Columns – The Comics Journal Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:39:41 +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 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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Dash Shaw: Day Four Thu, 29 Sep 2016 12:00:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> shaw_diary_4_a

I’m at Fantastic Fest for the U.S. premiere of my movie. Fantastic Fest is a genre film festival run by Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Its definition of “genre” is very loose… Last year, for instance, the U.S. premieres of The Lobster and High-Rise were there, alongside Assassination Classroom. We just played Toronto International Film Festival (the world premiere) and we were accepted at the New York Film Festival before Fantastic Fest, but I really wanted to play Fantastic Fest because I’d heard such great things about it.

The sensibility of Alamo Drafthouse reminds me of Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, but on a way bigger scale. They play strange videos before movies and have a huge appreciation of exploitation movies and goofy humor and anything bizarre. Everyone working at the theater is having a blast. You can tell everyone wants to be here, which is (strangely) not the feeling you always get at film festivals. This feels like something in-between a film festival and a comic convention! I even wear a badge around my neck, and there are sword jugglers and snake handlers in the theater lobby.

When I first arrived at the festival, one of the programmers gave me buttons she’d made especially for High School Sinking. It relates to a gag in the movie, so it’s an in-joke, and it doesn’t even say the title of my movie. I love it. What a great way to start the festival!



All of the posters seen in the theater come from Tim League’s collection. He owns Alamo Drafthouse. I went to a filmmakers party at his house and it was covered with these incredible posters. I didn’t want to take any photos of the inside of his house, but here’s a pic from the party where they’re opening a bottle of wine with a sword… This captures the spirit of Fantastic Fest pretty well, I think…


The premiere went extremely, extremely well. The best screening so far. The positive energy in the room was palpable. I sat on the side and drank a beer while hearing everyone flipping out for it. Every screening is different, and I’m hyper-aware of every little moment that plays differently. There is a moment late in the movie that is a strange leap, and in Toronto it got chuckles, but here the entire theater exploded! Ha ha ha. This will be the High School Sinking screening I hold onto in my mind forever. The audience questions after were good too. I’m still high off of this screening.

Then I went to The Bad Batch‘s U.S. premiere. This is Ana Lily Amirpour’s second movie, after her 2014 Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch is an existential love story in a Mad Max-like Texas wasteland. I loved it. The two main actors looked incredible next to each other. In the Q&A after the film, Amirpour said filming Jason Momoa was “like filming a big juicy steak.” It was awesome!


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Dash Shaw: Day Three Wed, 28 Sep 2016 12:00:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A still from My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, the movie I wrote/directed that is playing film festivals now.

A still from My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, the movie I wrote/directed that is playing film festivals now.

For the next couple of months I am dividing my day by storyboarding my next feature and arranging Discipline comic pages.

When I first started making longer animations (the IFC webseries I did in 2009) I would only storyboard. I’d read that that’s what Miyazaki did. He’d storyboard and then people would write scripts based on his boards. That made the most sense to me, as I believed film was primarily a visual medium (something I no longer think).

However, in order to get other people involved (like actors, and producers, and editors) I had to start writing scripts for them. I spent years writing scripts for different projects and went to the 2010 Sundance Screenwriting Labs and did a lot of back-and-forth working and reworking scripts only to have them change dramatically once I storyboarded them.

Now what I’ve arrived at is this: I write a script (which takes a year or two), show it to some people, and then storyboard it and then rewrite the script based on the storyboards. The storyboarding happens in the middle and I consider it part of the scriptwriting process. Jason Schwartzman told me that when he was offered The Grand Budapest Hotel, he was sent simultaneously the script and a private Vimeo link to a drawn animatic of the entire movie with Anderson doing all of the voices. When I heard that, it completely made sense to me… Movies are so complicated and expensive, and screenplays are difficult to decode. You have to in some way completely visualize it and have something to show to get other people involved and on the same page. Especially when you’re making an animated thing with an unusual aesthetic, it’s nearly impossible to just hand someone a screenplay of it. I was only able to get the High School Sinking cast after I had the majority of the film drawn. I was able to show producers and other people sections of the movie and say, “This is what this is — I’m making this thing and I want you involved.” Which is a completely different position than “Here’s a word document describing something I want to make.”

When I boarded High School Sinking, every 8.5 X 11″ sheet had two boards on it, and I colored it with colored markers. It looked like this:


The boards were just for me to look at, since they weren’t being sent to an animation studio. I have friends who work on animated shows and I saw their boards were smaller and more specific, like key frames for the animators. I’m trying to do something more like that this time, even though the boards still aren’t being sent to a studio. High School Sinking was a big learning process… I have a list of technical things I’m trying to do differently this time:

* Draw storyboards smaller and just in pencil.
* Make entire animatic before going to cast/other people. (if you can afford to.)
* Make a temp score with the animatic. (High School Sinking never had a temp score.)
* Record cast before animating, so you don’t have to redraw to their voices.

I hope that I’m adequately utilizing everything I learned on the first feature to make the second one go faster and easier, but it’s hard to tell… It requires a high level of focus and attention to board an entire feature… Mostly, what I try to do is just draw the storyboards in a room without internet and phone, so that I don’t become distracted or disheartened by the outside world!


Dash Shaw is the cartoonist of Cosplayers.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/28/16 – Get Ready to Despair) Tue, 27 Sep 2016 12:20:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> disco0001

A meaningful image up here today from Marianna Serocka, the Krakow-based artist who recently saw the publication of her 240-page graphic novel-cum-drawing barrage Disco Cry from Centrala – a Polish comics publisher which maintains an office in London, which is how I think they wound up tabling at SPX the other weekend. Very few words in this book, but a great deal of furious party-and-recover imagery on thick paper, as if scratched out impression by impression as the sun rises…


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.




Toward a Hot Jew: Some high-profile releases this week, so I’m going to spotlight a few potentially less-visible books. First up is a new color collection from Miriam Libicki, a specialist in heavy realist illustration and supple cartoon figures who authored jobnik!, a 2008 memoir of service in the Israeli army. The title comes from an earlier drawn essay on military imagery, now collected with several other nonfiction pieces “investigat[ing] what it means globally and culturally to be Jewish,” per the publisher, Fantagraphics. A 128-page softcover; $25.00.


Vortex: And here is part of what was the final line of releases from Sparkplug Books, one of the notable small press outfits to rise in the ’00s; it now appears in Diamond-serviced comic book stores via Alternative Comics. William Cardini has been making Vortex comics for years now – thick and sludgy pages of wriggly lines and toothy anatomies, heavy on mystic questing and esoteric anatomy. I’m always glad to see them around, and having 136 pages in one place will doubtlessly aid immersion in the artist’s space; $13.00.


Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (&) She’s Not Into Poetry: Now here are some of the established names you can expect. Cheap Novelties was a 1991 collection from Ben Katchor, I think the first-ever bookshelf iteration for his exceedingly unique vision of throwback urbanity, laden with curious business opportunities and whimsical-melancholic reflections thereupon. Drawn and Quarterly now reissues this testament to the ownable and the ungrasped in a 112-page landscape hardcover designed to the artist’s specifications. She’s Not Into Poetry hails from a different aesthetic: the immediate and unadorned communication of Tom Hart, self-publishing minicomics from Seattle throughout the first half of the 1990s. This 272-page Alternative Comics softcover collects many of those early works; $22.95 (Novelties), $14.99 (Poetry).

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope: And shit – how about one of the most influential comic strips of the 1980s, risen and reborn as a webcomic in 2015? I don’t know of anyone who expected that of creator Berkeley Breathed, but now there is enough material for IDW — publisher of the artist’s past output — to fashion a completely new 144-page softcover, oversized at 11.6″ x 9.7″. Given the five collections of the original newspaper strip, the Outland and Opus collections, and the Academia Waltz compendium of early works, this is indeed the ninth Breathed/IDW comics release; $17.99.

Happiness Vol. 1: I don’t know if he’s Berkeley Breathed or anything, but Shūzō Oshimi has certainly become a visible name in Japanese comics, his works adapted to live-action and animated television, as well as feature cinema. You’ll probably best recall The Flowers of Evil, released by Vertical, though a later series, Inside Mari, was translated digitally via Crunchyroll; both focus intently on ill-adjusted male characters, their perversity leading them toward both the prospect of fulfillment and more acute agony. Happiness is his newest project, concerning a nerdy high school boy attacked by a lady vampire – his urges now multiplied and less under wraps, he finds new and agonized paths opening. Kodansha is the publisher this time, of your manga pick for the week; $12.99.

Billy Budd, KGB (&) Carthago (&) The Golden Compass Vol. 2: A trio of French comics possibilities, all from different publishers. Billy Budd, KGB is the third album Dover has released from writer Jerome Charyn, a psychic espionage collaboration with the artist François Boucq that was first translated by Catalan Communications back in the ’90s. Very, very handsome art. Carthago is a 285-page Humanoids collection of a 2007-16 series about a big, hungry shark from writer Christophe Bec and artists Éric Henninot & Milan Jovanovic. Shades of Hook Jaw! The Golden Compass is a continuing Philip Pullman adaptation from Stéphanie Melchior & Clément Oubrerie, the latter of the Aya series, published by Knopf Doubleday; $19.95 (Budd), $34.95 (Carthago), $9.99 (Compass, $18.99 in hardcover).

Hilda and the Stone Forest: And here is a special YA selection, being the latest in a very popular line of lush color hardcover albums by Luke Pearson, who is on track to becoming a Jeff Smith-like all-ages adventure comics superstar. A Netflix animated series is forthcoming, but for now we have another 80-page exploit, in which the titular heroine makes her way through a world of trolls (non-internet variant). From Nobrow; $19.95.

American Blood (&) Garden of the Flesh (&) In Fox’s Forest: Three more from Fantagraphics this week, each of them exploring a different facet of what used to be ‘underground’-type comics. American Blood is a 208-page compendium of small series and stray one-offs by Benjamin Marra, whose introduction to comics readers came through these very self-published explorations of lowdown and often parodic genre fare. Garden of the Flesh is a 96-page full-color(!) erotic comic from Gilbert Hernandez, retelling tales of Genesis with an emphasis on the exchange between beings. In Fox’s Forest is an 80-page b&w allegorical work from Guy Colwell of Inner City Romance, implicating society and complacency through animal characters; $19.99 (Blood), $12.99 (Flesh), $16.99 (Fox).

2000 AD #2000: Okay. This is not actually going to appear in North American comic book stores this week. It’ll show up for download on whatever device you’re using, or, if you’re in the UK, it will appear physically in the usual places. Still, I can hardly allow the two thousandth issue of this most venerable of British genre comic weeklies to pass by unmentioned – at this point it is living history, both in its connections to mainline UK strips of the past, and through its prognostication of no small amount of where American action comics would go during its tenure. A 48-page special, featuring special one-page strips by celebrity veterans such as Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Mick McMahon, along with a Judge Dredd/Strontium Dog crossover from creators John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra *and* a new Nemesis the Warlock story from creators Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill, among other treats; £3.99.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #100: And this – yes, this too is established. As inker of Vampirella (“The Dracula War”) in 1992, Jim Balent was one of the men present at the birth of the ‘Bad Girl’ era of genre comics, occult and horror-tinged stories lingering on the slight dress of shapely (anti-)heroines. His name was later made on a mainstream iteration of such, the skintight-unto-painted-on designs of DC’s Catwoman; when people talk about Darwyn Cooke’s art ‘saving’ that character, Jim Balent was specifically the man he saved it from. But Balent was beyond that by then. He did, in fact, what you’re ‘supposed’ to in this career trajectory – he parlayed the popularity of his corporate superhero work into a self-administered project where he would be responsible for all the writing and drawing, aided and abetted by colorist/letterer/production chief Holly Golightly. Now there’s 100 chapters of sexy witch adventures out there, issuing from northeastern Pennsylvania, the region in which I was born, mere dozens of miles from the comic book stores I knew in my youth. This issue documents Tarot’s struggle to arrive at her own wedding, where she has been deviously replaced by a doppelgänger – her perfect equal in the arts of magic, combat, and love; $2.95.

The Best American Comics 2016: Finally, we have the newest in this line of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt samplers, drawn from the ranks of everything from minicomics to weighty prestige books. Bill Kartalopoulos assembles the big pool, from which selections are made by a new notable each year – this time it’s Roz Chast, New Yorker mainstay and artist of the hugely popular 2014 graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A 400-page hardcover, always worth flipping through; $25.00.

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Dash Shaw: Day Two Tue, 27 Sep 2016 12:00:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> shaw_diary_2_a

I got the French edition of Cosplayers: Perfect Collection in the mail. This collection is maybe more “perfect” than the U.S. one because it has the Christmas Special in it, which will come out later this year as a separate pamphlet comic in the States. Apparently, Christmas Specials are not a thing in France, so it wouldn’t make sense for it be a separate item. Seeing this French edition is cool for me a few different reasons… One is that the issues never came out in France. I redrew and corrected and added a bunch of things for the collection, so France will only see the better versions.


Different people like cosplay for different reasons. This book reflects what I personally like about it. I love the theatricality of it, and it’s DIY quality. I love that it’s a merging of fantasy with reality. I love its origins in comic book fan culture. Drawing cosplayers is interesting because the characters originate in drawings, but they’ve been filtered through reality, and now I’m filtering them back into the unreality/fantasy. Elements have been added that weren’t there before: Gambit wears glasses now, Batman has a mustache, the suit is a bit wonky or “off,” or characters have changed their gender or race. Rendering these differences or idiosyncrasies was more powerful to me than drawing them to look like the character that inspired them. That’s part of what I love about cosplay… it seems to both represent how fandom is wider and more inclusive and humanistic than most of the stories/characters that the fans are fans of, and also how the fictional world informs (or invades) the real world.

While working on Cosplayers, I read a 1974 interview with J.G. Ballard that boosted my spirits, or confirmed that I was chasing something interesting. He said:

Surrealism itself is behind us today; it is a finished period. For Dali to be able to paint soft watches, it was necessary that real watches be hard. Today, if you ask someone the time on the street, you might see the face of Mickey Mouse on the dial. It is a typical and entirely commonplace invasion of reality by fiction. The roles have been reversed, and from now on literature must not so much invent an imaginary world as explore the fictions that surround us.

He said this in 1974, but I think it’s even more relevant today.


Another reason that the French edition is exciting to me is that I love French movies, especially the later movies by the French New Wave. I like French movies more than any French people I know! And Cosplayers I think was (slightly?) informed by French movies that would follow two women wandering around having short episodic adventures, especially the 1987 Eric Rohmer movie Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. That movie is composed of four short episodes where the first episode is them meeting.

The later movies by the French New Wave directors are great maybe because the public seemed to stop caring about them, but they kept making films anyway. Hail Mary is one of the best Godards, and Akerman’s Golden Eighties is one of my all-time favorite movies… The perfect combination of positivity and negativity. I have been in an Eric Rohmer zone for a while because I just read his biography, as well as his own writing translated and collected under the hilarious title A Taste for Beauty. It was only barely more understandable than Godard’s Cahiers writing. Whenever I see Rohmer’s influence on American directors (like Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach), they make it more like comedies. I like it that Rohmer movies aren’t comedies. They’re not that funny. They are not funny enough to be comedies, nor dramatic enough to be dramas. Very little happens. People talk endlessly, although the subject matter of the films never seems to be what they discuss. They are not surreal, although they are slightly unmoored from reality. The films never seem to be on the side of the characters… they are seen from afar, with a spiritual dimension. They are their own thing. They are sort of like if Blind Date episodes were directed by Robert Bresson.

Dash Shaw is the cartoonist of Cosplayers.

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Dash Shaw: Day One Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:00:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> shaw_diary_1_a

I’ve been alternating between a few different projects. One of these is a new book titled Discipline (which was excerpted in Kramers Ergot 9) about a Quaker soldier in the War Between the States. Discipline gets its title from a Quaker book detailing the different Quaker disciplines — one being not to kill anybody. Although well-known for their pacifist beliefs, many Quakers did take up arms during the War. My main character is a 16 year-old boy who wants to escape his family and small Quaker community. In the 1860s, Quakers were very orthodox, speaking in “thee” and “thou” (the informal way of speaking, although it sounds more formal to us now), and forbidding music, and so when the boy is thrust into the larger world he experiences a bizarre “culture shock” on top of the totally insane, harsh war.


This book is a long comic book, but it does not have any speech balloons or panel borders. The illustrations and the hand-written cursive text float on the page. This activates the negative space of the page, which lends the book a spacious stillness, or a quiet, “Quakerly” tone. This spacing relates to Civil War-era illustration, where elements hover inside of articles. Also, this allows me to write and draw all of the elements separately, so the book is easier for me to edit. With the conventional comic approach, usually the insertion of a panel throws off all of the other panels in the book. Because of the collage-like structure of my book, I can easily insert illustrative moments and pieces of text and research/write while still making new drawings.


For example, I drew a couple chapters at the MacDowell Colony, in the woods, and I sketched trees and leaves and insects in my sketchbook, and then I could place these drawings wherever I liked in the book. Obviously, most of the drawings don’t get used. But it’s nice to doodle branches and bugs and think that I now have these pieces that I can place into a book if I need them. I had made mini-comics and comic short stories (particularly one called New Jobs) that were panel-less before, and so I was already thinking about it, but when I saw that so many Civil War-era illustrations floated, and the negative-space-to-silence relationship became clear to me, I knew how to go forward.


Much of the text for my book is adapted from actual Quaker and soldier diaries and letters I found at the New York Public Library. I laid out the book and completed the first 120 pages while a NYPL Cullman Center Fellow. I appropriated pieces from Friends journals and letters into my narrative. A key book is The Fighting Quakers by Augustine Joseph Hickey Duganne, published by J.P. Robens in 1866, which is mostly composed of a correspondence between two Quaker brothers and their mother.

Most soldier journals were extremely boring. Mostly they would talk about what they ate, and the weather, and how many miles they marched. But there would occasionally be very long, heightened, dramatic streams of text that were very powerful and moving and surreal. Even though I was holding an actual diary, written in pen and ink, the diarist felt no closer to me — even the handwriting was so much more precise and “inhuman” than contemporary diaries… There is a gap in time that is maybe impossible to bridge. I’d take the texts that were interesting or mysterious to me and try to pair them with drawings and sequences in my book. I was aiming for interesting juxtapositions, really, where the text and pictures weren’t completely aligned but also weren’t completely unaligned either. Ideally something happens that is unexpected and beautiful in a way that is hard to articulate why.

Larkin Goldsmith Mead, for Harper's Weekly, 1862... this one has word balloons!

Larkin Goldsmith Mead, for Harper’s Weekly, 1862… this one has word balloons!

The key visual reference point for Discipline is the Civil War-era “special artists” or “specials”, such as Thomas Nast, Alfred Waud, and Winslow Homer, illustrators who were dispatched to the field to draw. Their sketches were then sent to their publisher’s team of etchers. What we commonly think of as the style of Civil War-era illustration (the dense hatching) is a result of the etching process. Some “specials” would cheat and doodle very loosely in their Manhattan studio and turn it in, because they knew it’d look polished by the time it went through the etchers. Some would even steal sketches from other “specials” and sign them to turn them in as their own. The actual drawings that the sketch artists did were very loose, and the etchers would complete them in an elaborately hatched, embellished style. I studied the original pencil drawings done by “specials” (at the library) as well as the finished etchings, to slowly realize a way of drawing my book that is natural for me while still appropriate to the subject matter. Because I am making a comic, the drawings are meant to be read, so the images are more open and reduced, but they still retain some rendering associated with Civil War-era illustration. I don’t have the craft skills to completely visualize everything that I want a book to look like, but I can make the “rules” for the book and roll with whatever happens… Every cartoonist has to decide what scale to draw their book, or what tool to use, simple things like that, so I just try to make decisions that feel appropriate to the story.

Here is an 1864 Thomas Nast drawing “Press in the field” explaining the “specials” — look at the book at the bottom, with the open, scratchy crow quill lines and collage-like arrangement… this is exactly what I want my comic to look like! Ha ha ha.


Dash Shaw is the cartoonist of Cosplayers.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/21/16 – Star Maps) Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:00:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> gypsycover0001At the Small Press Expo last weekend, I found myself immersed in an existential conversation with an artist of my acquaintance. She was in the midst of finishing a long book that would dominate essentially all of her free time for the rest of the year, dividing everything between comics work and her day job. That this is not an uncommon situation for comics artists will come as little surprise, but it is similar to the experience of some comics readers. I began writing — blogging — about comics because there was nobody in my daily life who shared any of those interests.

It’s basically the same today, and, in splitting the space of my life between the live interaction of daily work and the online interactions that mediate almost all of my reading, I’ve come to see myself as both waking and dreaming. Having a job is being awake, I told her, and comics is like sleeping; the experiential qualities of each can feel similar, and they are both, of course, cut from the stuff of life, though there is a very sharp division between them. It doesn’t hurt that I usually write these columns very late at night, and when I write for too long the ‘sleep’ of comics usurps actual sleep.

Relatedly, I’ve long been interested in the non-comics-related writing of people I associate with writing-on-comics. It’s not a crowded field, but lately there’s been activity. Bob Levin, for example, is now anticipating the publication of his long-gestating novel The Schiz, in an illustrated edition touched by many cartoonists. Daniel Raeburn, who authored the great 1997-2002 zine The Imp, released a memoir earlier this year – Vessels: A Love Story, expanded from a New Yorker piece of ten years ago. And then there is Carter Scholz, one of the defining critical voices for the first decade of The Comics Journal, and an occasional contributor to this website; his newest book, Gypsy, was released late last year by PM Press.

I did not get a chance to read Gypsy until very recently, and I expect my reaction was colored very much by my state of mind as discussed at that weekend comics show. I greatly enjoyed it. Some of you may have read Scholz’s preceding book, the 2002 novel Radiance, a fictionalized account of life and work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California; among its subjects was the chimera of perpetual research toward advanced weapons, first as an adaptation of scientific research to a readily capitalized form, but ultimately as an expression of human progress superseding the necessity of individual humans and their tiny, short lives, distracted and sick and horny in the midst of a political and economic apparatus that will outlive them all. In that book, Scholz’s prose would tumble among sensory expressions, its dense thatches of conversation flowing readily into surrounding sounds or the input of reading – great spans of time pass in the midst of paragraphs, collapsing ready experience into the process of working, whole days burned, nights forgettable in the midst of the great project that tethers you to its swollen heave.

Gypsy shares some territory with Radiance; again, we see scientific research pressed into defense applications by dint of economics. But unlike its predecessor, Gypsy is a plainspoken and tightly regimented work – straightforward and full-throated “hard” SF, set mainly on a spaceship voyaging to Alpha Centauri, grounded in the reality of physics, fission, hibernation, math. The story is divided into six sections, each set in a different year of the long trip; an expository prelude introduces relevant historical and scientific background for each, and then we are left to follow one member of the crew per section. They are only awakened from hibernation individually, and only when necessary to resolve a problem detected on board. As a result, each of the six sections present modular (but accumulating) puzzles for the crew members to solve alone before returning to sleep.

But Scholz is not concocting a tale of ingenuity and pluck a la Andy Weir’s The Martian and its blockbuster film. Instead, as in Radiance, he emphasizes the interrelation of specialized work and everyday living, now acutely divided between plain text interstellar ‘puzzle solving’ and long italicized passages detailing the pasts of the crew members: an outdoorsy Californian who traded arts for research when money got tight; a minority Chinese keenly aware of the systems of control that have manipulated the path of her life; an Eastern European astronaut who found himself in position to steal orbital fusion bombs for a fuel source, since nobody could ascertain the data flow faster than he could act; an Indian scientist in despair over the inequalities of the world and the arrogance of its elites; an Altadina student radical turned physicist, contemplating the narratives she’d devised for her life, for this heroic longshot journey. It is a difficult thing to wake from hibernation — and it grows more vividly difficult as the years pass — and we are told that the crew members sometimes lose consciousness or doze off during their sunless days of toil; as such, the work/puzzle/non-italicized sections can be read as waking experience, while the background/memory/italicized sections can be read as sleeping and dreaming, if not simply recalling.

This is a potent approach, because it is not merely a stage for narrative; the story itself is suffused with a particular terror of the world’s situation – that our present day is something that will only be sustainable in memoriam. Scholz’s “hard” SF cuts two ways. He searches for a plausible means to travel among stars, yes, but he also expends a great deal of speculative energy on the worsening state of a near-future Earth. The concept of “oil reserves” is a financially expedient sleight of hand comparable to the missile defense project in Radiance; within our lifetimes, all of it will be irreversibly gone. The resulting energy panic will hasten environmental decline. Economic systems will not regain stability, political violence will rise, and still the global population will balloon. The Alpha Centauri project is spearheaded by a prominent and vastly embittered fusion researcher whose plans for clean energy became redirected into new and advanced weapons, hugely proliferated; over the years, he concocts “dual use” schemes to promote scientific projects that seem pragmatic by the terms of the Earth, but can most truly be utilized for an escape into space. The terms of Earth must be rejected. We are too far gone, he thinks; we must abandon everything and start over. The world is such shit, such shit. It cannot be saved.

This is the basis for Scholz’s division between present and past, wakefulness and sleep. On the ship, trying to solve problems — and, not to spoil too much, but the crew’s ranks definitely thin over the course of the mission — the characters are distracted from the state of the world. They are literally in flight, and every action they take is to ensure they stay that way; absorbed in labor, they can avoid dwelling on awful truths. But eventually they must stop, and when they think and sleep and dream, all they can see is what happened, and what brought them there. Gypsy is Scholz’s most politically severe book, perhaps because its overt genre devices encourage a cataclysmic perspective, though it could be the author is simply more grave – the main story is not very long (just under 100 pages), so the book is filled out with supplemental materials, including a new essay, “The United States of Impunity”, in which Scholz castigates the U.S. normalization of criminal activities through its failure to meaningfully address misbehavior by those in cushioned enough seats of power. This marks Gypsy as a rather traditional work of SF: a warning for today from the world of tomorrow. Elsewhere, there is an interview with Scholz by the editor Terry Bisson, in which the author discussing hiking trips in California; a like-minded author’s photo provides the book’s cover art.

I imagine, then, Scholz himself on board the ship, in the person of the Californian outdoorsy type who traded poetry for research. Metaphorically, he writes of a fantasy voyage, but cannot truly escape the Earth. By the end of the story, the dreams take on the character of nostalgia. A long italicized list of flowers. “So long for us to evolve. So long to walk out of Africa and around the globe. So long to build a human world. So quick to ruin it. Is this, our doomed and final effort, no more than our grieving for Earth? Our mere mourning?” And who will remember, but us?


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.




Equinoxes: The last Cyril Pedrosa translation to see print in English was Three Shadows, a digressive and lopsided but emotionally potent fable about parental fears for the safety of children, released by First Second in 2008. It was well-received for the nimble state of its art, its Disney-honed illustrative clarity taking on and shucking off smoky charcoal smears as if anxiously inhaled and blown away. However, Pedrosa’s next major work in translation did not arrive until seven years later, with a digital-only edition of Portugal, a graphic novel of cultural and artistic reawakening, via the Europe Comics platform; in recent weeks, the same venue has posted Hearts at Sea, a much earlier work in what seems to be of a similarly inspirational personal journey type. Now NBM returns him to paper, with the newest of his longform works – a 336-page color original from 2015, following a group of characters “captivated and tormented by the enigmatic meaning of life” across a year’s four seasons. His style now varying among monochrome hatches, colored line painting and watercolors over thin inks, Pedrosa at least remains expertly restless. Your French comics pick of the week, a 9″ x 12″ hardcover. Preview; $44.99.


BLAME! Master Edition Vol. 1: In contrast, we have not gone very long at all without Tsutomu Nihei, whose recent Knights of Sidonia series found him kneading his work into its most commercially malleable form, newly redolent with anime space opera flavor and winsome character dynamics. This book has none of that. Instead, it begins a new reissue of the work that made Nihei’s name, a 1997-2003 SF action comic best understood as an extended recital of personal aesthetic. Kyrii is a quiet man with a very powerful gun, and his world is an endless city maze of metal, wire and meat, which he navigates without pity to Meet His Objective. There may not have been any more single-minded an action comic anywhere on planet Earth in the late ’90s, the basic facts of its viability an inspiration to western artists fascinated with motion in space and costume-as-environment upon its initial English release by Tokyopop in the mid-’00s. Now Vertical brings it back with a new translation in a larger and thicker format, 7.2″ x 10.3″ and 400+ pages, doubling up the original volumes for what I think will be a total of five books; $34.95.


Mooncop: A very different type of SF here, a melancholic fancy about working a dead-end job on a depleting lunar colony from Tom Gauld, among the prominent UK cartoonists of today. However, as with several past works such as Goliath (2012) and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack (2013), the publisher is Canada’s own Drawn and Quarterly. Preview; $19.95.

Clockwerx (&) Metabarons Genesis: Castaka: These are not newly translated European comics, but reissues of prior releases by Humanoids. Clockwerx hails from 2008-09, when the French company was pretty aggressive about recruiting international crews for their projects. The writers are Jason Henderson, Tony Salvaggio (both Americans) and Guillaume “Izu” Dorison (French), while the artist is Jean-Baptiste Hostache. It’s kind of a steampunk-y adventure thing, 112 pages, now in softcover. Castaka is a prequel to writer Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Metabarons (itself a spinoff of an earlier series, The Incal), with art by Spanish specialist in the grotesque Das Pastoras. I reviewed the first English release of the book back in 2014 – fundamentally, it’s a western, high-energy and often entertaining, but somewhat hamstrung by the necessities of serving as a tie-in to a rather self-contained work; $19.95 (Clockwerx), $29.95 (Castaka).

Britannia #1 (of 4): I’m not all that familiar with the revived Valiant Entertainment, though I know they’ve attracted a pretty loyal following for superhero and fantasy-action revival fare with origins in the 1990s – never did read anything of the originals past the point when Jim Shooter and Barry Windsor-Smith were out the door myself. Nonetheless, I’ve liked comics from writer Peter Milligan in the past, and artist Juan José Ryp is a longtime favorite of mine in the department of snarling excess-that-is-nonetheless-salable-in-most-comic-book-stores, so sure, I’ll look at an ancient Roman supernatural detective comic by the two of them. Colors by Jordie Bellaire. Production art samples & interview with the principles; $3.99.

Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World: Toon Books has a slew of releases coming this week, including a Geoffrey Hayes reissue and a new one from Barnaby Richards, but I am going to single out this latest comic by James Sturm, alt comics veteran and co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, now on his second children’s release of 2016, which may tempt ride-or-die readers into considering the whole affair an unofficial new solo series. The premise this time finds a pair of funny animal characters plotting global control but discovering empathy and friendship instead. A 6″ x 9″ hardcover release, 40 pages in color; $12.95.

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 3 (&) Master Keaton Vol. 8: More manga, both from VIZ, and both continuing translations of accomplished and popular artists who probably don’t require much in the way of introduction. Goodnight Punpun is Inio Asano’s signature series — a proposition that elicits contemplation and nostalgia in readers who can recall back to when Asano didn’t necessarily have a signature series, i.e. me — following a melancholic boy on his life’s path, touched with severe drama and surreal elements. Master Keaton is an older (’80s/’90s) episodic mystery-adventure series fronted by Naoki Urasawa, who recently finished his Billy Bat serial for Kodansha, and is now in the midst of a third season for his NHK mangaka interview show Manben (on which Inio Asano has appeared). Ryōichi Ikagami! Eek, swoon; $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton).

Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol. 1: GUESS WHAT? There’s a superhero movie based on a Marvel Comics character coming soon to theaters. In fact, it is set to release in North America on November 4, two days after the 89th birthday of Steve Ditko, whose 1960s Strange Tales shorts debuting the character became one of the most singular bodies of work in the superhero Silver Age, an altered reality tangential to Marvel’s NYC where booming struggles between good and evil occurred on an undulating plane of curling smoke and jagged energy. Read in the context of Ditko’s body of work, a superhero comic like The Amazing Spider-Man feels distinctly collaborative; not this stuff. Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Dennis O’Neil may have worked on the strip at the same time, in varying capacities, but Doctor Strange has never been entirely divisible from Ditko. This 456-page hardcover collects what should be the entirety of his work on the character, in case you want it all in one place; $75.00.

From Hell: GUESS WHAT? Alan Moore published a new prose novel recently, so why the hell not reissue the best comic with which he has ever been involved, a magisterial psychic map of urban Victoriana, drawn by Eddie Campbell and serialized between 1989 and 1998. I get the impression this book has become sort of jostled into the background lately given the high visibility of superhero characters and Moore’s continuing (involuntary) influence on such, so it will be nice to see a fat hardback with new Campbell cover art bowing the shelves. From Top Shelf; $39.99.

Peter Kuper: Conversations: Finally, here is your book-on-comics for the week – a 240-page University Press of Mississippi collection of interviews with the World War 3 Illustrated co-founder and alternative press mainstay, among the most instantly recognizable illustrators active in the United States. Edited by Journal contributor and comics studies expert Kent Worcester; $40.00.

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Alex Raymond: Becoming a Cartoonist Thu, 15 Sep 2016 12:00:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Among the achievements for which Alex Raymond is noted in histories of this oft-abused artform is that he drew three nationally syndicated comic strips simultaneously. Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon, both of which began January 7, 1934, and Secret Agent X-9, which began two weeks later on January 22. Given the high quality of the illustrative evidence available, Raymond’s achievement seems all the more remarkable. To do such good work on three comic strips at the same time attests, we are tempted to say, to Raymond’s towering graphic genius.

Before surrendering to the temptation, however, we might take a moment to reflect, and in that moment, remember that Secret Agent X-9 was a daily only comic strip and Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon appeared only on Sundays. Moreover, Jungle Jim was the “topper” for Flash Gordon—a one- or two-tier strip that filled out a single page, with Flash occupying the bottom two-thirds. The two Sunday-only strips made up a single page of the funnies, just as Bringing Up Father and Snookums or Blondie and Colonel Potterby and the Duchess did. Raymond may have drawn better (more illustratively, in greater detail), but he did no more strips in an average week than George McManus did with Jiggs and Maggie or Chic Young with Blondie and Dagwood. Six daily strips and one Sunday page.

Raymond has enjoyed an unremitting and entirely deserved chorus of acclaim, but, according to most versions of his life and career, it is his skill as an illustrator that entitles him to this idolatry, not the quantity of his work. Moreover, Raymond earned a secure place in the history of the medium solely as an illustrator of other men’s stories. As such, he was not, strictly speaking, a cartoonist: a cartoonist (by definition—mine anyway) both draws and writes his material, and all of the great strips with which Raymond’s name is associated were reportedly written by others. Even Raymond’s post-war undertaking, Rip Kirby, was supposedly written by others, chiefly Raymond’s editors at King Features in concert with Raymond. Or so the story goes; we’ll take another look later on.

Raymond’s celebrated art is the focus of a new book from Hermes Press— Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey—Adventure, Intrigue, and Romance by Ron Goulart; Introduction by Daniel Herman (242 19 x 13-inch pages, b/w and some color; hardcover, $75). This is an art book of the very first order. The pictures are all reproduced from original art—Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim (both January 7, 1934-April 30, 1944), Secret Agent X-9 (January 22, 1935-November 16, 1935), and the later Rip Kirby (March 4, 1946- September 29, 1956), all of Raymond’s masterpieces of illustrative art. Organized chronologically, a third of the book is devoted to Flash; another third to a miscellanea—X-9, Jungle Jim, and book and magazine illustration; the remaining third, to Rip Kirby.

The generous sampling of the strips also appears in chronological order within each section, but a lot of strips are missing: this is, after all, not a reprint volume of the totality of any of the titles. Each strip is meticulously dated. Some pages reproduce at enlarged dimension (perhaps original art size) individual panels from a strip on the facing page—“details,” in curator lingo—which better reveal the intricacies of Raymond’s artwork.

GoulartRaymond2 A few strips are reproduced in color from their newspaper appearances, but the book is fundamentally a black-and-white showcase.

Despite the gigantic page measurement, the strip reproduction is small. Sunday Flash measures 7.5×11 inches at most, usually smaller; and the daily Rip Kirby is 2.5×8 inches, about the size it appeared when initially published.

Goulart’s text traces Raymond’s career and, for each of the strip titles, offers summaries of a few of the stories and a brief critique of the artist’s developing drawing style. As usual, Goulart is a font of information about ghosts and assistants. He errs only a couple of times. Fred Waring, the popular bandleader and radio-tv personality of the 1920s through the 1950s, was not ever president of the National Cartoonists Society; he was, however, an enthusiastic fan of cartooning and hosted a summer weekend for NCS at his resort in Pennsylvania. And in describing the exploits of Secret Agent X-9, Goulart says Raymond didn’t draw about a month of “The Mask” story; but it’s the later “Iron Claw” story that was ghosted by a somewhat inferior artist.

But Goulart is always a good read and a fund of information. Here, he adds to the Raymond canon, noting, for instance, the several Big Little Book incarnations of Flash Gordon. But for the full career rundown and biography, you need Tom Roberts’ 2007 superior 20-years-in-the-making production, Alex Raymond: His Life and Art, the hands-down best book on Raymond and his art (312 9 x 12-inch landscape pages, b/w and color; $49.95).

Roberts is a book designer and an illustrator himself, and his book is an elegant example of the book designer’s art and crammed with beautiful illustrations by the artist Roberts’ so avidly admires, taken from Raymond’s pace-setting comic strips plus book and magazine illustration and Christmas cards and pin-ups—a lavish compilation that includes much seldom (if ever) seen art, glowing on slick paper in full color whenever the original was in color.

Not only does Roberts cover Raymond’s early career assisting on Tim Tyler’s Luck and Blondie, but he examines Raymond’s lesser known achievements as a documentarian in the Marines during World War II and as an illustrator of fiction and advertising in the 1930s and 1940s.

For the biographical text, Roberts interviewed members of the Raymond family (four of the artist’s five children and two of his brothers) and surviving friends and assistants (chiefly Ray Burns, who assisted on Rip Kirby) and twenty-two Marine Corps veterans. The result is the only thoroughly complete biography of the famed cartoonist.

Alexander Gillespie Raymond, Jr. was born October 2, 1909, in New Rochelle, New York, the first of the seven children of Alexander Gillespie Raymond, a civil engineer, and Beatrice Wallaz Crossley.  Young Raymond attended Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle on an athletic scholarship, but his plans for higher education were curtailed due to his father’s death in 1922. By 1928, money from the estate had run out, and at eighteen, Raymond went to work in order to help support the family, taking a position as an order clerk in the Wall Street brokerage firm of Chisholm and Chapman.

When he lost this position in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, he was encouraged to exploit his talent for drawing by his neighbor, Russ Westover, the creator of the comic strip Tille the Toiler.  For two months, Raymond was able to take night classes at the Grand Central School of Art, working days as a solicitor for the James Boyd Mortgage firm. On New Year’s Eve as 1930 turned into 1931, Raymond married Helen Frances Williams; they had five children.

Subsequently, in May 1931, he briefly assisted Westover, who soon secured additional work for him in the art department of King Features syndicate, where the youth came to the attention of Chic Young; soon Raymond was assisting on Young’s Blondie. In late 1931, Raymond began assisting Young’s brother Lyman on Tim Tyler’s Luck.

Cast initially in the mold of Bobby Thatcher and others of that ilk, Tim Tyler’s Luck had started August 13, 1928, as an aviation strip with a kid hero.  In 1932, Young took his cast to Africa, and the strip became a kind of jungle strip.  At first, Young drew the strip in a cartoony style, but as the stories became more realistic, he hired assistants to render the adventures in a more realistic, illustrative manner.

“From May 1932, Raymond worked consistently with Lyman Young,” Roberts reports, “and on and off for Chic Young. Hardly a week would pass that Raymond didn’t work on either (or both) the daily or the Sunday Tim Tyler’s Luck.” Raymond did all the figure drawing in the daily and Sunday Tyler for most of 1933, drawing realistically in a confident outline style with virtually no shading or cross-hatching; it was thoroughly competent but undistinguished linework.

Tyler, like all Sunday comic strips, was accompanied by a topper, a short shrift strip with other characters that ran at the top of the page carrying the main feature, and Raymond did Tyler’s topper, Kid Sister. Raymond had stopped working on Blondie just after Dagwood and the eponymous flapper married on February 17, 1933. (Raymond drew many of the people at the wedding.) By this time, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in cartooning; the King Features bull pen would be his launching pad.

In late 1933, King Features officials began looking for features to compete with two popular Sunday comic strips offered by rival syndicates—Buck Rogers, space adventures in a science fiction future, and Tarzan. In one of those fated celestial quirks, both of these strips had debuted on the same date, January 7, 1929.

Raymond submitted samples for the sf adventure, making two false starts —as detailed for the first time I know of by Roberts—before being awarded a Sunday page with Flash Gordon on the bottom two-thirds. He was then instructed to concoct a jungle strip as the page’s topper. This was Jungle Jim, which owed more to white hunter Frank Buck and animal trainer Clyde Beatty than to Burroughs.

At the same time, Raymond entered the syndicate’s competition to find an artist for a new crime-fighting daily strip, which, in order to compete with the soaring popularity of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and Norman Marsh’s Dan Dunn—Secret Operative 48, would be written by the celebrated master of hard-boiled detective fiction, Dashiell Hammett.  Raymond was picked to do this strip, too, and thus he began 1934 as the illustrator of three comic strips, a virtually unprecedented circumstance.

The only disappointing aspect of Goulart’s art book is, oddly, in the very reproduction of the artworks the volume exists to showcase. In all of Raymond’s syndicated work, he resorted to a fine line for feathering and many details; a fine line typically outlined faces and other forms. Unhappily, many of the fine lines disappear or are broken rather than continuous in some of the reproductions.

I suspect that the original art was shot “in color” instead of black-and-white, a practice increasingly followed in books reproducing original art (ever since my Children of the Yellow kid tome in 1998, whose editor, Richard V. West, inaugurated the practice). This tactic undeniably produces the art as accurately as is possible: blue lines indicating Ben Day and pencil lines not quite completely erased show up with this treatment—just as they do on a museum wall. An unintended consequence, however, is that sometimes the black lines are brownish rather than black. And the “color” of the paper on which the drawings are made also shows up. Brown lines against yellow-ish paper lose some of their clarity and thereby fall short of the museum-wall effect.

This unhappy situation in an art book with this one’s ambition is unfortunate, but the book itself, while suffering somewhat, is scarcely devastated. Many more of the strips are accurately reproduced than are flawed in their fine lines. And the maneuver of reproducing some panels as enlarged “details” compensates for the shortfall in some of the strips. Any fan of Alex Raymond’s oeuvre should have this handsome volume in his library.

Even though Raymond’s consumate artistry elevated the strips above the mundane, they were not all of equal excellence. Flash Gordon is unquestionably Raymond’s masterpiece. His great skill in executing the other strips magnified his impact upon the profession, but neither of the other two of his initial trio of strips was particularly distinguished as a comic strip. Secret Agent X-9 was written, for most of Raymond’s stint on it, by Hammett, whose understanding of the comic strip medium was not particularly acute. When Hammett quit, Raymond reportedly wrote it himself for a brief time, then another mystery writer, Leslie Charteris, took over. Neither Raymond nor Charteris proved very good at writing a comic strip.

As I’ve said elsewhere (in a book of mine, The Art of the Funnies), despite Raymond’s great talent as an illustrator, his deployment of the comic strip medium was undistinguished. The plots of the two X-9 adventures presumed to have been written by Raymond stumble along with motiveless actions, and narrative breakdown leap-frogs from one event to another, continuity gaps filled in with huge chunks of prose narration. Both these adventures rush to conclusion, much of the action taking place “off stage” so that it must be narrated to us in captions, weakening the drama of events.

The strips often lack the variety of panel composition—such things as varying camera angles and distances—that would lend visual drama to the story. Compared, say, to Milton Caniff’s work on Terry and the Pirates a short time later, much of Raymond’s X-9 seems a monotonous parade of panels in which the characters appear always the same size, always seen from the same angle. Moreover, Raymond’s people never change expression: X-9’s grim albeit handsome visage seems carved in stone, and his facial expression is repeated on the head of every handsome male character in the strip. And Raymond’s representation of his hero grates a little: his X-9 is a bit too dapper, more of a fashion model than a street fighter.   Alex1Alex2

Raymond’s women, although superbly drawn and seductively beautiful, all look alike, and when he makes both young women in a story dark-haired, we can’t tell one from the other—with much resulting confusion about the story’s plot (particularly after Hammett had left). Raymond fared much better on the Sunday pages. The mode of storytelling there—by weekly installment—lends itself to his illustrator’s skills without revealing his failings as a comic strip storyteller. And on the Sunday page, Raymond had more room in which to exercise his graphic skills.

But it was more than format that fired Raymond’s imagination. Jungle Jim alone, although well-drawn, would not have secured Raymond a place in the pantheon of cartooning’s greatest practitioners. The strip followed the exploits of a hunter named Jim Bradley as he righted wrongs in the jungles of southeast Asia.

But Raymond’s heart was clearly not in this work: after a couple of years, his pictures appear almost dashed-off. For weeks in mid-1936, the strip’s panels were almost wholly devoid of background detail. The strip consisted entirely of pictures of Jim and the other characters talking. Alex3They are all attractively drawn. Raymond’s technical virtuosity was so great that his figure-drawing alone rescues the strip visually. But he was obviously not putting much work into the feature. His effort—his creative energy, his imagination and skill and dedication—was being poured into the feature at the bottom two-thirds of the Sunday page, Flash Gordon.

The graphic excellence that would distinguish Flash Gordon did not spring, full-blown, from Raymond’s pen with the strip’s debut.  At first, he drew in the same unembellished linear  illustrative style he had used when ghosting Tim Tyler’s Luck for Lyman Young in 1933. But before long, he began to feel the influence of other styles of illustration, and the artwork in Flash started to change.

In using the work of other artists as models for changing his style, Raymond was scarcely unique. Most artists are influenced by what their colleagues do, and they borrow freely this technique and that. When the borrowing is well done, however, it goes beyond mere imitation and gives to the borrower’s work a new dimension wholly his own. His work becomes an amalgam of all he has borrowed, unified by a single creative consciousness into something uniquely his—his own style.

It is not clear who influenced Raymond’s emerging style the most, although there are several candidates, and he probably borrowed a little from them all (and from others we don’t know about). In rendering the futuristic architecture of Mongo, Raymond was obviously imitating Franklin Booth, a turn-of-the-century artist of the futuristic. And Goulart notes that Raymond’s contemporaries, Matt Clark and John LaGatta, also supplied models that he employed.  “From Clark’s slick illustrations,” Goulart wrote, “Raymond borrowed a good deal, including the prototype for the new improved version of his other hero, Jungle Jim.” The influence of LaGatta, who painted beautiful women elegantly gowned in ways that revealed rather than concealed their figures, can be seen clearly in Raymond’s increasingly sexy renderings of Dale Arden and the other women in the strip, all of whom started wearing exotic clinging garments.

By May 1934, Raymond was feathering his linework and modeling figures more extensively, and he began brushing shading into the landscape of Mongo, giving the scenery texture as well as topography. And by the end of the year, Raymond’s drawings showed the influence of the dry brush technique of pulp magazine illustrators: his brush strokes were orchestrations of tiny parallel lines, suggesting thereby the stroke of a brush nearly dry of ink.  Although Raymond sometimes let his brush go dry, he normally kept enough ink on the implement to give his drawings a liquid sheen. Alex4The appearance of dry-brushing, however, gave his pictures great depth and textural beauty, and he employed the same techniques in Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9.

In the summer of 1934, Raymond began to vary the layout of the Flash page. The strip had been designed in a four-tier format—four stacked rows of panels. As Raymond’s imagination became more and more engaged with the feature, this format seemed increasingly restrictive. In July, he started using an occasional two-tier panel—a picture that spanned vertically the space of two tiers on the four-tier grid—in order to capture more dramatically the atmosphere in which his hero lived. A Booth-like city in the sky is pictured in one such large panel, the increased vertical space giving the scene a dramatic impact it would not have had in a single-tier panel.

Seeing the results, Raymond quickly abandoned the four-tier layout in favor of a three-tier arrangement that gave him room to develop all his pictures more extensively. With the larger panels, his backgrounds grew more lavish, and the strip’s locale acquired an authentic ambiance. And in these spacious surroundings, the heroic posturing of his characters lent the entire enterprise a majestic air. The world of Flash Gordon was becoming manifestly real.

By 1936, the strip was being drawn on a two-tier grid, every panel at least twice as large as the panels had been when Flash began. Raymond had given up Secret Agent X-9 in late 1935, focusing entirely on his weekly page of comics. But it was Flash not Jungle Jim that absorbed his creative energy. The pictures in Flash were luxurient with telling atmosphere; in Jungle Jim, as I’ve noted, they were scarcely furnished at all. By 1937, the drawings in Flash were heavily modeled, the figures given weight and shape by an intricate pattern of brush strokes, the backgrounds enhanced by an extravagant latticework of shading. And still Raymond continued to develop as a artist.

Having reached a level of stylistic achievement unequaled elsewhere in the Sunday funnies except in Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant (which began February 13, 1937), Raymond went on to evolve yet another impressive style in rendering Flash Gordon.  By the end of 1938, the dry brush-like modeling and shading was giving way to a less sketchy manner. Raymond’s lines became thinner, more continuous and graceful; his pictures were defined more by linework and less by shading. They became exquisite tableaux, delicately rendered in copious detail. In this period—from 1939 until 1944 when Raymond joined the marines for the rest of World War II—Raymond’s work closely resembled Foster’s in Prince Valiant; it was the only time the work of these two great illustrators looked much alike.   Alex5

Early in 1938, Raymond, perhaps following Foster’s lead, had begun to eschew speech balloons in Flash, but he floated his characters’ remarks in clusters of verbiage near their heads; a year later, he began burying speech within quotation marks in the caption blocks at the bottom of each panel. By this time, his storytelling technique was established. He simply illustrated bits of narrative prose, in one superbly rendered panel after another. But the beautiful pictures were sequentially related only insofar as they depicted successive moments in the narrative captions. Flash Gordon had become mostly an illustrated novel—not, exactly, a comic strip.

I don’t mean by this to belittle Raymond’s achievements—only to pinpoint them, to give him his due for what he actually did. And he did plenty.

That Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, Ming the Merciless and all the rest have become a part of the American cultural heritage is, in itself, a testament to Raymond’s accomplishment as well as to the power of the medium. Like Sherlock Holmes before him and James Bond afterwards, Flash Gordon leapt from the printed page into the hearts and minds of his readers and eventually emerged on the motion picture screen. But even before his celluloid incarnation in the 1936 serial, Flash was already as real to his readers as it is possible for a literary creation to be. And that was due almost entirely to Raymond, whose consumate artistry stamped the strip, the characters, and the stories with an illusion of reality that was more than convincing: it was spectacular.

Although Raymond is no longer credited with single-handedly producing Flash, it is nonetheless undeniable that it was his graphics that clothed Don Moore’s stories in their most irresistible raiment. As Stephen Becker has observed in his Comic Art in America (1959): “What made Flash Gordon outstanding was not the story; along the unmarked trails of intersteller space any continuity was original.  Nor were Flash and his lady friend radical departures from the traditional hero and heroine.  But Flash was beautifully drawn.”

Moore’s contribution, however, has been exaggerated. In his Raymond biography, Tom Roberts takes up the puzzle of how much writing Raymond did on his strips. Although Moore has long been credited with “writing” Flash and, Roberts says, Jungle Jim, King Features has nothing in its files that illuminates the issue, so Roberts resorted to published articles and other sources, making a good case for his contention that Moore’s “writing” was much less than scripting the strips.

What Moore did, in Roberts’ judgement, was draft scripts from Raymond’s plot outlines, scripts that Raymond then refined, tinkering with the wording and other aspects of the narrative to suit his own sensibility. With access to the Raymond family archives, Roberts was able to examine what little evidence survives: papers that “show examples of Raymond writing and altering dialog for the Flash Gordon Sunday page.”

Moreover, since Moore didn’t start working with Raymond until mid- or late-1936, Raymond presumably wrote and scripted the strip for its first two-and-a-half years.

In any case, the stories are not notably inspired. Built archetypally around Flash as god-like redeemer (the savior from another world), the stories were suspenseful, fast-paced, and ingenious. But for all their ingenuity of incident, they were too fast moving to allow much time for character development. Flash, the polo player turned savior, is everything we expect in an adventurer—courageous, honest, nobly motivated, and above all resourceful. But he is nothing more. Apart from possessing the traditional, culturally-prescribed traits of a hero, Flash has no personality. His love for Dale is perfunctory: he is the hero; she, the heroine, and the customary relationship between such persons is love. In Dale’s pettish flashes of jealousy (which spark with such routine predictability throughout the run of Flash), we see all the individuality that she is allowed.

Said Coulton Waugh in his venerable The Comics (1947): “These lithe, sexy young people have an empty look—one feels that a cross-section would show little inside their hearts and heads.” But with Raymond’s drawing, we seldom notice this shortcoming. His graphics give the strip’s characters such life-like appearance that we overlook the absence of individual personality in them. They are larger than life—or, at least, more beautiful, handsomer, more graceful. And the beauty of these visuals seduces us into believing in the characters, who look and move like we would like to look and move.

“The total effect,” Becker said, “—slick, imaginative drawing with literate narrative—was one of melodrama on a high level, which should not obscure the fact that Raymond’s villains were throughly wicked or that his female characters were generally sexy. Flash rapidly became the premier space strip. It was wittier and moved faster than Buck Rogers; it was prettier and less boyish than William Ritt’s and Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford.”

There is no question that it was Raymond’s art that brought Flash Gordon alive, his art that made the characters live in the minds of their readers. But that art could not flourish, could not reach the luxuriance of its full growth, in the small daily panels of Secret Agent X-9.  Despite the considerable merit of Raymond’s work on X-9, neither the format nor the subject was amenable to the levitating magic that his art performed in Flash. And while the format of Jungle Jim was ample enough, the subject did not fire Raymond’s imagination as did the mythology of the redeemer in the tales of Flash Gordon on the planet Mongo. Flash Gordon is a clear instance of subject and artist locked in symbiotic embrace, the artist driven to achieve at ever higher levels by his subject, the subject elevated in turn by the artist’s endeavors.

Foster and Raymond produced impressive works. But for all their undeniable skill as illustrators, neither Foster nor Raymond (at this stage of his career) were cartoonists. The works that brought them fame and earned them their niches in the history of the medium are more akin to illustrated narratives, not comic strips. Word and picture did not blend in Prince Valiant or Flash Gordon in that uniquely reciprocating way that I insist defines a comic strip. Foster and Raymond were successful illustrators—spectacularly so on the pages of the Sunday funnies.

Still, the physical relationship of pictures to words in Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant is the same as in the venerable single-panel gag cartoon, and the words undoubtedly amplify the narrative import of the picture under which they appear, and vice versa. The words don’t explain the pictures as they do in a gag cartoon: they are not the key to a puzzle that the picture represents as captions are to the picture in a good gag cartoon. The relationship between pictures and words in Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant seems tangential rather than integral. In most instances of these works, the narrative, the story, is carried almost entirely in the text. We can understand the story without considering the pictures.

Well, yes, but—but the pictures in Flash Gordon undeniably create the palpable ambiance of the story; they give it sweep and grandeur. And without the heroic elegance of its pictures, Flash Gordon is a shallow, sentimental saga. Many children’s books are not substantially different in appearance from Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon: every page with its brief allotment of text carries an amplifying illustration. Still, Foster and Raymond did a little more for their narratives with their pictures than the average children’s book illustration does for its narrative. The pictures supply visual information that fleshes out the narrative text. And the text gives nuance to the pictures. The words and the pictures may not blend, precisely, to create a meaning neither conveys alone without the other (as I’ve demonstrated they do in comic strips), but their interrelationship is intimate and complementary. Within the category of pictorial narrative, Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon are therefore closer to being comics than they are to being illustrated children’s books. (For more in this tedious vein, consult my comment on June 15, 2016, at the end of my “Outcault, Goddard, the Comics” Hare Tonic piece, where the whole matter of definitions is explored tirelessly.)

With his next creation, however, Raymond became indisputably a fully-fledged cartoonist.

Raymond enlisted in the Marines on February 15, 1944, commissioned a captain in the Corps’ public relations arm. His last Flash Gordon appeared May 7; Jungle Jim, May 21. For six months in Philadelphia, he kept asking for combat duty and finally got it: he was assigned to the USS Gilbert Islands, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, where, from April 1945 until the winding down of the War in the fall, he served as Public Information Officer, charged with observing and documenting the life of a Marine squadron. Raymond took photographs, drew and painted pictures and designed posters, all intended to help present the Marine Corps in a positive light to the world beyond the Corps. He saw action from aboard ship in the South Pacific at Okinawa, Balikpapan, and Borneo. He was released from active duty on January 6, 1946, with the permanent rank of major.

Raymond expected to return to Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim, but when he inquired about his imminent return, he was officially advised, by letter, that he was expecting the impossible. Since he had left his comic strips voluntarily to enlist, King Features was not obliged to hire him back to do either strip (which would have displaced Austin Briggs, who was then doing them both). According to Raymond relatives whom Roberts interviewed, Raymond carried for the rest of his life a bitter resentment about being “cast off with so little regard.”

But King wasn’t about to let one of its stars go into eclipse: they asked him to create a new strip, offering him a huge signing bonus, and when Raymond signed, it was with the stipulation that he would own the new strip and receive 60 percent of the profits, not the usual fifty.  Taking a suggestion by Ward Greene, the syndicate’s general manager, Raymond developed a daily-only strip about a detective.

A Marine officer returning to civilian life, the title character Rip Kirby (who was, for a time, named Rip O’Rourke) was a startling departure among comic strip heroes: though dashing and debonair, he was an unabashed intellectual (he even wore spectacles), moved in the best circles of society, employed a British man servant, and had a beautiful girlfriend who was a professional model. Alex6 The girlfriend, a statuesque blonde named Honey Dorian (who, in preliminary sketches, was called Taffy), was a figment of the artist’s imagination, as almost all unbelievably beautiful women are, but Rip and his valet Desmond were modeled by Marines Raymond had served with.

Beginning March 4, 1946, Rip Kirby started with a bang—a gunshot. In the four panels of the first day’s strip, we learn that Kirby has a valet who is as much devoted friend as servant and that Kirby is an “athlete, scientist, amateur sleuth” and a decorated Marine reservist. Then Raymond hangs us over a cliff in the last panel when Kirby hears a pistol shot.

The rest of the opening week is as expertly done as the first day, a tour de force of serial suspense, every day ending with a provoking panel, and each strip telling us a little more about Kirby. By the sixth day, we’ve got Honey Dorian to look at, and Raymond puts her long legs on ample display while also revealing that his hero is a musician and likes to sit at his piano (a grand piano) and noodle around on the ivories.



Rip Kirby is an advance in light years over Secret Agent X-9. In narrative breakdown particularly but also in the variety of his panel compositions, Raymond shows skill and expertise in managing the storytelling resources of visual serial continuity, blending words and pictures for both narrative and dramatic effect. Raymond, here and hereafter, is a cartoonist par excellence.

Once again, however, Raymond worked with others in writing the strip. Here, Roberts says, there is no doubt: the strip was concocted by Raymond in weekly story conferences with King’s general manager, Ward Greene.

Greene was more than a bureaucratic journalist. He had been writing novels in his off hours since 1929. He would eventually produce ten of them, including Death in the Deep South, a 1936 murder mystery that was the basis for the movie “They Won’t Forget” with Claude Rains and Lana Turner, Cora Potts (“Cabin Girl, Town Girl, Wife and Wanton” saith the cover of the paperback), and Ride the Nightmare (“about a highly paid, lusty, drunkard comic strip artist” saith the Web), reissued as The Life and Loves of a Modern Mister Bluebeard. Greene also wrote The Lady and the Tramp, a 1953 novel that was adapted by Disney for an animated movie with the same name.

Sylvan Byck, King’s comics editor, was also part of the writing team. After the weekly confabulation, Raymond probably did the actual scripting and dialoging of the strip.

For Rip Kirby, which, as a daily, would never appear in color, Raymond developed yet another distinctive illustrative style, deploying solid blacks dramatically in contrast to crisp fine-line penwork, giving the strip an appearance that set it apart from his earlier work.  Observes Roberts: “Not having the benefit of [Sunday] color, Raymond nevertheless [colored] through his use of varying linework … [creating] color through contrast, though the use of black, white and gray areas.” Alex9Rip Kirby is at last receiving the attention it deserves. IDW’s Library of American Comics has produced several volumes of Rip Kirby, The First Modern Detective. The reprinting is up to 1964 through the seventh volume, the first four of which include all of Raymond’s stint on the strip; thereafter, John Prentice, a superb draftsman nearly Raymond’s equal, began, with the release of October 1, 1956, to imitate Raymond’s manner with astonishing exactitude. He continued the strip until his death in May 1999; Frank Bolles wrapped it up, ending the strip June 26, 1999. (The IDW books are 300-plus 10×11-inch pages, landscape, b/w with some color; hardcover, $49.99.)

Raymond’s Rip Kirby strip has never, to my knowledge, been reprinted with anything like the quality control its drawings demand. Pacific Comics Club published a series of thin but large-page Rip Kirby booklets in the 1980s but was forced to use proofs from somewhere overseas, requiring that the speech balloons be relettered in English; that was done clumsily, blemishing the appearance of the strips. And the reproduction of the artwork, although of high caliber, failed to capture Raymond’s distinctive fine-line rendering.

IDW has come closer, much closer: this is probably the best we’ll ever see Rip Kirby reproduced. Still, as series editor and designer Dean Mullaney notes, the quality of the King Features syndicate proofs varies, and the variance shows. Fortunately, it doesn’t show all the time everywhere: many strips are as pristine in this book as they were when Raymond turned them in. The books are exquisite productions—decorative flashes of color in the introductory pages, stunning jacket design, panoramic endpapers, and even a stitched-in bookmark ribbon (this last, an IDW signature).

Luckily for us all, the strip’s opening week—one of the best in comics history—as well as much of the first adventure are reproduced with gratifying accuracy in Volume 1. But about halfway through the first sequence, we begin to get occasionally muddy, blotchy reproduction. Happily, the stories are mature and suspenseful enough to hold our interest until the quality of the reproduction resumes.

Raymond began experimenting with rendering techniques before the end of the strip’s first year. In November 1946, he was using a brush to draw, not a pen, which had imparted to the first months of the strip its distinctive crisp aura. He was back with a pen by the fall of 1948, but within the next six months (which will be published in Volume 2 of the series), Raymond was deploying a brush again, giving his art a liquid line very much in the mode of Leonard Starr in On Stage. Eventually, Raymond would abandon the brush for all but shadows and wrinkles in clothing, and by the fall of 1950, he was drawing almost the way he drew at the beginning.

In practice, he drew with a pen—outlining faces, figures, background details; then he embellished with a brush, slathering in fat black strokes for wrinkles, shadows on accouterments, and so forth. That, however, isn’t apparent until Volume 2, which will carry the continuity into 1951. In Volume 2, we’ll watch Rip get discombobulated when his paramour, toothsome model Honey Dorian, is pursued by a handsome young chap with marriage on his mind. By the end of this adventure, we know, but Rip doesn’t, just how Honey stands in respect to him and his casual attentions. The tale unravels at the guy’s plantation in the South, a place called Blackwater. Could be in South Carolina; sinister associations.

Rip Kiby achieved rapid success, and Raymond developed a memorable series of secondary characters, usually criminally inclined—the toothsome Pagan Lee, competition for Honey; and the disfigured Mangler, Rip’s nemesis; and Joe Seven, Fingers Moray, Lady Lillyput among others. Roberts feels that Raymond’s work in Rip Kirby “inspired all the soap opera style strips of the fifties and sixties,” from Rex Morgan to The Heart of Juliet Jones, On Stage, Apartment 3-G, and Ben Casey—“all,” Roberts says, “are stepchildren of Rip Kirby. Every one of these can trace its origins to the success of Raymond’s strip.”

Raymond worked no longer on Rip Kirby, ten years, than he did on Flash Gordon, and he might have advanced the art of daily strip cartooning even more had he not died, tragically, while driving fellow cartoonist Stan Drake (Juliet Jones) in the latter’s new sports car, a Corvette convertible, on September 6, 1956. For the gruesome details of Raymond’s “last day,” consult Roberts’ book.

Raymond’s last published Rip Kirby, September 29, ends eerily with the con man villain of the story telling his mark that he has “bad news.”

Raymond’s place in the history of his profession is established and secured by his brilliance as an illustrator. The technical triumph he achieved in the three strips he launched in 1934 helped establish the illustrative mode as the best way of visualizing a serious adventure story. His work and Foster’s created the visual standard by which all such comic strips would henceforth be measured.

And here we’ll stop, with Alex Raymond performing a tour de force of comic strip cartooning on his last comic strip.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/14/16 – Alchemical Salon) Tue, 13 Sep 2016 12:00:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Today we are looked over by the beatific gaze of a certain popular writer, illustrated in character as Frank Metterton, a character from the short film series "Show Pieces" - Alan Moore both wrote the films and played Metterton onscreen, while Kristian Hammerstad drew the storyboards excerpted above. You can buy the script/storyboard book from Lex Records as part of a boxed set with the "Show Pieces" films of DVD and their soundtrack on CD; the same label released a physical version of Moore's literary biographical story Unearthing as read aloud by the author and set to music, in case you think it's all been comics for the writer of perpetual New York Times #1 comics bestseller "The Killing Joke", starring Batman...

Today we are looked over by the beatific gaze of a certain popular writer, illustrated in character as Frank Metterton, a character from the short film series “Show Pieces” – Alan Moore both wrote the films and played Metterton onscreen, while Kristian Hammerstad drew the storyboards excerpted above. You can buy the script/storyboard book from Lex Records as part of a boxed set with the “Show Pieces” films of DVD and their soundtrack on CD; the same label released a physical version of Moore’s literary biographical story Unearthing as read aloud by the author and set to music, in case you think it’s all been comics for the writer of perpetual New York Times #1 comics bestseller “The Killing Joke”, starring Batman…


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.




Otherworld Barbara Vol. 1 (of 2): This is not actually on Diamond’s release list for the week, though some stores evidently received their stock last week; I have personally laid eyes on a copy, so I’ve decided to split the difference between 9/7 and whatever listing may be forthcoming and mention the damned thing now. It’s a 2002-05 SF series from Moto Hagio, one of the pioneers of the artistic and thematic advancements in Japanese girls’ comics in the 1970s, and still a formidably singular artist. Serialized in Flowers, a magazine of comics aimed at adult women, the plot very broadly concerns a psychic detective investigating a girl who once engaged in cannibalism and retreated into an imaginary world that is now somehow intruding onto reality, though there are several other elements and characters at play. This Fantagraphics release doubles up the Japanese originals into 400-page hardcovers, translated by Matt Thorn, who interviewed Hagio way back in the very first issue of this magazine to which I contributed; $39.99.


Late Bloomer: A small (4.25″ x 5.5″) Retrofit/Big Planet softcover presenting 104 pages of comics-as-poetry by Maré Odomo, prodigiously talented at pairing sparse words with rich and heavy pencil drawings to create small pockets of mood – a long book of this stuff is a really fine way for these publishers to continue exploring formats outside of the traditional comic books in which they’ve generally specialized; $10.00.


Ghosts (&) King Baby: I’m not putting either of these in the spotlight because, frankly, they don’t need it; they ride at the front of the bookstore mainstream of comics, and were all of us in the specialty press to blink from existence, they would continue unimpeded. Ghosts is the new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, the undisputed superstar of the YA comics scene and a very sturdy professional in terms of story craft and appealing, communicative cartoon art – you can understand quickly how she’s maintained her extremely wide appeal. The story concerns two sisters navigating illness in a new home purportedly sitting alongside a realm of spirits, which immediately brings to mind Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro, though I’m sure these 256 color pages will set off on their own direction. King Baby is the new hardcover children’s book from Kate Beaton, supremely popular webcomics artist, following up last year’s The Princess and the Pony for another comedic tale, this time involving a demanding infant whose every whim is flattered by all around; $10.99 (Ghosts SC), $24.99 (Ghosts HC), $17.99 (Baby).

Nicolas: Being a new edition of the name-making graphic novel from Pascal Girard, which Drawn and Quarterly first published in English back in 2009. Motivated by the unfussy, vignette-driven works of Jeffrey Brown, Girard drew the entire book over a single weekend, circling around the topic of his younger brother’s death and the effects it had on the artist’s childhood. This updated hardcover adds a new 26-page comic after the primary text, telling of Girard’s adult relationship with a more distant surviving brother, for a total of 112 pages; $14.95.

True Stories #2 (of 4): Don’t worry, there are still alternative comic books in this world. For example, Alternative Comics has a second 48-page issue of this series from Derf Backderf, drawing on his alt weekly strips for real encounters with the public; $5.99.

Pocahontas: Princess of the New World: Your Eurocomics choice of the week is a 2015 book from artist Loïc Locatelli Kournwsky, working in a black, white & yellow style that gives the impression of his dense thatches of hatching illuminated by a distant fire. Is this is conflagration of history, devouring the truth and complexity of life? The artist calls this a “personal version” of the life of the Native American woman whose dealings with early English settlers assured her place in American myth. Pegasus Books publishes this 128-page hardcover edition in English at 11.3″ x 8.8″. Wordless preview; $25.95.

Doom Patrol #1: As myself and other wags on social media have pointed out, Young Animal is the title of a Japanese comics magazine that lures in its target audience of adult men with photographs of girl pop groups and scantly-clad gravure idols, treating them to the likes of Kentarō Miura’s violent fantasy saga Berserk (when it’s running) and Katsu-Aki’s sexual education comedy Futari Ecchi. Now, however, “Young Animal” is also a new imprint of DC Comics fronted by the musician and irregular comics writer Gerard Way for the purposes of creating Mature Readers fare with DC characters. This is the first product of that effort, a revival of the ’60s-born weird superhero team well-known for prominent ’80s and ’90s runs by the writers Grant Morrison (an occasional Way collaborator) and Rachel Pollock as much as the Arnold Drake/Bob Haney-scripted classics. Now Way himself writes, with Nick Derington drawing and Tamra Bonvillain coloring – keep an eye peeled for variant covers by Jaime Hernandez and Brian Chippendale(!), if you’re planning to buy. Preview; $3.99.

The Punisher War Journal by Carl Potts and Jim Lee: Even among dedicated fans of the Gerry Conway/John Romita-created Marvel vigilante character, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm surrounding Carl Potts’ take on the character. You’ve got your Mike Baron partisans, your Garth Ennis gang – Chuck Dixon was my favorite as a child in the ’90s, and I know some of you rate the Steven Grant stuff. Potts was an editor on the early Baron run, but his longest tenure as a writer on the character began in 1988 via The Punisher War Journal, which he initially also pencilled; he eventually became unique in franchise history as retrospectively overshadowed by a visual collaborator: a young Jim Lee, fresh from Alpha Flight and not more than a few years off from work with Solson Publications. Lee started as Potts’ inker, but soon began pencilling as well, his year-and-a-half tenure on the title coinciding with his first efforts at the Marvel mutant comics that would quickly make him a celebrity. This 504-page paperback collects all applicable Potts/Lee issues plus some extra stuff, with inking turns by Klaus Janson, Scott Williams (a now inseparable component of Lee’s aesthetic) and Lee himself; $39.99.

Marvel Covers: The Modern Era – Artist’s Edition: If for some reason that is not enough vintage Jim Lee for one week, I understand that he is also part of this 144-page IDW compendium of Marvel comics cover art from the past 25 years, all of it scanned in color from the original b&w art and presented at 12″ x 17″. Actually, it looks like many of the Image founders are present, with pieces by Todd McFarlane and Marc Silvestri, in addition to Sam Kieth, Art Adams, John Romita, Jr. and others; $100.00.

Judge Anderson: The Psi Files Vol. 5 (&) Ro-Busters: The Complete Nuts and Bolts Vol. 2: We are but a few weeks away from issue #2000 of 2000 AD, the UK’s long-lived weekly action comic, so here are two import items culled from its ranks for your consideration. Judge Anderson collects 304 pages of recent stories from the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine, all scripted by Alan Grant, the writer most closely associated with the psychic police character from the Dredd universe. By “recent” I mean 2005-13; artists include Arthur Ranson, Dave Taylor and Boo Cook. Ro-Busters is a 214-page hardcover suite of 1970s robot action comics that preceded the more famous ABC Warriors strip, although it looks like a fair portion of the work here is miscellaneous strips that ran after ABC launched. Pat Mills writes the ‘main’ serial, with art from an all-star gallery including Dave Gibbons, Kevin O’Neill and Mike McMahon, while Alan Moore shows up for a trio of short stories drawn by Steve Dillon, Bryan Talbot and Joe Eckers; $26.99 (Anderson), $32.99 (Ro-Busters).

Jerusalem: I’ll end now on something that’s not in any way a comic, but instead the second prose novel by the aforementioned Mr. Alan Moore, a screenwriter and recording artist who has indeed scripted comic books from time to time. I quite liked Voice of the Fire, his first novel – you hear a lot about the first chapter, which was written in a five millennia-old dialect entirely of Moore’s invention, but what’s less remarked upon is how the chapter immediately following is marked by some of its author’s smoother prose, so that the sensation of teaching one’s self to read again at the start of the book accelerates tremendously along with human advancements by the middle of the Bronze Age (pre-Christ, not Jim Starlin); Moore is as prone to allow the texture of words in sentences communicate time and place as much as dialogue or expository narration, which will presumably serve him well in this account of thousands of years in the history of his hometown of Northampton, England. I hear it’s something of a massively digressive history of economics in the region, though many things can be squirreled away in 1,280 (one thousand, two hundred and eighty) pages, published in North America by Liveright as both a slipcased set of three paperbacks and a pants-tearing all-in-one hardcover, priced identically; $35.00.

If I’m reading the credits correctly, the Nighthampton image used on the front page, while also from the Show Pieces book, was illustrated by Edward Tuckwell rather than the storyboard artist, Kristian Hammerstad. I just don’t want Alan Moore to cast a spell on me. I mean, what if he curses me to perform some repetitive task every week for years on end? That would be catastrophic.

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Connecticut Cartoonist #8: Uncle Oskar’s Ragtime Band Fri, 09 Sep 2016 12:00:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Oskar Lebeck, editor, writer, cartoonist, settled in New York’s Westchester County, just across from the Connecticut border, along with his family, in the late 1930s. And he, with help from some neighboring young cartoonists, developed some of the bestselling comic books of the 1930s and ’40s. These included Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, The Funnies, Looney Toons and Merry Melodies, Popular Comics, Crackajack Funnies, Super Comics, Little Lulu, Animal Comics and Fairy Tale Parade.

Michael Barrier’s impressive and thorough 2015 study, Funnybooks, provides a substantial and detailed account of Lebeck’s life and times. According to him, “Oskar Lebeck was born in Mannheim, Germany, on August 30, 1903 and emigrated to the United States in March 1927.”  He had worked in the theater as a set designer for Max Reinhardt and in Manhattan he held similar jobs with Earl Carroll and Ziegfeld. He later went to work for Western Printing’s Whitman Division, which printed the Dell comic books.

Put in charge of the comics that appeared under the Whitman and the Dell umbrellas, Lebeck brought in a crew that included Jim Chambers, Bill Ely, and Alden McWilliams. All three artists lived around Connecticut at various times and all of them ended up residing in the Nutmeg State. Every few weeks Lebeck would drop in at Ely’s house, where they all gathered to work. He’d gather artwork, distribute assignments and pass out checks.

All of Lebeck’s aforementioned trio entered the funny book field in its infancy and worked for such pioneering figures as Major Nicholson, Vin Sullivan, M.C. Gaines, Everett “Busy” Arnold, and Whit Ellsworth.

Bill Ely was born in 1919 and studied at Pratt Institute in Manhattan. He helped finance his studies by doing illustrations for the still thriving pulp magazines. Early in 1937 he heard that Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was looking for artists for his fledgling line of original material comic books. He and his artist friend from Pratt, Jim Chambers, decided to drop in on the Major’s humble offices in NYC to show him their portfolios. They both got assignments on the spot and the promise of $5 a page. Often with the impecunious Major these promises took a while to be fulfilled.

He called himself Will Georgi (a family name) because he wished to reserve his real name for more serious illustration jobs. One of the early features he took over was Sandra of the Secret Service in More Fun Comics, one of the first comic book features starring a woman. An earlier artist had been Charles Flanders, who modified his style to emulate that of Alex Raymond and took on the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip and within a few years the new The Lone Ranger comic strip.  Over at New Adventure, Ely was assigned the depicting the daring-do of Dale Daring. She was another adventuresome lady who got in trouble on a world-wide basis. Next came Larry Steele, a hard-hitting district attorney, who flourished in Detective Comics, initially in pre-Batman days.  Although Ely worked for the Major for most of a year, he told me that he never actually met him. After Nicholson was forced to sell out to DC, the page rate went up to $6.LarrySteele-detective005-54

The two newspaper comics artist who had the most influence on comic book cartoonists in the ’30s and ’40s were Milton Caniff and Alex Raymond. Ely and Jim Chambers were definitely more influenced by Caniff. Chambers was a few years older than Ely and worked up his own serviceable version of the Caniff style ahead of him. Prior to jumping into comic books he’d done some pulp magazine illustration, one of his clients being Spicy Detective Stories. His major assignment with DC was on The Crimson Avenger in Detective Comics. This masked and cloaked crimebuster made his debut in #20 (October 1938) and appeared on his first cover two issues later. He was one of the first costumed heroes, but a lot of his attire was inspired by pulp magazine heroes. And he also joined the ranks of heroes who wore fedoras, a very popular head gear in the years just prior to America’s entry into WWII.7326551a352c09a7609d9a3229e66939

Basically The Crimson Avenger is a blatant swipe of The Green Hornet who was born on the kilowatts of radio station WXYZ in Detroit a few years earlier. The Hornet’s real name was Britt Reed, the editor of The Daily Sentinel, presumably in Detroit, but he got fed up with the law’s delay and cooked up a gas gun that would knock out all sorts of miscreants with no bloodshed. He had a souped-up car called the Black Beauty and a loyal “Asian” driver named Kato who was the only one who knew that his boss was a crime fighter whom the police and the FBI believed was a master crook. The car played The Flight of the Bumble Bee on its horn. Apparently because nobody had gotten around to composing The Flight of the Hornet. Kato was a well-spoken fellow and a chauffeur who was a wiz at chasing crooks and dodging the forces of law and order.

Now then, back to the Avenger. He too was the editor of a large metropolitan newspaper. His name was Lee Travis and he had a smart uniformed “Asian” chauffeur named Wing How who was in on his secret. Travis, too, had invented a gas gun with which to confront the underworld. Chambers did an okay job on the feature, though he could get much better in the early ’40s. And he didn’t draw Wing as a bucktooth speaker of pidgin English that he would be converted into later.

When Bill Ely learned that Whitman was paying $7.50 per page, he paid a call on Oskar Lebeck and switched to drawing for Popular Comics. He’d by now developed his own variation of the Caniff approach. He drew The Hurricane Kids, plotted and scripted by Lebeck. The feature dealt with two young men who were shipwrecked on an island that was densely populated with Prehistoric creatures and inhabitants. Hal Roach’s One Million BC, starring Carole Landis and Victor Maure, came to movie theaters about this time.  A few issues later, in Popular #47, Lebeck continued his plan to keep cutting down on comic strip reprints by giving Ely another new feature to draw. This was about a handsome couple from a distant, and the far-advanced planet of Antaclea, who visit Earth. Although it was one of the earliest husband and wife teams in the superhero field, it was titled Martan the Marvel Man.  Ely used the pen name of William Kent and the script was by Lebeck, Ely told me, under the name G. Ellerbrock.  Ely drew the covers of #47 and #48, both showcasing the Martan couple. Their name lacks one letter of the word Martian. Lebeck was very much concerned with Fascism and the Nazis. Martan and his wife Vanta ditch their spacecraft and futuristic outfits. acquiring contemporary clothes they dine out on Earth food and attend a Broadway show. The real comedy that Lebeck picks for them is Hellz-a-Poppin, which possibly had a double meaning for him. It was successful and long running screwball comedy with Olsen and Johnson. The Martans enjoyed it.Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 8.03.04 PMPopular 049 (Dell 1940) 011

As with many alien visitors to come, America called out the troops and the law and tried to destroy them. Martan’s opinion of the society they’ve landed in are not positive—“It seems that all mankind is using its inventive genius to invent new ways of self-destruction—what a dark Age!” The feature lasted about two years, never giving much competition to alien visitors like Superman. With the 60th issue Popular replaced it with Superman and Son by former pulp magazine illustrator Ralph Carlson.

Lebeck was also pepping up Crackajack Funnies and added Ellery Queen early in 1940. Bill Ely began on that with the cerebral sleuth’s second adventure. Ellery was a multi-media hero, appearing in books, movies, the radio and comic books. The scripts were based on the radio show. Fred Dannay, the plotting half of the book writing team, once told me that he and his cousin Manfred B. Lee didn’t write the comic scripts but turned over their radio scripts to be adapted.

The third member of Oskar’s triumvirate, Alden McWilliams, had worked in the King Features bullpen as one of the several ghosts for Chic Young’s minimally talented brother Lyman on Tim Tyler’s Luck. Others who greatly improved the look of the jungle adventure strip were Alex Raymond, Charles Flanders and Nat Edson. One of Williams’ specialties was the depiction of airplanes and other instruments of war. The fact that World War II was very much on the horizon provided him with opportunities. He commenced working for Lebeck with the 7th issue of Crackajack near the end of 1938, drawing an aviation feature about Captain Frank Hawks–AirAce. Hawks was a real record breaking aviator. He’d been a World War I flyer who’d become a barnstormer and then set out to win air races and set aviation records. He was hired by Texaco Oil to fly around the country and put on flying exhibitions and take folks up for a flight at fairs. He estimated taking over 7000 people up in the air. Time called him a “publicity flyer.” Post Cereals used him in an advertising Sunday comic strip for Post Bran Flakes and formed the Frank Hawks Air Hawks, offering a pair of silver wings as a premium. On August 23, 1938, Hawks was killed taking off from the private golf course of a wealthy client. The aircraft did not manage to clear the telephone wires and Hawks and his passenger were killed.

McWilliams also drew Speed Bolton, Air Ace for The Funnies and he introduced Stratosphere Jim and His Flying Fortress in the 18th issue (Dec 1939). He drew this giant super plane on only one cover (Jan 1940) which contained the blurb “most Sensational Feature of the Year The FLYING FORTRESS.” The real life Flying Fortress was developed for the USAAF in the 1930s by such aircraft oufits as Douglas and Martin. It was a B-17and it was used for precision bombing during World War II.The Funnies 054 (Dell - April 1941) 018

The Crackajack version was more futuristic and gadget ridden. It’s probable that Lebeck, a Sci-Fi buff, scripted this. The Dell/Whitman magazines also used adaptions of B-movies and radio shows. McWilliams was one of the artists who drew adaptations of Phillips H. Lords’ Gang Busters.  He spent four years in the US Army and got home in 1946. He apparently signed with Will Eisner’s shop and drew airplane strips for the Quality line—Secret War News for Military Comics, edited by Eisner, Spitfire for Crack Comics, etc. McWilliams participated in the D-Day invasion. These latter features were apparently prepared before he went overseas.

Jim Chambers was a star contributor to Popular Comics in the early 1940s. The Voice was introduced in #53 (July 1940) and was billed as “the invisible detective.” Universal Pictures has released The Invisible Man Returns in 1940, with Vincent Price, in one of his pre-mad doctor roles, and that may have provided inspiration. And The Shadow Sunday afternoon radio show described Lamont Cranston’s lady friend Margot Lane as the only one who knew to whom “the voice of the invisible Shadow belonged.” Chambers provided the cover of the introductory issue in a style slicker than the one he’d used back at DC. The Voice’s crew consisted  of Tim Brant’s pretty red-haired secretary, Curly Rand, and Prof Bert Wilcox, who discovered the process that converted Brant,  “New York’s cleverest private detective”, into an unseen operative. By slipping on a suit of transparent cellulose that had been treated with a special ray Wilcox had invented, Brant became The Voice.

Clyde Beatty 1Turning more real people into comic heroes, Lebeck gave Chambers the job of drawing the adventures of Clyde Beatty, the then famous animal trainer and circus performer, for Crackajack. The stories were set in various dangerous locales around the world and sometimes involved Beatty in the Pacific War. Chambers made no effort to do a realistic portrait of the lion-tamer and used his standard handsome dark-haired hero. The scripts were written by Gaylord Dubois, one of the most prolific writers in comic books. He also provided most of the scripts for Dell’s Tarzan comic book, during Jesse Marsh’s long run and beyond. When Chambers entered the Marines, Beatty’s deeds were drawn by lesser hands.

Military service also interrupted Bill Ely’s comic book career, in 1943. After the War, he again worked for Whitman/Dell. His style had become tighter and more detailed, well suited to realistic hard-boiled crime and detective stories he did during that period. He did a one-shot Zorro comic book in 1949, before the California masked avenger became a Disney property. In the middle 1950s he returned to DC after doing quite a lot of true crime stuff for comics like Real Clue. The fact that he’d worked for DC during the company’s startup days “didn’t mean anything” and Ely sometimes felt that his being an old timer was a disadvantage. However, for the next decade or so he was one of their most productive and dependable artist in the crime, horror, fantasy and science fiction categories. He did numerous stories for House of Secrets, House of Mystery, etc. He avoided superheroes and the closest he came was a few issues of Rip Hunter, Time Master.house_of_secrets_v1_008_03

Back home in 1946, Alden McWilliams re-upped with several comic book publishers. He drew a tough private eye named Steve Wood for National Comics, an operative in the manner of such early radio and TV shamuses as Martin Kane and Sam Spade. He drew Dick Cole for Blue Bolt and did illustrations for pulp magazines, many of them Fiction House titles.  Reunited in 1952 with his former boss, Oskar Lebeck, he assumed the artwork on the new comic strip, Twin Earths.    

This was a complex science fiction venture, daily and Sunday. It was crammed with complex mechanisms, political intrigues, pretty women and took place in a slightly prosaic tomorrow. Both Earths closed up shop nine years after launching.  McWilliams also had a sideline as an assistant and ghost on comic strips in the 1960s and early 1970s. He lent a hand on Rip Kirby, Buck Rogers and On Stage. He is often listed as an assistant on Don Sherwood’s Marine sponsored Dan Flagg, but in truth, McWilliams drew the whole thing (which was usually also ghost written). His last go-round with comic strips was a new Publishers-Hall Syndicate strip. Dateline: Danger, written by John Saunders. Saunders was the son of Allen Saunders, a syndicate editor and writer for several decades.  He had written Chief Wahoo, Steve Roper, Mary Worth and (anonymously) Kerry Drake. Alfred Andriola, who was credited with this last strip, was another Don Sherwood type who never wrote nor drew his creation. A fact that the senior Saunders told me, in profane terms, the one time I met him at Comics Council meeting.Dateline-Danger-1968-09-08

Dateline: Danger flourished, if that’s quite the word for it, from 1968 to 1974. The gimmick here was that one of the two intelligence agent stars was an African-American. Both were pretending to be international newsmen.  To underline his color, his name was Danny Raven. Many comic strip critics and historians did not take this comic to their bosoms and Maurice Horn called it “blatantly” offensive. That was because of the fact it was quite obviously a rip-off of the basic premise of I,Spy., the television show starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Still it did manage to hang on for six years. Alden McWilliams passed away in March of 1993 at the age of 77.

Bill Ely departed DC in the mid-60s and returned to Whitman, which was calling itself Gold Key by this time. He did work for such titles as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. In the mid-70s, after nearly forty years in comic books he retired, but not from art. For most of the rest of his life he devoted himself to full time landscape painting. His specialty was New England scenes with covered bridges, boat docks and sailboats. He produced a great many impressive canvas. He didn’t considered himself a great painter but a pretty good one. Spring and summer and fall, he would travel each weekend to one or two of Connecticut’s many malls, set up his easel and his canvas chair and start painting. He’d tack up a color photo that he’d taken of a site, maybe this time one of the colorful 19th Century inns or a collapsed sugar mill. Ely charged from $100 to $200 for a painting. He made a comfortable living this way. The best part was that it was fun. He told me that was something he wasn’t able to say about his last years in comics. 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/7/16 – Urgent Call to Action) Tue, 06 Sep 2016 12:00:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Manga

This is Manga Man, a mascot character for the anime licensing and distribution company Manga Entertainment in the 1990s. He shows up on social media every so often, because no more succinct summary exists as to the way Japanese comics and animation were sold as corollaries to western nerd tastes at that time. That said, I’ve always wondered who drew the toothy fiend. Something very sinister going on with that impish face; he almost looks like Kris Guidio’s drawings of the notorious David Britton literary character Lord Horror, albeit bald and cyber. If anyone had any information, please write in; I’ll be sure to thank you upon my immediate induction into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Hall of Fame.


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 Arab of the Future 2: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985: This is the second autobiographical comic in translation from cartoonist and filmmaker Riad Sattouf, a 160-page Metropolitan Books softcover edition of a 2015 French release; its predecessor won the Fauve d’or at Angoulême in French, and received a good deal of later press attention in English. The time period here covers time spent living in Syria: “the daily sadism of his schoolteacher, the lure of the black market, with its menu of shame and subsistence, and the obsequiousness of his father in the company of those close to the regime.” Official site; $26.00.


Angel Catbird Vol. 1: Not a dream, not an imaginary story, not based on an unproduced screenplay or transubstantiated via an intermediary scriptwriter – this is indeed an original YA superhero graphic novel written by Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood, who has some enduring connection to comics: she wrote and drew a strip for This Magazine in the ’70s, still occasional produces webcomics, and last year authored a tribute to Kate Beaton in the Drawn and Quarterly anniversary book. It appears this 112-page Dark Horse softcover also ties in with various Nature Canada initiatives re: bird and cat safety, with helpful information at the bottom of certain pages a la Jack T. Chick tracts. I like Chick tracts! Art by Johnnie Christmas (recently in Image’s Island anthology), as colored by Tamra Bonvillain. Preview; $14.99.


Disillusioned Illusions: Being a new release for this recent graphic novel by Greg Stump — a longtime Journal contributor and alt-comics creator — initially self-published in 2009. It is now published by Fantagraphics via its FU Press imprint, which describes the work as “a touching tale of persistence and a scathing send-up of bibliolatry,” concerning a pair of optical illusion silhouette drawings that try and break into the booming graphic novel market through delegation and strategy. Quite a simple, comedic strip-art approach, building its humor from repeated character shapes and copious dialogue. In softcover, 356 pages; $30.00.

Cat Rackham: The newest release from Koyama Press, devoted to a cartoonist with whom they’ve worked for half a decade – Steve Wolfhard, perhaps best known for his production work on the television series Adventure Time (the creator of which, Pendleton Ward, also contributes some poetry here). A 124-page color hardcover collects all appearances of Wolfhard’s hapless comic book and webcomic cat character, who gets into frequently grotesque trouble in the natural and psychological world. Samples; $19.95.

The Lost Work of Will Eisner: The result of a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, this 11″ x 6.5″ landscape hardcover from Philadelphia’s Locust Moon Press collects a pair of newspaper strips produced in the 1930s by a very young Eisner, some drawn before he was 20. Uncle Otto is a zany strip with a silent title character, while Harry Karry is an espionage strip with shadowy touches that prefigure The Spirit. An introduction by Denis Kitchen will also appear in these 72 pages; $24.99.

The Z Factor (&) Zagor: Voodoo Vendetta: EUROCOMICS, ITALY! Epicenter presents two more color collections from the popular archives of Sergio Bonelli Editore, both with a horror slant. The Z Factor is a 2014 feature from the anthology series Le storie, 120 pages, concerning a traditional-looking living dead scenario. The creators are Giovanni Gualdoni & Marco Bianchini. Voodoo Vendetta, meanwhile, is a 1996 storyline for the long-lived Sergio Bonelli/Gallieno Ferri-created 19th century woodland warrior concept — almost certainly the most successful Italian comic set in Pennsylvania — here written by Mauro Boselli and drawn by Mauro Laurenti. Zagor is menaced by bewitched living corpses across 220 pages, for that is his lot; $11.99 (Z), $13.99 (Zagor).

Humanoids Presents: The Jodoverse (&) Heavy Metal #282: EUROCOMICS, FRANCE! NON-RIAD SATTOUF DIVISION! IN PART! Or, at least both of these items flow divided from the fountainhead of Les Humanoïdes Associés. The Jodoverse is a bargain-priced 112-page sampler of comics spun off from the universe created by writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Moebius via the 1981-88 series The Incal, though Gir is only represented in the original work. Otherwise, expect appearances by artists Juan Giménez, Zoran Janjetov and Fred Beltran in bits from The Metabarons, The Technopriests and Megalex, which should also provide an edifying chronological overview of the tendency toward photorealist art in these SF sagas. A few of them first appeared in English through Heavy Metal magazine, though the days of that forum translating whole BD albums in an issue’s space are gone; at the moment the magazine is presided over by the comics writer Grant Morrison, and I can’t say I’ve stopped to take a look. Still, Morrison and artist Rian Hughes once collaborated on a relentlessly bleak Dan Dare revival for the British magazines Revolver and Crisis, so it may be worth seeing them reunite here for a pair of short stories, along with (among other things) a likely impenetrable segment of an Enki Bilal album and a reprint of a Bill Sienkiewicz story from Epic Illustrated, which has to close some sort of loop somewhere; $4.99 (Jodoverse), $7.95 (Heavy Metal).

Eddie Campbell’s Omnibox: The Complete Alec & Bacchus: Finally, though it is not generally my practice to list packaged sets of separately-published books — particularly when one of the books was released just a few weeks prior — I cannot possibly ignore this 1,700+ page Top Shelf slipcased set of a considerable portion of Eddie Campbell’s work as a cartoonist, representing the entirety of his Alec series of literary autobiography (pre-The Fate of the Artist in 2006), and the whole of Bacchus, a collaborative evolution through superhero, supernatural mystery, poetic and satiric modes of storytelling, all anchored by the god of wine and festive tale-telling. An astonishing range of work, representing more than a quarter century’s exploration – defend your home from intruders with graphic novel excellence; $99.99.

Today’s front page image is a screengrab from a movie in which a dog is made to appear like it is speaking into a telephone. I got it through a meme on Twitter. I don’t know where it’s from.

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Error Report?: Comics, Text, and Editing Wed, 31 Aug 2016 12:00:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A. Ten Theories and Contexts



[from “The Brain Robbers!”: The Unexpected #112 (DC Comics, 1969). Script by George Kashdan; art by Jack Sparling; letters and colors uncredited.]

“Tiny absorption discs, which I wear in my ears at all times, render me immue!”

I assume the letterer for the above story was working from a script that indicated “immune.” Perhaps he mistakenly wrote “immue” after a tedious day spent filling in hundreds of balloons and caption boxes. Or maybe the error entered by another route: the writer accidentally omitted the “n” when typing and the letterer passively replicated the slip-up. Either way, the comic’s editors and/or copy editors should have caught it, but didn’t. Wondering if the mistake might be mine, I looked it up. “Immue” is not a word.

2. There’s one way in which current corporate comics (such as those by Marvel and DC) generally outperform alternative/art/independent comics: copy editing. Though certainly not error-free, corporate comics typically have fewer problems. Yet smaller publishers’ hands-off editorial approach has also been a strength. It’s partially responsible, I’d argue, for the graphic novel emerging as an important and popular form. Left on their own, great cartoonists produced great comics. Had they labored under the thumb of brand-obsessed, innovation-averse corporate editors, we’d have been deprived of many medium-defining works.

3. The longer a piece is, the more typos it likely has. It’s practically unavoidable. Every book I’ve written, edited, or co-edited has some. While working on one project, I read the manuscript and galleys multiple times, as did the assistant editor, project editor, and two other copy editors. Yet errors slipped by. Typos are the price of doing business. But what amount is ok?

4. On the typical word-and-picture comics page, text inhabits far less space than images. A comic’s visual details can occupy or blend into a panel’s background and be easily overlooked by readers. But in most conventional comics, text = foreground. Often placed in special white containers like those odd balloons floating around characters’ heads, words are highlighted — and exposed — in a way they aren’t on a page of prose. Given this exposure, shouldn’t it be easy for cartoonists, editors, and copy editors to pay attention to words and punctuation — and to get it right?


[from “The Man Who Outdistanced Death!”: Strange Suspense Stories #4 (Fawcett, 1952). Art by George Evans; script, letters, and colors uncredited.]

People often say that “comics is a visual medium.” Does a visual bias lead some readers, cartoonists, and editors to focus more on art than on text?

Given the important role that text, punctuation, and related mechanical conventions play in the art of cartooning, it seems odd that most readers rarely, if ever, look in detail at these issues. I’m not saying that there is a “grammar of comics prose” that would make it easy to definitively label something “correct” or “incorrect.”  The medium is far too fluid for that. But we could say that each cartoonist or comic creates their own temporary internal grammar — and it’s worth asking what ideas that grammar involves and if the artist/comic follows it. (And deviations could, of course, be valid and interesting.)

5. It’s important to remember that comics is not prose. An error in one context might not be an error in another. The “rules” of punctuation, formatting, consistency, and spelling that govern prose often have no relevance to comics. Word balloon text, for example, frequently evades such guidelines. Consider Ernie Bushmiller’s comic strip Nancy:


The cartoonist omits punctuation at the ends of sentences — a clear mistake in prose. But in comics, a balloon’s boundary can function like a period. Because Bushmiller takes this approach consistently, we don’t see it as an error.

In Peanuts, Charles Schulz uses standard and nonstandard ellipses, some of which contain as many as seven periods:


His choices make sense semantically and aesthetically: they communicate different pause lengths and/or they balance a balloon’s text contents with its white space.

In comics, it’s not unusual to see strange forms of punctuation. This panel from a 1950s romance story uses three unconventional marks:
2) !..
3) ?!.
A comics copy editor, then, needs to be alert to differences between comics and prose. (Did the editor of the above story miss a mistake? Should the comma after GODDESS be in bold? It makes sense to me that the punctuation after LOVE is, as these marks (?!.) reflect how the character would speak the words and amplify her facial expression.)

6. The comics page is like the poetry page. Poets enjoy a freedom with mechanics that prose writers don’t — and the same is true for cartoonists. A cartoonist may decide, consciously or otherwise, that she needs a two-period ellipsis in one speech balloon and a seven-period ellipsis in another because “it reads right,” a tactic that makes sense. These panels by artist Mark Connery use poetry-like line and panel breaks, dividing and reorganizing words and ideas in the manner of poets such as e. e. cummings:


Similarly poetic, Aidan Koch’s The Whale employs open-ended, unpunctuated lines:ak7. A cartoonist’s overall approach can make the notion of consistency irrelevant. Ben Jones’s comics gleefully violate all manner of prose rules. He magically transforms ‘mistakes’ into ‘not mistakes’ by the Power of Jones.


What he can do, however, others often can’t. But why is it OK in this case and not another? I’d argue that it’s one of several peculiar tactics that, working in concert, form Jones’s distinctive aesthetic, a liberated vision of cartooning. When I read comics by great cartoonists such as Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware — whose work looks nothing like Jones’s — I always get the sense they are similarly in control of every aspect of their craft.

8. Yet sometimes a mistake is a mistake. It can’t be explained away as poetic or “cartoonistic” license, or as somehow intentional: “The character meant to say immune, but because he was so excited he blurted out immue!”

9. We should never be our own copy editors. We can’t see the mistakes and problems in our work that others can. More so than artists, editors and publishers bear final responsibility for proofreading/copy editing. Their job is to present artists in the best possible light: leave them alone when it benefits the work, intervene when necessary.

I wonder if this Nancy panel reveals traces of helpful editorial intervention:

nancy2The space between the “t” and “s” in the second balloon is significantly larger than the distance between other letters within the balloons. I’d guess that an apostrophe was removed to fix the common “it’s vs. its” error. (Compare “its” in the second balloon to “dat’s” in the first: the “t” to “s” spacing is the same, though only one has an apostrophe.)

10. Of the final fifteen alternative/independent comics I read in 2015, twelve contained many errors and several questionable inconsistencies. In our current age of comics, one defined by the mix of graphic maximalism and textual minimalism, all (or nearly all) of these problems shouldn’t be too hard to find and fix. There just aren’t that many words on most comics pages.

A friendly warning:
If you’re allergic to fussy musings about details, stop reading now — or you’ll be sorry.

B. Practice

By far my favorite of these fifteen comics is Brandon Graham’s “Ghost Town,” which appears in the first issue of Island, an anthology edited by Graham and Emma Ríos. It’s beautifully drawn and colored, with a relaxed approach to pacing. Graham slowly explores the comic’s world, one full of ingeniously designed characters and unusually attractive natural and manufactured environments. He gives himself plenty of time and space to populate the margins and backgrounds of his cartoon universe with interesting minor characters and brief side stories. He also sets up compelling mysteries for his main characters, one of which involves a strange dream that appears near the comic’s beginning:

eedreamThe cartoonist’s confidence shines through in his love of puns. You’ve got to be unusually self-assured to include so many verbal, visual, and verbal/visual jokes. The punning never stops, and I’m glad:


Graham’s inventiveness also plays out in his varied approaches to hand-lettering. In word balloons he alternates between capital and lowercase letters, as if indicating changes in a character’s speaking volume and/or differentiating their ‘tone’ from other characters’ voices. He employs what we could call a poetic use (and avoidance) of punctuation:

Mixing English and invented languages with invented letterforms and leetspeak, he creates his own punctuation marks and experiments with the size, shape, format, and angle of his letters. This clever sequence employs a catalog of interesting and funny lettering ideas and balloon tactics:eeletter

Through such choices, he accomplishes something that might be near impossible to do with computer lettering: he gives his characters distinct voices.

There’s much skill and originality on display in this episode of Graham’s ongoing Multiple Warheads story — as there is in all of his work. He’s one of the most entertaining and innovative contemporary cartoonists, especially when it comes to expanding the relationship between language and lettering in unpretentious ways. But I’m puzzled by a few issues involving spelling, punctuation, and consistency. I can’t quite reconcile these issues with the comic’s forward-looking cartooning, though perhaps you can.

I’ve noticed that online comics critics seldom examine lettering choices and what they indicate about a cartoonist’s aesthetic and comic-book production. After drafting this GRID essay, I read over a dozen writers talking about Island #1. While one criticized typos in the issue’s prose piece, others said the anthology was “careful” and “flawless” — and no one mentioned what I discuss below. Perhaps these readers believe that since comics is not prose and the comics page is like the poetry page, it’s all good. Perhaps, for them, texting and other digital communication methods have rendered pre-twenty-first-century orthographic conventions obsolete. Whatever the reason, fair enough.

In what follows, I discuss several choices that Graham makes. Whether you agree with me or not, thinking through these issues might help us to better understand a given cartoonist’s practice and the comics medium.

[Note: Island’s table of contents includes each story’s page numbers, but the volume’s pages are unnumbered. The page numbers in bold below refer to “Ghost Town.”]

Table of contents: “Multiple Waheads.” The short biographical paragraph spells the title of Graham’s ongoing story without an “r.”

Page 2:  “Is it.” Given that this is a question, should it end with a question mark?


Did Graham intentionally leave it out to communicate the character’s disinterest (which we see a little of in his facial expression)? On the first page of Graham’s “Polaris 1” (also in Island #1), he omits a question mark from a quotation that should have one (the quotation tells us Graham is quoting a question), leaving me uncertain about what he’s up to with punctuation:


Shouldn’t it be “Why . . . real one?” (Here’s the source text, which includes a question mark after “one.”)

Page 2:  “Were wolf.” A dictionary and image search confirm that werewolf is one word, though here it is spelled as two:


But on page 15 it appears as one:
Page 4: “Very old snake, Alexander.”
Page 6: “Hold tight Alexander.”

eealexanderThe phrase on page 4 follows a standard prose rule for punctuation in dialogue (see here), but the one on page 6 doesn’t. As mentioned earlier, comics isn’t prose and cartoonists can do what they want. But, again, it’s the inconsistency I wonder about: why one place and not another? Is it un-punctuated on page 6 because the name appears on a lower line of dialogue (unlike on page 4) and is therefore already visually separated, making a comma redundant? (If so, this tactic would resemble Bushmiller’s use of the balloon boundary as a stop; on page 6, the line break acts as implicit punctuation, providing a comma-like separation and pause.)

Page 10:  “Wallington. C Hotel.”
Page 11: “Out making deliveries for the Wallinton.” Did he leave a “g” out on page 11 or add it in on 10 by mistake? Are there two places with similar names?

ee9Page 15: “Do you trust these guys you’er working with?” Perhaps this was intentional, but I assume he accidentally switched letters, intending to write “you’re” (as in “you are”):


Earlier in the comic he writes “you’re”:

A similar letter switch (“doesn’t“ becomes “dosen’t”) occurs in another recent Image comic, 8house #3 by Graham and Xurxo Penalta:does

(Note the interesting use of different ellipses within a single panel, as in the Peanuts image in section 1.)

Page 18:  “Some


I can’t recall ever seeing a word split at the end of a line with the hyphen delayed to the beginning of the following line. Since the hyphen doesn’t follow directly after “some,” readers might assume that “some” is a complete word until they realize it’s part of “something.” (On this page, he writes “half truths.” Though most dictionaries hyphenate it, it seems fine without one. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if not for other questions I had about hyphens.)

Page 26:
“. . He ate the

He splits “repairman,” but does the splitting differently than on page 18, by using two hyphens:


This might be an intentionally playful/poetic take on punctuation, but it’s hard for me to tell, especially in light of other deviations. It looks weird — and it’s something that readers might stumble over. The best argument for following a convention is that readers don’t notice you’re following a convention; they read right on through.

Hand lettering can sometimes generate more mistakes than computer lettering. So I grabbed a random issue of Graham’s King City — which uses both kinds of lettering — to see how it stacks up to Island. Also released by Image, King City #8 starts with an apostrophe problem that recurs throughout:

Inside front cover: “In Pete Taifighters pockets.” (Convention dictates ’s, as in Taifighter’s.)
Page 5: “In Anna Greengables pockets.” (Ditto.)
Page 6: “In Maximum Absolutes pockets.” (Ditto.)

I was beginning to think I failed to recognize that the comic’s implicit style guide called for omitting apostrophes. But on the next page, the standard form appears: “In Maximum’s coat pocket.” Then, on the hand-lettered back cover, the apostrophe goes missing again. When told to use a towel, a character says “were out of those too.” I assume he means “we’re,” as in “we are out of those too.”

Perhaps the viral culture of the internet text-image meme, which often uses “its” when grammarians would demand “it’s,” is rendering — or already has rendered — the apostrophe a quaint artifact, the kind of thing that only an uptight, pedantic type would worry about.

Another apostrophe issue pops up in “Polaris 1.” Graham writes character’s twice, though he’s referring to something possessed by multiple characters. So the conventional form would be s’, as in characters’:

ee16Using standard punctuation would have eliminated the sentence’s confusing shifts.

Yet, Graham also does something interesting here and throughout his work: when a character/narrator begins a sentence with a verb (implicitly omitting the subject), the cartoonist indicates the omission with an apostrophe, as if to signal a kind of contraction: It reminds me becomes ’Reminds me. (Also: note the mix of uppercase and lowercase Ts in the word balloons, which seems like a stylistic choice, not a mistake.)

Looking at Island’s other pieces didn’t bring much clarity when thinking about “Ghost Town.” I couldn’t sense an overarching editorial vision about text mechanics. The title of Ludroe’s “Dagger-Proof Mummy” has no hyphen in the table of contents, though it does on the comic’s first page; it seems to me editors should follow the artist’s lead on such things. The story, which includes relatively little text, has an apostrophe error or two — “somethings wrong” instead of “something’s wrong” — but it gets things right that Graham sometimes doesn’t, such as “we’re.” Emma Ríos’s story, which uses computer lettering (as Ludroe’s does), is generally error-free. Though its comma use may be a little inconsistent (and differs from that of “Dagger-Proof Mummy” and “Ghost Town”), I largely ignored the comma while writing this piece because, for me, it’s the most subjective punctuation mark.

As I hope I made clear, I like Graham’s comics a lot (and I’m happy that Island introduced me to Ríos’s work). But I wish the editors had taken a different approach to proofreading the anthology. I recognize that some publishers don’t have the time or money to hire copy editors and that some readers don’t care about conventions or consistency. For cartoonists, editors, and publishers who do, maybe some version of “crowd-proofing” is the answer — or they could take a pedantic English-major friend to dinner in exchange for some proofreading. I copy edit for a few cartoonists and publishers and recommend it to anyone who writes about comics. It has helped my criticism by forcing me to be more attentive. If I miss something, it’ll end up in print and I’ll feel bad — or is it badly?

[This essay was written in late 2015.]

Ken Parille is editor of The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories. He teaches at East Carolina University and his writing has appeared in The Best American Comics Criticism, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, Comic ArtTulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Boston ReviewGuitarOneThe Believer, and elsewhere.

THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/31/16 – Sweaty New Books Lolling Blearily In Shops) Tue, 30 Aug 2016 12:00:42 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 13

I always feel like I’m somehow trashing the books I list when I mention that it’s a sparse week in comic book stores; I mean, setting aside the fact that I’m only talking “sparse” in terms of books I’m interested in as fascist dictator of this column, I also don’t mean to suggest that the books we are getting are going to be dumb or anything. Some of them turn out dumb regardless, but that’s life in the shipping list game. NONETHELESS, it’s a pretty slim one this week, so please accept the following notice re: a comic that probably won’t be distributed by Diamond anyway: Steve Ditko has completed work on the gala twenty-fifth installment of the 32-page comic book series he’s been publishing in conjunction with Robin Snyder. It can be backed as part of a two-comic package with a presumably reprint-anchored anniversary edition of the old Charlton series Out of This World, which Ditko & Snyder revived in 2015. The cover is dominated by the Madman, star of the 32-page series’ major ongoing serial, but what I really love is the chorus of laughing faces, which indeed never learn; Ditko has deployed the mask-like mirth of gormless go-alongs since the 1960s as a means of highlighting both the bliss of ignorance and the mockery to which those of true standards are inevitably subject. Know, however, that the chorus above and the isolated head below may as well be read as sequence, for all in the Avenging World are called upon eventually to choose, regardless of whether tears of hilarity have clouded their vision…


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.




Real Deal Comix: You see? It’s not a crowded week, but some people have been waiting on this forever. Being a 176-page color Fantagraphics compendium for the small-press “urban chaos” series created by artist Lawrence Hubbard and the late H.P. McElwee in 1989 as a venue for humorous and sensational stories of two-fisted city life – for a long while, these comics existed mainly in their own space, ignored by connoisseur discourse until a retrospective groundswell of writing on their virtues appeared in the ’00s. I’m not sure if a recent (2015) revival issue is included in here, though I presume the earlier six issues’ worth of stuff is accounted for; $29.99.


How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less: Also a reprint, but from a very different source – a brief wave of original hardcover books from Vertigo, which released the original in 2011. Artist Sarah Glidden is anticipating the release of a new book of comics journalism, Rolling Blackouts, from Drawn and Quarterly later this year, and it is that same publisher which here reissues her chronicle of two weeks spent in Israel, discussing the situation of life with people there. A 212-page color softcover. Samples; $19.95.


The Longest Day of the Future: Not exactly the North American debut of Argentine cartoonist and illustrator Lucas Varela – he was in the comic book anthology Vertigo Quarterly: Yellow a while back, although this is his first bookshelf release, ‘translated’ from a 2015 French album, although there is no dialogue anyway. A bleak comedy of futuristic capitalism, Varela finds two massively imposing companies in all-consuming competition, drawing with a very clean and smooth, rather antiseptic approach to comedy grotesques. Fantagraphics (again) publishes this 112-page color piece at 7.5″ x 10.25″; $24.99.

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: This is a new kids’ graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown, a hugely-admired alt-comics artist of the ’00s who is known widely today as author of several very popular Star Wars-related books for children. “The laugh-out-loud adventure features Lucy and her goofball brother Andy, as the Paleo pair take on a wandering baby sibling, bossy teens, cave paintings, and a mammoth hunt. But what will happen when they encounter a group of humans?” I have no idea. Crown Books publishes in hardcover at 224 pages; $12.99.

Blubber #3: Hey – it’s an alternative comic book! Moreover, a comic by Gilbert Hernandez, who will soon be doubling-down on the floppy format as Love and Rockets returns to its magazine origins next month. Until then, we have Blubber – a selection of short, aggressive stories about fantasy animals or superheroes or any type of weird being as they fuck and eat and shit and kill in a fundamentally chaotic and amoral world. A comedy; $3.99.

Suicide Squad War Crimes Special #1: Sure, I laughed at the title. I’m not a list-making robot, I just saw the list-driven future, and was subsequently condemned to live there. What is actually notable about this comic, though, is that it marks the return of writer John Ostrander to the supervillains-for-security concept he helped popularize in the 1980s; a good amount of writing on the recent movie version has emphasized his work. Here, the Squad invades the Hague (just like Jesse Helms wanted!) to extract an American politician on trial before he can spill too many damning secrets and/or a legitimate military action erupts. Art by Carlos Rodriguez & Gus Vasquez. Preview; $4.99.

World of Tanks #1 (of 5): I also laughed at this, but only after I looked it up and realized it’s actually based on an internet video game, and not just a primal Garth Ennis comic book title. But yeah, Ennis is the writer, Dark Horse (unusually) is the publisher, and — in a rare original stateside appearance — Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra is the artist (as colored by one Michael Atiyeh). Expect a fuckton of tanks from this story of a British crew pursued by Panzers. Preview; $3.99.

Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects – Artist’s Edition: Speaking of ‘unusual’ and ‘Dark Horse’, I presume the deal for IDW to handle this enormous Mike Mignola book was sealed before DH started up its own line of bound hardcover color reproductions of original art pages at close to actual size. (IDW has also handled a similar Hellboy volume.) Nonetheless, it looks like this 160-page, 12″ x 17″ tome should track pretty closely to Dark Horse’s 2010 expanded reissue of Mignola’s ’02 comedy one-shot, which in its absurd randomness and dark-whimsical Victoriana anticipated a vein of humor that became prominent in nerdy things as the ’00s wore on. It is unlikely that the drawing will not excel in this format; $100.00.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck – The Don Rosa Library Vol 5: The Richest Duck in the World: Finally, we turn again to Fantagraphics for a new 192-page hardcover devoted to Don Rosa’s much-loved Duck comics, completing his “Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” story sequence (a biographical arrangement of scenes from the character’s life, and a sort of prolonged tribute to the lore of its creator, Carl Barks) with additional comics and various supplements; $29.99.

You might be wondering what’s going on with the front page image this week – rest assured, the long-threatened Akira live-action project has not come to fruition… at least not in the Katsuhiro Ōtomo sense.


Akira (2016) is a Hindi-language film opening this weekend in India and foreign territories liable to screen such works (e.g. central Pennsylvania). It’s a pretty major release; AR Murugadoss is a very successful and influential popular auteur from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu — there are multiple large film industries inside India, Tamil cinema among the most prominent from the south — who was partially responsible for inspiring a wave of ‘South’ movie remakes in the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, sometimes colloquially known as “Bollywood” (old-fashioned term, that) and frequently mistaken for the whole of Indian popular cinema, as Hindi works are often the most prominently exported.

Murugadoss is very much plugged-in to foreign media; among his biggest hits is Ghajini, a film he directed twice — once in Tamil in 2005, and once in Hindi in 2008 — which famously appropriated the anterograde amnesia/helpful tattoo concept of Christopher Nolan’s 2001 film Memento and used it to otherwise divergent effect. He also directed a Telugu-language film (the Telugu cinema is based primarily in Andhra Pradesh, another southern Indian state) with the wonderful title of Stalin (2006), which reconfigured elements of the drizzly Haley Joel Osment vehicle Pay It Forward into an action thriller.

In other words, he’s a bit of a magpie – and though I don’t know if what you see above was specifically his idea or some member of the promotions team winking toward foreign influence, the decision was nonetheless made at some point that his Akira would display an *extremely* similar title font to that of the famous manga series and anime film. I’m not sure how well-known Ōtomo’s stuff is in India (kids’ properties like Doraemon and Dragon Ball are pretty popular); it could be this is meant as a movie nerd in-joke, though I’m having fun imagining the little bursts of chaos among unprepared foreign aficionados seeing the title above the showtimes at the box office and finding themselves treated to the sight of Anurag Kashyap chewing scenery.

However, while this Akira does not take anything from Ōtomo beyond the name and the font, it’s also Murugadoss’ first film not based on a story of his own, adapted instead from a 2011 Tamil film titled Mouna Guru. Not only is there nobody named Akira in the earlier film, but the lead role is played by a man; the real gamble of Murugadoss’ Akira is that he has refitted the original work into a vehicle for Sonakshi Sinha, an actress who rose to fame primarily in ‘ornamental’ roles, which is to say as the designated heroine of mainstream films who gives winsome reaction shots to the male hero in the romance track and looks nice for the various dance scenes, and then fucks off for the climax of the movie unless she’s kidnapped or something. Sinha has worked with Murugadoss in the past, and she been interested lately in branching out, and thus the director works to affix his golden touch to the still-unusual prospect of a major-release action-suspense Hindi picture anchored entirely by a woman. So, as a result, those foreign viewers actually will be seeing some risks up on screen, albeit without any orbital laser platforms or explosion domes.

But, does global cinema really suffer from the absence of another comic book movie?

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/24/16 – A Quiet Week) Tue, 23 Aug 2016 12:00:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I dunno.


There’s a part of me that thinks “if your comic doesn’t have a cover like this, you should just go home.” I mean, holy crap – what’s even happening?! I can’t really describe the physics, or even the spatial relationships here, let alone the completely jarring and horrific juxtapositions of digital textures, but the fucking CHAOS of this image is fantastic. I want to see what’s inside even before I notice that old-fashioned box in the upper left corner, and I realize Chick Publications is at it again.

The Crusaders has been a longstanding subject of this magazine’s fascination; cat yronwode first reported on the series in issue #50 of the print edition, from October of 1979. By that time, the series was already five years old – the creators are Jack T. Chick and Fred Carter, the former a semi-legendary impresario of giveaway comic book tracts with a severe fundamentalist Christian bent, and the latter a startlingly vivid, muscular artist who began drawing tracts for Chick in ’72. The Crusaders is their full-sized comic book series, a color side project to the b&w tracts, affording them greater space to expound upon top threats to Christian living such as rock music, evolution and Jesuits, all filtered through the often disquietingly gruesome adventures of Tim Clark and Jim Carter, men-of-action and (one suspects) strapping fantasy stand-ins for the authors themselves.

This marriage of Chick’s rigid theology to Carter’s art proved irresistible to a certain type of post-underground comics reader, even after the series launched into an exhausting 150-page unfinished serial narrative of Roman Catholic skullduggery that brought the whole enterprise screeching to a halt with issue #17 in 1988; the series would not resume until 2007, at which point it returned to self-contained stories but employed its action heroes mainly as vessels for listening to other characters’ testimony on Mormons or whatnot. By that time, admirers had sussed out Carter’s identity; like Carl Barks, his prior works had been created under a company brand, though, like a Disney cartoonist, his anonymous art had reached a terrific mass audience. He is probably one of the most widely-exposed black cartoonists of the 20th century, though even today Chick’s infamy eclipses him so that many readers of tweeted excerpts and parodic Photoshops assume that Chick draws everything himself. And unlike Walt Disney, or Stan Lee, Jack Chick actually does draw a lot on his own – but he does not draw anything like Fred Carter.


Times have changed. Carter is fully credited in the new issue #22, which finds him firmly in the grip of contemporary digital textures. The heart of his drawing is still present — the vivid, just-shy-of-caricature faces of his people; the rich, darkened welts of whipcracked flesh, ropes of blood coiling off leather in the air — though his use of digital elements gives settings a garish and collage-like appearance. This, I admit, is somewhat fitting for “Unthinkable”, which is adapted from a 2008 prose book: John P. McTernan’s As America Has Done To Israel, which from the evidence here seems to be one of those God-takes-revenge-on-us-with-weather-and-stuff things I used to find under my windshield wipers in tract form back in 1998. All of those were about abortion; this one is about Israel, and how God definitely does not think we in the United States are doing enough on its behalf.

“I don’t understand,” says Jim Carter to Ms. Cohen, an elderly woman he and Tim are comforting following the hate crime death of a beloved rabbi as the issue opens. “Our country has always been good to the Jewish people.” What results is a careening journey through the ages, leaping from the anti-Semitism of Henry Ford to a retelling of the exodus from Egypt, stopping in to reflect on the godliness of George Washington and the critical role financier Haym Solomon played in the American Revolution. FROM THAT DAY UNTIL THE DAYS OF 33RD DEGREE MASONIC PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, GOD BLESSED THE USA, BECAUSE THEY BLESSED ISRAEL – so barks the running narration (emphasis as provided), leaving the reader to wonder what pissed God off in 1906 to bring about the San Francisco earthquake.

A lot of what happens on subsequent pages finds Carter drawing historical figures from what I presume are photographs, given how tame his predilections toward drama become. The digital collage of his panels is apropos because his pages become like infographics, communicating data from a distance on how poorly every President since Bush I has done in terms of contemplating any territorial compromise re: Israel/Palestine, their affronts placed in ‘telling’ proximity to earthquakes, forest fires, Hurricane Katrina, the global financial crisis, etc. No word on abortions, although given that I used to live in a Catholic area, those tracts may have been Jesuit false flag ops.


Not every latter-period issue of The Crusaders is like this. Issue #21, “Black Angel”, is a very straightforward comic book account of a Latino gang member’s coming to Christ, allowing Carter a lot of room to draw a wide variety of people caught in his vivified sense of human drama, a drug-diseased arm at one point pulsing with hallucinogenic demons; it’s the best of his recent color work. In here, we have to make due with pages such as the above, depicting the aftermath of God’s destruction of an American Nazi hangout via a 1938 storm; the rotting, wilting trees of panel two seem overtaken with a thick, mossy disease, popping nicely next to the cloud-parted sky of panel one, a television test-pattern shirt centering a riot of clashing debris textures – these images seem both loud and still.

Meanwhile, back in the framing story, Tim and Jim are faced with a dilemma; despite everything they’ve just been told, they know that all Jews will nonetheless burn in Hell unless they accept Christ as their savior. Calm and practiced, Jim asks Ms. Cohen how God can stand atop a mount of olives as described in Zechariah 14:1-4. “I have wondered that myself,” she remarks, at which point Tim notes that the ascension of Jesus occurs on the mount called Olivet per Acts 1:12, and three panels later the lady is on her knees accepting Jesus Christ as her personal savior, which I found roughly as convincing as the bit in Batman v Superman where Batman calls off his mission of vengeance after finding out Superman’s mom was *also* named Martha. But then, we all have genre expectations to meet.


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.




Solomon: Royal Edition: This week I’m going to deliberately spotlight one publisher, since I’ve never seen any of its wares distributed by Diamond before – Kingpin Books, a Portuguese comics retailer that’s been producing original books and translations of English works for at least ten years. Indeed, artist Carlos Pedro has been publishing with them since 2006, although this particular work has taken a circuitous route befitting the global scene. Originating in 2014 as a b&w self-published English-language work, Solomon was brought by its artist to the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds, where it caught the eye of Richard Starkings, who then offered Pedro work on his Image series Elephantmen – Starkings now authors the introduction to this expanded and colorized 48-page hardcover album edition from Kingpin. It appears to be a metaphorical story about a dock worker facing monsters; $13.99.


Kong the King: This one, meanwhile, takes a more direct route to international accessibility, insofar as there are no words at all. Artist Osvaldo Medina has worked extensively with Kingpin in the past, and here he offers a 144-page take on the island-to-NYC narrative, albeit now with a human native coaxed into navigating rapacious civilization instead of a giant beast a la the 1933 motion picture. I am unaware of any prior work from this artist in North America; $17.99.


Malice in Ovenland Vol. 1: Not an enormous number of original works catch my eye this week, but I like the coloring in this kids’ fantasy comic from artist Micheline Hess, and the way she draws her main character’s glasses in a sort of Joe Sacco way in some panels; it’s a fantasy story about an adventure-hungry girl who gets sucked into a greasy adventure in an oven. Rosarium Publishing collects 124 pages of color comics in this softcover edition; $14.95.

Angora Napkin: Cuddle Core Collected Edition: Now we enter into a long stretch of reprints, all of them in their publishers’ wheelhouses. For example, IDW is currently publishing a comic book miniseries version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as adapted by artist Troy Little (previously a 2015 graphic novel from Top Shelf, which was acquired by IDW the same year). This, now, is a 320-page collection of a prior series Little had begun with IDW in ’09, though there was also a webcomic and an animated cartoon pilot, the latter of which I think will also be included on a dvd. It’s about a group of girls in a band who have comedic encounters with the supernatural; $29.99.

Monster (&) ABC Warriors: Return to Ro-Busters: Two here from Rebellion, though not necessarily dealing with 2000 AD. Monster, for instance, originated in Scream!, a very short-lived (March-June, 1984) IPC horror anthology that ultimately saw its viable contents folded into the more venerable kids’ comics forum Eagle. A creature-on-the-loose concept, it’s notable in that its first episode was written by Alan Moore, who was succeeded by John Wagner and Alan Grant. Art by ‘Heinzl’ and Jesús Redondo across 192 pages. ABC Warriors, on the other hand, is much newer and firmly 2000 AD, seeing writer Pat Mills and artist Clint Langley (the latter shifting between b&w and color ink work and the CG/photocomic stuff with which he’s probably most associated) on a 2015-16 storyline from the long-lived robot action series, presented as a 96-page hardcover; $25.99 (Monster), $18.99 (ABC).

RG Veda Book 1 (of 3): And here is Dark Horse, offering older manga in a 600+ page omnibus format. RG Veda was the professional debut of CLAMP, an all-women art collective who would eventually become superstars, though at the time they were a dōjinshi circle seeking to enter the professional ranks. The series — an older-skewing shōjo fantasy take on Indo-European mythology — facilitated this ambition, beginning in 1989 with over half a dozen members in the studio, its ranks whittled to the now-familiar four by the time the series concluded in 1996. Tokyopop handled the initial English release, but the Dark Horse editions will be more lavish at 5.75″ x 8.25″ dimensions with various color sequences preserved. Samples; $24.99.

The Sensuous Frazetta (&) Wally Wood’s Jungle Adventures with Jim King & Animan: A pair from Vanguard, which has produced a good number of books on both of these artists. The Sensuous Frazetta is a 160-or-so-page compendium of Frank Frazetta pieces from men’s magazines and spicy novels of the 1960s. Wally Wood’s Jungle Adventures collects somewhere south of 200 pages’ worth of just those types of comics from across the genre comics great’s career, including a witzend story our own Dan Nadel interpreted as “a thinly veiled rant about being misunderstood by society,” underscoring both Wood’s supreme skill at drawing and an unwillingness to depart from the pulp mode of his commercial work, even when given unprecedented freedom. Note that both of these are the softcover editions, with other formats also out there; $24.95 (each).

Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Hard Goodbye – Curator’s Collection: That’s right, it’s a book of prominent popular comics reproduced in color from the original art and printed at full size. Dark Horse is doing that now, via its Kitchen Sink Books imprint run by Denis Kitchen & John Lind, and there is probably no safer place to start than the complete original 1991-92 Dark Horse Presents serial that offered writer/artist Miller new direction for an era of superstar creator ownership. A 15″ x 21.5″ hardcover, with a Miller interview and an introduction by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez also in its 224 pages. Samples; $175.00.

Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is a University Press of Mississippi release of a 208-page study by Daniel Marrone on the topic of the Canadian artist Seth, concerning “the various ways in which Seth’s comics induce readers to participate in forging histories and memories…. suffused with longing for the past, but on close examination this longing is revealed to be deeply ambivalent, ironic, and self-aware.” A hardcover edition, priced for the classroom; $60.00.

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Episode 13: MariNaomi Fri, 19 Aug 2016 12:00:38 +0000 Turning Japanese creator talks Mardou's Sky in StereoBloom County, Cheryl Strayed, and much more. Plus, a fond farewell to a fan-favorite question. Continue reading ]]>



On the thirteenth installment of Comic Book Decalogue, MariNaomi (Turning Japanese) talks Mardou’s Sky in StereoBloom County, Cheryl Strayed, and much more. Plus, a fond farewell to a fan-favorite question.


Previous Episodes

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 0:33:06 The Turning Japanese creator talks Mardou's Sky in Stereo, Bloom County, Cheryl Strayed, and much more. Plus, a fond farewell to a fan-favorite question. The Turning Japanese creator talks Mardou's Sky in Stereo, Bloom County, Cheryl Strayed, and much more. Plus, a fond farewell to a fan-favorite question. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/17/16 – Legendary Archives of Dazzling Treasure) Tue, 16 Aug 2016 12:00:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Just the way I feel beholding such powerful artifacts. This transitional vision comes from the excellent Canadian cartoonist GG, contributing to the special Gaijin Mangaka issue of kuš! - a very strong anthology, though GG's is the only contribution I can see running in a commercial manga magazine, albeit an edgy one... anybody from Comic Beam reading?

Just the way I feel beholding such powerful artifacts. This transitional vision comes from the excellent Canadian cartoonist GG, contributing to the special “Gaijin Mangaka” issue of kuš! – a very strong anthology, though GG’s is the only contribution I can see running in a commercial manga magazine, albeit an edgy one… anybody from Comic Beam 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.




The! Greatest! Of! Marlys!: Oh, nothing much – just an enormous stack of strips from Lynda Barry, creator of short comics since the late 1970s and one of the most fiercely beloved American cartoonists alive today. Sasquatch Books initially published this selection from her Ernie Pook’s Comeek in 2000, but know that the new Drawn and Quarterly hardcover edition expands the contents by several dozen pages to a total of 248. Keenly observed and beholden to seemingly no master but the communication of its characters, aliens all to the seductive designs of commercial identification, this is the stuff that epitomized the alt-weekly comic for many. Samples; $22.95.


The Complete Neat Stuff: Oh, nothing much – just all 15 issues of the original one-man anthology from Peter Bagge, editor at the time of the offbeat anthology Weirdo, purveying all manner of satirical character-driven comedy from 1985 to 1989, after which the series Hate was launched with a tighter focus on certain recurring characters. As a result, there is probably a lot for readers to discover or rediscover in these 488 pages, split into two slipcased tomes and augmented with annotations by Bagge himself. A Fantagraphics release; $59.99.


Bacchus Omnibus Edition Vol. 2 (of 2): Oh, nothing much… man, there’s a ton of reprints this week. I mean, 552 pages of Eddie Campbell — him, his studio, his cohorts — presenting the latter half (1990-99) of his ever-evolving spin on the superhero comic, encompassing the action violence of Hermes vs. The Eyeball Kid and the self-referential lampoon of King Bacchus, among other modes and methods, in a rightly egalitarian spirit. Notes and commentary by Campbell are promised for this Top Shelf release, distributed by IDW, which could very easily satisfy the anticipating browser completely on its own; $39.99.

Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian: We will be hearing much of IDW in the coming minutes. This is a new one from their EuroComics division, a fourth release of adventure tales from the great Hugo Pratt, wrapping up his short stories for the French magazine Pif Gadget (1972-73) in a 96-page, 9.2″ x 11.5″ softcover; book-length serials will follow. Inquisitive, cosmopolitan, and not a little bemused, these comics are among those seminal works that stand unique from even the many that claim their influence; $24.99.

Friends Is Friends: Whoa, not only a new comic here, but a new one from Greg Cook, whom some of you will remember from the 2001 Highwater Books release Catch As Catch Can, as well contributions to the roughly contemporaneous and highly prominent anthologies NON #5 and Comix 2000, among many other venues. I don’t mean to imply he’s been absent from comics since then or anything, but this 208-page First Second hardcover is his first book-length work since that era, an un-paneled system of gag sequences telling of the funny-sad relationships between animal characters. Very much worth a peek at least; $19.99.

Library of American Comics Essentials Vol. 8 – King Features Essentials 1: Krazy Kat 1934: A long title for a long book, by which I mean it’s 11.5″ x 4.25″ at one comic strip per page for 336 pages. I like this format a lot, and it has proven its service to George Herriman in vols. 1 & 6, which collected full years of his Baron Bean. Now Krazy and Ignatz appear in the autumn of their newspaper tenure, “at top speed, ever-changing, endlessly inventive, with language that sparkles with double meanings and more,” per publisher IDW (again). An introduction by Michael Tisserand, author of the forthcoming Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, is also expected; $29.99.

Private Beach: The Complete Edition (&) Sam Glanzman’s ATTU: The Collected Volumes: Two here from Dover – not an unfamiliar name anymore amidst talk of unique comics reprint choices. Private Beach was 2001-02 series from writer/artist David Hahn, which Slave Labor Graphics published for seven issues, spinning out of earlier comics from Antarctic Press; I have not read any of the run, but Dover describes it as blending “elements of science-fiction adventure, political satire, and soap opera,” and this 208-page edition will include a new 30-page final story by the creator, as well as an appreciation by Hahn’s Helioscope associate Jeff Parker. ATTU is a caveman/dinosaurs/aliens SF sprawl by the fascinating Sam Glanzman, first published as two original graphic novels in 1989 by Lancaster, Pennsylvana’s own 4Winds Publishing Group, headed by Timothy Truman & Chuck Dixon. Truman provides an introduction to Dover’s 160-page edition, which pairs the original books with a heretofore unpublished third volume, as well as essays by Jeff Lemire and Stephen R. Bissette; $16.95 (Beach), $19.95 (ATTU).

Grimjack Omnibus Vol. 2 (&) Hotspur: Complete and Astonishing: While we’re on the subject of Tim Truman, I should note that ComicMix is reprinting his and writer John Ostrander’s GrimJack, a science-fantasy man of action series prominent in the 1980s; the second omnibus softcover is out this week, covering issues #14-30, which also contains a long stretch of pencils by Tom Sutton. Ostrander is very visible at the moment due to the Suicide Squad movie, so ComicMix also has an 80-page collection of Hotspur, a rather obscure 1987 Eclipse fantasy miniseries pencilled by Karl Waller, who drew a bunch of horror and sexy lady comics in the ’90s and beyond (OG at Avatar Press!); $49.99 (Grimjack), $15.00 (Hotspur).

Kelly: The Cartoonist America Turns To: For a long time, I was addicted to “Kelly” – longstanding cartoonist for The Onion, and a relentless, deadpan exhibition of political cartooning at its most artistically cataclysmal. No drearily obvious visual metaphor comes without a text label, no shopworn emotional appeal goes unexploited; and even after the dead end nature of this mannered mode of communication is fully realized, you still have Kelly’s supernatural ability to adopt the most irritating position imaginable on any conceivable issue to enliven his dispatches. Granted, I think you can only read these things for so long under even the best of circumstances, but a 200-page ‘best of’ could make for potent reference. Ward Sutton is the alt weekly veteran who actually writes and draws the cartoons, while the publisher of this 8.5″ x 6.88″ landscape softcover is IDW; $19.99.

Superf*ckers Forever #1 (of 5): Hard to believe it’s been nine years since the ‘final’ issue of James Kochalka‘s teen superhero series, which emphasized the “teen” over the “superhero” in depicting powerful layabouts more interested in video games and naps and making out than saving the world – indeed, the original four-issue series came equipped with an amusing conceit whereby none of the issue numbers were sequential, leaving the novice reader to believe that not only were there huge gaps in their reading, but that somehow they always got stuck with a ‘downtime’ issue bereft of anything excessively superheroic. It has been an enduring, popular thing — not a few readers’ introduction to Kochalka, better known prior to that for the autobiographical American Elf series — and now IDW (which acquired former publisher Top Shelf last year) lays its own banner on a new comic book-sized sequel miniseries (rather than the square dimensions of the old issues). A solo joint as always, though guest artists will supply backup pieces; Jake Lawrence is the first. Preview; $3.99.

The Sequential Artists Workshop Guide to Creating Professional Comic Strips: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week – maybe the most potentially compelling such item of 2016. Tom Hart, you see, is the author of Rosalie Lightning, which is, as of now, the best new comic released in 2016. (Portions were self-published in comic book form earlier, but let’s not split hairs.) He is also the longtime artist of the Hutch Owen series of comic books and strips, and — in 2011 — founded The Sequential Artists Workshop in Gainesville, Florida, with the artist Leela Corman. Now, Alternative Comics presents a 96-page edition of one of the school’s in-house print-on-demand projects, a Hart-authored “complete how-to manual for making the best comic strips you can, from conception to idea generation to layout, lettering, finishing, coloring and even selling.” I’d check it out for sure; $12.95.

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Webcomics Binge Read: Homestuck Fri, 12 Aug 2016 12:00:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m fit. I’m hydrated. This is it. Today I begin reading the entirety of Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck. Launched in 2009, Homestuck ended this April as one of the most wildly successful and passionately loved comics online. I knew something was going on when my college-age cousin came home with a full sleeve tattoo of Homestuck fan art, and I didn’t know what it was, Mister Jones.

I’ve previously attempted the archives twice and been forced to retreat over a trail of dead sherpas. But this time it’s do or die.

I dedicate this ascent to Jason Thompson, whose 48-hour Naruto binge read ( stands as an inspiration to all archive trawlers.

Here goes.



  • Homestuck was the fourth comic Hussie serialized on his website, MS Paint Adventures. Previous comics were scripted on the fly by taking suggestions from readers, and the early installments of Homestuck carry over the audience-participation element. But by this point Hussie’s fanbase was too big for the interactive element to remain workable, and it was mostly abandoned within the first year. Homestuck opens with a PC-game prompt asking you to enter a name for the protagonist, but you don’t actually get to choose one. He’s John.
  • Old-school video games form the central aesthetic, from the pixilated art to the game-based ways the characters interact with their world. For example, John and his friends have to handle items by turning them into “captchalogue cards” and placing them in an inventory. This gets confusing when they start playing a video game with its own rules within their already video-game-based world.
  • In the opening pages, Hussie plugs merchandise for his previous MS Paint comic, Problem Sleuth. I respect the hell out of that.
  • Hussie and I share a love of bad movies in general and the work of Nicolas Cage in particular. I didn’t know this when I mentioned Con Air in my own comic, and now all the nerds think I was making a Homestuck reference. Nic Cage exists beyond our petty mortal webcomics world, people.
  • “You pull up to your COMPUTER. This is where you spend most of your time.” John spends the next 50 pages IMing his online friends while making half-assed efforts to leave his room and check the mailbox. The narration isn’t kidding around here.
  • Okay, the plot. John receives a video game called Sburb for his thirteenth birthday. As he and his online friends Rose, Dave, and Jade begin toying with Sburb, they discover that it allows them to manipulate reality. It’s unclear whether they’re surprised by this. They’re already living in a world where objects can be turned into punchcards.
  • “You decide to space out on the computer for a while before doing anything important.” I’m going to keep track of every time there’s a line like this. God is telling me something.
  • As Homestuck goes on, it incorporates more and more multimedia elements. Panels consist of animated gifs, while big events are full Flash-animated cutscenes. You get the option of reading the characters’ online chatlogs, which you’d better do or the story will make even less sense. There are musical interludes and minigames. There are links to other websites. I get the feeling that, for Hussie, this formal experimentation is the most interesting part of comicking.
  • Several hundred pages in, John uses some of the peculiar machinery burped up by Sburb to create a glowing blue apple, and then a meteor crashes into his house. It doesn’t make any more sense in context. End Act One, and whew.



  • John’s neighborhood has been demolished and his house teleported to a void. According to Rose, who is still able to text him, similar disasters are striking Sburb players around the world. We get flash-forwards to a post-apocalyptic future where a mysterious figure, the Wayward Vagabond, relays commands to John in the past. Got all that? Good. We’ll check back in with the plot later.
  • Mordicai Knode, in an article for, wrote, “Homestuck is the first great work of genuinely hypertext fiction.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) I guess he’s never heard of a little thing called Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. There: now I can say that taking a class called “Hypermedia and Phanopoeia” in college in 1996 was in no way a waste of my parents’ money.
  • The thing is, I suspect Knode is right. There’s a good chance Homestuck will be admired by future generations and I will look laughingly blinkered for kind of not getting it. I accept this and embrace my fogeyness.
  • Homestuck features a webcomic-within-a-webcomic, Dave’s deliberately bad comic Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, with its own hideous website and buggy archives. It’s first linked to during a scene where Dave is reading another webcomic, a takeoff of previous MS Paint series Problem Sleuth. (“Even though the adventure began recently, it’s already over 3000 pages long. You just don’t have time for this bullshit.”) This is some Italo Calvino shit up in here.
  • Holy crap, Topatco actually sells all the self-consciously terrible merchandise advertised on the Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff site. I hadn’t realized Homestuck fandom had gotten that out of control, even after seeing my cousin’s tattoo.
  • John, the narrator, and the mysterious figure from the future are all arguing with each other in the narration text. This is pretty great if you’re into metafiction and read all the footnotes in Lanark: A Life in Four Books.
  • Or, all right, all the footnotes in Infinite Jest. I’m trying to prove that my junior year abroad in Dublin to study Irish and Scottish postmodernism was also a sound long-term investment.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if you were transported to another dimension where everything worked like Minecraft? No, it wouldn’t, because it would take ten million steps to walk up a flight of stairs and you’d have to keep stopping to fight pixilated monsters. And that’s why video games are the worst.
  • The cross-cutting between multiple characters at different points in time reminds me of my second-favorite video game ever, Day of the Tentacle, the sequel to Maniac Mansion. My favorite video game ever is Maniac Mansion.
  • The plot isn’t important, anyway. Homestuck is more about the innumerable jokes, digressions, weird conversations, and running gags Hussie can spin off each new incremental progression in the action. Right now, for instance, Dave is trying to shove a puppet down a garbage disposal, but is hamstrung by the fact that he can only give himself orders using a limited number of letters. This has been going on for pages. In the words of Enid Coleslaw, the movie version with the troubling sexual attraction to Steve Buscemi, it keeps going from bad to good and back around to bad again.
  • The animated cutscenes are getting more ambitious. The artwork remains at the same level of one-step-up-from-stick-figures sophistication, so Hussie wisely puts his effort into choosing strong images and cutting them together effectively. Like a good low-budget anime series, Homestuck does a lot with limited resources.
  • Act Two closes with a lengthy visit to the future as the Wayward Vagabond tries, sort of, to escape from his underground fallout shelter. He finally succeeds in launching the shelter into the sky and flying away on top of it, and it’s a beautiful scene. Like if they made an eight-bit NES game based on a Studio Ghibli movie. That never happened, right? The closest we got was Little Nemo: The Dream Master.
  • The clinical term for attraction to Steve Buscemi is “Busexuality.”



  • Hussie has teased the first on-panel appearance of Jade, the most recalcitrant member of the SUBRB-playing gang, for a long time, and now she finally appears. She’s cute. She even gets a little introductory minigame where you can make her play a flute, a testament to Hussie’s ongoing efforts to see how multi he can make this media.
  • Speaking of, an increasing number of pages are full-on animated sequences. Is Homestuck technically even a comic? Was it ever a comic? Or was it always one artist’s personal sandbox game sprayed with a thin veneer of comic-ness? This is when I really need the ability to pull Marshall McLuhan out from behind something.
  • First mention of the trolls. These are the characters with candy-corn devil horns you see 300 teenage girls cosplaying as at anime conventions. I’d gathered that much about Homestuck from the lady internet before starting this binge read.
  • The lady internet is also where you learn which male Avengers should be making out, besides all of them.
  • “Oh look, there’s some more mad science crap over here.” This specifically refers to the underground lab Rose has found herself in, but it could apply to a lot of Homestuck.
  • Right, the plot. At the moment, each of the kids is penetrating an inner sanctum where he or she may hope to find answers, or possibly just more machines with overly complicated interfaces. For Rose, it’s an underground laboratory hidden beneath her cat’s mausoleum. For Jade, it’s the bottom floor of her island super-science tower. For John, it’s his father’s room, which he’s been kinda sorta trying to get into since the comic began. Dave is unavailable. Outside, the world is still ending.
  • None of them learn much, but Rose gets a kitty, so that’s cool.
  • Throughout the comic so far, much the action involves characters avoiding adults and looking for places to plug in their laptops. I’m starting to understand why it has a huge Millennial fanbase.
  • With Act Three, I’m starting to enjoy Homestuck. I’m not sure if it’s because the comic’s getting better or because it’s trained me to follow its peculiar logic and pace, like that fungus that makes ants climb trees so it can burst out of their heads and spore.
  • At long last, the kids have succeeded in booting up a second copy of Sburb, which should allow all four of them to play. Since turning on Sburb seems to trigger a meteor apocalypse, this seems like a bad idea, but they worked awfully hard to do it. And Jade says maybe Sburb didn’t cause the apocalypse; it was just a coincidence. So, um, go kids? And so long, Book Three.



  • A 200-page digression into the Problem Sleuth-like webcomic-within-a-webcomic. I take back everything I said about getting into the rhythm of Homestuck. This is cruel.
  • So this sequence follows the Midnight Crew, a group of toughs who previously appeared in Problem Sleuth, as they assassinate a bunch of green guys who all have different time- and probability-based powers. It’s a neat concept, albeit probably only here because Hussie hit a block on Homestuck and needed to switch to something different for a while.



  • John has crossed into a dark universe with luminous mushrooms and rivers of oil. Rose has entered the equally mysterious Land of Light and Rain. Jade and Dave are setting up their video-game server. That these three plot threads are treated as equally interesting, with a slight evident preference for the server stuff, sort of sums up Homestuck.
  • With the time travel and all the alternate-universe variations on the base setting, this is starting to remind me of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which was a boss game.
  • Every time I think I’ve finally got a rough idea what’s happening and I’m starting to get into the story, it cuts to, say, a past version of one of the post-apocalyptic survivors delivering a parking citation to an imp queen in an evil castle, and I’m like DAMMIT HOMESTUCK.
  • Sometimes Homestuck is fun, and sometimes it’s like watching someone else play a deliberately frustrating 1980s text adventure game. Which I guess could also be fun, if you’re drunk. I’d better get drunk.
  • Roughly 80% of the characters exist to provide exposition to the other 20%, and I still have no idea what the living hell is going on.
  • “YOU STARTED SOME [line break] SICK FIRES BRO” No hate, but some of these panels seem cynically designed to be lifted for social media gifs.
  • In the Homestuck universe, Internet trolls are aliens from another planet who also play SBURB. There are twelve of them, they communicate over IRC even to each other, and each has a different irritating way of typing wrong. I am not liking the Trolls so far.
  • The Trolls expend enormous effort to manipulate John into flying a jetpack. There’s sort of a reason, but it mostly happens because it makes a cool gif.
  • Happily, John is saved by the power of friendship. Anime is a huge influence on Homestuck.
  • I am so drunk now.
  • A wild cartoon Andrew Hussie appears to recap the plot and clear up points his readers were probably arguing over in the forums. (“John… accidentally prototyped the sprite with his grandmother’s ashes, transforming it again. This prototyping had no effect on the enemies, since he was already in the Medium, and the kernel had already hatched.” Oh, well, then.) For you, constant readers, I read all 5,590 words.   I now hate you all and have a slightly less murky idea of how time loops work.
  • John enters Rose’s room. This is worth noting because it’s the first time, thousands of pages in, that any of the four protagonists have met in the flesh. It would be kind of a big deal except Rose sleeps through the whole thing.
  • Did I mention that in addition to all the different realms and planets and time periods there is also a dream world with its own laws of reality? I only mention it because now one of the characters has turned into a pony and another into a hat. I think. Goddamn it.
  • Now John is making baby clones of himself and his friends that are destined to go back in time and become them. Okay, fine, that makes a kind of sense, and Andrew Hussie is good at drawing babies.
  • No lie, I laughed at the big Nic Cage-themed animated cutscene.
  • Crap’s getting real now. There’s a war breaking out, asteroids descending, armies of little blobby people getting mowed down by a giant demon clown, the whole nine yards. The main characters all get cool battle outfits, so you know it’s serious. Most important, Homestuck is only seven acts long, so I should be over halfway through by now.



  • Turns out the later acts are so long they get split into multiple parts. GODDAMN IT HOMESTUCK.


Part Two to follow…

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Gene Ahern Covers The Conventions Thu, 11 Aug 2016 12:00:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Gene Ahern 1928 photoYou might have missed this. Gene Ahern, a popular newspaper cartoonist covered the tense, rancorous presidential nominations by sending Major Hoople, his Our Boarding House comic strip character, to the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It’s understandable if you didn’t happen to catch Ahern’s coverage in the funny pages. After all, it happened in 1928. That was a long time ago, in terms of American politics.  But the presidential race of 2016 is similar to that long ago race between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith. According to Edgar E. Robinson’s The Presidential Vote 1896-1932, the 1928 presidential race was one in which “each candidate faced serious discontent within his party membership, and neither had the wholehearted support of the party organization.” Sound familiar? Beyond this similarity, the ensuing years have not diminished the amusement one can find in reading these cartoons and columns devoted to puncturing the hot air balloons of national politics.

Here’s a two-day sequence in which the incorrigible Hoople is first barred from entry into the RNC, and then finds a way in by impersonating a southern senator – an impression aided by Hoople’s natural tendency towards puffery and bluster.

Gene Ahern cartoon republican convention 1928

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE, June 13, 1928

Major Hoople cartoon at the 1928 Republican National Convention

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE, June 14, 1928

A Quaff of Aqua

In addition to setting his daily syndicated cartoon panel at the two conventions, Ahern, who attended both conventions in person, also wrote a series of comic prose reports during the summer conventions. Here’s Ahern, writing in the W.C. Fields-like persona of Major Hoople, on July 13, the second day of the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, in a column entitled “Major Hoople Misses Nothing At Convention.”

“Egad, folks, after a sound night’s sleep in the barber chair at the Muehlebach Hotel I woke refreshed, ready for the task of prodding the G.O.P. Elephant into motion at the Convention Hall. The session opened with a prayer. And a writer next to me with Democratic leanings, said the contribution plate would probably follow, and as I was parched with thirst, I quietly slipped out for a quaff of aqua.”

Gene Ahern's column, written as Major Hoople (June 13, 1928)

Gene Ahern’s column, written as Major Hoople (June 13, 1928)

This last passage contains a sly joke that may be lost on current readers. Prohibition was effect in 1928 and would not be lifted for another five years. It is very likely the Major is hinting he lifted said elbow to imbibe the fruits of John Barleycorn, instead of a “quaff of aqua.”

Hoople’s communique continues, depicting a rather limp, ridiculously officious ceremony. I don’t know about you folks, but this resonates in absurdity with what I saw on live broadcasts during the days at the 2016 conventions, where the halls were sparsely populated with delegates who looked about as thrilled as people in a dentist’s waiting room; people sorely in need of a quaff of aqua, or something stronger.

“Upon returning, Mme. Schumann-Heink was rendering the National Anthem in a soul-stirring manner. Knowing the Madame to be a native born of Germany, she indeed put all present to scorn, who could not carry the song in words beyond, ‘By the dawn’s early light,’ – with the exception of myself – (who has seen the dawn’s early light many a time – Editor’s note). Roy West, Secretary of Commerce, then read the by-laws for twenty minutes, and finished talking with only myself as audience.”

Readers familiar with Ahern’s daily Our Boarding House comic will recognize, in the editor’s sardonic comment, above, a device similar to the brief, cutting authorial remarks Ahern put into his panels as a kicker joke.

These columns and comics were the Colbert Report of the 1928 political conventions, chuckled at by millions of newspaper readers, who desperately needed the comic relief. These entirely fictional reports, lampoons of media coverage, appeared on the front pages of America’s newspapers alongside the factual, sober reporting of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions.

With the 2016 conventions in our short term memories, it may serve as a bit of much needed humorous relief for some to review this long-forgotten, wickedly funny work. It might also be amusing for some to see the fun made of an eternally self-aggrandizing nut – albeit one that is more benign than a certain current political figure who also appears to be largely self-obsessed and prone to long-winded, self-glorifying speeches.

A Career Screwballist

Gene Ahern (1895-1960) had a long career as a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. He started out in 1914 working for the NEA syndicate in Cleveland, where he created a series of nonsensical daily panels and strips heavily influenced by the comics of Rube Goldberg. Strips like Dream Dope, Fathead Fritz, Balmy Benny, Squirrel Food and Otto Auto delivered non-stop nuttiness. Among Ahern’s early work was a humorous prose series, Ain’t Nature Wonderful, which presented bogus science facts and was as unconcerned with verisimilitude as Major Hoople’s 1928 convention reports.

Gene Ahern, SQUIRREL FOOD (December 5, 1917)

Gene Ahern, SQUIRREL FOOD (December 5, 1917)

In September 1921, at the suggestion of an editor, Ahern launched a new strip, Our Boarding House, which would prove to be his most successful creation. Ahern’s strip used the same single panel format his fellow NEA compatriot, J.R, Williams employed for his long-running Out Our Way comic, complete with sarcastic editorial comments. A full color, full page Sunday version came along about a year later in December 1922. In 1936, Ahern, now one of the top humor cartoonists, was lured away from NEA by the Hearst organization, which seemed driven to collect screwball comic artists, having also wooed NEA staffer and screwballist George Swan over in 1927 and hired Milt Gross in 1931.

With Hearst, Ahern created an ‘Earth-B” version of his popular comic, Room and Board, starring one Judge Puffle. The strip lasted until 1953. The dailies were every bit as good, if not better, than anything Ahern had done with Major Hoople. Despite that, Room and Board doesn’t seem to have ever matched the popularity and readership of the antics of Our Boarding House. Ahern did, however, create a topper strip for the Sunday Room and Board, called The Squirrel Cage,  which lasted for most of the strip’s run and which represents a high point of American screwball comics – most famously featuring the white bearded Little Hitch-hiker, a version of Rube Goldberg’s Old Man Alf (of the Alphabet) and a template for Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural.

Gene Ahern, THE SQUIRREL CAGE (February 25, 1945)

Gene Ahern, THE SQUIRREL CAGE (February 25, 1945)

Although Ahern left Our Boarding House in 1936, enough cartoonists to populate a state’s presidential convention delegation kept it going until the strip ended in 1981. Because, for the majority of the strip’s years, it was written and drawn by people who were copying Ahern’s brilliant formula, and because it became an umpteenth generation hand-me-down, the strip has become associated with a certain diluted blandness and formulaic dullness. However, if one reads the original Gene Ahern Our Boarding House episodes, a very different comic emerges — one that delivers a gratifying stream of vital, character-driven humor.

Comic Journalism, Of a Sort

The 1928 presidential conventions wasn’t the first time Ahern had played the role of a cartoonist-journalist.

Gene Ahern photo 1916

October 4, 1916

In 1916, five years before he created Our Boarding House, Ahern covered the baseball World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Brooklyn Robins with his Rube Goldberg-styled observational comic strip, Squirrel Food.

Gene Ahern, SQUIRREL FOOD (October 7, 1916)

Gene Ahern, SQUIRREL FOOD (October 7, 1916)

A decade later, in the fall of 1926, newspapers reported that:

“Major Hoople, famous cartoon character of ‘Our Boarding House,’ has packed up his old typewriter and enroute to Philadelphia where he will cover the Dempsey-Tunney fight… Gene Ahern, creator of Major and the other boarding house characters, is in Philadelphia and the cartoons depicting the Major’s visits to the camps of Dempsey and Tunney will be drawn there.”

In a two-week series, harkening back to the earlier glory days of the newspaper sports cartoons, Ahern inserted caricatures of Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney and even the fight promoter, Tex Rickard, into his comic. Hoople dispensed plenty of advice to all involved, laced with long accounts of his own pugilistic exploits. On the day of the fight, unable to get tickets, Hoople wound up distractedly selling hot dogs ringside to see the fight – a rare example of the Major getting anywhere near an honest job.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (September 23, 1926)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (September 23, 1926)

Our Boarding House revolved around Major Hoople, a portly Falstaffian blowhard. The Major (a military title Hoople almost undoubtedly bestowed upon himself) was married to a stout, stern woman who ran a boarding house – a conceit that would allow Ahern to parade entertaining characters through the strip, as boarders came and went. The Major did not appear in the strip for the first few months, and when he finally made his appearance, he was, by far, the most entertaining character of all and the prime driver of the strip’s enormous popularity. A comic figure of mythic proportions, Hoople is always scheming to avoid work of any sort. In fact, it is the avoidance of labor that convinces Hoople to attend the conventions.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (May 23, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (May 23, 1928)

A Skull Spark For Hot Air

Ahern’s 1928 convention coverage began in April. Newspapers across America announced the upcoming political conventions would be covered by a fleet of reporters, columnists, photographers, humorists and… one cartoonist: Gene Ahern. Pennsylvania’s Altoona Mirror reported “a series of humorous articles under the Major Hoople service by Gene Ahern… will prove colorful and picturesque of the most interesting developments.” In Texas, the El Paso Evening Post said, “Ahern, by the way, will be there with his famous character, Major Hoople.”

On April 17, Ahern penned his first column in the voice of Major Hoople. It began, “Egad, I am delighted, as my friend and classmate, Theodore Roosevelt, used to say, to be able to announce that the euphonious name of Hoople shall be added to those who will write special signed stories about the democratic and republican conventions.” Ahern illustrated the piece, which is mostly given to a shaggy dog story about his efforts to elect a Maharajah in the fictional country of Indore, with a special cartoon depicting the Major announcing his own selections for the Republican presidential candidate to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who controlled Pennsylvania’s delegates (and whose endorsement assured Herbert Hoover’s nomination).

Gene Ahern pens a column in the persona of Major Hoople (April 17, 1928)

Gene Ahern pens a column in the persona of Major Hoople (April 17, 1928)

In late May, in the daily comic strip, Hoople has the idea to subsidize his trips to Kansas City and Houston by selling his reports to a newspaper editor. After all, he was one editor of the Aberdeen Evening Bagpipe. Hoople’s scheme collapses when he is only offered five dollars apiece for acceptable articles, and the paper refuses to pay for his trip.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (May 28, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (May 29, 1928)

The major is nothing if not resourceful. Two days later, he has an inspiration and reveals it to a boarder who suggests the “skull spark” is about as goofy as a match with heads on both ends. The idea is to create souvenir toy novelty balloons in the shapes of donkeys and elephants and sell them at the conventions.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 1, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 1, 1928)

Much ado is made of the Major’s scheme in the ensuing weeks, both in the strip and in the general news. Remarking on struggling farmers seeking help at the convention, one paper noted, “What the farmers expect to do at the convention is plenty. We suspect, however, that Major Hoople’s balloons will attract more attention from the delegates.”

It must have been incumbent on Ahern to find some way for the Major to be able to afford the trips. This necessity led to the unusual happenstance in which a scheme of the Major’s actually works out. Hoople sells his idea to a novelty toy manufacturer and is suddenly well-heeled with a salary and expenses paid. The editorial comment for this cartoon reads, “Sounds like a dream — but it isn’t!”

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 4, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 4, 1928)

The Major’s balloon invention seems especially appropriate for both a political convention and a blowhard. A newspaper observed on June 6, “There will probably be plenty of hot air at both political conventions this year… consequently it seems eminently fitting and proper that one of the most famous hot air artists in the country should be in attendance.”

The Major becomes quite full of himself. When he gets samples back from the manufacturer, he Lords it over some of the more critical boarders — waving miniature elephants and donkeys in their faces.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 8, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 8, 1928)

The Major leaves his hometown (which remained unidentified in the strip , as far as I know) for the big conventions on June 9, remarking to himself, “Egad’ a rousing sendoff the gave me at the house! Except that tomato, thrown in jest!”

Unconventional Convention Coverage

Ahern’s multi-week buildup to the conventions was perfectly paced. Now that the conventions were around the corner, he had a greater challenge. Since syndicated comic strips were normally required to be submitted weeks in advance to allow for processing and distribution to the subscriber papers, Ahern had the tricky challenge of creating topical material weeks before it actually occurred. He solved this challenge by having Hoople experience some difficulty getting into the conventions, and then mostly focussing on what Hoople does when he is not on the convention floor, “behind the scenes,” as one clever promotional agent put it.

The Republican National Convention of 1928 was held in Kansas City from June 12 to June 15.  The sitting president, Calvin Coolidge, was a Republican and had surprised everyone when he announced he would not run for a second term. Herbert Hoover was nominated on the first ballot. Not that any of this mattered to Major Hoople.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 16, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 16, 1928)

The last night of the convention, Hoople strikes up a poker game with some of the delegates and funds his lucky streak is still in play as he does quite well. Flush with success, the Major has room service bring him breakfast in bed and a Belvedere El Corona cigar the next morning. He winds up hiring a valet, a black waiter named Jason unfortunately depicted in the unflattering big-lipped, ignorant fashion of American cartoons of the first half of the 20th century. Ahern fills much of the time between conventions with banter between Hoople and Jason. In one instance, perhaps to remind readers Hoople would be at the next convention, the Major presents Jason with a donkey balloon, boasting of his brilliant scheme and inflating his take on the deal tenfold.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 25, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 25, 1928)

In his column,which ran once or twice a week, Ahern was able to work in more current details. The cycle time from creation to publication was much shorter for text pieces. In one column, Ahern poked fun at a congressman’s boring speech:

“Senator Fess in his speech called upon a great amount of statistics — on the increase of home owners, banks deposits, new telephones, in fact, everything but the new Ford production for next August. I offer this statistical figure of my own compiling. That 11,677,301 radios were turned off during that period of his statistical speaking.”

While attending the convention in Kansas City, Ahern discovered vendors selling real life versions of Hoople’s toy souvenir balloons. The NEA syndicate circulated photos of Ahern holding the Republican elephant balloon and wearing a delegate badge. These ran in numerous newspapers amongst photos of convention activities. Ahern’s presence at the conventions, it seems, added a great deal of lighthearted liveliness to the reporting.

19280728 repub convention

Hoople sums up the convention in word that could well apply to many such events throughout the years, stating, “…it took four days, by Jove, to ask the riddle that everybody knew the answer beforehand.” Hoople ends his last Kansas City report with a P.S.: “I feel a bit disappointed. For campaign purposes between now and next November, what a rhythmic and poetical swing there would be to the combination, ‘Hoover and Hoople.'”

The 1928 Democratic National Convention was held from June 26 to June 28. New York governor Al Smith was nominated, the first Roman Catholic to be nominated for president of the United States. Smith ran on a platform to end prohibition, and this was met with vehement protests on the convention floor, particularly from Texas. Hoople again has difficulty getting in — his impersonation of a Hawaiian delegate failing to impress the jaded doorman.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 27, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (June 27, 1928)

In his first column from the Democratic National Convention in Houston, the self-obsessed Hoople basks in the cheering of a swarming crowd of thousands, unaware they are actually welcoming  the colorful New York mayor Jimmie Walker. Hoople then provides the reader with convention news:

“Well, I know you are quite anxious for my expert analysis of the political situation here. Through what I can gather, it appears from street corner conversation there is some talk of nominating a man by the name of Smith, I believe, for the Democratic choice. This, however , may just be idle prattle. I surmize that they are groping first for suitable names of a likely candidate, beginning with Smith, Jones, Brown, etc. and finally ending up with an executive grandiose-sounding name like Jefferson — or better yet, Hoople. Har-r-rumf.”

Hoople also explains that his hotel is a nine-block walk from the convention hall and he has discovered passing taxis charge for extra passengers, “draft it.” Hoople gleefully shares his solution to this dire problem: “I have produced a pair of crutches in hopes that some kindly soul with an auto may take pity and give me a lift to the hall.” He spends much of the next day’s column chastising the city of Houston for all the walking he is forced to undertake.

He reports that the convention hall, located in one of our southernmost cities during the hottest season,  “is a marvellous structure with open sides, allowing the breezes to waft through and enable the spectators to enjoy a refreshing snooze during the speeches.”

Snoozing, in fact, seems to be Hoople’s downfall. In the daily strip, he seems to sleep through most of the convention, recovering from a hang-over, with his valet Jason, nursing him along. By the time the major is back on his feet, the convention is over and he is ready to head home. He sends a wire to the boarders, indicating he will be arriving with a surprise. Naturally, the boarders, a pair of Vaudeville comedians, crack wise:

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 2, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 2, 1928)

However, Hoople’s surprise — his valet, Jason — who has come home with him, leaves the boarders speechless, for once.

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 5, 1928)

Gene Ahern, OUR BOARDING HOUSE (July 5, 1928)

Jason hangs around the strip for a few days and then vanishes without explanation, as Hoople takes him one night to the Owl’s Club, where he figures Jason might find a few new clients for his services. It is never explained what happens to Jason. Meanwhile, Hoople engages in a subtle war with the other boarders as they attempt to take a summer vacation without him. They lose, of course.

For his last convention article, published on June 27, Ahern provided a climactic wrap-up in which he let his powers of screwball comedy loose. With solemn sincerity, Hoople proposes his own program for future political conventions. He begins by suggesting the national convention take place on a giant ocean liner, covering a six weeks voyage to the Mediterranean. He suggests the credential committee (presumably the cause of his troubles entering the conventions as a delegate alternate) take a dirigible to the polar regions during the six-month night period.

From this point, the Major’s suggestions get even nuttier. He suggests the reading of the majority and minority reports be accompanied by a music (a suggestion modern convention organizers seem to have perhaps taken seriously, given how large a role music played in the 2016 conventions). The Major suggests “the choice of convention chairman be settled by a wrestling match,” that “the keynote speech be given by a ventriloquist,” and that “the platform speech be sent out by circular letter to wrong addresses.”

When one pauses to consider the continual evolution of American politics as entertainment, perhaps the Major was on to something.

Best all, the Major suggests “the nominating speeches of a candidate be limited to the truth, which would only require three minutes to deliver at the most.”

In November, Herbert Hoover won by a landslide. In all, Gene Ahern wrote ten humorous columns and created about three months of daily cartoons around the 1928 national political conventions. The names and political issues may be different from those of today, but the underlying humor Ahern found in this uniquely American quadrennial event is timeless.

Gene Ahern 1928 photo

Ahern signed this photo during the time he attended, and “reported” on the Republican National Convention in Kansas City in 1928.


Paul Tumey is a writer, artist, and designer who lives in Seattle, Washington. 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), which he also co-edited. He also wrote the introduction to THE BUNGLE FAMILY 1930 (IDW, 2014). He contributed an essay to SOCIETY IS NIX (Sunday Press, 2013), and was also a contributing editor, researching and writing mini-bios of over 50 obscure cartoonists. He served as an essayist and associate editor of IDW’s KING OF THE COMICS: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF KING FEATURES SYNDICATE. Most recently, Tumey wrote an essay on Dick Tracy that will appear in the forthcoming volume from Sunday Press. He writes a regular column called FRAMED! for The Comics Journal at He is currently at work writing a book about the great American screwball cartoonists, which will include Gene Ahern.


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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/10/16 – Maximum Relevance) Tue, 09 Aug 2016 12:10:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> WanderingColorHead0001



We’re all familiar with the transition between the opening color pages of a manga project and the b&w remainder of the work, but few artists make use of this (quite enormous) visual shift for any substantive effect. Above we see an exception, from Dark Horse’s recent release of Kenji Tsuruta’s 2011 book Wandering Island. A delivery pilot active in the multitudinous islands outside of Japan’s major population centers, young Mikura lives a frolicsome life in the air and sea, spontaneously leaping out of her just-docked plane in a swimsuit to swim with a research dolphin… until she gets the news that her beloved grandfather is dead, and BOOM the whole of the world is plunged into a monochrome from which we and Mikura shall not emerge.

Taken this way, it is almost fitting that Wandering Island is an unfinished series – a fact that Dark Horse has chosen to omit from its promotions, presumably because Tsuruta isn’t dead or anything and might publish a second volume at some point, though after half a decade there’s still nothing scheduled. Nonetheless, because this is a series about grief, it can function as a testament to the lingering of just that. Gradually, Mikura becomes obsessed with the idea that her grandfather went away to a mysterious and unusually mobile island somewhere in the ocean, the search for which consumes three years of her life. Moreover, three years before her grandfather died, another teacher of hers departed the world of the everyday in proximity of the island. On the sixth year, then, will Mikura herself be the third to vanish? Which is to say, is she merely waiting for death to take her too?

No answers are given, though the book does not feel as complete as an allegorical story should if it was indeed meant to never resolve; I have an issue of the Kodansha magazine Afternoon with some additional art in it anyway, so I am guessing Tsuruta intended for there to be more at some point. Instead, we are left with many sequences of intent study and severe melancholy, bags growing under the heroine’s eyes as she neglects her work; at one point the power company shuts off her electricity, and she is left studying a massive, conspiratorial wall of theories naked from her bath in the dark. She is generally not wearing much; it’s hot out, so often she wears a bikini top, if not bottoms too, or underwear, or less. Tsuruta is notable for his drawings of women as well as SF scenes or aeronautic machines, and so, combined with the devastated emotional state of his heroine, the book takes on a distinctly voyeuristic quality, by which the reader frequently observes the severe vulnerability of this woman, whether laying depressed and immobile on the ground or consulting a map while covered in bandages from an expeditionary misadventure. The translator of the book is Dana Lewis, who was associated for a long time with Studio Proteus, the localization company largely responsible for Dark Horse’s reputation as a quality publisher of Japanese comics; they worked on an earlier Tsuruta series, Spirit of Wonder, way back in the 1990s, and Wandering Island, with its oceans of ink and meticulous architecture and gestural, idiosyncratic character designs, feels like a ‘Studio Proteus’ pickup.

But in his determination to have you curl your guts over the dismay of kind Mikura, I sense the lingering presence of moe, the aesthetic that encourages a protective attachment to young cartoon ladies, which has existed for a long time but became a powerful and explicit commercial force after Spirit of Wonder. It’s not in the way Tsuruta draws, but in the attitudes expressed in what he draws and the story he’s telling. In terms of marshaling the form, he is sophisticated – and I admit that even the voyeurism here is more interesting than the superheroine panty flashes on offer for North American delectation of late. That’s not the stuff they teach you at manga fanservice school, man… that’s the stuff you draw in hopes of admission.


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.




Sec: Being a 2dcloud release of new work from the artist Sarah Ferrick in the form of a 32-page comic book – the distribution to comic book stores is happening via Alternative Comics. For the record, this is one of the books funded through the Kickstarter campaign prior to the publisher’s most recent crowdfunding effort, so I think backers of that should have their printed matter already. It’s a love letter, by the publisher’s description, in which the artist matches (often) page-filling color drawing with snatches of (often) calligraphic text, the division between words and pictures growing sometimes thin; $5.00.


Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen: And somewhere on the other side of comic aesthetics, we have Annie Goetzinger, respected veteran of exceedingly well-composed French comics aimed popularly at a mainline adult readership. NBM released her Girl in Dior last year, and now translates a 2011 album co-written by ‘Rodolphe’ (a longtime BD scenarist), on the topic of a 1930s artist haunted by the hungry ghost of the famed monarch. Basically a window into a full-blown counter-mainstream, polished for your perusal. The hardcover is 8.5″ x 11″, with 68 color pages. Preview; $18.99.


Hellbound Lifestyle: New generation gag cartooning from Retrofit/Big Planet, collecting 72 pages of Alabaster Pizzo comics adapting smartphone Notes from comedy writer Kaeleigh Forsyth (whom I believe is or was a contributor to the Reductress website) into four-panel sequences. Super-heavy colors on these japes; $10.00.

Dylan Dog: Mater Morbi (&) Slate: The Last American Superhero: Two here from Epicenter Comics, specialists in releases from Italy and other non-French/Spanish European areas. The creation of Tiziano Sclavi, Dylan Dog has been around since 1986, previously seeing a fat collection from Dark Horse about seven years ago. Mater Morbi is a 112-page story from 2009 (or thereabouts) re: the titular occult investigator dealing with a mystery illness, notable for art by Massimo Carnevale, whose done many covers for North American comic books. The writer is Roberto Recchioni, a Dylan Dog regular. I don’t know very much about Slate, though it appears to come from Balkans-area creators Davor Radoja & Nenad Cviticanin, concerning a journalist’s investigation into superhuman stuff. It’s 64 pages; $11.99 (Dylan), $10.99 (Slate).

All-Star Batman #1 (&) Deathstroke: Rebirth #1: Whoa, simmer down, no no – All-Star Batman is not a revival of the Frank Miller/Jim Lee opus from many goddamn years ago, it’s a totally new thing trading in a bit on name visibility from the popular Bat-writer Scott Snyder, who will be collaborating with high-profile artists for stories concerning franchise villains. For the debut he is joined by penciller John Romita, Jr. and inker Danny Miki, concerning Two-Face. Deathstroke: Rebirth is a mainline DC series, notable for scripting by Christopher Priest, a widely-admired writer of superhero comics since the 1990s, whose work in the genre has become less frequent of late. Art by Jason Paz & Carl Pagulayan; $4.99 (Batman), $2.99 (Deathstroke).

Providence #10 (of 12): Nearing the end of this Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows-headed Lovecraftian historio-metafiction series from Avatar, and let me state one thing clearly – the dialogue given to Lovecraft (a character in the book) as an exceedingly self-cultivated eccentric, addressing people orally in a pastiche of the real author’s plummy personal correspondence, is some of the funniest shit Moore has written in ages, maybe since the Stan Lee parody bits of 1963. I don’t think the laughs will continue for too long, though, as hapless protagonist Robert Black proceeds toward a probably-awful fate; $4.99.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 12: Continuing the Simon & Schuster line of 2000 AD chronological reprints, a long ways behind the UK editions from Rebellion but targeted specifically at North America. These 336 pages are miscellaneous stories from the late ’80s, right after the writing team of John Wagner and Alan Grant split off into individual works; $25.00.

The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines Are Not So Clear: Your book-on-comics-cum-amusing-title of the week is a University Press of Mississippi release of an anthology edited by one Joe Sutliff Sanders, discussing aesthetic techniques and the artistic context of his era, among other topics. Andrei Molotiu, of Fantagraphics’ 2009 Abstract Comics: An Anthology is among the contributors, a list of which can be viewed in full at the preceding link; $60.00.

Study Group Magazine #4: And finally, a CONFLICT OF INTEREST SPECIAL, as this 100-page Study Group release (distro via Alternative) contains writing by meeeeee – the theme of the issue is ‘adventure’, with a focus on gaming, so I decided to write a whole weird thing that smashes up my reading of a Golgo 13 comic as a child on Easter Sunday with my younger brother’s creation of a card game (instructions included!) to embody my death by drug overdose in college within a fictive history of his own life for the purposes of securing a job in math, all of which ties in to medieval philosophy of gaming as an allegory for humanity’s quest to control fate. Needless to say, it all makes perfect sense and will offer eons of laughter and tears. Other contributors to this characteristic blend of comics and text include Farel Dalrymple, Dylan Horrocks, Noah Van Sciver, David Brothers, Tucker Stone and many more; $15.95.

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