spanning vision of multifaceted femininity born from a play involving both creators (Lee as a writer and actor, Kaluta as a set and costume designer), and roughly comparable in texture to the SF comics Howard Chaykin was doing at that time: American Flagg! and (especially) Time2. Unlike those projects, however, the Starstruck corpus (never *quite* complete) has been subject to numerous revisions across the decades, its most prominently dangling loose end a 1985-86 Epic Comics miniseries, much of which has been excluded from subsequent recalibrations, including IDW’s definitive-ish compendium. Now, hot on the heels of a 2013 Kickstarter campaign (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was and remain a proud backer), IDW presents a massive expansion of some of that orphaned Epic material, I think a little over half of the page space comprised of totally new stuff from Lee & Kaluta, with original coloring over the whole thing by digital painter Lee Moyer, a third constant in the IDW iteration of the work. They don’t make ’em like this anymore… until now; $4.99.


Foggy Notions: Being a 36-page b&w comic dedicated to the autobiographical “darkly” humorous comics of November Garcia, who is based in the Philippines but depicts some time spent in San Francisco. A Hic and Hoc production, distributed by Alternative Comics; $5.00.

Bedtime Stories for Impressionable Children #1 (&) Crypt of Screams #1: These are new comics from American Mythology, a publisher largely devoted to licensed material, although these particular comics fit into the broader ‘myth’ of the great American horror comic book, E.C. style. Bedtime Stories is notable mainly for the presence of Jim Shooter as a contributing writer – some have told horror stories *about* him, but I don’t recall much coming from the other side. Crypt of Screams, in contrast, while still structured as an anthology, is really a showcase book for one talent: Mike Wolfer, a longtime veteran of small-press horror stuff (I’d recommend his self-published 1993-94 ‘bad girl’ miniseries Widow: Kill Me Again as particularly high-spirited evocation of VHS trash cinema) known for a very long association with Avatar Press, where he collaborated extensively with the writer Warren Ellis on the Strange Killings story cycle. Kickstarter-bolstered (I backed this one too), expect an all-b&w production, in the manner of the Warren pubs; $3.99 (each).

Jay Disbrow’s Monster Invasion: The elite among you of course recognize Jay Disbrow as creator of the first original Fantagraphics comic book, 1979’s The Flames of Gyro, but the artist is perhaps most often recalled for some very odd and gloopy pre-Code horror comics. This new Craig Yoe-edited IDW hardcover (148 pages, 8.7″ x 11″) promises to collect “the best” of that stuff, coupled with a new interview with Disbrow, now into his nineties; $24.99.

The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed #1 (of 5) (&) Cosmic Odyssey: The Deluxe Edition: Two tangents from the world of Mike Mignola, new and old. The ostensible conclusion of the Hellboy saga has not slowed production on numerous spinoffs with publisher Dark Horse, and so it goes for The Visitor, in which Mignola and co-writer Chris Roberson hone in on some of the more jarring, SF-flavored elements of the earliest Hellboy stuff. I’m mentioning it because the artist is Paul Grist (colored by Bill Crabtree), a UK-based mainstay of small-press crime and superhero comics (among other pursuits) since the 1980s. Cosmic Odyssey is a 1988-89 DC superhero miniseries notable to me as Exhibit A in the case for mainline comic book publishers not really knowing what to do with Mignola’s particularities (here he is inked by Carlos Garzon and colored by Steve Oliff), though pre-‘maturity’ fare such as this can have its own appeal, and maybe fans of writer Jim Starlin will have some fun. DC’s new Deluxe Edition is a 7.3″ x 11.2″ hardcover; $3.99 (Visitor), $34.99 (Cosmic).

The Ghost in the Shell Deluxe Editions: Three separate books here, collecting creator Masamune Shirow’s foundational comics for what has become an international media franchise, with a dubious-looking live-action film from director Rupert Sanders due next month. I’m more of a Dominion Conflict One guy myself, but the 1989-90 original series (vol. 1) is undoubtedly a striking and cerebral action comic ceaselessly humming with the buzz of its body-augmenting ideas. Shirow then spent a prolonged period (1991-97) working on a sequel, large portions of which were subsequently deleted from the main narrative and reconstructed as their own book, 2003’s Human-Error Processor (vol. 1.5), which functions as standalone SF/crime tales in the vein of the original series. The sequel proper, Man-Machine Interface (vol. 2), would appear as a massively-revised original book in 2000, and was further reworked in 2001 – a berserk mix of b&w and digitally colored art with a diamond-dense script and an unbothered propensity to gaze tightly upon manufactured female bodies, the book at least offers a useful bridge from Shirow’s drawn comics aesthetic to his present work, as well as confirmation that manga artists can sometimes do whatever the fuck they want, even with a major publisher like Kodansha, the U.S. subsidiary of which is releasing these Deluxe Editions, each in the original right-to-left reading format with “new” bonus content; $29.99 (1), $19.99 (1.5), $29.99 (2).

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus Vol. 1 (&) The EC Archives: Valor: A pair of Dark Horse collections for American comic books of the mid-century, all clean entertainment for young minds. Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus is a 700-page softcover collecting Dell jungle adventure comics (1947-50) by the unique Marsh, an artist who’s since become a favorite of connoisseurs. Valor is a comprehensive (168-page) color collection of a 1955 series E.C. released amidst the tread trails the Comics Code left atop its catalog. The included shorts, all ‘period’ adventure tales, are drawn by Bernard Krigstein, Graham Ingels, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall and Wally Wood, among others; $29.99 (Tarzan), $49.99 (Valor).

The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland, 1905-1909: Not the first time Taschen has published McCay’s prominent newspaper fantasia – 2014 saw a thick comprehensive edition released, of which this new book seems to be derived, albeit with only the years in the title represented via its 13.5″ x 17.3″, 368-page specs, along with a large illustrated essay by one Alexander Braun; $79.99.

Alex Toth’s Bravo for Adventure – Artist’s Edition: Finally, it’s IDW again with another tall (12″ x 17″) glimpse into an artist’s process, this time a 136-page guided tour of Toth’s brief, adventuresome solo serial, shot from the original art and presented in conjunction with many preliminary drawings and preparatory materials; $115.99 (or so).

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The Emil Ferris Interview: Monsters, Art and Stories (Part 1) Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:00:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> EMIL FERRIS - MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS“Emil Ferris is one of the most important comics artists of our time.”
– Art Spiegelman, quoted in The New York Times (“First, Emil Ferris Was Paralyzed. Then Her Book Got Lost at Sea.” by  Dana Jennings)

A reclusive person, Emil Ferris, author of the just-released breakthrough graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Fantagraphics, 2017), has not allowed much personal information out in the world. This is her first long form interview.

In my earlier review of Monsters, I wrote: “The author, one Emil Ferris, seemingly arrives from nowhere to join the ranks of graphic storytellers of the first order.” A single mother who has supported herself for many years as an artist-for-hire, including designing McDonald’s toys and working in animated films, Ferris has developed a complex visual-verbal style that is at once extremely refined and highly personal and used it to create her first published work., thrilling in its artistry.

In this interview, conducted February 7-10 2017 in several Internet chat sessions and additional rounds in email, Ferris challenges a lot of labels, putting them in quotation marks. This is a telling detail about the outsider stance of this author-artist. My Favorite Thing is Monsters similarly challenges commonly held preconceptions, including how a graphic novel should look and work. In conversation with her it becomes clear Monsters is new and different because Ferris, a gifted artist, is approaching comics and graphic novels from an offbeat, hard-fought viewpoint.

Part one of this two-part interview covers Ferris’ background, her life as an artist and her love of monsters.



Paul Tumey: First off, let me thank you for this interview, Emil. After I read My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Book One, I was intensely curious about you and your novel.

Emil Ferris: I’m glad to be talking with you, Paul.

Paul Tumey: You’ve had quite a journey with this book and, as I understand it, your life to date. Why don’t we start with you and your early years? My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is set in 1960s Chicago. Is that autobiographical?

Emil Ferris: Yes, I was born in Chicago but my parents left here when I was around a year old and, when I was five or so, after living in Albuquerque New Mexico and Santa Fe my father―a dyed in the wool Chicagoan – moved us back here to a low income building in Uptown.

Paul Tumey: Were your parents artists?

Emil Ferris: My parents met as two hippie art students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My mother described offering to “Clean his brushes, if he would stretch her canvas…”

Paul Tumey: Have you always been a visual artist? Did it begin for you as a child?

Emil Ferris: It began with Lil’ Abner actually!

Paul Tumey: A Tribune comic from 1964 to 1977, when you were growing up in Chicago. Of course, it got started before that, in 1934 I think. Tell me about that, please.

L’IL ABNER original comic strip art by Al Capp, 1964

Emil Ferris: My mother, an artist herself, kept me busy by giving me the strip cut out from the paper when I was about two years old. I could not walk until I was closer to three years old, due to having scoliosis, but I began to draw very early. She said at two I began very carefully copying the characters from the strip and she said my drawing at two surprised her because it was so exacting.

Paul Tumey: So you were drawing before you were walking. And it seems comics got into your blood at an early age. Did you read much comics growing up?

Emil Ferris: Mad was my oasis. It was so defiant and contentious and it demanded that the social structure be questioned and that it explain itself!

Paul Tumey: Li’l Abner had a lot of satire in it, too.

Emil Ferris: Looking back, I realize that it did. At the time, I was just enamored by the concise drawing style and by emotions caught in a few scritch-scratches made by a quill pen.

Paul Tumey: Were the adults in your childhood years questioning social structure? What were your parents like when you were a child?

Emil Ferris: My father was the child of an immigrant who became the tailor, dressmaker and furrier for a lot of wealthy famous people. My grandfather had a furrier shop only blocks away from the “murder castle” of H.H. Holmes and was here through the “Devil in the White City” period. My grandfather paid his (required) protection money to Al Capone – and I understand he liked him – calling the young Capone, “a nice young man.” Apparently, he preferred to pay protection money to Capone than the Chicago Police. So in this story I’m telling you that my father―who loved history and was something of a philosopher―understood that the world was not a place of blacks and whites but a much more inscrutable and complex place.

Paul Tumey: Can you share a little about your background?

Emil Ferris: My mother is descended from indigenous Mexican people, German, French and Irish emigres and the Sephardic Crypto Jews of New Mexico, who fled the Spanish Inquisition and ended up there in the early 1600s.

Paul Tumey: What a rich heritage. I was in a thrift store yesterday, and I found this collection of poems and prose by Robert Frost. I opened the book at random and read this passage of words spoken by Frost in a 1923 interview:

“America means certain things to people who come here. It means the Declaration of Independence, it means Washington, it means Lincoln, it means Emerson―never forget Emerson―it means the English language, which is not the language that is spoken in England or her provinces. Just as soon as the alien gets all that―and it may take two or three generations―he is as much an American as the man who can boast of nine generations of American forebears. He gets the tone of America, and as soon as there is tone there is poetry.”

I think this helps me get at why your book is so rich and works on so many levels. In part it may be the immigrant experiences that happened close enough to our own time they still swirl around and influence us. The courage and desire to make something of one’s life with hard work is an inspiring example.



Emil Ferris: My maternal grandparents were both very invested in what they world have described as the American ideal of service―a life as a service. My grandfather, who became the Chief Justice of the Appellate Court of New Mexico, was a Spanish-speaking man who attended the University of Chicago and was proud of his Mexican heritage. He worked tirelessly on behalf of the less fortunate. Currently, these disparaging, fallacious things―that some people feel “empowered” to spout off about regarding people of color―really piss me off.  When this country is beautiful and strong, it is so because of the genius and nobility of people from many and varied places. That should be celebrated. It should be something of which we’re all proud.

We should be in the service of protecting freedom. People are not our enemies. Fear and ignorance are our enemies. While I was making the book, I thought a lot about how works like Maus, Fun Home, Jimmy Corrigan and others, really set me free. There are so many great books within the graphic “canon” that are situated firmly in that ideology of service. I drew and drew and truly hoped that what I did would inspire others to tell their stories, to really believe in them and honor them.

Paul Tumey: I would be surprised if Monsters doesn’t inspire others to tell their own stories. I know it’s inspired me. I have admired Spiegelman, Bechdel and Ware for having the courage to tackle the Important Stuff, perhaps out of a sense of service. There’s a photo of Art Spiegelman during the time he was working on Maus and his shape had temporarily shifted — he looks very dark and full of shadows — and no wonder, considering the history of vileness and suffering he was processing to make Maus. Perhaps he went back in time and deep inside, to a dark place.

Emil Ferris: That’s interesting to me. The way we manifest these emotional storms that are inside of us. I worked myself into some dark places as I wrote the story and then very pointedly I drew while in that state, as an experiment, and hoping that the lines would congeal into a torrid emotional sub-statement. Something perceivable to one’s base or core, reaching the viewer on a subliminal level.



Paul Tumey: Is that when you developed the graphic style using layers of thin lines to define forms and space and to also create emotional tone? It works on a subliminal level, directing both the eye and the emotional response.

Emil Ferris: I’d been using that technique when working with pen and ink and I knew that Deeze taught Karen these techniques and she was willingly bastardizing them by drawing in Bic pen. But in terms of actually being sad, angry and afraid when I drew: that was the experiment.

Paul Tumey: How long have you had that remarkable graphic style — how far back does it go?

Emil Ferris: I think I really started developing that style when I was about eight.

Paul Tumey: And I agree―a flashy style with substance isn’t worth much, I think―facing off with the difficult feelings is what gives the whole enterprise depth. I feel that when I read Monsters. That pulled me through the narrative as much as plot. You can see artists getting into that space and producing work of remarkable depth and complexity, and then backing off from it, perhaps out of survival. It seems very intense and consuming … although the work that can come from that state can bring rewards.

Emil Ferris: I agree. I think that’s the sacred geometry, if you will, that makes theater cathartic. The capacity we have to feel an emotional state and move through it towards empathy and understanding and yet have it all be ‘fictional’ ‘play-acting’ and thereby safe. The artist is a willing servant to those altered states and a shamanic being taking us down a dark path, meanwhile punching holes into the tunnel to allow us light and hope and a view as we travel that dark passage. That view is sometimes a page, a scene, a moment of film or a painting, poetry, music, dance, vision.

Paul Tumey: That shamanic journey, the transformation of one’s self and life, is captured with sensitivity and vision at several key points in Book One of Monsters. I’m thinking of Karen’s shift into werewolf mode and later, her psychedelic trip in the graveyard at night.

Emil Ferris: As unlikely as it is, there is some truth to that graveyard tripping scene. When I was a kid I belonged to the Marble Cake Kids, a little theatrical troupe of children of many different races run by two counterculture mavens called Leo and Mila. The troupe had their base at Hull House on Beacon Street, only a stone’s throw from Chicago’s infamous Graceland Cemetery. So necessarily as a kid obsessed with monsters, I decided I needed to sneak into Graceland and wait for wonders. When I was finally able to get into the cemetery, the actual wonders were the graves of famous Chicagoans whose stories I researched as I got older. There was also a ghost child rumored to live in the cemetery who I desperately wanted (and still want) to appear to me and befriend me. As for the marijuana connection, that occurred after I was a bit older, when imbibing of the weed and going into cemeteries became a pastime of mine.

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Paul Tumey: I see you put the iconic “Eternal Silence” monument that is at the Graceland Cemetery into that scene in Monsters.

Emil Ferris: Yes, and there will be others in Book Two.

Paul Tumey: So you were, like your character of Karen Reyes, a young girl obsessed with monsters?

Emil Ferris: Very much so. Monsters consumed all my thinking. Monsters, art. Dickens and the questions I had about my sexual identity.

Paul Tumey: Your novel makes me want to go watch old B-movie horror films, especially The Wolf Man, which I’ve never seen. The 1941 one, with Lon Chaney, Jr.

Emil Ferris: I find it interesting that the U.S. release date of the movie, December 9th, 1941, is bracketed between the first executions at Chelmno (December 8th 1941) and the German Declaration of war on the United States (December 11th 1941)

Paul Tumey: Really? Another case of highly symbolic timing.

Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS
(copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Emil Ferris: The screenwriter is Curt Siodmak, a Jew who fled the Nazis. Pay close attention to the pentagram scenes, those were Siodmak’s. They work within the plot very much like the labeling with the Star of David foreshadowed doom in Nazi Germany.

Paul Tumey: I just read an interview with Siodmak. I’m very interested in his work.

Emil Ferris: Me, too. I did a whole teeny graphic novelized bio of him as part of the sales package for the book – to contextualize the book.

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Paul Tumey: Siodmak wrote I Walked With A Zombie, one of my favorite films.

Emil Ferris: No, I know! I loved that movie. I have it.

Paul Tumey: I have it, too. I have the whole Val Lewton set!

Emil Ferris: Me too! Val was tops.

Paul Tumey: How did you get into monsters as a kid? Did you read Creepy and Eerie?

Emil Ferris: I did. But I discovered them later. When we moved to Chicago I began watching Creature Features which was a show that aired B-movie horror at 10pm on Saturday nights. That became the central focus of my life. But, I will say I was primed to love monsters via an early childhood in New Mexico.

Paul Tumey: Why is that? Are there monsters in New Mexico? I’ve never been.

Emil Ferris: The Penitente art of New Mexico, featuring Death Carts and the traditional Retablos. I remember my grandmother taking me to Sanctuario de Chimayo and I remember passing a cemetery built and decorated by local people. The saints -guardians at the gates – were very menacing. Their bodies were those of manikins, their haloes were bicycle wheels, the sun was setting – it was that beautiful glowing radioactive type that was due to the nuclear testing – gorgeous New Mexican sunset and I knew these saints, these badass guardians were the “Golems” of the town and that they meant business.

Nasario López, Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta), ca. 1860

One of the monsters that inspired Ferris as a young child. Nasario López, Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta), ca. 1860 [Courtesy of Yale University’s Center for the Study of Material & Visual Cultures of Religion)

Paul Tumey: Holy Shit! Nice monster!

Emil Ferris: Terror is beautiful in New Mexico. It is very beautiful.

Paul Tumey: Why do you think you resonated so much with the B-movie monsters? What was it about them that captivated and consumed?

Emil Ferris: When I was suddenly exposed to the Wolf Man, Dracula (and his gorgeous Brides) and Frankenstein, I would weep for them. Their lives were so tortured and yet they were so forlorn and beautiful like New Mexico, like outsiders, like the people I loved most.

Paul Tumey: So you see the monster-figure as an outcast?

Emil Ferris: Well usually that is what the monster is. Although I make a distinction between good monsters―those that can’t help being different―and rotten monsters (not sure they even deserve to be called the sacred “m” word, truly) those people whose behavior is designed around objectives of control and subjugation. I don’t really think they deserve the title of monster. In my mind that’s an honorable title. It represents struggle and wisdom bought at a high, painful price.

Paul Tumey: It seems to me both categories of people are represented in your novel.

Emil Ferris: I remember a woman calling a Vietnam Vet a “monster.” And I remember thinking―because I had a friend whose brother came back utterly transformed by the experience of his service―that if he was a monster it was because he’d been broken and reformed in new and terrible ways and why would that be laid at his doorstep? Could it be laid at Larry Talbot’s doorstep? We are the receivers throughout a lot of life. We receive so much from the larger world and what light we are shown is all we have to make more light within. It’s understandable to me, this tremendous rate of suicide, homelessness and addiction among the returning vets of our most recent wars. The book was crafted with them in mind, too.

Paul Tumey: In your novel, you mix it all up. No one is all good or all bad. Schutz, for example, seems to be, well, pretty evil. He’s a Nazi collaborator and does S&M scenes with child prostitutes. However, he is generous and helpful to Anka when he doesn’t need to be. He’s sort of her “Schindler.” The “scenes” they play out are very complex; they are not black and white at all.

Emil Ferris: Yes, so many times we look at a life and judge it, but the good that people do is often sidelong with cruelty born out of terrible provoking need. Like monsters, we are creatures motivated by hunger. But also, like monsters, we are capable of mercy and love.

Paul Tumey: That’s a compassionate and balanced view. One thing I realize that needs to be said is that My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is not a “creature feature” in the sense that it offers horror and fear of these beings. When I look at Karen’s “copies” of the monster mag covers, I don’t feel dread or revulsion — instead I am fascinated by the beauty of the images and how you’ve drawn them. Later, when I learned about Anka used as a child prostitute, that’s when I felt revulsion and horror.

Emil Ferris: We are the monsters. Yes, I believe we are and I’m not unhappy to be aware of this fact.



Paul Tumey: It seems to me your visual treatment of Franklin, who has a horribly scarred face, and whose name and form evokes the Frankenstein monster, captures this. At one point, you drew Karen imagining him with a radiant inner light shining out through his scars, a core of goodness.

Emil Ferris: I think there are things that happen to people that ennoble them – should their choice be for that. That does make one see tragedy as being a kind of honor.

Paul Tumey: Do you think the ennobling comes from victims choosing not to pass on the suffering to others in an attempt to help themselves feel better?

Emil Ferris: I think that would be part of it, sure. That there is something ennobling, empathic about choosing not to pass cruelty on but there is this other thing, too. I’m thinking of people whom I’ve known who were broken by life and then engaged to re-form themselves (and this is the heart of the monster ideology to me) in order to be more extraordinary and more powerful within themselves.

Paul Tumey: A transformation, or a transmuting.

Emil Ferris: The old saying goes something like, “there are no brave people, only people willing to carry their fear into battle.” I think this is true also for suffering, mental illness, emotional scarring and profound catastrophes of the soul.

Paul Tumey: I am thinking of alchemy. Joseph Campbell said the true meaning of alchemy and the philosopher’s stone was not to turn objects into gold to increase material wealth, but to turn suffering and pain into love and joy to increase spiritual wealth.

Emil Ferris: I like that. I like that a lot. And although I never said those exact words as I wrote the book I’d say you put your finger on what my mantra, if you will, was throughout the process. If you’ve ever refined gold, it’s a rather brutal process. You heat the gold almost to the point you’ll destroy it and then a gray tear of dross weeps out. Immediately the heat must be turned off. The dross is the impurity. Weeping and extreme pain are required to remove it.

Paul Tumey: I’m guessing you’ve refined gold, perhaps as part of your art training?

Emil Ferris: Yes. A ferris is an ironworker and I suspect that is what my family was way back when. I took to metalwork immediately.

Paul Tumey: That’s cool. “Ferris” probably comes from “ferrous,” which is a word used in connection with iron compounds. The gold refining process you describe leads to a thought I have that Art is the process of transmuting one thing into another. It’s kind of an arcane, secret knowledge of how that is actually done, the methods. Sometimes art contains within itself a record of various “monstrous” experiments that contains clues for others who might want to travel the same path. Such is the deep thinking your novel elicits!

Emil Ferris: I like that. I think it’s true. I’m thinking about the question in regards to myself. Making art was such a given in the home in which I grew up that there was never any intentionality about it. So, for me to separate it out and consider how it works in the book, is to consider how it works for me, since Karen’s mindset was very much mine as a child.

Ferris views her novel as a monster form itself. Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Ferris shows how her novel’s form mirrors its content. Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

This interview is concluded in Part Two. Click here to continue reading.

Note: To raise funds needed to complete Book Two, Emil Ferris is running a crowdfunding campaign. Among the different levels of support, for  $108 (the Chicago Cubs waited 108 years to win a World Series), Ferris will put a contributor into Book Two of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. See YOU CAN BE IN MY GRAPHIC NOVEL.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/15/17 – Quartier voisin) Tue, 14 Feb 2017 13:00:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As you have probably heard, the manga artist Jirō Taniguchi died this past Saturday. I’ll leave the summation of his life and work in more capable hands, as my own familiarity is strictly limited to those works we’ve seen translated to English – not an inconsiderable amount, but far less than the total output of an artist who’d been publishing professionally since the early 1970s.

Still, I did notice a few interesting things in the reportage surrounding his departure. For example, The Magic Mountain — a mid-’00s serial which, to my knowledge, was never even collected in Japanese, let alone translated to English — has unexpectedly been cited several times among a very small handful of his notable works. I suspect this is because the Belgian publisher Casterman, which disseminated word of Taniguchi’s death in the west, released a French-language edition back in ’07, and presumably made note of that in a press release; venues then repeated the information in English environs, a veritable dye pack bursting against their unfamiliarity with the artist’s oeuvre. It’s okay: that’s how these things are reported in the generalist press, and it speaks well of Taniguchi’s renown that such irregularities are even visible.

But that raises another question – what kind of renown are we talking about? The BBC prominently observed that Taniguchi’s works were “widely praised for the gentle manner in which he approached subjects that were often unique for Japan’s manga consumers,” and “stood apart in a genre sometimes seen as rooted in extreme violence and pornography.” Far be it from me to downplay the storied legacy of smut in Japanese comics, but framing Taniguchi as Manga’s Good Boy does a disservice to both the breadth of his career and the facts of his publication history in English.

From “Hotel Harbour View”, written by Natsuo Sekikawa (VIZ, 1990).

Indeed, extreme violence is where it all began, though the extremity was of an unexpected type. In 1990, VIZ debuted its “Spectrum” line of bookshelf-ready paperback originals, their dimensions matching those of popular softcover collected editions of American comic books. All of the works included in that line featured conspicuously detailed, laborious art (one supposes to flatter the tastes of local comic shop denizens, as was often the strategy in 20th century manga localization), but not all of them enjoyed the same success; nobody without a PhD in bullshit or the word “VIZ” on a tax return remembers Yu Kinutani’s Shion: Blade of the Minstrel, but Hotel Harbour View, drawn by Taniguchi and written by Natsuo Sekikawa, became something of a cult favorite. I first heard about it on one of the British genre comic writer Warren Ellis’ various message boards, deep in the midst of the ‘decompression’ trend in early-to-mid-’00s superhero comic books, but even those space-y, wide-paneled movies-on-paper had nothing on the climax to Taniguchi’s & Sekikawa’s title story, in which a fatal bullet is fired from a gun, only arriving at its target an extravagant thirteen panels later.

Even at *that* time such excess was startling; in 1990, it must have seemed nearly obscene, though the authors carefully contextualize their flamboyance as the event horizon of an anti-hero’s worldview – he is a normal, cancer-stricken man who has hired an assassin to attack him while he engages in a private fantasy of life as a gangster; if he kills her, he will prove himself the idol he has dreamed of being, but even if he fails, a dramatic gunshot death will provide the perfect transubstantiation of noir role-playing into reality, blessing his otherwise unremarkable life with the only meaning he values: that of splashy, violent media.

From “Benkei in New York”, written by Jinpachi Mōri (VIZ, 2001).

Taniguchi had done quite a few comics of the full-contact type, including the long-running crime series Trouble Is My Business (also with Sekikawa, begun in 1979) and several gritty sports manga with future Old Boy writer Garon Tsuchiya, though the full scope of his career had already grown to include the dense, demanding historical-literary serial The Times of Botchan (once more with Sekikawa, begun in 1987). Nonetheless, Taniguchi’s next appearance in English came via VIZ’s Pulp, an anthology magazine aimed at mature readers, brimming with the sort of violent, sexy and somewhat art-damaged works that could only be enhanced by the addition of somebody who came up professionally around the same time as Katsuhiro Ōtomo and worked in a similar cartoon-realist meter. Benkei in New York may have come from a different writer (Jinpachi Mori), but its brooding and bloody assassination action was not wholly unlike that of Hotel Harbour View. A collected edition arrived in 2001, as the face of manga in English gradually began to change into something more youth-oriented and demographically egalitarian. Subsequent Taniguchi releases came from other publishers, and proved aberrational: Samurai Legend (CPM Manga, 2003), a minor historical adventure drama written by Kan Furuyama, and Icaro (iBooks, 2003-04), an allegorical SF collaboration severely distilled from a scenario by Jean “Moebius” Giraud & Jean Annestay that at least offered Taniguchi an opportunity to indulge his career-spanning affection for bandes dessinées.

French-language publishing loved him back. He’d been introduced to that audience in 1995, through a work far removed from bullet holes and sword fights – his masterpiece, The Walking Man.

From “The Walking Man” (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004).

Introduced to English-dominant audiences in 2004 by the UK-Spanish publishing association Fanfare/Ponent Mon, The Walking Man marked the beginning of what is meant when Taniguchi-in-translation is described as “gentle” and “unique”. There is really no ‘plot’ at all to the book, presenting instead a series of quiet vignettes in which a nameless man strolls around outdoors, taking in the sights. In truth, this stuff is not totally without peer in Japanese comics – not long afterward, there was a series that became very popular among aficionados of unofficially translated manga scans online: Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (1994-2006), a soothing slice-of-life feature set in a fantastic world. A similar project, Kozue Amano’s Aria, saw legit translation from ADV Manga the same year as The Walking Man.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to downplay the novel characteristics of Taniguchi’s approach. This is not a science fantasy work, there are no impressive vistas of the speculative imagination to be found, and the protagonist is not an endearing young woman of the readily marketable type. Instead, it’s a study of movement, place and gesture, wholly removed from ostensibly similar works of North American art comics at that time – the spare lyricism of John Porcellino, or the slashing marks of the Fort Thunder residents. This is an ‘art’ comic drawn with a crystalline certitude of realist space beyond that of even the most ‘realism’-obsessed pop comic books in English; the result is something distinctly observational, as if you are literally standing next to the lead character and literally experiencing the outdoors alongside him, but only in the terrain of a dream, your POV shifting up close and away from his body, time dilating – the toolkit is the same used in that long gunshot from years ago, put to less bombastic but still formally perverse ends… at least by local standards. It is also like cinema, in the way Hotel Harbour View is ‘like’ the films of Melville, or the early Nouvelle Vague, though I have always found comics, by their unity of drawing, to be a more readily absorbing ‘reality’ than film, which sculpts time from the stuff of mechanical capture, and is thus endlessly discursive from the continuum of seeing. But maybe that’s just me.

From “The Walking Man” (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004).

Of course, Taniguchi eventually enjoyed a movie version of his work in the west: Quartier lointain (2010), from Belgian director Sam Garbarski, adapting Taniguchi’s series A Distant Neighborhood, released in French by Casterman, 2002-03 (Best Scenario winner at Angoulême 2003), and later in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2009. As luck would have it, by the time The Walking Man hit the market for bookshelf-ready comics had matured to the point where Taniguchi could become a viable brand, associated very closely with Fanfare/Ponent Mon, which would release fifteen books of his comics (not counting assorted reissues, a short story in the Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators anthology, or his grey tones on Frédéric Boilet’s & Benoît Peeters’ Tokyo is My Garden), ranging from the sensitive-macho silliness of The Quest for the Missing Girl (2010) to The Summit of the Gods (2009-15), a five-volume adaptation of a mountain climbing adventure novel by Baku Yumemakura. Nonetheless, it seems to be The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood that have controlled the tone of remembrances focused on Taniguchi the introspective dramatist.

I am actually not so keen on his personal dramas; if made to choose, I would recommend A Zoo in Winter, a 2005-07 serial from the Japanese magazine Big Comic Original collected in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon (at this point Taniguchi arch-specialists) in 2011. This at least, is set in the world of late-’60s popular manga, with Taniguchi drawing on his own apprenticeship to shōnen artist Kyūta Ishikawa for some keen observations as to the dynamics of a manga studio; there’s also a great bit with the Taniguchi stand-in protagonist getting cornered at a bar by a revolutionary folk singer who won’t shut the fuck up about the Marxist ninja cartoonist Sanpei Shirato that’s far too keenly felt to not be a real incident.

From “A Zoo in Winter”, translation by Kumar Sivasubramanian (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2011).

It is grossly dewy and sentimental fare, though – packed with decent boys, roguish men with decent sides, decent men with roguish sides, and women who are alternately inscrutable and passionately dedicated, when not inspiring the protective impulse. Virtually every chapter involves a moment of empathetic realization worthy of a feel-good television movie, culminating in the full-throttle melodrama of a creativity-stoking gravely ill girl, and while I understand this is of great appeal to some (and perhaps of personal import to Taniguchi), I find it all awfully sodden and pat in execution. And even then, it is conceptually not so far removed from the prolific and studio-powered works of a veteran commercial mangaka like Kenshi Hirokane, specialist in salaryman soap opera and easily digestible human interest fare.

I only say this to offer a more rounded perspective on Taniguchi’s career; he is in no way sui generis, though he is often superior. Always, his draftsmanship is very accomplished, and his visual narration as clean as can be. The Walking Man is undeniable, recommended with no hesitation, while Hotel Harbour View I consider a classic of its kind; maybe someday it’ll come back in print, ideally with the 100 or so additional pages of stories from the Japanese edition. Hell, maybe Fanfare/Ponent Mon will finish releasing The Times of Botchan, which it began publishing in 2005, only to trail off following the fourth of ten volumes; I suspect there are deeper layers of Taniguchi’s talent hidden within this collaboration, just as there are surely surprises scattered throughout the untranslated regions of his library, a far greater thing than we’ve had occasion to witness during his life.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol. 1: I can only assume you’ve heard of this one, as Fantagraphics has been giving it a damned hard push. And why not? This 386-page debut graphic novel by Emil Ferris blends autobiography, murder mystery, wartime drama and classic monster movie tropes, all of it presented in the form of a young girl’s notebook from the 1960s, its pulsing, bravura ultra-hatched color drawings created with ballpoint and felt-tipped pens. Adding to the book’s mystique, its initial 2016 print run then found itself stranded on a cargo ship in the Panama Canal after the freight company fell into financial calamity – only now can this work be released for wide sales. Paul Tumey reviewed it in advance last year, and the author herself has recently put together a new introductory comic; $39.99.

Lovers in the Garden: Being the new comic from Anya Davidson, a 1970s-set urban drama in full color. That’s really all I know about this 64-page Retrofit/Big Planet release, but Davidson is one of the most restless talents around today, and anything she releases is immediately of interest; $10.00.


Fires & Murmur (&) The Excavation: A pair of artistically-inclined comics from European-born artists, in a pretty packed week for foreign stuff. Fires & Murmur is a Dover hardcover compilation (or, rather, what appears to be an English-language adaptation of a 2010 Casterman compilation) of two albums by the great Lorenzo Mattotti: 1986’s Fires and 1989’s Murmur, the former a self-reflexive colonialist allegory swirling with incendiary color (first published in English by Catalan Communication in ’87), the latter a dreamy amnesiac wander written by Jerry Kramsky (first published in English by Penguin in ’93). This edition is 8.25″ x 11″, at 112 pages. The Excavation is the new one from Swedish artist Max Andersson, a longtime presence on the American alt-comics scene – indeed, portions of the book were originally presented in his millennial Death & Candy solo series. Weighing in at 382 pages(!), this 6.25″ x 8.25″ Fantagraphics hardcover promises nightmarish and surreal family drama 18 years in the making; $34.95 (Fires), $29.99 (Excavation).

Flight of the Raven (&) Snow Day: In contrast, here are two works of tony genre fiction from the French market. Flight of the Raven is the latest from IDW’s Eurocomics line, a 2002-05 WWII adventure series from artist Jean-Pierre Gibrat, depicting a determined woman’s participation in the French Resistance with extremely handsome realist gloss – the type of refined genre art that captured a lot of eyes in the ’70s and ’80s, when translations were less common and the grass often seemed greener. An 8.5″ x 11″ color softcover, 144 pages. Snow Day is a Humanoids release of a 2004 book from writer Pierre Wazem and artist Antoine Aubin, a low-key b&w crime drama set in a snowy locale. A 7.6″ x 10.2″, 112-page softcover; $29.99 (Raven), $14.95 (Snow Day).

Forever War #1 (of 6): Some of you might remember this one – not just the 1974 Joe Haldeman novel (depicting a man’s travels through vast space and, as a result, time, all in the service of a massive, dubiously-premised war, Vietnam parallels not to be missed), but the 1988-89 comics adaptation drawn by Belgian artist Mark “Marvano” Van Oppem, released in English across the first half of the 1990s by NBM. Now Titan re-releases the project as a series of comic books, variant covers and all, in case you’ve missed it; $3.99.

The Can Opener’s Daughter (&) Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie: And here’s a duo from SelfMadeHero, the UK publisher distributed in North America by Abrams. The Can Opener’s Daughter is a sequel to The Motherless Oven, a well-received 2014 book by artist Rob Davis. It’s a dark fantasy of teen life and weird machines. Haddon Hall is a 2012 biographical album by Néjib, a Tunisian-born artist based in Paris. Doodled drawings and lysergic colors represent the early years of David Bowie, now available in English; $19.95 (Daughter), $22.95 (Haddon).

Starseeds: Can’t say I’m familiar with the work of Mexico-based multimedia artist Charles Glaubitz, save for the fact that he’s been exhibited by Monte Beauchamp of BLAB!, and he does seem to have the sort of molten pop-psychedelic style typified by works of that long-lived forum. Anyway, this 240-page, 7.5″ x 10″ color Fantagraphics hardcover is his first graphic novel, “a work of mythical, pictorial, illustrative, and cosmological components, while combining elements of myth, religion, and spirituality with comics, hermetic ideas, alchemy and science.” Or, so says the publisher; $29.99.

Reich #1 (&) #3 (of 12) (&) Cerebus in Hell? #1 (of 4): A pair of possible-confusing indie comic book projects, each stemming from earlier work. Reich is a biographical project the artist Elijah Brubaker published through Sparkplug Comic Books starting in 2007; now Alternative Comics returns the series to comic book stores, in a somewhat mixed manner… issue #2 seems to have arrived last week, per Diamond’s release list. Cerebus in Hell? is a jokey series Dave Sim has spun off from his long-lived self-publishing project in commemoration of its 40th anniversary, put together from clip art with latter-day production collaborator Sandeep Atwal as a set of gag strips. Still from Aardvark-Vanaheim, itself approaching its 40th birthday; $3.00 (Reich, per issue); $4.00 (Cerebus).

Umbra: Another one from Dover, this time collecting a 2006 miniseries from artist Mike Hawthorne and writer Stephen Murphy, the latter making a rare non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-related appearance in comics subsequent to the stoppage of his signature series, The Puma Blues. I recall enjoying this in comic book form – a delve into secret global histories with action-adventure and bizarre science elements. Concise too at 144 pages, some of them devoted here to a newly expanded ending; $16.95.

The Wild Storm #1: Since I’ve mentioned Warren Ellis above (he was also involved with VIZ’s Pulp magazine, albeit as a columnist), I should note that he remains active in comics, here as the frontman for the sort of thing you used to see more of in cape comics back in the ’00s – full-blown revisions of certain superhero franchises, built around strong writerly perspectives. The subject matter here is the WildStorm line of comics founded by Jim Lee at the birth of Image and acquired by DC toward the end of the ’90s; I believe the brand has been dormant for the better part of a decade now, so — coupled with Ellis’ own history with some of these characters, including Stormwatch and its megahit successor, The Authority — there may be some pent-up demand. The art on this debut issue is by Jon Davis-Hunt (I’ve liked his muscular and bloody art on the 2000 AD werewolf fantasy serial “Age of the Wolf”), with Ivan Plascencia; $3.99.

100 Manga Artists: Finally, we return to Japan-by-way-of-Europe for your book-on-comics of the week. Originally released in 2004, the enormous Taschen art book Manga Design proved itself a genuine oddity – over 500 pages of seemingly random profiles of manga artists from across the post-war history of the form, many of them otherwise totally unfamiliar to western publication, accompanied by unusual and often rather obscure sample images. There was also a DVD of artist interviews, including a bit with Naoki Urasawa from well before more than a few hundred English readers knew who he was. Anyway, this is a smaller (5.7″ x 7.9″), fatter (672-page), ‘revised’ edition of the original, apparently whittling down the profiles to only 100 and losing the DVD entirely. I’ve gotten lost in the original many times. Edited by Julius Wiedemann, with text in English, French and German; $19.99.

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Risograph Workbook 1 Mon, 13 Feb 2017 13:00:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Venom #2 – Mickey Z


Risograph. What is it? Where did it come from? Most of us comics makers never really even heard of risograph until 2009 or so. Recently, I was noting to a friend how much better looking most risograph printed comics look than most “print on demand” or even most offset printed comics—and how prevalent the use of risograph has become. We tried to think about the first risograph printed comic we saw–what it was and when it appeared. It was then that Providence-based comics maker Mickey Zacchilli’s name kept popping up. Many of the people I interviewed for this series mentioned Mickey’s comics printed with a risograph as an inspiration, and then they all seemed to have gone on their own risograph research and development program. So I decided to go to the source and asked the great Mickey Z to fill us in… what really happened? Read on below.

This series is going to be an  attempt to document the loose use of risograph in comics in the last few years, 2009 to the present. I’ve interviewed Mickey Z, Jesjit Gill, and Ryan Cecil Smith so far. They all have fascinating stories about how this technology has upended small press publishing in a positive way and allowed a middle ground between cheap digital on-demand printing and expensive offset printing. Check out the homepage of Issue Press–a great resource website–where I learned a lot about what risograph is and risograph is not.

Here is my interview with Mickey Z. (Buy Mickey’s book here at Youth in Decline):

Santoro: Mickey, legend has it that you were one of the first makers on the comics scene in the States to use a risograph. Ryan Cecil Smith mentioned to me that he got interested in using risograph because he heard you and Ryan Sands were using them – can you talk about your “riso origin story”?

Zacchilli: I think maybe I was one of the first people to be at small press comic shows with riso-printed comics. I don’t remember what year that was, maybe 2009-2010? I feel like I was either at MOCCA with James Kuo, or at SPX with Jacob [Khepler] of Mothers News and James Kuo, when I first had riso-printed stuff for sale. Everyone kept asking me how I’d printed the comics. I kept telling them the honest truth but nobody actually registered what I was saying until a few shows later. I remember Ryan Sands either emailing me or asking me in person, “Wait, how did you say you were printing these again?” He got [a risograph] soon after that. I remember Chuck [Forsman] or Melissa [Mendes] (they lived in Providence for a second) emailing me to ask if they could hire me to print comics for them, and I wrote back saying sure, but it would probably be more affordable if they bought their own machine. Which they did!

The only reason I had access to a risograph in the beginning was because I was living at the Dirt Palace at the time, and Xander Marro (who had gotten a GR1770 because she had learned about riso printing at an artist residency in Belgium) was really nice and let me use hers (provided I didn’t break it… which, I didn’t!). Eventually I got my own (a RN2235ui).

Just for some more history, Travis Fristoe was printing up zines on a risograph well before me or Xander! He was a sweet and cool guy I met a handful of times. He passed away a few years ago.

Tell me about what machines you’ve used or are currently using?

I use an RN2235ui. It wouldn’t have been my ideal choice if I had a choice, but it was affordable and well maintained and nearby! Like I said, it’s a very reliable machine but the drums break very easily. I haven’t figured out how to fix the drums yet, although I’ve been meaning to figure it out for a long time! They used to be very easy to get for cheap because nobody had this machine. Not so much anymore!

Did you go to school for printmaking? I assume you were interested in printmaking before you discovered risograph printing.

I did go to school for printmaking. You are correct in that assumption.

I’ve noticed risograph printers have “meet-ups,” little fairs and conventions. I imagine it is like any other subculture, but this one interests me because of the direct connection to book-making. It reminds me of zine culture and comics fandom in a way. Can you speak to how you think risograph printers might be different than other printers beyond obvious differences in materials?

I don’t really know, I’ve never “met up” with risograph printers besides the ones I am already friends with. I’ve never gone deep with anyone in terms of the machine itself. Once I was on a panel with Ryan Sands and Ryan Cecil Smith at CALA 2015 about riso printing, but I am kind of the most boring riso printer out there, to be honest. I like the riso because it is a fast, easy way to add a little bit of literal color to a zine that might otherwise just be black and white. I like to do the most amount of work using the least amount of time and effort. This is true of all my work, so it makes sense it would extend to the actual fabrication of things. Before the risograph, I used to just photocopy zines and screenprint the covers, and I liked that people really liked the screenprinted covers. The risograph is basically a faster, easier screenprinting tool. It’s less special than actual screenprinting but still kind of extra fun. I don’t really use it for any reason besides that reason (fast + easy + extra fun). I don’t really consider it a “special” or “fancy” method of printing. Some people do, and I guess I can get that (especially in terms of RCS’s work), but I don’t feel that way and I don’t want to feel that way about the stuff I print.

The stuff Ryan Cecil Smith does with the riso is really incredible and completely bananas, and I hope you interview him, haha.

Honestly I think every riso-printer is as different from another riso-printer as they are from every other self-publisher – like rocks on the beach. The difference between my approach and RCS’s approach to the riso is a testament to that!!!!

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The “pro” riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene – which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books) – and I was hoping you could speak to that?

Yeah, I think that riso printing really has opened up a lot of options for people in a lot of ways! Especially in terms of self publishing! I really prefer being able to do something myself if I can, when I can. I think it’s important to keep the overhead low, because I think that books and zines are really important to offer to people at a price that is reasonable, that they can afford. I guess that’s why I don’t really like the “art chic” end of riso-printing, because it really is an affordable way to make a book or zine extra fun, and playing like it’s “high end” or “high art” is unfair and also just not true. But who am I?

Anyway, I don’t know how expensive a risograph is these days, and I also don’t know if they are even that accessible or affordable anymore since they are in such high demand!

Can you talk about how you choose to print projects. I’ve heard about the ebbs and flows around TCAF or NYartbookfair – how regularly are you printing stuff…?

I just like to print stuff I think is fun. I used to print all the RAV comics on riso, a couple times a year. Youth in Decline has since collected all those comics, and I think Ryan (of Youth in Decline) will be publishing the subsequent issues too, since they are getting too long for me to easily self publish (I had to buy a super stapler to staple RAV #10, it was too many pages). I printed a couple comics I drew in a day (What Does the Garbage Man Say? & Haunted Forest) because it was fun to just draw straight onto a page and then just print them straight away, no funny business on the computer. Since then, I had been publishing the #1 comics Michael Deforge, Patrick Kyle and I were making. Those were just for fun though, too. I just like to have fun on the risograph I guess! Which is what I liked to do with screenprinting (one layer at a time).

Every time I go to a show I like to have a new thing, but I haven’t made much stuff lately because I’ve been in school. I pay no mind to the NY Art Book Fair. I’ve been doing some online comics (I used to be a dedicated print-only person, since I went to school for printmaking, but since lately I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility and affordability, online comics make a lot of sense). I’m no Michael DeForge but I try my best.

From Cell Phone Comic #1 – 2016

Next week: Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing!

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Seeking Salivation! Food in Early Comics Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:00:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Introduction

University of Washington professor José Alaniz invited me to prepare and deliver a guest lecture on early comics for his class on food-themed comics. I hoped the project would turn out to be something I could really sink my teeth into. I was not disappointed.

Eventually, over half of this material developed for this lecture was cut, in order to fit the 45-minute allotment of time. I’ve restored the presentation and offer here a “director’s cut” with my own audio narration, packaged into a video that runs for about an hour and half. I hope you find this to be a tasty and nurturing repast.

The Lecture


Additional Notes

When you think about it, food is a pretty ingenious topic for studying a popular art form. Eating is something we all do; it’s woven throughout cultures and histories. Viewing comics through the lens of something so ubiquitous and essential reveals a “living art” aspect to the medium. For example, an E.C. Segar 1933 Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye comic strip in which Wimpy salivates copiously over a juicy hamburger is something a reader in 2017 America can directly relate to because that food is still a part of our culture today. Wimpy would not be amusing today if his ardent passion for a hamburger with “pickles, lettuce and onions both” were instead, say, dancing the Lindy Hop. Because of its universality and direct route to our brains, hardwired to crave and consume edibles every day, food as a theme can help make a comic strip relevant to succeeding generations.

Aside from the timeless aspect, broadly surveying food themes in comics from 1865 to 1954 reveals a fascinating correlation with social movements, trends and history itself. For example, comics in the mid-1940s depicted wartime food shortages and ten years later, they skewered excessive consumerism, mirroring America’s own changes through World War Two and into the prosperous 1950s. Comics, it seems, have often reflected the times in which they were made. The great comics both reflect and comment upon the times, all the while entertaining us.

José Alaniz (Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond), who develops and teaches a comics studies curriculum at the University of Washington in Seattle, has prepared an entire course on food in comics. The introduction to the course reads, in part: “We will sample classic and recent comics works from around the world devoted to food: growing it, making it, slaughtering it, preparing it, dressing it, serving it, obsessing over it, and, of course, eating it. Discussions and lecture will cover such related matters and economics, agriculture, service work, food disorders and cross-cultural cuisine …”

The texts for this course include Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine: A la Carte by Tetsu Kariya (2009, VIZ Media LLC), New York Times bestseller Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (2013, First Second), and Over Easy by Mimi Pond (2014, Drawn and Quarterly). The course looks at a number of comics from Winsor McCay to E.C. Comics and beyond.


At first, the concern about developing my guest lecture was whether enough examples of food in comics could be found to fill the allotted 45 minutes. After a few days of work, the problem shifted to culling out the best of the many, many comics that either were food-centric in concept, or had notable “food moments.” A search on the Grand Comics Database for the keyword “food” alone yields 2,762 results―and this database does not include newspaper comic strips, only comic book stories. Holy Moley!―as the Big Red, um, Cheese might say.

In refining the selection to be presented, the obvious first picks would include iconic examples of food in American newspaper comic strips that were created prior to 1950, and which influenced American appetites and businesses. These include Jiggs’ obsession with corned beef and cabbage in Bringing Up Father, Dagwood’s vertiginous everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwiches in Blondie, and in Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye there is Wimpy’s hamburger obsession and Popeye’s spinach (mostly a byproduct of the Fleischer Brothers Studio animated cartoons). Interestingly, as I researched Blondie, I learned about Dagwood’s four week hunger strike to be allowed to marry Blondie, and decided to include that, as well, for contrast.

Beyond the obvious choices listed above, my final selection included comics from the 1865 Wilhelm Busch classic, Max and Moritz, linked to the The Katzenjammer Kids by Rudolph Dirks. Next comes Richard Outcault, who began his career in comics with sad, quasi-journalistic cartoons of hungry New York back alley kids and quickly shifted, with fame and widespread acceptance, to the joyful screwball chaos of the goofy Yellow Kid comics. I also gravitated toward the master stylist, Lyonel Feininger, who brilliantly created the artful Kin-der-Kids, a “kid” comic page featuring the nightmarish obsessive eater, Pie-Mouth (a forerunner of Augustus Gloop in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory). Themes that emerged from the presentation of these classic comics through this lens included depictions of the disenfranchised and the dangers of rampant consumerism, driven home with the bloody four-color newsprint slaughter of a whale, who asks with his dying breath, “Who would have think it?”

I was fortunate enough to stumble on Hungry Henrietta, a little-known 1904 series by Winsor McCay, most famous for Little Nemo In Slumberland. This is a highly innovative series for several aspects, not the least of which is the strip’s step-by-step depiction of the emotional origins of an eating disorder. Probably the best slide I made in this presentation shows 21 images of Henrietta, one from each episode. The chronological sequence reveals her weight gain, subtly handled in stark contrast to the dramatic verve with which McCay depicted physical transformations in Rarebit and Nemo. Look closely, and Henrietta’s heartbreaking disaffection with the world is also charted in this display.

Since the American comic book got rolling in the late 1930s, I had the first years of that medium to explore, as well. I decided to show a story from an obscure early 1940s series, The Face – in which the hero has no superpower and simply dons a Halloween mask to fight crime. In the story shown, he is morally outraged when a crooked businessman sells spoiled meat to an orphanage. Ultimately, the food becomes a symbol for what’s wrong with society. Oddly, I looked, but didn’t find any notable examples of food themes in Superman or Batman stories from the 1940s. Surely, there are some out there. I did find some examples of comics dealing with wartime food shortages, including a lovely Simon and Kirby Sandman story.

Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s classic Mad story, “Restaurant!” addresses the shift from wartime shortages to overabundance and mad consumption. The more sophisticated themes and treatments reflect the maturing of the form, as well as the genius of Harvey Kurtzman. The story shows us the reality in the kitchen of our favorite restaurant, and it’s not pretty. Also from the publishers of Mad, E.C. Comics, there is the classic horror story – also drawn by Jack Davis – Tain’t the Meat, It’s the Humanity in which a hacked up human carcass is sold as meat in a butcher’s shop. We’re a long way from the gentle melancholy of Outcault’s kids.

Reed Crandall and Mike Peppe’s “Corpse That Came to Dinner” seemed ideal for the lecture, as well. It’s a vicious skewering of idealized coupling in 1950s middle class America. Wholesome comics also carried hidden social commentaries, especially when they were about food. John Stanley and Irving Tripp’s “Frog Legs” from a 1950 issue of Little Lulu again deals with issues of society and class and, surprisingly, the larger dilemma of sorting out when a creature is a cute animal, and when it is a “delicacy.”

The presentation ends with a look at the 1949 Donald Duck adventure, “Lost in the Andes,” by Carl Barks. Some, myself included, regard this to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. This is the famous square egg story and it prefigures the desires of capitalists to remake nature for a profit, foreshadowing today’s genetically modified food products.

Stepping back to examine this flow, it became clear the selections, when considered in the order on which they were created, presents a poor man’s history of comics, showing the development of the form from Wilhelm Busch’s 1865 sequential images through the development of the American newspaper comic strip and to the first decade or so of the American comic book .

Selected Outtakes

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

George Herriman's short run ZOO ZOO strip featured a pre-cursor to Krazy Kat (1906, scan courtesy Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

George Herriman’s short run ZOO ZOO strip featured a pre-cursor to Krazy Kat (1906, scan courtesy Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

Hy Gage (Oct 14, 1910 - scan courtesy of Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

Hy Gage (Oct 14, 1910 – scan courtesy of Peter Maresca and Sunday Press). There is a whole sub-genre of hungry hobos in early newspaper comics.

John Stanley and Irving Tripp (from LITTLE LULU #5 Sept-Oct 1948)

John Stanley and Irving Tripp (from LITTLE LULU #5 Sept-Oct 1948).

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

Alternate Structure

Instead of a chronology, a thematic structure was briefly considered. Since the lecture was to be given to college students who probably lacked an overall understanding of comics history and who might become confused with a non-linear approach, this structure was discarded.

The Hungry, Homeless and Disenfranchised

Max and Moritz

Katzenjammer Kids


The Face

Simon and Kirby Sandman story


Voracious Appettites

Feininger’s Pie-Mouth

Segar’s Wimpy

Jiggs – Irish foods

Dagwood sandwich

Lulu/Frog’s Legs


Food Dreams and Nightmares

McCay’s Dreams and Henrietta

Mad: Restaurant!/ Supermarket!

Tain’t the Meat

Corpse that Came to Dinner

Lost in the Andes (nightmare of altering food source)


Paul Tumey is a writer, artist, and designer who lives in Seattle, Washington. He is available for projects, lectures, classes, and curating and would love to hear from anyone interested. He has run his own presentation design business, Presentation Tree, since 1999. His comics history work appears in THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG (Abrams ComicArts, 2013), THE BUNGLE FAMILY 1930 (IDW, 2014), SOCIETY IS NIX (Sunday Press, 2013), KING OF THE COMICS: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF KING FEATURES SYNDICATE (IDW 2015). Most recently, Tumey has written for the Sunday Press DICK TRACY collection as well as the forthcoming book on Rube Goldberg, due out in May 2017. He is currently at work writing a book about the great American screwball cartoonists.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/8/17 – Astonished At My Doctrine) Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:09:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Art is everywhere.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Pretending Is Lying: The already-redoubtable New York Review Comics here offers a 2007 book from Belgian artist Dominique Goblet, a key player with the fiercely experimental comics publisher Frémok. Note, however, that Pretending Is Lying came out of the French alt-comics publisher L’Association; Goblet had been chipping away at it since the mid-1990s, just a few years after the eventual institution’s foundation, at times blending the yellowing of pages in with her color scheme “to defy time, the true first subject of the book,” per editor Jean-Christophe Menu. The result is a hugely well-regarded work of memoir, albeit one that flatly rejects all expectations of autobio narrative formulae – instead, we get a series of extensive, time-broken vignettes, thematically linked by Goblet’s relationships with her father, her partner, and her daughter, with forays into pure visual sensation and deliberate fractures of the authorial point-of-view; Goblet neither narrates nor appears on-panel for the last twenty of these 160 pages, instead contemplating the effect of her absence. Both demanding and approachable; very much worth a look. Introduction by Menu, afterword by co-writer/fellow character Guy Marc Hinant (who gleefully prods at the fictive nature of autobiography), translation by Sophie Yanow with Goblet, and original English lettering by the artist herself; $24.95.

Black History In Its Own Words: And here is a new book from Ronald Wimberly, of the much-liked Shakespearean rearrangement Prince of Cats. I believe this is his first bookshelf-ready original since then, an 88-page, 8.3″ x 8.3″ hardcover color collection of illustrations created around quotes by black artists and historical figures. Image continues to handle Wimberly various print works; $16.99.


NewsPrints: Your overall print-format debut of the week, however — in terms of young artists, in terms of baseline visibility — would have to be this 208-page color release from the YA specialists at Scholastic and artist Ru Xu, a webcomics creator who has been working on the concept since her student days at SCAD. It’s about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to deliver the last truth-telling newspaper around, with some SF elements broiling around as well. Looks to be in the adventuresome mold of Bone and Amulet and other popular works with the publisher. Preview; $12.99 ($24.99 in hardcover).

Scotland Yardie: Being an import item from Knockabout, the long-lived UK publisher with an ‘underground’ slant. I am not familiar with the works of writer Bobby Joseph, but he has been active in comics since the early 1990s through magazines like Skank and Black Eye, which married the raucous humor of Viz to the unique perspective of contributors from Britain’s Caribbean community. Indeed, this culture-clash comedy — concerning a Jamaican cop recruited by the Metropolitan Police to offset massive institutional racism, to farcical results — originated in the pages of Skank, though I believe all of these 104 pages are new. The artist is Joseph Samuels, a longtime collaborator; $14.95.

Magical Character Rabbit: I am similarly unfamiliar with Kinoko Evans, an Oregon-based teacher and illustrator who’s posted a good number of comics to the Study Group website. Among them is this, a very cute story about spells and friendship and hanging around, now available in a 48-page print edition distributed by Alternative Comics; $5.95.

A Land Called Tarot: You may recall a number of wordless stories running in the Image anthology Island from the French-born artist Gael Bertrand, pressing some rather old-fashioned manga-like character designs through heavily-detailed environments inspired by the tarot. This 112-page hardcover presumably collects those stories, although the solicitation is a bit cagey as to what’s actually included; $19.99.

Demon Vol. 2 (of 4) (&) Blubber #4: Continuing affronts from very prolific artists. Demon is the blood-drenched SF action/suspense plot machine from Jason Shiga, now reaching the midpoint of its manga-sized third incarnation (following Risograph self-printed chapbooks and webcomic postings) courtesy of the usually more all-ages prone First Second. Four volumes is probably the ideal length for something like this. Blubber is the current whatever-I-want-to-do showcase for Gilbert Hernandez, usually with a special emphasis on gross sex, remorseless violence, and weird creatures. Fantagraphics publishes at 24 big pages; $19.99 (Demon), $3.99 (Blubber).

Moby Dick (&) Whispers in the Walls: Two more Eurocomics selections, both in perhaps a more familiar mold than the book up top. Moby Dick is a 2014 release from artist Christophe Chabouté, rendering the Herman Melville novel in harsh b&w across 256 pages. Dark Horse publishes the English edition as an 8″ x 11″ hardcover. Whispers in the Walls is a Humanoids release of a series they’ve published in English before, a 2007-11 horror series from writer David Muñoz (a filmmaker and Guillermo Del Toro collaborator on The Devil’s Backbone) and artist Tirso Cons (colored by Javi Montes). Now a 180-page, 8.5″ x 11.1″ hardcover; $24.99 (Moby Dick), $29.95 (Walls).

Poorcraft Vol. 2: Wish You Were Here: I mentioned the first volume of this Iron Circus guide to living high and lean last week, so hell – why not the second? Artist Diana Nock returns, now joined by writer Ryan Estrada for 136 pages of tips on thrifty travel across the globe; $10.00.

Thrill-Power Overload Redux: 2000 AD – The First Forty Years: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is actually an expansion – in 2007, former 2000 AD editor David Bishop released the original Thrill-Power Overload, a breezy and accessible history of the magazine (the account of a well-positioned insider, mind) that nonetheless didn’t shy away from the various difficulties and controversies accrued over what was then a three-decade history. Now it’s ten years later, and Rebellion publishes the same title at 400 pages (opposed to 260), adding a co-writer (one Karl Stock) and presumably covering many of the ensuing events. Some nice descriptions of marginal and short-lived serials in the earlier edition, I’ve found it very useful; $45.00.

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Webcomics Binge Read: Homestuck Part 2 Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:00:14 +0000 Homestuck. Continue reading ]]> Mea culpa. I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, it’s been too long since Part 1 of my binge-read through Andrew Hussie’s juggernaut webcomic-cum-multimedia-phenomenon Homestuck.  My early cockiness was ill-founded. This is a long-ass webcomic that demands enormous dedication, which may explain why it attracts hardcore fans: cosplayers, shippers, epic fanfic authors and fanartists, and probably otherkin. There have to be people who believe they’re literally Homestuck characters, right? I’m disappointed with the Internet if this isn’t a thing.

This installment covers Act Five, which is at least as long as Acts One-Four put together and is in turn dwarfed by the even more massive Act Six. This is Zeno’s Webcomic: I’ve reached the halfway point several times now, only to find just as long a stretch still looming before me.  It defies Aristotelian logic, but so do most webcomics.

Let us continue the ascent:



Sometimes characters die, and I don’t know if I should feel sad or if it’s part of an alternate future, or a dream, or if they have extra lives, or what. I’m not sure what emotions to be having, is all.


Another wall-of-text plot recap, which is good because I’ve lost the thread again.      

Actual paragraph: “Harley was locked onto by the frog temple’s equipment. DD activated the device, and produced a paradox clone of Harley combined with the controversial MEOW code to create puppy Bec. The spectacle terrified AR?, leaving a major impression on him. He would recognize Bec’s silhouette carved on WV’s pumpkin years later. The pumpkin commanded his fear, and caused him to surrender.” Shit, this makes less sense than manga.


The question mark after the “AR” in the above is the shorthand Hussie uses to indicate we’re dealing with the character in a different time period. I don’t remember if this was ever explained, or if I had to learn it off a wiki. That’s how you get diseases.


Act Five gives us the backstory of the trolls, who, we learn, destroyed their planet playing Sburb. “Their adventures are going to be quite extensive and convoluted,” says the narration, “to an even greater degree than one perhaps may be accustomed.” Don’t even joke about that, Homestuck.


Trolls have demonic versions of human pop culture, and Troll Will Smith got his start on The Thresh Prince of Bel Air. That’s pretty good.


Troll computers are made from beehives and run on beenary code. It probably doesn’t speak well of me that what I enjoy most in Homestuck are the puns.


The introduction of the trolls deliberately mirrors the introduction of the human protagonists back at the very beginning, except that there are twelve trolls so it will be three times as long. Also all their interests are weird slimy evil versions of human interests, like jousting.


When Homestuck was serializing, it went through several major hiatuses. Hiati? Presumably fans pounced on each long-awaited installment and read all the new character chatlogs, no matter how long, instead of chuckling at a couple of lines before impatiently scrolling down as I’m doing now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to read 700 words of alien trolls dissing each other in L33Tspeak. That such a frame exists is faintly shocking.


The trolls are developing into fun characters; it feels like Hussie is rewriting the early chapters of Homestuck to incorporate everything he’s learned about characterization and storytelling since then. That said, the fact that there are twelve of them, all similar-looking due to the limitations of the simple sprite art, makes their adventures hard to follow even when the comic isn’t being deliberately obtuse.


In an essay for the manga Kingyo Used Books, manga store owner Hiroshi Hashimoto speculated that the massive success of Sailor Moon was due to its large central cast.      

“Up until then,” he wrote, “it was customary to have no more than five main characters in an action manga, as seen in the Super Sentai series Goranger. By increasing that number to ten, (Naoko) Takeuchi gave every reader at least one character with whom to closely identify.” Homestuck is building on the same strategy. Between four humans, twelve trolls, and miscellaneous side characters, you’ve got to identify with somebody.


I was the English-language editor for Kingyo Used Books, in case you’re wondering how anyone remembers the bonus essays in an out-of-print manga about book collecting.


The trolls have intense friendships and frenmities. I can see why this fandom gets into industrial-grade shipping.


Hussie must be chafing at the limitations of always drawing his characters as super-deformed sprite figures, like Link in The Legend of Zelda.       From time to time he now draws them lanky and adult-proportioned, like Link in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I just learned from the Internet that I’m the only person who liked that game.


Oh my god, the trolls are so shippy they even ship each other. In fan comics. That they draw themselves.


Now there’s a chart to explain the cultural and evolutionary theories behind troll shipping.


There’s a lot of engaging character writing and relationship drama, but I’m having so much trouble keeping twelve friggin’ trolls straight. Which is the one who allied himself with Jack Noir? Who ate the mind honey? Which ones are dead right now? I can consistently recognize the two aquatic ones, the catgirl, and the one in the wheelchair with the Peter Pan fixation, and then I start getting confused. And this comic is walking on thin ice by introducing a catgirl.


I spent several pages trying to figure out which troll I was looking at this time before realizing it was supposed to be cartoon Andrew Hussie in a troll costume. Dammit, Homestuck.


Cartoon Hussie is leveling dark threats: “I could snap my gray smudgy fingers RIGHT NOW, and make you read all the troll romance exposition segments all over again, BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK.” This is terrorism.


The Land of Little Cubes and Tea is my favorite land name.


We haven’t had a big animated cutscene in a while, and now we get an epic one, full of battles and badassery.      

Unfortunately, I’ve lost the plot thread again and have no idea why anyone is doing anything.



Exposition! We learn that our universe was created by the trolls during their playthrough of Sburb. They were supposed to rule like gods, but luckily they screwed up in some unclear way, probably while they were all bickering and cutting each others’ arms off. Stupid pissy trolls.


Hey, the human kids are back! And they all took a level up in badass!      
Everybody has variant outfits like Star Wars action figures.


The comic suddenly remembers that John used to be followed around by a sprite in the shape of his grandma’s ghost.      

Now she’s back after about ten thousand pages.


Hussie is switching up the art like a madman. In addition to the two previously established modes, characters sometimes appear in semi-realistic hand-drawn art, and as tiny super-pixilated figures in the style of the original Final Fantasy.      

There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes you get trying of drawing a way, I guess.


I’m flying past a lot of material here because there isn’t much going on, story-wise. The humans and trolls stop being deliberately obnoxious to each other and start getting real, which means now they spend most of their time either making maddeningly oblique comments or kinda sorta flirting. OMG the shipping.


Jade calls the trolls on their distracting l33tspeek: “sorry but could you please not use all those stupid parentheses????? i can hardly read what you type and its giving me a migraine.” Even though her texting style is only marginally more tolerable, she speaks for me.


This is the kind of comic where characters react to being killed by posting this emoticon: XC


XC: The emoticon of being sad that you died.


Jade is kind of the greatest character, if only because of the decreasing patience she has for her universe and fellow characters and all the other bullshit of Homestuck.


It’s unfortunate that Hussie chose Bill Cosby as one of the ironic celebrity images to copy and paste into the comic, Bloom County-style, over and over. But in 2010, who knew that was going to be an issue?


Holy shit, am I still in 2010?


Aw, there’s a minigame where you walk John around a salamander village while a soundtrack that sounds like a Donkey Kong Country water level plays. It’s soothing.


Update: Some people have died, sort of.      

It’s treated as tragic even though everybody has various types of backup lives, which mitigates the impact significantly in my mind.


After all this time, I still haven’t been able to work up much interest in the post-apocalyptic characters and their queen and the whole parallel adventure they have going on.       When the action switches to them I tend to space out, and as a result I have even less idea what’s going on with them than with the other two casts of characters.


There are a lot of characters, is what I’m saying.


Now the trolls are going crazy and spree-murdering each other, and it’s very exciting but I’m not sure why it’s happening. I’d go on a murder spree if I was stuck in an asteroid having endless IRC conversations with these characters, so it makes sense to me on an emotional level, but I missed the story reason.


I really like the old-timey phonograph soundtrack embedded in one installment, especially the peppy song “I’m a Member of the Midnight Crew.”


On the other hand, while I was clicking through one of the convoluted multi-stage battle scenes, my husband happened to turn on 1960s Batman fight music, which worked even better.


If you can figure out the passwords, you have the option of diverting from the main storyline at several points to see how things work out in alternate timelines. I did this once or twice and now I can’t remember what the status quo is in any version of Homestuck reality, so I’ve kind of given up on that.


I’m going through a series of pages with multiple clickable embedded images, each leading to a different set of characters so we can see what everyone is up to right now. Or in the past. Or the future. Or the afterlife, or alternate universes. Or screw this story, let’s go learn about some troll ancestors from the distant past and their heretical religion that hasn’t been mentioned before but is possibly important, or not. It’s like Homestuck itself no longer exists and I’m just getting piles of overly invested Homestuck fanfiction.


Big animated sequence, like ten minutes long. The kids scratch a giant record to alter reality. Some of the characters get resurrected to godhood, which mostly means wearing a hoodie and being able to fly. Fights happen. Noir kills a bunch of dudes. Everybody gets to be drawn as lanky anime-style characters with heretofore unseen detail. END OF ACT FIVE.


(Hussie is getting really good at this type of limited animation, BTW.)


Holy crap, is it really the end of Act Fice? This may not be clear because I’ve been skipping over a lot, but Act Five is roughly three billion pages long and I’ve been reading it since the dawn of time.      
I can no longer remember an existence in which I was not reading Homestuck.

Onward to Act Six…

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/1/17 – A Comedy for the People of the World) Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:00:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]>


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn: I can’t be sober about this; Gerald Jablonski’s are comics I’ve often treated like activism, physically putting them into people’s hands. He’s been around since the 1970s, but it was 2002’s Cryptic Wit #1 — a self-published item I bought via mail order from an ad in the Journal — which I count as one of the three crucial comics that challenged my preconceptions about the form. The first was Phoebe Gloeckner’s “Minnie’s 3rd Love”, from the 1994 anthology Twisted Sisters II; I read it as a teenager, and it challenged my preconceptions as to content, i.e. what was ‘allowable’ in a comic. The second was Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #4 (also 1994), the second “Quimby the Mouse” issue, which challenged my preconceptions as to form, which is to say how a comic should read. And then, years later, Cryptic Wit #1 challenged my preconceptions as to what was ‘good’ – because it was a comic that did absolutely everything wrong, though I found it unassailable.

I’m not going to stand here like a jackass and claim that Jablonski is sitting on a hidden vein of mass appeal; this is very particular stuff, even though the artist does exploit the most fundamental, populist stuff of comics: formulaic gag strips. Every page in the Cryptic Wit series is a self-contained story, consisting of maybe 28-30 panels, with each panel typically filled halfway with voluminous dialogue. There are only ever three types of stories: (1) the schematic adventures of Howdy and Dee Dee, an uncle and nephew comedy pair who somehow always drift onto the topic of Dee Dee’s teacher at school, who is an ant; (2) the Farmer Ned tales, in which the title character often spends an enormous amount of time winding you up as to the story he is planning to tell, only gradually yielding to fables about talking animals getting into trouble; (3) wordless, psychedelic barrages, depicting the eternal struggle between an angelic boy and a mutant counterpart, frequently to obscure ends.

The result is something extraordinarily bizarre – even more so for putting to use devices that are otherwise aggressively normal; it is impossible to read more than a few of these stories/pages in one sitting, and I recommend you treat them like scripture, as much for reflection as immediate edification. And yet, they are *incredibly* transfixing, often hugely funny comics, and this 9.5″ x 13.5″ Fantagraphics compilation promises to display Cryptic Wit at more engaging (or, readable) dimensions than ever before. A 100-page softcover, with an introduction by Jim Woodring and a new interview with the artist; $30.00.

Dissolving Classroom: Veering away from VIZ’s recent release of Junji Itō’s Tomie stories — works that date back to the very beginning of the horror manga icon’s career in the late 1980s — here we have Vertical with a translation of a much newer Itō release, hailing from 2013. As you might guess from the title, this finds the artist working more in the gross-out humor vein of his idol, the great Kazuo Umezu, though I’ve always found Itō to lack the rip-the-pages urgency of Umezu at his furious best; he’s a more studied, cerebral artist, gifted at concocting small and sneaky shockers. Like Tomie, this 178-page book collects short stories linked by the presence of supernatural characters; there’s some emphasis on social satire, like the tendency to remain polite amidst even the worst circumstances. Personally, I feel Itō’s latter-day emphasis on tones in place of hatching has robbed his art of a not-inconsiderable amount of its scary impact, but drawing a huge number of bodies melting into goop, as is his passion here, perhaps flatters that smoother textural approach; $12.95.


Little Tulip: Your Eurocomic of the week is another release from Dover, continuing to explore the sort of books that Catalan Communcations might have put out decades ago. This 2014 album (8.25″ x 11″, 96 pages) reunites writer Jerome Charyn and artist François Boucq — previously of The Magician’s Wife (1986) and Billy Budd, KGB (1990) — for an expansive-sounding story of tattoo art, life in the gulag, and murder on the streets of NYC in the 1970s. A very adept pair… Boucq in particular is the kind of full-bore craftsman who can credibly draw anything with weight and conviction; $14.95.

Lighthouse: Being the new translation of work by Spanish cartoonist Paco Roca, an artist “at the crest of a true-to-life wave in contemporary Spanish comics,” per Morten Harper, who profiled Roca for the Journal a few years back. This is an early work, from 2004, concerning a teen combatant in the Spanish Civil War holed up in the titular structure with an older man prone to spinning tales. A 6″ x 9″, 64-page hardcover from NBM, probably being advertised somewhere off to one side of this page right now. Preview; $15.99.

Poorcraft: Speaking of valuable information, this 168-page Iron Circus release from writer/publisher C. Spike Trotman and artist Diana Nock vows to aid you with “everything from finding a home to finding a hobby, dinner to debt relief, education to entertainment,” all on an extremely tight budget – certainly a skill set indie cartoonists build over the years, along with more and more of this country; $10.00.

Not Waving But Drawing: Another new Fantagraphics release, this time a deluxe softcover (10″ x 11″, 64-page) collection of sketchbook gag cartoons (“dark thoughts, lightly rendered” purrs the subtitle) by the noted illustrator John Cuneo. Full-frontal nudity on the cover, gang, you know he’s going for it; $25.00.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Brendan McCarthy: Not a Rebellion release or a North American repackaging of such, but one of IDW‘s irregular 9.25″ x 12″ hardcover tomes where they collect everything an artist has done on the long-running Judge Dredd SF/action strip without concern for storytelling flow – if an artist only drew three of eight chapters of a storyline, you get those three chapters only. Weighing in at 200 pages, this one is dedicated to Brendan McCarthy, whose work on the strip dates back to 1978, nearly its beginning; $49.99.

Lightrunner (&) Seekers Into the Mystery: Two more from Dover, this time delving into the publisher’s unofficial mission to disinter odd artifacts from the history of the American Direct Market. Lightrunner is a real obscurity, a 1983 space opera from writer Lamar Waldron and penciller Rod Whigham, the latter a well-traveled commercial comics artist (he now draws the Gil Thorpe newspaper strip) and assistant to Bob Burden, whose earliest Flaming Carrot stories I believe Waldron published in his capacity as an organizer of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair and an editor of its official magazine, Visions. Anyway, Lightrunner was first published as a book in 1983 by Starblaze Graphics, which is probably better known today (if at all) for the legal troubles it got into with various artists; now it is available again in a 128-page edition. Seekers Into the Mystery was a 1996-97 Vertigo series from writer J.M. Dematteis and a rotating crew of artists, among them Glenn L. Barr, Jon J. Muth, Michael Zulli and Jill Thompson. The plot looks to have something to do with astral projection, repressed memories of abuse, celestial beings – honestly, I’d completely forgotten it was ever published, but all 400 pages of it are now available again; $19.95 (Lightrunner), $34.95 (Mystery).

Chester 5000 Vol. 2: Isabelle And George (&) You Might Be an Artist If…: And here’s two from Top Shelf, operating under the IDW umbrella but still releasing books that feel very much like ‘Top Shelf’ works. Chester 5000 is the popular erotic webcomic SF romance series from Jess Fink, here coming off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign to put together a hardcover edition for a prequel storyline. You Might Be an Artist If… is a 144-page collection of comics by Lauren Purje about life in the ‘fine’ arts world, rendered in a very smooth-lined style a bit reminiscent of Megan Kelso; $14.95 (Chester), $19.99 (Artist).

America’s Best Comics – Artist’s Edition: Finally, we return to IDW proper and their popular line of gigantic original art reproductions, here organized not around a single vision, but a whole line of comics. Ironically, what unified the America’s Best Comics line (a subsidiary of Wildstorm, as acquired by DC) since its 1999 debut was the presence of writer Alan Moore, whose contributions can’t help but be downplayed a bit with so much emphasis on drawing. Expect a potpourri of stories by the many attractive artists retained for those titles, including full issues of Promethea (#10, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray) and Top Ten (#7, Gene Ha & Zander Cannon), along with short stories drawn by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Rick Veitch, Kevin Nowlan and Hilary Barta. A 12″ x 17″, 216-page production; $146.99 (or so).

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The Best Short-Form Comics of 2016 Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:00:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang’s instructive slogan (“Mini-Comics: You Know ‘Em When You See ‘Em”) and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I’ve not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)

1. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver. A perfect blend of autobio, semi-autobio played for comedic effect, and darkly humorous fiction from an artist making the leap from good to great.

2. The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy. A comic about the difficulty of adapting a novel light on action to the stage, with incredibly clever formal techniques and heartbreaking but humane story and character beats.

3. Our Mother, by Luke Howard. A series of comics metaphors about the experience of growing up with a mother with crippling depression and anxiety, mixing in equal parts despair, matter-of-factness and a pitch-black sense of humor.

4. The angriest saddest black girl in town, by Robyn Smith. Delicate and expressive pencils are used to subtle effect in this autobiographical howl against forces external (racism) and internal (anxiety) alike.

5. House of Women #3, by Sophie Goldstein. The conclusion of Goldstein’s sci-fi/religion story; its most dramatic sequences are staged with dazzling decorative qualities that often serve as a sort of visual Greek chorus in the way they provide information and judgment.

6. The Nincompoop #1, by Christoph Mueller. This is a hilarious and beautifully drawn collection of surreal autobio, fiction and existential stories by an emerging talent.

7. How To Make Comics, by Caitlin Skaalrud. A poetic, bleakly humorous and smartly written examination of the heartbreak and stress of creation and its context within the struggles of everyday life.

8. Frontier #11 (“BDSM”), by Eleanor Davis. The angular lines used in the character designs outline the sharpness of the nature of power in the context of relationships, as both an on-screen porn relationship and a real-life relationship feature BDSM not so much as a mere fetish, but more of a way of exploring power relationships.

9. Libby’s Dad, by Eleanor Davis. Davis uses a completely different visual approach with colored pencils in a story about another kind of power relationship and about how abuse in relationships filters down to children in unexpected and damaging ways.

10. This One Is Mine, by Laura Park. This is from Park’s Flickr account and it’s a sobering parody of the US Marine Corps’ famous Rifleman’s Creed, recontextualized to reflect her ongoing health struggles in a powerful but restrained manner, with her precise but wildly expressive line.

11. I Feel Weird #1, by Haleigh Buck. This rambling, expressively scrawled, and frequently hilarious & entertaining comic is Buck’s attempt to process a severe mental & emotional breakdown that led to a near-suicide attempt.

12. Jetty #4, by Rio Aubry Taylor. This story about a cyborg cursed to constantly change form features dense & intense linework as it acts as a metaphor for being trans and desperately seeking companionship and stability.

13. Pregs Again, by Lauren Weinstein. Featured in her Normel Person strip in the Village Voice, Weinstein both hilariously chides herself for getting pregnant again as well as other dumb decisions surrounding it while accepting the many ways it’s a gift in her inimitable, bluntly funny manner.

14. The Bridge, by Leslie Stein. From Stein’s Vice column, this is a typically gorgeous, autobiographical bit of self-reflection that goes to some very dark places and finds laughter there.

15. Silver Wire, by Jordan Shiveley. In the many darkly humorous comics I’ve included on this list, the story about a mouse trying to save his partner from self-annihilation drawn in a simple line is certainly the darkest.

16. Magic Whistle #3.2, by Sam Henderson. One of comics’ greatest humorists returns in full force with single-panel gags, extended shaggy dog stories and a variety of other humorists as this comic has become an excellent humor anthology.

17. Fool’s Errand, by Vanessa Davis. This is one of many excellent comics from Davis’ run in The Paris Review, and it takes a meandering path from time spent in Guatemala to the soul-crushing experience of managing an apartment building.

18. Hellbound Lifestyle, by Kaeleigh Forsythe & Alabaster Pizzo. Pizzo’s beautifully expressive and simple line is a perfect match for Forsythe’s amusingly self-deprecating journey through constant and sometimes manic self-reflection.

19. Pale, Sick and Magic, by Audra Stang. Stang’s loose and energetic line and sharp dialogue fuel this high school story of a bully and the bullied from the bully’s point of view a few years later, as she is unwittingly contacted from beyond the grave by a mutual acquaintance.

20. Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. This is part of Czap Books’ Ley Lines series, wherein Cockle ponders the relationship between creation and destruction, and how both war and time conspire against creating a cultural sense of continuity over time.

21. If Only Once, If Only For A Little While, by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. This is an exquisitely rendered and staged story about learning how to live in the real world and let go of the past by a cartoonist with total command over her line.

22. Malarkey, by November Garcia. These are funny, plainly-drawn accounts of the Filipina cartoonist’s daily life, adventures while drinking, and the frequently bizarre conversations she has with her mother.

23. Sex Fantasy #7, by Sophia Foster-Dimino. This is a heart-breaking, fascinating account of a relationship falling apart during a vacation to Hawai’i, rendered in her usual clear but cartoony style.

24. The Experts, by Sophie Franz. This is a vividly drawn horror-mystery story about a group of scientists isolated in an ocean facility. No explanations, no solutions, and no happy ending.

25. Wallpaper, by Whit Taylor. This mix of illustrated patterns and designs cleverly reflects the emotional states and events of the characters on each page.

26. Faded Frankenstein, by E.A. Bethea. Bethea’s scratchy, scrawled line is a perfect complement for her poetic and heartfelt prose about missing friends, fading memories, and the images of jobs past.

27. Zebidiah Part 3, by Asher Z. Craw. Part autobio story about embracing one’s identity as a trans person, and part magical realist adventure, the genius of the story is the way Craw wrapped both up together in telling the tale of Zebediah and Eula-Lee, who were pursued by the forces of evil into their modern-day incarnations as Asher and Lillie (Craw’s actual wife) Craw.

28. Paper Pencil Life #4, by Summer Pierre. This is a clearly written and cartooned collection of diary strips about life as an artist, a mother and sharp observer of the world around her.

29. Sorgin, by Amelia Onorato. This is an immaculately constructed and heartbreaking story about genocide and resistance, told with a humane and restrained touch.

30. Self, by Meghan Turbitt. This is a  warped, hilarious deconstruction of trashy women’s magazines reorganized around Tubitt’s own personal obsessions.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/25/17 – Chin-Stroking Consortium) Tue, 24 Jan 2017 13:00:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“A tremendous and truly awful spectacle; and the more fully it is understood the more terrible it appears.” So remarks the Theosophical writer Charles Webster Leadbeater in his 1903 book Man Visible and Invisible, a guide to understanding the nature of man through the means of clairvoyance. What we are seeing here is the astral body of a man consumed by “Intense Anger” – the colors and patterns are divined from Leadbeater’s system of using hue as a means of cataloguing the passions. A fascinating, quite modern drawing, though, included as a plate with the edition published by The Bodley Head, which I downloaded from Google. Apparently, the original art was by one Count Maurycy Prozor, a Lithuanian-born diplomat and translator who assembled the book’s illustrations “from the life” (I presume rightly through the practice of clairvoyance); the illustrations were then copied via airbrush by Gertrude Spink, another Theosophic colleague, “in order that they might be more successfully reproduced by the photographic process,” per Leadbeater. A most literal swarm of fury, this, almost visible overhead to even those neglected by evolution’s aetheric gifts…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



The Abominable Mr. Seabrook: Fun-looking stuff here from alt-comics veteran Joe Ollmann and publisher Drawn and Quarterly – it’s a 316-page two-color hardcover comics biography of the American author, adventurer and occultist William Seabrook, promising to deliver multifaceted account of a man both empathetic to and exploitative of foreign cultures, in the grip of physical vices and mystic fascinations; $22.95.

Disney Great Parodies Vol. 1: Mickey’s Inferno: An unusual and problematic release, this; I’ve seen pages floating around the internet several times in the last few weeks, accompanied by some measure of genuine befuddlement. It’s an NBM/Papercutz release of a 1949-50 Italian serial — indeed, an officially licensed Disney story — in which Mickey Mouse journeys through Hell, as rendered in a very tight, lunchbox-ready Disney House Style by artist Angelo Bioletto. The Dante-riffing writer is one Guido Martina, working in a good deal of legitimate verse. However, it appears the English script adds a number of new, ‘modern’ references to the original comic, I guess so the book can more efficiently be sold to kids. Ugh! Technically your Eurocomic of the week, 88 color pages, available in two goddamned formats; $8.99 (softcover), $13.99 (hardcover).


Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four – Artist’s Edition: This one’s gotta be an easy layup for the IDW line of big books of original comic book art shot in color without colorization – Jack Kirby, on what’s arguably his signature ’60s series. Specifically, this 144-page, 12″ x 16″ package features some later stuff: Annual #6 (1968) and issues #82 & #83 of the original series (1969), with inks by Joe Sinnott and dialogue by Stan Lee, plus other pages and pieces; $115.99 (or so).

Arclight #4 (of 4) (&) Island #14: Two from Image and the editor/artist/writer Brandon Graham. Arclight is a miniseries he’s been working on with the formidable artist Marian Churchland – it now reaches its conclusion for the moment. Island is the anthology Graham runs with Emma Ríos, reaching an increasingly impressive issue count, and this month featuring a cover by Graham himself; $3.99 (Arclight), $7.99 (Island).

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1: Your manga pick of the week in an unusual one from Seven Seas – a fairly new ongoing series from the anime-affiliated publisher Mag Garden, but drawn by the artist “Nagabe” in a style halfway between Victorian illustration and stripped-down, almost 4-koma-ready moe cuteness; very unusual blend. The plot seems to be of an allegorical type, concerning a curious little girl and her tall, monstrous-seeming guardian in a world of dichotomous realms. Or something; $12.99.

Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days: Not a new book, sure, but this 2009 Al Columbia concoction — an elusive and distressing 240-page jumble of comics, illustrations, unfinished pursuits and broken-down narratives, nonetheless eerily evocative of some kind of narrative momentum, something awful, bidden from beyond — is a top-notch experience for every girl and boy. Plus, now that the Walt Disney Company hoards an even more elephantine ration of the global popular discourse, Columbia’s conception of the Fleischer Studios as a sort of pre-moral psychic terrain of naive longings and daemon appetites seems especially on-point. From Fantagraphics; $29.99.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 1 (&) Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super-Sons: A double-dose of writer Bob Haney this week, if you’re so inclined, starting with a 904-page Batman release stretching all the way back to late 1969, which has to be the earliest conception of the ‘Bronze Age’ allowable by federal law. Issues #87-122 of what had become a Batman team-up forum are included, more than half of them featuring art by the enduringly popular Jim Aparo. The slimmer (256-page) Batman/Superman item also covers a swathe of the ’70s, this time from World’s Finest Comics, focusing on tales of spandex progeny. Haney did not write *every* comic here, mind, though the compilation jumps ahead to one of his final stories, a Kieron Dwyer collaboration in 1999’s Elseworlds 80-Page Giant, so it’s sort of a de facto tribute; $125.00 (Brave), $16.99 (Super-Sons).

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1: Marvel is not the first (or even the tenth) publisher I’d pick to handle newspaper strip reprints, but they are fellow vassals in the Magic Kingdom now with Luke Skywalker and the beeping can, so what we have here is a 464-page graphic-novel format reprint of Dark Horse’s 1990s color comic book calibrations of the 1979-84 Star Wars strip, initially written and drawn by Russ Manning (with added contributions by Russ Helm and Steve Gerber), then later written by Archie Goodwin with art by Al Williamson and Alfredo Alcala at different times. PLEASE NOTE that IDW, in conjunction with Marvel, will *also* be reprinting the newspaper strips in their original format later this year; $39.99.

Comic Book Creator #14: Being the newest 84-page issue of the artist-focused all-color miscellany mag from TwoMorrows. This one is notable for containing coverage of Raina Telgemeier “and her magnificent army of devotees,” a phenomenon readily observable at any convention where the artist happens to be in attendance. Also, a long interview with Kelley Jones, among the defining 1990s Batman artists, among other pursuits; $8.95.

The 10¢ War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II: Finally, your book on comics for the week is a 240-page University Press of Mississippi hardcover anthology, priced for the classroom, on the topic of “how different types of comic books and comic book characters supplied reasons and means to support the war effort.” Edited by Trischa Goodnow and James J. Kimble; $65.00.

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Krazy Love Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> We don’t have to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch into Michael Tisserand’s inch-and-a-half thick, three-pound 545-page biography of Krazy Kat’s kreator to realize that it is a stupendous triumph of exhaustive research and organizational skill. I’ve read only the first two chapters of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, and I already know more about this shy genius than I ever expected to know. But we don’t have to read even that much to realize that this volume is a biography of the cartoonist, not a critique of his work.

Just riffling the pages of the book reveals that not much of Herriman’s comic strip art is on display, and without visual evidence, we can’t examine or much appreciate his cartooning achievement. And besides, Tisserand himself tells us in an author’s introductory note that “the dimensions of this book do not allow for a full presentation of Herriman’s grand comics.” In fact, there are no complete comic strips on display This book is deliberately not about comic strip artistry. And he tells us exactly that right at the beginning: none of Herriman’s “grand comics.”

Just biography then? No, there’s a little more. “I have included panels from his works to illustrate certain ideas and to give at least a hint of their splendors.”

And so on page 24, we have a panel in which Ignatz, sending a brick to Krazy’s head, exclaims: “You’re now a member of the fraternal brickhood of noble dornicks.” This alludes to Herriman’s father’s involvement with the Masons.

Other individual panels illustrate Herriman’s sensitivity about race and identity and racial identity—Krazy looking at himself in the mirror, making black coffee (“look unda the milk”), going to a beauty parlor and coming out blonde. krazyblackcoffee

Frustrating as it is to see so little Herriman, master of his medium and pace-setting pioneer, the book is still a monument to Tisserand’s thoroughness in research and his dexterity in weaving so much of what he found into a fascinating tapestry of Herriman’s life.

I look forward to finding more gems like this one: “Herriman began adding more decorations to his comics—especially the sun cross or wheel cross, a design common in southwestern Indian art. The symbol—a cross or X inside a circle—had special appeal to Herriman, for it also resembled the hobo symbol for a friendly household. …”

As for Herriman’s artistry, we can begin with a 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts, in which art critic Gilbert Seldes famously called Herriman’s comic strip about an allegedly lunatic cat “the most amusing and fantastic and satisfying work of art produced in America today.”  This accolade and the accompanying lengthy analysis of the strip by one of the foremost critics of the day gave social and artistic respectability for the first time to the erstwhile “despised medium” of cartooning.  It was Seldes who first analyzed the strip’s plot and articulated Herriman’s theme. (And he did it without including in his discussion any examples of the comic strip; we’ll do a little better here.)

Like any great work of art, Krazy Kat’s thematic complexity is masked by its seeming simplicity.  After a couple of formative years, the plot that emerged involved only three characters— a cat (Krazy), a mouse (Ignatz), and a dog (Offissa Pupp)— but each is doing something profoundly contrary to its nature.  Instead of stalking the mouse, Krazy loves him and waits for him to assault her; instead of fearing the Kat, Ignatz scorns her (or him— Krazy is without sex, Herriman explained, like a sprite or elf) and attacks him/her repeatedly; instead of chasing the Kat, the dog protects her/him out of love for him/her.  This is Herriman’s eternal triangle; and each of its participants is ignorant of the others’ passions.

Into this equation, Herriman introduced a symbol:  a brick.  Ignatz despises Krazy and expresses his cynical disdain by throwing a brick at the androgynous Kat’s head.  Krazy, blind with love, awaits the arrival of the brick (indeed, pines for its advent) with joy because he/she considers the brick “a missil of affection.”  Meanwhile, the dog, motivated by inclination (his love for Krazy) as well as occupation (he’s an enforcer of law and order) tries to prevent the disorders that Ignatz attempts to perpetrate on Krazy’s bean. 

Ironically, in seeking to protect the object of his affection from the assaults of the mouse, Offissa Pupp succeeds in making his beloved Krazy happy only when he fails to frustrate Ignatz’s attack.  Luckily, Offissa Pupp frequently fails in his mission.  And Ignatz, perforce, succeeds.  But it is Krazy who triumphs.  As Seldes said:  “The incurable romanticist, Krazy faints daily in full possession of his illusion, and Ignatz, stupidly hurling his brick, thinking to injure, fosters the illusion and keeps Krazy `heppy’.”

Hence, Herriman’s theme:  love always triumphs.  And most of the time, it does so in the strip more by accident than by design.  Over the years, Herriman played out his theme in hundreds of variations, but there was always the Kat, the Mouse, and the brick.  And the brick usually found its way to Krazy’s skull— much to the Kat’s content (and often to Offissa Pupp’s chagrin).  The acclaimed lyricism of Herriman’s strip arises partly from the seemingly endless reprise of this theme as Seldes first outlined it.  But it arises, too, from the theme itself and Herriman’s unique treatment of it.

For we are all of us lovers, seeking someone to love and to love us back— and fearing an unrequited outcome.  That we should find humor in a comic strip about love that is requited more by accident than by intention is something of a wonder.  True, there is some reassurance in the endless victories of love in Krazy Kat.  But the accidental nature of so many of those triumphs cannot but undermine a little an over-all impulse towards confidence.  And hope.  And yet we laugh.  Perhaps because we are all of us lovers, and just a little krazy in konsequence.  And so like Herriman’s sprite, we persist in seeing only what we want to see.

By this circuitous route, Seldes’ interpretation of Herriman’s theme is embellished.  Krazy Kat is not so much about the triumph of love as it is about the unquenchable will to love and to be loved.  Love may not, in fact, always triumph; but we will always wish it would.  krazy1

Herriman’s paean to love began as a simple cat-and-mouse game in the basement of a strip called The Family Upstairs, which first appeared August 1, 1910. The strip had debuted under the title The Dingbat Family on June 20, 1910, but when the apartment-dwelling Dingbats developed an obsession about the disruptive doings of their upstairs neighbors, the strip was re-titled accordingly.  Krazy first appeared (unnamed) as the Dingbat’s cat in the first week of strips.  The spacious panels in which Herriman recorded the daily trials of the Dingbats in their feud with their neighbors always had some vacant space at the bottom, and Herriman developed the practice of filling that space with drawings of the antics of the cat (not yet Kat).  On July 26, a mouse appears and throws what might be a piece of brick at the cat.  Thereafter, the drama that unfolds at the feet of the Dingbats focuses on the aggressive mouse’s campaign against the cat.

By mid-August, Herriman had drawn a line completely across the lower portion of his strip, separating the cat and mouse game into a miniature strip of its own, a footnote feud paralleling the combat going on above.  This tiny strip Herriman introduced with the prophetic caption:  “And this,” with an arrow pointing to the strip at the right, “another romance tells.”  And the mouse ends that day’s antics by christening his nemesis:  “Krazy Kat,” he growls, somewhat disgustedly.  This exasperated utterance would become the strip’s concluding refrain and, eventually, its title.  But for the next two-and-a-half years, the Kat and the mouse carried on in their minuscule sub-strip without a title, and the mouse didn’t acquire his name until the first days of 1911.  On rare occasions, Ignatz and Krazy invaded the Dingbats’ premises, taking over the more commodious panels upstairs for their daily turn while the baffled Dingbats looked in from below.  krazy2But it wasn’t until October 28, 1913, that they had a strip of their own.

Krazy’s relationship to Ignatz was initially that of the persecuted and abused. The Kat’s infatuation with the mouse did not become evident until the spring of 1911, and even then, it was only occasionally alluded to. It did not become an obsession until later that year. In the copiously annotated Gallery at the end of this essay is a selection of strips from the first couple years, showing the evolution of the krazy love affair.  krazy3

The machinations of his eternal triangle (and the brick) preoccupied Herriman throughout Krazy Kat’s run.  And most of the strips, whether daily or weekend editions, are stand-alone, gag-a-day productions.  But on occasion, Herriman told continuing stories.  Once Krazy was captivated by a visiting French poodle named Kisidee Kuku.  And in 1936, Herriman conducted one of his longest continuities— a narrative opus chronicling the havoc wreaked by Krazy’s involvement with the world’s most powerful katnip, “Tiger Tea.”  Mostly, however, the strip was a daily dose of Herriman’s lyric comedy about love. 

Herriman’s graphic style— homely, scratchy penwork— remained unchanged through Krazy Kat’s run, but the cartoonist explored and exploited the format of his medium, exercising to its fullest his increasingly fanciful sense of design— particularly when drawing the Sunday Krazy

The first “Sunday page” didn’t appear on a Sunday: it showed up on Saturday, April 23, 1916, running in black and white in the weekend arts and drama section of Hearst’s New York Journal; the full-page Krazy would not be printed in color until June 1, 1935.  But with or without color, the full-page format stimulated Herriman’s imagination, and for it, he produced his most inventive strips— in both layout and theme, the latter often playfully determined by the former, as we shall see anon.

While the brick is the pivot in most of Herriman’s strips, the daily strips also reveal him playing with language and being self-conscious about the nature of his medium.  When Ignatz casually observes that “the bird is on the wing,” Krazy investigates and reports (in characteristic patois):  “From rissint obserwation, I should say that the wing is on the bird.”  Another time, he is astonished at bird seed— having believed all along that birds came from eggs. 

In Krazy’s literal interpretation of language there is an innocence at one with his romantic illusion.  When Ignatz is impressed by a falling star, Krazy allows that “them that don’t fall” are more miraculous.  Krazy’s puns and wordplay were the initial excuse for Ignatz’s assault by brick:  the mouse stoned the Kat to punish him/her for what he considered a bad joke.  From this simple daily ritual, Herriman vaulted his strip into metaphysical realms and immortality.

Appropriately enough, illusion and reality meet in a dreamscape where the distinction between them becomes forever lost, the perfect denouement for the topsy-turvy relationship among Herriman’s trio of protagonists.  Seldes drew attention to the “shifting backgrounds” in Krazy Kat— to scenery that changes from mountain to forest to sea at will, to suit Herriman’s whim for varying his designs.  Very early, in both daily and weekend installments, Herriman invested his strip with a dream-like ambiance:  evoking his favorite retreat, Monument Valley in the desert of southeastern Utah, he created a Surreal landscape of whimsical buttes and cavorting cactuses that changed their shapes and moved around from panel to panel as his characters capered before it, entirely oblivious to the metamorphosis of their background.  In the radiant absurdity of this symbolic site, the Herriman’s lyricism was complete:  setting and content were a seamless whole, locale and refrain united in thematic reprise.  Here, Herriman’s dream becomes an amiable reality.

In addition to being a conglomeration of geological oddities, Monument Valley is a desert.  Its landscape is parched and vast; its human population, sparse.  Here, dwarfed by craggy monuments and isolated from the normal bustle of social enterprise, the solitude and insignificance of individual existence becomes a palpable thing.  Baking in the desert sun, soaking up the peace and majesty of the place and finding withal a kind of serenity, one can come to a great appreciation of the fellowship of humankind— perhaps to an understanding of the role of love in that fellowship. 

Whether Herriman experienced precisely these feelings we cannot say, but he was clearly moved by the beauty of the area:  “Those mesas and sunsets out in that ole pais pintado,” he once wrote, “a taste of that stuff sinks you … deep too….”  For twenty years, he made an annual pilgrimage every summer to Monument Valley, where he stayed in Kayenta with John and Louisa Wetherill, who had started a Navajo trading post there in 1910.  Cartoonists James Swinnerton and Rudolph Dirks sometimes accompanied him.  And they all painted landscapes a little (Herriman less than the other two).

Herriman is the first person of color to achieve prominence in cartooning.  Although recognized for his talent by his peers and by the press and the public in a general way, his stature is largely a posthumous distinction.  During his lifetime, Herriman’s work was esteemed by intellectuals, but their high opinion of Krazy Kat did not translate into circulation:  Krazy Kat appeared in very few newspapers, relatively speaking.  Ron Goulart, in his Encyclopedia of Comics, says the strip never ran in more than forty-eight papers in this country.  Half of them were doubtless in the Hearst chain, which numbered about two dozen at its peak.  Hearst loved the strip and insisted that he would keep running it as long as Herriman wanted to do it, circulation notwithstanding. 

Herriman is reported to have said he was Creole but of mixed blood.  Thanks to Tisserand, we know now, without quibble or question (of which there was a good deal when this ancestral fact first surfaced years ago), that Herriman was one of the “colored” Creoles who lived in New Orleans at the end of the nineteenth century— descendants of “free persons of color” who had intermarried with French, Spanish, and West Indian stock.

Herriman was clearly sensitive about his racial origins.  He was passing for white, and he had kinky black hair and so almost always wore a hat— indoors and out— probably to conceal his hair. By all accounts, he was self-effacing, shy, and extremely private. 

Herriman’s race would be of no particular interest were it not for the unique manifestation he created for love in his strip:  Krazy chooses to take an injury (a brick to the head) as symbolic of Ignatz’s love for him/her, and Krazy is a black cat.  While I would hate to see Krazy Kat converted by well-meaning critics and scholars into an allegory about racial relations (it would then seem somehow less universal in its message, and we all need its reassurances, regardless of race), Herriman’s sensitivity on the matter suggests an unconscious emotional source for his inspiration. 

He may not have been fully conscious of the kind of self-hatred that racial prejudice induces in persecuted minorities, but his subconscious knew.  And on the murkier levels of the subconscious, self-hatred is associated with guilt, and guilt requires punishment.  And thus the brick, erstwhile emblem of love, becomes the instrument of punishment.  But not altogether:  perhaps to Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, even abuse is a form of acknowledgment and is therefore to be desired if all other forms fail to materialize.

African American scholars see other artifacts of life in black America in the strip.  William W. Cook, a Dartmouth scholar of African-Americana, told me about the comedy of reversal that Krazy Kat seems to embody.  Among the characters that populated the vaudeville stage in the early years of the twentieth century were comic racial stereotypes left over from the days of minstrelsy.  A large imposing black woman and her diminutive no-good lazy husband comprised a traditional stage pair.  The comedy arose from the woman’s endless beratings of her husband and his ingenuity in evading the obligations she urged upon him.  Noting Krazy’s color and size relative to Ignatz, Cook sees the large black woman of the vaudeville stage in the Kat; and in the mouse, the wizened husband.  In Herriman’s vision, however, their vaudeville roles have been reversed:  with every brick that reaches Krazy’s skull, the browbeaten “husband” avenges himself for the years of abuse he suffered on stage.  And Offissa Pupp is another vestige of the same vaudeville act:  driven to distraction by her husband’s derelictions, the scolding stage wife often concluded her rantings with the threat:  “I’m gonna get the law on you.”

But the strip’s central ritual has a more obvious origin in another more familiar vaudeville routine.  We see it first in Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff.  The pie-in-the-face punchline. Mutt habitually hits Jeff after Jeff makes a particular stupid remark, an echo of comedy on the vaudeville stage. Ignatz’s brick-throwing belongs in the same tradition.  Krazy would say or do something silly or idiotically insightful, and Ignatz would react by braining him with a brick.  It was a commonplace of comedy in those years (and to some extent, it still is).  But Herriman, as we’ve seen, gave the slapstick routine a metaphysical significance it never had on stage.  And the lyric lesson came about, I believe, through the cartoonist’s impulse for visual comedy.

The Sunday or weekend full-page Krazy Kat is the fly wheel of the strip’s lyric dynamic.  And it was on these pages that Herriman developed and embroidered the strip’s over-arching theme.  By the time the weekend strip was launched, Krazy was five years old.  In its daily version, the strip reprised its familiar vaudeville routine with an almost endless variety of nuance.  The love that this routine obscurely symbolized was only hinted at in the daily strips.  But when Herriman gained the expanded vistas of a full page upon which to work his magic, his grand but simple theme began to emerge in full flower.  And before too long, the weekend strip was a page-long paean to love—to its power, to our passionate and unwavering desire for its power to triumph over all.

I suspect that the gentle theme of love emerged on the weekend pages almost accidentally.  Judging from the earliest pages themselves, Herriman’s driving preoccupation was a playful desire to fill the space by humorously re-designing it— and while he was about it, he re-designed the form and function of comic strip art as well.  Beginning with the first weekend page in 1916, we can watch Herriman as he started to experiment with the form of the medium.  Antic layouts were not long in surfacing. 

On the very first weekend page, April 23, 1916, he used irregular-shaped panels, and by June, some panels were page-wide.  In July, he sometimes dropped panel borders and sometimes used circular panels instead of rectangles; by August, he was mixing all these devices.  And by the end of October, his graphic imagination was shaping the gags:  layout sometimes determined punchline or vice-versa as page design became functional as well as fanciful.

On the page for July 9, 1916, page-wide panels emphasize the vastness of the desert setting. krazy4The opening panel the next week is likewise a whole page wide by way of dramatizing a gag:  a fatuous ostrich performer on stage addresses his “vast and intelligent audience,” which consists solely of Krazy, whose solitude and inconsequence, in comic contrast to the ostrich’s remarks, is made hilariously plain by the emptiness around him that stretches all across the page. 

On September 3, Herriman sets the scene for an adventure at sea with a page-wide panel suggesting the vast and vacant reaches of an ocean.  Panel borders disappear for much of the page in order to give emphasis to the unruly waves that toss Krazy and Ignatz about.  Then, for the conclusion, panel borders frame a scene when the sea has grown calm. krazy5 krazy6 On October 15, the entire page consists of page-wide panels. The maneuver permits Herriman to tell one story about Krazy at the far left of each panel while unfolding an ironic comedy in counterpoint at the far right.  The humor arises from the simultaneity of the actions. 

On May 6, 1917, a top-to-bottom vertical panel on the right-hand side of the page gives the comic explanation for the “mystery” outlined in the panels on the left:  how could a single brick from Ignatz bean a katbird, Krazy, and a katfish?  The vertical panel allows Herriman to explain. krazy7He shows Ignatz in a balloon over Krazy’s head and traces the path of the brick he drops from the balloon:  it hits a passing katbird first, then Krazy, then falls into the water where it hits the katfish. 

The next week, layout also contributes to the comedy.  The bottom third of the page is a series of drawings large enough to show Krazy bemoaning his banishment from Ignatz at the bottom of the drawings while, simultaneously at the top of each drawing, the usual missive of the mouse’s regard is being launched in the Kat’s direction by forces over which neither Kat nor mouse has any control.  krazy8

That the stories Herriman told on the weekend Krazy Kat focussed on love is largely incidental.  Love is any storyteller’s stock-in-trade.  Love insinuates itself into most human dramas.  In many ways, all stories can be love stories—as soon as the opposite sex appears or children enter a family milieu.  Love stories find their way into virtually every other kind of tale.  They fit readily into any narrative setting.  War stories have love stories as subplots; so do Westerns and whodunits and every other kind of narrative.  The theme of love is thus universal enough to furnish a focus for any story.   Herriman’s sense of graphic play needed a narrative focal point.  Love was the most easily understood and adaptable organizing device at hand.  Herriman seized it, and, by making it central to an endless comic refrain, he made poetry.

On the weekend pages, Herriman found room to indulge and develop his fantasy— his visual playfulness, his inventiveness.  His poetry.  Here, then, the quintessential Krazy blossomed.  And then the daily strips took up the chorus too, more focussed than they had been before Herriman had the weekend page to play with.  The lyricism of the theme soon permeated Herriman’s week and gave us one of the masterworks of the medium.

But these are the meanderings of the critical faculty.  For the readers (and lovers) we all are, it is probably enough to know that regardless of the source of Herriman’s inspiration, his Kat, the embodiment of love willed into being, is a comfort to us all— a balm of wisdom wrapped in laughter.  Herriman was not only shy:  he was, according to those who knew him, also saintly.  And so was his strip. krazy9

Herriman died April 25, 1944, and his strip, too idiosyncratic for another to continue, ceased with the Sunday page for June 25.  But in soaring into metaphysical realms, Krazy Kat had long since achieved immortality.

And now, in our annotated Krazy Gallery assembled from the Hyperion Press reprint tome, The Family Upstairs: Introducing Krazy Kat, we show the evolution of Herriman’s most celebrated characters with sundry hints of their situation during the first months of the strip, 1910-1912. These excerpts appear here in the same order in which they were initially published, and they show Herriman becoming increasingly playful in the deployment of his medium’s visual resources—a broad hint about things to come in the “weekend” Krazy of later years. 

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The Comics Nurturer: Kevin Czap & Czap Books Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:00:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Kevin Czap was recently awarded the Emerging Talent award at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) festival, a fitting honor for a cartoonist and publisher who is starting to publish on a more aggressive basis. A self-proclaimed “Comics Mom,” Czap’s goal as a publisher is to nurture and encourage the artists that they publish (Czap’s preferred pronouns are they/them) to be their best and most fully-formed artistic selves, no matter their style or method. Their forward-thinking and nurturing presence as a publisher is most closely aligned with how Annie Koyama works with her artists, but Czap’s dedication to the crew of artists they’ve been publishing for years as well as their eye for challenging, weird, and poetic work reminds me most of Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books. Like Williams, Czap is 100% invested in their artists. Also like Williams, Czap is very much hands-off in terms of content; the only real “editing” is the selection of the artist for publication. The result is a surprisingly wide array of genres and approaches, united only by the humane themes in their art. Czap is also publishing some of the most challenging, cutting-edge comics available now, like Czap Books’ flagship anthology title, Ley Lines, one that focuses on relationship between art and artists. Let’s take a look at some recent and older work published by Czap, including their own comics.

Futchi Perf and other Czap Books By Czap

Turning first to Czap’s own work, the centerpiece of that is the enigmatic and blissfully beautiful Futchi Perf (a linguistic variation on “perfect future,” I’d guess). Prior to the full publication of that comic, they published some precursors in anthologies and minis, like Lyric Sheet and a split mini with cartoonist John G. In the latter comic, both artists explored an alternative version of Cleveland, with John G.’s delving into loneliness and isolation as earnestly as Czap searches for connection and meaning. I think describing Czap’s work as utopian doesn’t quite hit the mark. A utopia implies a perfect working system where everyone is happy. It has an almost mechanistic connotation.


What Czap instead posits is a city where all basic needs are met, and which is devoted to free self-expression, connection and understanding. It’s a sloppy and beautifully human city, subject to human frailties and limitations but also buffered by the possibilities of kindness and empathy. The introduction, appropriately titled “Theme”, is a best-case scenario extrapolation, where “all the right things are winning!” and “this neighborhood is swarming with all your closest friends!” The dense and shadowy but still cartoony line reminds me a bit of Kyle Baker’s old work. A more contemporary mutual influence, I believe, is the cartoonist Jeremy Sorese. Czap’s character design, world-building, and unspoken but obvious focus on a society that is clearly gender-fluid, racially mixed, and diverse in every way imaginable (including but not limited to sexual preference), creates an environment where there is at last an even playing field. That fascinating exploration of a world where being genderqueer is the norm instead of the exception reminds me of Sorese, only Czap is more interested in how that plays out across a wide swath of society rather than with a small set of characters.

Czap is also interested in exploring what kinds of conflicts still exist in a society where basic needs are accounted for. The story “Seventh Energy” provides fascinating, cut-away diagrams of how Cleveland is powered by an energy-harvesting source that comes from Lake Erie. While life may be a best-case scenario  in this version of Cleveland, Czap notes that as long as human beings have emotions, desires, and interact with one another, there will still be the possibility of conflict, unhappiness, insecurity, and confusion about one’s path.

That idea is tracked throughout the comic, as the lack of self-actualization is explored in conjunction with a society that emphasizes inclusiveness and innovation. Czap’s Cleveland is strongly influenced by the Kid Mind, a sort of living-cloud think tank that influences culture and trends. Young people, with their fashion, sociopolitical consciousness, and dialect informed and informing the Kid Mind in near real-time, use devices to find house parties and other ways to connect. Their appearance in the story “Lyric Sheet” is connected to the story’s protagonist and a famous singer-poet named Graces. Czap delves deep into mythology, as the Graces were the patrons of the pleasurable things in life, including play, rest, and happiness. The protagonist’s connection to Graces (at first unspoken and later explicit) goes beyond even the influence of the Kid Mind.

Czap’s dense but cartoony line creates a more pleasant version of the sort of future worlds that another potential inspiration, Brandon Graham, conjures, complete with bushy eyebrows, highly expressive lettering, and noodly figures. It’s a world that’s every bit as crowded as Graham’s, only far less grimy. The real key to the comic’s visual success is the deft and clever use of color via the Risograph. The light from devices is a swirling pink, color contrasts offer a quick key to foreground and background figures, and key panels switch from dark blues to pinks to emphasize the emotional importance of that component. The final comparison I’d make is the Zak Sally story “The Great Healing”, in which a narrator reveals a world where every desired miracle has taken place, where “tears crawled back into wet eyes.” What makes Czap’s version unique is less of a focus on a single moment than an exploration of this premise, simultaneously world-building and character-building. Of all Czap’s comics, Futchi Perf comes closest to recapitulating Czap’s entire project as a publisher.

A Lesson In Survival, on the other hand, is very much an OuBaPo kind of experiment, matching Joni Mitchell lyrics to swirling black cityscapes and figures. While many of them border on the abstract, the reader is made to juxtapose them against the lyrics, which have their own meaning when separated from the original songs. It’s not an entirely successful experiment, as the repetition and lack of variation on themes drags the mini down, and there’s not quite enough to connect the images and lyrics to make it all click.

“He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap” is a collaboration with Cathy G. Johnson, another long-time presence at Czap Books. This is a short, black & white broadsheet that in many ways is the quintessential Czap publication. It’s scratchy, expressive, slightly oblique but also emotionally open. Featuring the narratives of several characters in what appears to be a small Southern town, it’s about identity, gender, and the sense of being trapped or locked into one’s life with no recourse for some, and the infinite possibilities available to the imagination of children. The loopy lines converge into figures beautiful in their grotesqueness, drawn with their hearts on their sleeves. I’m not quite sure how the division of labor was split between the two artists, but there’s a remarkable degree of storytelling fluidity, and the reader is left wanting so much more.

Czap Books

Eat That Toast is a collection of full-color gag strips by Czap’s brother Matt. He’s an animator and improv comedian associated with the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and it’s clear that a lot of lessons from the world of improv are reflected in his sense of humor. Czap’s art is functional, relying heavily on exaggeration and color in support of his gags, which are mostly conceptual. The drawings are clear and don’t detract from the jokes, but they aren’t usually funny as drawings; if anything, they feel a bit web-comic generic. That said, the conceptual nature of his gags is killer, and it’s clear that he’s a skilled comedic writer. What I like best about this collection is the way he sets up a group of recurring characters that create a certain set of expectations as to the eventual punchline, yet Czap is repeatedly able to find a fresh way either to tell the joke or else cleverly subvert expectations. The best is the recurring saga of a family of anthropomorphic toast and the ravenous bird that stalks them. What’s great about it is that in many of these strips, Czap will go to great lengths to discuss the most intimate details of the toast family’s life and then spring the bird on them in horrifying fashion.

Other highlights include the vegan who’s against food consumption of all kinds, the bird who works in a pizza joint (including a truly unsettling strip where being told to pour soda on a pizza he’s delivered turns out to be some kind of fetish), the contagiousness of pick-up-artist syndrome, the archeologist-adventurer whose dreams of treasure never quite materialize in the ways she expect, and all kinds of ridiculous puns and wordplay. My favorite strip of all is one about a dad who’s just explained “the birds and bees” to his son, and when the kid gets with his girlfriend and is being pecked by birds and stung by bees, he triumphantly thinks, “I’m doing it!” Another great one takes the concept behind “hugs, not drugs” to its logical and dark conclusion. I actually would have preferred to have seen the jokes without the use of color, because it didn’t really add much and was actually distracting at times. The core ideas are so solid that going simpler might have been preferable, but there’s no doubt that Matt Czap is as funny as any humorist out there. Fans of Joey Alison Sayers would especially enjoy his work.

Ulcera is by young Brazilian artists (Paula) Puiupo and Adonis Pantazopoulos. What it shares with other Czap books is an interest in futurism, utopianism, and a radical rethinking of personal identity within the context of interpersonal connections. Considering the ages of the artists (20 and 19, respectively), it’s remarkable to see how thoroughly manga has become the international comics lingua franca. The influence is so deep and pervasive that it can’t be ascribed to a particular artist or artists. That’s because such a wide variety of styles has been available to younger readers for nearly two decades now, and that influence has spawned a generation of cartoonists who sprang off from manga and developed their own ideas and visual approaches.

The plot involves a young woman named Ulcera who infiltrates an organization (and structure) called The Tower, a cultish influence-peddling group. There are echoes of Catholicism, future tech, bionics and other human-machine mash-ups, sex, body horror and transformation, BDSM, and magic. The plot is non-linear and frankly difficult to follow at times, but there’s an essential wit at the center of the whole production that embraces the madness of the story while poking fun of it. The thin line of the artists is set off by the dense use of blacks. The characters are angular and expressive, bordering on the grotesque. Multiple readings don’t necessarily make it any more coherent; instead, the book becomes easier to apprehend by approaching it as a series of slips in time and space that are connected but not in ways that are always obvious. The Puiupo/Pantazopoulos created their own storytelling language in the course of making this comic, one that intersperses stretched-out silent moments with new and sudden interjections by heretofore unseen characters. The experience is one of being kept constantly off-balanced and surprised.


Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys began like many of the best comics do: as a series of sketches that took on a life of their own, until stories and ideas started forming around them. I’m most familiar with Knetzger as an all-ages cartoonist, though her autobio comic Sea Urchin was a bold and creative attempt at confronting her depression and social anxiety. Some of her other comics are more clever than heartfelt, and it’s obvious that Bug Boys is Knetzger’s comics lab for working through problems, both as a creator trying to find her way and on a personal level. There is no cute high concept to Bug Boys, nor is there a deliberate sense of world-building at the expense of character. Everything in the book is built around the friendship of beetles Stag-B and Rhino-B, two insects who are trying to find their way in the world.

This volume collects individual issues of the Bug Boys minicomic, and the story of this book is as much Knetzger’s evolution as an artist as it is her own characters starting to grow up. Knetzger leans heavily on manga for her style, though there’s certainly a touch of James Kochalka to be found here as well. The comic never reaches Kochalka’s level of twee in part because the comic is about the characters working through their negative emotions in what feels like a genuine manner. It’s obvious that Knetzger has invested much time and energy into the characters. Another influence is Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Knetzger takes from that comic the depiction of a restless thirst for adventure. The boys love exploring treasure maps and going on little quests as much as they do cooking or camping.


The beetles also often face existential crises, wondering about their role in a world where they are so small and have to co-exist with so many bigger, frightening species. The boys learn to cope with diverging interests, as Stag-B starts to help Dome Spider catalog bug knowledge in a library (which includes comics), while Rhino-B starts to become a better outdoorsman. They act as village representatives and help prevent a massive war from breaking out between the bees and the termites. They survive a hallucinatory and truly harrowing journey through a cave with their friend Dragonfly. Much of the book is told in the language of meditation and therapy, as the boys learn again and again that they have to find ways to accept themselves and live in each moment without looking too far ahead. There’s a genuine warmth and a humane quality to this book that still embraces but is not consumed by a loosely told overarching history of the Bug Village. Any details the reader is given only serve to enrich and deepen the relationships that are at the forefront of the story. The impeccably clean and cute line of Knetzger is versatile enough to embrace the lighter and more fun aspects of the story as well as darker or more interior scenes as well. It’s a work where each chapter serves not only as its own enjoyable, self-contained piece, but also to add another building block in the beetles’ friendship and the world they live in.

Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight is Czap Books’ most recent publication, and it’s an all-ages fantasy/adventure/romance with queer overtones. It’s impeccably plotted down to the last detail and Zabarsky’s world-building is vivid without overwhelming the story or the characters. It’s the story of Lelek, a young witch, and Sanja, the daughter of a local trader who happens to be handy with a sword. Lelek has robbed several customers and Sanja gets roped into training Lelek how to fight while insisting that she stop stealing. Lelek’s initial distrust slowly turns to friendship, warmth, and then love, and the plot revolves around Lelek’s tragic and mysterious past as she slowly comes to terms with it. The McGuffin of the story is the essence of Lelek’s magic, part of which was taken away from her for safekeeping when she was a child, leaving her only a potion skill that involved a complex set of spitting actions.

The narrative moves forward around Lelek’s search for that part of her, with the other part of her essence is contained in a lit candle that always floats above her head. A tragedy at the end triggers the book’s climax, tying up all the plot threads with remarkable tidiness. One subtext of the book is the toxicity of patriarchal customs and beliefs, as they push Lelek into crime and cause the tragedy at the end of the book, as Sanja’s younger brother feels forced to do something horrible to prove his masculinity to his demanding father. The book’s focus on cooperation, openness, friendship, and generosity gives it a remarkable sense of warmth, but the characters are far from perfect. They make mistakes. They are insensitive at times. They lose their tempers. The characters are so fully-formed that I sense that this book could be a big deal for its rightful YA demographic. The rubbery and cartoony quality of Zabarsky’s line for her character designs is contrasted with the wonderfully detailed nature of her drawings of nature and the villages the characters explore, and Zabarsky’s use of spotting blacks and negative space in composing each panel is ideal. Another important aspect of the work is Zabarsky’s ability to clearly render dynamic action sequences, which is a key element of the first half of the book. It’s perfect YA storytelling: easy to follow but lovely to look at.

Czap Distribution

As part of his publishing concern, Czap has long championed and sold the work of others whose work he hasn’t directly published. That’s happening less now that a real body of publishing work has started to coalesce, but those comics are at the root of their operation and represent the way that they’ve supported a small group of like-minded cartoonists.

Cyanide Milkshake #5, by Liz Suburbia. Suburbia’s minis have been distributed by Czap for years, long preceding her breakthrough first book with Fantagraphics, Sacred Heart. This zine is a good old-fashioned, one-woman anthology. It’s chock full of gags, a continuing adventure storyline, autobio, stories about her dogs and much more. It’s the most no-frills, back-to-basics mini possible, printed on copy paper and drawn with Sharpies. It’s a testament to her skill and style that it looks so good. It’s punk in the best sense of the term: do-it-yourself, thoughtful, questioning of authority, and entirely personal. It’s fun because Suburbia is good at so many things; her fake ads (like for something called Spermicidal Tendencies–“when you need hardcore protection”) are hilarious, her lettering is eye-catching without being distracting and has some genuinely beautiful decorative qualities on some pages, and her genre parodies are true to the characters while still earning laughs. Her recollection of her sister helping Suburbia manage her anxiety and OCD is genuinely touching, and she’s one of the rare cartoonists who really knows how to draw children. Even her continuing zombie-apocalypse adventure is more notable for the way she depicts relationships than it is for the flesh-eating action. Distributing Suburbia’s work illustrates one of Czap’s crucial qualities as a publisher: an eye for developing talent.

Ojitos Borrosos (“Blurry Eyes”), by Ines Estrada. Estrada is an emerging artist and Czap handed me a copy of her book a couple of years back. Estrada has published comics in her native Spanish as well as in English, and this is a cleverly edited collection of her short works. They’re subdivided into several categories, including autobio, love stories, science fiction, and “instructive” comics. Estrada is the rare cartoonist whose use of greyscale doesn’t detract from the clarity of her storytelling, in part because she’s so direct, funny and gross. It’s clear that Julie Doucet was a big influence on her character design and scatological bluntness, but Estrada’s sense of humor and narrative interests are all her own. If there’s an American comparison I might make, it would be Eleanor Davis. Take “The Next Thing: Nesting”, for example. It starts off with a bird looking to nest in a tree, only to be slowly pinned and trapped by its branches. Like Davis, Estrada can employ a cute, cartoony style for horrific effect. “Plastico”, in its own strange way, is a statement about the ways in which men objectify women. In this case, a woman trapped in a department store meets a number of women covered in plastic who are being used as sex toys, but they protect her by covering her up and then melting, frustrating the men who are watching them, hoping to watch them have sex.

Estrada’s sense of humor is at the core of all her stories, and that sense of humor ranges from silly & whimsical to nihilistic. A talking head lectures the reader about how the end of the world is an anthropocentric idea, since insects will take control. The narrator chides the reader for wanting to take the easy way out but then informs them that she’s just a comic character whose end will come soon. “Girls Also Pee Standing” is a step-by-step instruction manual to encourage women to urinate standing up, and in many ways it’s the quintessential Estrada story in its scatological qualities, cute drawings and powerful sense of personal identity. “Mitocondria” is the show-stopper in the collection, as it tells a story of a woman’s boyfriend who has his personality switched with the dog. The resulting story (where the two appear to switch heads as a symbol of the switch but appear normal to everyone else) features the man (now a dog) getting progressively more agitated at his fate and the dog (now a man) at first enjoying eating and having animalistic sex. The ending, when the dog sniffs out the source of the change is incredibly dark, as the couple is eventually reduced to maggot-ridden protoplasm. Her diary comics are every bit as scatological as her other comics, but there’s a surprising level of sweetness to them as well when she talks about her boyfriend. There’s a rawness to Estrada’s comics and a sense of immediacy that energizes her work, but it’s also obvious that her imagination, storytelling ability, and assured craftsmanship go hand-in-hand with that expressiveness.

Ley Lines

This is a series of minis that all have the same logo and trade dress, but each issue is by a different artist. In many ways, this series, co-published by L. Nichols and Grindstone Press, is Czap’s greatest achievement. It purports to be “dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us.” Each cartoonist’s interpretation of what this means is different, and while many select fine artists, there are also poets and performance artists as well. Here’s a rundown, issue by issue:

#1 (November 2014): Unholy Shapes, by Annie Mok. The deceptively flip cover copy aside, this is a remarkably studied, thoughtful, and frank self-examination by an artist and her relationship with the art and artists that have shaped her, for good and ill. Mok uses a smudged, inky approach to her art here as she both does her own cartooning as well as copying in her own hand a number of key works by the Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele. This comic is both biography and autobiography, weaving the two together in clever ways. It must be said that despite the many interesting formal decisions Mok makes in this comic, it is by no means formal experimentation for its own sake. Every panel and every line has an emotional resonance to it, as though solving the problem of making this comic was a way of resolving other personal and aesthetic issues. Mok is frank and forthright with her own sexual and drug-related escapades; not to make the story more sensational, but rather to echo Schiele’s own iconoclastic and sexually blunt life.

Mok’s evaluation of the plastic qualities of Schiele’s work is fascinating. The title of the mini refers to the monstrous and vampiric qualities of Schiele’s highly angular figures, especially his frequently tortured self-portraits. Mok relates Schiele to a childhood fear of seeing Nosferatu on a TV show as well as to certain toxic individuals in her life. Mok’s rundown of that angular, somewhat androgynous figure in today’s culture is spot-on, and the comic concludes with an understanding of the ways that Schiele’s work has become an unconscious part of Mok’s own work as an artist and performer. Mok’s raw honesty is balanced by her sense of restraint, and the fact that she used a 2×4 grid on almost every page points to how the tight compositional structure of the comic was key to that restraint. Most every moment, regardless of its emotional significance, is given the same amount of room and has the same visual impact, as Mok does not vary her style much in the comic.

#2 (February 2015): Golden Smoke, by Warren Craghead. One gets the sense that Craghead would have had no less meaningful an aesthetic experience on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as he did at Art Basel Miami, noted as “the largest art fair in the U.S.” It is fitting that the festival is held in Miami Beach, the part of Miami where the conspicuous display of wealth is a spectator sport and where appearance is more important than substance. I like to refer to Craghead as the Godfather of Comics-As-Poetry, and his distinctive merging of word and text gets at the raw, naked commodification of the festival and its utter disconnect from the aesthetic experience.

The commodification of art is not exactly a new phenomenon, but Craghead doesn’t purport to making a startling discovery with regard to how the rich treat art as a status object that’s one of many excuses to throw exclusive parties. Instead, Craghead simply draws what he sees in the moment, using a style that blends the signifier with the signified as words fill up images and create forms, all while informing the image with things that he overhears and events that he sees. My favorite page involves a gallery where works by Rothko and Calder are given Pinterest “pins” by Craghead, as paintings are reduced to the banal level of recipes or macrame projects.

#3 (May 2015): Thank God, I Am In Love, by Cathy G. Johnson. Johnson’s comic is the thematic opposite of Craghead’s, as she expresses her unabashed love for Vincent van Gogh. Johnson makes it clear that it’s not the mythology of Van Gogh that enraptures her; to paraphrase Heidegger, the true biography of Van Gogh might be: “He was born. He painted. He died. The rest is anecdote.” This is not to be dismissive of his life or struggles, but Johnson makes clear that what connects her to him, what brings her so much aesthetic bliss, are the actual paintings. The actual strokes and stabs and whorls, the creation of color and light that we can see and know that were made by his hand. That in many respects, we have the privilege of knowing him as well as anyone because we have his work to experience. To be sure, what Johnson is describing is the aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense: the “sublime,” that almost transcendental experience that is separate from the descriptions and even the emotions that surround it. That Van Gogh’s paintings bring her this on a regular basis, as she notes, is a constant source of happiness.

#4 (August 2015): For Lives, by Andrew White. White delves into the creative process of Pablo Picasso vis-a-vis his portrait of Gertrude Stein. If the other pieces followed a personal, aesthetic or emotional connection to art and artists, White’s focus is analytical. His approach is certainly immersive, as he overlays text over image, most of which are drawings and paintings from Picasso. Much of the text is from Stein herself, as she discusses her reaction to the work and her understanding of Picasso’s process. Like Johnson and Van Gogh, there’s an understanding that the only way Picasso truly expressed himself was through his work. It was his language, but there is also a sense of frustration that he could never quite match up with the ideal, transcendent image in his head on canvas. His paintings are ugly because he felt ugliness matched the intensity of that very struggle. The struggle represented his honest attempt at communication, capturing and wrestling with a single image in a single moment. White’s use of the 2×2 grid throughout creates a rhythm not unlike Mok’s comic, only his light, sketchy line and prominent use of negative space gives the comic a more languid pace.

#5 (November 2015): Poems to the Sea, by Erin Curry. Artist Cy Twombly’s work has always seemed grossly out of place in a gallery. Though he worked big, his scribbly poetry should have been a minicomic, and cartoonist/sculptor Erin Curry saw it that way as well, creating a sequel to Twombly’s 4×6 grid Poems to the Sea. Curry’s comic is yet another approach in trying to understand and express the sublime, this time through abstract figures, erasure, and the grid. It’s an attempt, at the most basic level, of trying to communicate and capture the feeling  of that moment of connection to the transcendent, with the most immediate and rudimentary of markings. If the sea is a metaphor for consciousness, this is Curry’s attempt to plumb those depths and show the reader what she sees.


#6 (February 2016): Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. I’ve long enjoyed Cockle’s elliptical storytelling, use of erasure, conceptual humor, and fascination with conspiracies. This comic full of visual fragments talks about the relationship between art and destruction, opening with German painter Werner Heldt’s paintings of devastated, post-World War II Berlin. With a sense of coldness, Cockle notes that Germany had inflicted the same kind of long-distance destruction as its foes did to it. His rattling off the specific technical specs of his page is meant to reflect the “just the facts” nature of long-distance warfare. A strip about the loss of so much of Sappho’s ancient work thanks to vases cracking and papyrus crumbling over time notes how so much of the totality of cultural antiquity is elided into a single entity, comprised of love poems and war maps alike. The title of the mini refers to the Edgar Degas painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, an ahistorical painting where soldiers kill nine nude women, and follows up the other two stories by noting how maps reduce war zones to distant dots and dehumanizes groups of people.

#7 (May 2016): Made with Love in Hell, by Mimi Chrzanowski. Chrzanowski’s approach is to take a particular piece of art (in this case, Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights) and riff on it. This is a mother-daughter story where Bosch’s alien architecture (which looks like it might have also inspired Jim Woodring) is very much left intact, only in a form that is at once more hellish and monstrous but also cute. The mechanics of navigating hell are simultaneously disgusting and adorable, like climbing up the anus of a giant witch and being spat out when one reaches their destination. There are “Demonmon” (i.e., Pokemon) cards, where the monsters involved perform mundane activities, fruit platters are eaten constantly and also provide shelter, and Mother is a robe-wearing, terrifying mass of swirls with teeth above a furnace who works out at Curves. It’s a charming and bizarre comic that’s not just a reinterpretation of Bosch’s imagery. It feels like Chrzanowski took the time to imagine what it would be like to inhabit and grow up in such an environment, down to good old-fashioned maternal guilt. Her character design is inspired and both drives the narrative and is secondary to it in many ways. The tension between the horrible and the cute informs every page, especially when Chrzanowski really zooms in for a close-up. While bizarre background details pop up without comment, we are occasionally reminded that despite the conventional nature of the mother-daughter conflict at the story’s center, every detail that we see would be terrifying to the point of utter madness in any other setting.


#8 (August 2016): The Letting Go, by Kevin Czap. Czap’s contribution to this series fits in with the others in that it’s very much about the sublime. The way they get there, however, is quite different, as the story builds on Dutch conceptual/performance artist Bas Jan Ader’s last work, In Search of the Miraculous. That work was a trip via boat across the Atlantic Ocean, and the artist did not survive the trip. Interestingly, the work was a reference to a book of the same title by P.D. Ouspensky, based on the teachings of the thinker George Gurdjieff and a system that came to be known as the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way essentially synthesized different forms of Eastern thought and practice in a way that was deliberately non-dogmatic. All of this is relevant because Czap’s unnamed narrator (depicted as a woman whose face we never see) begins the story discussing the things they need to let go. In particular, fear and control are named.

Czap connects these two feelings to desire, which of course is at the heart of Buddhism as the cause of all suffering. This comic is a snug fit with Futchi Perf because of the way Czap describes a kind of dynamic, propulsive and positive growth as fear and control give way to trust. The drawings are beautiful and elegant, incorporating a number of intricate decorative elements while still remaining entirely clear as individual compositions. Czap makes a lot of allusions to the ocean, of discarding things in it, as well as storms at sea that are barely survived. After the gentle quality of the first several pages, the end is a harrowing journey, with the text blowing up in size and dominating the page and the images carved up by the small grid that’s appeared on each page. Unlike Ader, Czap’s character makes it to shore, thanks to unyielding support.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/18/17 – The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States of America) Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Recently, I’ve been looking at a lot of pornography.

I was asked to appear on a podcast to discuss the re-release of a 1980s pornographic manga, Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend; it’s an adjacently notorious work, the inspiration for a similarly explicit anime which, through the caprice of cultural moment and accessibility, became emblematic for a time of anime as a whole. I know you’ve heard of “tentacle sex.” Legend of the Overfiend is the anime that seared the idea onto the minds of westerners, eager to draw exotic conclusions about deliciously inscrutable and dangerous foreigners.

The thing is, the “tentacle sex” idea was only one manifestation of a very specific, pragmatic idea: that you could both circumvent the censorious regulations on image-making in Japan and add a great deal of visual novelty via phallic substitution. Penises, engorged and unobscured, are obscene; tentacles, arguably less so. I found a great resource in an unusual 2016 publication: The Hentai Manga Scene: Pirate Edition, a 90-page zine by one Kimi Rito (translated by Makoto Schroeder), consisting of interviews with various ero manga personalities, Legend of the Overfiend creator Toshio Maeda among them. There is even a sidebar on the history of ‘tentacle’ sex in comics, from the suggestive ’70s works of smut pioneer Hideo Azuma to variant manifestations of living wires and metal tendrils, concluding with the recent ‘monster girl’ trend in nerd-focused media.

But that’s important: tentacles are not a mainstream taste. They were never even a dominant favorite, and the fortunes of the fetish declined as its moment passed in the Japanese ’90s, only resurfacing periodically in specialist venues. You still hear jokes about it in the west, though. Some promotional efforts are just too effective, and what starts as a titillating joke becomes an undulating live illusion. It’s not too far removed from how the early days of manga in English nurtured this idea that ‘manga’ was something not totally removed from the dense, detailed work in favor among comic book aficionados. The salad days of Masamune Shirow, creator of the endlessly adaptive likes of Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, and, more recently, a terrific amount of porn.

Here is some tentacle sex as assembled by Masamune Shirow in 2013.

If you decide to click that link — and, in recognition of the fact that some people probably want to read about upcoming comics without having hardcore porn shoved in their collective face, I will be securing all of this week’s images behind optional links — you will notice a few unusual traits of Shirow’s latter-day work. First and most obviously, the humanoid female character looks like she’s been sent careening down a slip ‘n slide coated with baby oil, a tendency of Shirow’s color work so evident that the artist and his publisher gleefully promote it: the work I am excerpting is from a series known as “Galgrease”, specifically from the W・Tails Cat line of books in the “Galhound” subgroup of SF-themed works. God, this is already convoluted; just know that while much of Shirow’s erotic works fall under the penumbra of pin-ups or illustration, the W・Tails Cat books blur the line between illustration collections a la Shirow’s Intron Depot and ‘full’ SF comics such as Ghost in the Shell.

Another illustration will help, published this time in 2016.

What’s evident from the W・Tails Cat line is that Shirow is pursuing a type of collage, albeit of a very different sort than your Jess Collins or Julie Doucet. Where in Intron Depot Shirow might display all of the color variations he made for a particular drawing of a tank, in W・Tails Cat he offers bodies in differing states of dress, limbs manipulated, cut and pasted and pasted and pasted to create a mass of gleaming flesh, often in outright defiance of narrative eye-guiding; this is not a march, it is a wallow in glistening, taut goo. An artist of my acquaintance once referred to this stuff as the visual equivalent of a urinary tract infection, and indeed while these images give the signal of indulgence in luscious blossom, there is something almost viscerally unhygienic about them, like a thick bacterial heat rising and tickling your face.

You might ask yourself “why?” Then, you might stop yourself, because the foremost answer with erotica is always “because the author finds it sexy.” Yet as I read further into The Hentai Manga Scene, I was startled to find an interview with “K-iwa” and “O-gawa”, editors at the publisher GOTcorporation, and purportedly the very people who introduced Masamune Shirow to pornographic illustration. Their objective was to find a well-known artist who was unfamiliar to readers of ero manga as a ‘hook’ for launching a new magazine, Comic Canopri; Shirow had already done some sexy pin-up works in mainline venues at Kodansha, so they were able to pique his interest. GOT remains the publisher of books in the W・Tails Cat series today, along with porn manga periodicals like Comic Anthurium, and digital magazines such as Comic Grape, a portmanteau of “Good rape,” as K-iwa cheerily informs us: these are comics about rape, intended for sexual gratification. Indeed, much of the ‘sexual’ content in Legend of the Overfiend is really sexualized depictions of rape, as is, we might guess, a great many works of the tentacle ‘sex’ type.

The GOT editors laugh freely throughout their interview; I think their attitudes are not atypical. Throughout The Hentai Manga Scene — which also features a long interview with a younger ero artist, “Yamatogawa”, and a very brief comic by “Kamitani”, the only woman included among the artists — the predominant impression is one of craftsmen plying their trade. Perhaps you went into porn manga because the bar for entry is lower, and you can make money faster. Perhaps you started drawing long tongues and tangly tails and tentacles because it allowed you to depict women suspended in mid-air, giving your work a needed novelty. Perhaps you set Masamune Shirow down the shiny path because you were tasked with launching a new magazine. Fantasy is fantasy: entertainment, product, consumption.

We can read Shirow by these terms too.

When you’ve read a few of these books, you quickly pick up on the fact that the women always have a much lighter complexion than the men; further, while the women are of Shirow’s usual ostensibly international type, their facial features and body shapes hew to the ‘classic’ style of Shirow’s manner of drawing cute girls. The men, meanwhile, have wildly differing body types and facial features, often with readily apparent ethnic characteristics. I wonder if Shirow thinks about the racial dimension of these works. I wonder, because I think what actually interests him is the play of color and texture. Oh lord the textures. The surface – the play of light on water and oil. In his mainline SF works, Shirow often suggests that bodies can be augmented or totally replaced, that bodies are but vehicles for the self. In his porn SF, the vehicles are washed and waxed, and arranged across the showroom floor.

It reminds me a little of death. In 1971, the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage assembled one of his greatest masterpieces, The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes – for half an hour, we are witness to soundless footage of forensic pathologists at work in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania morgue, with special emphasis given to the state of cadavers. In the absence of consciousness, this is what all of us are: meat and bone. What Brackhage does is not totally unlike what Shirow does: he considers the play of illumination of skin. He delves into textures: ashy burns, the rubbery quality of entrails, the ripple of blood in wounds. It is of no bother to the dead; now, their bodies are only materials, silently contemplated as if hovering just above, painless and newly free. Brackhage depicts the surface of corporeality; the viewer assumes the depth of sentience. It is a supremely calm film.

What is different about Masamune Shirow’s work is that his curation of surfaces is meant to excite. Look again at the links above. Look closely. If you squint, you’ll notice that in every one of the pages I’ve shown from W・Tails Cat, some of the bodies are accompanied by date stamps. Shirow is not an arbitrary collagist; some figures may date from 2003 on one side of the page, while others originate in 2008. Turn to the back of these books, and you find out that some of the images have been snipped from other Shirow publications. The dating scheme is identical to that used in Shirow’s recent Intron Depot art books, where the notional purpose is to catalog variant forms of images on their way to completion; in W・Tails Cat, different variants are jammed together to form the illusion of life at its most flush.

Because the illusion is often too transparent, what we get is the eros of accrual. To be an otaku is to be obsessed with specialized information; with these works, Shirow imbues the organization of his own product with an unusual passion, as if the pleasure of knowing the erotic potential of all these collected digital files is a necessary patch to the bluntness of mere sexual release. Gaudy and awash in promises, these surroundings revel in horded treasure, a livid hell of luxury spit.

And is this not the sex we are ready for today?


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Zonzo: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #1 – the bleak and violet comedy of Spanish artist Joan Cornellà, in which grinning characters suffer and enact hateful ironies in a universe devoid of compassion. No words, all color, the 56-page second in a line of hardcover Fantagraphics releases; $14.99.

Officer Downe: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #2 – buoyant, boyish ultraviolence with a wink and a grin, courtesy of writer Joe Casey and artist Chris Burnham. Originally from 2010, this supernatural lawman one-shot is now a feature film from director and Slipknot co-founder Shawn Crahan, which makes Image’s new 192-page edition a veritable celebration of itself – the comic is paired with Casey’s complete screenplay for the movie, along with “hundreds” of production photos; $19.99.


Last Sons of America (&) Wires and Nerve: Two bookshelf-ready releases about which I know absolutely nothing, though they may be interesting to flip through. Last Sons of America was a 2015-16 series from writer Philip Kennedy Johnson and artist Matthew Dow Smith (colored by Doug Garbark), a speculative thriller about adoption agents sweating through a world where Americans have been made infertile and business is cutthroat. BOOM! publishes the collected edition. Wires and Nerve is the comics debut of YA fantasy writer Marissa Meyer, working with artist Doug Holgate on a 240-page piece about a lady android battling wolf-people in space, a scenario apparently in conjunction with Meyer’s prose works. Macmillan publishes; $19.99 (Sons), $21.99 (Wires).

Dorohedoro Vol. 20: Your manga pick of the week is an increasingly common sight – a long series nearly caught up with the Japanese editions. Specifically, this popular Q Hayashida grimy fantasy opus releases collected editions on a more-or-less annual basis in Japan, with its 21st number arriving last September. So, try and savor it while VIZ has it here; $12.99.

The Complete Scarlet Traces Vol. 1: Interesting history behind this longstanding collaboration between writer Ian Edginton and artist Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker – an original sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the Scarlet Traces serial began as a feature on the short-lived UK web entertainment portal Cool Beans World, eventually finishing its first series in Judge Dredd Megazine in 2002. A creator-owned work, the pair then brought the project to Dark Horse, which published (among other things) a formal adaptation of the Wells novel, again first as a webcomic, then in a print edition. Later, Rebellion purchased the rights to the property from the creators, who just last year created new stories for 2000 AD. This 144 page Rebellion paperback should collect the earliest (2002) work, along with the Dark Horse Welles adaptation, but *not* the other Dark Horse material or the more recent 2000 AD stuff, presumably saved for later volumes. D’Israeli puts together some nice-looking comics; $19.99.

The Kamandi Challenge Special: Due to begin later this month, DC’s Kamandi Challenge is an exquisite corpse-type experiment where various creative teams will create a serial featuring Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic cult favorite, each team supplying a cliffhanger the subsequent team must somehow resolve. This comic, however, is a 64-page reprint of 1975’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth! #32, written and drawn by Kirby, with inks by D. Bruce Berry, with some other vintage materials relating to the upcoming project. It’ll probably be fun to pick up a big, fat Kirby Kamandi comic book; $7.99.

The Complete Chester Gould Dick Tracy Vol. 21: 1962-1964: Finally — and no, there’s not a lot that caught my eye this week, thank heavens for porn — please enjoy the uneasy advance of Chester Gould’s hard-nosed detective into the era of new freedoms, by which I mean he totally visits the Moon and meets the Moon Maid, a lady from the Moon. Still against crime, tho. As always, an 11″ x 8.5″ landscape hardcover from IDW, 272 pages; $44.99.

The front page image this week is from the hand-scratched title cards to Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, the perfect accompaniment to any existential crisis or uncomfortable gathering that warrants dispersal.

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Sara Lautman: Bonus Day Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Sara Lautman: Day Five Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:00:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Sara Lautman: Day Four Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:00:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Sara Lautman: Day Three Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/11/17 – I Never Sleep) Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Above we see “Me & My Brother – One Summer”, a new comic by Keigo Shinzō, who came to semi-prominence among English-dominant manga deep-divers a few years ago when a roundtable interview surfaced in which he played the role of “wait, who?” to Taiyō Matsumoto and Inio Asano; his mere proximity to such hugely popular artists stoked some interest, which was only amplified in my case after I got hold of a special all-Gojira edition of the mainline seinen magazine Big Comic Original in the runup to the 2014 Gareth Edwards film. The standout contribution (NSFW!) to that anthology was Shinzō’s, depicting an amorous young couple banging away with explicit enthusiasm while the town gets flattened around them – definitely the hottest Godzilla has been since his nuclear-grade tension with Dum Dum Dugan.

Anyway, it seems Shinzō (credited as “Keigo Sinzo”, which conflicts with some other official versions of his name) has now made his English debut, but not in anything published in the west. USCA English Edition Vol. 1 was debuted by DIORAMABOOKS last October at the Tokyo International Comic Festival; it’s a variation (via translators Hana Ikeda & Stuart Walter Kuentzel) on the publisher’s Japanese-language USCA, a rather new indie manga anthology comprised of self-contained short stories. You can buy a copy stateside here; a friend very generously mailed me the one I’m using now. Keep an eye out – S[h]inzō’s piece is a sweet little vignette about hazy angst and drunken abandon on a long summer’s day, but the 14 other contributors range from indie musicians to webcomics people to moonlighting mainline magazine pros to one guy who claims to draw everything on the commute to and from his day job. I’ll write more about this in the future… manga is a big scene, but Japanese small-press comics remain associated primarily with fanfiction; that’s certainly not everything out there.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



Libby’s Dad: A very slim week from my perspective, but that affords you certain opportunities. For instance, you could catch up with possibly the most acclaimed short-form comic book of 2016 not to have yet seen release via Diamond-serviced shops. I refer to this 40-page latest from Eleanor Davis, she of five separate appearances on this site’s Best of compendium last week, depicting a world of young girls adjacent to the adult realm of domestic strife, something both curiosity-stoking and terrifying at once. A 7″ x 8.5″ Retrofit/Big Planet release in full color; $8.00.

The Fourth Power: The Argentine-born artist Juan Giménez is probably best known as a collaborator of Alejandro Jodorowsky on the generation-spanning SF action serial The Metabarons, but he’s done a good deal of solo genre work as well, most extensively on this 1989-2008 space war project (which, truth be told, was a 1989 one-off expanded to a series circa ’04). Actually one of the earliest titles selected for translation by the nascent Humanoids waaay back in 2000 — its sexed-up and explosion-prone blend of ESPer licks and broad media-political satire fits tidily with Heavy Metal-fed expectations for BD — but never collected in its entirety until now. I recall Giménez coming off a bit like Masamune Shirow with his convoluted whirl of technical detail amid restless plotting, though his art remains disarmingly fleet and cartoon-y under its lacquer of paint. A 256-page, 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover; $39.95.


Octavia Butler’s Kindred: The late Butler is highly respected as one of the literarily prominent SF/fantasy prose authors of the second half of the 20th century; a MacArthur Fellow, her works frequently traveled beyond simple genre categorization, as was the case with her 1979 novel Kindred, a time-travel scenario concerning the lasting pain of the U.S.’s slave-holding past. This 240-page hardcover comics adaptation comes from writer Damian Duffy and artist John Jennings, notably paired before in the assembly of a 2010 anthology, Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture. Your bookstore-focused release of the week, from Abrams; $24.95.

Beowulf: You may recall Spanish artist David Rubín from a pair of spinoff books related to Paul Pope’s Battling Boy project a few years back. Around the same time (2013), Astiberri Ediciones released this collaboration with writer Santiago García, a very lush and striking rendition of the epic poem. An English edition was announced two and a half years ago without publisher placement, so know that Image is formally handling this 200-page, 8.7″ x 12.3″ hardcover. By omission and implication I am under the impression that García himself translates, though I can’t seem to find specific confirmation. Samples; $29.99.

(Re) Assignment #1 (of 3): This new comic book series is also a supplemental Eurocomics… highlight(?), reuniting writer Alexis “Mats” Nolent and artist Jean-François “Jef” Martinez, who’ve been seen in English quite a few times now. This is the duo’s second album made from a scenario by the filmmaker Walter Hill, a 2016 crime thriller about a contract killer subjected to forced gender reassignment – a much-derided movie of the same title was also released last year, starring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver. I’m mentioning it here largely out of fascination that there even *is* an official comics adaptation of this film. Titan has broken the French original up for its translation; $5.99.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 11: Freezing dead-of-January manga pick – this warm and lovely cooking comic from Fumi Yoshinaga, following the lives and meals of a gay couple. Vertical is now more-or-less up to date with the Japanese ongoing; a 12th volume was released at home back in October, but Yoshinaga only releases between one and two volumes per year (it’s an irregular feature in a weekly magazine) so I’d expect some distance between this and the next one; $12.95.

The Million Year Picnic and Other Stories: Finally, from among the week’s various reprint compilations, I give you the latest in Fantagraphics‘ hardcover line of uncolored, artist-focused EC reprints – 216 pages dedicated to the great Will Elder and his extraordinary versatility. Indeed, the 1953 title story was created in collaboration with John Severin, adapting Ray Bradbury, though be aware that the heart of this tome is Elder’s complete works for Panic, editor Al Feldstein’s variation on Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad. A 7.25″ x 10.25″ release, with various text supplements; $29.99.

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Sara Lautman: Day Two Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Sara Lautman: Day One Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:00:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Jerry Dumas, Cartoonist and Poet Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:00:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Jerry Dumas was a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Specifically, he was a life-long associate of Mort Walker’s, a member since 1956 of “King Features East,” as the Walker “studio” was sometimes called when Walker and his partners produced several comic strips simultaneously. Dumas was a part of the team that met weekly to propound jokes for both Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois—and other strips as Walker came up with them—and he also drew some of the product from time to time. Dumas died November 12 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, from neuroendocrine cancer. He was 86.

Since April 18, 1977, Dumas had been producing a comic strip of his own, Sam and Silo, a reincarnation of one of the medium’s most eccentric creations, Sam’s Strip, in which the title character was the proprietor of his own comic strip that he ran like a business. Sam frequently encountered characters from other strips, tried to hire some of them, stored unemployed speech balloons in a closet against the day they might come in handy, palled around with John Tenniel characters from Alice in Wonderland, kept arrow-pierced hearts and shining light bulbs in a handy prop room with a supply of labels (“desk,” “table,” “phone”), and watched out constantly for disappearing border lines and characters with erasers.

Dumas’ handiwork extended far beyond the funny pages: he was a gifted writer, an insightful poet, raconteur, painter, athlete and essayist. He was a storyteller with words alone as well as with words and pictures combined. In quiet unassuming prose, he recorded his apt observations of the follies and frailties of human nature in articles for The Atlantic Monthly, The Smithsonian and the Washington Post. He wrote a weekly column for Greenwich Times, the last of which appeared a few days before he died, titled “Ageless Tips That You’ve Reached a Certain Age.”

“Cartooning is a great American art form and Jerry was one of the people who shaped it,” said Greenwich Times Managing Editor Thomas Mellana, “But people didn’t love and respect Jerry because of his accomplishments. They loved and admired him because he was such a good man, and such a great guy. He was someone who took genuine interest in others. A phone call to the newsroom from Jerry was never just about the business at hand. It was a conversation. And your day was made better by it. Every single time. We at Greenwich Times were extremely fortunate to be able to call him one of our own. We will miss him greatly.”

“Many people claimed to be, or are honored as, ‘Renaissance Men,’ but Jerry simply was,” said comics historian Rick Marschall, quoted by Robert Marchant in his Greenwich Times obit. “And the artwork he did on certain of his own strips—  especially his Sam and Silo Sundays— were masterpieces, utter masterpieces, of detail, ‘feathering,’ visual substance and plain inky love.”

Here are samples of Dumas’ Sam and Silo Sundays. I’ve admired Dumas’ work on his strip for a long time: sometimes he produces visual symphonies of texture and shading just for the sheer fun of it—that is, neither the gag nor the pictures conveying it require the embellishment he so happily lavishes, sometimes, on the strip. He was drawing for the sheer sake of making a drawing.  samsilo1 samsilo3 samsilo2

Marchant quotes Bill Janocha, a Walker assistant who worked with Dumas on Beetle Bailey since 1987. Said Janocha: “Jerry was a great story and joke teller, with a seemingly unflagging memory for details and color in his tales…. He spared nothing in his descriptions of past interactions, personalities and commentary on the beauty he saw in his surroundings and the quirks in humanity.”

Gerald John Dumas was born on June 6, 1930, in Detroit to Frieda Holm, a nurse, and Floyd Dumas, a firefighter and aspiring boxer. Jerry started drawing cartoons when he was only nine years old and continued through high school, when he started selling them.

“I used to get on the bus and go into downtown Detroit and sell cartoons to Teen magazine for $2,” he said during an interview in the National Cartoonist Society newsletter. “I really thought I had it made. I was aiming for The New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post.”

He finally realized his dream, but not until he was twenty-six when he was published in the Post; getting into The New Yorker took a little longer—until he was twenty-nine.

Dumas served in the U.S. Air Force and later enrolled at Arizona State University; he graduated with a degree in English in 1955. Wrote Marchant: “A painting teacher, recognizing his ability, suggested he move to New York City and study with the Abstract Expressionist school then in its ascendancy. But Dumas, who had a childhood fascination with comics and had already drawn a paycheck for his early cartoon work in Phoenix, chose the path of an ink-stained gag writer over the fine arts.”

He moved to Greenwich, Connecticut in 1956. On June 21, 1958, he married the former Gail Gaskin. She survives and lives in Greenwich.

“It was in June of 1956,” said Marchant, “that Dumas rolled down the Greenwich driveway of Mort Walker’s studio with an introduction from a friend.” Walker liked what he saw in Dumas’ portfolio. “How soon can you start?” asked Walker, to which Dumas replied, “Right now,” according to an account provided to Marchant by Dumas’ son, Timothy Dumas.  “Dumas and Walker embarked on a fruitful collaboration on the funny pages.” “We had a lot of fun together,” Walker recalled, “He was very good at nostalgia, the good old days. So pleasant to be with. I’m really going to miss him.”

Dumas was “the creative force behind Sam’s Strip,” said Marchant. “An early post-modern take on popular culture, the strip’s central character, Sam, runs his strip like a television show and brings on guest cartoon characters from other strips— Krazy Kat, Dagwood, and Charlie Brown. Dumas meticulously drew every character in their original style without assistance.”

Self-referential and high-concept, “the comic about comics,” as it came to be known, was a big hit among cartoonists and cartooning afficionados like me, who could appreciate the insider-comedy that laced it through and through. Starting October 16, 1961, it proved too far ahead of its time and ended June 1, 1963 after only 20 months. But it was an unadulterated joy while it lasted.

The work was later collected and republished by Fantagraphics.  Here are a few samples of this famously in-joke epic.  sam1 sam2

In the book collection, Dumas wrote about how the strip came about:

“All through the late 1950s, Mort and I worked together three or four days a week, however long it took, doing the artwork for the daily and Sunday Beetle Bailey strips. At that time and on into the 1960s, we were the only writers for both strips. …

“We both had a fairly thorough knowledge of comic strip history, so just for fun, just for each other, we began doing gags about comic strip characters. … The idea soon came up: what about having a guy who ran his own comic strip as a business? … But what should this character look like?

“One day Mort was doodling around and I was looking over his shoulder. He drew a face that looked roughly like the short character, Mac, in Tillie the Toiler. I said that he didn’t look different enough, didn’t look unique. We both stared at the paper for a minute or two. I said, ‘Draw a line across the middle of his face. Let’s see what that looks like.’

“Mort penciled a line from Sam’s ear to his nose, cutting off the whole lower half of his face [which was suddenly hidden behind Sam’s shirt collar]. Now he looked different and that’s the way, for better or worse, he stayed. …  sam3

“Mort and I split the gag writing, and I did all the drawing, except for the lettering, which Mort did. …

“When Sam’s Strip started, there were no copy machines, or no good ones anyway. All the Sam’s Strips were drawn from scratch, laboriously penciled and inked, and research took a great deal of time. I took pride in copying an artist’s work exactly—even Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland drawings.”

“The intriguing concept,” said Marchant, “ — and precise execution — was typical of Dumas’ work. Dumas collaborated on other enterprises, too—with Mort Drucker on Benchley and with Mel Crawford on Rabbits Rafferty and McCall of the Wild.

“Wonderfully gifted, he could make a line that was beautiful and crisp. And he was a master craftsman and a good ‘ghost,’ someone who is capable of taking on a number of different styles, and do it with aplomb. And among his peers, he was intensely respected,” said Brendan Burford, general manager of syndication for Hearst’s King Features Syndicate, quoted by Marchant.

“In person, he was quick witted and funny and incredibly well-read—he seemed to know everything. An amazing athlete, too. He was one of those men you ask— how did he even fit this much into his life? Really versatile as a human being,” Burford finished.

“In the end, humorists write about humanity, as they see it,” Dumas wrote in an essay published in the Washington Post in 1993. “If a cartoonist is to write about human nature, he must people his comic strip with every facet of human nature he can think of: the sensitive and the insensitive, the lazy and the energetic, the smart and the stupid, those in authority and those who have none.”

“A serious athlete, Dumas earned a New England and Connecticut handball championship in the doubles category,” Marchant said. “He also cultivated four vegetable gardens he maintained at his backcountry residence, one for four different kinds of onions, another for garlic and carrots, a third for spinach and arugula and a fourth for a wide variety of tomatoes. He gave away much of the produce to friends.

“Beside toiling in the earth,” Marchant concluded, “— Dumas was often pondering the larger questions in life, and the pleasures it offered — even a small laugh at a well-executed gag.” And he quotes Dumas quoting Nabokov: “Nabokov said, ‘Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ That’s the big picture. But the small picture is the one we gaze at most, and it is a picture of lovely and infinite variety.”

 I met Jerry several years ago when I was visiting Mort Walker to interview him for The Comics Journal. Walker took me to lunch with his sons and a couple friends, including Jerry. A week or so after our lunch conversation, Dumas wrote me (in italics, forthwith):

Even Mort and I can’t believe how long we’ve been together. Just think, I’ve been writing Beetle gags for all but the first five-and-a-half years of its existence. We started working and playing ping pong together when he was 33, and now he’s 85. We had ferocious games in the basement after lunch each day—he was good—and I would spray sweat all over my side of the table and some of his, and I would go through several shirts and t-shirts. Mort would joke that I was the only cartoonist he knew who went to work each day carrying several changes of clothing.

This was true, but one of his inaccurate memories is when he claims that I never took up golf because the first time I played, in a big cartoonist gathering, I got the booby prize for the worst round of the day, and I was so angry I swore never to play again. The real reason, of course, was because I was already a champion four-wall handball player and would soon be Connecticut state champ (twice) and New England champ (once), and it was the game I loved, and there wasn’t time to do everything. A handball match takes about two hours, and I would lose up to six pounds, while golf took six hours and you gained two pounds.

Did Mort tell you this one?  Early on, I wasn’t making that much money, but I had managed to invest, all by myself, astutely in the stock market, and had built it up to where my holdings were worth a considerable sum. All blue chip stocks. Then a so-called stockbroker friend convinced me to put the whole thing into one stock that was going to go through the roof. It turned out that the chairman and president [of that company] were crooks, and the stock fell through the basement. One day I complained to Mort that I didn’t know how it could have been fraudulent because, after all, the company’s accountants were considered the best in the country—Ernst & Ernst. Without looking up from his drawing, Mort said, “Well, Ernst is okay, but Ernst is a crook.”

The humor in that line has to do with the exact wording. I’ve heard other people try to tell the story by saying, “… but the other Ernst is a crook.” And that, of course, screws it up.

The column I write is published every Thursday in our daily paper, Greenwich Times. Nobody in town talks to me anymore about Beetle or Sam and Silo, but they talk all time about the column, strangely. I can write about anything I want, and it can be humorous, poignant, topical, historical—anything. A few times I’ve been able to make readers laugh and cry during the same 500-700 words, which is satisfying. I just hope they weren’t crying at the funny bits and laugh at the tearful parts.

If I had to choose, I’d pick writing over drawing. I’ve been happiest seeing my stuff published in The Atlantic, The New Yorker and especially Smithsonian (they bought a great many pieces). I had appeared in Smithsonian’s pages for several years before I realized their circulation (then over 2,000,000) was a great deal more than the other two esteemed publications.

I do all my reading in bed between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., for some unknown reason. It doesn’t bother my wife: if I’m quietly turning pages, it means I’m not loudly snoring.

One of Dumas’s pieces for for The Atlantic Monthly (June 1997) was entitled “Visitations: The Graveyards of a Lifetime.” To quote it (as I’m about to do) in an obituary about the writer seems a little grotesque perhaps—the coincidence of the occasion and the topic doesn’t quite justify its inclusion—but Jerry loved cemeteries, so he’d allow it. Besides, it’s another example of Dumas’ dexterity with words and gentle humor, so here it is (in italics)—:

I am drawn to cemeteries. I’ve enjoyed them since childhood. I have no wish to be placed in one anytime soon, of course, but I am lured by their green serenity, riveted by all those shimmering echoes. … I like the look of the cemetery, with its calm, endless rolling hills, all the gravestones, the weeping willows, and the ponds, so different from the scraggly, screeching, monotonous streets that encircle it. ...

With his wife while on their honeymoon, traveling from Phoenix, where they married, to Dumas’ apartment in Connecticut, he stopped en route to visit the grave of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), and Jerry noticed the adjacent grave of Clemens’ daughter, Susy.

            I bent down a little [he wrote] and read aloud the inscription beneath her name—:

            Warm summer sun shine kindly here,

            Warm Southern wind blow gently here,

            Green sod above lie light, lie light—

            Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

Tears came to my eyes; I turned away so my wife couldn’t see, and found myself face-to-face with two elderly women. One of them said to me, with some anxiety, “Are you all right?”

            “I’m fine,” I said. “I’m on my honeymoon.”

On another occasion, he went to the funeral of the highly regarded and widely loved pastor of a local church, Nate Adams. Dumas saw the man in his coffin, and then he decided to go to the interment. Dumas arrived late—

            Most people were just leaving [he wrote]. I parked and went over to the grave site and started talking to a man in a blue serge suit. We looked down at the green fake-grass fabric that covered the grave. Others drifted over to listen to us. We spoke about what a good, kind person [the deceased] was, and how he would be missed.

            Finally, I said: “What’s that bulge there under the covering?”

            My companion said, “Why, that’s the urn with the ashes.”

            I said, “I just saw Nate Adams. He wasn’t cremated.”

            The blue serge suit said, “Nate who? This is Bill Gilman, from Westport.”

            I got in my car and drove away. They all watched me go.

            That keeps happening, but it’s all right. Someday it’ll stop.

Dumas wrote a column one time about jokes that didn’t go over; here’s one—:

            I told this one to my wife:

            A man asks a passerby, “Do you speak Yiddish?”

            The man shakes his head.

He asks a second man but gets no answer. He stops a third man and says, “Do you speak Yiddish?”

            The man says, “Yes, I do.”

            “Good. Could you please tell me the time?”

            My wife said: “Have you reset the upstairs clock since the last time the electricity was off?”

(She would never quite understand Jerry’s fascination with cemeteries either.)

Dumas had a keen sense of cartoon comedy. And every once in a while, he’d write me about something he’d particularly enjoyed. (I don’t mean to suggest that we were constant correspondents; we weren’t. Jerry might write once a year—at Christmas or soon thereafter, to thank me for sending him a Christmas card.) Here’s a sample (in italics)—:

One of the smartest and best-drawn cartoons I ever saw: a small, pompous king has emerged from a grand doorway and is strutting down a walkway to his royal carriage (or limo). Right in front of him, two little guys are unrolling a red carpet (if the drawing was black and white, I must be imagining the red), and behind the king, two other little guys are rolling the carpet right back up. No words. The idea says a lot about the condition of man.

Once Jerry sent me a copy of one of his rough gag idea for a Beetle Bailey Sunday; I’m posting it near here—with another scan of a Dumas Christmas card, featuring Sam and Silo from 1980. The members of Walker’s gag-writing team meet once a week, and they all brought in their gags sketched out like this one.  dumasrough


Dumas was a cartoonist, although he might prefer “humorist.” He was also a thinker and a ponderer of all things. And he wrote a book-length free verse poem derived from his youth in Detroit, An Afternoon in Waterloo Park. He called it a “narrative poem.” It is about a family, his family—a story of life, daily life, and change and death. It starts with the death of his mother, but Jerry contemplates three generations of his family—his, his parents’ and his grandparents’.

The book jacket reads: “It is in the complex story of this family, recollected from the surface of childhood, pondered from the depths of mature experience, that the author achieves his strength.” I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve dipped in here and there over the years since I acquired it, and I’ve found, here and there, things I like a lot. Here, I’ll show you some of them.

About the Supreme Being, Jerry wrote:

I wonder how many people in this church believe in God.

Really believe.

Half? Three quarters? The same proportions, perhaps,

As for all people everywhere

Outside these walls.

Faith, hope, reason, and the easiest of these is reason. …

And what is true of what the Planner wants of you and me?

We do not agree on that. There are conflicting thoughts. …

Has the message as it’s been passed been garbled,

Due to mumbling? …

In the meantime there exists among believers

A bothersome mist of fine confusion here;

So a lot of people are simply being kind

And figure to play the rest of it by ear.

Once Jerry watched his grandmother as she watched her just departed husband being lowered into the earth.

They had been together fifty-five years.

Oma [the grandmother] said later she would gladly

Have died the same day. She had eleven years to wait,

And all the winters were in Detroit.

I learned that day that all marriages end sadly.

In case that one slipped by you: marriages end sadly because they end in the death of one of the partners.

In another place in the poem, Jerry writes:

 I see in mind’s eye an epitaph

For a gravestone—not hers—mine, perhaps.

The bottom line reads:

Well, That Didn’t Take Very Long.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/4/17 – With You) Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:00:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Another January has dawned, which means that it’s time to revisit the great year of 2016 and all of the comics we’ve missed. For instance, did you know that a new translation of work by Chantal Montellier is now available? Maybe not, since it isn’t in print – only through the Europe Comics digital portal can you obtain Lara Vergnaud’s English edition of 2011’s Marie Curie: The Radium Fairy, a split-format educational album pairing a 24-page illustrated timeline of the titular scientific icon by Renaud Huynh of the Musée Curie with a 20-page color comic by Montellier. It’s the comic with which we will concern ourselves, accepting for now that these biographical projects seem to be the only avenue by which Montellier is allowed into English anymore; indeed, we may even find contentment in our reading 2008’s Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, an English original authored with David Zane Mairowitz, that Montellier does unusually interesting work with flatly declarative or pedagogical books.

The above image is Steve Ditko-like in its unsparing dichotomy — Montellier notably worked in political illustration before her entry into extended narrative comics in the 1970s — but especially vivid in its absolute disregard for visual harmony; the extreme foreground figures on the left not only seem to have been digitally enlarged, but give the impression of having been outright cut and pasted from some unknown and considerably pulpier, more generic source than the rest of the milling accusers. Such recontextualization was at the heart of Montellier’s The Trial, in which she re-drew portions of applicable works by Robert Crumb, Jacques Tardi et al. into her own narrative for the purposes of allusion and irony.

But then, Montellier has always been dedicated to graphic dispassion, her crime, mystery and science fiction works often providing depictive gestures toward violence and sensational passion while never ‘correctly’ delivering the thrill. There is frequently an awkwardness to her drama that is a product of deliberation, drawing attention to the mechanics of what she is doing to assemble the page and thus demanding the reader pivot to an analytic state; to connoisseurs of genre, weaned on comics’ fury of line and simulacrum of movement, this also imparts a distinctly surreal texture. Yet there can be a genuine disquiet to her comics, a deep and unnerving sense that something has gone completely wrong with the seeming order of the world – this page is extremely odd, and also menacing, its historical figures’ faces reproduced at times from what looks like archival photographs and pasted atop taut bodies, the wheels of their bicycles like clip art, like something from a hellish episode of Wondermark, uncoupling and tilting, enlarging, juxtaposed against a similarly reproduced human image and a scanned(?) drawing of a horse-drawn carriage: the equation of a historical figure’s death, perfectly ascertainable in hindsight. And god, her Lurid Tears!

This, granted, is nobody’s idea of a major work; Montellier deserves a much larger translation push – a New York Review Comics edition, for example, of her acclaimed 2005 true crime album Les damnés de Nanterre, or her 1990s Julie Bristol series of art world thrillers (her most traditionally ‘beautiful’ narrative pages), or the early SF comics collected by Vertige Graphic under the omnibus title of Social Fiction in 2003, including some pieces familiar to readers of the early Heavy Metal magazine. Marie Curie, in comparison, serves primarily to illustrate the intellectual communion between Marie and her husband, Pierre, and how it is weaponized against the former upon the death of the latter by the social expectations in place – all this amidst a cascade of historical facts. Still, all of these pages are good, odd or both, and their unusual quality again commends more from this rare master.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.



King-Cat Comix and Stories #76: Ooh, and speaking of works just now appearing in this column – the new comic book from John Porcellino is now available in stores serviced via Diamond. The small-press institution’s latest promises lists, small stories, and lots of correspondence – very pure, communicative expression, as I think you’d expect. Distro by Alternative Comics; $5.00.

Six Days in Cincinnati: And then there’s the world of explicit reportage on a historic event, here a survey by artist Dan Méndez Moore of unrest in Cincinnati following the 2001 killing of an unarmed black man by police: “A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter”, per the Microcosm release’s subtitle. Originally released in 2012 under the title Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnatti Riots, if I’m not mistaken; $11.95.


A Mysterious Melody, or How Mickey Met Minnie: Another in Glénat‘s 2016 line of unusual Disney comics to see release in English via IDW, this 64-page release finds the veteran Swiss-born cartoonist Bernard “Cosey” Cosendai centering Mickey Mouse in a historical fiction as the scriptwriter for proto-Disney protagonist Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unlike the series’ previous number, the Lewis Trondheim/Nicolas Keramidas collaboration Mickey’s Craziest Adventure, this one looks to hew very closely to an on-model period style, albeit washed in autumnal coloring. A 9″ x 12″ hardcover. Preview en français; $14.99.

Box Office Poison Color Comics #1: Speaking of IDW and vintage materials, here the publisher begins an ambitious re-serialization of the 1996-2000 name-making comedy/drama from Alex Robinson, a blend of pop-culture reference-dabbled urbanite struggles and inside-comics politicking launched by Antarctic Press into the dead zone of a post-crash industry and collected by Top Shelf just in time for the dawning of graphic novels in wide exposure. One Pat N. Lewis will be handling the colorization process that affords this project its reason for being. Samples; $3.99.

The Ring of the Seven Worlds: Chemists? Mickey Mouse? Bah! How about a big space war serial created by Italians, published in French, and now translated to English? Written by Giovanni Gualdoni (a Dylan Dog regular) & Gabriele Clima, with art by Matteo Piana (colored by Davide Turotti), this 2014 series promises manga-informed voyaging across 244 pages. Published in English by Humanoids; $24.95.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 28: In which the the future lawman grimaces his way through a good portion of 1998, as written by co-creator John Wagner throughout, with a solid chunk of work by fellow co-creator Carlos Ezquerra on a 72-page serial that I think is the longest thing in here. It’s 305 pages in total, courtesy of Rebellion; $24.99.

Vinland Saga Vol. 8: Mostly continuing series among Japanese comics this week, so I’ll highlight this ongoing and very attractive viking adventure series by Planetes creator Makoto Yukimura, its continued translation not always assured. Now that Kodansha is up to its eighth two-in-one hardcover packaging, I believe the project is only one release away from parity with the shorter Japanese collected editions; $22.99.

Chris Samnee’s Daredevil – Artist’s Edition: Presumably one of the benefits of doing a super-deluxe original-art-in-color presentation for newer work — here a quintet of 2013 issues from a popular run on the Marvel superhero by Samnee and writer Mark Waid — is that a good number of production materials are still readily available. Hence, this 12″ x 17″ endeavor is actually two books in a slipcase: a 160-page hardcover offering both the original art and scans of Samnee’s layout drawings, and a 60-page softcover collecting the artist’s hand-annotated copies of Waid’s complete scripts, across which he assembled his page breakdowns. From IDW; $146.99 (or so).

David Bowie: Color the Starman: Finally, your not-a-comic release to comic book stores for the first week of January, 2017, is a Feral House entry into the presumably lucrative adult coloring book market sweepstakes. I’m making note of it here because the contributors include such alt-comics names as Mike Diana(!!) and Tony Millionaire, as well as folks from the wider art and illustration world. An 83-page, 8.5″ x 11″ softcover; $15.95.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (12/14/16 – Branches) Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:00:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]> rlmount0001

It’s the time of year when a lot of media outlets are releasing their Best of lists, and I admit to feeling a little perturbed that I haven’t seen more of this work: Rosalie Lighting, a St. Martin’s Press release from the artist and educator Tom Hart. I think it’s the best comic of 2016. Maybe it wasn’t helped by its January release, though I mean this strictly in terms of retrospective list-making; we are talking about a work with a #1 New York Times hardcover graphic books placement with five consecutive weeks in the top ten, warmly reviewed by the generalist book publications that concern themselves with comics from generalist book publishers.

Still, there’s a depth to Rosalie Lighting that I don’t feel has been addressed in reviews of the book, which (understandably) tend to focus on the specifics of its story – it is a memoir about Hart and his wife, the artist Leela Corman, mourning the sudden death of their young daughter. Know however that on its title page Hart credits both Corman and Rosalie, his subject, as co-authors, along with various residents of the places they visited and several dozen additional cartoonists, filmmakers, musicians, painters, and miscellaneous creatives, all of which are mentioned somewhere in the story itself.

This is not an affectation, or a simple gesture of kindness. Above we see what I consider to be the most crucial page in the book, where Hart describes the process of creating the book as an act of violence, of pounding the mountain – what he is getting at is a crucial metaphor underpinning his book’s map of grief. Its tree.


The image of a tree appears on the cover of Rosalie Lighting; there is no other drawn object, just the title. It is quickly explained that the image of a tree comes from the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro, which Rosalie enjoyed watching, and which features a magical sequence where characters grow buried acorns into trees by sheer force of will. This is what Hart does with his book, his grief. The child, Rosalie, becomes a tree, its branches explored in significant part through the media Hart encounters. Significantly, this is a book of re-drawing. Miyazaki’s films, Osamu Tezuka’s manga, the comics of the Scottish duo Metaphrog, the American newspaper strips of Frank King – all are incorporated into the book by Hart’s redrawing of certain sequences, and these appropriations are accompanied by Hart’s detail of the meaning he came to take from them, given the situation of his reading.


Most striking to me is a series of brief evocations of Jack Davis and Johnny Craig horror comics from the famous E.C. titles of the 1950s. Removed from their original context, the menace of isolation drawn to the surface from the elements of their construction: rolling masses of ink; sharp lines. A blade drawn across the surface. Violence; there are many drawings elsewhere in the book where Hart himself seems a living corpse, his vehicle barreling through the same rain – to read a comic’s art is to accept the basis of the world it creates, and thus to incorporate parts of one comic into another in this matter, the original becomes the stuff of visual subtext. Ironically, so much of the E.C. ‘influence’ on new art comics is tied to the specifics of their historical place: the controversy, the transgression character. Hart does something deeper and more interesting – to my mind restoring the value these works can have as potent inspiration.

Know however that Hart does not stop there. Later in the book, he observes that he has begun, by chance, to ‘collect’ stories of children who have died from the people he meets. This ties into another of the book’s primary concerns: the value of community, and the means by which grief can be negotiated by commiserating with others. Much of the second half of Rosalie Lighting finds Hart and Corman traveling from place to place, unstuck from the New York home that’s become too expensive to maintain – this is also a book about the economics of living in this decade. It is not a book of tight A-to-B-to-C plotting, instead choosing to hover and circle its settings, its author darting back and forth in time, obsessing and reflecting. But what he is doing is pounding the mountain, and from the pebbles dropped from the works he has read and the narratives he has collected, he wills the rise of the tree that is Rosalie, that is his memory, and the drawing of the tree is his drawing of the book.

He does not, cannot escape the grief in its pages. He is not here to triumph; this is humble work. He is here to understand, and in drawing he can begin, though the ink is black, black.




PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




The One Hundred Nights of Hero: This is the new book by Isabel Greenberg, an ascendant talent of UK mainline book trade comics; it was a Jonathan Cape release overseas a few months ago, and now it arrives in North America via Little, Brown. “[A] beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world,” the 224-page hardcover looks to continue the emphasis on built history from the artist’s prior The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (2013), but purportedly with more emphatically feminist and queer interests; $25.00.


Brighter Than You Think: 10 Short Works by Alan Moore: And this represents an earlier generation of UK-born talent, though it is not just a collection of brief comics. Rather, each piece is accompanied by an essay from Marc Sobel – a Journal contributor and author of 2013’s The Love and Rockets Companion, among other endeavors. Indeed, the whole 160-page affair is formally part of the “Critical Cartoons” line of writings-on-comics from Uncivilized Books, though I should emphasize that all of the stories will be presented in their entirety. Artists include Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch, Melinda Gebbie, Mark Beyer, Peter Bagge, Oscar Zaraté, John Totleben, Don Simpson and Bill Wray. The title comes from one of two included Gebbie collaborations, on which Sobel has written before – you can check a full list of contents here (big fan of “Love Doesn’t Last Forever”); $22.95.


Georgie: The Story of a Man, His Dog, and a Pin: Pretty relentless week of veterans down here, so I’ll start with a new Dover reissue of a story from longtime cartooning and animation presence R.O. Blechman – it was previously seen in Drawn and Quarterly’s 2009 Blechman collection Talking Lines, but now has been oriented as a standalone 112-page hardcover, I *suspect* in line with a 2011 French-language release from Delpire. Not having read the story, I trust it will be as emotionally complex a tale of parenthood and pet ownership as the publisher suggests; $16.95.

Art & Beauty Magazine #3: Speaking of excerpted reissues, this 40-page collection of life- and photo-drawn images of women from Robert Crumb was first released earlier this year as part of an omnibus volume from David Zwirner, though only now is the individual publication available via Fantagraphics to anyone who already has the other three magazines. Ruminations from the artist and quotes from learned and venerable sources accompany these often highly-detailed, yet very ‘Crumb’ images; $7.99.

Shadows on the Grave #1 (of 8): Continuing on the underground kick, here is something all-new from writer/artist Richard Corben, whose horror and fantasy stories have long populated anthologies from the head shop likes of Fantagor and Slow Death to popular magazines such as Creepy and Heavy Metal. This Dark Horse series finds Corben returning to black and white for a potpourri of short shockers and a continuing serial featuring “Denaeus”, a Grecian warrior patently evoking the artist’s Neverwhere series of past years. Samples; $3.99.

Goliath: Speaking of contributors to Heavy Metal and the Warren mags — but with a far more mainstream genre path diverging into ’70s Marvel — here we have a new illustrated book from Mike Ploog, presumably connected to a 2012 Kickstarter campaign (which, judging from the comments, went somewhat awry) and written by Michael Friedlander, head of the Pittsburgh-based fantasy art book publisher FPG. An 11.5″ x 11.5″, 88-page hardcover, the all-ages story of a prehistoric clan getting into trouble seems to heavily emphasize Ploog’s painted color art, its comparatively scant text looking more like scene-setting comic book narrative captions. A long time in the making, this; $24.99.

New Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 11 (&) Showman Killer Vol. 3: And now we have a pair of concluding volumes from recent-ish series by writers now in their eighties. New Lone Wolf and Cub is Kazuo Koike’s 2003-06 follow-up to his signature ’70s swordsman serial with artist Gōseki Kojima. Since Kojima died in 2000, however, the sequel is drawn by Hideki Mori; the show closes across 232 pages, published by Dark Horse. Showman Killer is a 2010-12 series from writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Nicolas Fructus – an interstellar assassin scenario with not-unfamiliar-sounding parental and mystic themes, published in English by Titan; $13.99 (Lone Wolf), $16.99 (Showman).

Night of the Living Dead Vol. 1: Sins of the Father (&) The Attack: Two unexpected Eurocomics releases from Firefly Books, an Ontario-based purveyor of mostly nonfiction and educational material; both books seem to slip neatly into popular categories for a non-specialist publisher. First there’s a greater media tie-in: Night of the Living Dead, a Jean-Luc Istin/Elia Bonetti album from 2014, presented as a 56-page, 9″ x 12″ hardcover. Note that the colors appear courtesy of Digikore Studios, the Indian FX outfit that handles many titles for Avatar Press, itself a former rights-holder with this seminal zombie property. Second, we have a work of literary pedigree on a political topic: The Attack, a 2012 comics adaptation of a Yasmina Khadra novel by Loïc Dauvillier & Glen Chapron. The plot concerns a Palestinian-Israeli surgeon on a journey to discover the reason why his wife apparently executed a suicide bombing. It’s a 152-page hardcover at 8.25″ x 11″, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger, who’s also worked on various IDW French comics releases; $19.95 (Dead), $24.95 (Attack).

We Told You So: Comics As Art: Finally, your book-on-comics and consummate conflict of interest for this withdrawing grip of seasonal shopping days could only be a 696-page(!!!!) oral history of Fantagraphics, storied publisher of comics and criticism, and, as if you don’t fucking know, the entity behind the website you are looking at right now. Long in the making, this 8″ x 10″ all-color bone-breaker comes from former Comics Journal print edition editor Tom Spurgeon, he of The Comics Reporter, “with” subsequent Journal editor Michael Dean, chatting up all sorts of people involved somehow in the great eon. I was an irregular contributor to the Journal print edition in the ’00s, even running a column for exactly one issue (#276, please don’t everyone rush your copies to CGC) before I flaked out and disappointed everyone — Dirk Deppey, I’m sorry!! — but Spurgeon nonetheless asked me for an anecdote during the preparation of this book; my understanding is that I was cut at some point, perhaps due to the story being completely inessential in every way. Nonetheless, in the interests of perfecting the historical record, I will recreate my exciting tale below – payment will be necessary for better content; $49.99.

My 21st birthday was in July of 2002; I was working an unpaid internship for the summer in the hopes of gaining valuable experience for the working world, but my employers knew better and told me to just leave early and enjoy the day. I walked straight down the road to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a sake for my first certified legal drink, but to my great frustration I wasn’t carded, despite looking all of 16 years old. I tried again to no greater luck, but before long I felt a lot better about myself.

Stumbling out into the city, knowing I couldn’t drive for a few hours, I made my way across town to a fabulously shitty comic book store with which I was familiar. It was not my usual Wednesday place; the selection of new titles was slim, the organization of back stock was lacking, and in general the place seemed less a functioning business than a hangout for cliquish regulars. In other words, a ‘classic’ comic book store.

I remember two of the comics I bought that day, plucked from a pile of recent releases strewn across the open tops of yellowed longboxes, because both of them were third issues. There was issue #3 of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a Frank Miller/Lynn Varley superhero miniseries of some notoriety, and issue #3 of Mystic Funnies, a Fantagraphics spotlight series for Robert Crumb, not unlike the various ad hoc titles he’d employed for his various works throughout the years. I’d read The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book, so I knew a little about him. I’d also started reading The Comics Journal roughly eight months before, having plucked it off a rack at Borders, diligently parsing its esoteric script of references to unfamiliar traditions until I felt damn near an expert.

So I took my selections up to the clerk. DK2 went over pretty well, Varley’s controversial digital coloring notwithstanding, but Mystic Funnies got me eyed up. I was pretty visibly buzzed.

“How old are you, kid?” the clerk asked.

“Twenty-one,” I replied, to immediate laughter. Not a single member of the Eltingville Club believed me, which made perfect sense given their source was an obviously drunken child.

“Do you–” the clerk began, waving Mystic Funnies #3, trying to stifle his mirth, “–do you know what’s in this? Do you know what this is?”

“It’s Robert Crumb,” I said, and the clerk’s laughter stopped.

My heart leaped. Comics were going to succeed where booze had failed; I was finally going to get carded.

But the clerk just smiled.

“Hell,” he told me, “if you’re old enough to know who that is, you’re old enough to read him!”

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Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I) Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:00:44 +0000 Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. Continue reading ]]>


On the sixteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more.

Previous Episodes

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons


Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:41:25 On this episode, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. On this episode, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (12/7/16 – Real Potential Energy) Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:00:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> lewis10001

I try not to fuck up too often with this column, but last week a book just totally slipped by me. It’s a new IDW release of work by the L’Association co-founder and all-around contemporary French comics icon Lewis Trondheim, collaborating with artist Nicolas Keramidas and colorist Brigitte Findakly (whose collaboration with Trondheim, her spouse, goes back to the Lapinot series in the 1990s) on an unusual Disney comic. The original French edition was released by Glénat earlier this year under the same English-language title as IDW’s translated edition: Mickey’s Craziest Adventures. The album is technically part of a line of artist-driven Mouse comics at Glénat, with additional contributions by Régis Loisel (who’s done work for Disney’s animated films) and “Tébo” (also the writer of Keramidas’ Alice au pays des singes series with Glénat) — along with a book by Bernard “Cosey” Cosendey that IDW also plans to release — but really it’s part of Trondheim’s continuing project of summoning works and traditions from comics’ past and making them his own.

However, I am at a disadvantage. For one, I’ve not read what I suspect is this book’s closest relation, the 2010 Spirou et Fantasio sub-series album Panique en Atlantique, which Trondheim wrote for artist Fabrice Parme with purportedly similar throwback flair. Moreover, I *have* read this very good review of the Mickey book by Jonathan Bogart, whom I fear has plumbed all the depth this piece has to offer. Of particular note, Bogart reads the book’s central conceit — that the comic we’re seeing was not really created by Trondheim & co., but found by them in a hidden stash of regional European Disney comics from the ’60s, serialized at only one page per issue by anonymous talents — as a means of re-framing Mickey Mouse and all his baggage as something suddenly native to the small-format serialization of Franco-Belgian children’s comics: a truly BD Disney at last.

There are instances of things like this happening in the real world: during the occupation of Belgium in WWII, American comic strips like Superman and Flash Gordon were taken over for varying periods of time by the nearby likes of Joseph “Jijé” Gillain and Edgar P. Jacobs. And, indeed, in ‘reprinting’ only selected chapters from his fantasy Mickey, Trondheim nods to his own history with the Dungeon series he co-created with Joann Sfar, which only manifested itself as a few selected albums from a prospective series of hundreds of books – an impossible-to-realize ambition, transparently facetious, and reflective of a very modern attitude to ‘mainstream’ BD: the reader is duly invited to imagine the work Trondheim and his cohorts cannot hope to complete. Keramidas, incidentally, drew the 2008 final installment of the Dungeon Monstres sub-series, and Mickey’s Craziest Adventures operates in much the same way as that far grander project.

The results, though, are not really so thought-provoking. English dialogue writer David Gerstein (working from a translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger) affords the thing an appropriate Disney-like flair, but pretty much all the emphasis is on how many stock cliffhanger situations Trondheim can throw Mickey and Donald into, with Keramidas drawing their frantic escapes and Findakly (I presume) adding meticulous digital aging and simulated water and tear damage. There’s multiple underground civilizations, jungle perils, dinosaurs, mermen, aliens, bugs, etc., though because every page ends in a little closing gag — and because even the ‘sequential’ installments adopt a notably modular narrative format — there isn’t actually a lot of room for the reader to apply their own speculation to the gaps; it’s a bit aloof, to the point where you start to wonder if the conceit isn’t also to relieve Trondheim the burden of coming up with a fixed plot or a regulated pace, instead allowing him to do rising, rising, rising, rising action until the book collapses exhausted after 44 pages.

Nonetheless, it is also undeniably enjoyable as a lark, in which a number of very experienced and skilled people are observed fucking around handsomely for a brief while. Shame I missed it!



PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White: You know what? Despite the vigorous coverage already afforded by this site, I am still gonna put this pretty kitty right up top, because everything I have seen (very partial) and heard (wholly anecdotal) suggests that this is legitimately a major work in terms of examining one of the paramount talents of early American comics, whose century-old magnum opus still feels it’s yet to surrender its mysteries. Michael Tisserand is the author, George Herriman is the subject, and for 560 pages you will dive deep into the man’s heritage, life and work. CONSIDER: a book without pictures. HarperCollins publishes in hardcover; $35.00.


By the Numbers: Eager to avoid another 1990s French alt-comics-related mishap, I will here spotlight another release from a L’Association co-founder – Stanislas Barthélémy, who draws this high-toned white adventurism project. Created with journalist Laurent Rullier, the “Victor Levallois” series released irregularly with Alpen Publishers and Les Humanoïdes Associés from 1990 to 2004, forming something of a ‘mainstream’ parallel track for the artist, albeit one fascinated by ligne claire classicism. The first two books even saw English translation in ’04, though nothing followed. Now Humanoids collects the entire series in a single 208-page, 7.6″ x 10.2″ softcover – basically, the project matches up throwback Tintin magazine aesthetics with the seriousness of international political conflicts in the mid-20th century, as an unworldly accountant finds himself caught up in big, dirty money, and not exactly immune to its pleasures; $24.95.


Shadoweyes Vol. 1: Being a Kickstarter-funded 384-page(!) Iron Circus print edition for a superhero webcomic by Sophie Campbell, popular creator of the Wet Moon series and artist on various prominent superhero/licensed projects like Glory and Jem and the Holograms. It’s a shape-shifting concept, with a vigilante teen stuck inside an alien body. Colors by Erin Watson, with some art and dialogue refinements from the online iteration; $30.00.

Our Mother: Your Retrofit/Big Planet release of short(-ish) format work from a young talent arrives this week via Luke Howard, a Center for Cartoon Studies grad whose graphic novel Talk Dirty to Me was just released by AdHouse earlier this year. “[A] comedy about growing up with a parent who has an anxiety disorder,” this 40-page color work looks to toss various fantastic genres around to arrive at some autobiographical insight; $9.00.

Motor Crush #1 (&) Arclight #3: Two prominent arrivals from Image, generally a friendly venue for creators coming off high-profile mainstream superhero work. That’s the potential for Motor Crush, a SF motorcycle combat serial from the same core group that revived DC’s Batgirl to much attention a while back: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. Arclight is a whispery, glammed-out high fantasy series from writer Brandon Graham and artist Marian Churchland that released two issues in the middle of 2015 and subsequently vanished – now it is back, and know that an upcoming fourth issue is scheduled to close out the storyline; $3.99 (each).

Providence #11 (of 12) (&) Über: Invasion #1: A double-dose of ‘prestige’ titles from Avatar Press (not in terms of format, but “as opposed to Jungle Fantasy: Ivory“). Providence is the big H.P. Lovecraft series from Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, which definitely seemed to reach a climax last issue, stoking speculation that the two concluding numbers will involve a timeskip or a big shift in location or something. At the very least there’s a rumor that the text-based backmatter is done, meaning 40 pages of cover-to-cover comics, though I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Über: Invasion is the Kickstarter-bolstered continuation of a well-regarded (and notably unfinished) alternate history WWII supersoldier series from writer Kieron Gillen, which adopts the format of a docudrama that’s also a gore-laden Avatar comic. Daniel Gete is now what I presume to be the series’ primary artist, rather than originating artist Caanan White; $4.99 (Providence), $3.99 (Über).

The Complete Frank Miller Robocop Omnibus: But if it’s *vintage* Avatar you’re after, you can’t do better than the notoriously breakneck 2003-06 Steven Grant/Juan José Ryp adaptation of Frank Miller’s original script for Robocop 2, a 200+ page avalanche of blood-drenched chromium excess hammering ceaselessly amid roiling gold flames from one set piece to another, Hard Boiled (a better comic, mind) the most relevant waypoint in the Miller catalog. Amusingly, BOOM! is now the publisher, here pairing the series with a 2013-14 adaptation of Miller’s Robocop 3 script from Grant and artist Korkut Öztekin, the whole softcover package weighing in at 400 pages; $39.99.

Barbarella (&) Weapons of the Metabaron: More Eurocomics possibilities from Humanoids. Barbarella has been out a few times now, but it’s generally nice to see this trend-setting work from Jean-Claude Forest; the present 7.9″ x 10.8″ hardcover collects the 1964 original album and its 1974 follow-up, as localized by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Weapons of the Metabarons is an abbreviated 2008 showcase for the artist Travis Charest, who completed only a certain number of pages over a wide span of years before the project was finished by Zoran Janjetov, a frequent collaborator of writer and space mercenary concept co-creator Alejandro Jodorowsky, dutifully scripting around the visual shifts; $24.95 (Barbarella), $19.95 (Metabarons).

Ditko Unleashed! (&) Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks: IDW’s got country and western this week with two titans of superheroes and greater American action comics. Ditko Unleashed! is a 9.6″ x 12.7″, 368-page catalog for an exhibition curated by Florentino Flórez & Frédéric Manzano, still running in Palma de Mallorca. Lots of printed pages and scans of original art spanning the breadth of his career are promised. Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks is an 8″ x 12″, 160-page variation on IDW’s Artisan Editions (which themselves are variations on the publisher’s well-known Artist’s Editions), “showcasing” three comic books — The Demon #1 (1972), Kamandi #1 (1972) and OMAC #1 (1974) — in both of the form of photocopies from Kirby’s pencils, as well as with Mike Royer’s finished inks. Other selected pages will be included; $59.99 (Ditko), $49.99 (Kirby).

R. Crumb Sketchbook Vol. 1: June 1964 – Sept. 1968: Taschen has previously released Crumb’s sketchbooks in a pair of thousanddollar boxed sets, but — no doubt aware of the precarious global economic situation and the sacrifices we the public make every day — the publisher now assents to 8.1″ x 10.6″ individual hardcover releases. I presume Crumb requires no introduction? Enjoy 440 pages of drawings reproduced straight from the original art, covering a period of early output through the release of the first few issues of Zap – evolutionary prime time, in other words; $39.99.

The 1964 New York Comicon: The True Story Behind the World’s First Comic Convention: Finally, though I know absolutely nothing about author J. Ballmann and publisher Totalmojo Productions, I do think a close examination of a single comics convention — from the exhibitors to the guests to the attendees — is a pretty terrific idea for a book, and there are few more attractive cons to choose from than this: Steve Ditko made a never-to-be-repeated public appearance, a teenage George R.R. Martin was among the crowd, and questions were raised as to the direction of this nascent form of social gathering. There is allegedly a huge stack of period materials reproduced in here, from the entirety of the official con booklet to dealer price lists, along with contemporaneous interviews with various guests and “over 300 photographs.” I dunno! I’d flip through it, sure; $29.95.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/30/16 – A Haunting and Eloquent Line) Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:02:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> img_29931

I love walking to the comics store in the place where I grew up.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




The Theory of the Grain of Sand: While I can’t say these English editions of comics by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters have been frequent, they are always welcome – a sizable body of this highly distinctive output still awaits translation. Actually, just the other day I ran across some manga by Yukinobu Hoshino (longtime seinen artist, quite western-informed, creator of 2001 Nights and the Professor Munakata series) that seemed to draw some visual influence from early Schuiten/Peeters works such as The Great Walls of Samaris (1983) and Fever in Urbicand (1985), which were translated to Japanese beginning in 2011:


Images from "Rain Man" ch. 34, as published in the 11.10 issue of Shogakukan's Big Comic magazine.

Images from “Rain Man” ch. 34, as published in the 11.10 issue of Shogakukan’s Big Comic magazine.

Anyway, The Theory of the Grain of Sand is one of the most recent Schuiten/Peeters collaborations — expect fanciful architecture charged with the allegorical flair of a morality play — originally serialized across two French albums in 2007 and 2008. This 9.375″ x 11″ softcover collects the whole story into a single 128-page package. Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger for Alaxis Press and published via IDW; $19.99.


The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Vol. 1: Your book-on-comics of the week goes up here, as it looks especially large and loaded with stuff necessary to address the many aspects of the beloved Wood: influential draftsman and independent comics maverick. Moreover, the book itself is something of a historical item, with origins in the 1980s, several portions pre-published in The Comics Journal in the 1990s, and a somewhat different iteration of itself released by TwoMorrows as Against The Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood in 2003. Described by publisher Fantagraphics as a “collective biographical and critical portrait,” this 304-page, 10″ x 12″ package promises contributions by peers, collaborators, assistants and admirers such as Bill Gaines, Al Williamson, Paul Kirchner, Trina Robbins and Larry Hama, along with many photos and illustrations. Edited by the late Bhob Stewart (himself a former Wood assistant), with an introduction by Howard Chaykin & Maria Reidelbach; $39.99.


Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal: Another Fantagraphics item, this time a second collection of work from Ed Luce, following up 2015’s Wuvable Oaf. Very strong cartoon look to this stuff – fantasy-kissed gay relationship drama, its emphasis on nerdy-aggressive pursuits like metal and wrestling, with a flair for the grotesque. The first one had enough in the way of oozing fluids and textured bodies I didn’t realize until my second look that the sex isn’t actually very explicit, it’s just got a lot of swagger. A 100-page, 7.25″ x 10″ hardcover; $19.99.

Lake Jehovah (&) Titan #4: Two more from the wider world of new small-press comics. Lake Jehovah is a 216-page color release from artist Jillian Fleck and Conundrum Press, blending cataclysmic prophesy with Alberta local legend and queer relationship angst. Titan is a Study Group comic book distributed via Alternative, continuing the outer space labor/romantic relations web serial by François Vigneault; $20.00 (Jehovah), $4.95 (Titan).

Squalor (&) Pandora’s Eyes: Two from the wide world of reprints. Squalor has been a personal interest of mine for a little while; it’s a 1989-90 First Comics miniseries from writer Stefan Petrucha (a prolific novelist who’s also worked extensively in licensed and all-ages comics) and artist Tom Sutton, the latter collaborating with colorist Paul Mounts for some of his most distinctive latter-period work. Lots of metaphysical themes swirling around in this one, a post-everything SF burnout through unstuck parallel times. Recommended! The collected edition comes from Caliber. Pandora’s Eyes finds artist Milo Manara at his most mainstream, collaborating with the screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami (an Oscar nominee for the 1997 film Life is Beautiful) on an international suspense drama about a lovely woman with a dangerous lineage. Sort of a EuropaCorp movie in 64-page comics form – released in French in 2007, first translated to English in 2011, and now available again with new colors by Francesco Gaston in a 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover via Humanoids; $19.99 (Squalor), $24.95 (Pandora’s).

Empire of Blood: Another odd one I happen to like, but much newer; a 2015-16 miniseries from Graphic India (which I believe was split up from an original graphic novel published in India itself), pairing writer Arjun Raj Gaind with the veteran artist Enrique Alcatena for a sprawling class metaphor in a fantastical British empire powered by vampiric fuel of blood. Jangly and weird, flip through it; $14.95.

Scumbag Loser Omnibus (&) Happiness Vol. 2: Licentious horror manga, like your unusually hip mother nonetheless warned you about. There is no way I was ever not going to list a comic with a title like Scumbag Loser Omnibus, but instead of being a 1990s autobiographical indie comics compilation, it actually collects a complete Mikoto Yamaguchi serial about a nerd with a perverted sense of smell who concocts a long-distance relationship lie to impress the kids at school, appropriating the name of a dead girl he used to know. Then the dead girl shows up for class. A 592-page Yen Press release. Speaking of shitbugs, Happiness continues the new project from Shūzō Oshimi of The Flowers of Evil, in which a lonely boy is bitten by a girl vampire, compounding all of his awful issues. Kodansha publishes; $30.00 (SCUMBAG LOSER OMNIBUS, gang), $12.99 (Happiness).

Turn Loose Our Death Rays and Kill Them All: The Compete Works of Fletcher Hanks (&) Buz Sawyer Vol. 4: Zazarof’s Revenge: Vintage comics from Fantagraphics, continuing down certain known paths. Turn Loose Our Death Rays combines the publisher’s two prior Fletcher Hanks collections with a scattering of otherwise unaccounted-for shorts for a 376-page comprehensive edition of what at this point may be the non-corporate-superhero-related Golden Age comics that truly require no introduction. Edited, as ever, by Paul Karasik. Buz Sawyer, of course, is the adventuresome newspaper strip creation of Roy Crane, collecting ten storylines from the ’40s into the ’50s; $49.99 (Death), $39.99 (Buz).

Copra: Round Four: Finally – this goes at the bottom because it’s drawn by a friend and published by a frequent collaborator of my own (who, moreover, is a former columnist for this site), but I would nonetheless be remiss to neglect this latest collected edition for the now-long-running small-press superhero series by Michel Fiffe, as much a venue for exploring his various generic and cartooning fascinations as the steady-building action/suspense narrative is also happens to be. From Bergen Street Press, containing issues #19-24; $19.95.

The front page image this week is detailed from the October 30, 1898 installment of Richard F. Outcault’s Kelly’s Kindergarten, as captured from the superb 2013 Sunday Press Books collection Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip, 1895-15.

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A “Konversation” with George Herriman’s Biographer, Michael Tisserand (Part Two) Mon, 28 Nov 2016 13:00:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white“If one is going to spend ten years on a single subject, George Herriman is a good one.” – Michael Tisserand

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Michael Tisserand, author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, which is the first full-length biography of George Herriman. Part one explores the genesis and methodology of Tisserand’s book, his background, and George Herriman’s early years. The present section begins with a discussion of George Herriman’s life as a newspaper cartoonist, thoroughly documented in Krazy.

Paul Tumey: Michael, one thing I’d love to know is whether you found conclusive proof to the oft-cited statement that Herriman’s publisher, William Randolph Hearst, subsidized Krazy Kat, insisting it run in his papers when the public didn’t understand it, and didn’t want it — is there truth in that storyline?

Michael Tisserand: I didn’t set out to be a Bubblespiker and disprove any of these long-held beliefs, but in this case, I found no direct evidence that Hearst specifically protected Krazy Kat from editors wishing to drop it. I did learn that the story of a lifetime contract is a myth, because Herriman repeatedly expresses concern in letters that his contract won’t be renewed, and he’s not joking. At the same time, it makes sense that Hearst would want someone who was so critically adored in his papers. I did find a letter from Hearst’s editor, Arthur Brisbane, stating that Brisbane thought everything in the newspaper should appeal to all readers, but Hearst liked keeping some highbrow material in there, including the City Life page. And Krazy Kat was running on the City Life page. So, on the Herriman Truth-O-Meter, I guess I’d have to give that a “half true.”

Paul Tumey: That’s interesting. So, if one were to read a scholarly account of George Herriman’s life in, say 1975, we would be told he was a Greek, the son of a baker, and that he had a guaranteed job with Hearst… none of which seems to be true! Brian Walker once said to me, “all history is revisionism.”

by cartoonists Tom McNamara George Herriman generations earlier.

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon, Cecilia and Michael Tisserand duplicate the poses made by cartoonists Tom McNamara and George Herriman. (Photo credit: Marilyn Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: Yes, and I’m sure that once all of Hearst’s papers are digitized, and one doesn’t have to spool through microfilm to read all of Herriman’s work, there will be more necessary revisions. In this case, of course, it didn’t help that Herriman told many of these stories himself! Also, early suspicions concerning the validity of Herriman’s birth certificate were absolutely grounded in history — many New Orleans birth certificates should not be believed when it comes to racial classifications.

Before 1935, Krazy Kat Sundays were black and white and often ran in the "City Life" section of the newspaper. The above example, featuring one of the classics of the series, is from the City Life section f the Washington Times, May 28, 1922.

Before 1935, Krazy Kat Sundays were black and white and often ran in the “City Life” section of the newspaper. The above example, featuring one of the classics of the series, is from the City Life section f the Washington Times, May 28, 1922.

Paul Tumey: Speaking of Krazy Kat running on the City Life page. I’ve seen that with other strips in other papers. E.C. Segar’s Looping the Loop, for example in the Chicago American. I’ve sometimes wondered if it just wasn’t a way to kind of use cartoonists in the daily paper somewhere other than the sports section. Another area cartoonists got some good space was in children’s sections. Walt McDougall, C.W. Kahles and Frank King published top-drawer work in kid’s sections. But it certainly did showcase Krazy Kat to have it smack dab in the middle of the Saturday City Life page — there’s no arguing that!

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s years with the Los Angeles Examiner – much of which you can see in the Herriman Saturdays feature on Allan Holtz’s blog Stripper’s Guide – is a great example of this. Herriman is everywhere on those pages.

By the way, I also spent a lot of time trying to determine if it was true that Picasso professed a particular love of Krazy Kat. Every essay about Herriman seems to include that information. I found nothing. It actually might have come from an account of Picasso loving The Katzenjammer Kids.

Paul Tumey: That’s funny to me because Art Spiegelman actually wrote a short essay I love that ran in the Sunday Press Krazy Kat book about the Cubist aspects of the strip. Not because supposedly Picasso loved the strip, but on its own formal merits. But it is funny to learn the strip the great painter loved was not the Kat but the Katzies!

In your book, there’s some great stories about Herriman’s first years working in newspapers in California and New York. He connected with several other cartoonists and writers, like Thomas A. “Tad” Dorgan and Jimmy Swinnerton — and their work seemed to center around sports reporting. They lived large and had many adventures. You call them “Sports.” Did you coin that term yourself?

The cartoon staff at the New York Evening Journal (January 3, 1911) Top, from left: Gus Mager, Charles Wellington, Herriman Bottom, from left: Harry Hershfield, Ike Anderson, Tad Dorgan

The cartoon staff at the New York Evening Journal (January 3, 1911)
Top, from left: Gus Mager, Charles Wellington, Herriman
Bottom, from left: unknown, Ike Anderson, Harold McGill

Michael Tisserand: Sort of. There is talk about the “sports” in the papers, and what constitutes a sport. But I admit to capitalizing the “S” to elevate it to being a literary movement. People usually call that slangy style of writing about lowlife urban characters “Runyonesque” but I’d argue gives short shrift to the other Sports, especially the illustrious Tad.

Paul Tumey: I agree. Relegating that group to a fictional world seems too limited.

Michael Tisserand: One of the primary edits I had to make on my original manuscript was to take out a series of old newspaperman tales that didn’t really involve Herriman. A number of the early newspaper writers penned memoirs and they are wonderful. I left as many in as I could get away with!

Paul Tumey: I could see another comics-realted book from you: The Sports. It could be about those wild times Herriman and the other guys had. I’ve read some fun accounts. Did you know that Rube Goldberg was once arrested in 1908? He was a timekeeper for an illegal fight match and got rounded up with the fighters!

Michael Tisserand: They arrested Goldberg but he invented an elaborate escape machine?

Paul Tumey: No, they let him go because he invented a simple twenty-six step device to turn on the light switch in the police station.

Author Michael Tisserand on the New Orleans street where George Herriman was born

Author Michael Tisserand on the New Orleans street where George Herriman was born

Michael Tisserand: I spent quite a bit of time trying to learn more about a Prohibition-related arrest of George Herriman. Paid a couple hundred dollars for some trial transcripts to be copied. Then I found out there was another George Herriman living in southern California at the time.

Paul Tumey: Ah — a blind alley! I’ve gone down a few of those.

Michael Tisserand: Can you imagine how excited I was when the package of trial transcripts arrived in the mail?

That was actually my second longest blind alley. The most time consuming one of all was the silent movie that Herriman appeared in, How to Handle Women. I had a legion of friends trying to help me locate a copy, but it does appear to be missing, at least for now.

Paul Tumey: Man I would love to see that movie! You know it has to be sitting around in a dusty archive, somewhere. Do we know how big a part Herriman had in How to Handle Women?

Michael Tisserand: There are stills that show him with the actor Glenn Tryon and it appears that there scenes of him working as a cartoonist. The movie had series of titles and was poorly reviewed. It featured an early appearance by Bela Lugosi but the Bela Lugosi fan clubs couldn’t help me, either.

George Herriman appears with Glenn Tyron in a still from the lost film, How to Handle Women (1928)

George Herriman appears with Glenn Tryon in a still from the lost film, How to Handle Women (1928)

Paul Tumey: There’s a similar film by Rube Goldberg I would love to find,  and also have had no success after much searching. It’s a 1914 Vitagraph two-reel silent comedy he wrote and starred in called He Danced Himself to Death. Someday…

Michael Tisserand: Oh no. I also came across news of a very early film about comics production that included a lot of pioneering cartoonists. It’s also missing. Now we’re just torturing each other.

Paul Tumey: I loved reading about how, after he settled in Los Angeles, Herriman worked in the middle of the studio where the Our Gang, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy comedies were made. In both Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White and in your introduction to the recently released Library of American Comics Krazy Kat 1934 you really fill that out and show the intermingling of the comic strip and great 1930s comedy films that occurred with this happy juxtaposition of humorous brilliance.


Michael Tisserand: Remember the scenes of Herriman working in the New York Evening Journal art room. You know that Tad Dorgan comic where they’re boxing, and all the cartoonists are gathered round making jokes?

Paul Tumey: Yeah – it’s unforgettable. Those broad, hunched-up shoulders on Herriman!

Michael Tisserand: I like to think of Herriman moving back to California and managing to find the one place that was as rollicking and joyful as that art room — the Hal Roach studio. Beanie Walker — said by Rudolph Dirks to be Herriman’s best friend — made the introductions. Herriman became a regular fishing partner of Hal Roach, and a close friend to Hal’s brother, Jack Roach. Supposedly Herriman stood in as an extra when needed, but I never could find him a crowd shot. I’m still looking!

Paul Tumey: I’ve been looking too, since you first told me that. It would be incredible to spot Herriman as an extra in a Laurel and Hardy comedy.

George Herriman is seen at his Hal Roach studio with Beanie Walker in this 1930s SCREENLAND article

George Herriman is seen at his Hal Roach studio with Beanie Walker in this 1930s SCREENLAND article

Michael Tisserand: I still think we’re going to find a scene with Herriman in some Hal Roach comedy. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I fire up the Laurel and Hardy movies instead of working.

Speaking of working, did you see that the New York Public Library announced today that it is digitizing its city directories? That’s amazing news for this kind of research.

Paul Tumey: Yes! I saw that — the first free chunk of time I have I will be looking up several names. The availability of research tools online just gets better and better.

Michael Tisserand: It’s tragic that the Smithsonian’s Chronicling America project appears to be stalled. The digitization of the Hearst newspapers will be such a boon to research.

Paul Tumey: I know — in the debates tonight I want the moderator to ask “If elected what will you do to get Chronicling America working again?” However, despite the run of cinema bupkus with the Herriman movie appearances, you DID find home movies of Herriman! That’s a real score. There’s a few bits in your four-minute promotional book video.

George Herriman with granddaughter Dee Cox -- still from home movie (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

George Herriman with granddaughter Dee Cox — still from home movie (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s granddaughter was very generous to let me use that film. There aren’t a lot of scenes with George, but each one is precious. There is one beautiful scene in which Bobbie Herriman is changing baby Dinah’s diaper, and Herriman is shielding their eyes from the sun. When he realizes that he’s in the way of the camera, he quickly steps aside. You can actually witness the shy, humble, even self-effacing character that his friends always talk about.

Paul Tumey: I was struck by how slight and skinny he was. And how his shoulders really do resemble his portrayal in that Tad boxing-in-the-office cartoon, large and rounded.

Michael Tisserand: And how big his hands appear to be!

Paul Tumey: Yes, those hands of Herriman’s look magical. So that’s a good segue into Herriman’s later years. It seems, after all those years of hanging out with fellow artists and colleagues, maybe dating a hootchie kootchie dancer at Coney Island, and travelling all the southwest, Herriman became somewhat reclusive in his later years. Is that right — and if so, why?

Michael Tisserand: He did. Undeniably. His granddaughter commented on it. So did Boyden Sparkes and Segar. There were bouts of reclusiveness before those final years too. His friend Harry Carr wrote to the Wetherills about how he couldn’t get George to go to Arizona, and how much it would help if George would go.

Shortly after Herriman’s wife died, an artist arrived to paint Bobbie’s picture. In her memoir, she said that it was the car crash that killed Herriman’s wife that had made Herriman so isolated and depressed. She actually wrote that Herriman was consumed with guilt because he was driving the car, but this is contradicted by family stories and all the news accounts of the accident, and so it doesn’t ring true to me.

He also suffered from bad health, including debilitating migraines. Remember that he was making cartoons about suffering rheumatism when he was barely thirty years old.

Paul Tumey: I know that in some cases arthritis can lead to depression, which can certainly cause one to become isolated.

Michael Tisserand: I never want to diagnose Herriman. When I read a modern diagnosis in a biography of a historical figure, I start to think more about the biographer and less about the subject. But certainly it seems he was depressed in some fashion. And his contemporaries specifically talked about Herriman having an inferiority complex. In letter after letter, he disparages his work, or at least its lack of popularity. And yet, the work itself is uncompromising, and so confident in its own beauty.

Paul Tumey: I agree – it is dangerous ground to psychoanalyze a person from the past. But in those letters and accounts, if nothing else, Herriman seems to have been very self-effacing. That aspect of his personality comes through in your book.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, and racial passing actually means to literally self-efface. To remove a face. Again, I try very hard to not try to say what is going on inside Herriman’s head. My goal really was just to tell his story as accurately as possible.

Paul Tumey: In my work on Jack Cole, by the way, I’ve had to resist the temptation to guess at his mental state. As with Herriman, themes of identity are a major part of Jack Cole’s work. He has Plastic Man constantly rearranging his facial features in a blur. It’s a striking visualization of self-effacing. Before Plastic Man, Cole had other characters make this peculiar move, too. It’s fascinating. I think you can suggest a few directions from a careful study of the artist’s work … but it’s treacherous territory. Cole committed suicide, for reasons that almost no one knows — and his comics are filled with shockingly dark material.

And yet, I respect his work too much to try to pin labels on him or depict him as something different than what he actually may have been. One person who know Cole said he was always jovial and happy, like Willard Scott the TV weatherman. The truth is, us hoomins can be pretty danged complex.

Michael Tisserand: For me, I just kept asking myself, “What do I know for sure?”

Paul Tumey: And you wrote 500 pages! So there’s clearly a lot we CAN say about the life of George Herriman and be within the realm of “truth.”

Michael Tisserand: Herriman, like Whitman, contained multitudes. In fact, even at his most reclusive, he’s involved with a Hollywood society group called The Uplifters, he’s welcoming McManus and Swinnerton to his house, and he’s making elaborate gifts for everyone right down to his butcher. He’s also meeting with fans and young cartoonists such as Jack Kent. I should be so reclusive.

Paul Tumey: That’s a good point about the Uplifters. There was a strong artist’s community in Los Angeles at the time that included cartoonists. I have a great photo of a Los Angeles book club that includes, among many actors and celebrities, Gene Ahern, Claire Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins and Walt Disney! Herriman may have lived a quite life in his later years, perhaps limited by some form of arthritis, as you discuss in Krazy, but I suspect he was likely drawn out into the world from time to time. You also found some great information about visitors to his home. I loved the story you found about the boy who wound up at Herriman’s door and he wrote that the “blew” him to a new suit, as he put it in a letter.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, that was one of the Wetherills. I have letters from Herriman about him, and I was actually able to interview him before he died. I love that story about Herriman’s generosity and his closeness to his Arizona family. Everyone I interviewed just loved him.

Paul Tumey: I like that you refrained from imposing too much of your opinions in Krazy. Of course, there’s some measure of one’s bias in a biography, just from the artistic decisions made — but overall the book seems to me to be a great balance between providing some insight into Herriman and “just the facts, ma’am.”

Michael Tisserand: I have my personal preferences about his work. I am excessively fond of “Baron Mooch” and not so much of “Us Husbands.” But I’ve learned that such opinions might change next week or next year, and I want Krazy to last longer than that.

STUMBLE INN by George Herriman (January 7, 1923).

STUMBLE INN by George Herriman (January 7, 1923).

Paul Tumey: How do you find Herriman’s later effort, the baroquely styled color Sunday page, Stumble Inn?

Michael Tisserand: How can one not enjoy Stumble Inn? The whole thing is such a pleasure to look at and read. Every panel looks like a joke.

I love the story that Bud Sagendorf tells of working at King Features and needing a laugh, so going down to the files and reading old Stumble Inn strips. It’s like the quote from Segar that’s in the Boyden interview, in which he says that a scene of Baron Bean turning the corner is worth more than most other comics combined. There was such great appreciation for the visual humor – the sight gags.

Paul Tumey: I see that, too. Stumble Inn is one of my favorites.

Michael Tisserand: King Features’ promotions for Stumble Inn and these other strips seem to acknowledge that Krazy Kat wasn’t a commercial success. I’m not sure why Stumble Inn wasn’t a bigger success. It seems pretty accessible to me, while clearly being a work of Herriman.

Paul Tumey: That bears some more research and thought. It did run for four years — which is a pretty good run for strips of that period — and maybe — because of the workload — it came down to either Krazy Kat or Stumble Inn, in which case, I’m sure Herriman would pick Krazy Kat!

Michael Tisserand: I did find one letter from that time when Herriman was grumbling about his workload, so you might be right.

Paul Tumey: This is an abrupt change in topic, but I wanted to ask if you think Herriman was close to his wife? I remember reading in Krazy that he traveled a lot without her. It made me wonder a few times about their marriage.

Michael Tisserand: George and Mabel’s marriage remains perhaps the biggest mystery. There is much more documentation about his later romance with Louise Scher Swinnerton. The sole letter I found was written by George to the Wetherills after Mabel died. He was planning a surprise party for his daughter, and he wrote that the idea for the party was Mabel’s. He then then added she tells him things sometime. In that line, you can feel his sadness.

Paul Tumey: It seems he as such a private person it’s difficult to know for sure how he felt about his marriage.

Michael Tisserand: But his feelings about Louise Scher Swinnerton were pretty transparent. You can imagine how my heart sank when her grandson told me she had him burn a stack of love letters. But a few wonderful letters did happily survive, and it’s clear he was smitten. If his health had been better, it seems likely they’d have married.

Paul Tumey: From what I know of her, which is very little, that seems like a good match… her bright energy, sense of humor and it seems she really cared for George. Did you get any sense of how Jimmy Swinnerton felt about the mutual interest between his ex-wife and his good friend and colleague?

Michael Tisserand: He seemed fine with it. He joined a gathering at Herriman’s house with McManus, Carl Anderson and Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins. I believe that I heard that Swinnerton was in favor of anything that meant he didn’t have to pay any more alimony. But that qualifies as cartoonist gossip.

I have a copy of a little map that Herriman drew for Louise, of the interior of his house. A “rough idea of the dump,” he said. He drew a bathtub, which he said was unused, and a wash basin, which he said was occasionally used, and a toilet, for which he noted “Wanted: someone to warm it — cold evenings.” Now, that’s romantic.

George Herriman's own sketch of the floor plan of his home. (Courtesy Michael Tisserand)

George Herriman’s own sketch of the floor plan of his home. (Courtesy Michael Tisserand)

Detail from George Herriman's sketch of his home's floor plan in a to Louise Swinnerton.

Detail from George Herriman’s sketch of his home’s floor plan in a letter to Louise Swinnerton. “Can – sometimes occupied — wanted — some one to warm it cold mornings”

Paul Tumey: I noticed that! It was very sweet and really made me feel an emotional connection with Herriman. I know that sounds weird, but it was such an intimate detail.

Do you have other promotional plans for the book? Any readings or lectures scheduled?

Michael Tisserand: I have a presentation titled “Birth of the Krazy” that that uses everything from comics to boxing footage to show how Herriman created Krazy Kat. I’m very excited to debut it in December at Ben Katchor’s Comics and Picture-Story Symposium, and currently scheduling it for colleges and other sites. All book events will be listed on my web site, and there’s also a mailing list, and I’ll send out updates on Krazy-related events and news.

Paul Tumey: Thank you for doing this interview.

Michael Tisserand: Yes. Way better than obsessing over the election.

Paul Tumey: Haha! I need to see a Tad cartoon on the debates for my mental health!

Michael Tisserand: OK but leave time to listen to Chuck Berry today!

Paul Tumey: Spoken like a true historian – I just realized today was Berry’s birthday! George Herriman was one of the best and brightest of his time. I think of George Herriman not just as a great cartoonist, but as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. It’s terrific to have a book like this on him.

Michael Tisserand: If one is going to spend ten years on a single subject, George Herriman is a good one. Letter after letter revealed how much people loved him. How much they were in awe of him. What a deep connection they felt to his work. That shone through my interviews with people who knew him. And that’s how I still feel, too.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/23/16 – Exactly What We Had Feared Would Happen Since Day 1) Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:00:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> mebae0001

Above we see one of the most challenging works of radical literature available in no, fuck it, I’m sorry – this is just sheer self-indulgence leading into the U.S. holiday weekend. It’s a magazine for, like, babies. I went to the Comic Arts Brooklyn show a few weeks back — recorded a podcast about it and everything — and one of the things I bought in the surrounding area, while I was in town, was this: the tinsel-strewn Winter Holiday issue of Mebae, a Shogakukan magazine aimed at little, little kids. Ages 2-4. I’m 35.

I swear, I had a plan.


Mebae is not a manga magazine; it’s a general purpose children’s grab bag, albeit with some occasionally nice art. This, for instance: a story about a misunderstood crocodile illustrated by one Yoko Ozaki with maximum levels of high-def paint texture observable on the page. From the enormous block of text we can quickly ascertain that this is not a magazine to be read by children, but one to be read with them. Unfortunately, I had assumed I would be getting a *very* easy-reading package, rather than something pitched down to toddlers from an (admittedly none-too-strenuous) level of competency.

Basically, I had wanted to read the magazine for babies, as a baby, and thus convince myself that reading was within my skill set.


Oh sure, there’s still some things I can do. Real brain-teaser here. Swear to god, I didn’t peek at the answer!


Here’s Doraemon laying down some natural facts. Lots of valuable characters are present in this package, to prepare your child early for a system of navigating life through the intermediary lens of commercial properties. Crayon Shin-chan is in here. Yo-Kai Watch.


Thomas the Tank Engine, looking gritty as fuck IRL. This is an advertisement for a “Day Out With Thomas” event with the Ōigawa Railway; one of those things where they slap the train characters’ faces on vehicles and haul families around on a journey of wonder. There’s a Thomas and Friends picture story in here too, where you get stickers from a sheet in the front of the magazine and paste them down in the story, but I think an advert will prove the most relevant image. Useful engine he is, Thomas is actually taking us toward the true objective of Mebae.


BUYING SHIT! BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY SOME SHIT, MOM! DAD! Setting aside all the ‘normal’ ads in this magazine — to say nothing of the ubiquity of marketable characters, which in effect transforms everything except the crocodile story into a tacit ad — there is also a 16-page insert toy catalog. I like this spread the best, because the little girl holding the toy frying pan looks completely pissed off and the art department wasn’t going to fuck around with re-shoots, hell no. There’s too much money on the line, too many brands to service.

And I haven’t even gotten to the star of the show.


Anpanman is a pastry-headed sweet red bean superhero created in 1973 for children’s picture books by artist Takashi Yanase. The character has handily outlived its creator, and continues to enjoy high visibility in Japanese media. I bought Mebae for Anpanman. Specifically, for the magazine’s furoku – its special gift. A genuine, fully operational, build-it-yourself Anpanman papercraft gatcha machine. A ‘gumball’ machine in the American parlance. If you glance back up at the cover, it’s right there in the center of the image. Just turn the smiling knob and the whole Anpan crew tumbles out in plastic ball form, one by one.

I think Chris Ware built one of those. I don’t have my ACME Novelty Library back issues in front of me, but I remember reading somewhere that he once built his own gumball machine, and that it ejected little comics for visitors to his home. I’ve never done any of the craft projects that used to occupy so much aesthetic space in ACME; they were real, all of them (I’m told), but they were also metaphors for chasing complicated obsessions in the opposite direction of emotional confrontations with loneliness and mortality. To build these toys was to specifically enter Ware’s headspace, voluntarily surrendering hours of your time inside the skin of his characters, who might season their directions with an offhanded account of the death of their beloved grandparent; to best communicate this detachment, Ware demanded genuine replicative labor of his readers. And if the reader was not adequately skilled, the narrators, “Ware,” would seem all the more purposefully solitary and aloof.


It always asked too much of me; all of those projects were so difficult, when I encountered them as a teenager, that my access to Ware seemed partial. This feeling matched the fearsome and diagrammatic quality of his art, especially in Quimby the Mouse. But Anpanman – him I could handle. I’m 35 years old. This is a magazine for babies. I will build the gatcha machine, and in doing that I will feel I have accessed something of the Japanese information so frequently denied me by the enormity of language. With the eyes of a child, I will have Learned Something.


The final insult came in the instructions for building the machine; not only was Mebae expectant of some learned parental eye on its glossy color pages, but the assembly guide was included not with the magazine proper, but in the pack-in parents’ guide that comes with a lot of these kiddie loot crates, usually a flimsier sub-publication inside the actual magazine through which Mom and (maybe) Dad (but really Mom; gender norms are typically in full force with these mainstream entertainment items) can learn about tasty foods and life health tips and etc. The directions are not actually that difficult to understand, but it’s a pretty complex procedure, building a cardboard operational gumball machine. There’s even a video on the magazine’s homepage if you get really lost. I haven’t yet succeeded.

But you know what? It’s all right.


So determined is Mebae editorial to offer kids hours of occupation for their parents’ 690 yen, there are sub-crafts available that kids can actually do. Above we see a Hello Kitty jewelry box I put together. It technically opens, but the system of tabs rigged together to keep the chest from springing apart is delicate enough that I treat it as a cursed item.


And look at this! An official, VERY BASIC Anpanman holiday diorama. God, it is the saddest fucking thing. I didn’t even learn anything; you just plug the matching bits together and POW. I feel like I’m circling something, though. That I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’m doing something nonetheless. Amassing, in the process, a simulacrum of accomplishment, a little interface with a capitalist world in which friendly marketable characters manifest to cheer me, a little bookshelf community. God, this is the illusion, isn’t it? A cardboard city… but it wasn’t Chris Ware who built that… no– it was…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Seth’s Dominion: SETH! HOLY FUCKING SHIT I DID IT, I SEGUED THAT THING INTO COMICS, HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Whew! Anyway, yeah – this is real. The first-ever DVD release from Drawn and Quarterly (region-free, NTSC), this package not only includes the 2014 National Film Board of Canada documentary from director Luc Chamberland (with a making-of special and various bonus features), but surrounds the disc with two discreet physical supplements on opposite ends of a hardcover book-cum-case. A 40-page glossy section presents photographs from all over Seth’s life, punk period included, while another 40-page block offers samples of his work in comics, illustration, roller derby logos, etc. There’s also a new two-page stamp comic on the topic of the film – and around us, of course, is the cardboard city of Dominion. No word on whether delicious red bean paste is involved; $29.95.


The Complete Peanuts Vol. 26: Comics & Stories: Aw, let’s make it an all-Seth spotlight; one of his signature works as a designer, after all, is the comprehensive decade-plus Fantagraphics effort at collecting the entirety of Charles M. Schulz’s revered newspaper strip… and this, dear reader, is the final volume. Actually, the strip itself ended in vol. 25, so these 344 pages will be occupied by “all of Schulz’s non-strip related Peanuts art: storybooks, comic book stories, single-panel gags, advertising art, book illustrations, photographs, and even a recipe.” Afterword by Jeannie Schulz, wife of Charles; $29.99.


Love in Vain: Robert Johnson, 1911-1938: Whoa, hey – remember King of the Flies, the droll and Burnsian French album series Fantagraphics released two albums from about half a decade ago? The third and concluding installment of that has not yet manifested in translation, but this is a newer (2014) work from the same artist, Pascal “Mezzo” Mesemberg. Now he’s teamed with writer Jean-Michel Dupont for a 72-page study of the titular American blues legend. A Faber & Faber hardcover release, 11.8″ x 7.6″ in landscape format. This is going to look pretty nice; $29.95.

The Palace of Champions: New from Conundrum Press is this 9″ x 14″, 64-page color hardcover from Henriette Valium, a longtime post-underground charger from Quebec, working in a wriggling fury of lines and twisted faces. Translated by Peter Dubé, this edition will also feature an interview with the artist, still elusive (I think) to many English readers; $25.00.

So Buttons: Man of, Like, a Dozen Faces: I often see issues floating around from this long-running slice-of-life autobio series fronted by Jonathan Baylis, who works with a number of notable artists. This 184-page Alternative softcover features appearances by Noah Van Sciver, Fred Hembeck, Victor Kerlow, Sam Spina and others, although from the looks of the contents at the link the most frequent collaborator here is T.J. Kirsch; $20.00.

The Realist Cartoons: Another Fantagraphics reprint project, though a bit more outré than Peanuts. Founded in 1958 by Paul Krassner, The Realist produced 146 issues of satire, criticism and provocation over nearly half a century. You will maybe best remember Wally Wood’s drawing of various copyrighted Disney characters engaging in massed sexual and scatological acts from those pages, but there were many other cartoons from the likes of Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, S. Clay Wilson, Jay Lynch, Nicole Hollander, Jay Kinney and Skip Williamson, among others. An 11″ x 12″, 320-page hardcover compiles these works; $44.99.

Centifolia Vols. 1-2: These books aren’t actually new — the originate from 2008 and 2011, respectively — but it’s been a while since they’ve been around, and I’m sure there’s lasting interest in private sketchbook and illustration work by the well-regarded Stuart Immonen, an artist who steps in and out of mainline genre comics with no small ease. AdHouse publishes both at 128 pages (32 full-color) each, 8″ x 10.75″. Some samples; $19.95 (each).

Valérian and Laureline Vol. 13: On the Frontiers (&) XIII Vol. 21: Return to Green Falls: Two continuing BD translations from Cinebook. I saw the Luc Besson Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets movie trailer the other week; it certainly looks like a whole lot of money got thrown at this thing, although I’m not crazy about either of the scowling leads – I think Cara Delevingne is frowning harder than Louise Bourgoin in Besson’s Adèle Blanc-Sec movie, where it would have been more appropriate. Anyway, On the Frontier is a 1988 album, and the first of the three previously collected in English by iBooks back in ’04, if you’re keeping track. Return to Green Falls is a 2013 installment of the long-running espionage series, created by Jean Van Hamme & William Vance, but now administered by writer Yves Sente and artist Youri Jigounov (with colorist Bérangère Marquebreucq); $15.95 (Valérian), $11.95 (XIII).

Chew #60: I tend to mention a lot of Image first issues in this column, so I feel it’s my responsibility to occasionally make note of a final issue. A high-concept crime series about an FDA agent who receives psychic information from consuming foodstuffs, this popular John Layman/Rob Guillory creation of 2009 stands in retrospect as one of the earlier signals that Image would soon occupy the askew genre comics territory once occupied by Vertigo – and 60 issues does seem like a classic ‘Vertigo’ series length. A double-sized finale; $5.99.

Peanuts Every Sunday Vol. 4: 1966-1970: Oh no no no, Fantagraphics isn’t *actually* done with Peanuts. This week alone sees the release of two gift boxes (vols. 5-6 & vols. 25-26) and a softcover edition of vol. 6 of the main series, but what I’ll highlight here is the latest in the publisher’s side-series of oversized (13.25″ x 9.5″) color hardcover collections of just the Sunday strips, here running to 288 pages; $49.99.

Watchmen Noir: Finally, in case you have some need in your life for a version of Watchmen that strips out all color, leaving only Dave Gibbons’ inks below the balloons and captions, you may now elect just such a consumer option. Probably a more interesting release than the one DC put out last week, but I like my hot yellows and Martian pinks just fine; $39.99.

The little creatures on the front page this week are from Mofy, a line of readily exploitable cross-platform characters created by Aki Kondo and Sony Creative Products Inc. for the purposes of capturing your money as cotton soaks blood. Their positioning on the front cover of Mebae is at the extreme lower left corner. Everything inside the magazine is stated through icons on the cover. As a work of design, it is chaotic, but only in terms of the disorder latent to statements of absolute totality. This is the whole universe, to which you may buy in.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/16/16 – America Destroyed by Design) Tue, 15 Nov 2016 13:00:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> When I was young, the first among my political assumptions was that the shift in governance from one Congress or one executive to another was in effect to glance at the obverse of a heavy and rugged coin; America, regardless of leadership, had a quality of lasting metal that would not bend in terms of what I would see if walking down the street. My life would not change. There would be school, of course, and open shops, and the closed circuit of family and community, upset only by certain death – and death, fundamentally, was an act of God.

My great mistake was in accepting this assumption as an aspect of the American character, rather than an apparition born of the particulars of my birth: class; gender; race.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Not a few months ago, at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, it was my great pleasure to meet La Morris Richmond; he was present for SÕL-CON: The Brown + Black Comix Expo, a suite of events partnered with CXC and run concurrently in the same venues. I’ve written about Richmond’s work before, specifically the 1993 Northstar horror comic Boots of the Oppressor, one of the most potent among b&w indie shock-horror specimens for its detailed attention to the systemic and linguistic dehumanization of black men and women under slavery. It is probably still Richmond’s most visible work, coming half a decade after his comics debut in NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters #4, pencilled by a young Evan Dorkin; a rather gentler style of horror.

Indeed, there were not a few black creators active in the ’90s indie horror comics scene and its adjacent ‘bad girl’ boom of sexy occult divas. The late Steven Hughes springs to mind; he was co-creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, titles most commonly associated with their writer, Brian Pulido. The artist Louis Small Jr. was also prominent, having overseen the revival of Vampirella with writer Kurt Busiek and inker Jim Balent. But Richmond’s works as a writer were much spikier, and far less common – he only published one other short story with Northstar, the almost oneirically scattershot “.12 Gauge Solution” in Splatter Annual #1 (1994, drawn by Rich Longmore), before embarking on a work ostensibly more populist yet pushed even deeper into intensity – scenes from the life of a black separatist superhero.

Barton McGee pencils.

Barton McGee pencils.

Jigaboo Devil #0 was released in 1996 by Millennium Publications, an outfit most readily associated with licensed and literary-driven titles in the pulp and horror vein (Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Doc Savage), though it would eventually release some early works by Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. The comic was advertised as a four-issue miniseries, though only the 32-page #0 seems to have been actually printed at that time; enough art was produced for at least one more issue, and today a 96-page iteration of the story is available digitally or print-on-demand. Three pencillers are present: Barton McGee, an illustrator and caricaturist who doesn’t look to have ever drawn another published comic book again; Andrew Kudelka, a Northstar veteran with some superhero credits who would later work in gaming art; and Jiba Molei Anderson, a debutante artist who, in 1999, would found Griot Enterprises, an indie genre comics outfit that currently handles the book’s publication. The inker was Seitu Heyden, artist of the long-running Peace Corps drama Tales from the Heart, and the letterer was black fanzine and underground comics pioneer Grass Green.

I have dubbed this work a superhero comic, but you could also call it proto-cape pulp hero saga. Early on, we catch a glimpse of a newsstand crammed with comic magazines; it’s 1937, the year before Action Comics #1 introduced Superman and all his accordant popular baggage. The Devil narrates, though we never catch a good look at his face; we know he studied as a young man in the Harlem of the 1920s among W. E. B. Du Bois and Timothy Thomas Fortune and Marcus Garvey, and that he mastered “a unique African fighting method” overseas and forged a mighty opposition to colonialism. But the only face we know to associate with the Devil is one he has chosen: a wax Little Black Sambo mask, paired with a working man’s suit and an enormous curved machete.

“White people look at what you are, and not who you are,” remarks a supporting character, neatly setting out the Devil’s contraction: he dresses as all the most denigrating assumptions American society might have about a black man, and then behaves in a manner demonstrably superior and utterly without mercy. He thinks to usurp, and fights to kill. In the parlance of mid-’90s spandex he would be termed an anti-hero, perhaps akin to a horror character, his blade and suit drenched in blood. But, obviously, the iconography active in his design goes far deeper into comics history, all the way back to the most ‘traditional’ depictions of black people as comedic minstrel figures, an acrid and enduring shorthand. To me, graphically, he seems like Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Ebony White combined into one damning person.

And the mystery he is out to solve is especially grand.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

A few digressions aside, Richmond’s story mostly ping-pongs back and forth in time between 1937 and 1968; between those years, Jay Bee Dee rouses a full-on popular uprising that results in the formation of the Pan African-American Coalition, an independent nation in the northwest of the United States. Revolutionaries, however, do not always make reliable leaders, so that by ’68 a certain Bill Bains — gangster and dope-dealer fortuitously turned founding father of the P.A.A.C. — is now brokering a reunification deal with President Johnson, much to the dismay of a still-living Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is right to be suspicious; Bains is in league with the FBI, which hopes to extinguish the existential threat of black radicalism. Nobody has seen the Devil for decades… and yet, his image lives on among artists, relatives and protestors, to the point where he might be seen as an open-source superhero, sans Guy Fawkes gear or the Time Warner sponsorship.

There are many, many ideas racing around in this comic; far too many for the limited space Richmond & company have at use. We don’t learn very much about the functioning or administration of the P.A.A.C., nor are its practical economic and social effects on the U.S. more than allusive. It suffers, sometimes, from the inexperience of its team; Anderson, the first-timer, has some difficulty distinguishing the ages of various characters, which creates a good deal of confusion when inter-generational revelations are introduced into Richmond’s scenario, already uneasily burdened with communicating the background of his alternate history while trying to adopt the form of a political thriller. Of course, if we’re thinking of the title character as a pulp hero, it’s fair to note that a lot of debut stories and books are uneven and misaligned like this, with future volumes adding background and ‘world-building’ and a sophistication that comes with continued practice.

I don’t need to tell any of you that the American comic book market crashed in the mid-’90s. Even in the best times, a creator-owned title from a small publisher faces all the trials of learning on the job in a crowded market. Not to diminish the skills of a Ta-Nehisi Coates, but to work with an establishment force like Marvel is to avail yourself of particular editorial guidance and the slick aesthetics of expert specialist artists; these benefits were not available here, though Richmond has a not-dissimilar fascination with national leadership and political/familial/historical maneuvering. His conclusions are unsparing.

Barton McGee pencils.

Barton McGee pencils.

To some, JBD may be a concept that is past its time in the post-Obama America…” So muses Anderson, neophyte artist turned publisher, in his introduction to the current edition. “But it is exactly because of this America, where the nomination of an African American dispelled the American lie of racism, yet pulled back the underbelly of the still-seething tension lying just below the surface, where people are being convinced to vote against their best interests in the goal of making this great nation a plutocracy, where there are a greedy few actively working to pacify the masses, to stop critical thought and social progress that we need a JBD.” He frames this in terms of “outrageous discourse” – that which stimulates thought, creativity and action.

I wonder about the fate of such images on the internet; 2016 is different from even a few years ago. In the 1990s, there was power in a black artist confronting audiences with the racist images so common to the popular culture of earlier times, pushing back against the complacency and ahistoric perspectives of the day; think Spike Lee’s millennial Bamboozled. To even state the name of this comic, to ask for it in store, might rightly cause unease among the mass of readers. I don’t know if that’s true anymore, so deeply layered in irony or confrontation the rhetoric of debate has gotten in online discourse. Sneery white boys shouting the name, memes up and down. Though I like to imagine I have put this column together in good faith, and not behaved as a tourist to racialized sensation, I am not so foolish anymore to assume that my participation does not open the door to misuse. And then you think “should I even?”, which is both a good question and also the power the motherfuckers hold over you.

But there is another power residing in this story, in its depiction of a liminal America. To give the Devil his due is to understand that to effect the spirit of justice is to prompt great shifts in social thinking. The Devil as bringing light, and offering the fruits of knowledge. Protest, to him, is destruction, but destruction is only the prelude to reconstruction. He does not mean this in terms of a shift in the Presidency, but in accosting the makeup of the U.S. self-identity to finally ascertain the humanity of persons. All of the heroes in this comic eventually abandon the United States, for new terrain within its old borders. Repressive extremism is normal, which means it can comfortably worsen, and the answer is to push harder, harder still.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Sunny Vol. 6 (of 6): Being the final installment of Taiyō Matsumoto’s wistful drama set among children in an orphanage, inspired by the artist’s own experiences of living in foster group care. Not yet 50, Matsumoto is a master comics visualist, and it is highly unlikely you will encounter a *lovelier* book this week. A 216-page VIZ hardcover. Note that earlier this year Matsumoto released one of those comics French and Japanese cartoonists make in association with the Louvre, so if tradition holds we should be seeing an English publication of that in due time; $22.99.


A Cosplayers Christmas: Following up on the Perfect Collection edition of Cosplayers from earlier this year — which isn’t a joke or a misnomer or anything, Perfect Collections are often aspirational in anticipating several volumes to come — Dash Shaw and Fantagraphics bring a new 24-page color comic book stocked with affectionate (and seasonal) comedy set among young adults who enjoy dressing up as popular or niche culture characters. Alternative comic books are like little Christmases that appear on a slightly more frequent basis; $4.99.


Days of Darkness: Speaking of b&w indie outlets of the 1990s, Caliber Comics is back in business with a library of new and old works, almost half a dozen of which are in stores this week. There’s a revival of the Caliber Presents anthology out there, but I’m going highlight this 184-page compilation of a 1992-93 Apple Comics series (the fruit of Fantagraphics co-founder Michael Catron) from artist Wayne Vansant (of many issues of Marvel’s The ‘Nam). It’s a dramatic look at episodes of struggle from WWII; $19.99.

Twinkle Stars Vol. 1 (&) Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Vol. 1: Two debut manga picks of very different types. Twinkle Stars is a two-in-one (i.e. 384-page) Yen Press release for a 2007-11 romantic shōjo series from Natsuki Takaya, creator of the megahit fantasy series Fruits Basket. This one is in more of a slice-of-life vein. On the other hand, Gundam Thunderbolt pretty much has to have big robots going to war or else the creators will be jailed, right? Don’t make assumptions about the demographic, though – plenty of women enjoy Gundam, this series’ serialization in the adult male environs of Big Comic Superior notwithstanding. It’s a side-story to the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, created by Yasuo Ōtagaki of the space program drama Moonlight Mile. VIZ publishes at 248 pages in hardcover; $20.00 (Twinkle), $14.99 (Gundam).

Revolution: G.I. Joe #1: Not actually Japanese here, but traveling in a very manga-informed direction due to artist Giannis Milonogiannis (recently of Image’s Prophet), working with colorist Lovern Kindzierski. The writer is Aubrey Sitterson, whose played various roles in the comics industry, though I know him mainly as the fellow who writes the English localized text for the Yo-Kai Watch manga, just to close the circle here on valuable toy-related properties. An IDW release. Preview; $3.99.

Judge Dredd: The Daily Dredds Vol. 2 (&) Mega-City Undercover Vol. 3: A pair of UK import items from Rebellion, home of 2000 AD. The Daily Dredds did not appear in that weekly forum, however, running instead in the Daily Star (here from 1986-89) for readers who needed that extra touch of authoritarianism to get through their day. Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant, with art by Ian Gibson, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson & Steve Dillon, so these had authentic thrill-merchants involved. Mega-City Undercover presents crime stories from the periphery of the Judge Dredd universe, 2011-12, written in turns by Rob Williams and Andy Diggle, with art (respectively) by D’Israeli and Ben Willsher; $38.99 (Daily), $18.99 (Undercover).

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 10: Planet of Faceless Foes (&) The Don Rosa Library Vol. 6: The Universal Solvent: Disney antics via Fantagraphics, from differing points in history. Planet of Faceless Foes is fronted as always by the great Floyd Gottfredson, taking his crew deeper into the midcentury with newspaper strips. The Universal Solvent collects Duck comics from 1995, authored by the most beloved of their latter-day talents; $35.00 (Mickey), $29.99 (Rosa).

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers Vol. 12 (&) Moomin and Family Life: Two completely different releases paired for absolutely no reason other than they are continuing projects which may interest some of you. Ôoku is the continuing Fumi Yoshinaga josei fantasy of a matriarchal feudal Japan, sitting a comfortable one volume behind the Japanese releases. From VIZ. Moomin and Family Life is a 40-page color version of a storyline from Tove Jansson’s newspaper strip of gentle satire among soft beasts. From Drawn and Quarterly;

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 1: Outrageous But Real!: This is the new Craig Yoe project from IDW, tackling the probably-fertile ground of oddball Golden Age superhero comics. I do not envy any collection going head to head with the 2009 Greg Sadowski collection Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, the absolute gold standard for this sort of thing, but there’s probably room enough for another 328 pages. A second volume is already planned for next year; $39.99.

Watchmen Collector’s Edition Box Set: Finally, in case you have some need in your life for a version of Watchmen that formats each of its 12 component issues into 7.6″ x 11.6″ hardcover books which are then put into a box, you may now elect just such a consumer option. Hey, did you know next year is the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Steve Ditko’s The Question? DC should totally celebrate by collecting all of the Charlton Hero Ditkos into accessibly-priced volumes with prudent coloring. I dunno, call it “Before Before Watchmen”, whatever you cats want; $125.00.

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A “Konversation” with George Herriman’s Biographer, Michael Tisserand (Part One) Mon, 14 Nov 2016 13:00:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]>  

Michael Tisserand in Krazy Kat territory

Michael Tisserand in Krazy Kat territory (Photo credit: Cecilia Tisserand)

“Herriman was talking about race and identity — as profoundly as anyone has, in my opinion — but I never see that as his big “Topic.” It was just part of his world, and the world he created, even if others were slow to recognize it.”

-Michael Tisserand

The first time I saw Michael Tisserand, he was walking up my doorstep, holding what appeared to be a red brick by his head, almost — but not quite–  in a throwing pose. Turns out the red brick was the recently released Library of American Comics collection of Krazy Kat dailies for which he wrote the introduction, and it was a gift (aren’t all bricks gifts in Herriman’s world?).

In early December 2016, HarperCollins will release Tisserand’s long-awaited book, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. The book, over 500 pages in length, offers the first detailed biography of the man many regard as the greatest cartoonist of the twentieth century. Chris Ware has spoken highly of the book, observing: “Michael Tisserand’s Krazy draws back the curtain on the one [Herriman] who’s been with us all along.” The book has drawn an early favorable review from Kirkus which states, in part: “Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.”

One of the many pieces of presentation art George Herriman created for his friends, the Wetherills, who ran a lodge in Kayenta, Arizona that he loved to visit. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

One of the many pieces of presentation art George Herriman created for his friends, the Wetherills, who ran a lodge in Kayenta, Arizona he loved to visit. (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, Abrams ComicArts, 2011)

Michael Tisserand currently lives and works as a professional writer and amateur chess coach in New Orleans, George Herriman’s birthplace. His books include the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning The Kingdom of Zydeco, originally published in 1998 and reissued in November 2016 from Arcade and 2007’s post-Katrina story Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember (Harvest). He has also contributed an essay on George Herriman to Krazy Kat, A Celebration of Sundays (Sunday Press, 2010). He also wrote the introductory essay for LOAC Essentials Presents King Features Volume 1: Krazy Kat 1934 (IDW Library of American Comics, 2016).

Michael encouraged a peer-to-peer exchange that led us away from a question-and-answer routine into a freewheeling two-way discussion, hence the “konversation” format. I’ve had the occasion to visit and work with Michael in Seattle. In my home, he spotted a recently released biography of Warren Zevon I was reading and asked me, “You like Zevon?” When I said yes, he told me about how he and Zevon were part of the same circle of people in Louisiana. Visiting with Michael is like that. You never know where the “konversation” will go, but it’s guaranteed to be surprising and interesting. Tisserand is a man of many stories, and he gets around. Whether it’s driving across country to hand deliver an advance copy of his new book to George Herriman’s granddaughter, or jumping on a plane to capture an interview with a newly located cartoonist from long-ago (see his Comics Journal piece “Pete, the Rookie” here), Tisserand is a man on a mission.

Part one of this long interview explores the genesis and methodology of Tisserand’s book, his background, and George Herriman’s early years. Part two of this interview will traverse Herriman’s middle and later years.

This interview was conducted in a series of sessions in October, 2016. When Michael Tisserand and I first sat down to talk, the American presidential campaigns were in full swing.


Paul Tumey: Thanks for doing this.

Michael Tisserand: Are you kidding? Been looking forward to this all week. Watching two hours of campaign news last night, all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to talking comics with Paul.

Paul Tumey: Me too, brother, me too. Okay, here we go. You are a professional writer and journalist living and working out of New Orleans, Louisiana. You’ve written acclaimed books on zydeco music and the aftermath of Katrina. You’ve told me you spent about eight years writing Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. What led you to the Enchanted Mesa and the world of George Herriman?

Michael Tisserand: I actually went back and looked at my emails and it was ten years! I was originally dating back to my first trip to Monument Valley, to the Wetherills’ gravesite in Kayenta, and to my meeting with the Wetherills’ grandson and seeing Herriman’s entries in their old lodge book. That’s when I realized my work was truly underway.

George Herriman lodge book drawing Courtesy of Michael Tisserand

Rare George Herriman drawing from the Wetherill’s lodge books. (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

Paul Tumey: What first put the idea in your mind to write a book on Herriman?

Michael Tisserand: I had started research when I was editor of Gambit Weekly, the alternative newsweekly in New Orleans. Although it was understood that Herriman was a New Orleans native, the details were murky. I wanted to know more. But all I’d done there was order a complete set of Inks on eBay. My last act upon leaving the office before Katrina was to move that stack to the desk, where it thankfully stayed dry.

Paul Tumey: For those that don’t know, Inks is the Journal for the Comics Studies Society, recently revived after a long hiatus.

Michael Tisserand: Yes. A great journal. I had that first set of Inks, but that was about it. The year after Katrina, I was living in Chicago, and I was able to see the Masters of American Comics exhibit when it stopped in Milwaukee. I remember was carrying my son around the Herriman room, reading the comics to him, and laughing with him at the sight of the thumb of conscience pressing down on Krazy Kat. That’s also when I realized the best way to read Krazy Kat is out loud. Anyway, I’d just finished my second book, Sugarcane Academy, and when returned home that day I told my agent I wanted to write Herriman’s biography.

Paul Tumey: I love the parts in Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White where you describe the cartoons Herriman and others drew in the Wetherhill’s lodge book. We can talk more about that later on. Was the Gambit piece on Herriman ever completed and published?

Michael Tisserand: It was not! And I made off with the Inks magazines, too!

Paul Tumey: Did you cover any other comics guys in Gambit?

Michael Tisserand: One of my favorite things about editing Gambit was being able to bring more comics into the paper. I commissioned Harvey Pekar to write musician biographies that featured art by Joe Sacco and Frank Stack, among others, and I was always shaking my head about actually getting to work with these legends. And I was able to commission work by local cartoonists whose work I loved, such as Bunny Matthews  and the late Greg Peters.

Paul Tumey: Kid Ory, Lonnie Johnson, Clifton Chenier… wonderful work by Pekar and the various artists. Pekar ran them in some of his collections. You know, I’ve read some of Pekar’s text jazz articles – they are very dense and scholarly – not at all like his comics writing, except for a sort of OCD aspect. I love “Splendiferous,” the two-page comic you wrote and Rhett Thiel drew about working with and knowing Harvey Pekar. How much did you know about comics coming into your Herriman biography?

Michael Tisserand wrote this Pekar-style two page comic, drawn by Rhett Thiel, about his Gambit Weekly experiences working with Pekar.

Michael Tisserand wrote this Pekar-style two page comic, drawn by Rhett Thiel, about his Gambit Weekly experiences working with Pekar. (Courtesy Micheal Tisserand)

krazyMichael Tisserand: Harvey liked that comic too, happily. It was and is my only attempt at writing a comic, and before starting researching Herriman, I’d never written seriously about comics, either. I’ve read and loved comics since I was a kid, however. I used to beg my mom to let me spend the day by myself at the Willard Library in downtown Evansville, Indiana. There I discovered the wonders of the 741.5 section, which I can still remember being on the bottom shelves in a back corner of the main room of this old creaky library. I would just sit on the floor there and go through all the books I could find.

Paul Tumey: 741.5 has always been a magical number for me too.

Michael Tisserand: 741.5 was amazing! I found the old comics anthologies by Bill Blackbeard and others. There was simply nothing else like old Katzenjammer Kids or Dick Tracy comics. Then when I went through all of those, a librarian showed me how to read old newspapers on microfilm, and I zoomed through the news pages to the funnies. I wasn’t, however, drawn to animal comics. I liked stories about people, and any allegories were lost on me. For the most part, I just became obsessed with Peanuts, and with Charlie Brown.

Paul Tumey: Schulz is a good place to be obsessed, I think. Peanuts can lead you to the rest, like a gateway drug. Sort of like discovering older American music forms by starting with an obsession with Bob Dylan. The great artists seem to lead one backwards in the lineage.

Michael Tisserand: Right! And as with Dylan and folk or the blues, discovering the old comics also make you appreciate all the more how Schulz was building on the tradition.

Paul Tumey: Speaking of Peanuts, I wanted to ask if David Michaelis’ lengthy 2008 biography, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, was an inspiration or model for Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White?

Michael Tisserand: I certainly hoped to make something as readable as Michaelis’ book. The masterful integration of comics in Michaelis’ narrative was definitely a model, though I quickly realized I couldn’t even run a daily strip across a page of the Herriman biography and have it be an enjoyable experience to read.

Paul Tumey: Peanuts works well reduced in size. It was part of the strip’s success, launching when newspapers were allotting less and less space for daily comic strips and still one hundred percent readable in smaller versions. In many cases, American newspaper comic strips created prior to the 1940s and 50s don’t lend themselves well to size reductions. I’d imagine shrinking Krazy Kat panels from the 1930s would turn Herriman’s sumptuous, dense pen work into black blobs.

Michael Tisserand: They do. I found that out the hard way. The major difference from Michaelis’ book, of course, is that Michaelis could base much of his work on extensive interviews that he conducted himself, which was how I was used to working, as well. I’m not a trained historian, so I had to teach myself how to construct a narrative largely based on letters, newspaper articles, and official records like census reports and city directories. The problem I didn’t have, however, was contending with personal narratives that might reflect different experiences, which as The Comics Journal covered, was a major challenge that Michaelis faced.


Paul Tumey: That leads me to my next question. For almost a hundred years, people have been writing about the life and work of George Herriman. Gilbert Seldes sang his praises in 1924. In 1986, Patrick McDonnell and Karen O’Connell published Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. This has been regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In addition, there’s been a library’s worth of introductory essays to the various reprint volumes of Herriman’s work published over the years by Bill Blackbeard, Richard Marschall and others. One would think all the stories were told, and the subject was exhausted. And yet, in 2016, you’ve given us something new and, I think, quite magical: a 560-page, detailed biography of Herriman. Can you talk a little more about the research methods you used to deepen and broaden Herriman’s story? How did you dig all this stuff up, man?

Michael Tisserand: Patrick and Karen’s work was certainly a foundation. Their writing about Herriman is beautiful and timeless, as is Gilbert Seldes’, actually. But of course none of these writers had the Internet to make it possible to do a more exhaustive search.

But I started there. Patrick and Karen very generously shared all their original research with me, as did many others. When I started out, I was concerned that the comics scholarship community would be suspicious of an interloper, but it was just the opposite. The generosity has been overwhelming.

Paul Tumey: So you built on the work of others?

Michael Tisserand: Yes, exactly. Rick Marschall invited me to his house and beneath a painting by Rudolph Dirks, answered question after question about early newspapers and syndications. I had a most wonderful day with Bill Blackbeard. Tom Inge had once pursued a biography of Herriman and shared with me the letters and other information he’d received, which then led me to contacting Russell Myers, who shared a recorded interview he’d conducted with Bud Sagendorf that focused just on Herriman. Jeet Heer took me under his wing and provided copies of his copious files, and engaged in conversation after conversation about Krazy Kat. Same with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. Brian Walker, who co-curated the show that sparked this book, opened up his archives and even invited me to lunch with his father, Mort Walker, and Jerry Dumas. One of my happier afternoons of research!

And there were so many more. I learned the extent to which cartoonists are scholars of their art. Not only do they possess the knowledge, but in many cases, they own the historical treasures such as old letters and inscribed pieces of art that are necessary for telling the story.

Author and historian Rick Marschall was the first to reprint full color collections of Krazy Kat Sundays.

Author and historian Rick Marschall published the first American books reprinting full color collections of Krazy Kat Sundays in 1990.

Paul Tumey: All of those people are awesome to have in your corner, that’s for sure. There is such a generosity and kindness in the comics community. The Internet has been a game changer for cultural history, and certainly in comics history work – it’s brought us all closer. On the other hand, there are so many leads to follow!

Michael Tisserand: It can certainly seem endless at times. One of my writing gurus was the late alt-weekly editor and New York Times writer David Carr, and he instructed reporters to “avail themselves of all available knowledge” before writing about a topic. Which I did, to the best of my ability. Which also helps explain the ten years.

Paul Tumey: Your book reaps the benefits from that investment of time. It’s loaded with interesting details about Herriman’s work, life and times — and that really makes it all come alive for the reader. It’s very satisfying. The archives and resources now available on the Internet open up lots of unprecedented opportunities that scholars didn’t have before – but with that access comes a significant lengthening of the development cycle for these projects, I think. There’s a lot more paths to explore, and that takes time. But it can lead to some marvelous new discoveries. Can you give an example of a trail you followed that led to a cool new discovery?

Michael Tisserand: Just for one example, using the network of generous cartoonists, scholars, collectors, as well as academic and auction house archives, I made a list of all gifts of comics and comic art that Herriman had given people over the years. Then I conducted searches on the names of all the recipients. This is how I found Boyden Sparkes’ interviews with Herriman and other cartoonists, which are archived at Syracuse University, and helped me tell the story of Herriman’s early newspaper years in New York, as well as his life in the late 1930s when he was visited by Sparkes.

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, Abrams ComicArts, 2011)

Paul Tumey: The Boydon Sparkes interviews is an exciting find. But, I know you didn’t just sit at a computer. You actually traveled all around to explore obscure archives and meet various people. In the back of the book there’s a list of people you interviewed. I know you connected in particular with Herriman’s granddaughter, Dee Cox.

Dee Cox, George Herriman's granddaughter holds a hand-delivered advance review copy of Tisserand's book.

Dee Cox, George Herriman’s granddaughter holds a hand-delivered advance review copy of Tisserand’s book. (Photo by, and courtesy of, Micheal Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: My first call was to Dee Cox, for obvious reasons. At that point I didn’t know her at all, and didn’t know how she felt about discussing her family background, and all the new information about the family’s life in Creole New Orleans that I was uncovering. I called her and asked if we could talk about her grandfather, and her immediate response was, “My favorite subject!” She’s an artist herself and — like her grandfather — a very well read individual. She’s been immeasurably helpful and getting to know her has been a real highlight.

Paul Tumey: I have to ask: did Dee Cox happen to have a cache of previously unseen material and art of her grandfather’s? I would think there could be letters or diaries, even. The mind reels!

Michael Tisserand: No, and Patrick and Karen had met her long before I did. But she shared what she had, and of course, her personal memories were most precious.

I recently attended a talk by the writer Erik Larson, in which he described his process of determining whether or not there is enough material on a topic to merit a book. It’s probably good that I didn’t attend that talk before I started this research, because I would have had to admit that the material was pretty scarce. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to find a single rich trove of material. Dee Cox wasn’t going to open a closet to reveal a stack of Herriman diaries.

Paul Tumey: Oh, well.

Michael Tisserand: That’s when I realized I would have to patch this book together from lots of little bits and pieces. Which meant travel, in addition to lots of time spooling out the microfilm. But it was George Herriman. One can’t mess around when trying to tell the story of George Herriman. I felt a deep sense of responsibility. So our family vacations centered around Arizona for a few years, and I found a way to get to New York and California to seek out City Hall records, and I had a lot of help from people willing to show me how to access these records.

Paul Tumey: Yes — I know exactly what you mean – and I appreciate the level of commitment a project like this requires. Bill Schelly, Harvey Kurtzman’s biographer, told me he stepped up his exercise and took vitamins and supplements to make sure he was as smart as he could be while he wrote Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America.

Michael Tisserand: Didn’t think of that! I just drank more coffee.

Paul Tumey: Bill Schelly clearly felt the same deep sense of responsibility as you. I’ve been working on a biography of Jack Cole now for a while. As far as I know, Cole didn’t give an interview and there really isn’t much available about him. I think, in the case of a lot of these early 20th century cartoonists, you really have to dig deep and find lots of bits and pieces and be very clever to weave together a solid narrative. What you’ve managed to do in restoring Herriman’s story is kind of like an art specialist taking a dull, darkened hundred-year old canvas and using their techniques to reveal a great painting underneath. From reading Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, I know you managed to find and speak with some people who actually knew George Herriman. I think that adds a lot to the narrative.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, Herriman died in 1944, so I was delighted – amazed, actually — to find so many people who actually spent time with him! Most of these came from Harvey Leake, who is the family historian for the Wetherills, Herriman’s friends in Arizona. For example, Herriman signed a page of the guest registry with a note about the Roach family, and he drew and named three little cockroaches.

Paul Tumey: Ha!

Michael Tisserand: I found out that two of those cockroaches were the nieces of movie producer Hal Roach, and they had traveled with their father, Jack Roach, and Herriman, to Arizona. And that both women were still alive and healthy and filled with warm memories of their time with the man they knew as “Uncle George.”

George Herriman in 1902 (from The Bookman)

George Herriman in 1902 (from The Bookman, Courtesy Robert Beerbohm)

Paul Tumey: When I was reading the first chapters of your book, I was struck by how far back in time you had to go to tell Herriman’s story. Usually, biographers start with the parents of their subject – or, in some cases, the grandparents. But, you go back to the winter of 1816 and begin with Herriman’s great-grandfather. Why was it necessary to begin the story of the cartoonist George Joseph Herriman, born in 1880, so far back in time?

Michael Tisserand: I knew I was taking a chance. Certainly few people can pull that off the way Robert Caro did, when he started his multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson with descriptions of the soil and grass of Texas. I was fascinated by Herriman’s family story, but I asked myself repeatedly if general readers would share that fascination. Then when I dug into the records and found riots and seances and Jelly Roll Morton and all the rest, I knew I had to tell it. I found that understanding that family history also helped me better understand one of the central themes of Herriman’s life: his race, what it means, what it might have meant to him, what it means to his comics, and what it means to us.

Paul Tumey: Having that perspective from reading your biography on Herriman’s life massively expanded my understanding and appreciation of his work. I have to admit, I was a bit daunted at first when I realized there was a chunk of early family history to read before our man comes onto the scene. But you know what? After a page or two of pouty grumbling, I was totally captivated – the stories are great, and you did a nice job of telling them. And later, I realized how valuable that perspective is – it’s the foundation for understanding the deepest levels of Herriman’s work.

Michael Tisserand: When I learned more about his family, I understood a bit more not just the pressures he must have felt in passing for white, but also the strange, unsettling feeling it must have been to identify with a group of people historically known as Free People of Color, or Mulatto, or Creoles … a group that constantly was seeing its very identity being changed legally and linguistically and culturally. And then for Herriman to work in a genre so deeply influenced by the masks of minstrelsy! When I read a classic Krazy Kat line such as “lenguage is that we may mis-unda-stend each udda,” it seems pretty clear that Herriman had a deep understanding of what we now consider to be modern notions of the slipperiness of language and a sort of permeability of identity.

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Undated photo of George Herriman (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration” by Craig Yoe — 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Paul Tumey: Once you become aware of this overarching theme in Herriman’s life, it seems to be the Rosetta Stone for what’s informing and driving Krazy Kat, and some of Herriman’s other work.

MUSICAL MOSE by George Herriman. Originally published February 23, 1902.

MUSICAL MOSE by George Herriman. Originally published February 23, 1902. (Courtesy of Allan Holz, Stripper’s Guide blog)

Michael Tisserand: Of all of Herriman’s short-lived early strips, Musical Mose gets the most attention, because it offers such a brutal view of race and racial passing. It’s about a black man trying to make a living as a musician by impersonating other ethnicities. Compared to Jimmy Swinnerton’s Sam comics, which I love as much as I know you do, and which also uses a black protagonist to mock hypocrisy and absurd social behavior, there’s not much laughter in Mose. It’s not hard to see how Herriman couldn’t sustain the storyline past a few episodes. Years later he’ll recast some of the Mose scenes with Krazy Kat and Ignatz.

Jimmy Swinnerton's SAM comic strip

Jimmy Swinnerton’s SAM comic strip — April 5, 1905 (courtesy Paul Tumey)

Paul Tumey: I think the identity theme particularly looms large in The Family Upstairs, later called The Dingbat Family. The main characters, and the reader by default, are always trying to learn the identity of the mysterious family that lives upstairs. It’s never revealed, which gives the whole thing an existential, Waiting For Godot aspect. I always saw The Family Upstairs as a sort of metaphor for the comedy and misadventure inherent in an obsessive search for God, although the strip itself is pure screwball, and blessedly so!

Michael Tisserand: Krazy Kat gets compared to Waiting For Godot, but I had never read The Family Upstairs that way! I think it’s a great way to approach it. Herriman would later dismiss it as just another failed strip of his, but I laugh out loud at The Family Upstairs probably more than any other Herriman strip, except maybe Baron Mooch. The parade of characters going up and down the stairs, and in out of that upstairs doorway, is endlessly entertaining. He throws so much into those scenes. It’s another example of Herriman playing variations on a theme. But you’re right, there’s a great mystery of identity at the center of it. Plus, throughout his life, Herriman was living in places where African-Americans weren’t allowed to own or rent property. Now you’re making me go back and re-read The Family Upstairs, so thank you.

Original art for THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS (courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Original art for THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS (courtesy Heritage Auctions). Note the hidden characters of the family next door, and the early use of the name “Ignatz.”

Paul Tumey: One of more poignant moments in the story you tell is when you point out that, if Herriman was legally classified as an African American, he would not have been allowed to own the homes he bought. Am I getting that right?

Michael Tisserand: Absolutely. I’ve seen the racial covenant that was attached even to his beloved home in the Hollywood Hills. It’s sobering to read.

But I don’t want to leave The Family Upstairs yet. What other comic strips had central characters who remained offstage? Miss Othmar and the Little Red Haired Girl come to mind.

Paul Tumey: There’s Monte Crews’ totally unknown 1922 screwball daily comic strip called The Mysterious Family Next Door, which I have often thought was probably inspired by Herriman’s strip. Some of the characters wear outfits that vaguely look like KKK sheets — even the dog! My favorite example of a hidden character is the series Rube Goldberg did for Collier’s Magazine from 1929-1931 called The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgazola Butts, A.K. The star of that comic series is never once shown!

THE MYSTERIOUS FAMILY by Monte Crews lasted barley a year, and had a similar approach to Herriman's THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS.

THE MYSTERIOUS FAMILY NEXT DOOR by Monte Crews lasted barely a year, and had a similar approach to Herriman’s THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS. (June 26, 1922)

Michael Tisserand: In The Family Upstairs, the invention of the upstairs neighbor brings the strip to life for me. I laugh the hardest at the Dingbats when they’re battling the family. Otherwise, the strip is pretty similar to Herriman’s other domestic strips, such as Mary’s Home From College. Which I love also, but not like when they’re battling the neighbors.

I also love how the storylines sort of ping pong back and forth between the Dingbats’ adventures and the Krazy Kat comics then running below that strip.

Paul Tumey: A bit like breaking the color line…

Michael Tisserand: Right. Or the horizon line. Or any line. And in those early Krazy Kat comics, Herriman sometimes dealt quite explicitly with racial themes, even when it was more obscured in his “human” strip.


Paul Tumey: In your reading of Krazy Kat, did you see many examples of Herriman’s “hidden” commentaries on — what could one call it? — society’s racial intolerance? This might be a good place to ask if you might talk for a moment about the connection you make in the book between the great heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson and the evolution of Krazy Kat.

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s father and grandfather were very politically involved in New Orleans, and it seems as if Herriman’s father was at least somewhat involved in his union in Los Angeles. But Herriman actually seems disengaged politically. I don’t even see evidence of him registering to vote, as opposed to other members of his family. And in his political cartoons, while they’re wondrously drawn and filled with great little jokes, he rarely seems to sustain outrage the way that someone like Thomas Nast or Frederick Opper does. With one great exception: Herriman’s cartoons about the boxing color line.

Paul Tumey: Could it be the issue of black boxers not being allowed to fight white men was such a heated controversy at the time that it served as a sort of lightning rod for public debate, especially in newspaper sports cartoons? Perhaps it emboldened Herriman to be more forthright. Or perhaps it was even expected by his editors?

George Herriman sport cartoon depicting heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson

George Herriman sport cartoon depicting heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson — March 10, 1907

Michael Tisserand: There was such raw hatred in the press toward the notion of white boxers being challenged, and of course defeated, by blacks. Jack London’s journalism is staggeringly ugly. But the Hearst men saw it differently. Tad Dorgan was a lifelong supporter and friend of Johnson’s. Plus, they loved boxing, and they recognized that the white boxers they said formed the “Lily White Club” were hurting the sport by denying fans of the best matches. The Hearst men ruthlessly mocked these boxers.

Paul Tumey: In addition to Dorgan, Rube Goldberg came out in support of Johnson against Jeffries, and seemed to greatly admire him, even though some of his sports cartoons are jaw-droppingly racist. But how did Krazy Kat emerge from this whipped-up maelstrom of conflict and social change?

George Herriman sports cartoon -- March 19, 1910

George Herriman sports cartoon — March 19, 1910 (from Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White)

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s sports cartoons were different than the rest. Unlike Dorgan, he rarely used his cartoons to explicate or even demonstrate much knowledge of the sport. Instead, he went for gags and grand, classical themes. He used metaphor after metaphor to illustrate the boxing color line, then finally settled on cats, starting with cartoons about the black Canadian boxer Sam Langford.

When the much-hyped “Fight of the Century” was finally getting underway in Reno on July 4, 1910, the other cartoonists were sent to Reno, and Herriman was summoned to New York to sort of report on the home front. He began drawing incredible cartoons that specifically examined the hypocrisy of white boxing fans. In one, a child that is taught that the imaginary line around the world is no longer the equator, but the race line. And in my favorite, a man sells “transformation glasses” to turn the whites to black and the blacks to white. Or, as Krazy Kat and Ignatz would later call it in that great comic in which they trade colors to try to fool a beret-topped egghead art critic, it was another study in black and white.

Detail from Herriman's July 13, 1910 sports cartoon that shows the astonishing "transformation glasses" concept that Michael Tisserand speaks and writes about. A chapter in his book, KRAZY, is entitled "Transformation Glasses"

Detail from Herriman’s July 13, 1910 sports cartoon that shows the astonishing “transformation glasses” concept that Michael Tisserand speaks and writes about. A chapter in his book, KRAZY, is entitled “Transformation Glasses”

Paul Tumey: Wow — that is a great example of how restoring cultural and historical context adds so much depth and power to a comic.

Michael Tisserand: The fight in Reno was on July 4. Twenty-two days later, on July 26, Ignatz first beaned Krazy, who was now beginning to resemble Herriman’s caricatures of black boxers. As is often the case with Herriman, I don’t see this as a direct commentary, but as another example where he’s throwing in all this material and letting us sort it out. It’s like Herriman’s finding a side door into this conversation, and inviting us in.

Paul Tumey: A side door, yes. That seems to be Herriman’s way. He was private man with a very public job.

Michael Tisserand: When I reeled through page after page of Los Angeles Examiners and New York Evening Journals, I realized how much is lost when we read these comics in anthologies. God bless the anthologies, of course, but reading the comics as they respond to the news stories and sports stories, and to each other, returns them to history yet also frees them, bringing jokes to life that had been sort of dormant.

There was, for example, a series of stories in the New York newspapers in September 1910 about wealthy people acting loony, followed by cartoons that turned on the word “loony,” including a Krazy Kat in which a white cat utters “Loony Kat” after a courtship scene.

Paul Tumey: There’s a kind of “code” aspect to Krazy Kat that I think your book helps restore. As I read the first half, I kept thinking about the Uncle Remus Br’er Rabbit stories that tell stories of oppressed black slaves in disguise, as funny animal stories.

Michael Tisserand: There are Creole French versions of those Uncle Remus tales that were collected on the Laura Plantation, outside of New Orleans, right before Herriman’s birth, and it’s certainly fun to speculate that Herriman heard some of these as a child. Plus, Herriman’s first weekday strip was the four-panel Maybe You Don’t Believe It, from 1901, in which he reworked Aesop’s fables and gave them happy endings. It only lasted for five episodes but it provides an early glimpse of the world that would become Coconino County. And he was all of 21 years old.

Paul Tumey: So maybe one way to understand Krazy Kat and some of Herriman’s other work with animal strips is to see it as a sort of comic reversal on popular folklore of his day.

Michael Tisserand: There’s an amazing conversation relayed by Robert Naylor, who helped Herriman with Embarrassing Moments. Naylor said he once asked Herriman why he “reversed natural phenomena” — put on the transformation glasses, perhaps — with a mouse attacking a cat while being thwarted by a dog. Naylor reported that Herriman said that life is so absurd, he simply draws what he sees. As Naylor tells it, Herriman considered the whole thing — and here I think he meant life itself, and this maybe gets pretty close to describing Herriman’s philosophical and spiritual conclusions — sort of a wry joke. It’s as if somewhere from his boxing cartoons to the later iterations of Krazy Kat, Herriman found a way to laugh at it all.

Paul Tumey: And to use the alchemy of comics to transform some of life’s pain into entertainment, and, I think, art.

Michael Tisserand: Yes! Stanley Crouch wrote about this eloquently in his essay “The Blues for Krazy Kat” in the Masters of American Comics catalogue. Herriman was talking about race and identity — as profoundly as anyone has, in my opinion — but I never see that as his big “Topic.” It was just part of his world, and the world he created, even if others were slow to recognize it.

Paul Tumey: There is so much in Krazy Kat — a work that, as far as I can tell, Herriman added to every single day of his life for over thirty years. It’s Shakespeare, Dickens and Schulzian in that it’s a vast universe to explore…

Michael Tisserand: And Cervantes, whom Herriman read as a schoolboy. And other writers who I didn’t know about at all until I Googled some odd phrase from Krazy Kat. Over the past ten years, I learned to accept that Herriman would always stay ahead of my research. In fact, one night I actually dreamed that I was talking to Herriman, and I told him that I had discovered his birthday, and he just laughed at me.

Paul Tumey: Yes, Cervantes! Obsessive personalities are a running theme in screwball comics of the time. It was a basic formula — a character like Ed Carey’s Professor Hypnotizer was obsessed with charming people, and of course, it always backfired. Herriman’s Major Ozone was very typical of the period, for example.

Michael Tisserand: Major Ozone also reflected news accounts of health nuts that were running around New York during this time. But there is also this lovely self-delusion in Ozone that seems to be carrying an influence from Cervantes.

George Herriman's obsessive Major Ozone

George Herriman’s obsessive Major Ozone

Tad Dorgan said that Dickens was Herriman’s favorite writer, but Don Quixote seems to me to be galloping across his work as much as anyone else — certainly with Major Ozone, but also with Baron Bean, and all the holy obsessions that fuel Krazy Kat.

End part one. The “konversation” will continue in Part Two.

A short video Michael Tisserand made about his book, featuring previously unseen home movie footage of George Herriman:

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Not Just Another Comics Festival Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Just think of it: a comic-con without movie or television stars. No Hollywood. No gaming. No cosplay. And no superheroes to speak of. What kind of a comic-con is that? Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) is another of a rare breed— a comics festival for people who love comics and the art of cartooning. And it’s all free. No charge. Just come to Columbus, Ohio.

For four days in Columbus, October 13-16, the CXC organizers’ “mission was to make Columbus the cartooning capital of the world,” said Tom Spurgeon, Festival Director, in an interview with Tim Hodler on this site in early October.

Spurgeon was picked for the job after the first “soft launch” of CXC last year. CXC needed a manager. As editor of this magazine from 1994 to 1999, he knew a lot of people in the field, and his connections were valuable. One of the CXC founders, Jeff Smith, was among the first cartoonists Spurgeon interviewed after arriving at TCJ and Smith reached out to Spurgeon, who moved to Columbus from his hideout in New Mexico where he produced The Comics Reporter.

“Festival director,” Spurgeon told Hodler, “means I’m primarily responsible for the logistics of it, the making it happen of it. That’s both in just making sure stuff gets set up but also that we’re executing according to our goals and ideals.”

Why Columbus?

Because the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum on the campus of the Ohio State University is in Columbus. The Billy Ireland houses the world’s largest collection of original cartoon art and related books, magazines, and newspaper clippings, and the Billy Ireland actively promotes interest and scholarship in the arts of cartooning, staging numerous exhibitions and seminars throughout the year.

Other special comics events through the year include the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) and the Independent Comics Fair.

Falling in line, the Columbus College of Art and Design recently announced the addition to its curriculum of a new Comics & Narrative Practice major. Columbus Alive, a free weekly in town, devoted its October 13 issue to CXC; the coverage began with an article about cartooning in the city, “25 Essential Columbus Comics,” graphic novels and comic books produced by local cartoonists.

And Ohio has an ample cartooning history. Scores of cartoonists were born in Ohio or spent significant time there. The reputed “father of American newspaper comics,” the Yellow Kid’s Richard Outcault, was born in Ohio. Ditto Billy Ireland, Milton Caniff, and James Thurber; others lived and worked in the state— John “Derf” Backderf, Brian Michael Bendis, Billy DeBeck, Roy Doty, Al Frueh, Cathy Guisewite, Charles Landon, and dozens more, from Gene Ahern to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel to Bela Zaboly.

ohiocartoonists1 ohiocartoonists2

The first two days of the four-day CXC took place at the Billy Ireland, with programming and special exhibits; the succeeding two days transpired downtown at the city’s Metropolitan Library, where the CXC Expo opened. Spinning out from those two sites, the CXC took over the city with special exhibits at various venues.

CXC replaces the triennial festival of cartoon art that was sponsored by the Billy Ireland for many years. The idea of CXC founders Jeff Smith (Bone) and Lucy S. Caswell (curator emeritus of the Billy Ireland) was to make Columbus the Angouleme of America. Like the International Comics Festival in France in January of every year since 1974, CXC would take over the host city.

For Smith, CXC is a dream come true. “I had this idea,” he said, “What if we could bring these artists together on one weekend in Columbus? This isn’t the kind of event where people come dressed up as Captain America (although they’re free to do that if they want to). These artists are people that are working from their own voice.” As Smith did in creating Bone (which, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary).

This year, CXC took over Columbus from Wednesday evening, October 12, with a preamble event, through the following Sunday.

There’s no registration. No list of attendees. (And people, including Columbus residents, come and go all weekend.) And no head count. Attendance at last year’s “soft launch” was estimated at 600-1,200.

With no formal registration required, determining how many people enjoyed this year’s Festival requires looking at several aspects of the event. The scholarly presentations at the Billy Ireland were not counted, Spurgeon told me (I counted about 130 people at one of the second day’s presentations), but Wednesday evening’s screening of Mark Osborne’s “The Little Prince” was estimated at 200 based upon the available seating; similarly, at Thursday evening’s rare public appearance of Garry Trudeau, 750 people filled seats at the Mershon Auditorium.

At the Library downtown, Spurgeon said, “we were 2,200 over average attendance on Saturday, and 1,600 on Sunday.” There’s no advance printed promotion. To get yourself oriented, you must start at the web site. The closer CXC came, the more programming popped up on the site. So before I booked a hotel room and bought my plane ticket, I knew the first official event was Wednesday evening, and that the programming began Thursday morning at the Billy Ireland with coffee and pastries at 8 a.m. I showed up there at 8:30 a.m. and picked up the printed program and a cup of coffee. I was handed a blank name badge (no preprinted badge with your name; no one knew I was coming—no registration, remember?) and wrote my name on it.

The program booklet told me about the exhibits all around town:

At the Columbus College of Arts and Design, selected original art provided by Nate Powell from March: Book Three, the final autobiographical volume of Congressman John Lewis’ engagement in the Civil Rights Movement. Powell signed copies of the book on Saturday. At the Columbus Museum of Art, selected original art by artist-in-residence at the Thurber House (where James Thurber grew up), Ronald Wimberly, who appeared on the program on Sunday in conversation with OSU’s Jared Gardner. At the Wild Goose Creative, the Sunday Comix Group presented Comics vs Art: Fine Art Isn’t Just for Adults Anymore, “a show that playfully reimagines fine art as comics panels.” OSU’s Barnett Collaboratory, cartoonist Keith Knight and collaborator Matthew Schwarzman appeared in “an evening of ideas, games and live art called Sex, Lies and Social Change: The Roots of Community-Based Arts.” At the Boat House, the Columbus Metropolitan Club offered a special CXC program featuring animator Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda,” “The Little Prince”), editorial cartoonist Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch), and graphic novelist Ronald Wimberly (Prince of Cats).

On Friday, the Sol-Con Expo and Workshops was scheduled to take place at OSU’s Hale Hall. This event was founded in California by John Jennings and Ricardo Padilla to foster awareness (among the public and among the affected minorities) of Latino and African American comics and their creators by showcasing their work. Said Jennings, interviewed in Columbus Alive: “Basically, it’s a way to combat symbolic annihilation, which is erasure through omission. It’s a way to empower people who haven’t been able to see themselves in mainstream comics and media.”

And at the Billy Ireland, two special displays (in addition to the permanent exhibit): Good Grief: Children and Comics, which examines “the history, role and tensions of child characters in comic strips and comic books”; and Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, which combines original art from the Nemo tribute book of the same name with resources from the Billy Ireland’s extensive collection of Winsor McCay material. And on Friday, an Open House offered special tours of the facility (leaving every hour) and a display of some of its treasures in the Reading Room.

The program booklet also listed (and annotated) the CXC special guests: cartooning legends like Garry Trudeau, Sergio Aragones, Ben Katchor, Ed Koren, Carol Tyler, Stan Sakai, John Canemaker, Seth, Charles Burns; modern stars Raina Telgemeier, Brandon Graham, Julia Gfrorer, Jay Hosler, Mark Osborne, Sacha Mardou, Skottie Young, Ronald Wimberly; skilled practitioners of their craft like editoonists Ann Telnaes and Nate Beeler, satirists Keith Knight, Lalo Alcaraz. All of these caroonitsts made presentations throughout the weekend. What follows are a few highlights, day by day.


The presentations began Thursday morning at the Billy Ireland with the first of the two day-long scholarly symposium featuring about three dozen presentations, all gathered under the umbrella heading “Canon Fodder!”

The cultural status of comics has improved over the last 30 years, particularly since the success of the so-called “graphic novel,” which term, by avoiding the word “comics,” helped make comics socially respectable. And social status in combination with a tsunami of new and much better work fostered study in academe—hence, the need for determining a “canon,” a list of essential comics works. “What are the great comics?” The printed program asked. “What are the comics everyone should read? An all-star line-up of scholars and thinkers sit down under the CXC banner for a two-day summit on the making of canon. Who gets to decide the comics canon? Who gets left out? What are the implications of canon building for the academic, for artists, for the art form?”

I sat with 60-130 others in the audience (the count varied from one time period to another and from Thursday to Friday) and dutifully took notes, often about presentations that I could barely hear. I’m about half-deaf (don’t ask which half), and some speakers spoke more softly than others. Although I had a sound magnifying gizmo with me, I probably missed as much as I heard. So what follows is more a summary of major points (and not all of them) than a detailed examination of any of them.

The headlong growth of comics studies in colleges and universities now embraces histories of the medium, of genre (heroes, funny animals), of publishers, and of cartoonists/artists and writers. And as the social media took over human interaction, social media and the comics became a legitimate subject for study.

Ally Shwed, cartoonist/writer/visiting prof of sequential art at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Queretaro, Mexico, discussed the growth and influence of social media on the determination of canon under the heading: “To Pander or to Play the Game: Fan Interaction and Comics Canon in the Digital Age,” her argument taking the following route:

Industries no longer have control over how their brand is disseminated: that’s been taken over by the social media. Letter columns in comics were an early form of interaction between publishers and consumers, and publishers controlled what was made public. With social media, that control is no longer possible. The Internet, fostering a kind of anonymity, de-individualizes by grouping like-minded consumers. Individuality is subsumed in the resulting sense of power in groups, and the growth of groupings weakens any sense of personal responsibility for what one says even as it enhances the influence of individuals through the group.

Group responses can overwhelm the hierarchies of power. Social media protested a recent cover of a version of The Killing Joke and got it withdrawn. Ditto the connection between Captain America and Hydra because the connection was not consistent with the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby character as initially conceived. The Internet eliminates barriers between the readers and producers of comics. Smart publishers acknowledge the power of social media. And so fans help create canon to a greater extent today than ever before.

This may seem a laborious way to arrive at the conclusion that social media has the power to determine canon, but tracing the route of the reasoning is one of the attributes of the academic enterprise in comics studies.

In other presentations, the history of comics was seen as a history of influences. Australia’s cartooning historian Ian Gordon argued for more comparative histories. He maintained, for instance, that Jimmy Bancks was undoubtedly influenced by Percy Crosby’s Skippy when, in 1921, he concocted and conducted Us Fellers, a strip that eventually morphed into Ginger Meggs, becoming virtually a national institution in Australia. I’m not quite convinced: in the early days, Ginger Meggs was about a gang of kids; the eponymous Skippy was usually presented as a loner, particularly at first.

Besides, the timing is a little off: Skippy, which began in the old Life humor magazine in March 1923, didn’t get into newspapers until syndicated in 1925, and then by a bush league syndicate; the strip didn’t get major distribution until Hearst took it over as a Sunday in 1926 (daily, 1929). So it’s unlikely that Bancks saw the feature until at least 1925, four years after he started Us Fellers, or maybe as late as 1926. But there could still be some kind of influence. Dunno when Us Fellers began focusing on one of the fellers, Ginger Meggs, who became the title character. But it’s possible that Bancks began concentrating on one mischievous character after seeing Skippy —somewhere, in Life or in newspapers. (See? That’s the sort of hair-splitting that scholars, even mere chroniclers like me, get involved in.)

Autobiographical comics were mentioned as candidates for the canon—especially those starring Scribbly, who, in comic books, was the cartoonist alter ego of his creator, Sheldon Mayer.  Thursday evening was occupied by John Canemaker, the award-winning animator and historian, who, with illuminating commentary, presented several of Winsor McCay’s celebrated animated films (with Nemo and Flip, about how a mosquito operates, and the famed “Gertie the Dinosaur”).


The scholarly presentations continued most of the day.

John Jennings, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California at Riverside and an artist with several comics to his credit (a couple pages of a current comic book/graphic novel project, Blue Hand Mojo, appear near here), talked about “Marvel Comics Original Cloak and Dagger Series as Anti-miscegenation Narrative.” He deviated from the usual academic practice of “reading a paper.” He occasionally quoted from his paper on the comic book heroes (Cloak and Dagger representing white and black cultures respectively), but he mostly talked extemporaneously, often interjecting self-deprecating asides or humorous observations (“What is the shadow in darkness?”), sometimes recommending further reading or research on the topic, while he showed pictures illustrating his premise. mojo

Daniel Yezbick, professor of English and media studies at Wildwood College in St. Louis, Missouri and author of Perfect Nonsense, an appreciative biography of George Carlson from Fantagraphics, read from his paper— but forcefully, with emphasis and wild gesticulation. The topic was “The Action Figure as Embodiment and Extension of Comic-Book Continuities.” He presented images of action figures that “extended the lives of comic book superheroes” and called for further study.

Afterwards, I asked him if he was serious. “Weren’t you being satirical about academic comics studies?” I wanted to know. He laughed. But “expanding the canon” was, after all, one of the subtopics of the seminars. Someone mentioned the German doll, Lilli, who morphed into a panel cartoon character and then into Barbie, “the iconic toy of the 20th century.” Another presenter talked about the a-sexuality of Jughead Jones in Archie Comics—“a form of queer relation.”

Here’s a selection of some of the topics of the two-day seminar:

Cultivating Transnationality in the Comics Canon: on Spain and Latin America

How Lust Was Lost: Genre, Identity and the Neglect of a Pioneering Comics Publication

A Fabric of Illusion: C.C. Beck’s Critical Circle and His Theory of Comic Art

Seeing Deafness: Representing an Invisible Disability Through the Visual Rhetoric of Superhero Comics (“We tend to equate fluency with literacy, an outdated model”)

Decentering and Recentering in the Field of Comics

Ach! Female-Created Comics Strips and the Scholarly Canon

The more seriously such obtuse subjects are considered, the more self-satirical the presentations seem to become. Maybe it’s just me: after a day-and-a-half of these effusions, I was beginning to see satire wherever I looked—Yezbick’s paper on action figures, for example.

Esoterica aside, I enjoyed as much of the presentations as I could hear. And many were provocative. “The error of equating fluency with literacy,” someone said, is a tantalizing notion, worth pondering further.

Later in the afternoon, Canadian cartoonist Seth took the stage in conversation with Craig Fischer. Seth was, judging from the audience’s reaction, an amusing as well as informative speaker. Among his thoughts: anyone aspiring to doing comics has an obligation to learn the history of the medium. Charles Schulz thought the same. But I couldn’t hear much of what Seth was saying, so I amused myself by trying to caricature him. cxcseth

The day’s agenda concluded with a panel discussion on “The State of the Industry.” The panelists included Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features syndicate, Shena Wolf (, Chip Mosher (comiXology), and Keith Knight (self-published). Burford, who’s worked at King for 17 years, 10 of them as comics editor, said his department consists of 53 employees. In today’s newspaper market, the question always is: what’s worth taking a risk on. But as newspapers struggle to survive, said he, “We have to change the way syndicates operate and what they do.” But he offered no specific suggestions—even though the topic must be under more-or-less continuous discussion at his office.

“Most of the great cartoonists,” Burford said, “can’t stop themselves.” Hence, his advice to aspiring cartoonists looking to get syndicated: “If you can’t not do it, then you can think about syndication.” Wolf, at one point, chimed in: “Sometimes we give up on something or don’t accept it just because it isn’t like what we’ve done before.” Knight added his usual unconventional perspective. He goes to lots of shows that aren’t comics shows. That enables him to cultivate readers that aren’t in the usual crowd. When he wasn’t speaking, he was listening while he also drew a daily installment of  his comic strip, The Knight Life. At the beginning of the session, he asked if anyone in the audience had an H2 pencil; someone did, and loaned it to him for the duration of the panel. A question that lurked through the presentation: Are comic books and graphic novels taking the position in the cartooning industry that once syndicates held?

The afternoon ended with a reception in the Billy Ireland. Mad’s Sergio Aragones and Carol Tyler, underground comix legend, were presented with Masters of Cartooning Arts awards.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the campus, the all-day Sol-Con: The Black and Brown Expo and Workshop was transpiring. The event featured a “slew of local and national Latino and African American creators,” showing their wares in a variety of genres, formats and styles and participating in workshops and academic panels.

“They are creating these really vital, kinetic African American or Latino superheroes, said Frederick Luis Aldama, who teaches film, comics and Latino pop culture courses at OSU. “But then there are others that are working to use the visual and verbal craft of comics to tell everyday heroic stories.” The stories, he continued in Columbus Alive, “are as exploratory as the mind is infinite, but grounded in concerns that we experience as Latinos and African Americans in this country, things like discrimination, lack of access to education, racism, homophobia and sexism.” Aldama has authored two scholarly books: Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez (332 6×9-inch pages, b/w; 2009 U. of Texas Press, paperback, $29.95) and Latinix Comic Book Storytelling: An Odyssey by Interview (270 6.5×10-inch pages, occasional color; 2016 Hyperbole Books/San Diego State University Press paperback, $24.95).

In his first book, Aldama begins by tracing the history of comics by and/or about Latinos (including the occasional appearance in mainstream funny books), pausing to describe some of the heroes, some of their adventures, and some of the cartoonists. The last two-thirds of the book consists of interviews with Latino/Latina cartoonists and/or writers, 21 of them. The second book is entirely interviews, 29 of them, including only 4 that appeared in the previous volume. Among those interviewed are Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos (creators of the contemporary syndicated strip Baldo), Gus Arriola (creator of Gordo, a syndicated strip that ran for over 40 years, starting in 1941, and the subject of a book of mine, Accidental Ambassador Gordo; this interview, Aladama told me, he believes was the last Arriola gave before he died), Roberta Gregory, Los Bros Hernandez (Gilbert and Jaime), Lalo Alcaraz (creator of the syndicated strip La Cucaracha) —alas, the only names I know.

Both books are modestly illustrated: not every work is depicted in Your Brain, but many are, albeit in black-and-white. The Storytelling volume offers at least one illustration for each of the cartoonists interviewed—and most of them are in color. latinix1 latinix2This brace of books are the best way to equip your library for dealing with an emerging cultural event—cartoons and comics by Latinos. If you have something you need to look up, you can probably find it in one of these two tomes.

Friday afternoon, the spotlight fell on Garry Trudeau, who was “in conversation” with author Glen David Gold on the stage at Wexner Center’s Mershon Auditorium at OSU. Trudeau seldom makes public appearances, so his gig at CXC was a rare event and attracted a big crowd. I don’t think there were many empty seats in the auditorium: all of the CXC events were open to the public, and this event, like several others over the weekend, had been written up in advance in the local newspaper, the 145-year-old Columbus Dispatch, and the publicity pulled in ordinary civilians—comic strip readers and aficionados, not just cartoonists and comics scholars.

In an article in Columbus Alive, Trudeau the political satirist was asked about Trump. Did he buy into the notion that Trump really doesn’t want to win, that he launched his campaign as a publicity stunt? Trudeau’s response was typically acerbic and insightful: “No,” he said. “That’s what normal people call an ‘ulterior motive,’ which implies delayed gratification, of which Trump is incapable. When he says he wants to be in the White House, you have to believe it because it’s very short neural pathway between his id and his mouth.” Is Trump’s candidacy a “mere sign of the times or is it symptomatic of larger issues we can’t hope will be swept away by his potential defeat?” “A one-off,” said Trudeau. “But that doesn’t mean the GOP doesn’t have a Herculean task of reconstruction ahead of it. All the china’s been broken, and that’s not even good for Democrats. We need at least two functioning, philosophically robust parties to make our system of government work.”

Gold got Trudeau talking by showing some of the controversial Doonesbury strips and asking the cartoonist to comment on them. Trudeau’s been quizzed by newspaper reporters about many of the more sensational strips, so when Gold put one up on the screen—Joanie Caucus famously waking up in bed with Rick Redfern, for example (a strip that more than 30 client newspapers chose not to publish)—Trudeau had talked about it before. And he did again here.

Among the strip images Gold displayed was the one in which DB was shown just after being wounded in Vietnam. He lost a leg in the process, but, said Trudeau, the thing that caused the most comment from readers was that DB’s helmet was removed while he was unconscious. No one had ever seen him without his helmet. He’d started Doonesbury life in a football helmet and was never seen without it—and when he went to Vietnam, he was never seen without a military issue helmet that concealed as much of his head as the football helmet had. Readers were stunned to see him bareheaded. That he was also missing a leg was apparently of less concern to readers. And DB’s surprising appearance without head gear symbolized and emphasized the drastic change that the character was going to undergo. At the end of the conversation, CXC president Jeff Smith came back on stage and presented Trudeau with the CXC award for Transformative Impact on the Profession.

Various saloons around town had been designated as CXC watering holes where the festivities would be hosted by some of the visiting dignitaries. Enjoyable as they undoubtedly were, I, aged and half-deaf, went to my hotel and bed.


The CXC Marketplace and Expo opened at 11 a.m., and the Festival moved away from the Billy Ireland on campus to downtown Columbus. At the Columbus Metropolitan Library, almost 100 display tables were staffed by creators selling their own books (including 15 from Sol-Con) and magazines and by publishers doing the same with theirs. I was surprised to see so much high quality work being published by independent creators. Fantagraphics had a display, as did OSU Press and IDW (and others, no doubt; I must’ve missed a few). cxcexhibit

About 20 panels and individual presentations ran parallel all day long in meeting rooms throughout the Library. Unlike the scholarly programs of the previous two days, these hour-long sessions featured cartoonists, not academicians. Every cartoonist who was a special CXC guest (see the list at the beginning of this extravaganza) was interviewed or made a presentation. Several also did drawing demos. And Sol-Con joined in the festivities, offering a strand of programming. Charles Burns at another downtown venue discussed his career; Nate Powell talked about the March books he’d drawn. Raina Telgemeier did a solo session; ditto many others. I went to a session featuring The New Yorker’s Ed Koren being interviewed by Tom Spurgeon. I placed my mini-microphone on the table, but Koren kept moving his chair away from the table. I heard very little.

cxckorenetal cxcmisc

At a session on political cartooning, the presenters represented a range of minority passions—Ann Telnaes, sexism/feminism; Lalo Alcaraz, Latino; and Keith Knight, African American. Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch editoonist, moderated. The panelists were seated at a table, and behind the table, a projection screen had been dropped from the ceiling so the cartoons of the presenters could be displayed as they talked.  cxceditoonists1After projecting a couple dozen cartoons, the computer-projector failed to work, so the panelists plunged onward without it. Then, several minutes later—suddenly, without explanation—the projection screen was pulled back into its ceiling nest, rising silently like spooky wraith. Telnaes and Knight and Beeler chimed in with a couple jocular comments on the mysterious ways of projection screens and the ominous import of the screen’s disappearance, but Lalo said nothing. Looking a little alarmed, he stood up, staring at the audience, then he turned around, putting his hands on the wall behind the table and spreading his legs in the classic posture of a miscreant apprehended by law enforcement.cxceditoonists2

There were serious moments thereafter—and a couple more humorous ones; but nothing will ever compare to Lalo’s spontaneous demonstration of a persecuted Latino.

In a reflective moment later, Telnaes warned about the sexism we could expect to see emerging more obviously once Hilary is elected—just as racism bubbled up after the election of Obama.

Later in the afternoon, Knight made a solo presentation entitled “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They.” He’s been doing this presentation around the country for months, often at gatherings having nothing to do with cartooning. Raised in Massachusetts, Knight didn’t have a black teacher until his junior year in college when he enrolled in an American literature course. “My teacher, who was black, assigned James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou—all black writers—for us to read,” Knight explained in a newspaper interview published over the weekend (and he said pretty much the same during his presentation). “Someone brought up the idea, ‘Why are you giving us all black writers?’ and the teacher said, ‘I’m giving you all American writers.’“When he said that, that’s what made me want to change my work: knowing he was working within the system but he was an activist.”

Knight has been an activist for more that 20 years, embracing cartooning as a means of confronting big ideas of race, identity, cultural appropriation, police misconduct and more in his three cartooning ventures: K Chronicles, a weekly autobiographical comment on the passing scene; The Knight Life, another autobiographical enterprise, this one a syndicated daily comic strip; and (th)ink, an occasional overt political panel. He started reporting his personal experiences in his cartoons because he didn’t see anyone he identified with represented in the medium. “When I look at editorial cartoons,” he said, “I never see the average joe as a person of color. The best cartoons,” he continued, “can take complex issues and sort of simplify them. Not to present them and to say, ‘This is a simple issue,’ but to get people to understand an argument in a simple way.”
keeftoons1 keeftoons3 keeftoons2

He showed some of his cartoons during his presentation, but mostly, he talked. He cited statistics. He related several personal experiences that exemplified the ludicrous absurdity of racism in America. Once, he said, he had been putting up posters around his neighborhood when he was accosted by police. Looking for someone who had burgled a house, they were acting upon a description—“tall and black.” That was the description. That was all. Knight was tall and black, but, he pointed out, he was sporting a dreadlocks. He related other instances in which white people were “privileged” in a way that a black person, in the same circumstance, was not. A white man can yell and scream at police; a black man can’t.


CXC stayed in the same places, and the day’s events were pretty much the same as Saturday’s—the expo, parallel programing, and spotlights on special guests. Seth joined Ben Katchor “in conversation” at the Museum of Art, and Raina Telgemeier was “in conversation” with Jeff Smith at the Library.

And the Wild Goose Creative offered an exhibition of comics art inspired by Western paintings: “Imagine an exhibit hall lined with paintings by Western artists from 1400s through modern times. Imagine these works mysteriously transformed into words of comic art.” wildgoose1 wildgoose2

I left about noon on Sunday, just as the day’s events were getting going at the Library, so I can’t report much of what happened.  But I’ll certainly return to Columbus for next year’s CXC. It’s a better event for comics lovers than any of the comic-cons I’ve attended.

We leave with Spurgeon’s comparing CXC to other comic-cons while talking with Hodler: “Most conventions are like tent revivals that pull up and leave when the weekend is over; we’re a series of churches—in the case of the Billy Ireland, a cathedral—and we’re still here that next Monday.”

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Episode 15: Trungles Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:00:56 +0000 Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Continue reading ]]>



On the fifteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Trungles talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books.


Previous Episodes

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:37:38 Trungles is a comics artist whose work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who is included in the Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Trungles is a comics artist whose work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who is included in the Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/9/16 – Celebrating Election Fever!) Tue, 08 Nov 2016 13:00:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> tominorobo10001



Only one man’s vision of humanity makes sense this late in the season: Suehiro Maruo, who is the only cartoonist I actually *follow* in Japanese instead of dipping in and out by circumstance. This sequence is from the second collected volume of his current series, Tomino the Damned, which follows a pair of trouble-prone young children through an increasingly surreal chain of calamities involving clairvoyance, movie-making and human oddities in an ultra-stylized bygone era. The book was released in May — I didn’t say I followed Maruo quickly — around the same time as a live-action film adaptation of Maruo’s 1984 comic Shōjo Tsubaki (aka “Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show”). There was an earlier, animated adaptation of that book, infamously personal and tonally harsh, but from the looks of its trailer the new film seems to be emphasizing the parodic character of Maruo’s work though a very arch and self-consciously literal translation of the artist’s visual cues. It’s rather camp.

It’s also something that’s advertised directly on the jacket of the new Tomino, which is not a wholly unrelated endeavor. Maruo is not the same artist that made the likes of Ultra-Gash Inferno anymore; the extreme content of his notorious shorts has largely vanished, placing his visual compositions and gale-force obsession with bygone aesthetics in a position of unopposed primacy. But Tomino nonetheless deliberately evokes comparisons with his past works (Shōjo Tsubaki powerful among them), suggesting a retrospective intent – a summarization of where the 60-year old Maruo has been, in perhaps a more accessible form. Still, in comparison to the new Shōjo Tsubaki film, Tomino demonstrates how drawn images by a confident artist can better incorporate symbols and fetishes and aspects of heavy design into a ‘world’ that reads as natural to the eye. The film stands at a great remove, while Maruo’s comics are inescapably Maruo’s world…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Neo Parasyte f: Hey, a little more manga here. Last week Kodansha debuted a western-original anthology of stories based on Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan series. Now we get an equally unusual proposition: a 288-page anthology of stories inspired by the 1988-1995 Hitoshi Iwaaki horror/SF series Parasyte (which just had an anime adaptation a few years back, in case you’re wondering as to the relevance). The twist, however, is that Parasyte was a seinen manga, whereas the contributors here all hail from the world of comics aimed at girls and women. Expect appearances by Asumiko Nakamura (Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist), Kozue Amano (Aria) and Kaori Yuki (Angel Sanctuary) among a dozen others; $13.99.


Cometbus #57: And if we’re covering the unusual, I guess we’ll just skip to your non-conflicted book-on-comics of the week, the 90-page latest in Aaron Cometbus’ long-running zine series, which just happens to be dedicated to interviews with 14 comics-related personalities active in the NYC area. Charles Brownstein and Zak Sally contribute some of the pieces, while Nate Powell supplies illustrations, but mostly it’s Cometbus chatting people up, ranging from artists like Gary Panter and Julia Wertz to curators (Robin Enrico), retailers (Gabe Fowler), editors (Bill Kartalopoulos) and others, down to a concluding segment in which MAD veteran Al Jaffee gallantly answers leftover questions from the prior interviews regardless of context or personal expertise. Less a comprehensive presentation than a fleeting ride-along on a current of curiosity, distributed to comic book stores via Last Gasp; $5.00.


Looking for America’s Dog: Okay, yes – an actual U.S. politics-related publication this time. Steven Weissman released Barack Hussein Obama with Fantagraphics in 2012, assembling a “dada-esque” (as the publisher put it) vision of national political figures. This is a 112-page hardcover follow-up, in which hapless Joe Biden lets Bo the White House dog run out of the gate, prompting First Daughters Sasha and Malia to maneuver through “an increasingly strange and hostile world.” Again, that’s from Fantagraphics; $22.99.

At the Shore (&) How to Survive in the North: Two comics from artists with a smooth and practiced style. At the Shore is the work of Jim Campbell, an artist and musician affiliated with the Meathaus group from a while back. He’s been working on this comedic horror project in serial form for a while; the 208-page collected softcover arrives from Alternative. How to Survive in the North is a Nobrow release by Luke Healy, a Center for Cartoon Studies graduate blending historical fact and modern-set fiction in 192 pages of struggle in icy terrain; $19.99 (Shore), $22.95 (North).

Summerland: I am wholly unfamiliar with the work of artist Paloma Dawkins, though I understand she is a Canadian animator and illustrator, with some comics work out there. Color schemes look to transition throughout this 48-page Retrofit/Big Planet release on the topic of vacationing and playacting, which I presume will serve as a succinct and inexpensive means of becoming acquainted; $9.00.

Who Killed Kurt Cobain?: Your Eurocomic of the week (non-reprint division) is this IDW English edition of a 2015 book by artist Nicolas Otéro, himself adapting a 2014 prose novel by Héloïse Guay de Bellissen in which the story of the beloved titular musician is observed by his childhood imaginary friend Boddah, the addressee of his final letter. A 152-page presentation in hardcover. Preview en français; $24.99.

Century’s End: And here are some French comics reprints from the catalog of Enki Bilal, formerly published in English by Humanoids but now arriving courtesy of Titan. The 184-page, 9.7″ x 12.8″ hardcover package collects a pair of political thrillers written by Pierre Christin: 1979’s The Black Order Brigade and 1983’s Hunting Party, realistic fictions in sharp contrast to the allegorical fantasies that Bilal and Christin had collaborated on earlier in their careers; $34.99.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1: Without a doubt the big take-a-look superhero project of the week is this Marvel spinoff of a very high-profile Black Panther run by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Here the primary writer is Roxane Gay, a very prominent novelist, editor, essayist and academic, making her comics debut in the company of artist Alitha E. Martinez, of various superhero, SF and young adult projects. There will also be a second story written by poet Yona Harvey and drawn by Afua Richardson, making this I believe the first Marvel comic in which all of the writing and drawing roles are fulfilled by women of color. Preview; $4.99.

Heavy Metal #283 (&) Klaus: Two from a genre comics long-timer, Grant Morrison, who’s been fronting Heavy Metal magazine for a few issues now. Readers of this column will want to be alert for #283 — the seasonable untimely but politically *very* timely Fear Issue — for a new collaboration between Morrison and longtime Cerebus background artist Gerhard, the latter drawing anthropomorphic animal characters in a mystery story. (Yes, that’s new comics by Dave Sim and Gerhard in the space of two weeks.) Klaus is a hardcover collection of Morrison’s recent project with artist Dan Mora and BOOM! Studios, exploring the figure of Santa Claus through “Viking lore and Siberian shamanism,” to presumably superheroic ends; $7.95 (Heavy Metal), $34.99 (Klaus).

Usagi Yojimbo – Gallery Edition Vol. 2: The Artist and Other Stories (&) Voodoo Vengeance and Other Stories: Artist-focused books both, each one bypassing the reproduction styles of their component parts. The Artist and Other Stories is an original-art-reproduced-in-color project from Dark Horse, displaying 256 pages of 21st century stories by Stan Sakai at 12″ x 17″. Voodoo Vengeance is another Fantagraphics collection of EC stories presented without color, all of them drawn this time by Johnny Craig. It’s 216 pages; $125.00 (Artist), $29.99 (Voodoo).

More Heroes of the Comics (&) The Gaze of Drifting Skies: A Treasury of Bird’s Eye Cartoon Views: A dynamic duo of, ah, comics-adjacent projects from Fantagraphics. More Heroes of the Comics is a 184-page suite of color portraits by the great Drew Friedman, all of them devoted to figures from the history of American comic books. Note also its predecessor, from 2014. The Gaze of Drifting Skies is a 9″ x 12″ softcover showcasing “marvelously orchestrated scenes of human bustle,” a device frequently used in newspaper and magazine illustration of ages ago. Jonathan Barli edits; $34.99 (Heroes), $29.99 (Gaze).

The Comics Journal Library Vol. 10: The EC Artists Part 2: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week that could not be more obviously a conflict of interest considering that this is the digital venue for The Comics Journal – a 256-page, 10″ x 12″ hardcover collection of interviews with figures associated with the very famous purveyors of pre-Code crime, horror, war, humor and SF comics. A new Gary Groth chat with Jack Davis is included among archival encounters with Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Marie Severin, Bernard Krigstein, Alex Toth and others. Fantagraphics publishes, following 2013’s Part 1; $34.99.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/2/16 – Saints & Souls) Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:00:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> garden10001


You know, I bet some people think I don’t buy any of the comics I spotlight here. Well guess what, Buster Brown – time to google R.F. Outcault and learn what an apology looks like, because I totally did obtain a copy of Dark Horse’s The World of Edena hardcover last week, and what you see above is some of my favorite Moebius shit. Written, drawn and colored by Gir, with new English lettering from Adam Pruett, from a new translation (in this segment) by Philip R. Simon. Of some interest are the coming attractions in the back of the book, which note that three volumes of Inside Moebius will be released in 2018; going by the cover art they’re doubling up on the French editions, so that would constitute the entire series. It seems 2017’s rollout will consist solely of an Edena series artbook, unless they have something else to announce…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Laid Waste: Rarely do I encounter a perfect All Souls’ Day comic, but Julia Gfrörer is a rare talent – wholly committed to a completely distinct vision and just going for it over and over again. This 80-page softcover is her second book release with Fantagraphics, starting off with her (excellent) contribution to the recent Kramers Ergot 9 and swelling in scope to survey love and pus and sex and bread in a time of plague, the lessons of martyred Saints readily at hand and the end of the world less feared than assumed. Perhaps the artist’s most elliptic and delicate work, speaking well of her continued evolution. I liked it; $14.99.


A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Black Dahlia: And here’s some b&w alt-comics of an older stock, the straw-thatched latest from Rick Geary, again exploring the facts behind a notable killing. This one has been very well-covered by all manner of media, but maybe not with the exceedingly detail-focused drollery that Geary tends to bring to these things. From longtime publisher NBM, an 80-page b&w hardcover. Samples; $15.99.


Cerebus in Hell? #0: It’s 2016 and Cerebus has been R E C O N T E X T U A L I Z E D. Yes, this is a new Cerebus comic from creator Dave Sim and Aardvark-Vanaheim, released in anticipation of the series’ 40th anniversary next year, but instead of a long serial it’s a set of humorous one-pagers inspired by David Malki’s webcomic Wondermark, which repurposes century-old art for humorous juxtapositions with original dialogue. As such, Sim teams with Sandeep Atwal (a longtime production guy and A-V’s director of communications) to position the ill-tempered earth pig, condemned to live eternally as clip art within the Inferno of Dante Alighieri, amidst all manner of contemporary discourse. To be followed by a four-issue miniseries in 2017, though you can read some web installments now; $4.00.

Prophet: Earth War #6 (of 6): Not 300 issues, but still a long time coming – few mainstream superhero revivals of the past decade have met with such fulsome praise as 2012’s Brandon Graham-fronted Image recalibration of the 1990s Rob Liefeld creation, previously known pretty much only for the madly excessive art of Stephen Platt. Under Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis and others, it became a cosmos-spanning saga of far-future clones and esoteric civilizations, and now the principals come together one last time. I mean, on this property – they didn’t die or anything; $3.99.

Motor Girl #1 (&) Motro #1: New comic book series with weirdly similar titles, both from established creators. Motor Girl is the work of Terry Moore, specialist in long series like Strangers in Paradise, Echo and Rachael Rising. It’s a SF thing about a woman who becomes an interstellar destination mechanic for UFO repair, from Moore’s own Abstract Studios. Motro comes from Ulises Fariñas, combining some pages drawn in his early 20s with contemporary work to tell the life’s story of a very strong boy growing up uneasily in a violent fantasy world. Written with Erick Freitas and colored by Ryan Hill, published by Oni Press; $3.99 (each).

Pussycat: The Complete Comics: One of the nice things about a multimedia franchise like The Smurfs is that it occasionally justifies deeper dives into the catalog of its creator. Hence, this 8.8″ x 11.3″, 192-page NBM/Papercutz hardcover collection of mostly-wordless and super-cute feline humor strips from Peyo, who created the feature in the late 1940s for the daily newspaper Le Soir. It seems that these color comics, however, are later works from the pages of Spirou, compiled in album format in the 1970s (and drawn in not-insignificant part by a Peyo studio assistant, Lucien De Gieter). Note also that a Dupuis collection of this work from two years ago was 416 pages in landscape format – I presume the present English edition has been reoriented; $19.99.

The Trial of Roger Casement (&) Muhammad Ali: Two new ones of the biographical nonfiction approach. The Trial of Roger Casement is an original 120-page SelfMadeHero graphic novel from artist Fionnuala Doran (her bookshelf debut), examining the human rights activist and Irish nationalist hanged for treason in London during WWI. Muhammad Ali is a 128-page Dark Horse hardcover, essaying the sports notable in translation from a 2015 French release by Sybille Titeux & Améziane Amazing; $19.95 (Casement), $19.99 (Ali).

The Ghost and the Lady Vol. 1 (of 2) (&) A Distant Neighborhood: HISTORICAL MANGA! I MEAN, IN TERMS OF SETTING! The Ghost and the Lady is a 2014-15 series from Kazuhiro Fujita, creator of ’90s-origin shōnen superhits like Ushio and Tora and Karakuri Circus. He had an entire episode of Naoki Urasawa’s Manben show dedicated to him in Japan, though I believe this 304-page item is actually his solo book-format debut in English translation – it’s a seinen project from publisher Kodansha’s weekly Morning magazine, and technically part of an irregular anthology, “The Black Museum”, which finds Fujita doing dark fantasy comics in a British setting. Florence Nightingale(!) is involved with supernatural happenings, in what looks like a very odd story indeed. A Distant Neighborhood is a new all-in-one hardcover edition for the much-lauded 1998-99 Jirō Taniguchi series, a sentimental time-travel scenario created for the aging readers of Big Comic magazine, and eventually the basis for a 2010 film from Belgian director Sam Garbarski. Fanfare/Ponent Mon has previously released the work in two softcover volumes, but their 404-page omnibus promises new color pages; $19.99 (Ghost), $28.00 (Neighborhood).

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3: Stardust Crusaders Vol. 1 (of 10): VINTAGE MANGA! I MEAN, IN TERMS OF AGE! Through a mix of constant anime broadcasting and vigorous online memefication, Hirohiko Araki’s long-running adventure series-cum-personal life quest JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has achieved a level of viability-in-translation unusual to a franchise consisting of over 100 collected volumes. VIZ has been sourcing its hardcover English editions from fatter, 21st century Japanese collected books, though, and the such-formatted debut of Stardust Crusaders — perhaps the quintessential JoJo’s storyline, hailing from 1989-92 — commemorates the moment where the new initiative begins revisiting content from VIZ’s *last* attempt at a JoJo’s translation, which ran from 2005-10 in softcover. It’s 280 pages, a few in color; $19.99.

Attack on Titan Anthology (&) Last Man Vol. 6: The Rescue: NOT REALLY JAPANESE, BUT WHO’S KEEPING TRACK?! Not me. Hell, I just make half these entries up. Attack on Titan Anthology is a 256-page English-original Kodansha release in which western creators tackle new color stories set in the world of (or, at times, the fandom surrounding) Hajime Isayama’s massively popular martial combat suspense series. Lots of superhero and action genre vets, including Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque, Paul Pope, Gail Simone & Phil Jimenez, and the revised Batgirl team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr, though also look out for Ronald Wimberly, Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, Faith Erin Hicks, and Asaf & Tomer Hanuka. Last Man continues the straightforward shōnen-styled fight comic licks of Bastien Vivès, “Balak” and Michaël Sanlaville, translated from the French via First Second for another 208 b&w pages. Up to vol. 9 in Europe, real Shōnen Jump proportions; $29.99 (Titan), $9.99 (Last).

Beyond Time and Again (&) Red Barry Vol. 1 (of 2): Undercover Man (&) Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales Vol. 1: A trio of reprint projects for unique artists. Beyond Time and Again is a 48-page, 12″ x 9″ landscape softcover from Fantagraphics, dedicated to a late ’60s underground newspaper strip by George Metzger, creator of outre fantasy comics like Moondog (Print Mint, 1969-73) and MU: The Land That Never Was (Kitchen Sink, 1978). “[C]ombining high fantasy with prescient views of science, climate change, and political authoritarianism,” says the publisher. Red Barry was a straight newspaper strip that ran from 1934-38, an undercover police serial launched to capitalize on the success of Dick Tracy. The artist, Will Gould (no relation to Chester), did not stay all that long in comics, which has made the unique qualities of his drawing all the more compelling to certain readers. IDW publishes the 284-page hardcover at 11″ x 8.5″. The same publisher handles Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales, which I am mentioning here because some of these Dell adaptations were drawn by Jesse Marsh, and I know a bunch of you like Jesse Marsh; $25.00 (Beyond), $49.99 (Red and Disney).

Prince Valiant Vol. 14: 1963-1964 (&) Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie Vol. 13: Spies and Counter Spies: If you liked those, you probably want to know about some high-tier continuing reprints, eh? Prince Valiant is Hal Foster, of course – 112 pages at 10.25″ x 14″ from Fantagraphics. Little Orphan Annie is still in the postwar ’40s (1947-48) – 296 pages at 8.6″ x 11.1″ from IDW; $34.99 (Valiant), $49.99 (Annie).

Absolute Batman: Year One: An unusual entry in DC’s series of super-deluxe oversize slipcased classics, insofar as it specifically explores the issue of ‘remastered’ coloring – a fraught topic indeed in vintage reissues. There’s going to be two 9.7″ x 14.9″ hardcovers included. The first will feature what the publisher deems “the recolored version of the story from previous collected editions, remastered with new, high-resolution scans of the original coloring by David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis” – I presume, at least in part, to address Mazzucchelli’s complaints regarding the quality of prior reprint editions. The second volume will dive further into the area of facsimile, reprinting “the original 1987 version of the story as it ran in BATMAN #404-407, reproduced from scans made by Mazzucchelli and Lewis from the printed comic book pages, presented on stock that simulates the look and feel of the original comics.” You can also expect Mazzucchelli’s pencil breakdowns for the entire story, and the full scripts from writer Frank Miller, in what will *have* to be the most heavily-adorned edition of this blood ‘n thunder genre institution; $125.00.

CBLDF Presents: Liberty Annual 2016: Finally, Image presents the newest benefit item for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, this time a themed anthology of nonfiction shorts on the topic of “Great Heroes”. Artists like Ronald Wimberly (again) and Shannon Wheeler are involved, but I’d be on the lookout for a piece by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot, basically to see if they’ve put together a new comic on anarchist Louise Michel or if we’re going to get an extract from their formidable bio comic The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia from earlier this year; $4.99.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (10/26/16 – All of Us) Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:00:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> dillon0001

Who is this charismatic rogue bursting onto the scene? Why it’s 18-year old Steve Dillon, illustrating the exploits of the first character he’d co-create for comics, Abslom Daak from Doctor Who Weekly, published by Marvel UK. The image above is from April of 1980, though I’m sourcing from the 1990 Marvel Graphic Novel collection Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer. Dillon, best known as co-creator of Preacher with writer Garth Ennis, died this past Saturday at the age of 54. Dillon’s “Abslom Daak” stories were written by Steve Moore, with whom Dillon would later collaborate on “Axel Pressbutton” strips in Warrior, a magazine founded by Dez Skinn, who was editing several Marvel UK magazines at the time Dillon began working professionally. Moore died in 2014, leaving another absence in history…


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Moebius Library Vol. 1: The World of Edena: Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated releases of the past few years, and hey – actually a pretty sharp pick for a debut collection. The Edena (or “Aedena”) stories began as promotional materials for a French automobile manufacturer, but soon developed into a forum for writer/artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud to explore exceedingly clean and crystalline art, coupled with unusual notions of health and spirituality; my favorite is 1988’s The Gardens of [A]edena, a raw foods harangue that transforms into a bizarre mytho-poetic saga of male sexual insecurity, climaxing in a kaiju battle with Japanese sound effects. This 8″ x 10″, 360-page Dark Horse hardcover collects the entire primary cycle, including 2001’s Sra, which has never before been published in English; $49.99.


Prince of Cats: Hailing from the same exploratory period of Vertigo original graphic novels that produced Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days Or Less, this 2012 Ronald Wimberly high style variation on the Romeo and Juliet story from Tybalt’s point of view became a genuine word-of-mouth favorite despite lapsing out of print within the space of one year. Now Image presents a new, larger hardcover edition, 152 pages with revised design and copy elements. Samples; $24.99.


A Walk in Eden, or Adam and Eve Return to the Garden to Steal More Fruit: I spotted three other ‘adult coloring books’ on Diamond’s release list this week — it’s a trend, my friend — but were any of them drawn by Anders Nilsen? The much-admired artist of Big Questions and Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow offers 96 pages of fantastical and surreal nature scenes, with bonus fold-outs, a hidden object game, and at least one My Little Pony. Actually appropriate for all ages, per Drawn and Quarterly, which publishes the softcover at a square 10″ x 10″; $16.95.

Tōnoharu Vol. 3 (of 3): Damn, it’s good to see this. Lars Martinson released the first of these self-published autobiographical hardcovers back in 2008; recounting time spent teaching English in rural Japan, Tōnoharu is the rare comics work of a young such-positioned westerner wholly divorced from fascination with Japanese popular comics or cartoons or historical genre subjects. Instead, Martinson — a student of calligraphy and ink drawing who has since relocated to the U.S. — focuses on the isolation of language and the delicate navigation of custom, along with heavy doses of relationship angst. The series was initially planned to be four volumes, but this 208-page conclusion is considerably longer than the others. Distro by Top Shelf/IDW; $24.95.

Valerian Vol. 12: The Wrath of Hypsis (&) Valerian & Laureline: Ambassador of the Shadows Deluxe Edition: Two Cinebook releases concerning the long-running and exceedingly well-cartooned Pierre Christin/Jean-Claude Mézières SF series. The Wrath of Hypsis is a 1985 album, directly preceding the first part of what iBooks released back in 2004 as The New Future Trilogy, so congratulations on eliminating those gaps in your English-language collection. The Deluxe Edition of 1975’s Ambassador of the Shadows, a particularly beloved installment released in English at least four times in the past — in Heavy Metal, 1981; by Dargaud USA, 1982; by Hodder-Dargaud, 1984; by Cinebook, 2013 — appears to be a slightly larger (9.4″ x 12.1″) hardcover edition, as opposed to the softcover format otherwise employed by Cinebook; $11.95 (Wrath), $19.95 (Ambassador).

Misty: But hey – we may not hear about old French SF comics every day, but it’s damn well more than we hear about British girls’ comics. Rebellion here seeks redress via a 114-page collection of two serials from the pages of the 1978-1984 supernatural anthology Misty, to which 2000 AD veteran writer Pat Mills was helpfully a contributor. Mills scripts the telekinesis-and-bullying story “Moonchild” for scene stalwart John Armstrong, while Malcom Shaw & Brian Delaney (the former an editor at the magazine, best known for the 1980-81 2000 AD serial “Return to Armageddon”) present a Frankenstein-like piece, “The Four Faces of Eve”. One suspects the publisher is leaning on commonalities with its normal fare in selecting these works, but the effort is welcome nonetheless; $19.99.

Vampirella Archives Vol. 15 (of 15): Wrapping up a comprehensive Warren magazine reprint effort by Dynamite, at least as far as the valuable Vampirella character is concerned. To be honest, none of the b&w horror magazines were doing all that well quality-wise by this point (1982-83), but you’ll still find art by lingering Spanish long-timers such as José González, Esteban Maroto, José Ortiz and Rafael Auraleón. The title was also running Torpedo stories drawn by Alex Toth and Jordi Bernet at this time, but I’m not sure if they’ll be included in this edition (nobody involved is listed on the publisher’s website, which makes me wonder if rights issues are at play). A 264-page hardcover; $49.99.

Musnet Vol. 2: Impressions of the Master: The second in this series of children’s hardcover albums (8.5″ x 11.5″) about a mouse painter in the 19th century, very delicately drawn and water-colored by the artist “Kickliy”. A third volume is due from Dargaud in French this November, but the North American editions are from Odod Books, a new kids’ comics imprint of Uncivilized Books; $19.95.

Habitat: Another collected edition for a serial from Image‘s Island anthology, this one from writer/artist Simon Roy, who first came to the attention of many readers (in print) through the 2009 SF book Jan’s Atomic Heart, and then worked extensively on the revamp of Extreme Studios’ Prophet. 96 pages follow the adventure of a young man on the run through a closed environment in outer space, its provenance so long ago that various jobs and upkeep tasks have evolved into conflicting civilizations; $9.99.

Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s (&) Cerebus Cover Art Treasury: Two big, deluxe (expensive) items here for devotees of the artists involved. Colorful Cases is the newest release from Sunday Press Books, the most prominent of specialists in extreme fidelity re: newspaper strip reprints. Essays by Jeff Kersten, Paul Tumey and Garyn G. Roberts accompany a selection of Sunday installments from the first decade of the law & order classic, 168 pages in total at 11″ x 16″. Cerebus Cover Art Treasury, meanwhile, finds IDW reproducing every original cover from the 1977-2004 run of the Dave Sim/Gerhard series at 9″ x 12″ across 350 pages, along with annotations, production art and additional texts; $75.00 (each).

The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is a 304-page prose memoir from Steve MacManus, editor of 2000 AD from 1978 to 1987, a period which saw the UK weekly magazine grow into a popular force in genre comics, its top talents relentlessly headhunted to vitalize American mainstream titles. But MacManus was also involved with other magazines, like the progressive war comic Battle Picture Weekly and the controversial, ill-fated ActionRebellion promises a full accounting of “the personalities at play and the corporate politics and deadline battles he and others engaged in on a daily basis.” Sounds interesting to me, and the price is quite nice; $12.99.

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Gag Cartoons with Naked People: Abner Dean’s What Am I Doing Here? Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:00:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I can rarely remember where I was when I discovered any of my favorite cartoonists. But Abner Dean is different. On a summer afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, I went to a used bookstore near the University and headed, as always, straight to the cartoon/humor section. An oversized book’s black hardcover spine sporting the title Abner Dean’s Naked People stuck out from a shelf filled with beat-up paperbacks and small hardcovers with torn dust jackets. (It’d be cheesy to say that the book was “calling” to me, though that’s how it felt, or at least how I remember it). Opening the volume, I was instantly amazed — and puzzled. The drawings employed an elegant style I’d seen in pre- and post-WWII American magazines, but everything appeared strangely skewed, with nude yet de-sexualized characters, washed-out black and gray dystopian settings, and cryptic captions. The work radiated a peculiar aura, blending funny and sad with smart, provocative, and (oddly) inspirational. I quickly paid the seven dollar price penciled inside, left the store, and read it on the walk home.

I began searching for other collections by Dean as well as for his drawings and cartoons in books and magazines. I soon realized that he did hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial illustrations. Finding information on his life, however, proved far more difficult. Beyond the occasional paragraph in an encyclopedia of cartoonists, nothing. Dean seemed elusive, far less well-known and studied than he deserved to be. So I did some research that culminated in an “illustrated biography” of the artist published in Comic Art (#9, 2007). Some of that material made its way into a piece that appeared at The Comics Journal in 2014 and which, I was happy to learn, inspired the editors at The New York Review Comics to think about reprinting Dean’s work.

This month, they’ve performed a great service by rereleasing one of Dean’s best, 1947’s What Am I Doing Here? The New York Review version stays close to the original, with one significant change: the editors re-scanned the original artwork, which is housed in the Abner Dean Collection at Dartmouth College, the cartoonist’s alma mater. In celebration of the book’s release, my 2014 TCJ essay, much of which focuses on What Am I Doing Here?, reappears below. I hope it encourages you to check out one of the twentieth-century’s great cartooning philosophers.


After years of reading Abner Dean, I still can’t answer a fundamental question: Are the drawings in the books he released from 1945 to 1954 cartoons? In one sense, of course, what we call them is irrelevant: they are beautifully drawn, thought provoking works of art. Yet the question gets at issues central to Dean’s philosophy and the trajectory of his career. Prior to releasing It’s a Long Way to Heaven in 1945, he had worked for over a decade as a commercial artist. Having drawn countless ads for products like crackers, cereal, and insurance, as well as hundreds of cartoons for popular magazines, he felt burdened by the limitations of contemporary cartooning formulas. Looking to create complex works of lasting value, in the early ‘40s he took the vocabulary of the single-panel gag cartoon — a genre he had long since mastered — and began producing “drawings” (his preferred term) that he thought of as something original, even “striking.” These innovations expressed his belief in the power of images, not simply to get a laugh, but to get readers thinking about themselves in new ways. The typical gag asks only for a quick chuckle at how we — or, more often, other people — act. But for Dean, the combination of image and text could stimulate a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses: delight, frustration, provocation, bewilderment, sadness, or illumination. To bring about such reactions, Dean created “cartoons” (a term he also used) that placed a greater demand on readers than typical gags and generated more questions than answers. Take Dean’s “Opportunist in a Strange Land”:


What’s the opportunity presented the protagonist? (To be a voyeur who can’t be caught looking?) Why don’t the others just remove the sacks from their heads? (Are they content in their blindness?) Why is he wearing a hat? (After all, no one can see it). But most importantly: What’s in his bag? If the opportunist represents Dean, then perhaps the bag contains, not his drawing materials, but a sharp pair of scissors: he can cut eye-holes in their sacks so they can see the world around them for the first time.

Dean released five collections that display the unusual approach to cartooning evident in “Opportunist in a Strange Land.” While mid-twentieth-century readers hadn’t seen cartoons like this before, they certainly had seen Dean’s commercial work in Life, Time, Newsweek, Esquire, Collier’s, Look, and dozens of other magazines.


Dean had a successful and varied career beyond cartooning; he collaborated on a ballet, lectured on psychoanalysis, published poetry, created animation for TV and Broadway, and appeared on TV as a game show panelist and cultural critic. His drawings show a similar eclecticism; he continually employs different mediums and styles, from silhouettes and woodcuts to aggressive brush work and a graceful, economical pen line. In what follows, I look at some of Dean’s most interesting mid-century work, art created by an innovative cartoonist celebrated during his lifetime as a “punch drunk prophet.”

1945 saw the publication of It’s a Long Way to Heaven, the first of four books (with What Am I Doing Here?, And On the Eighth Day, Cave Drawings for the Future) that solidified Dean’s reputation. These volumes represent an unusual achievement in American cartooning before 1960: unlike most collections, they feature cartoons that hadn’t been previously published, and they showcase a new and philosophical approach to the gag cartoon.


“Temporary Wisdom,” 1945

In 1941 Dean corresponded with a friend about commercial pieces he had sent to an exhibition at Dartmouth, his alma mater: “I hope Hanover likes the cartoons. Unfortunately they don’t represent my best work. I’m at work on a long series of drawings now that are not intended for publication.” It seems likely that this series, which Dean planned as a gallery show, became It’s a Long Way to Heaven. Seven of the collection’s cartoons first appeared in a 1942 Life magazine article on Dean, and these drawings (along with others in the volume) differ from conventional gag cartoons in two important ways: the text often appears within, or right against, the image’s frame; and the un-centered text is more like a painting’s/illustration’s title and less like a comic’s dialogue or narrative captions, which are almost always centered. (In later books Dean often placed text outside of the frame and often used type for the words — as did most gag cartoons — rather the hand-lettering of It’s a Long Way to Heaven.) Seminal literary critic Northrop Frye said of the collection’s cartoons that “the best have a disturbingly haunting quality that one rarely finds in the more realistic captioned cartoons of the New Yorker school, and in fact are ‘funny’ only to the extent of making one giggle hysterically.” Excited about the response to his daring work, Dean wrote that “advance reports from the salesmen are staggering — and the first edition . . . will be about 25,000.”

“The Efficiency Expert” (from It’s a Long Way to Heaven).

Dean was highly skeptical of specialized knowledge and repeatedly targeted “experts,” be they Freudians, philosophers, scientists, or even cartoonists. His drawings show people chained to books or wielding impressive-looking tomes as weapons in a competition for authority and a quest for self-affirmation. He believed we could only begin to achieve a sense of “balance” (a central concern of his cartoons) when we rejected others’ authority, questioned ourselves, developed a “plan,” and realized our inherent connection with other people. “Knowledge” and “facts,” Dean insisted, should be replaced with “doubt” and “wonder.” In keeping with his bias against metaphysical and moral belief systems (which he called “voo-doo ideas”), he never offered a detailed program for change: to do so would position him as an expert. In “You missed life” (from What Am I Doing Here? 1947), a man walks through an alley that houses a “pragmatist, “cultist,” “authority,” “expert,” and many others who have willingly labeled — and limited — themselves.

He attempts to rouse them into an awareness suppressed by their desire for what Dean called “the false security” of specialization. Next to the main character, a sign reads “stand in,” perhaps indicating that this provocateur stands in for Dean. Yet, will the sound of a triangle be enough to awaken them? Is this all the noise that an inventive cartoonist can generate in the world?

“The Understanding Wife” (from It’s a Long Way to Heaven).

Dean’s commercial work from the early 1930s until the mid-‘40s often involved scenarios familiar in the world of men’s humor magazines, such as ‘the dumb female and smart male,’ ‘inscrutable woman and inquisitive man,’ and ‘domineering wife and subjugated husband.’

Esquire, c.1937

Esquire, c.1937

Scenes that use these premises appear throughout his 1945-1956 collections, and we may be tempted to see them solely as expressions of hostility toward women — but the work is more complex than that. “The Understanding Wife,” for example, appears to echo the third premise above: a husband is in thrall to a wife who, as the title ironically suggests, does not understand him.


In his notebooks, Dean often asked questions about a character’s self-awareness, and we could ask such questions here, ones that might affect our interpretation: If his wife doesn’t understand him, is it because he doesn’t understand himself or her? If she’s happy and he’s not, is it her fault? Does he look to her, not himself, for liberation from the stocks? Perhaps she understands the predicament he’s created for himself better than he does: “You are your own shackle,” Dean said elsewhere. In cartoons like “The bright young men” (It’s a Long Way to Heaven), “Party note” (Come as You Are), and many others, Dean criticized what he saw as males’ egotistical and destructive behavior,  while in Cave Drawings for the Future he visualized the ways that men use women as metaphors for their own confusion, conflicts, and failings.

“I made this” (from What Am I Doing Here?, 1947).

Dean left five fascinating notebooks in which he wrote about dozens of cartoons from What Am I Doing Here? In this commentary he adopted different personas: in some he talked as if he were a character in the drawing; in others he sympathized with or scolded characters or readers in his own voice; and in many he offered either straightforward or obscure observations on his cartoon.

“Our hero is part fool-part wise man,” Dean said of “I made this,” “but for one moment he partakes of greatness — ridiculous as his creation may be it is better than the plodding absence of consciousness. Within its hectic form is a plan — is self recognition — in its fumblings is the hope —.” It’s easy to see this cartoon as ironic, mocking the immature artist. But Dean frequently felt sympathy for those who have a “plan” to create art or new ways of thinking that will, if only in some small way, make conditions better for themselves and others. At the top of his contraption is a magnifying glass: when we make or think about art, we can see the world more clearly and with greater precision.

Because cartoons in What Am I Doing Here? feature a recurring main character (“our hero”), the collection is more novelistic than Dean’s other books: it could be read as a kind of psychological picaresque narrative in which the hero progresses through an ever-shifting series of mental states and social dilemmas. Interestingly, the cartoons in this collection and elsewhere may have been inspired by a template Dean used in numerous ads he drew for Aetna Insurance, especially those of the early ‘40s. They feature a character in a state of crisis or error accompanied by an understated title/caption that addresses both the character and the reader, such as “Things don’t always turn out as you expect.”


Part of the interpretive openness of many cartoons in Dean’s books comes from the fact that the title/caption’s pronouns have many possible referents: An “I,” for example, could refer to a main character, secondary character, and/or Dean himself; and “you” could refer to a character and/or the reader. And titles often include “it” or “this,” either of which could reference any number of aspects of the drawing, or, in the case of “this,” even the cartoon itself. Many titles (which often are unpunctuated sentences) appear to be spoken by a character, but because Dean rarely used quotation marks, the text’s status as dialogue is also an open question.

“It’s good to own a piece of land” (from What Am I Doing Here?).

“Don’t search for hidden meanings in this drawing,” Dean cautioned. “They’re all apparent here — nothing hidden.” Like many of Dean’s titles, this one is to be taken literally: it’s good to own land and everyone should. Yet Dean criticized the smugness of those who fail to extend sympathy to people in need: “What about those other people — do they own any land?” Dean worried that readers might bring their own philosophical biases to this cartoon, warning that “there is no implication here that the state should own the land.” While many of Dean’s cartoons are cryptic, others communicate a simple premise in a transparent way, and Dean’s comments here offer a helpful reminder about over-reading and misinterpretation. If readers assume (as many have) that the cartoonist fails to sympathize with his characters’ plights, they are bringing their own cynicism — not Dean’s — to the drawing.

“Sometimes we give up too soon” (from What Am I Doing Here?).

“Competition on roller skates is my downfall,” Dean lamented. “It demands of me responses that are foreign — it’s not my fault — or yours. So I compete or withdraw. . . . Don’t talk of peace — of beauty — of culture of anything for that matter until we’re rid of competition.” Perhaps this cartoon expresses not only Dean’s general antagonism to competition, but his distaste for the commercial art world in which he was entangled, as one cartoonist among thousands competing for the scraps of advertising budgets. Dean’s views on competition intersect with, and were likely inspired by, his interest in psychoanalysis. Many readers have argued that Dean is heavily indebted to Freud, but I think his cartoons are more Adlerian than Freudian. Alfred Adler, one of the three main figures of modern psychoanalysis, believed each of us suffers from an “inferiority complex” that drives us to compete with others to establish our sense of self-worth or superiority (Dean called Adler, Freud, and Jung “The Id Kids”). Like “Sometimes we give up too soon,” dozens of Dean’s cartoons feature a character in a struggle with other people for self-definition. Following Adler, Dean argued that “self-actualization” would occur only if we rejected competition and embraced cooperation. Dean and Adler were less inclined than Freud to look to a person’s past or to sexually-based complexes for the source of neurosis. Adler believed that we based our lives on what he called the “fictional finalism,” an idealized self-image that we rarely understood but nevertheless spent a lifetime trying to achieve — Dean’s drawings repeatedly show a lone character wandering through a vast and barren landscape on a quest for such self-realization. Taken as a whole, his cartoons offer a thoughtful examination of the psychology of personal identity and social interaction that draws on numerous philosophical traditions. (Using slides of his cartoons, Dean lectured about psychology and psychoanalysis at colleges and medical schools, and his publishers noted that his cartoons were used in psychiatric practice.)

“Can I help, maybe?” (from What Am I Doing Here?).

In picturing the jester as small, tentative, and seemingly powerless when confronted with a mass of suffering people, Dean may reveal an ambivalence toward his career as a satirist. Although his goal is lofty — arousing those who sleepwalk through life — most expect from a cartoonist only a fleeting, lowbrow laugh, the kind Dean often delivered in his earlier commercial work: “I’m a rare one when it comes to lightening the moment — anyone got a lampshade I can wear as a hat — this’ll kill ya!” Dean also wrote about this cartoon that, although “humor never cured anything,” “rightness . . . [will] have a twist of real humor in it,” perhaps the kind of philosophical twist so often found in his drawings. The jester emerges unseen from the manhole, as if from the depths of the weeping characters’ collective unconscious. Though he can’t cure others (Dean believed you can only cure yourself), he can help them become happier and develop a deeper understanding of their own condition. Echoing his admiration for the artist of “I made this,” Dean praised the jester: “it’s better to try than just to ignore.”

“We’re all in it together” (from What Am I Doing Here?).

Dean: “It’s to the good that one eye is open somewhere in this somnambulistic scene. Beware of mad dogs — sleep walking minds. This isn’t dream world stuff. You can snap this with an ordinary Brownie any day. Pose Please! He’s beginning to be conscious . . . it may be contagious. . . . Meanwhile our hope is that we’re all in it together — just that. No one is separate. There’s an old wives’ tale that it’s dangerous to waken sleep walkers. Dangerous? More dangerous than what?”

“Don’t anyone weep . . . the tragedy is all ours” (from And On the Eighth Day, 1949).

In each of the seven books released from 1945 to 1956, Dean used a different visual style. The art in And On the Eighth Day has a loose, deliberately unfinished look that contrasts with the polish of his earlier volumes and commercial work. A reviewer attacked Dean’s cartoons as “vitriol martinis” and Time magazine criticized this collection as “a grim search through the weird subconscious levels of John Doe, a search that altogether misses heart & soul but finds a spirit crushed and shriveled.” The claim of pessimism is more accurate for this book than previous ones, not because the content is darker, (though it occasionally is), but because the style is harsher: Dean’s line is far more angular and aggressive. In particular, characters’ faces are often reduced to a series of quick marks, erasing the individuality they possessed in previous cartoons. Reviewers and readers who have described Dean’s oeuvre as “grim,” though, have overlooked the ways that the grace and charm of drawings in other collections bring a lightness and humor that mitigate the content’s darkness. I wouldn’t say Dean was never pessimistic, only that his emotional, intellectual, and visual range show more far more complexity and artistry than any term, or even set of terms, could capture. His work embraces a kind of cryptic optimism and slanted psychological insight that I continue to find inspirational.

Born on March 18, 1910, Abner Dean died on June 30, 1982 in New York City, the place of his birth. The last piece in his final volume of new material is an illustrated poem titled “Very Late Afternoon Thought.” Dean drew an empty chair in front a drawing table with a cartoon of a question mark torn into four pieces:



What is there
Will not be me –

I will have left there
On exit cue
With cartoon done –
And you can sit and watch the fun.

THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (10/19/16 – One Acronym Behind) Tue, 18 Oct 2016 12:09:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Time rushes on, but I’m still thinking about a book I found at SPX from the Finnish publisher Asema. Its title is Mehiläispesä (hereafter referred to as “The Beehive”), and its author is Anna Sailamaa, who recently put out a small comic, Everyone is Hungry, with the Latvian publisher kuš! The Beehive is a somewhat earlier work, released in 2015. All pages containing text are subtitled in English, removing the need for re-lettering – this technique I’ve come to associate with Finnish comics, though it’s not exclusive to them.



I was not familiar with Sailamaa prior to this, but something about the book compelled me to pick it up entirely on a whim. Perhaps the winding, sinister title lettering reminded me a bit of Julia Gfrörer — you don’t see very many comics reminiscent of hers — though Sailamaa works in a much more removed, rather formalistic approach. The book is split into three parts (“Cleanliness”, “The Wound”, “The Clean-up”), each covering a portion of one day in the lives of young girls who live in a highly metaphorical group home environment, seemingly devoid of adult supervision. Text introductions to each section describe the characteristics of the house in great detail, both its physicality and the eternity of the space which it occupies – nothing truly changes in this place. Observational drawings of stones, water and plants accompany these preludes, as if from a science textbook, and Sailamaa maintains this aloof and observational stance as the sections play out. “Cleanliness” begins with the faces of every girl sleeping, in full splashes and four-panel grids. As they away the perspective shifts between extreme closeups of parts of their bodies, especially their hands, and side-profile images of their faces, to which most of the dialogue is attached.

Stones magically appear on a table. It is the task of the girls to wash the stones.



The washing occupies much of “The Wound”, Sailamaa again honing in on profiles, eyes and hands, subdividing pages to emphasize minute gestures such as fingers gripping and eyes blinking. She is extremely good at drawing hands at work; from these images alone, we might assume the girls are themselves identical drones in a biological machine, but they are not uniform; some insist on chatting and playing handclap games throughout their work, with one girl in particular relating the details of a dream about Death – in fact, her narration of this dream continues irregularly throughout the whole book. Her housemates/coworkers/sisters(?) grow annoyed. There are a lot of rocks on hand.



Throughout the show I would pass the book along to different people, its steady rhythms bouncing them along rapidly — it won’t take more than 20 or so minutes to rush through a first read — until they hit the blunt and bloody violence Sailamaa depicts, and we realize that the scientific eye of her art does not merely glare at hands and faces because they relate work and communication, but because they are fine, delicate instruments, and they may break very easily. “The Clean-up” takes place after the cleaning of the rocks, where the girls must repair themselves before bed. The suggestion, art paired with prelude text, is that this happens every day. That human societies, we might imagine, despite their inclinations toward efficiency, are predisposed to anger and attack against potential deviations; this predisposition, however, is built into the system, its occasional breakdowns actually part of its purpose. A bell rings, like a classroom dismissal, and the girls rise from the floor, thanking an invisible benefactor for work, sun and light. The dreamer, laying in bed, is undeterred despite her wounds. She too is performing her function; the girls fear the night, but she insists she’s seen Death in daylight. Death smiles.

They all sleep, wrapped and ruined faces.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Love and Rockets Vol. 4 #1: HERE IT IS, the new manifestation of what we can probably all settle on as the ‘signature’ Fantagraphics comic book series, once again in the form of an oversized stapled comic book. Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez occupy equal halves: Beto with a restless, licentious 16-page survey of Fritz’s family, and Xaime bookending with 8 pages from the Hoppers crew and an 8-page superhero strip that you Japanese aficionados might term ero guro nansensu. There is also a letters page, house ads, and yes kids – variant covers, three of ’em, all by the Bros., though I think only one is the type of non-exclusive to actually show up at your random comic book store. Having read the issue, this is IMHO not really so much an introduction-to-new-readers type deal (as demonstrated most vividly with Jaime’s The Love Bunglers, there is some reliance on one’s prior connection to the characters necessary to appreciate their current situations) as the artists enjoying the moment-focused compression of small-scale storytelling; $4.99.


23 skidoo: Another comic book, but of a much older sort – it’s a 1994 minicomic by Al Columbia, released just prior to the start of The Biologic Show with Fantagraphics. Now it sees an irregular anniversary reissue from Wow Cool, though I believe the comic shop distro is via Alternative Comics. Across 28 pages you get “four intense stories of romance, gore, toads, vacuum cleaner salesmen and giant eyeballs,” in the wriggly, pillow-skinned style that marked the start of Columbia’s evolution toward the old-timey animation design look with which he is perhaps best associated; $3.99.


Cowboys and Insects: Not an especially crowded week to my eye – I mean, there’s a stack of Marvel and DC releases the size of an average adult’s torso, but this column is an unyielding march through one man’s peccadilloes, and it is by them I instead highlight this new release from writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane, the team behind two very fine volumes of The Bulletproof Coffin with Image. Cowboys and Insects, however, is a Floating World release (again, distro by Alternative), 28 color pages in an 8″ x 5.25″ landscape format. An allegory of love and partiality in an alternate 1950s, skittering with the type of big bugs known only to the nuclear angst cinema of our own world; $4.99.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation: Speaking of societies prone to violence, this 160-page Hill & Wang release adapts the famous 1948 short story from the pages of The New Yorker, in which a fine village carries out a horrible ritual by dint of tradition. The artist, Miles Hyman, is apparently author Shirley Jackson’s grandson, though his comics work has been done mainly on the French scene – he drew the 2013 David Fincher-associated The Black Dahlia album which Archaia/BOOM! released in English earlier this year, while this book is a near-simultaneous release with a Casterman edition in Europe; $16.00 ($30.00 in hardcover).

Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon, 1961-63: As for French comics you’re less likely to find at Barnes & Noble, Arsenal Pulp Press (they of the English edition for Julie Maroh’s Blue Is the Warmest Color) has a 272-page autobiographical comic by Marcelino Truong, set amidst the escalation of the Vietnam War. Released in French in 2012, with a ’15 sequel, “Give Peace a Chance”, covering the period of 1963-75; $26.95.

The Metabaron Book 1: The Techno-Admiral & The Anti-Baron: Definitely your Euro-genre-comic pick of the week, though what’s happening here will be familiar to most readers of American franchise entertainment. The Metabaron is a character from The Incal, a 1980s SF series from Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius; Jodorowsky later wrote a large number of ancillary projects related to the world of that comic, prominent among them The Metabarons (1992-2003) with Juan Giménez. There have also been prequels and spinoffs to that with different artists, and now we arrive at an official continuation with even Jodorowsky himself at somewhat a remove, sharing story duties with Jerry Frissen. The artist for these two debutante French albums — released as a single 113-page hardcover in English by Humanoids, 9.4″ x 12.6″ — is Valentin Sécher, operating in a misty arch-realist painted look. Note that a third album is either imminent or just-released in French, with Niko Henrichon as artist; $29.95.

Inuyashiki Vol. 5: A very trashy and sensational superhero comic from Hiroya Oku, the creator of Gantz, addressing the adult male audience of Kodansha‘s Evening magazine with as intense a form of wish-fulfillment as a wizard granting an American boy magical powers. Instead, an aging Japanese man is accidentally obliterated by aliens and reconstructed as a simulacrum using technology at hand, i.e. hugely advanced sensory equipment and amazing weaponry. He sets out on a regimen of literally laying hands on the sick to heal them, but often is called upon to remove the moral rot of contemporary society through righteous violence. Also, there’s another robot guy out there – a model-hot high school boy who embodies the situational ethics of a generation on the WRONG path. I can’t really defend this comic; it’s absolutely nonstop emotional button-press pandering with a lurid gloss of sexualized violence, but I remain fascinated by Oku’s increasingly weighted CG art, which has come to resemble scraps of drawn characters ripped off a notepad and pasted down atop photographic backgrounds, its total inhumanity celebrating the artificiality of both its heavy metal hero and the shopworn narrative devices through which he operates. Up to volume 7 in Japan, if you’re curious; $12.99.

Usagi Yojimbo #158: The show I was at *this* past weekend was Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, where Stan Sakai was a special guest; a rather large crowd for his conversational panel with Jeff Smith and Sergio Aragonés, considering they were scheduled against a Raina Telgemeier signing at a show that drew a relatively heavy parents-and-kids crowd. Those are all guys with heavy experience in comic book comics across the upheavals of publishing and distribution, and so on this staple-heavy week I will direct your attention to a Genuine Done-In-One Story, as Dark Horse still does with Sakai’s rabbit swordsman; $3.99.

Visual Abuse: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982-2002: Finally, your comics-and-more book of the week is a 212-page, 9″ x 12″ Fantagraphics celebration of punk zine and rock illustration notable Jim Blanchard, vowing to “gather[] Blanchard’s different eras and disparate art styles into a cohesive whole.” Samples; $34.99.

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Unsung Al Smith, Record-Holding Unknown Cartoonist Fri, 14 Oct 2016 12:00:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Smith, like Jones, is a name so plentiful in English-speaking countries that it achieves virtual invisibility and thereby anonymity. And the only Al Smith who ever broke free of the amorphous mob of Smiths is the one that was a picturesque governor of New York: he attracted enough notice that he was able to run for President of the U.S. against Herbert Hoover in 1928 and lost because he was Catholic, voters of the day being provincial enough to believe that if a Catholic was in the White House, the Pope would be running the country.

Our Al Smith, the nearly unknown cartooning one, wasn’t even a Smith at first: he was born March 2, 1902 as Albert Schmidt in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Henry Schmidt and Josephine Dice. Eventually, he “Americanized” his name to Smith. We don’t know when he did this, but it was done by the time he was signing one of the most famous comic strips in the history of the medium, 52 years after he was born. He continued signing Mutt and Jeff  for 27 more years before retiring. By then, Al Smith had been producing the same daily comic strip for almost 50 years, at the time, a world record.

Supplying autobiographical information for the membership “album” of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in 1960, Smith wrote: “Born in Brooklyn, I became an orphan at age four. My boyhood was like an Horatio Alger story. Shoeshine boy after school, made 60 cents a week. Quit that to become butcherboy at $1 a week. Loved to draw and make people laugh. Could not afford lessons. Loved vaudeville. Might have tried acting career if I hadn’t married. … I was too young for the First World War and too old for the Second.”

After attending public schools, young Albert started in newspapering as a copy boy for the New York Sun, leaving within a year for the New York World. “Loved newspaper work,” he wrote, “—hung around the art department. Thrilled no end when I saw a cartoonist in person.”

He followed the traditional apprenticeship route from copy boy to cartoonist: first, he was permitted to assist other cartoonists, then he drew an occasional fill-in cartoon, and eventually he graduated to his own regular cartoon. From 9 to 5, a panel cartoon about office life, was syndicated by the World until the newspaper folded in 1931. In 1930, Smith says he also did Miracles of Sport, a daily sports cartoon credited to Bob Edgren.

Upon the collapse of the World, From 9 to 5 was picked up by United Feature which continued distributing it into 1933; when it ceased, Smith freelanced, doing artwork for various clients, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and John Wheeler’s Bell Syndicate, where, presumably, he assisted Ed Mack from time to time on Bud Fisher’s popular Mutt and Jeff.

Mack had a slightly longer history with Mutt and Jeff than the 14 years he did it for Fisher before dying. During the lengthy legal dispute with Hearst’s King Features over the strip’s ownership that started in 1915, Fisher quit doing the strip. And Hearst hired Ed Mack (some sources say Billy Liverpool) to carry on the feature. When Hearst lost the law suit several years later and Fisher emerged as the owner of Mutt and Jeff, Fisher left the Hearst Works and joined John Wheeler’s syndicate. And he hired Mack to draw the strip. (Which means that Billy Liverpool was probably not the cartoonist who’d continued Mutt and Jeff while Fisher was awaiting a court decision.) Technically, Mack may have been Fisher’s assistant, but Mack produced the strip; by all accounts, Fisher did little or no work on it. And the same situation prevailed with Smith.

Mack towers over Smith as an unsung cartoonist on Mutt and Jeff, and to compensate posthumously for the erstwhile neglect, we’ve posted a generous sampling of Mack’s work near here, all from 1928-30, by which time, Mack’d been doing the strip for about a decade.

mackmuttjeff3 mackmuttjeff1 mackmuttjeff5

When Mack died in 1932, Wheeler and Fisher approached Smith about ghosting the strip. Smith told the story in the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society, The Cartoonist, on the occasion of Fisher’s death in 1954:

“It was during the Depression years, when my wife and I had three small girls, and I was digging ditches for the WPA in New Jersey, that I received a phone call from John Wheeler, president of Bell Syndicate, to come over and see him. Bud Fisher needed an assistant artist to help him with Mutt and Jeff. My wife brought the good news in our Model T Ford while I was in mud up to my ankles digging on the job. I threw my shovel to one side and bid my associate ditch diggers a fond but quick good-bye, and away I went to Mutt and Jeff, and I’ve been with them ever since.”

(Feetnoot: the alert reader will have detected a seeming contradiction in Smith’s history: he was probably not, at the same time, digging ditches and assisting Ed Mack on Mutt and Jeff. But this discrepancy is easily explained: “digging ditches” was Smith’s comical euphemism for working at the WPA, which he may have been doing at the same time as he was occasionally helping Mack. The same playful attitude about facts is displayed in Smith’s claim that he owned a Model T Ford in 1932: if so, it was an antique, Ford’s production of the Model T having been discontinued in the spring of 1927. By referring to his ownership of a Model T—in a somewhat awkward sentence construction—Smith was indicating in a humorous way his penury: he couldn’t afford a newer car. Because of his penchant for preferring comedy to fact, I’m not sure about his being an orphan at the age of four.

(And this parenthetical apostrophe brings me to an admission: Smith’s history hereabouts has been cobbled together from several sources, some of them casual comments—like his assisting Ed Mack on Mutt and Jeff. Some, doubtless, more myth than fact. In an effort to create one cohesive story out of the lot, I’ve incorporated these stray fragments into a single chronological narrative wherever I can, but, given the mess I started with, I won’t be held accountable for contradictions inherent in this smattering of sources. So there.

By the time Smith took over Mutt and Jeff, Mutt was no longer addicted solely to betting the ponies, and he, the tall, skinny guy, was permanently affixed to the diminutive Jeff, their cojoined names forever after denoting someone tall paired with someone short. With the emergence of the dim-witted Jeff as Mutt’s perennial partner in about the summer of 1909, the strip acquired the humane dimension that made it a classic: it ceased to be solely a daily chorus about the crass pursuit of ill-gotten gains and became a cautionary tale about the human condition.

Mutt remained the scheming conniver that he’d always been as a horse-player: when the strip began November 15, 1907, his role in the strip was to come up with ways to make a buck. Jeff’s seeming mental deficiency made him the perfect innocent, the ideal foil for Mutt the Materialist. And the strip’s comedy soon took its vintage form with Mutt’s avaricious aspirations perpetually frustrated by Jeff’s benign and well-intentioned ignorance. Foiled by the little man’s uncomprehending bumbling, Mutt often responds with classic vaudevillian exasperation: the strips’ punchlines are frequently precisely that, punches. In the best slapstick tradition of the stage, Mutt lets his pesky partner have it in the face with a pie, a dead chicken, a brick, or whatever object he happens to have in his hand when he realizes the little runt had scuttled yet another scheme with his literal-minded stupidity. Being beaned with a brick was a classic Mutt and Jeff finish long before George Herriman took the same device and turned it into krazy kitty poetry.

Often deploying gentle Jeff as his shill in a succession of careers and enterprises together, Mutt sometimes conceives plans that have the incidental effect of victimizing the little fellow. But we always root for Jeff: visually, the short guy is the underdog, and most American readers cheer for the underdog out of cultural habit. As usual, Fisher was perfectly aware of what he was doing:

“Mutt is a big, simple-minded boob who is always trying and always blundering,” Fisher said in a 1928 autobiographical series in the Saturday Evening Post. “The great majority of people like Jeff much more than they do Mutt; but Mutt always has been my pal and friend. Mutt is trying, and making mistakes, just like the rest of us, and he is a rough worker at times. People like Jeff because he is smaller, and almost every person in the world is for the little guy against the big one.”

And Little Jeff (as he was called for years) in his innocence and kindliness justifies our faith. Regardless of Mutt’s machinations, Jeff invariably winds up on top, unwittingly victorious over whatever traps or pitfalls may have lain in his path. So does the benevolent nature of humankind seem somehow to triumph eventually over its baser instincts in the long, long run. We laughed at them both, but we merely tolerated Mutt and his schemes; we loved Little Jeff.

Fisher was not particularly easy to work for, Smith discovered: “Very few people really know—or should I say ‘understood’—Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher. He somehow struck me as being an individual with a dual personality. It seems he was right on the line of being an ordinary person and a genius if there is such a line between the two. I never knew how I would find him.

“ One day, he would be kind, gentle, understanding and appreciative, and the next, hell in all its fury would break loose. A whole week’s work of comic strips would be destroyed by a few strokes of his brush, dripping with black ink. Good was not good enough, and right there, I think, likes the secret of his success. He always wanted the best in everything, and he usually got it.

“At the time, it was very difficult for me to understand this man. He was so different from everyone else. Early in my career with him, he had me on the point of a nervous breakdown. I left him and went away for a week to rest, coming back with the determination to conquer this most unusual job. The years started to roll by and after quitting four times and being fired once—and in each instance the following day being called on the phone as though nothing had happened—I began to understand Mutt and Jeff’s creator.

“Much of the time in later years, he was ill and confined to bed in his apartment. He was always afraid of being trapped in a fire. He never used an ashtray but would always drop his cigarette butts into a basin of water which stood by the side of his bed.

“We became very close friends as the years passed by. I had many pleasant visits with him when he would reminisce until three or four in the morning and tell me all about the big and little events in his life. I’m a good listener, and he liked a good listener. He could talk for hours, going from one subject to another. I hope I brought him some joy and happiness for in his passing years, he was a lonely man.”

Despite the sporadic interference from the flamboyant heavy-drinking playboy Fisher, Smith ably conducted the classic strip, eventually revamping it to suit his own comedic sensibilities. Mutt became less a plotting get-rich-quick schemer and more a paterfamilias and bread winner. The habitual would-be con man was thoroughly domesticated, and the strip focused on his frustrations as husband and father, albeit with occasional forays into various entrepreneurial schemes.

While it is obvious that Mutt is married (his wife and son are often depicted in the strip), in various humorously concocted situations, he and Jeff appear to be roommates sharing an apartment. The only explanation ever offered (and then only implied) for this strangeness is that occasionally Mutt is separated from his wife, who is momentarily seeking a divorce, and during those times, Mutt bunks with Jeff. Or so it seems. As I said, the explanation is never made that explicit. And Mutt and his spouse are evidently reconciled as often as they are separated.

Smith’s graphic style was more polished than that of his several ghostly predecessors on the strip, but he nonetheless preserved the turn-of-the-century feel of the visuals. By the end of the 1930s, the faces and anatomy of his cast had crystallized into static doodles, stylized approximations of human appearance, embellished, for a time, by the cross-hatching and shading techniques of the earlier era, mannerisms later replaced by Ben Day dots that converted white areas of the strip to gray.smithmuttjeff2 smithmuttjeff1 smithmuttjeff4


Smith’s penchant for humorous animal antics yielded a secondary strip, Cicero’s Cat
(about the cat that belonged to Mutt’s son), in a “topper” that ran at the top of the Mutt and Jeff Sunday page from the mid-thirties until 1972. After Fisher died in 1954, Smith was permitted to sign his own name to the strip, which he continued to do until he left it at the end of 1981, having produced the feature for almost 50 years, over four times longer than its creator did. Smith died five years later, November 24, 1986, in Rutland, Vermont. Mutt and Jeff had preceded him by three-and-a-half years (ceasing June 25, 1983.

Smith married Erna Anna Strasser on May 25, 1921, as he launched into his cartooning career. Eventually, they and their three daughters lived on four acres in Demarest, New Jersey. In 1950, he inaugurated his own feature syndicate, the Smith Service, to provide comic strips and cartoons to weekly newspapers. For this purpose, Smith produced two features, Rural Delivery (1951-1997) and Remember When (1955), and perhaps, as noted in the New York Times obit, The Bumbles. Other similarly folksy offerings of his syndicate included Off Main Street (1951-1961) by Joe Dennett, replaced by George Wolfe’s Pops (1962-1978).

Active in the National Cartoonists Society, Smith held several offices (general membership representative, secretary, and treasurer for nine years) before being elected president (1967-69). In 1968, his NCS colleagues awarded him the organization’s trophy for the year’s Best Humor Strip.

Otherwise, summarizing his career, as he put it, “Did six strips and Sunday page, ideas and art in small room for years where I acquired round shoulders and a creased stomach at the board all hours of the day and night.” Whereby he established a longevity record unequaled in his time.


Sources are cited in the text. Altlhough Al Smith is associated with one of the medium’s most historic creations, his association began long after Mutt and Jeff had made its signal contribution to the medium by establishing the daily “strip” format, and Smith’s connection was anonymous for the earliest portion of his tenure on the feature when the strip was still famous. Perhaps for these reasons, his name is barely mentioned in most histories of the medium. His life and career receive their due only in Maurice Horn’s often error-ridden World Encyclopedia of Comics (1999); the Smith entry is by Rick Marschall, and since Horn was probably not much interested in the old fashioned Mutt and Jeff, he probably did not alter what Marschall wrote, so this entry is doubtless fairly accurate.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (10/12/16 – Sun Blind) Tue, 11 Oct 2016 12:00:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> abner0001

I don’t know what Ken Parille was talking about; the only fundamental question surrounding Abner Dean is how can he get me so well?


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Dalí by Baudoin: Holy fucking shit, Edmond Baudoin in English. I guess last weekend’s debate really did knock reality off its rails, because it is a rare thing indeed to encounter this titan of French artistic comics at the local Wednesday haunt. Most closely associated with the publishers Futuropolis and L’Association, Baudoin has nonetheless been all over the place in his decades of work – Dupuis, for instance, published this biographical piece in 2012. Presumably the sort of subject matter here is what’s most appreciably salable on the current scene, though some of the books are good; I really enjoyed Chantal Montellier’s Kafka book, which, as it happens, was also published by SelfMadeHero, the house at hand right now. If you like folks that can draw, this guy can draw. Distributed in North America via Abrams, 160 pages at 6.5″ x 9.5″; $19.95.


Rolling Blackouts: Being the week’s big block of journalistic nonfiction, the sophomore graphic novel from Sarah Glidden of 2010’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. Subtitled “Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq”, the 304-page color work follows Glidden — working in tight grids, warm watercolors, and dots ‘n dashes cartoon figures — as she accompanies researchers and others through encounters with Iraq War refugees in a variety of settings. I’ve heard praise brewing up around this one, a Drawn and Quarterly hardcover. Preview; $24.95.


Band for Life: A 250-page Fantagraphics print edition for this modular project from Anya Davidson, which began in 2014 as a webcomic at It’s the chronicle of a noise band in a fantasy Chicago: “Though beset with disaster at every turn and frequently reduced to squabbling, they stick together because the band is the fulcrum of their otherwise confounding lives,” declares the solicitation. Once a touring musician herself, Davidson has one of the more distinctive styles to emerge in the past 10 years (though her zine-making efforts go back longer), so large-scale works like this are welcome indeed; $29.99.

We All Wish for Deadly Force: An 88-page Retrofit/Big Planet collection of short comics from Leela Corman, culled from various print and digital venues. Often autobiographical, the pieces address topics ranging from personal trauma to the artist’s work in bellydancing; $10.00.

What Am I Doing Here?: The latest in the hugely impressive debutante year of New York Review Comics – I am hard-pressed to come up with any nascent graphic novel line from an established book publisher that has exhibited a more varied and interesting sense of taste. This one’s a hardcover reprint of a 1947 book by Abner Dean, a compendium of philosophical gag cartoons in which genitally smooth nude people engage in allegorical pursuits, accompanied by super-literal-yet-somehow-elusive textual statements (the book’s title recurs throughout, in the manner of a refrain). Dean — also a poet, commercial artist, Broadway set designer and patent-holding inventor — put together several books of this type in the midcentury period. A contemporaneous appreciation by literary editor and television/radio host Clifton Fadiman is included in these 160 pages; $22.95.

Fuzz & Pluck: The Moolah Tree: Damn, Ted Stearn! This is a pretty lively week. Though an experienced director and storyboard artist for television animation, Stearn will be better known to some of you for his funny animal characters Fuzz (a mild teddy) and Pluck (a rude and nude rooster), who have appeared in one major Fantagraphics storyline per decade since the 1990s. This one was initially part of the anthology MOME, but now it’s a 288-page b&w hardcover saga, filled with “[p]icaresque and often Swiftian absurdities,” per the publisher; $29.99.

Ancestor: The Image anthology Island attracted some comparisons to ’70s Heavy Metal early on, and few of its features brandished more applicable a blend of gruesome-satiric vision questing than “Ancestor”, a four-part serial from Matt Sheean & Malachi Ward (penciller and inker respectively, both writers and colorists), though it probably falls closer to (say) Angus McKie than (say) Sergio Macedo in terms of genre literalism. In a world where apps and searches can be run at the speed of thought, a group of people go off the grid at the estate of an ambitious eccentric with plans to force a more holistic evolution of humankind. This 120-page softcover collects the whole story; $14.99.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro Vol. 2: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon: God damn it, Kitaro, I thought you were hanging out with me. Nonetheless, your manga pick of the week remains this second-in-the-present-series(-&-third-overall) Drawn and Quarterly release of classic supernatural manga by the late, great Mizuki. If it’s anything like the prior installment, expect its 192 pages to be augmented by historical information and yōkai lore from translator Zack Davisson, along with kid-friendly games and puzzles; $12.95.

Super Mario Adventures: Another vintage manga specimen, though its provenance is quite different. If you’ve had any history with the video game propaganda apparatus Nintendo Power, you’ve probably at least heard about this 1992-93 all-color serial, scripted by Kentarō Takekuma of the classic Japanese comics industry satire Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga. Many humorous scenarios are concocted for the Brooklyn mustache all-star and his turtle/dinosaur/spore-bearing crew (and Luigi), drawn with delightful cartoon facility by “Charlie Nozawa”, aka Tamakichi Sakura, a humorist and gaming character designer who’s also published a good deal of work in the ‘alternative’-type magazine Comic Beam. Well-remembered for its unusually spunky characterization of archetypically distressed damsel Princess Peach/Toadstool, and its adroit sewing of ad hoc Mario lore into a compelling environment, if that kind of stuff interests you. And it does. You saw that guy break the speedrun record last week and thought “humanity is not in the twilight of progress.” Me too. A VIZ release, 112 pages; $14.99.

Tetris: The Games People Play: Also in gaming-related comics, Box Brown follows up his 2014 release Andre the Giant: Life and Legend with another original graphic novel for First Second, now concerning the story behind the creation and proliferation of Alexey Pajitnov’s 1980s brainchild, possibly the most widely-played video game in human history. It’s a good story too, thick with Cold War diplomacy and clandestine deals, yet amenable to all sorts of digressions as to the mechanics of game design and the impression of play, owing to the simple-yet-infinite nature of the program’s puzzle makeup. A two-color presentation, 256 pages in softcover; $19.99.

The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman (&) Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge: Two here from the enduringly popular Gaiman, representing different periods of his career as a writer. DC Universe covers works explicitly scripted by him, specifically DC superhero comics. Indeed, there’s an early Bernie Mireault/Matt Wagner-drawn Riddler story in here (from Secret Origins Special #1, 1989) that helped build Gaiman’s reputation as an agile thinker about genre with a knack for the poignant. The collection continues up to 2009, with a Mike & Laura Allred Metamorpho collaboration from the Wednesday Comics anthology, and a long, soggy Andy Kubert/Scott Williams Batman/Detective Comics two-parter. Troll Bridge, meanwhile, sees comics-friendly Gaiman as a prose source for comics adaptation, with the name value to attract expert talents. Colleen Doran — no stranger to Gaiman — handles these 64 color pages, drawn from a 1993 story and presented as a 6.5″ x 10″ Dark Horse hardcover; $29.99 (DC), $14.99 (Troll).

Si Lewen’s Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey: Finally, your comic-as-unusual-object of the week comes from Abrams and editor Art Spiegelman, mounting a 1957 work by Polish-born and NYC-based artist Si Lewen, who died this past July, as an 11″ x 8″ accordion book – one side presenting a sequential suite of martial marches, both victorious and lethal, with the reverse offering illustrated text covering the artist’s body of work. There should be 148 relevant sides in total, with a slipcase to house the package; $40.00.

The thumbnail image on the front page this week is a detail from a digital picture I took of a dog. That’s the long and short of it. No wearisome elaboration necessary. Signed photographic prints of the full image will be available at CXC this weekend for ten thousand dollars.

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Episode 14: Anders Nilsen Thu, 06 Oct 2016 12:00:26 +0000 A Walk in Eden) discusses Chester Brown, Daniel Higgs, and the art of the live comic reading. Poetry may be useless but this podcast is very good! Continue reading ]]>


On the fourteenth installment of Comic Book Decalogue, Anders Nilsen (the upcoming A Walk in Eden, numerous acclaimed works) discusses Chester Brown, Daniel Higgs, and the art of the live comic reading. Poetry may be useless but this podcast is very good!


Previous Episodes

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:25:45 Nilsen (the upcoming A Walk in Eden) discusses Chester Brown, Daniel Higgs, and the art of the live comic reading. Poetry may be useless but this podcast is very good! Nilsen (the upcoming A Walk in Eden) discusses Chester Brown, Daniel Higgs, and the art of the live comic reading. Poetry may be useless but this podcast is very good! Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (10/5/16 – October Twitter Handle) Tue, 04 Oct 2016 12:13:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]> dadimage0001

Image here from writer/artist Pete Toms, and his recent Dad’s Weekend from Hic & Hoc; it’s a 28-page comic book I bought at SPX. Rarely do I read a funny comic so immersed in the minutia of online interactions – at one point a would-be movie director uses the term ‘beardo,’ which I’ve always known as extremely specific to a small subset of movie critics… actually, I think I know exactly the blog where the term was coined. Jeff Wells, right? As always, I appreciate any comic that feels like it’s been following me around for years; I am so lonely.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.




Soft City: A very much anticipated work here, despite the fact that it’s been readily available before. The Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner first got the idea for this book — a day-in-the-life illustrated depiction of an oppressively conformist urban environment — after a beneficial psychedelic experience in 1969; the pages were completed by 1975, but then they were somehow ‘lost,’ as in physically misplaced or purloined, though no definitive account seems to exist. Then, in 2002, the material resurfaced, immediately prompting a legal conflict over ownership which would delay the work’s publication until 2008, via Oslo’s No Comprendo Press. Since most of the text is in English, Soft City became a notable item on the international tables at MoCCA and the like, its reputation eventually spreading to the ever-prominent Chris Ware, whom I believe is the one that presented the book to the nascent New York Review Comics for the purposes of this first North American edition.

As far as ‘early graphic novels’ go, Soft City is broad and booming; though it does employ paneled pages and dialogue balloons and such, a huge amount of space is used on single and double-page splashes, mainly depicting the inhumanly tall skyscrapers and teeming vehicular traffic of Pushwagner’s world, a place specially apt to psychologically suppressing individuality for the benefit of reclining plutocrats with fingers dipped in arms and politics. The NYR Comics edition, 160 pages, includes an essay by critic Martin Herbert, who reads the work partially in the context of urban planning at the time of its drawing; indeed, its mass of thoughtless men in suits and homemaking wives suggests a rather temporally specific brew of satire. Nonetheless, in its corollary depiction of a society fed on entertainment media (appropriative, as Herbert suggests, of avant-garde and politicized art), lashed tightly to ill-understood military activity abroad, the book radiates some relevance for these election minded months in the U.S.A. And, of course, the pages are often very impressive in the ‘god, look at that’ sense. Note that this 9.7″ x 13.6″ hardcover is of basically the same dimensions as the No Comprendo softcover, but while the earlier edition was designed as its own confining entity, dropping you immediately into the city as of its earliest page turns and never letting you out, this one is much more removed, with Ware playing the Robert Osborne role of ‘hosting’ the show with a characteristic cover design and an introductory appreciation; $35.00.


Demon Vol. 1 (of 4): Not to be outdone, Jason Shiga now enjoys the gala third iteration of his two-color action/suspense serial, following a 21-issue self-published comic book series and a tactically not-exactly-concurrent webcomic release. Now it’s a set of 200-ish-page softcover books from First Second, which initially seems like an odd placement for a hard-R series like this, but – fundamentally, Demon is an ‘adult’ comic that’s really going to appeal to younger readers, in the way that manga often does. In fact, Shiga has claimed Death Note, that compulsvely-readable-until-the-moment-it’s-not opus of ’00s teen hottie pop nihilism, as a relevant point of reference, and like that boys’ comics phenom, Demon is mostly ‘about’ the appeal of itself, which is to say the enjoyment of seeing its many plot twists and manipulations of the scientific rules of its fantasy play out. It used to be that superhero comics got the credit for these surface pleasures in English, but popular manga has proven so much less burdened by lore and the provincial demands of niche business that the model best works shifted, as such. Pull quotes by Brian Michael Bendis *and* Chester Brown, folks; $19.99.


Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash: This is the new graphic novel by Dave McKean, an artist and filmmaker who will perhaps forever be associated with a certain era of comic book covers in North America by a certain kind of comic book reader, though there was a time when his Cages solo series was considered at or near the front of comics-as-art discourse. This 120-page Dark Horse release — a trade paperback, with a limited signed bookplate hardcover variant — is both an evocation of the life and art of surrealist painter Paul Nash, and, apparently, an adaptation of sorts for soldiers’ memoirs from WWI, the conflict Nash memorably portrayed in his own work; $24.99 ($79.99 in hardcover).

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: This is a 280-page Dark Horse release that appears to blend prose and comics, toward the topic of detailing the lives and experiences of women who identify with ‘nerdy’ things. Still, some of the comics are drawn by Margaret Atwood, and there are several comics-related contributors such as Trina Robbins, Mariko Tamaki and Carla Speed McNeil; $14.99.

Last Look: Being an all-in-one softcover packaging for the recent trilogy of Pantheon color graphic albums by alt-comics institution Charles Burns, previously released in hardcover under the titles of X’ed Out (2010), The Hive (2012) and Sugar Skull (2014), now totaling 176 pages. The subject matter ranges from art and sex to injury and metaphoric travel among dimensions; $29.95.

Platinum End Vol. 1: Hey, speak of the devil – it’s the Death Note guys. Man, Tsugumi Ohba… to me, that guy is so definitively associated with the ’00s, like Bryan Hitch or David Heatley, that I have trouble even contemplating the prospect of his professional work outside of that period. I didn’t last very long with Bakuman, his Death Note follow-up, though it ran for a good deal longer. This new series — and, as always, while Ohba writes and provides page breakdowns, the artist proper is Takeshi Obata — is a little different in that it’s serialized monthly (rather than weekly) in Japan, with English publisher VIZ experimenting with chapter-by-chapter digital releases outside of print editions such as this. The story concerns a suicidal teen who its pressed into a celestial competition to replace God, where the only morality is doing whatever it takes to win. A very, very, very Tsugumi Ohba premise, anticipating its fourth collected volume in Japanese; $9.99.

Oh Joy Sex Toy Vols. 1-2: These are collected editions of the supremely popular instructional webcomic (NOTE: there is sex behind that link) by Erika Moen & Matthew Nolan, ostensibly reviewing ‘adult’ toys and sexual aids, but also casting its eyes upon other topics of relevance to sexuality in its countless manifestations. Unfailingly sprightly and positive, week in and week out. These books (268 & 328 pages, respectively) also mark the debut of Limerence Press, an imprint of Oni Press dedicated to erotic and/or explicitly adult-oriented works; $29.99 (each).

The Magic Whistle 3 Pack Bonanza: Neither a collection of the three most recent humor comics from Sam Henderson, nor limited in scope to three items, this Alternative Comics bundle includes issues #14 & #15 of the last iteration of the titular series (both 2014) with 2015’s debut issue of Magic Whistle 3.0, along with Henderson’s 2011 Free Ice Cream collection of gag panels and a bonus minicomic. Very nice bargain; $9.99.

The Library of American Comics Essentials Vol. 9: Tim Tyler’s Luck, 1933: The 396-page latest in this IDW line of low, long hardcovers, 11.5″ x 4.25″ in landscape format, presenting a year’s worth of a worthy-but-probably-not-financially-advisable-to-publish-in-its-entirety newspaper strip at one daily per page. Technically, this is also vol. 2 in the “King Features Essentials” sub-series, focused here on the work of Lyman Young, older brother of Blondie creator Chic Young and author of the “prototypical” adventure strip, per the publisher. Of interest is that future Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond works as Young’s assistant in this period, his own style more and more discernible as he prepares to go solo; $29.99.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Vol. 9: The Ghost Sheriff of Last Gasp: Moving from newspaper to comic book reprints, Fantagraphics has another 240 pages of 1950s Carl Barks duck stories, with the restored coloring that all of these books get. Initially I had this mixed up with the earlier “Sheriff of Bullet Valley”, but it turns out that cowboy entertainment was prominent around the middle of the 20th century in the United States, so there were sheriffs of all types riding around; $29.99.

She Changed Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is this 160-page Kickstarter-funded production of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, profiling several dozens of women “who transformed the landscape of free expression and expanded the comics artform,” ranging from the pre-Code to contemporary eras in North American comics and taking what looks to be several prolonged dives into manga. Edited by Betsy Gomez, distributed to comic book stores via Image; $14.99.

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Dash Shaw: Day Five Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:00:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]> shaw_diary_5_a

I’m still at Fantastic Fest. I’m here now mostly to do press interviews and things like that, but I spend a lot of time watching other movies in the program, talking to people, and sitting in my hotel room reading and writing. I’m reading Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (which I’ve never read before) and an issue of Nemo magazine devoted to Chester Gould. It has a long interview with him conducted by Max Allan Collins, and some great episodes in it. I like buying old Nemo and Comics Revue magazines because I can find them for a buck and they’re light, so I don’t have to carry around a heavy Volume 17 of Dick Tracy in my backpack. I even tear out pages to put in my pockets so I have something to look at. I started doing that when I didn’t want to carry a whole book on the subway. Also, I decided I didn’t want to carry a sketchbook and a book, so I just started writing and drawing in the endpages and margins of books. I’m the least precious person with books. Once I started tearing and scribbling in books, it helped me become more engaged with my reading… I started treating books as tools instead of collectables. I’m sure this is blasphemy to some people, but it’s how I’m happy treating them, and it’s improved my life a great deal.

I got dinner with my only friend who lives in Austin, the cartoonist Jonny Negron. We ate ramen and talked about our inability to make small talk with strangers. Here’s a photo of Jonny with his bike.


I saw a few good shorts here, including Julia Pott’s Summer Camp Island, which had a great gag with a living pair of pajamas that controls the wearer into dancing, and a hypnotic stop motion short based on Dave Cooper’s designs. My favorite short was something titled The Itching by Dianne Bellino… It was really a painful experience! Ha ha.


At Fantastic Fest, a key turning point was when I realized that the filmmaker gift card the festival gave me had two hundred dollars on it, so I could just keep eating fish tacos and drinking and watching horror movies… and that’s exactly what I did! I went to the big 1979 Phantasm remastered screening. The cast and director were there. The score, especially, sounded great in the remastered version. I was very excited to see the French cannibalism movie Raw because it’s represented by the same publicist as my movie, so I’d heard a lot about it at TIFF. It was fantastic. It reminded me a bit of Romero’s Martin.

Tim Burton was the belle of the ball here, and I went to his Q&A. Leonard Maltin said, “Ed Wood was incredibly passionate and ambitious, he just didn’t have any talent,” and Burton threw his hands up in a “like me!” gesture… it was very funny and charming. I’m fascinated by artists’ careers… They are nearly impossible to do “correctly,” and they are never planned. Everyone always just does what they can do at the time. I love reading artist biographies. Think about this Tim Burton (b. 1958) sweep: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (the best Batman movie, imho, 1992), Ed Wood (1994). Pretty freaking amazing. Trying to be an artist is hard enough, but when you add huge outside forces and everything else, business and psychological anxieties and terrors, all on top of it, it’s nearly impossible.


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