Columns – The Comics Journal Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:03:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 (Mike Dawson) (Mike Dawson) 1440 The Comics Journal 144 144 The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson no no THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/21/17 – Tornado Morning) Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Just a little page from last year’s King-Cat #76, from a story titled “(Memory of) Frying Up Burgers in My Cold, Miserable Apartment, Alone, Listening to Sports Radio”. Relevant to what’s coming…


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.



Zanardi: In his paper “Cannibale, Frigidaire, and the Multitude: Post-1977 Italian Comics through Radical Theory”, as adapted to article form in the comics anthology Mould Map 4 (Landfill Editions, 2015), writer Federico Pagello identifies Andrea Pazienza as “the most popular” of the artists who formed Frigidaire, a long-lived venue for experimental and confrontational Italian comics, graphics and journalism. His peers Stefano Tamburini & Tanino Liberatore may have traveled farther on the back of the violent cyborg character RanXerox, but Pazienza — active in publishing since his student days among the radical left in the Bologna of the late ’70s — “expressed the political, cultural and existential preoccupations of the most sensible members of his generation,” bringing him visibility to a national audience beyond typical comics readers. Zanardi is a 256-page, 7.75″ x 10.5″ Fantagraphics hardcover translating what Pagello identifies as likely his best-known work, depicting “a cynical and ferociously individualistic lifestyle” as embodied by the young man of the title, representing “the mutated climate of the new, post-industrial, heavily hedonistic 1980s Italy.” All relevant strips should be included, from the early ’80s Frigidaire installments to an unfinished serial published in Comic Art, which ceased upon Pazienza’s death in 1988 at the young age of 32. Quite possibly the vital global comics release of the season. Translated by Alberto Becattini with Simone Castaldi, and introduced by the artist Manuele Fior; $29.99.

King-Cat Comix & Stories #77: You’re damn right King-Cat gets the spotlight again; the signature project of artist John Porcellino, this digest-sized b&w zine offers one of the art form’s best-sustained viewpoints into a person’s very particular worldview: thoughts, visions, environment, life. This 40-page number is an All-Animals issue, with stories on “possums, dogs, cats, Midwestern mountain lions, moths, horses, frogs, toads, and more!” That’s not my hand in the pic, I think it’s Porcellino’s. Comic book store distro by Alternative; $5.00.


In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads (&) A New Low: Two more from Fantagraphics. In the Pines is an 8″ x 11″, 136-page hardcover from Dutch cartoonist Erik Kriek, whom some of you will remember from the Oog & Blik wordless meta-superhero series Gutsman Comics from years back. Here he adapts five songs from the tradition of crime and tragedy in musical narrative, although it seems this edition (along with every other translation) lacks the bonus CD included with the 2016 avant-verlag original, which presented the five titular songs along with an original creation sung by Kriek himself…! A New Low, meanwhile, is a 7.25″ x 10.5″, 128-page collection of Johnny Ryan cartoons drawn from his long history with Vice magazine – “some of the most transgressively hilarious and politically incorrect comics to ever grace a glossy, national magazine,” crows the publisher. This column is pretty transgressive too, you know. I say “fuck” sometimes. They wouldn’t let you say “fuck” at Comics Alliance; I tried. One time I included a David Foster Wallace quote with the word “fuck” in it with an article, wondering if they’d edit out the word “fuck” if David Foster Wallace said it. They did; $24.99 (Pines), $19.99 (Low).

Lobo/Road Runner Special #1: Fuck these comics; $4.99.

Golden Kamgod, way to pluck that low-hanging fruit. I dunno, I just have a really visceral aversion to these DC serious-but-funny takes on Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbara cartoon properties, which seem designed primarily to coax oh my god such a weird idea ha ha ha ha ha ha reactions from credulous entertainment news sources that translate to added visibility, theoretically leading to impulse sales from curious and/or potentially-ironic-but-probably-assertively-‘sincere’-and-anyway-still-buying-so-it’s-exactly-the-same-thing-as-far-as-the-publisher-is-concerned consumers of popular ‘geek’-categorized franchise content. Hey, it worked for Archie. The Flintstones book is supposed to be actually good, and, as we know, only one (arguably) actually-good title is needed to valorize the whole line’s calculation, given the curve on which these corporate funster efforts are typically graded. Whoops, I just fell into their clutches by even talking about it! Still, NONETHELESS, the Lobo/Road Runner book is drawn by Kelley Jones, and it’s nice to see his work, and to know he’s getting paid. Maybe It’s Good (TM). Anyway:

Golden Kamuy Vol. 1: Being the launch of a new VIZ translation project for a prominent seinen manga, popular in the corners of online I happen to visit. Winner of last year’s bookseller-selected Manga Taishō award for new-ish series, this ongoing early 20th century period adventure from artist Satoru Noda sees a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war searching for gold up north in Hokkaido with the aid of an indigenous Ainu girl, all while pursued by the Imperial Army. Apparently the Japanese text makes use of the Ainu language, although that’s probably something only identifiable from the translation notes in this edition. The series is up to vol. 10 in Japan and runs in a weekly magazine, so settle in if you like it; $12.99.

Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War (&) Dorohedoro Vol. 21: Two glimpses into the society of creatures, via separate Japanese generations. Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War is the third installment of the Zack Davisson-translated line of Shigeru Mizuki yōkai comics from Drawn and Quarterly, which is to say the publisher’s fourth Kitaro collection counting a 2013 book with translator Jocelyne Allen. Much of this 176-page edition is occupied with a long storyline from 1967 (I think), although there’s a few added comics along with the supplementary texts and bonus games. Dorohedoro is the enduringly popular grimy fantasy work of artist Q Hayashida, which publisher VIZ has now placed in exact parity with the Japanese editions… until next week, when vol. 22 drops overseas; $12.95 (Kitaro), $12.99 (Dorohedoro).

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 6 (of 7) (&) Master Keaton Vol. 11 (of 12): More manga, both from VIZ, both from experienced authors, both nearly finished. Goodnight Punpun is the bleak road-to-adulthood epic of Inio Asano, now on its penultimate two-in-one volume. Artist and Journal contributor Sarah Horrocks says we’re “[g]etting to the part of the book that is better than everything,” which sounds like a recommendation to me. Master Keaton is the episodic insurance investigation series created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika, which was directly succeeded in 1994 by the former’s suspense series Monster in the pages of Big Comic Original. There is technically a 13th volume, collecting a much later revival series by Urasawa and editor/contributing writer Takashi Nagasaki, but VIZ does not appear to have it scheduled right now (and may not even have it licensed); $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton).

The Complete Skizz: This one’s been in print a few times in the past, but the name “Alan Moore” is a powerful one, and this 1983 project is *technically* the only open-and-shut self-contained serial he completed for 2000 AD, setting aside the rather modular nature of The Ballad of Halo Jones. It’s also vintage 2000 AD in a way, as it riffs on a popular concept from domineering media (here the ’82 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) with a particular local twist – often this manifested in the form of satire or white-knuckle pacing, but Moore (who was assigned the concept editorially) added a very regional, working-class texture to the tale of a space alien crash-landed in Birmingham. Jim Baikie provides the art for these 272 pages, published in North America by Simon & Schuster; $25.00.

The Leaning Girl (&) Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars: New editions here of works previously available. The Leaning Girl is the IDW version of a book previously published in 2014 by Alaxis Press subsequent to a crowdfunding campaign; it’s an English translation of a 1996 album in the Obscure Cities series of allegorical urban fantasies created by artist François Schuiten and writer Benoît Peeters. Quite a good place to start, as it boasts a sprawling, mysterious plot and some of Schuiten’s most lavish draftsmanship, with added photo-roman sequences shot by Marie-Françoise Plissart with the acting prowess of artist Martin Vaughn-James (of the extraordinary 1975 proto-graphic novel The Cage). Some notable sex and gender thematics too, as I’ve detailed before. In contrast, I don’t think I noted Indeh anywhere in this column when it was first released in hardcover last year; released by the generalist publisher Hachette and written by the actor Ethan Hawke, who revised the script from a screenplay he’d been working on for over a decade. Often these factors don’t add up to impressive comics, but I keep hearing decent things about this 240-page package, now in softcover, drawn by Greg Ruth of various Dark Horse series among other pursuits, who’s picked up an Eisner nomination for his efforts; $29.99 (Leaning), $25.00 (Indeh).

Lost Planet (&) Prince Valiant Vol. 15: 1965-1966: And here’s ‘classical’ adventure comics stuff, both retrospective and simply long-lived. Lost Planet was a 1987-89 Eclipse Comics series from artist Bo Hampton, evoking the derring-do of early SF pulp and the values of lavish adventure comics. IDW is presenting its hardcover collection of the work in de-colored form, so as to highlight the duo-shaded texture of the original art. Prince Valiant, of course, is the adventure comics institution from Hal Foster, once again presented by Fantagraphics in a 10.25″ x 14″ hardcover; $29.99 (Planet), $34.99 (Valiant).

Perspective in Action: Finally, your comic-that’s-also-a-book-on-comics-and-other-things-too of the week comes from the veteran alternative cartoonist and commercial illustrator David Chelsea, a formidable talent who’s written frequently on the topic of mastering perspective in drawing. This is his third release with Watson-Guptill on the topic, a 176-page comics-format guide to practical creation of a variety of example projects, with an eye toward “major perspective-related developments in history” across a variety of media; $22.99.

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Remembering Pedro Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In another example of how far I can stray from the presumed topic, this time we start out with Pedro, the mailburro at Boys’ Life magazine back in the 1950s. And from there, we wander off into the surrounding landscape to a fare-thee-well, meeting Reamer Keller, Lowell Hess, Dik Browne and Tom Eaton on the way. 

Strolling leisurely through an antique mall one day last fall, I came upon a stack of Boys’ Life magazines. On top of the stack was the one with the cover that’s posted nearby. “Pedro,” I thought, murmuring the name of the magazine’s unofficial mascot, a donkey. Millions of other male Americans as well as I would recognize Pedro immediately. Officially, he was the “mailburro” of Boys’ Life, which was officially the magazine of the Boy Scouts, hence the vast circle of acquaintanceship with Pedro.

Ostensibly, Pedro delivered the mail to the magazine’s staff and responded to letters-to-the-editor.

Inside the Pedro-covered issue of the magazine (dated June 1961) was a full-bore article about Pedro. It was, alas, not an actual history of the hayburner’s association with the magazine. It was, rather, a tale that relates the fictional 1947 arrival of the descendant of the genus genius Equus Asinus, one Don Juan Pedro Ladino de Philmonte, at the offices of Boys’ Life in New York, where, after alarming various members of the magazine’s staff by speaking—and sometimes reading—he took the position of mailburro, sorting incoming mail and then delivering it to the magazine’s minions on the 17th floor of 2 Park Avenue.

At first, Pedro offered to sing for the editor, observing that “where I come from, discerning people refer to others of my species as ‘mountain canaries.’” But the editor escaped this dubious privilege by saying, simply, “Don’t.” In sorting the mail, Pedro discovered that many of the youthful letter-writers asked questions that no one on the magazine’s staff was equipped to answer. But Pedro, as it happened, was fully equipped with a vast store of knowledge on a wide array of esoteric as well as mundane topics. So he pulled up a chair in front of a typewriter and began typing (with his hoofed “feet”) answers to all those questions.

“The fabulous flopears drew unfailingly from his incredible fountain of knowledge. It was not long before the entire operation of the magazine hinged upon the incomparable Don Juan Pedro Ladino de Philmonte.” At the end of the article, the office receptionist notes: “The foregoing report was typed by Pedro himself”—thereby accounting for the article’s flattering treatment of its subject.

We should have known. It was all a happy fabrication (the salutary version of “lie”). What was true, however, was that Pedro everafter adorned the magazine’s letters-to-the-editor column. The column was introduced by a paragraph or two relating the “fleabait’s” latest adventures, always signed with his “mark”—UU (a horseshoe imprint)—and during my time as a Boy Scout reader, the column was adorned with a small comical drawing of Pedro by freelance cartoonist Reamer Keller. More of him in a trice.

The cover art that had attracted my attention was by Lowell Hess, a popular humorous illustrator of the 1950s, who, as we’ve seen, also decorated the article within. (And if you follow the arrows embedded in the art, you’ll be following in Pedro’s footsteps as the enters the premises and, finally, gets a job there.) After magazines began folding in the late 1950s, Hess found work at Graphics3 Inc. as creative director, for 26 years, designing and illustrating pop-up greeting cards for which he won many awards. He died in 2014 at the age of 93.

Hess did other Boys’ Life covers from time to time, including the two at your eye’s elbow—one about Pecos Bill, the legendary cowpoke of the Southwest; the other, a glimpse of staff shenanigans in the editorial offices of Boys’ Life.

It was reported in a blurb about the staff portrait cover that when Pedro saw Hess’s picture of the staff at “work,” he snorted: “Hah—a perfect portrayal. The staff of this magazine in action looks just like a bunch of crazy, mixed up kids. F’instance, just look at —”“F’instance,” snapped the editor, “—just look at Pedro.” And he pointed to a tiny portrait at the lower right corner of Hess’s picture. Pedro sneered. “Why, I’m not even in the—.” Looking where the editor pointed, the hayburner balked and delivered himself of a half-strangled gulp. “That Hess guy is blind,” he observed, noticing that Hess had drawn him in a waste basket.

“Well, anyway—practically nobody will notice me. I hope.”

But I’ve now destroyed that hope, frail though it was to begin with. Inside the March 1955 Pecos Bill-covered issue was a two-page comic strip about the famed cowboy, drawn by Dik Browne, who was then also producing a regular full-page comics feature, The Tracy Twins, in the magazine. It was Browne’s skill in drawing kids and family members that attracted the attention of Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker and, simultaneously, of Sylvan Byck, the comics editor at King Features, both of whom were looking for someone to draw a new strip about Beetle Bailey’s sister’s family. Both Walker and Byck, unbeknownst to each other, had decided Browne would be perfect for the assignment.

Browne was working, then, at Johnstone and Cushing, an advertising agency well-known for doing advertising with comics. With a bullpen full of cartoonists, horsing around was part of daily routines. And when Byck phoned Browne and asked him if he would be interested in doing a nationally syndicated comic strip, Browne thought a fellow staff member (namely, Stan Drake) was playing a practical joke on him; so he hung up the phone.

Later, learning that Drake was innocent—and that no one else in the shop was guilty—Browne called Byck back and arranged a meeting. Hi and Lois debuted soon thereafter, on October 18, 1954. But Browne kept doing The Tracy Twins until about the time he launched a strip solely his own, Hagar the Horrible, February 4, 1973.

Other cartoonists did covers for Boys’ Life. Nearby, for example, is one by Ed Nofziger, who specialized in drawing comical talking animals in magazine cartoons. Before we leave Boys’ Life as a breeding ground for cartoonists, let’s return to Reamer Keller, who drew Pedro for the magazine’s letters column well into the 1960s. 

Keller was one of the most prolific magazine cartoonists during the heyday of magazine cartooning: starting in the 1930s, his cartoons appeared for 30-40 years in virtually every magazine being published. According to St. Wikipedia, he drew cartoons two days a week and for the next three, made the rounds of magazine offices to sell them. He was “so prolific he often drew 50 cartoons a week and routinely published a thousand cartoons annually for decades.” His style was loose, almost slapdash, which undoubtedly helped boost his output.

In the early 1950s, he produced a regular panel cartoon for Collier’s about an eponymous  hillbilly named Kennesaw. It was syndicated as a comic strip December 7, 1953 – January 28, 1956. Ten years later, he did a syndicated panel cartoon, Medicare, about doctors and nurses, January 3, 1966 until some time in 1976. He died in 1994 at the age of 89. Only two collections of Keller’s work are, to the best of my knowledge, available: Why the Long Puss (1956) and The Mating Manual (1957). I’ve dipped into the former for some of the samples posted near here—and into a couple of Best Cartoons of the Year anthologies, edited by Lawrence Larriar.

Finally, one last squib about Pedro: “The Wacky Adventures of Pedro,” a comic bookish feature in the comics section of Boys’ Life these days, has been written and drawn by the late  Tom Eaton since the early 1980s. Before that, Eaton served a stint at Hallmark then as art editor at Scholastic Books.

Quoted by Chris Tucker at, Joe Connolly, art director of Boys’ Life at the time and an army buddy of Eaton’s, said Eaton drew other Boys’ Life comics—Dink and Duff and Webelos Woody—before taking over Pedro. His picturing of Pedro is, as you can see from the fragment here, much more tightly rendered than Keller’s. 

Eaton took particular pains with the language in the feature, often resorting to alliteration and elaborate word play—referring to Pedro as “queasy quadruped,” “four-legged phenom,” and  “alfalfa aficionado,” and also conjuring up such musical interludes of “luminous lingo” as “entrpreneurial edible innovation.”

At 75, Eaton retired at the end of 2015, leaving Pedro to Kansas children’s book illustrator Stephen Gilpin, whose work, coupled to Eaton’s in the previous visual aid, is done with a finer more whimsical line. There. See how much an obsessive cartoon lore-ist can wring out of a cover picture of a jackass?

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Episode 20: Matthew Thurber Fri, 16 Jun 2017 12:00:05 +0000 Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. Continue reading ]]>


On the twentieth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Matthew Thurber discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling BlackoutsVictoria LomaskoMichael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere.


Previous Episodes

Episode 19: Ben Sears

Episode 18: Maggie Umber

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:51:22 The Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. The Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/14/17 – Wicked Hearts Anon.) Wed, 14 Jun 2017 05:25:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The story of my life, supplied by Kenshi Hirokane and his studio from vol. 2 of the bilingual edition of President Kosaku Shima, translated by Ralph F. McCarthy (Kodansha, 2011).


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.



Uncomfortably Happily: It is a rare thing when Korean manhwa appears in translation these days; rarer still when it’s a slice-of-life tale of the everyday. I have a lonely fondness for Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth (First Second, 2009), an extended consideration of natural phenomena as analogies for human sexual traits. This 576-page Drawn and Quarterly softcover is a bit more ‘everyday’, but no less fascinated by rural living – artist Yeon-sik Hong and his wife move to the countryside in search of serenity, but peace proves elusive in this setting. An all-in-one edition of a 2012 series, though I suspect the format matches that of a ’13 French-language edition from Ego Comme X. The translator is the cartoonist and illustrator Hellen Jo; $29.95.

Foolish Questions and Other Odd Observations: And here are some rare materials in a trusted format – that of Sunday Press Books, one of the earliest and most renowned purveyors of hardcover editions dedicated to presenting vintage works in as close to tactile contemporaneity as feasible. The focus this time around is on works by Rube Goldberg, notably the 1909-10 color Sunday iteration of his Foolish Questions feature, in which snappy retorts are offered in face of thoughtless queries; Al Jaffe did stuff like this later in MAD, along with innumerable comedians looking to puncture the inflated chumminess of passerby in hindsight from the mic. I always feel kind of bad for the dummies in these things; they’re just trying to be sociable. It’s hard sometimes. Also included are supplemental gag panels going into 1919, plus texts by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter), Paul Tumey and Carl Linich. A 10″ x 10″ hardcover, 96 pages; $35.00.


Garbage Night: Artist Jen Lee picked up some some very positive reactions in 2015 for her oversized comic book Vacancy, which followed anthropomorphic animal kids facing the temptation and the peril of living wild in a ransacked post-domestic setting. Now the same publisher, Nobrow, offers a 72-page color hardcover (7.1″ x 9.8″) reprinting the original work with a lot of new stuff from the same milieu; $18.95.

Vague Tales (&) Ripple: A Predilection for Tina: Fantagraphics new and old here. Vague Tales is the new one from small-press funnybook specialist (and MythBusters producer) Eric Haven, a 64-page color hardcover involving “telepathic encounters with a demonic aviatrix, a wandering crystalline being, a flaming sword-wielding warrior, and a mysterious sorceress,” among other sights. I believe this is the lengthiest edition of Haven’s work so far. Ripple, meanwhile, originated in the millennial comic book series Weasel from Dave Cooper, an indie comics veteran dating back to the grimy age of Aircel and Northstar, soon to decamp for the worlds of gallery art and television animation. The story concerns a frustrated painter and his fraught relationship with a young model he plans to use for a sensational exhibition on the erotic potential of homeliness – it may be read as an anxious depiction of fascinations in the artist’s own oeuvre. David Cronenberg added an intro for the 2004 first collection, and now the whole thing returns as a 136-page, 9.5″ x 10.5″ hardcover; $16.99 (Vague), $24.99 (Ripple).

Pop Gun War: Chain Letter (&) Nate Powell’s Omnibox: Other collections! Other publishers! Chain Letter is a new 176-page Image release from Farel Dalrymple, continuing his long-lived solo surreal fantasy project. This is the material that wrapped up in the publisher’s now-defunct Island anthology, so you could also consider this the next book struck from that. Omnibox is a 696-page slipcased package of Nate Powell books originally released by Top Shelf (a publisher since acquired by IDW): the graphic novels Swallow Me Whole (2008) and Any Empire (2011); and the decade-spanning short works collection You Don’t Say (2015). Powell is best-known today as the artist of the hugely successful politico-biographical trilogy March, but it’s worth checking out these solo works – Swallow Me Whole in particular is a terrific book, a rare depiction of sibling affection cutting like a small beam through the mounting fog of mental illness; $19.99 (Pop Gun), $59.99 (Omnibox).

Winnebago Graveyard #1 (Of 4) (&) Slasher #2: A pair of real, stapled comic books for people who need it in their lives. Winnebago Graveyard is a new Image debut, this one from horror specialist Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson, a London architect who’s been drawing some very striking comics for the likes of Image, Dark Horse and others. Niles tends to gear his scripts toward showcasing particular aspects of his collaborators, and this Satanic Americana concept looks to go heavy on deep-shadowed small town wooded ambience. Slasher is horror of a different sort, continuing the new Charles Forseman series with Floating World (distro by Alternative), in which a pair of adult online friends with troubling personal situations bond intimately via text while gingerly testing out their predilections for bloodplay in very much non-consensual situations. The first issue matched broad-canvass characterizations with a slow sense of menace in a manner I found to be an intriguing continuation of the artist’s Revenger aesthetics – rotten fruit colors and easy-access character types now put in the service of encouraging you, the genre-savvy and history-hip reader, standing so slightly aloof, to pick up the hint that everything arguably mundane is teetering on the brink of smashing down a cliff of disgust; $3.99 (Graveyard), $4.99 (Slasher).

Valerian: The Complete Collection Vol. 1: Poor Laureline – banished from the title because they didn’t name the movie after her. Un film de Luc Besson is set to drop in just over a month, so Cinebook is now offering a 160-page, 8.66″ x 11.42″ hardcover pairing the earliest, 1967-68 appearances of the galaxy-hopping Pierre Christin/Jean-Claude Mézières SF characters (which I don’t believe were collected in album form until the ’80s, and have never appeared before in English) with the first two ‘official’ albums: The City of Shifting Waters (here presented in a longer, two-part format as serialized in Pilote, 1968-69) and The Empire of a Thousand Planets (1971). Artist Mézières is working in a comparatively sprightly cartoon mode here, informed by the likes of Morris and Jack Davis, which makes this a unique choice for a cinema tie-in… and yes, there’s production materials from the big screen version in here as well, plus chats with Besson and the creators; $29.99.

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal of Luke Kirby: A 288-page all-in-one collection for a 1988-95 2000 AD series maybe less familiar outside the UK than some, concerning a saga-in-recollection of a boy wizard’s growth in the 1960s. A good portion has never been reprinted before, owing to disagreements surrounding ownership of the series; I can’t seem to find any explanation of whatever resolution has occurred at the moment (and this column is LATE ENOUGH). The creators are writer Alan McKenzie and artist John Ridgway, the latter succeeded by Steve Parkhouse and Graham Higgins; $28.99.

Jack Kirby’s The Forever People – Artist’s Edition: Finally, we are graced with a less-rare appearance by another specialist in tactile vintage works, the famous IDW line of gigantic hardcovers shot in color from b&w original art. Kirby is a popular subject, and this 144-page tome collects issues #1 & #4-8 of his Fourth World series, 1971-72, with inks by Vince Colletta and Mike Royer; $125.00 (or so).

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/7/17 – Exceptional Shine) Tue, 06 Jun 2017 12:00:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

It would be cruel to claim that this is the most arresting image from last weekend’s New York Times Magazine “New York Stories” all-comics special, but it’s definitely what I remember most. I suspect that those of you who’ve read this stuff availed yourselves of the online version and its cheesy animated touches, so I feel the need to specify that there are not only advertisements for $3.5 million apartments in the print magazine, but that sometimes the advertisements interrupt the comics themselves, just like in forward-facing faves from the House of Ideas, effendi. Nothing like settling in for the new Tillie Walden and running into promotions for First Republic Bank; I hope Avery Hill is taking notes, ’cause this is how the big boys do it.

‘Twas the fate of this affair, though. You might be scanning the list of contributors right now and wondering how artists who are mostly not from New York are supposed to come up with New York Stories. The way this is accomplished is that the artists are actually adapting stories from the Times‘ Metro Desk – stories which trend forcefully toward a certain breed of cloying human interest, leavened by sentiment and salted with raised-eyebrow irony. A new development obstructs an apartment dweller’s view, so he hangs a monitor streaming a live feed of the outdoors where his window used to be – technology sure is change-y, and I’m ambivalent! Some of the drawing is good, but almost all of these adaptations are wont to pursue a very direct and literal approach, straining occasionally for poetry in their severely limited allotments of space but rarely evoking more than the tinny particulars of their sensitive vignettes: a woman watches life pass by her window until a kind neighbor joins her; a young man defends his catcalling of girls at the beach in the midst of reverie; the whole darn neighborhood pitches in to help a lady find her lost dog through the wonders of smartphones… still wonderful, somehow, in 2016, from when this dispatch originated in prose. My attention rapidly straying, I found myself most engaged by artists who seemed to be pushing the hardest against the restrictions: Walden, who sets much of her story about a well-off man in the thrall of a fortune teller con artist in a woozy allegorical plane of his dreams and fears; or Sammy Harkham, whose tale of NYC’s lone murder on September 11, 2001, consists entirely of narrative captions over drawings of city architecture, suggesting the great aloofness of history toward the mistimed plight of the individual.

But these are exceptions. Predominantly, it’s the stories that hold prominence in these comics, and I’m not convinced that becoming comics does them many favors. Take Enemies Among Us (drastically reformatted for the online version, fyi), in which Marvel/DC/Archie veteran Francesco Francavilla draws a tale of WWII-era intrigue centered around ferreting out (German) terrorists who’ve slipped into NYC’s immigrant community. This is a very hotly politicized topic, no doubt disinterred from 2002 for the purposes of new relevancy, but while prose could at least theoretically tease out nuance from the account, what emerges from out under the lacquer of Francavilla’s four pages of backlit noir illustration is nothing more trying than a warm bath of civic flattery – one of the terrorists maybe becomes “affected” by the city life (no conclusions), and turns in the rest of them, his reward deportation over execution. I [heart] NYC too, but these tiny vignettes playing at resonance aren’t helped by the translation to comics, and ‘comics’ is helped even less. This is not a testament to comics’ sophistication, of its parity with nonfiction in prose; this is comics as a novelty act, rightfully dismissed the week after so that real work ostensibly can begin again.


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.



Bulletproof Coffin: The 1000 Yard Stare: All due respect to Warner Brothers’ latest, but the first two Bulletproof Coffin series (2010, 2012) have been probably my overall favorite ‘superhero’ stuff of the decade – the creation of the UK-based team of writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane, the premise drifts heedlessly into and outside of a constructed history of U.S. comic book-making, implicating issues of creativity, legality, sexual desire, childhood play, and bone-deep American resentment throughout. This one-shot is the latest installment, following the aged and washed-up comic book professionals David Hine and Shaky Kane as the latter embarks on an attempted career-reviving solo project at Image. And indeed, this is an Image #1 for your first week of June. Check this one out. Preview; $3.99.

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel: Continuing Drawn and Quarterly‘s commitment to Québécoise artists, this 100-page, 6.5″ x 9″ hardcover represents sketchbook work by Montreal-based children’s book author and comic artist Elise Gravel, who’s released a handful of works in English through various publishers. “…not just an exhibition of Gravel’s work, but a challenge to young artists to keep a daily sketchbook,” says the publisher, suggesting a sort of Lynda Barry-like inspirational-pedagogical slant to the material; $17.95.


To Have & To Hold (&) Tarantula: Speaking of noir and pulp and whatnot, here are two releases of that general type. To Have & To Hold is the new book from Graham Chaffee, a skilled cartoonist who became a tattoo artist, with 18 years passing between his story collection The Most Important Thing and Other Stories (1995) and his formerly-most-recent book Good Dog (2013). All of his books have been published by Fantagraphics, and so it goes with this 202-page “hard-boiled disquisition on the darker regions of married life and the American Dream” set in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tarantula is an AdHouse release, evoking something more along the lines of ’60s/’70s exploitation film and horror magazine stuff — and, given the infernal psychedelic focus, perhaps the 1967 cult classic BD album Saga de Xam by Nicholas Devil & Jean Rollin — but dressed in the sickly colors and broad declarations expected from the same creators behind Black Mask’s Space Riders series: the artist Alexis Ziritt and the writer Fabian Rangel Jr., working with letterer Evelyn Rangel. A 96-page color hardcover; $24.99 (Hold), $14.95 (Tarantula).

The Last American (&) The Divided States of Hysteria #1: High-impact comics here, old and new, each adopting a particular critical attitude toward the American project as it stood and stands. The Last American is a 1990-91 miniseries from Epic Comics, which had enjoyed some success with the Pat Mills/Kevin O’Neill series Marshal Law. Here, a different group of bedrock 2000 AD creators participate in the action: writers John Wagner & Alan Grant and artist Mick (Mike) McMahon, following a defrosted Army man as he searches a post-nuke landscape for signs that U.S. citizens are still alive. I know a bunch of you really like McMahon’s art, and he’s in this Rebellion softcover release throughout. The Divided States of Hysteria is a new project from American Flagg! creator Howard Chaykin, an Image comic book series with cover art calculated to stop the breath of observers (though some may simply roll their eyes). It’s Chaykin’s take on these troubled times of ours, in a U.S.A. torn apart by “greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy” – a thriller’s plot seems in the making, with racially-motivated and terroristic killings prominent in the lives of its ensemble cast. Chaykin did a very anxious and politicized version of Challengers of the Unknown back in 2004-05 that I found pretty interesting, and this maybe comes from a similar place; $19.99 (American), $3.99 (Divided).

All Time Comics: Atlas (&) The Infernals #1: Two ‘disreputable’ comic books here – the former explicitly designed that way, and the latter just kinda leaning in. Atlas is the 28-page third installment of the Fantagraphics-published superhero throwback project All Time Comics from writer/frontman Josh Bayer, with frequent contributor Benjamin Marra now handling solo art duties on what we are assured is “the darkest, the most political, the most relevant” of the line… something about corruption and public manipulation. I do like the Das Pastoras covers on these. The Infernals, meanwhile, is a new comic from Verotik, which is sure to raise a hearty cry of “holy shit, Verotik is still around?!” It is, they put out maybe one comic book per year, and it’s still written by Glenn Danzig (whom I will never stop believing is the unstated basis for the lead villain on the new Twin Peaks). Moreover, the credited artist is Simon Bisley, a longtime collaborator who also did the cover illustration for the new Danzig album the other week; $3.99 (Atlas), $4.95 (Infernals).

Jazz Maynard #1 (&) Instrumental: A pair of genre comics dealing with jazz music this week, for some reason. Jazz Maynard is your Eurocomic selection – a crime genre series from contemporary Spanish creators Raúl Anisa Arsís (aka: “Raule”) and Roger Ibañez Ugena about a trumpeter and his guns-blazing encounter with sex trafficking and organized crime. Curvy, subtly anime-inflected visuals (Maynard is very Spike Spiegel), monochrome juxtapositions, deep shadow. Magnetic Press publishes in the form of a comic book miniseries; there’s five albums of stuff out in France right now. Instrumental, oddly enough, is the work of an *actual* jazz trumpeter, Dave Chisholm, who’s also been putting out small-press comics for about a decade now. A Z2 Comics release, the 224-page softcover tells of a struggling musician who gets a mystic and possibly cataclysmic horn, rendered in b&w brushiness recalling Paul Pope and Craig Thompson (and, I suppose, Blutch and his Total Jazz lurking in the back). A download of the official soundtrack by the author will apparently be included; $3.99 (Maynard), $24.99 (Instrumental).

Belgian Lace From Hell: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 3 (of 3): Concluding author Patrick Rosenkranz’s expansive survey of the works of the notorious underground cartoonist – as late as 1989, his work proved instrumental in frustrating the physical assembly of copies of the anthology Taboo 2, so offensive was the art deemed. That stuff and more, from Zap to Weirdo with illustrations, commissions and private paintings, is included in this 8″ x 11.25″, 232-page color hardcover, along with Rosenkranz’s biographical text. A Fantagraphics release; $34.99.

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week is a rare one – a text by a Japanese professional, translated to English. But such is the affection for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that we now have a 280-page hardcover manifesto from creator Hirohiko Araki, detailing his methodology for all facets of manga creation. Publisher VIZ suggests that the golden ratio is somehow involved, so please take that as an invitation or a warning; $19.99.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/31/17 – Knot Comics) Tue, 30 May 2017 12:00:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

An acrobatic test amidst the scrumming mob, from a specialist in need of no identification. I knew I was a pretty far gone Steve Ditko fan long ago, but it’s great to have new confirmation: a 48-page comic I backed on Kickstarter with no idea as to the contents, 17 pages of which turned out to be pencils for an unfinished story from an unknown period, and I was delighted. Most of you know that Ditko maintains an ongoing series of all-new comics as published by himself and Robin Snyder — issue #26 is forthcoming, hopefully in time for the artist’s 90th birthday in November — but the pair has also been releasing a parallel series of miscellaneous, reprint-heavy comics with a separate, continuous system of numbering. The first such-numbered comic is Mr. A. #15 from November of 2014, though I prefer to think of it as “#15: Mr. A.”, since the issue number is the key identifying factor, with the individual comics’ repeating titles often drawn from older series. Thus:

#15: Mr. A. (Nov. 2014)
#16: Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (May 2015)
#17: Out of This World (July 2015)
#18: Mr. A. (Spring 2016)
#19: Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (Summer 2016)
#20: Out of This World (Autumn 2016)
#21: Mr. A. (Spring 2017)
#22: Murder (Summer 2017)
#23: The Hero Comics (Summer 2017)

(Ordering info here; the publishers are silent as to the contents, retroactive or otherwise, of issues #1-14.)

The Mr. A. issues probably hold the most interest, as they are comprised in significant part of never-before-published complete stories intended for a Mr. A. series in the early 1990s (#24 has already been announced as another Mr. A. issue). The image above, however, comes from The Hero Comics, which collects a pair of stories from the Ditko “Packages” of the millennial period, along with an ’09 piece from one of his older all-new 32-page comics, and some assorted one-page images. And, of course, the aforementioned 17-page no-letters, no-inks story, “V? vs. Frog Man”. Ditko ultra-fan Nick Caputo has identified the V? character from a lineup of forthcoming characters in Charlton Action: Featuring Static #11 (Oct. 1985), so it’s probable (though not certain) that the art originates from around that time.

The new comic’s introduction invites the reader to “have a field day imagining what it is all about,” so I’ve decided the titular Frog M[e]n are a gang of internet-bred nihilists who’ve abrogated all moral responsibility to behave in the manner of animals, luxuriating in their own debasement as a sick statement on the futility of living in a rotten society. V? is a human bystander in a sharp hat and tie who can’t help but take action in the fact of injustice, leading to his acquisition of a high-science power belt and a superheroic rebirth in a test chamber not unlike that of noted Superman adversary Doctor Manhattan, a derivation of Ditko’s & Joe Gill’s early ’60s Charlton character Captain Atom. But while D.M. slides into the DCU as a means of justifying chronological aberrations brought on by confused publishing strategies, Ditko here gives us the power of viewing time and space outside of the sequential boundaries of perception. Is this story from before or after Watchmen? With a copyright date of 2017, the answer could be both – such is the creator’s Victory.


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.



Boundless: Jillian Tamaki is a big enough deal right now that I can sit down in an NYC subway car — I think it’s the E train, probably not just that one — and see a comic strip-like illustration of hers hanging among the ads, and I don’t think it’s especially strange at all. This 7″ x 8.7″ Drawn and Quarterly softcover collects 248 pages of short comics, many of which appeared on the Hazlitt website in 2015 & 2016, though there’s also some new stuff, as well as Tamaki’s contribution to the 2012 anthology Nobrow 7, and the entirety of her issue of the Youth in Decline showcase series Frontier (#7). Interesting to see how her art expands and contracts given the venue, while the stories remain concerned with people navigating life through the gauzy filter of media, be it television, internet or literature; $24.95.

Revenger & The Fog: This is a Bergen Street Comics Press release — which is to say it’s co-published by somebody I do a podcast with, BE WARNED, STAY SAFE — collecting all of the issues released in the Oily Comics vigilante action series from writer/artist Charles Forsman that were not collected in the prior Bergen Street book Revenger: Children of the Damned. I like this later material more… it’s less ‘in quotes’ (i.e. no Russian cyborg nudity), and applies a more sophisticated back issue rot box coloring scheme to the increasingly feverish character emotions at play, ecstasies of betrayal and loyalty; $18.95.


Canopy: The latest Retrofit/Big Planet release, an 80-page wordless color comic from Karine Berdou, a French artist who’s worked with publishers ranging from BD behemoth Delcourt to the Swiss arts-focused publisher Atrabile, which is where this piece originated in 2011. Many small figures caught in various states of motion on unpaneled pages, with themes of family and coming-of-age in a folkloric world; $15.00.

Paklis #1: A new Image debut, and a one-man anthology at that. Dustin Weaver has been working in a very rich & heavy style for a variety of Marvel comics projects for a while (I think he first attracted wide attention in 2010 through the Jonathan Hickman-scripted series S.H.I.E.L.D.), but this is his first creator-owned work, claiming sturdy Euro-Japanese influences a la Moebius, Miyazaki & Ōtomo. New issues are scheduled to arrive monthly at least through #4, so expect more soon. Preview; $5.99.

The Egyptian Princesses: Very direct title for this 2010-11 series from Ukrainian-born artist Igor Baranko, who published a few pieces with SLG early in the ’00s (and pencilled some Simpsons comics at Bongo), but really hit his stride with a set of fiercely eccentric historical genre works with Les Humanoïdes on the French market – Jihad (aka “The Horde”), 2003-04, and Shamanism, 2005-06. (He also drew the 2003-08 Exterminator 17 revival for writer/co-creator Jean-Pierre Dionnet.) The Egyptian Princesses, a 244-page b&w softcover, follows the daughters of Ramesses III and their exploitation of “forbidden knowledge of necromancy and black magic” in defense of the throne; $19.95.

Lennon: The New York Years: A Eurocomic of a different type, this 2015 release is based on a ’10 biographical novel by author and filmmaker David Foenkinos, adapted by the enormously prolific bit-of-everything BD writer Éric Corbeyran and an artist known only as “Horne”. IDW presents the English edition as a 156-page, 8″ x 11″ b&w hardcover album; $19.99.

Xena: Warrior Princess – The Classic Years Omnibus Vol. 1: C’mon, you remember Xena, right? Syndicated adventure series, ran throughout the second half of the ’90s? I’d forgotten that Dark Horse had put out a licensed comic book toward the tail end of the show’s run, 1999-2000, and imagine my surprise when I found out it was one of those American projects headed up by a 2000 AD mainstay. No less than Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner writes most of these 14 comics, now collected into a 360-page Dynamite softcover. The most frequent artist is Mike Deodato Jr., with turns by Joyce Chin, Clint Hilinski and Ivan Reis, while Ian Edginton (who, truth be told, worked on a number of Dark Horse license projects and other American comics prior to doing a lot of work under the 2000 AD banner) scripts the later chapters; $24.99.

Mister X: The Archives (&) Starslayer: The Log of the Jolly Roger: Two actual Dark Horse releases now, collecting works with origins in the 1980s Direct Market (like Dark Horse itself). Mister X is an oddball design-y dark fantasy/noir-ish series created by Dean Motter and published by Vortex Comics beginning in 1984 (a significant delay from the earliest conceptualization of the series from Motter and artist Paul Rivoche). The early issues are notable for the participation of Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez, after which there’s an episode with Ty Templeton & Klaus Schoenefeld, and then the appearance of the young artist Seth, who drew eight issues. The first 14 numbers are collected in a 384-page softcover, with an added story by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean. Starslayer is a Celtic-warrior-in-space concept from writer/artist Mike Grell, which was initially released by Pacific Comics in 1982-83 before moving to First Comics, and eventually different creative teams. What Dark Horse is collecting is its 224-page softcover is the 1995 Acclaim Comics “Director’s Cut” of the Pacific material, which Grell amended with a good deal of new and revised content; $24.99 (each).

Providence Act 2 (of 3): Finally, lest we be misled by the top of this column – the writer Alan Moore still pursues pastiche today, most recently in this Lovecraftian series from Avatar with artist Jacen Burrows. This comic book-sized hardcover collects issues #5-8 (of 12), in which a reporter’s meetings with various ‘real’ supernatural inspirations for fictional horror characters adopt a gruesome and awful poise. Most of my favorite bits in this series are toward the end… I *loved* the final issue, which should be collected toward the end of this year; $21.99.

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Rediscovering Genre: Study Group Comics Fri, 26 May 2017 12:00:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The website of Study Group Comic Books has a button on their menu bar labeled “Genres.” It speaks volumes about the publishing mission of Zack Soto—the choices range from familiar genres like “Fantasy,” “Horror,” and “Crime” to “Abstractions” and “Trippy.” No alternative comics publisher is as explicit in its interest in genre comics as Study Group, both on the website and in paper form. Soto is also the rare publisher that still releases single-issue comics as part of a larger series as opposed to focusing on full-length books. Soto exhibits a voracious appetite for absorbing and understanding comics of all kinds, and that’s also reflected in the Study Group Magazine that he publishes with editor Milo George and art director Francois Vigneault.

Study Group is far from the only alternative comics publisher that deals with genre, but they focus on it more than any other. That said, their output look less like the sort of genre comics one might see from larger publishers and more like the kind of gritty, idiosyncratic comics associated with minicomics scenes like Providence in the late 1990s. Manga and other genre influences like EC horror comics can be widely seen in some Study Group releases. Let’s take a look at their output from the last couple of years.

Titan #1-5, by Francois Vigneault. This is a smart, stylish, political sci-fi romance thriller. In the future, gigantic, genetically modified humans called Titans work in mines on various moons around the solar system. They are a labor class that works for Terrans, who are their managers and security force (and essentially, represent a higher caste in a hierarchical system). The story centers around Joao Da Silva, a Brazilian manager sent from Earth to evaluate the Homestead station on Titan, and Phoebe Mackintosh, a Titan labor representative who is tasked to monitor him. There are multiple intrigues on both sides, with the tension between the Titans (who work in hazardous conditions) and Terrans (who are viewed as exploiters) being cynically stoked by several individuals with selfish agendas. Vigneault makes the story work because of the intense characterizations of Joao and Phoebe. They have conflicting agendas prior to meeting, but their immediate sexual chemistry alters the course of the story.

Obviously, issues of class and race inform the central conflict of the story, but mostly in  a way that drives the plot instead of as a sort of transparent, heavy-handed Star Trek-style moral metaphor. Instead, the comic more closely resembles another science-fiction TV show in terms of tone and moral complexity: the revamped Battlestar Galactica show from the ’00s. Titan has the same lived-in, grimy feel; living in a space colony is cramped, sweaty and unpleasant. There are the same sorts of secret deals, hidden agendas, double-crosses, and acts of violence that spark huge amounts of unrest. There’s also the same emphasis on romance as a kind of frenzied, desperate activity that is literally life-affirming in the face of danger. Both Joao and Phoebe are smart, centered, funny and ultimately moral character.

Vigneault is a skilled cartoonist and his character design and attention to detail emphasize the claustrophobic character of the colony. His faces, interestingly enough, have a cartoony & exaggerated character instead of the more naturalistic technique he uses for the rest of his drawings. Vigneault favors thick eyebrows, lots of dripping sweat, and dense scars. The reader is welcomed to crawl inside every panel and take a close look, as Vigneault rewards close reading with all sorts of interesting detail. Each of the five issues has used a different color wash, with the third issue’s red being especially fitting for an extended sex scene.

This is a solid example of genre fiction that doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence and has multiple layers, but doesn’t try to thematically overreach. Both sides in the conflict have their own ethical murkiness, but Vigneault is more interested in developing how that affects conflict, action, and character interaction than he is in lecturing the reader. The final issue takes a number of unexpected and brutal turns, but the romantic element of the story is far from ignored.

Power Button #0, by Zack Soto. Genre-inspired stories told in an idiosyncratic narrative and visual style, Soto’s comics seem to be very much influenced by Fort Thunder. Unlike his stylish and innovative Secret Voice comics, this story feels remarkably derivative of old Marvel titles like The Silver Surfer and Rom, wherein a brave person from a world threatened by overwhelming outside forces sacrifices themselves. That sacrifice comes by way of undergoing a transformation that allows them to save their planet but permanently separates them from further contact. This comic looks nice but is otherwise quite conventional, which is disappointing considering the quality of Soto’s other work.

The Secret Voice #1-3, by Zack Soto. Soto is strongly influenced by Mat Brinkman and Brian Ralph, and that influence is most clearly evident in the first issue of this continuing series that’s jammed full of clever ideas, appealing world-building, unusual and eye-catching character design, and an idiosyncratic use of color. This is a fantasy epic about a nearly invincible warlord and the enigmatic scholar-sorcerers in the Red College who oppose him. Soto is all about establishing place and letting the reader absorb its particular rhythms; the opening of the first issue features several pages following a water source down deep under a mountain until we meet the main character, a bandaged and bespectacled Red College member named Dr. Galapagos.

What I like best about this comic is the way that Soto balances one narrative with several others that jump back and forth in time, creating a one-man anthology similar to the sort of fractured storytelling that Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar do in their Dungeon series. Soto even varies his visual approach in these interstitial features, going from the denseness of his “Secret Voice” serial to the airy and open layout of “Heard You Were Around”, where Soto almost entirely abandons line in favor of color and shape. It’s not quite abstract, but the looseness of the art fits the wistful and nostalgic quality of the story.

The “Secret Voice” story in the second issue is not nearly as reminiscent of Fort Thunder. Soto expands his world-building and central character conflicts to reveal that Dr. Galapagos is tormented by a voice that possesses him at times, and the reader meets other Red College members who are fighting the war in their own ways. The scope here is not unlike Lord of the Rings: vast battles, cities under siege, huge armies of monsters, and a desperate defense. The structure of the heroes’ society is unusual enough to make this story happily free of cliche, and Soto’s use of restraint in giving the reader just enough information to follow the story without overwhelming her with backstory lends the story a mysterious but appealing edge. Of course, given the more conventional narrative structure in the main story, Soto throws a more enigmatic narrative at the reader in the backup serial, “Maps Of The Unknown World”, which is once again all about space, environments, and slowly illuminating them.

One can see this series as Soto experimenting with and finding his stride as a cartoonist. The third issue is more visually complex but also more original than the first two issues, as his own style starts to emerge. There’s an effortless flip between the main plot and nuanced character interaction. What’s remarkable is how quickly the comic proceeds despite being a relatively peaceful interlude in the larger story. Soto makes up for that with another time-jumping feature with a dark, denser and scratchy approach that is built on deep reds and purples (and drawn by Jason Fischer), and a narrative that is relaxed in its pacing even as its actions (keeping demons from entering a gate) are frantic. The second installment of “Maps Of The Unknown World” is suitably enigmatic, but there’s a bit more context added to make the narrative more coherent, even if its connection to the larger story remains unclear. Soto is the pacesetter for the Study Group line in many ways; his fusion of genre tropes and alt-comics storytelling has been the model for this kind of comic for quite some time.

Magical Character Rabbit, by Kinoko Evans. This is self-conscious shojo manga, down to the funny “translation” in the title and the characters underneath it. It’s a relentlessly cute but still interesting story about a rabbit wizard who is tasked with performing the town’s winter solstice rite. On cheap paper that handles the deeply saturated colors well, the comic is basically about the mage’s attempt at figuring out what she has to do in order to perform the rite. Evans knows how to pace a comic and this one is no exception, as the rabbit runs into a variety of characters–some helpful, some annoying–while trying to figure out just what to do. The purple, orange, and yellow color scheme varies in that some colors look like they were done on a risograph and others look like they were hand-colored via colored pencil. This is a perfect comic for a child aged 8 through 12. A knowing fan can enjoy the tropes that Evans runs through, while a young fan can enjoy it purely on its own terms. Evans’ use of a thick line sets it apart from a lot of manga-style stories and gives it a solidity unusual in comics that strive for cuteness. It makes the village and its characters seem more mundane and less ethereal.

The Short Con, by Pete Toms & Aleks Sennwald. This attractive book, done in small, square format, is another Study Group release aimed at children. The high concept is very funny: the residents of an orphanage also happen to run a detective squad that solves all sorts of crimes. The book fits somewhere between Richard Sala and Drew Weing, combining the weird, the creepy, the absurd, and the adorable all in one package. When a rich girl is sent to the orphanage, she’s paired up with the slightly misanthropic girl nicknamed “Pops,” who has a habit of accidentally getting her partners killed. Toms exploits every cop trope one can think of, and while the identity of the killer is completely ridiculous, it makes sense within the context of the story. Working mostly in a four-panel grid, Sennwald takes a lot of cues from Sala in terms of character design, only he uses a slightly thinner line and deliberately makes the characters look they’re playing dress-up. Only in the context of the story, danger is everywhere, be it from robot dogs or the machinations of a master criminal. The pacing of the book is spot-on, allowing just enough character growth and bonding without padding it too much. Everything from design to coloring is top notch on this little book, and I found myself wanting.

Vile 1-2, by Tyler Landry. These are short, moody horror stories that rely on atmosphere and suggestion instead of gore. Each issue uses a single spot color to go with the black pages; the first issue features light green and the second issue dark green. There’s some classic EC horror comics influence here, but only up to a point, as Landry deliberately employs vagueness as a storytelling tool. For example, the first issue starts with an interstellar battle where the “good guys” seem to be winning, until one ship is shot down and crash-lands on a planet. Up until that point, we have no reason to believe he’s anything other than a laser-toting hero. When he crashes and sees what might be the skeletons of former crewmates who were left on the planet as expendables when they crashed earlier, the reader is clued in that this guy is a narcissist and a sociopath, and possibly delusional to boot. What Landry leaves vague is if what the pilot sees is real or just a hallucination. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because the reader sees him for what he really is.

The second issue is a typical “someone goes missing in the forest at night” story that’s set up in the first segment by the two main characters looking for gold, talking about how important companionship is out in the wild. As soon as the emotional depth of that point is developed–boom. The younger character simply disappears. The older character thinks he sees his friend’s skeleton for a moment, then follows his trail to the river, where the younger man’s half-eaten apple has been abandoned. He is not discovered, nor is any explanation given. Nor is it necessary; the story is about a feeling writ large, with the terror of loneliness and the unknown holding full sway. Both issues are well done but feel on the thin side as complete products; I’d prefer to read a larger collection of these stories.

Haunter, by Sam Alden. Alden is in an interesting phase of his career at the moment, experimenting with a number of visual approaches in order to tell different kinds of stories. He’s gone from the heavily naturalistic style à la Nate Powell to an almost abstracted pencil-heavy style that emphasizes shading as a way of creating form. Figures are created as a kind of negative space. Alden has always been fascinated by the idea of exploring ruins and other places people shouldn’t go, and the consequences of those actions bringing on horrific ends or bizarre consequences. In Haunter, Alden takes up that theme and applies a vivid, often nightmarish color scheme through the use of watercolors. Watercolors sometimes bleed and saturate the page in funny ways, and all of that works to Alden’s advantage in this comic.

In terms of narrative, it’s sort of Josh Simmons meets Carl Barks. That is, it has the relentlessly fluid panel-to-panel transitions that makes it a thrill ride to read, along with the silent qualities of key Simmons works that inspire dread and a sense of impending, inevitable doom. The story is simple: a young woman is hunting a boar-like creature with her bow and arrows. After missing and tracking her prey, she discovers an abandoned temple of some kind, flooded in a number of areas. Eventually, she finds a huge statue of some sort of god-figure and sees a tunnel in the middle of it. She goes down the tunnel until she encounters a tall, monstrous guardian that immediately starts shooting at her with its own bow. The rest of the comic consists of the hunter’s attempt at escape and the guardian’s attempt to kill her. The way Alden shifts from green to yellow to blue to purple and to orange as a way of reflecting fading light and other visual illusions while also mixing in other colors to create dissonance is truly the story of this comic.

Though Alden’s linework is greatly muted by the color splashes in this comic, it’s still remarkably precise and effective, especially with regard to the two figures. We feel the hunter’s curiosity and later desperation, thanks to the way Alden draws body language as well as the line weight giving the character real presence. The guardian, a terrifying mass of spikes and thorns, has a line weight precisely equal to that of the hunter. That’s a subtle way of indicating that the thing is not invincible, and the hunter uses both guile and brute force to defeat the much stronger creature. There is no right or wrong or good or evil here; there is simply the matter of dealing with an intruder and raw survival. In best EC horror comics fashion, Alden throws one last twist at the reader at the end, one that shows that victory is often defined in the long term. In many respects, this comic is a bit of a lark; it lacks the emotional complexity of stories like “Backyard”, “Hollow”, “Household”, and “Hawai’i 1997”. That said, given its origins as a webcomic, the comic was meant to be a simple adventure story told in a highly complex manner, and it is as lush and memorable in terms of its visuals as any horror or adventure comic I’ve read.

Study Group Magazine #4. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a piece in this issue, which I will obviously not discuss. SGM has always been a representation of the overall aesthetic of Zack Soto and a particular strain of cartoonists; one that believes that comics in all their forms are worthy of at least study and consideration, be they mainstream or alternative. Whereas there used to be a hard line in the ’80s between alt-cartoonists and mainstream comics, in part because it was so hard to establish a beachhead for alt-comics, younger cartoonists who have had equal access to both simply seem to care less about such divides. The focus of this issue goes a step further, as it addresses fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the ways in which they relate to comics.

SGM has always had an eclectic mix of commentary and comics. The commentary is especially unusual in this issue, with a conversation between Tucker Stone and features editor Milo George about the old, weird DC miniseries Hawkworld that’s thorough, hilarious, and entirely suitable to the material at hand. There’s a fantastic piece by Dylan Horrocks (including his own illustrations) about D&D as a world-building device and how that resonates with writing. The world-building is significant because it offers a place to inhabit that is not our world, if only for a little while, and that has a strong impact on one’s day-to-day mental health in a positive way. The “craft interview” between George and Farel Dalrymple (told in first person by Dalrymple) is easily the most interesting, revealing piece I’ve ever read about the artist, going into an incredible amount of detail regarding his influences and techniques. It was especially useful to read given that it talked a lot about The Wrenchies, which is by far his most complex and layered comic.

David Brothers and Joe McCulloch both discuss manga, with Brothers zeroing in on issues related to power in Akira and McCulloch contributing one of his memorable personal pieces about reading his first-ever manga, Golgo 13. It’s funny, perceptive, and goes off on tangents that wind up circling back to the original themes. James Romberger’s piece on the influences of Jack Kirby is spot-on, with tons of illustrations to back up his points, while Francois Vigneault’s interview with fantasy cartoonist Andreas Kalfas links into the way others in the magazine talked about role-playing.

The comics in this issue are also a reflection of Soto, George, and art director Francois Vigneault’s tastes, from the oddball Ed Whelan reprint “Comics” McCormick to “Shitbag”, an astounding sketchbook story by Lark Pien that is completely unlike her normal style and subject matter. It’s brutal, visceral, and even sickening, with the titular creature a force of nature. The story revolves around the cruel machinations of an incestuous brother and sister who torture and kill slaves for fun, and it is done with a fine line and watercolors. There’s also a goofy story by Noah Van Sciver, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game by Ian Chachere, and an amusingly violent silent story by Levon Jihanian that fits right into that role player/inventory slot. There’s also a long strip by Patrick Crotty that I found to be visually impenetrable. That’s unfortunate, given how well the rest of the magazine flowed.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/24/17 – The Philadelphia JNCOs) Tue, 23 May 2017 12:00:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Not a comic that I own, but a picture of a Japanese zine from the just-released fifth issue of Collection revue, a Parisian arts magazine that’s been going at a not-quite-annual basis since 2010. All of the text is presented in both French and English, and every issue consists of nothing but interviews with artists or art groups, as well as samples of their works. There has long been a significant comics component to Collection, and the 288-page new edition features the well-known American artist Aidan Koch, as interviewed by the educator, Best American Comics editor and frequent Journal contributor Bill Kartalopoulos. My attention, however, was first drawn to a talk with the creator of the zine above, Tokyo artist Masanao Hirayama, as conducted by Collection co-publisher Vanessa Dziuba. The interview is very short — it’s unclear as to which language was initially used for the discussion — and focuses mainly on the minutiae of Hirayama’s life. Ken Kagami, of the zine above, is an artist and a friend of Hirayama’s, as well as the proprietor of Strange Store, a Shibuya curio shop with books and t-shirts. “Ken Kagami’s Instagram” was assembled in two or three days for the Ohosho Zine Fair in at Strange Store in 2016; 30 people attended, which Hirayama deems a success. Later that year he made an appearance at a music event: “I blew into a balloon until it exploded. I called it ‘The sound of a balloon exploding.'” His drawings incude stick figures and smiling faces and swerving lines; he also works in sculptural arrangements of foil, metal and plastic bags. He has no day job, and prefers to stay inside at home. “If I have nothing to do,” he says, “I like to do nothing.”


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.



Everything is Flammable: Two autobiographical comics up here this week, both from experienced artists on the global alt-comics scene. Gabrielle Bell has done some fable-like shorts, but I think she’s best known for her memoir pieces, notably assembled in the Uncivilized Books releases The Voyeurs (2012) and Truth is Fragmentary (2015). This 160-page new one is also from Uncivilized, a 6″ x 9″ color hardcover dedicated to one narrative covering the space of a year, as Bell deals with finding a new home for her displaced mother. Some of this material (or at least material in this vein) appeared in Kramers Ergot 9, so if you’ve seen that you’ll know what sort of minutely-observed, class- and economic-conscious stuff is in store; $25.95.

On the Camino: On the other hand, the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, while very familiar to readers of this site, is not typically associated with autobiography. That all changes with this 192 page Fantagraphics hardcover, in which the artist recounts a month-plus journey down 500 miles of a pilgrimage route in Spain. Everybody is still drawn as an animal, don’t worry. The publisher will also have new hardcover editions of Jason’s earlier books I Killed Adolph Hitler (2007) and Lost Cat (2013) this week; $24.99.


My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness: This 152-page Seven Seas manga release is unique in several ways. It’s a self-contained book by a solo cartoonist, Kabi Nagata, who initially posted the work in segments to the Japanese art-sharing site pixiv, where it drew a great deal of attention – it’s Nagata’s autobiographical chronicle of her prolonged struggle with depression and isolation, which eventually led her to seek human connection by appointment with a sex worker. Sketchy and essayistic, this is small-scale manga drawn from life; $13.99.

Please Destroy My Enemies (&) Your Black Friend: Two smaller releases distributed to comic book stores by AdHouse, which also debuted the fifth issue of Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats at TCAF the other week. You’ll have to wait for that, though! Please Destroy My Enemies is a 6″ x 6″, 64-page collection of four-panel gag comics by Michael Sweater, a contributor to Vice and other venues. Your Black Friend is a 12-page color comic book from New Orleans artist Ben Passmore, “a letter from your black friend to you about race, racism, friendship and alienation.” Nominated for this year’s Best Single Issue/One-Shot trophy at the Eisners, alongside Tim Hensley’s Sir Alfred No. 3 and Noah Van Sciver’s Blammo #9. Both of these works are published by Silver Sprocket, an arts group out of San Francisco; $6.99 (Enemies), $5.00 (Friend).

One More Year: Being the latest weighty collection of Megg & Mogg comics by Simon Hanselmann, following Megahex (2014) and Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam (2016). Not quite sure what’s in this 220-page hardcover, though I presume at least some of the ’14 Space Face release Life Zone is included, since I can remember the line that gives this book its title. Note that Hanselmann has mentioned that this release will end the Megg & Mogg series’ current setup, at least in terms of which characters are pinging off which; $24.99.

Billie Holiday (&) The Golem’s Mighty Swing: A pair of new releases for books we’ve seen before, provided we’ve seen all the books. Billie Holiday is a 1991 biographical album — more narratively elusive than what is typically seen on bookshelves today in this genre — from the Argentine team of artist José Muñoz and writer Carlos Sampayo, the same creators behind the wildly expressive crime series Alack Sinner (which IDW should finally begin releasing in English within a month’s time). Fantagraphics first released it in English in ’93, and now NBM offers a 9″ x 12″, 80-page hardcover edition. The Golem’s Mighty Swing is… god, a 2001 book from James Sturm, quite a profile-raiser, given its status as a long, self-contained, serious-minded ‘literary’ comic releasing in the millennial wake of Jimmy Corrigan, when graphic novels were becoming big news in the greater media sphere. Baseball, religion, bigotry: much American history on display in these 112 pages, published then and now by Drawn and Quarterly; $19.99 (Billie), $16.95 (Golem).

The DC Universe by Mike Mignola: Regardless of what the title implies, this is not a comprehensive collection of the eventual Hellboy creator’s quixotic work for DC – for example, it apparently lacks Cosmic Odyssey, which just got its own new hardcover a little while back. It does, however, include the 1987-88 Phantom Stranger miniseries he drew with inker P. Craig Russell and writer Paul Kupperberg, as well as the nearly-concurrent World of Krypton project he did with inker Carlos Garzon and writer John Byrne (who would also contribute to the earliest Hellboy issues). There’s also some smaller works scattered around, including a Neil Gaiman-scripted short from 1989’s Swamp Thing Annual #5, as well as 1993’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #54, which for all intents and purposes is Hellboy #0, complete with Mark Chiarello’s standard-setting color work; $39.99.

Your Name.: If you’ve been paying any attention to international cinema for the past 12 months, you’ve probably heard at least passing mention of Your Name., a feature-length animated film by Japanese auteur Makoto Shinkai, who serves as writer, director, storyboardist, art director, cinematographer and editor. Indeed, his breakthrough work, the 2002 OVA Voices of a Distant Star, was created (barring audio elements) entirely by himself; it also laid out the tone which he’d explore in his immediately subsequent larger projects, with an emphasis on the emotive longing of young protagonists. I say “immediately subsequent” because I haven’t seen anything he’s done since his 2007 feature 5 Centimeters per Second – as much as I respect Shinkai’s fervent pursuit of autonomy in the heavily schematic and committee-driven anime world, I find his actual work drippy and tedious, if always impressively art-directed. Nonetheless, something about the boy-and-girl body-swapping SF disaster allegory riffs of Your Name. struck a major chord in Japan, where the film grossed an absolutely insane 200+ million USD in theaters. Anyway, this Yen hardcover is the official prose novel of the film (actually preceding it in Japanese release by a few months), written by Shinkai himself, in case you’re interested; $20.00.

CARtoons Magazine #9: There’s a lot of history behind CARtoons, the automotive magazine founded in 1959; many cartoonists were associated, from the mainline likes of Alex Toth to underground artists such as Robert Williams. It stopped running in 1991, but last year a revival occurred, with both digital and print items offered. This is the newest issue, a 64-page “Rockabilly Surf” special with a pull-out poster by Shawn Dickinson, whose early animation and ’60s hot rod-informed art was granted an IDW retrospective last year; $5.99.

John Stanley: Giving Life to Little Lulu: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is a 10″ x 13″ Fantagraphics hardcover from longtime (as in ‘going back to 1960s fanzines’) writer-on-comics Bill Schelly, offering a 184-page “biographical portrait” of the character-driven funnybook master, with many art samples and photographs included; $39.99.


This week’s front page image is a detail from Untitled, a work by Yannick Val Gesto, as presented on the outer jacket to Collection revue 5.

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Risograph Workbook 6 Mon, 22 May 2017 12:00:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Runner, Risograph print by Panayiotis Terzis

I came across the work of Panayiotis Terzis back in 2007 at SPX. His comics amazed me then and they still do. His Mega Press publications and his personal riso experiments make him a perfect person to bring into my series on the “pioneering” risograph printers.

Check out the previous Risograph Workbooks: Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey ZRisograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing; Risograph Workbook 3: Ryan Cecil Smith; Risograph Workbook 4: Ryan Sands/Youth In Decline; Risograph Workbook 5: John Pham.

I’ll turn the mic over to Pan now:


Santoro: Tell me about your current copier setup. What machine(s) are you using?

Terzis: I’ve been running an EZ 390U with five colors for about four years or so, but over the past two years I’ve been printing on a pair of ME 9450U models, which are the newest Riso duplicators on the market.

Tell me about printing other people’s work in your anthologies. I imagine that many of the artists you work with appreciate the attention to detail, and may have never even printed their work on their own before. Can you talk about that back-and-forth?

Well, I never planned on being a publisher of anyone’s work but my own, but printing and publishing artist’s books and zines often entailed collaborating with other artist friends, publishing projects with collectives where we’d be handling the work of dozens of other artists, and trading with other artists in the scene at book fairs and events. So my earlier small scale publishing activity always had a social aspect either embedded in the process and structure of the book or the way the individual copies would circulate afterwards.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I was possessed with the idea of making a publication designed to capture the dark energy that I felt was encircling the globe and pressurizing the human race – I made the decision to take a more intentional approach. I couldn’t think of any artists who were trying to grapple with the renewed stirrings of nationalism and neo-fascism in the west, the beginnings of a sort of techno feudalism, increased authoritarianism around the globe paralleled by the expansion of personal electronics equipped with surveillance capabilities into every second of our waking lives, against a backdrop of a coming collapse of the biosphere. This nasty, aggressive dystopian sci-fi publication was originally going to be a solo project, but I started thinking about how interesting it would be to invite artists I knew from various art contexts—painters, underground comics people, photographers, etc.—and offer them a chance to respond to this dark energy I was detecting.

A spread by Lane Milburn from Trapper Keeper #1

This book became Trapper Keeper, the name re-appropriated to evoke a near-future bounty hunter empowered by the state to track down and apprehend individuals wanted for offenses ranging from unpaid parking tickets to overdue student loans, jaywalking, subversion etc. — a cross between Boba Fett and Judge Dredd rendered by JG Ballard. What kind of world would the Trapper Keeper live in? I am now preparing Issue 5 to be released at Safari Art and Comics Festival in London this August.

There are a range of approaches artists I work with take when they send me their files. If they have knowledge of color separation or any experience with traditional printmaking, many are happy to send files that are ready to go, with the knowledge that the end result will look a little different. I work closely with those who aren’t familiar with print media, but if someone doesn’t know how or has no desire to work with an image made up of spot colors, I’ll have them send me full-color flattened files and I’ll just split the channels and print them using a faux-CMYK printing technique using the colors I have access to that most closely resemble process colors. The color balance always shifts, but certain images translate beautifully.

In general I’ve had very few instances of artists being overly precious or concerned about their work changing too much. If someone is working with me and they know my work, they usually trust me to treat their work with care and respect.

Publishing other artists’ work has been extremely gratifying. I benefited early on from other people going out of their way to publish, promote, show, and sell my work so I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to the universe and it feels good to give other artists the same opportunity. I always try to compensate artists financially when I can. Artists who I commission to publish solo books usually get a fee and a proportion of the edition, and I pay the cover artist for curated group projects like Trapper Keeper since I do eventually make a little money on these editions.

Trapper Keeper #2 with a Joe P. Kelly cover

It is quite satisfying to assemble a dozen or so artists who each have a powerful, unique perspective, ask them to respond to a common theme, and then arrange their work in the form of a printed publication. It’s like painting with the work of my peers. Each issue has a secret formula that I have to discover. Once the proper order has been determined everything locks into place, and the thing is weaponized and ready to be printed and dispersed into the world.

What is your risograph origin story? I assume you were interested in printmaking before you discovered risograph printing. You’ve been making interesting color work for as long as I’ve known you. How has the risograph changed your process?

When I was in undergrad I had discovered and cycled through all of the traditional forms of printmaking – etching, lithography, screenprinting etc. I was making paintings, drawings, installations and comics, and printmaking was where everything came together. David Sandlin‘s class was monumental for me in terms of challenging myself technically and aesthetically. His work was so ambitious and beautiful that I think it made everyone in his class work their asses off to even be worthy of being there. It was inspiring to be around an artist who made comics but who also had carved out a place for himself in the art world without any contradiction between the two. He was also a living connection to various legendary creative worlds I’d been reading about: the East Village scene in the 1980s, all the people who had been involved in Spiegelman’s RAW. Around this time I had also discovered Fort Thunder, Space 1026, and Paper Rad, and all of the other little versions of those phenomena that were unfolding in small cities all over the country and in Europe too. Using print media, making cheap multiples, making posters for events — all of this felt very fresh and democratic, and part of a creative outlook that demolished the barriers between contemporary art, music, performance art, zines, books, comics, painting, and commercial art.

After school I worked as a print tech, printer, and freelance illustrator, but I continued to use screenprinting and other printmaking media to print and publish my own editions of books and prints. This was crucial because it allowed my work to spread faster in the form of affordable multiples than if I was working primarily on unique pieces and waiting around for a studio visit. My zines and books ended up in unusual places, thanks to distributors and early supporters like Dan Nadel and Printed Matter who brought my work to art fairs and got my books into museum collections and galleries, to be discovered by all kinds of people who would then track me down with ideas for various projects and opportunities.

Around 2009 my friend Alex Damianos started bugging me about this “Risograph” that he had recently purchased; he kept suggesting that I use it to publish something. He described the machine as an automated screenprinter, and I pictured some kind of box with a crank, water and paint spilling out the sides. When I finally saw the thing in person I was a bit disappointed; it just looked like a bloated copy machine. But when I opened it up and handled the drum I was intrigued and decided to give it a chance.

UK based comics artist Leon Sadler and I had been kicking around ideas for a collaboration via email for half a year at that point, having originally started a correspondence after Switzerland based publisher Nieves put out a solo zine by each of us in the same month. I decided to use my friend’s Riso to print and publish this book. I remember it was down to the wire because I had to have it ready for a book fair that was happening in just a few days. He left me with his Riso and in twelve hours I was able to print 55 color layers for a 32-page book in an edition of 100 from start to finish. This was a complete game changer for me in terms of production, speed and quality – if I had screenprinted this book it would have taken weeks if not months. The implications left me giddy. I could make bigger editions faster and sell them at a much lower price point. I was obsessed.

The process of printing was very dynamic. On the one had I was working with this bulky, awkward machine that looked like it belonged in an accounting firm in the mid-’80s. But the process of opening up the machine and changing the enormous drum cylinders to print different colors felt very futuristic, as if I was arming a nuclear warhead on a small spaceship. Between dealing with the guts of this technology and the manipulation of the speed and position of the print, I could indulge in being a technician.

The back cover of Bluetooth, with Leon Sadler – 2010

My project with Leon Sadler was the perfect book to publish as my first Riso project, as we had been sending work back and forth in a combination of digital and physical form without actually having met each other yet. The content tapped into a feeling of the future as well as the ancient past, and the Riso process to me had everything to do with the blending of art and the technical, digital and analog, past and future. These ideas are at the core of what I find interesting about printmaking in general. Working with any print media in 2017 is a perfect excuse to think about all of these things, but especially the ongoing tension between man and machine.

For a few years after that whenever I had a larger edition of books I was planning to publish I would seek out friends with Riso duplicators to print them on in exchange for helping them out with a project that required some other skill or resource I had access to. In 2013 I decided to purchase my own used Riso to publish Trapper Keeper and formalize my publishing activity under the handle Mega Press. It was a small investment to get set up, but I quickly made back the money I had spent on the machine and drums through freelance printing gigs that materialized almost immediately.

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Aisha Franz

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

I’m not sure that there are any Riso-specific fairs that I can think of apart from Magical Riso, which is a conference held at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in the Netherlands, but at this point any of the major fairs – NY Art Book Fair, CAB, etc. – end up becoming mini Riso conventions because of the Riso printers and publishers. It’s a very small world and everyone knows or has heard of each other.

The machines themselves are basically high speed stencil printers. When you’re working with a Riso duplicator you have to design an image with specific spot colors in mind for each color drum. So the process combines the automation and speed of an offset printer or xerox machine with the quality of a fine art print edition.

The kinds of people who become Riso printers usually have a background either in design or printmaking, but everyone becomes a bit of a print tech when working with these machines since they’re so expensive to fix – as cheap as they are to run, you need to learn some basic maintenance techniques to keep them going without spending a fortune. So when Riso people get together the conversation inevitably crosses into heated debates over which blue makes the best faux-cyan, whether the newest metallic ink is overpriced or actually worth it, which Riso secondary market dealers are crooks, and down the rabbit hole into the subject of master skew, what common hardware store items can be substituted for transfer belts, how to fix the timing on an MZ duplicator, or whether it’s worth it to refill used ink tubes and replace the chip so that the machine is tricked into using a different ink.

The main thing to keep in mind is that this medium is neutral – you can make any kind of work with it if you know how to use it! And there are many ways to use a Riso printer. It’s potentially a technical medium even though you can use it in a really simple way. So in nature it’s probably a bit more like used car enthusiasts getting together than comic or zine fandom. Many Riso printers also do freelance printing for clients, so there’s a little bit of a working class contractor mentality that slips in as well.

A spread from Xoana by HOPE

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

I agree that this has breathed new life into the underground publishing scene – but let’s not forget that this is just the latest wave of a rising tide of revived DIY publishing activity that has exploded over the past 15 years in spite of all of the digital hype and “print is dead” bullshit that came along with “web 2.0” and the commercialization of the internet. Those big beautiful books you’re referring to make me think of the Kramers series, and many of the things PictureBox was publishing – a lot of that work was originally printed by the artists themselves, many of whom came out of printmaking and used those skills to empower themselves and spread their zines – and show posters for their noise shows or screenings or performances – all over their local scene. Your own Sirk zines are a perfect example – I have a copy of your Storeyville book where you explain how you made color zines back in the 1990’s by manipulating one tone at a time, running it through the xerox machine one page at a time, so you could deploy a process similar to traditional printmaking, building up each layer by hand. A lot of this type of work was then collected and published in really nice editions, and other small presses followed the same formula. The Riso allows artists to take the means of production into their own hands again without needing an entire print shop with all the space, plumbing, ventilation and materials that that would require.

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Brenna Murphy

In my experience color can be a challenge for some cartoonists. The best way to begin to understand color and develop your own personal color sense is to limit your palette. You begin by comparing two hues at a time, and how they affect each other. Once you understand the relationship between individual colors you can gradually increase the number of colors you’re working with, experimenting and making small adjustments until you develop a personal feel for the palette that resonates with you. The Riso is a perfect tool for the study of color because you are designing in layers of specific overlapping colors. Additionally, one can make a design and quickly test it out with various color combinations. Since layers have to be prepared in grayscale, it also helps one understand value and it’s relationship to hue.

Riso printers are a mixed breed – many are strictly publishers, but with a fine art printmaking background. Many – like myself – are artists whose independent publishing practice of printing their own work expanded into larger operations, publishing the work of other artists as well and incorporating into an intentional publishing operation. I think most Riso printers have some kind of background in art or design, and to a certain extent they can communicate with artists and understand their perspective and goals whether they are publishing these artists or doing contract work for them, printing their zine or poster. I think it’s a different perspective from the offset press operator or the copy shop employee because their identity and ego is mixed up in their business in a different way than old school print contractors.

Can you talk about the “crossover appeal” of risograph? Meaning that the quality of the books you make for example seem to appeal to the “high and low” of various outlets, stores and fairs – whereas in the past it was difficult to get a store like Printed Matter interested in xeroxed minicomics – nicely produced risograph comics seem to gain more traction – it’s a different landscape than even ten years ago…

I’m someone who has always been interdisciplinary; I studied painting, comics, illustration and printmaking in school, and I’ve worked across different commercial art fields – illustration, textile design, design – and my work has circulated in gallery, print and underground comics contexts. These divisions are arbitrary and more reflective of social cliques that make up the people who populate these scenes than a real difference in content, style or intention. I think it’s unfortunate but what I love about making and facilitating the making of printed ephemera using Risograph printing is that it really can bypass these barriers. It’s unclear to me whether the floodgates are being smashed and all these different ways of making work, different formats, different perspectives, are pooling together into a chaotic whirlpool or if the barriers are being reinforced. It’s a kind of Internet paradox in some ways – all of this openness and exposure to difference is causing a reactionary backlash politically, where people are seeking ever more narrow and specific identities to differentiate themselves.

I can be equally inspired by a Max Beckman painting or a Takeshi Murata video as I am by an ancient Mesopotamian fertility statue, Aztec totem or an unintentionally brilliant in-flight Skymall catalog. The work I curate reflects that, and I’m always including installation artists, painters and other artists who know nothing of the underground comics/comix/publishing scene with people like Lala Albert, or Lane Milburn. Every issue of Trapper Keeper is carefully curated and balanced. If I’ve confirmed a lot of artists who are heavy on drawing chops maybe I’ll add a pinch of Ben Mendelewicz for a demented stock photo/Nickelodeon Gack/West Palm Beach/Haunted Photoshop feeling to cure it. Or someone like Brenna Murphy, who works with digitally rendered forms that are then turned into 3D installations that are often folded into her band MSHR‘s performances. The crossover appeal is a built in feature of any project I work on, especially if it involves curating other artists, because the different social groups and followings that each of these individuals has makes these contrasts seem more extreme.

A spread from Magalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis 2016

Riso printing, even in a single color, will always look nicer than xerox. Also, it’s better for the environment and your lungs! When you’re printing with a xerox machine, you’re melting plastic dust and sealing it onto a sheet of paper. Riso ink is soy based – you’re literally printing with bean juice!

One thing I’d like to mention as a final note, related to the interdisciplinary aspect of Riso printing. The medium is neutral; the only thing every Riso print has in common is the limitations of size, color and the microscopic perforations in the Risograph drums that all Riso ink has to pass through. A couple of years ago, I was recruited by Nathan Fox to help found a printing space dedicated to Risograph printing – RisoLAB, at SVA in NYC. I’ve been teaching classes there and helping to run the space, and it’s incredible how we are being flooded with students and graduates from every creative field who want to use the Riso to actualize their ideas in print form. Illustrators, Cartoonists, and confused painters are to be expected, but curators, installation artists, poets, writers, photographers? The range of work that has been produced is amazing, and is an important reminder that Risograph printing is accidentally relevant because the “commons” that we have been left with as our public spaces have been eroded and commercialized and our local communities have been destroyed. The internet/social media is increasingly unsatisfying, and even unpleasant.

People want to show up. They want to look at your thing in person, hold it in their hands. They want to talk to others in person about it and look at it at their own pace, without the publisher or distributor knowing how long they spent lingering on a page or whether they got to the end of the book in the same time as 76.3% of other consumers. All of this activity is still happening in the context of capitalist systems of production, supply and demand and distribution, but I think that people who work with this kind of cultural ephemera must know on some level that the real art is what happens in between the object and the viewer, and the consumer of that piece of art and the person they describe it to. It’s inherently a social act, and this can manifest through all stages of the process. People-power is what drives this activity, and just like a blade of grass can slowly destroy a piece of concrete given enough time to push to the surface, I think DIY culture might be the key to breaking out of the mechanistic, algorithm driven nightmare that our tech overlords are driving us towards.

I’ve spoken to a lot of Riso printers over the past year who feel that we might be hitting peak Riso. Fads come and go, especially in a subcultural context. But what if this kind of Riso printing doesn’t go away – what if it keeps exploding until there’s a local Riso printing space in every community, where some teens are printing their anarcho-punk militant gender queer zine on an MZ 1090 while their grandmother prints a book of her family recipes on a GR 2450U in the next row of duplicators? I think that we need to think about the possibilities and implications of this process, and how it can have broader possibilities that extend far beyond catering to insular subcultures of comix people or photographers or design bros getting in some “personal projects” on the weekends. People are hungry, they’re desperate, but they’re excited and hopeful. In my capacity running the RisoLAB, I see it every day. Let’s hope that we don’t screw it up.

Megalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis


Check out more work by Panayiotis Terzis at his website, see what Mega Press is all about, and stock up on issues of Trapper Keeper and other work at the Mega Press store. Pan will be releasing Trapper Keeper #5 (featuring a cover by Robert Beatty) and some other new zines for the Safari Festival in London in August.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/17/17 – I Feel So Damn Good I’ll Be Glad When I Got the Blues) Tue, 16 May 2017 12:00:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I’m back from vacation, though it wound up being the kind that made me want to lie in an oxygen tent for a few days afterward, so please excuse the brevity of this week’s presentation. (And, thank you to my friend Katie Skelly for classing the place up in my absence.) I did manage to get to a comic shop after I returned, however, and one book I was pleased to find was issue #4 of Richard Corben’s current Dark Horse series Shadows on the Grave; it’s a b&w horror anthology not unlike Fantagor from back in the underground period, finding the 76-year old artist exploring many old motifs. Indeed, a good amount of the work is linked by a Midwestern setting, taken from Corben’s youth, and stories tend to wander around, drinking in the sights before landing on inevitable yet sometimes arbitrary shock endings. The primary tone is not really one of visceral terror, but memento mori: an evocation of comics that meant something to Corben half a century ago, young comics that nonetheless foregrounded the presence of death. There’s also a Den-related serial that runs in every issue — the project is technically an 8-part miniseries — along with a few collaborations with his old colleague, the writer Jan Strnad, who scripts the story excerpted above. I like that Corben doesn’t downplay the value of funny drawing; the leftmost seated judge experiencing a long dark night of the soul up in panel 2 makes me laugh every time, while the story itself, concerning a bodybuilder who seeks supernatural performance enhancement, gives Corben a fine opportunity to parody the idealized musculature of not a few scantly-clad heroes he has drawn in the past. It’s process; a memory.


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.



Resurrection Perverts Vol. 1: Hunter’s Point: Two books from longtime practitioners up in here this week, starting with an original graphic novel by Danny Hellman, I believe the first of his career. Some of you will recall that Hellman got his start with Al Goldstein’s Screw in the late ’80s, and I don’t think its unreasonable to suspect that such experiences have informed this 100-page, 6″ x 9″ color hardcover’s plot, which concerns a porn magnate’s efforts to revive his business with juicy photos of the U.S. President, only to fall into an unusual and dangerous situation. Every page is a splash, connecting the ‘text’ to Hellman’s extensive work in illustration – very fast-moving, the first of a planned series. Published by Alternative Comics & Dirty Danny Press; $15.99.

Wordplay: And here is Ivan Brunetti, no stranger to illo assignments himself, with a new 40-page color children’s comic from Toon Books. Specifically, it’s a comic for very young children — all the way down to age 3, per the publisher — with an emphasis on visual puns as a means of teaching compound words. An opportunity for admirers of the artist’s sometimes grim-purposed round head style to see it marrying its typical simplicity of pictorial communication to straightforwardly cute and funny ends. Published as a 9″ x 6″ landscape hardcover. Note that the publisher also has works from Pennsylvania artist/educator Kevin McCloskey and French children’s book author Claude Ponti this week; $12.95.


The Magical Twins: This is a relatively early comic from the BD catalog of writer Alejandro Jodorowsky – hailing from 1987, I presume the work is only appearing in English now from Humanoids because Les Humanoïdes in France was not the original publisher (to say nothing of the fact that it’s a one-off album); the present 9.4″ x 12.6″, 56-page edition follows a new French release from last month. A mystic high fantasy scenario created for the children’s weekly magazine Le Journal de Mickey, the serial also marked Jodorowsky’s first collaboration with the artist Georges Bess, with whom he would embark on a wide variety of not-for-all-ages projects. Actually, unless you’re gonna watch Tusk on YouTube, it’s pretty rare to find Jodorowsky working in a kid-friendly style with anyone. A quick comparison suggests the work has been recolored; $19.95.

Herman by Trade (&) Josephine Baker: A pair of new selections from UK publisher SelfMadeHero, as distributed in North America by Abrams. Herman by Trade is a 120-page allegorical-looking graphic novel from Canadian artist Chris W. Kim concerning a working man with the power to shape-shift, and the troubles that come with his attempts to exercise artistic creativity. Josephine Baker is a 496-page(!!) French bio-comic from 2016, in which writer José-Louis Bocquet and artist Catel Muller (the same pair behind the Kiki de Montparnasse bio SelfMadeHero released in 2011) cover the life of the 20th century Parisian entertainment sensation; $22.95 (each).

Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks #1: This is a series writer/artist Jim Mahfood has been working at every so often since the late ’90s, something of a signature title that changes with his own shifts in style. Now it has a current iteration in the form of an Image comic book series: “a pulse-pounding psychedelic adventure through the streets of Freak City.” Your stapled debut of the week; $3.99.

Animal Noir #4 (of 4) (&) Cerebus in Hell? #4 (of 4): Two series I’ve mentioned a few times in the past that are now wrapping up. Animal Noir is an eccentric and digressive IDW anthropomorphic crime comic from Slovenian creators Izar Lunaček & Nejc Juren following a hard-boiled giraffe on a tour through the seedy side of animal civilization. Giraffes are big again, you know. Cerebus in Hell? is an Aardvark-Vanaheim photoshop joke comic from creator Dave Sim and Sandeep Atwal, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the long-lived, now-dead titular earth pig swordsman. Note that while the miniseries has now concluded, the concept will continue in one-shot form while Sim and another collaborator, artist Carson Grubaugh, work on his long-gestating critical bio-comic The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, which will now apparently be pre-re-serialized as crowdfunded Artist’s Edition portfolios of loose pages before it becomes a set of collected books via the aforementioned IDW; $3.99 (Noir), $4.00 (Cerebus).

Spawn #1 Special 25th Anniversary Director’s Cut: It is still the 25th anniversary year for Image, time and space enduring as predictable values, so now we have the inevitable retrospective editions for the original 1992 comics. I never did read much of Spawn as a kid, mainly as a result of circumstance – it was a little too occult to risk asking any adults in the room to buy, even though Todd McFarlane’s somewhat caricatural variant on ’90s bombast was the kind of thing that should have hooked me as a Spider-Man reader (I loved Erik Larsen’s poppier Simonsonian approach on The Savage Dragon, as opposed to the work of Lee, Liefeld & Silvestri, all of whom were doing ‘X-Men art’, which I associated with long, intimidating stories that would hopelessly confuse pre-teen me). Anyway, early Spawn probably meant something to some of you, and this new edition presents the art in uncolored form as reproduced from the original art boards, with Tom Orzechowski’s lettering, and commentary throughout by writer/artist McFarlane; $4.99.

Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D: Finally, your bookstore-ready bio comic of the week is this 144-page Nation Books release profiling one of the icons of tabletop role-playing, an avid gamer-turned-designer put in the seat of unusual subcultural influence. The writer is David Kushner — experienced in ‘geek’-related non-fiction, making his comics debut — and the artist is Koren Shadmi, who’s worked extensively with generalist book publishers; $16.99.

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Episode 19: Ben Sears Thu, 11 May 2017 12:00:08 +0000 Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Continue reading ]]>


On the nineteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Ben Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas!


Previous Episodes

Episode 18: Maggie Umber

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:31:48 Ben Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Ben Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/10/17 — Father Stretch My Hands) Tue, 09 May 2017 12:00:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week, and I still haven’t been up to see it. A stalwart of avant-garde fashion, Kawakubo’s designs tend to extend or distort the human form with unnatural volume and raw, unfinished materials and rejection of demure feminine beauty. A Kawakubo dress both protects and alienates the wearer; for example, a CDG puffer coat broke my fall a few years ago when I got hit by a tow truck, but no one could squeeze next to me on a subway bench.

But of course silhouette- and beauty-obsessed Hollywood rejected the theme (except, always except Rihanna!) at this year’s Met Gala, probably because everyone just wants to keep their jobs and no one wants to land on some basic’s “worst dressed” list in hindsight. I turned to my comic book collection to see which characters might fit the Kawakubo theme better.

Tina from Walter Scott’s Wendy

Sporting a black bob, black frock, occasional severe shoulder pad, and work bitch attitude, Tina kind of resembles Kawakubo herself.

Lisa from Peter Bagge’s Hate

Remember when Lisa shaved her head and put on a burlap sack because Buddy Bradley wasn’t paying enough attention to her? Crucial relationship move, and crucial move towards one of Kawakubo’s favorite raw materials. Also unafraid to gender-bend in Buddy’s underwear.

Momongo from Junko Mizuno’s Life of Momonogo

I feel like Kawakubo would appreciate all the stages in a jellyfish woman’s life, even one who just hatched.

That dog thing from Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

No orifices.

PLEASE NOTE: What follows are comics that come out this week… and a couple that came out last week if you weren’t paying very close attention. Jog is better at this than me!


Ding Dong Circus: So long have I waited to get my hands on this proper collection of Sasaki Maki’s late ‘60s, early ‘70s work! Sold out from Breakdown Press, always nabbed off convention tables before I can make the rounds. Ding Dong collects the best of his comics from seminal manga publication Garo, working combinations of drawing and pop symbolism through a lineage that can be traced through Tadanori Yokoo, Usamaru Furuya, and beyond. Sometimes cold, sometimes goofy, definitely surreal dispatches from the turbulent soil of postwar Japan. I believe most is non-narrative. Edited and translated by Ryan Holmberg. Breakdown Press (distributed by Fantagraphics), $26.99.


Father and Son:
Cute 1930s German pantomime comics by E.O. Plauen about a dad getting PISSED. Probably the only book from New York Review Comics that’s intellectually on my level, still feeling like I needed to finish my master’s degree after trying to understand Soft City, sorry everybody, $18.95.

Ravina, the Witch?:
I know Jog wrote about this last week, but I wanted to share: I’m kind of sad for Junko Mizuno’s career at the moment. I’m curious who her audience is right now… she kind of seems stuck between a Hot Topic purgatory and like, a huge D&Q retrospective. I miss the old days, like Life of Momongo (see above), or Pure Trance, or her illustrations for that soapland worker’s diary, when she carried a ton of sci-fi ideas into a comic and the frills came second. I’m sure she’s fine and I’m sure this is fun. Goth is eternal, bankable. Titan, $24.99.

Slasher #1: It’s probably good to have a set of stones on you if you start your press release with “a new psychosexual thriller from the creator of The End of the Fucking World and Revenger,” so I’m imagining this will deliver to some degree. The erotic thriller tends to be neither, but I’m interested in seeing it through a small-press lens. I hope it doesn’t try to bring some snide All-Time irony… 2017 is too real, we’re past that. Alternative Comics, $4.99.

Cerebus in Hell #3:
This cover makes me wild. I’ve been looking at it for 2 days! What in the world. Aardvark-Vanaheim, $4.00.

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Magazine Gag Cartoons, Michelle Urry, and Cartooning for Playboy Thu, 04 May 2017 12:00:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Every history of cartooning —even one as abbreviated as this preamble— begins, compulsively, in a cave. It was, as is universally acknowledged, on cave walls that homo sapiens began scrawling goofy pictures on cave walls before the dawn of history as we know it.  But what we call gag cartooning probably began much later— in the 18th century with the publishing of broadsides, single-sheet publications displaying caricatures or vignettes of moral import, the work of such irrepressible British wags as William Hogarth (1697-1764), James Gillray (1756-1815), and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827).  This custom was perpetuated and refined in weekly and monthly humor magazines in the 19th century, the most conspicuous British contender being Punch (launched in 1841), which inspired many imitators on this side of the Atlantic— Wild Oats, Phunny Phellow, and others, most of which failed after a few issues or months.  Among those that lasted were Puck, Judge, and Life, all introduced in the 1880s.

The cartoons in these magazines fell handily into two categories–political and simply humorous.  Typically, the political cartoons were given the greatest play:  they appeared on the covers (front and back) and sprawled across the double-truck of the center spread.  Other cartoons often honed a political axe or two, but they, and the strictly humorous cartoons, were spotted throughout the magazines amid paragraphs of light-hearted prose meandering doggerel.  Some of the drawings were half-page in size; others, quite small.  Virtually all of these efforts were captioned with several lines of type.  Usually, the captions consisted of dialogue among two or more of the characters depicted in the drawing.  Often the dialogue was itself comedic and self-contained:  the reader didn’t need the picture to understand the joke.  The picture served merely to set the scene.  These are the “multiple speaker captioned cartoons” (the fondly recalled “he-she” cartoons in which He says something; then She responds with something funny).  

By the 1920s, cartoonists were beginning to streamline their comedy.  They had discovered that cartoons were funnier if the humor arose from yoking picture to words in such a way that the one “explained” the other.  And vice versa.  The joke gained comic impact from the “surprise” that was sprung upon the reader when he or she understood the import of the picture or the caption.  The hilarity was further enhanced if only one of the characters in the picture was speaking:  this maneuver effectively heightened the importance of blending picture to words to achieve an economy in expression that increased the “surprise” inherent in the blend— and, hence, the comedy of the joke.  And so emerged the “single speaker captioned cartoon.”

Harold Ross’s New Yorker (which debuted in February 1925) became the foremost exponent of this economy in cartoon humor, and the subsequent success of the magazine changed the nature of gag cartooning forever.  As such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Look began using more and more cartoons, the cartoons were soon exclusively of the “single speaker” type.  In less than a half-dozen years, the venerable “he-she” cartoon disappeared from the face of magazine cartooning.

In the fall of 1933, Esquire was launched, inaugurating the next phase in the evolution of the magazine cartoon:  the full-color full-page cartoon.  Judge and Life had occasionally published a cartoon in color, but Esquire made it a regular practice. (  Collier’s also eventually published cartoons in color but not as full pages.)  At The New Yorker, Harold Ross continued printing cartoons in black-and-white, and when he was urged to consider doing color cartoons, he responded with a typical Ross-ism:  “What’s funny about red?”

During the heyday of magazine cartooning, which lasted, by my calculation, from the 1930s until the 1960s, the major weekly magazines used over 200 cartoons a month.  Adding in such monthly magazines as True and Argosy, the monthly market probably devoured well over 400 cartoons.  When the great general interest weekly magazines folded in the sixties, that enormous market evaporated.  Or, rather, dissipated into scores of special interest magazines.

But two great markets remained (albeit publishing together only about 80 cartoons a month)— The New Yorker and Playboy, the publishing phenomenon of the century’s second half.

Introduced in the closing weeks of 1953, Hugh Hefner’s magazine was a racier, more youth-oriented version of Esquire, which, by then, had become decidedly stodgy.  Although its most sensational aspect was doubtless the liberal use of photographs of young women en deshabille, Playboy also published first-class fiction.  And full-page color cartoons.  Hefner, who had drawn cartoons himself while in college and for a short time thereafter, made gag cartoons a prominent feature of the magazine from the very first.  (Hefner’s career as a cartoonist is rehearsed and illustrated in a book of mine, Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creators, 2014.) Among the early stars on its pages was Jack Cole, whose cartooning genius was established in the 1940s with his creation of Plastic Man, an elastic comic book superhero whose adventures were more tongue-in-cheek than tuschi in tights.  Cole took up watercoloring for rendering his cartoons for Playboy, setting a stunning standard for his colleagues. 

In Harvey Kurtzman’s Little Annie Fanny, for instance, the comic strip surely reached its apogee:  fully painted (not just “colored”), the strip was a lavish (even extravagant) example of the cartoonist’s graphic artistry. With its emphasis on high-quality art in cartoons, Playboy did done more to elevate and refine the visual character of the medium than any other magazine in recent times. All the more reason to mourn the magazine’s 2016 decision to abandon cartoons (along with nipples and pudenda in photos of otherwise nearly naked women).

For a good part of the magazine’s history, its cartoon editor was been Michelle Urry (1939-2006), a Canadian who started out as a dress designer. 

SHE WAS BORN Michelle Dorothy Kaplan on December 28, 1939, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her father was a clothing manufacturer, and Michelle, even after majoring in English at the University of California, set her sights on being a dress designer, opening her own shop in Los Angeles. She left there to try New York but didn’t like it.

“I went to Chicago to visit a friend after having sold my boutique to move to New York to work on Seventh Avenue,” Urry told me.  “I’d never been to New York before, and I hated it.  After Los Angeles, New York seemed—.  I had long hair and I wore pale powder blues and oranges and lots of rings on my fingers, and here there were women with haircuts all clipped very crisply, walking very fast on the street.  You couldn’t own a car in New York City— cost a fortune to own a car.  And everything was so dirty and so hard to get done, and everything little thing— you had to learn a whole new vocabulary.  People were rude.  And Seventh Avenue was full of these gorgeous women with voices like mccaws— squawk!  Bloomingdale’s was amazing, just amazing.  It was too much for me.  I wasn’t used to it, and I didn’t like it at all. 

“I went to visit a friend in Chicago,” she continued, “and I fell in love with Chicago.  If you don’t know what Chicago is, you have no idea what Chicago is.  Stockyards and gangsters.  Instead, it’s a beautiful city on a lake with lovely open skies, very livable, very easy to get around.  So then I needed a new job; I was going to be there.  I didn’t want to work on Seventh Avenue.  There was nothing in Chicago in the design field.  Somebody said, Hugh Hefner’s got Playboy— you’ve got a portfolio.  Why not try there? 

“So I did,” she said.  “And I told them, I’d like to change my career.  I’m as good verbally as I am visually.  Put me someplace and I’ll learn.  So they put me in a department where I composed letters to would-be Bunnies— all those fourteen-year-olds who want to run away from home and become a Bunny.  And I did that for a rather long time, campaigning all the while— because they said if I did that for awhile, they’d find me job as an assistant editor or something.”

She wanted to be an editor.  They did not have any editor jobs open, especially for females.  She continued to protest and got a new assignment—answering phones at the Playboy Mansion [then in Chicago]. Then she went to a party in the Mansion and met Hefner.

“I made him laugh,” she recalled, “and at some point, he said, I’m going to apprentice that girl.  He needed an assistant.  It didn’t occur to me to actually ask him for a job.  He was Hugh Hefner, the great brilliant genius who knew everything.  I would never have dared ask him for a job.  But apparently— since I’d made him laugh— he thought I was funny and might be able to assist him with the cartoons.”

The job, she said in a 1971 interview in the National Observer, came with “some onus”: her predecessor had been one of Hef’s girlfriends and gossip was rampant. But Urry demonstrated a surpassing knack at her task. “The fact that I brought to it an inordinately dirty mind was my own doing,” she said, “—I mean, I don’t think he expected that kind of bonus.”

Hefner had no way of knowing at the time that he was hiring as his assistant one of the world’s great cartooning fans.

However unexpected, Urry’s attitudes and her efficiency yielded a life-time career. Cartoonist Eldon Dedini told me in late 2004 that Urry had told him that she was going to retire; a year later, Dedini said she’d told him Hefner talked her out of it. And so she kept on until she died, in one of those supreme ironies in which fate sometimes deals, of ocular melanoma, a cancer of the eye. That a person who made a living looking at cartoon art would die of an eye ailment is ineffably numious. Some would see it as punishment for a lifetime of looking at naked bodies engaged in sexual rambunctions; others, like me, would say she simply wore her eye out in her devotion to the job and the craft—the art—of cartooning, a noble conclusion to a praise-worthy dedication. She is survived by her second husband, Alan R. Trustman, a screenwriter, and her son, Caleb Urry. Her first husband, Steven Urry, a sculptor, died in 1993. Her legacy, so to speak, can be found in the cartoons of Playboy, one of the last great venues for gag cartooning, the haiku-like art of eliciting laughter with a single drawing and a revealing caption.

Every time I ran into Michelle, she was smiling. Not that we were friends and ran into each other often. Neither is true. I didn’t run into her very often. But every time I did, as I say, she was smiling. Not a broad smile, but a definite, pronounced smile. Nothing tentative about it at all. It was not, exactly, a friendly smile; it wasn’t unfriendly by any means, but it was not the sort of smile a person puts on to greet a friend. It bordered on being a smirk, a smile of secret amusement. But I was not the cause of the amusement. Not directly. I had the feeling that she was smiling at some private joke or some deeply personal appreciation of one of life’s absurd hilarities—like, for instance, the realization that human beings in the usual fornicating position have assumed the posture of a swimming frog. Her smile, or smirk, if that’s what it was, seemed an invitation to join her in being amused by such mental images.

She said she had an “inordinately dirty mind,” and she said it by way of explaining a successful life-long career as cartoon editor of a magazine renowned for publishing the nation’s best naughty cartoons. But she knew, as did the cartoonists she worked with, that the secret of her success was not that she enjoyed a so-called dirty joke. Her success depended upon more than that. When she died at her home in Manhattan on October 15, 2006, she had been Playboy’s cartoon editor for more than 34 years. You don’t survive in the hothouse of cartoonist egos for three-and-a-half decades just because you like jokes about sex. It helps, but it isn’t the whole reason for survival.

She lasted at the job because she did very well what Playboy’s founder and editor, Hugh Hefner, needed her to do: she screened all cartoon submissions, more than a thousand a month she once said, picking a dozen or so of what she thought were the best for Hefner to choose from, and she kept track of cartoonists, handling correspondence with them and coaching new talent and nurturing the old hands. She was both administrator and manager. And cheerleader. Jules Feiffer had it exactly right when he told Douglas Martin at the New York Times that Michelle Urry was “mother superior to cartoonists.” She famously held poker parties for cartoonists at her loft and Christmas parties for them at Playboy’s New York offices. She liked cartoonists, and she cared for them.

When I had my fling at magazine cartooning in the late 1970s, I was surprised, pleasantly, to learn that the cartoon editor of the nation’s preeminent men’s magazine was a woman. In a publication whose most visible raison d’etre was affording male readers an unimpeded view of barenekkidwimmin, it was refreshing to find that a major editorial position was held by a woman. It was symbolic: it meant women liked sex, too. It was more than symbolic. We don’t know if Urry liked sex any more (or less) than the rest of us, but we do know that she enjoyed laughing about it, and that, undoubtedly, influenced the attitude of Playboy’s cartoons.

The girls in Playboy’s cartoons are invariably depicted as having fun with their sexual cohorts. Playboy cartoons do not leer at sexy women in the manner of Army Laughs and an armada of Humorama digest-sized magazines in the 1950s and before. The women in Playboy cartoons are not sex objects: they are sexual partners who delight in a romp in the hay as much as the men they romp with. It’s the attitude, a very modern attitude, and Urry fostered it. She may not have made the final selection—that, she was always quick to say, was Hef’s role—but she culled out the good stuff for him, and in the good stuff, women enjoyed sex. Sex was fun for everyone.

As I sent cartoons around to other men’s magazines, I learned that many of the cartoon editors were women. At first, I was delighted by this seeming sea change in American attitudes about sex. And then I realized that the sea wasn’t changing at all. It was the same old sexist economic tide, running, as always, against women. And in this case, it also attested to the nearly absent esteem for cartoons at the low-budget imitators of Playboy. Women would work for less money than men, and since picking cartoons wasn’t all that important in magazines of salacious gynecological color photographs, women, usually the low-paid secretary to the editor, got to pick the cartoons—or screened them for their boss’s final selection.

I don’t know about Urry’s salary, but I suspect it was a good deal better than the average secretary’s: Hefner, after all, was a frustrated cartoonist—and, by all accounts, one of the best cartoon editors, capable of giving insightful and comedically crucial advice to cartoonists and demanding that extra chuckle—and he surely held cartoons and his magazine’s cartoonists in the highest regard. He would scarcely scrimp on his cartoon screener’s pay (even though Urry’s route to her exalted position had started at a secretary’s desk).

What follows are excerpts from an convivial conversation I had with Michelle Urry in July 1996 at her New York office at Playboy Enterprises.  My only other visit to a Playboy premises had been in the fall of 1958, when, as a campus cartoonist attending a college journalism convention in Chicago, I had played hooky one afternoon to take some of my cartoons to the magazine’s headquarters, then at 232 East Ohio Street. 

The building was one of those shotgun structures— narrow across the frontage but burrowing deep into the lot beyond.  I walked into the first floor reception area, stated my business to a striking-looking blonde lady at the desk, and was directed to an elevator that would take me to the fourth floor.  The elevator stopped at the second and third floors, and each time the door opened, I was treated to another blonde vision at a reception desk. 

When I told the blonde at the fourth floor desk my errand, she summoned someone by phone.  Another blonde appeared, looked over my drawings, and then asked me to wait.  I did.  She returned shortly and escorted me to the office of Jerry White, one of two assistants to art director Arthur Paul.  White (dark-haired, bearded) looked at my drawings, made sympathetic sounds, and told me to keep at it because they were looking for younger cartoonists who could bring to the magazine a somewhat less jaded view than might be found in the work of such mature cartoonists as Gardner Rea.  I remembered he mentioned Rea specifically.  I left with my portfolio intact, my sales record unblemished.  (Due to the press of other adventures, I didn’t try again for two decades; my sales record remains entirely virginal.) 

My 1996 visit to the New York Playboy nerve center was, as I said, much more engrossing than my 1958 pilgrimage to the Chicago mecca.  I saw no blondes this time.  But the interview almost didn’t happen.

At the time, I was producing an article for every issue of Jud Hurd’s quarterly journal about cartooning, Cartoonist PROfiles, and Hurd had set up the interview to coincide with one of my periodic visits to New York. But the interview was very nearly cancelled when, a couple weeks before the visit, I was making final arrangements with Urry’s secretary and remarked innocently about how the article would serve to tell potential contributors what they needed to know in order to contribute to Playboy. Then—suddenly—silence. No response. No comment on the other end of the line.

Next thing I knew, Urry was on the phone, cancelling the interview because, she explained, the last thing she wanted was more unsolicited contributions being sent in from multitudes of unknown persons. So I, caught completely unaware, back-peddled right away and said, Well, okay—instead of encouraging submissions, we’ll DIScourage them. On that basis, she consented, somewhat reluctantly I thought, to the interview. I also said I’d let her read the whole article when I finished, and she could make corrections, additions or subtractions, as she chose.

She then imposed another condition: once I’d finished with the tape of the interview, I was to send it to her. She wanted the physical evidence, the only irrefutable evidence of our encounter—her words in her own voice. Cloak and dagger stuff. So what would prevent me from having a copy made of the tape for my own lascivious purposes later? Dunno. But she wanted the tape.

My only other contact with Urry was several years later when Little Annie Fanny was, briefly, revived by Bill Schorr and Ray Lago, with lettering by Don Wimmer (who is now doing the syndicated comic strip, Rose Is Rose). I interviewed Schorr and Lago at great length and then, at lesser length, Urry. When the piece was published in The Comics Journal, she phoned me, aflame with rage because the reproductions of a couple Annie pages didn’t include credits to Playboy. I pointed out that the Journal‘s practice in those halcyon days of print media was to clump all credits together on the last page of the magazine, but I don’t think she was much happier. And I didn’t ask her if she still had the incriminating tape of our interview.

One other oddity that emerged during our 1996 interview (albeit of a much lesser order of seriousness): she refused to let me photograph her, saying she had a cold and her eyes were all puffy. Simple vanity, doubtless. (I almost typed “simple female vanity.” And maybe I should have.) For the published article, we used a “stock” photograph that she subsequently sent me, the one you can see here. 

My impression, then and subsequently, was that Urry’s seeming paranoia was probably caused, inadvertently, by Hefner. Over their long working relationship, she learned what he wanted and what he disliked. He probably had a distinct aversion to what in the political realm are called “leaks”—revelations of inner workings by those on the inside. He had been scorched by scandal over the years, usually accused of doing things he didn’t do. The content of the magazine and Hefner’s life style invited the most lascivious speculation.

Probably Urry had been burned, too, in interviews early in her career: she didn’t give many for most of her tenure. So she was more than ordinarily cautious about what she might say for publication. Moreover, her professional posture tended to be self-effacing. In the realm of Playboy, she was unequivocally an invisible presence: Hefner’s name went up in lights over the magazine’s cartoon reprint collections. I also suspect she was a little uncomfortable whenever she was in a public setting in which strangers might assume that since she was cartoon editor for Playboy, she had to embody in her personal approach to sex an attitude that was consistent with the magazine’s laissez-faire exuberance.

I could be (and probably am) entirely, categorically, wrong in all of this armchair analysis. I met her only a few times and always in gatherings of cartoonists, most of whom did not know her at all but might aspire to getting published in Playboy. They might assume that she, as the magazine’s nominal cartoon editor, had the power to advance their careers, and she, aware that they might be thinking that, was probably more reticent than she might otherwise be, hoping to forestall conversations that would get awkward as they edged up to her selecting someone’s cartoons for publication.

She didn’t, after all, make the final determination about which cartoons the magazine published. Hefner did (although he admitted to Martin Douglas that Urry occasionally persuaded him to use a cartoon that he had at first rejected). Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Urry avoided most such gatherings of unknown cartoonists for something akin to the reason I’ve just offered. But, then again, I could be dead wrong. I might be simply projecting an attitude I might have in similar circumstances.

Whatever the reason, Urry wanted the tape of our conversation. And after I’d transcribed it, I sent it to her. In reviewing the article before publication, Urry had tinkered with a few word choices, but made no substantive changes. I’d already cleaned up the syntax, removing sentence fragments and false starts. A few weeks after our visit, she wrote me: “I appreciate the tender handling and the ease and elegance of your interview style.” Which I quote here by way of demonstrating that the interview that follows contains nothing she would object to.

By the time of our interview, Urry was one of the nation’s longest-tenured cartoon editors. She had watched the field closely for years and had much to say that is probably still of interest to magazine gag cartoonists (what abysmal few remain) as well as students of the medium. We talked about cartooning, Playboy, and the state of the art, among other things, as we’ll see anon. Her office in Playboy’s New York headquarters was around the corner and down the hall from a spacious two-story reception vault in which spiraling staircases aspired to offices on the second level. Urry’s sanctum was arranged for informality and comfort.  No desk.  Just a round table in the center of the room, bookshelves on the wall to the left of the entry, a couch against the opposite wall.  Piles of paper and cartoonists’ submissions on the table and the couch.  I took a chair next to the couch; Urry sat on the couch.  She smiled.

Harvey:  Hefner drew cartoons himself when he was in college.

Urry: We all drew cartoons until we saw what the real stuff looked like.  I used to draw Angelfood McSpade.  I loved drawing from stuff.  I used to draw all the Dogpatch characters.  And the Shmoos.  As a kid, I used to draw Shmoos.

Harvey: I learned that they were phallic symbols, two or three years ago. [Confidential magazine published an expose, November 1953, and I’d run across it researching a piece on Li’l Abner’s Al Capp, which piece will be seen in the next print edition of The Comics Journal.]

Urry: No.  Are they?

Harvey: Well, there’s some fairly persuasive evidence—. So you were a comics fan to begin with.

Urry:  Absolutely.  In fact, I did some minor cartooning:  I won poster contests when I was a kid.   I loved drawing the Sunday funnies. I had the biggest collection of comic books of any boy or girl, I think, in a radius of fifty blocks in my hometown.  I took some art history.  But I thought I was going to do dress design.  It never occurred to me that I could actually get a job— I mean, who thinks they’re going to get a job as a cartoon editor?  What a wonderful job. 

Harvey:  Well, is it?

Urry:  Oh, it’s truly wonderful.  After doing it for many years, I still feel that it’s the most interesting— it’s hard for me to believe that I’m still a fan.  And I am.  I think I’m still fresh and open to new work.  I still look forward to opening stuff on the off-chance that there’ll be some brilliant new talent there— though there rarely is, and we have no room to publish mid-range cartoonists.  And I giggle.  I really do.  I don’t know how cartoonists keep on doing it over and over again.  But cartoonists are special.  They aren’t like other people.  Oh, sure— they come in all sizes, shapes, and breeds.  But gag cartoonists particularly are a special breed, and they’re dying out.  I mean, it’s not a good way to make a living any more.

Harvey:  In fact, Lee Lorenz, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, said in a recent issue of Cartoonist PROfiles: gag cartooning has been melting since the early sixties.  People are now clinging to what used to be a glacier and is now about the size of an ice cube.

Urry:  Well, he ought to know:  he’s a gag cartoonist.

Harvey:  And he’s dead right.  You look around.  There aren’t many places for gag cartoonists to sell to any more.

Urry:  There aren’t that many big magazines publishing.  And of the people that do publish cartoons, many have specific ideas about what they want— specialties— and that lets out a lot of people.  But the really smart guys saw it coming a long time ago and started branching off into children’s books, into teaching, into other things as well as painting and seriously showing their work.  Many of them play jazz.  Donald Reilly spends at least sixty percent of his time playing jazz.    Some cartoonists were practical about their lifestyles— many others were dreamers.

Harvey:  Something that is fascinating about Playboy is its editorial moderation.  That’s the best word for it.  Take, for instance, that little creature that decorates the page of jokes–the Femlin.  Almost any other magazine would have turned that charming creation into a regular comic character that would appear everywhere ad infinitum.

Urry:  That’s true.

Harvey:  And so the Femlin seems to me to be symbolic of a kind of decorum, a certain restraint that somebody is exercising, saying, We’re going to use this character in one context— this context— and only in this context.  Why are you smiling?

Urry:  I have a letter in here that says [rummaging through stack of papers on the couch beside her]—   He’s upset because I turned down a request to use a cartoon of ours on a T-shirt.

Harvey:  [Laughs.]  A cartoon on a T-shirt?

Urry:  He wanted the rights.  To use it on a T-shirt.  He says in here, they’re interested in pursuing this design that Playboy holds the rights to.  And I called him up in Hawaii, and I said, You don’t seem to understand:  that isn’t a design; it’s a cartoon.  [Harvey laughs.]  That’s exactly what you’re talking about.  It’s an integrated idea.  It’s not something you can pluck out of one situation and stick into another, willy nilly.  And we are not going to start regarding our cartoons as designs.  They may turn into something else.  But we don’t think of them like that.  They’re editorial material.  And we paid a lot of money for editorial material.  We don’t think of it as a design process.  People want to glom onto one thing and slap it onto another entity.  It doesn’t work.  We try to integrate the entire magazine, which is one of the things that cartoons help to do.  The cartoons deal with the lifestyle and the fun and the propensity for good living that Americans wish to have, at least in their fantasies.  American men.  And I think the cartoonists promulgate that; they’re one more editorial addition to an integral package. 

Reading Playboy, you’re supposed to put your cares on hold for a little while.  Pick up something that’s a source of ideas as well as entertainment.  Hefner wanted the magazine representative of both the Right and the Left— straight down the middle.  But he wanted everything and anything that he deemed tasteful and interesting and informative and joyous to be able to be shown in it.  And we’ve tried to do that in the cartoons too, except that we don’t do cartoons for women— although a lot of women love our cartoons.

Harvey:  At one time, I think that the final decision about publishing cartoons was made by Hefner.  Cartoons came through you, but he—

Urry:  — is involved and makes the final selection. 

Harvey:  So you choose a bunch of stuff that you think is suitable.

Urry:  Yes.  I pre-edit and he chooses from those pieces.  He looks at them and says, I like this— I don’t like that.  I’ve worked with him for so many years.  We’ve had marathon meetings that would go on for days.  He gets very intense.  And he can spend forty minutes on four lines of something.  He is meticulous about just the right form of expression.  And he has a great stomach for cartoons— a fine capacity for spending a lot of time in cartoonland.  I’ve found the barriers to whimsy very easy to cross, too.  You just sort of step through a mental notch, and there you are in a land where desert island scenes are normal.  People write notes and put them into bottles and send them off on the ocean.  And all life is a variation on that theme.  You can do a thousand desert island jokes.  That takes a peculiar kind of access— your own childlike nature, perhaps— and I know Hef has it, too, so that sometimes the conversations we have may seem utterly bizarre to other people, but I think if you don’t have that, you can’t really talk about cartoons.  It’s a delightful place to work.  It’s nice to be able to regress to childhood.  I still get thrilled when I see Disney movies— where Bambi’s batting eyelashes and you see a flower unfolding before you.  I still love all that remarkable animation.

Harvey:  It’s interesting that so many of the cartoonists who appear in Playboy I don’t see anywhere else.  I suppose the arrangement is something like an exclusive contract, isn’t it— with some of the regulars?

Urry:  It doesn’t have to be exclusive just so long as they give us first look at the kind of stuff we do.  And they can’t work for any competitor.  The New Yorker is not a competitor.  The New Yorker, I think, has the same arrangement.  Basically, it’s a first look contract.

Harvey:  But they don’t appear anywhere else?  I think Rowland Wilson used to do advertising for some insurance company— great, wonderful full-page color drawings.  But I never see his stuff anywhere else except Playboy. 

Urry:  Because he’s an animator now.

Harvey:  Ahhh, that’s where he works.  What about Erich Sokol?

Urry:  He’s a political cartoonist in Austria.

Harvey:  I love his stuff.  I love Eldon Dedini’s stuff.  He’s been around a long time.

Urry:  Dedini just does that, but that’s enough.  He submits material to us and to The New Yorker.  He has a lot of other things that he likes to do.  He paints.  So he gets to do what he wants.  He could have done anything he wanted.  He could have taught if he wanted to.  He could have done children’s books.  He could have done all kinds of things.  He occasionally does advertising jobs, but he could do a lot more if he really wanted to be more ambitious. 

Harvey:  Did you have anything to do with Harvey Kurtzman?

Urry:  I did.  For a little while, I was the intermediary between Hef and Harvey.  Harvey and Hef worked out their deal together originally, and they drove each other a little crazy— and whoever was functioning as their intermediary.  Harvey would submit his ideas, and Hef would send it back with comments, and—

Harvey:  They strike me as both being very exacting people.

Urry:  They were— very specific.  And they were very different, each in his own way.  But I think they loved each other for a long time, and then Harvey became a little more conservative.  Perhaps he played it a little safer than he really should have.  While he was doing Mad magazine, he was as zany as could be.  And he started doing his own thing, and then he got into Hef’s turf. 

Harvey was interested in satire and wit, political and social commentary.  So Harvey started doing political and sexual humor.  And Hef knew a lot about the sex part, and Harvey didn’t.  Harvey was married and had kids.  Hef had lots of ideas, and Harvey would go to the Mansion and look at the hot tubs.  There was a slight discrepancy between life styles.  Harvey lived in a suburban house.  And Hef was constantly pushing him.  Harvey would say— There’s too much sex; and Hef would say— More sex.  Harvey would say, Less sex.  Hef would say, More sex.  And they’d go back and forth.  But Harvey— Hef found him early and they bonded, and nobody could really get in the middle of that.

Harvey:  How about Will Elder?

Urry:  He went along.  He contributed his talent and did what Harvey wanted.  I’m not saying he wasn’t brilliant and didn’t contribute to that strip.  He was and he did.  That strip cost a bloody fortune!  All the people working on it— all the inkers.  They always had three or four or five people on it.  Always.  It was like producing a small book every time they would do it.  Brilliant work.  Absolutely brilliant.

Harvey:  Too bad it’s not there anymore.

Urry:  Too bad Harvey’s not here anymore.  People say, Why don’t you get somebody else to keep it going?  That’s like saying, Get somebody else to do Pogo.

Harvey:  I’ve always wondered about Michael Berry.  Why wasn’t he ever in Playboy?  At the time Playboy started, he was maybe The Cartoonist drawing glamor girl cartoons in magazines.  He submitted stuff to Playboy very early on but was never printed in Playboy.  He never made it.  And I think he never made it because he’d had too much exposure elsewhere, and Hefner was looking for new talent for his stable of cartoonists. 

Urry:  It’s true that when Hef started, he wanted people who would help him fine-tune the magazine.  He wanted to have an inner circle of people who would do our cartoons and wouldn’t do the same cartoons for other magazines, or the same kind of cartoons.  I don’t think he was concerned about overexposure elsewhere at the time.  I think he just wanted the people he thought were the best.  And I think he did an extraordinary job considering that he was in the midwest and not in New York, shaking hands.  When I moved to New York from Chicago, I was very surprised at how few people thought we were accessible.  They knew of us, they knew the magazine, but we weren’t around.  We weren’t on the Wednesday round.  The guys were used to coming in on Wednesday rounds and seeing the cartoon editors of the magazines they sold to; it made them a little uncomfortable to send in by mail.  They didn’t know Hef because they hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him.  Gahan Wilson got involved because he went to the Art Institute in Chicago.  So did Sokol.

Harvey:  They were in Chicago so they could go down and say hello.

Urry:  Exactly right.  But most of the people who didn’t actually make the trek out to the midwest to meet him didn’t know for a long time that he was the cartoon editor.  And he was acutely aware of who was publishing in Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s and all of the good magazines that were publishing cartoons.  Esquire.  And he wanted to use really elegant lines.  Now, overexposed–I don’t think is a word I ever heard used here.  Ever.  So it may have been an aspect of taste.  I’m always surprised, actually, at how unrelated some of the cartoon material we get is to our actual needs.

Harvey:  Unrelated to?

Urry:  Unrelated to— I mean, this is what the magazine looks like [she holds up a copy with a beautiful woman on the cover].  What do you expect to find inside?  It says “Entertainment for Men” right there on the cover.  That’s the first clue.  And the second clue is that it’s boys with toys, it’s men interested in sports, it’s macho feelings, it’s a dynamic that’s different from other magazines.  It doesn’t say what The New Yorker is trying to say and doesn’t try to appeal to their people. 

And we get stuff that is so weirdly far removed from what we use that I think people don’t read the magazine.  A lot of amateur cartoonists don’t pay enough attention to the editorial content.  If they really want to do cartoons for any magazine, they have to acquaint themselves with it.  And most of them will not.  And that immediately tells me something:  they’re not smart enough to work for us.  I mean, that sounds strange, but many of them cannot see the range of material that we publish.  Lord knows, we’re eclectic!  We appeal to eighteen-year-olds and sixty-five-year-olds.  So we have a wide range of subjects we’re willing to deal with and that we wish to deal with— the human condition, the male condition, is what we’re interested in.  In all of its panoply— except that it has to be under the heading “Entertainment for Men.”  That means that we don’t do cartoons about people taking out the garbage.  Those are domestic, and we’re not interested in reminding people of that.  Not very entertaining for the average man. 

But I get stuff that is so unrelated.  And then there’s that whole new fad of anti-cartoon drawing I call it.  Sort of the Beavis-Butthead type of ugly cartooning.  We get a lot of that.

Harvey:  I was going to ask you about that— the importance of the artwork itself.  I mean, when you see a cartoon, what’s the first thing that you see?  The drawing.

Urry:  Absolutely.  I mean, it doesn’t matter what the gag is.  The gag could be brilliant.  If the drawing isn’t up to snuff— or it isn’t our kind of drawing— then it won’t work.  We don’t do the little googly fellows that the Europeans do; they like little googly men— huge noses, clunky feet, and large ears, that sort of thing.  We have never done that.  Mr. Hefner has always loved somewhat realistically rendered cartoons.  But within that range, there’s still a lot of cartoony cartoons that we publish.  And they just have to be adapted.  They can’t be faddish; they can’t be a reaction against because we are not doing that.  We also like whimsy.

Harvey:  Oh, yes— particularly in the back of the book.  I don’t think there’s any question that the artwork in Playboy’s cartoons is at the top of the scale.  It’s beautiful stuff.  Especially the color work.

Urry:  There aren’t any other magazines doing color.  Who else does it?  The New Yorker doesn’t do it.  Nobody does full-page color cartoons.  Just us. 

Harvey:  Some of the other men’s magazines used to use color cartoons full page.

Urry:  They did, they did.  But I don’t know how many do now.  Some of our competitors did do it.  But they won’t pay enough for it so they don’t get top notch artists.

Harvey:  My sense of it is that most of them have almost stopped using cartoons altogether.  They’re pretty strictly skin magazines, and that’s it.

Urry:  That’s because it’s expensive to do a full range of editorial content so that a man can pick up a magazine and find ten different things in it for his entertainment.

Harvey:  When Esquire published a 25th anniversary collection of its cartoons, in the introduction, Arnold Gingrich, the publisher, said that they thought that The New Yorker had “a near monopoly on sophisticated whimsy,” so they set out, he said, “to get a corner on something known (if only to ourselves) as Whamsy.”  [Urry laughs.]  Do you see Playboy occupying some position in the history of the development of magazine cartooning— apart from the elegance of the color work?

Urry:  That’s too philosophical, and it would be too self-serving for me to even make an attempt at answering that.  I certainly think that we’ve brought it along.  I think that we took the old men in the wing chairs from The New Yorker and up-dated them, putting them on motorcycles.  And certainly we’ve contemporized that whole range.  We really like love and relationships and how men relate to each other and to women.  I think we’ve pushed that along a great deal.  So many of the other men’s magazines think that vulgarity is the way to go, and we haven’t.  We still make room for charm and wit.  We print stuff that nobody else does about sex.  But I think we stop short of the vulgar or pornographic— stop way short of it.  Some of the women’s magazines try to do this— about men and women’s relationships.  But they do it from a female viewpoint.

Harvey:  For me, the ultimate Playboy cartoonist was Jack Cole.  You could almost use Jack Cole as a touchstone for what Playboy does for cartooning.  He came out of comic books, where he drew in black-and-white, with a hard line that would contain the color.  And then he drew a comic strip— that was later, after he started in Playboy— but that was the way he drew.  Hard edge outline.  Then all of sudden, he started doing wash drawings–still black and white; that was the first stuff like that I saw of his–before he started in Playboy.  He did them for Humorama magazines, little digest-sized magazines of cartoons and jokes.  You’d see some of his stuff in these— signed “Jake.”  And then Playboy came along, and you started seeing his cartoons in fabulous watercolor.  Well, he’s a touchstone because he went from black-and-white line-drawing into painting.

Urry:  I must tell you that Mr. Hefner clearly wished to take cartooning in that direction.  Wanted exactly that.  And did it very well, I think.

Harvey:  I would say that— you don’t want to be self-serving— but I’m looking at these original cartoons in full color, framed, hanging here on your wall, and I would say that Playboy has done more to make cartooning a fine art— in purely visual terms, not necessarily the coordination of word and picture— than any other magazine.

Urry:  Well, we promote the art simply by giving up so many pages to absolute nothing but wonderful, glorious color that nobody else is doing.  The New Yorker does terrific covers and always has.  Just beauty for beauty’s sake, and many of them were not cartoons.  But even their cartoon covers were really beautiful.  Now they want to make a point, which changes the dynamic.  I’m a great admirer of all their experiments.  I think what they’re trying to do is very interesting.  But I still think that we have a desire to do the most glorious cartoons around.  [Picks up current issue, cover-dated August 1996.]  We have a new cartoonist in this issue.  We’ve just started using him. 

Harvey:  Yes, Killian.  I was going to ask you about him.

Urry:  He’s the first new guy we’ve used in some time.  In color.  He worked very hard to get to do this.  And how many people are going to be able to use him?

Harvey:  That’s right.  He didn’t send that cartoon in just like that, though, did he?  One shot?  Bullseye.

Urry:  No, he didn’t.

Harvey:  He sent in drawings and samples and so on—

Urry:  Many drawings and many samples.  And he came to visit me.

Harvey:  And you realized at some point that he drew in a way that you liked.

Urry:  Yes.  He drew very well.  There was one cartoon that gave me an indication that he might be able to do this.  I picked out one style as opposed to all the other stuff that he did— which was too weird and too off-the-wall— and I said, If you can give me more stuff that looks like this, I’d be willing to consider it.  Then you have to get the subject matter right.  And he worked very, very hard.  We’ve had many conferences— sometimes through an interpreter; he doesn’t speak English very well. 

Harvey:  You say he came over to the United States to meet you?

Urry:  He didn’t come over to expressly to meet me— well, he may have; I don’t know.  But he came— he had a friend who called me up and said, Would you see this cartoonist?  He draws very well, and he has some things.  And he sent a batch of material over.  And then he came in with someone.  And we talked and he thought he understood.  And he submitted stuff, and it wasn’t right, and we talked again, and he thought he understood.  And he submitted more stuff, and it still wasn’t right, and we talked some more, and he thought he understood.  And I almost gave up.  He’s very successful in his own country.  We get people from everywhere— what used to be behind the Iron Curtain and everywhere.  Most of them don’t speak the language well enough.  They also don’t understand the culture well enough to lampoon it.  And Americans like very different cartoons than Europeans like.  Currently, I have a cartoonist who’s never heard of leaving milk and cookies for Santa for Christmas.

Harvey:  An American cartoonist?

Urry: Yes, a man who’s been working for us for a very long time— completely bypassed the whole milk-and-cookies phenomenon.  Couldn’t understand it.

Harvey:  He must not have children.

Urry:  No— he has children!  I don’t understand.  I got the letter this morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  [Reads from letter:] “I asked myself, Milk-and-cookies, milk-and-cookies— what’s funny about the caption?  An hour later, I was having lunch with a dear friend of mine, I told her about the strange caption and was surprised when I saw a smile.  What’s with the milk-and-cookies?  She told me.  I felt sure she was kidding!  Through all my boyhood Christmases, Christmases with my nieces and nephews, my friends’ Christmas, my two kids, my neighbor’s kids— I never once heard, as I remember, about the treats for Santa on Christmas Eve.”  Can you imagine that.

Harvey:  Wow.

Urry:  I mean— this is an American-born person.  You can imagine how hard it is for somebody totally out of the venue to be able to understand anything.  It’s the slang— all sorts of things.  And Americans like belly laughs.  They don’t want non-captioned cartoons.  They don’t want to see cartoons that you have to study the picture for subtleties of expression that merely make you smile or nod inwardly.  They want to laugh out loud.

Harvey:  Do all of the cartoons that you eventually publish come from the cartoonists?  Do they generate their own ideas?  Or do you provide the gag?

Urry:  We used to buy gags all the time.  We don’t any more.  It’s too much trouble for too little reward.  Too much slippage ’twixt the cup and the lip.  First of all, we’re getting good enough gag ideas from the people that we use, at least most of the time.  Every once in a while a gag comes along that so clearly belongs to another cartoonist that we ask politely if we can buy that gag and give it to somebody else.  But it rarely ever happens now.  It used to happen when I first came to work here. 

Harvey:  Presumably some of the cartoonists are using gag writers, but what you’re buying from them is the whole thing.

Urry:  Yes, the whole thing.  Some of them may be using gag writers; I don’t know.  As long as I don’t know about it, it’s not happening.  But we did used to buy gags and farm them out to people.  And now we just don’t.

Harvey:  The New Yorker— in contrast— used to write many of the gags for their cartoonists.

Urry:  They did— all the time.

Harvey:  It astonished me that George Price didn’t do his own cartoons!  He had such an individual sense of humor.  I thought, This man cannot be using someone else’s gags.

Urry:  But you see, if you analyze his cartoons knowing that, what you can see is that people understood the style of his humor.  And then they wrote for that.  And they have so many great writers that hang around all the time— or they used to have.  I don’t know if they have the space for writers to hang around anymore.  But the writers used to love writing captions, to test themselves for some sort of recreation.  And it was a way of augmenting the writers’ income.  They paid well for gag ideas.  They still, I think, use some gags that they send to certain cartoonists.  But that’s the way they got some of the wonderful art they publish. 

Harvey:  I deliberately read through the last two issues of Playboy, looking for a particular characteristic.  I’ve done the same with most magazines that use cartoons.  And I’m often disappointed in my search.  The disappointment arises from the fact that so many cartoons could be verbal jokes.  They don’t really need a picture.  And there is only one cartoon in the last two issues of Playboy that is a simply verbal joke. 

Urry:  Oh, what a wonderful compliment. 

Harvey:  Are you conscious of doing that?  When you’re looking through piles of cartoons, are you conscious of whether this gag needs the drawing— whether the drawing contributes to the gag or is just identifying the speaker?

Urry:  If it’s just talking heads, the cartoon is not nearly as interesting.  Yes, I like something where the drawing lends something wonderful to it.  Sometimes the trick is to monkey around with the caption enough so that it really reflects exactly the thing that is making the drawing so funny.  The words are there, but the words aren’t always the music, so to speak.  You want the music too.

Harvey:  I am reminded of a famous story about James Joyce who was working on Finnegans Wake, and somebody asked him how it was going, and he said he had been working on one sentence all day.  And the guy said, What?  One sentence!  And Joyce said, Yes, I’ve got all the words— I just haven’t decided which order to put them in.

Urry:  That’s the way I feel.  I just think this caption— “Tarzan and Jane get no privacy in the jungle”— we could probably have worked on for another month because it’s not quite right.  It’s more or less right.  It’s funny enough.  And here’s another instance where knowing the culture is important.  In order to understand the joke here, you have to know what the Tarzan and Jane thing is— a kind of Disneyesque version of it.  It’s a multitude of a thousand different little pieces—

Harvey:  Right.  There’s a lot of cultural baggage in the Tarzan and Jane routine.

Urry:  Yes.  Even a phrase like “my personal best” [from another cartoon in the same issue on the eve of the Olympics]— you have to know that it means something very particular for an American.  When people from Europe send us stuff, you can see by the awkwardness in the phrasing of captions that they’ve got the idea, they just can’t hone it into something acceptable, something small and intact that does exactly the right thing.  And we tend not to like long captions.  We will run them, if they are needed.  Americans like to laugh.  They like to laugh a lot.  They don’t want to just smile.  They don’t want it to hit a place in their intellect that goes, Hmm, that’s interesting.  That’s neat.  That’s charming.  They want to laugh.  They want to laugh and pin the cartoon above their desk so their friends can laugh, too.

Harvey:  They’re not into Steinberg.  You can look all over the page and see dozens of different little things.  It’s an amusement.  A divertissement.  It’s not a laugh.  It’s an amusement.  And my sense of it is that it’s more in the European tradition.

Urry:  It is.  Very intellectual.  Very cool stuff.  Appeals to people enormously if they like the abstraction of it.  But it isn’t an American tradition.  And then we have the newspaper syndicated things.  Some of them are getting less funny.  And they’re poorly drawn.  I don’t understand how that has happened.  Newspaper comics was my first exposure.  Before I was old enough to have an allowance that allowed me to go out and buy comic books, I devoured the funnies.  You think about how Al Capp drew.  Brilliant, brilliant artist.  There were thousands of people who could draw brilliantly.

Harvey:  Capp said one time that the best black-and-white illustration being done in this country was being done in newspapers.  That was when he and Milton Caniff and Alex Raymond were still drawing.  Hal Foster.  High quality illustration.  But there’s good work still being done in cartoon style.  Take this cartoon by Charles Rodrigues. 

Urry: That’s a very sophisticated work.

Harvey:  Very well drawn.

Urry:  Yes, he can really draw.  It’s tough to draw like that.  I grew up on a very English kind of humor— the Belles of St. Trinian’s, all of those little Ronald Searle drawings.  But then I was exposed to Jules Feiffer and Shel Silverstein.  Remember Shel Silverstein as Playboy did him?

Harvey:  Oh, yeah.

Urry:  He’s doing children’s books— some of the most brilliant and scathing comments on hippies and males and females of that generation.  He could do just about anything.  But he made a lot of money doing children’s books.  He was very smart.  He did this other stuff–he liked the life style. 

Harvey:  By way of winding this up, let me ask you if there is something you wanted to say that I haven’t given you a chance to say? 

Urry:  Well, as you know, we’re not looking for anything.  I don’t want to start getting fifty or sixty more batches of cartoons every day.  But I guess the thing that I would like to tell cartoonists mostly is that they really have to use their heads when they send cartoons to magazines if they want their work to be accepted.  Otherwise, they’re just wasting time and money.  It costs a lot of money to package something up and put backing in it and so on— especially for new cartoonists.  And it costs a lot of psychic energy to get ready to do that, to focus on it.  And I don’t think they focus on it enough.  I think they simply don’t look enough at the cartoons and subject matter in the magazines to which they are submitting work.  Take six issues of any magazine, analyze the subject matter of the cartoons— quite apart from the pictures; that will give you a basis for the editorial content. 

Also, no cartoon editor who gets a large volume of submissions can take time out for personal critiques unless the subject is close to home and the cartoon editor is really thinking about using that person.  They simply can’t do critiques.  It’s not because the cartoonists are lousy or because their work is disgusting— some of it is, but some of it is good.  It’s because you’d go crazy trying to do that— you’d spend all your time on it.  And cartoon editors don’t have time.  There are too many things to do— granting permissions, for instance.  We get endless requests for cartoon reprints.  Each one of those must be separately dealt with.  The money must be settled for the cartoonist.  We have to research copyright permission.

Harvey:  Do the Playboy cartoonists own their cartoons?

Urry: They own the physical artwork.  So they can sell them.  And we get requests from people outside who want to buy originals.  We broker that for them.  But we own the copyright, so they can’t reprint without our permission.  And we let people reprint them for books and magazines; we give the money to the cartoonists— we don’t keep it ourselves.  And the amount of time we put in on even one reprint is amazing.

If you’re new to the game, you have to decide if you can do something better.  And if you can draw well enough.  We get lots of funny ideas from people who can’t draw well; they don’t study anatomy.  That’s the first thing that anybody has to do:  they have to study anatomy for all of their lives.  You can’t minimize anatomy until you’re an anatomical genius.  Body language.  Good cartoonists always get the bodies right, the proportions right.  It’s simplistic but it’s true.  Do I sound like a fanatic?

Harvey:  No, not at all.  But what about the shrinking gag cartoon market?  It seems that if you want to be a gag cartoonist these days, you have to have a whole batch of things about wind surfing, and you send them to the wind surfing magazine, but then you can’t sell them anywhere else after that— at least, not as a batch of wind surfing cartoons.  You’d have to trickle them out, one to a batch of other subjects—

Urry:  That’s right.  And that’s terrible for those guys.  But there are a lot of specialty magazines.  They’re what’s taken the place of the general interest magazines.  Those need research.  You actually have to know a little about the subject matter.  Or else you have to be able to be funny about anything.  But it’s true:  it’s very, very hard for these artists.  A lot of people make decent money by selling small amounts to small specialty markets.  Some people make a living selling legal cartoons; others, medical cartoons.  A lot of the cartoonists teach, as I said before— or art direct or work on computer animation. 

There’s a guy who we use all the time who sells furniture.  That’s what he does to make a steady living.  And he cartoons purely as an avocation.  He hits enough of the time.  He’s terribly funny.  But he wouldn’t be able to make a living just as a cartoonist.  He does a lot of very male cartoons.  I’m not sure if this guy gets married and has kids that he’s going to be able to do it any more.  Because as soon as people get married, they stop doing “hanging out” cartoons.  [Harvey laughs.]  I’m not kidding. 

Harvey:  It’s probably an occupational hazard.  And speaking of hazards, we’ve come to the end of this one.  Thank you for giving up the time for this conversation. 

She escorted me down the hall to the reception area, and as we walked along, I noticed framed Vargas originals on the wall. Urry, noticing my straying eye, remarked that Vargas’ poses got more and more extreme as time went on—“He forgot where the tits went,” she finished.

Ten years after this 1996 interview, Michelle Urry died. Ten years after that, Playboy stopped running cartoons — at the same time that it stopped running photographs of fully naked women. (They were actually naked, but were draped or posed in such a coy way that neither nipples nor pudenda showed.) A year after that, with the March 2017 issue, naked women were back, but cartoons weren’t.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/3/17 – Gesticulating Toward Authority) Tue, 02 May 2017 12:00:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I get the impression that Guido Crepax, Italian comics icon, is best remembered for the qualities of juxtaposition present in his work; this is to say, how panels work in sequence, and how these sequences disrupt the linearity of time, fusing reality-as-observed and imagination/dreams into a fuller reality. In an interview with Matthias Wivel from #275 of the Journal print edition, the French alt-comics giant David B., an avowed Crepax admirer, cited the “coherent life” of Crepax’s character Valentina as the artist’s great innovation: “That is to say, you get to see her daily life — extraordinary adventures happen to her, but sometimes there are quite everyday stories — and at the same time, in the same story, he shows the dreams that he replaces with her sexual fantasies, and I find that he does this admirably well.” This is all true, but it’s worth remembering that Crepax could draw some *furiously* agonized, emotive figures when necessary, rolling out the raw impact of drawing. These pages are from the 1990 Catalan Communications translation of Crepax’s 1987 album Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, though many of the words on the page (i.e. the exclamations of pain, contrary to the complete statements) are from the Italian original. In fact, you may notice the English substitutions lack the thin horizontal scratches Crepax applies to his initial lettering (see “AGHR…..AHAH” at the top of page 2 vs. “MY HEAD… MY HEAD…..”) – such is Crepax’s dedication to achieving a total narrative effect from all combined visual elements, even when his layouts are less dense and his flow less experimental than his most readily praised works…


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



My Brother’s Husband Vol. 1: We’ve got Japanese artists up here this week, and the prime mover is Gengoroh Tagame, still best known in translation for his erotic work, though here he fronts an ongoing mainline seinen drama about the husband of a recently-dead Japanese expat traveling to meet the twin brother of the man he loved, and the twin coming to grips with both the situation of his brother’s life and his own domestic circumstances. A Pantheon hardcover, interestingly – I think this is the longtime lit comics imprint’s virgin foray into serial manga (the translator is longtime Tagame collaborator Anne Ishii), and at 352 pages it should equate to the first two of three current Japanese volumes. Preview; $24.95.

Ravina the Witch?: Speaking of mangaka more frequently seen in translation from ‘alternative’ publishers than otherwise, here is a new book from Junko Mizuno, who in recent years has published a good amount of work with Last Gasp. This 2014 work, however, is not a traditionally paneled comic, but a heavily-illustrated prose work in full color; it’s also a French-language original, which is potentially why Titan is the entity presenting it in English, as an 8.7″ x 12.1″ hardcover album of 48 pages. The scenario of this Euro’comic’ pick of the week sees an orphan girl gaining magic powers and using them for her own delight, though her troubles, as we might guess from the artist’s prior works, are not over; $24.99.


Purgatory: A few years back, Profanity Hill/Teenage Dinosaur released a 66-page issue no. “Sick Sick Six” of The Adventures of Tad Martin, previously a Caliber series dating back to the early ’90s. The work of artist Casanova Frankenstein, the book captured some attention for its intensity of purpose as unsparing memoir. Now, Fantagraphics releases a small-format (4″ x 6″), 92-page account of adolescence — “A Rejects Story” reads the subtitle — wherein the lead character “doggedly refuses to be atomized into the mass.” Stronger than the average teen life comic, I bet. NPR profile; $12.00.

Do It: Also unlikely to cuddle and coddle is this 100-page debut graphic novel by Riana Møller, an artist in the games industry, who, as a teenager, concocted plans for a school shooting. This violence did not occur, however, and the book seeks to describe how she found “an exit from the cycle of pain and delusion that had consumed her.” What samples I can find of the art suggest a thick-colored approach with some psychedelic elements, but this work really is an unknown to me. One Peace Books publishes; $18.95.

Violence Valley (&) Slasher #1: Two smaller items, both (I’m pretty sure) from Floating World Books, as distributed to comic book stores by Alternative Comics. I say I’m “pretty sure” because Violence Valley has been out for about five years now; it’s a 7.5″ square comic from Jesse McManus, 56 pages which Frank Santoro described as “one of those wordless Jim Woodring-type freakout acid trip sequences where the little tyke winds up inside the bowels of the dog somehow and finds inner peace or something – or so you think, and then it’s all blood and guts and more amazingly articulated brush lines that delineate said guts that look more like psychedelic patterns than guts.” Slasher, meanwhile, is a new offering – the latest color series from Charles Forsman, whose The End of the Fucking World now has a live-action Netflix/Channel 4 television adaptation shooting. The story seems to be about an unusual pair of people who mix sex and violence to fulfill their desires; $5.99 (Violence), $4.99 (Slasher).

Face (&) Invisible Emmie: And here’s a pair on the topic of persona. Face is a graphic novel by the Spanish-born, London-based artist Rosario Villajos, an 88-page “magical” autobiography about “identity, the escape of oneself towards love and the fight to fit in and be ‘normal’ in our society,” per the publisher, Fanfare/Ponent Mon (good to see them releasing some stuff). Invisible Emmie, in contrast, is a high-profile HarperCollins YA release in hardcover and paperback from the strip cartoonist Terri Libenson (of The Pajama Diaries). Two middle school girls of contrasting dispositions find themselves drawn together by an errant note in a situation the publisher wastes no time comparing to the Raina Telgemeier oeuvre; $14.95 (Face), $22.99 (Emmie hardcover), $10.99 (Emmie paperback).

Black Flame: Everyone Knows This is Nowhere: This past Monday marked the 77th birthday of Alex Niño, a longtime purveyor of ‘mainstream’ comics heavy with elaborate swerves of cartoon marks, like crystals or fungi or wisps of smoke emanating without restraint, impossibly, from both human bodies and their surroundings; nonetheless, these mutations do surrender enough clarity that his forms seem delicate, even vulnerable, like webs easily split. He is still active, and this week in fact brings a new 96-page graphic novel he’s worked on with the artist Kelley Jones (I don’t know what each of them does) and writer Peter B. Gillis, who co-created the “Black Flame” supernatural dark fantasy concept as a backup feature to the old First Comics series Starslayer. UPDATE: Per Rodrigo Baeza, in a 2013 Facebook post(!), Gillis specifies that the book is drawn half-and-half by Jones & Niño. This one comes from Devils Due/1First Comics; $19.99.

The Little Mermaid: Being the latest release from Metaphrog, the Scotland-based duo known for their cute/ominous allegorical stories of the character Louis. Recently, though, they’ve been publishing adaptations of folk tales, such as in 2015’s The Red Shoes and Other Tales and this Hans Christian Andersen rendition, published as an 80-page hardcover by NBM’s youth comics label Papercutz; $13.99.

Black Bolt #1: Marvel — its assorted publicity blunders, dubious business practices and executive horse whispers notwithstanding — continues to add prominent progressive voices from outside comics to its creative ranks. This time it’s novelist and social critic Saladin Ahmed detailing the exploits of the Lee/Kirby Inhumans character who cannot speak, lest incredible destruction come loose. Christian Ward (recently of Image’s ODY-C with writer Matt Fraction) is the artist. Preview; $3.99.

Hero-A-Go-Go!: Finally, I note that TwoMorrows has not one, not two, but three print-format magazines-on-comics out this week, the most interesting of which to me would be Draw! #33 for its process talk with Bill Sienkiewicz. And, in addition to all that, there’s also a 272-page color softcover from writer Michael Eury (an Amazing Heroes contributor, founder of Back Issue! magazine, and editor for numerous comics publishers in the ’80s and ’90s), who “celebrates the camp craze of the Swinging Sixties” as it relates to comics and, I expect, the wider interests of nerd culture; $36.95.

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Risograph Workbook 5 Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:00:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Epoxy Cartoon Magazine – John Pham


I’ve been talking to some of the pioneers of risograph printing recently, uncovering fascinating stories about how this technology entered the scene and how it continues to influence it. Some say that it all began with Mickey Z, so I spoke to her first and then kept following the clues.

Check out the previous Risograph Workbooks: Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey ZRisograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing; Risograph Workbook 3: Ryan Cecil Smith; Risograph Workbook 4: Ryan Sands/Youth In Decline.

I’m continuing this series now with a conversation with the great John Pham (check out his Epoxy comics HERE!)


Santoro: Tell me about your current copier set up – what machine(s) you’re using. From your Instagram I can only tell so much… Do you have the copier at home? In the studio?

Pham: I currently have an MZ990, a dual drum setup. My first machine was a GR3750 which I frankensteined with a GR3770’s master-making assembly (my Riso tech helped me do it) to get the max 600dpi output. I sold that one and only use the MZ now, which I keep in my garage.

Tell me about this legend I’ve heard: you created your own brushes for your process? You may be giving away trade secrets with this answer – however, I’m curious: Can you walk a layperson through your process of “Photoshop and the risograph talking to each other” or at least the process that Ben Jones refers to in this interview?

It’s pretty simple and 100% super boring. I basically examined scans of a lot of my wet-media-type pen and ink drawings and tried to reproduce them faithfully as Photoshop brushes. I have sort of an insane comics process in that I can only take sips and fragments of work time whenever I can because of my ridiculous day job and personal life. I do a lot of the work digitally wherever I may be. So it’s important to me to have Photoshop tools that still feel like I’m drawing using a rapidograph or hunt 102 dip pen on bristol board … and now you’re falling asleep.

As for how I get the color mixing and “airbrush” effects, it’s all a combination of adjustment layers (which I learned from working in animation); a p-shop airbrush set to “dissolve” (which I learned from Dan Zettwoch who I think might’ve gotten it from Chris Ware) and converting all my solid colors to diffusion dithered bitmaps. It gets a little involved and would probably require its own sort of tutorial lesson, but that’s essentially it. And of course these are just tools and techniques anyone can learn – what you do with it is something else entirely.

When I got my first GR it really was much more of a challenge getting my files and my Riso to talk to each other, and I think that’s what Ben’s referring to. This was about 6 years ago and I had to do a lot of experimenting and trial and error to figure it out. The solution ended up involving connecting my RIP (even getting the RIP was a challenge) with an older version of my Mac’s OS (which had to be run through an emulator), with the appropriate postscript driver file. All really exciting stuff! But it worked, and that’s the workflow I ended up using for the first issue of SCUZZI and Epoxy 4. Anyone out there still awake?

Epoxy 4 – John Pham

What is your risograph origin story? I assume you were interested in printmaking before you discovered risograph printing.

I think the first Riso printed zine or comic I ever saw was something Ryan Cecil Smith did (maybe an old issue of SF Comics?) I was definitely intrigued by the quality of the image and the use of spot colors. This might’ve been around 2010 or so. I’d messed around with colored xerography (back when old copy machines had colored toner options) and screen printing, but those were either not DIY enough (in the case of colored toner xeroxes; you had to find the rare machine that had them) or too DIY (screenprinting was too labor intensive for me to do anything but prints or covers). I found a machine on craigslist in 2011, purchased it, and over the course of the next few years figured out a lot of the technical stuff before I was confident enough to use it to make Epoxy 4 in 2014.

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

I’ve got a lot respect for the other Riso printers out there, folks like Mickey Z, Colour Code, George Wietor and Sarah McNeil. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a really sloppy and brutal printer. Printing my books is one of the last steps in my process and at that point I’m usually pretty sleep deprived and grouchy. So I kinda just shove the books through the printer and try to troubleshoot as I go along. This sort of urgency probably creates its own aesthetic but I’m definitely not as knowledgeable or precise as a lot of the printers mentioned above. I think the differences between riso printers and other kinds of printers is pretty negligible, but they’re likely to be more inclined to focus on holistic book making than, say, just prints and covers.

Epoxy 5 – John Pham

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. And often dealing with those printers was difficult. The riso printers I have engaged are not faceless sales reps on the phone who have no experience making comics. So riso printers and their enthusiasm for the materials has reinvigorated the small press scene – which has drifted into “book publishing” (like giant offset press books) – and I was hoping you could speak to that. How has it changed from even 2008 or so?

I can speak from my experience as an artist who happens to print and self-distribute his own books (essentially taking projects from cradle to grave). Getting a risograph really reinvigorated my process and interest in making comics work after a long break. Around the time I had purchased my first machine I was undergoing a slow moving career crisis: it had been a couple of years since Sublife Vol. 2 and I had taken a bit of a detour to do some painting as well as exploring job options in animation. Risography got me thinking about committing to that special misery of creating comics again. I was excited about the tactile prospect of actually making the books as well as experimenting with format and making dumb little inserts and stuff.

And it’s been pret-tay, pret-tay good so far. The process has been gratifying and I think I’ve sold around 3,500 copies of Epoxy 4, which is wild according to my meager standards. All without any real promotion on my end, and mostly through word of mouth or the occasional online review (for which I am super grateful!). So yes, please spread the word, it literally helps me pay my mortgage.

Can you talk about how the riso mimics ways you used to work which may have been harder to achieve? For example I can think of some earlier “spot color” work you may have done that was not riso. Can you talk about how that earlier work was different, beyond simply the process used? When I did spot color work in the past it was like pulling teeth to explain it – but now I can use risograph technology to explain spot color work of the past…

I’d always been interested in a lot of old, pre-digital printing processes, especially stuff that wasn’t necessarily cmyk-based. Suiho Tagawa’s Norakuro was definitely an influence in terms of aesthetic, along with any number of other assorted post-war to ’80s era manga. I just like the look of a color laid down purely as what it’s meant to be vs. a combo of colors pretending to be something it’s not. And when I do mix spot colors, I like being able to discern their component parts separately. It’s something I’ve been trying to achieve via the offset process for a while (I’m still figuring it out) but have been able to get to it a little better using the Risograph.

Interior pages of Epoxy Cartoon Magazine – John Pham

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/26/17 – Here be lions.) Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless. At 48 pages, it is also much shorter, and perhaps more manageable; created for a millennial program marking the city of Brussels’ status as “the designated European capital of culture,” as a short text in the back relates, the comic follows a sort of roving medieval celebration, with a skull-headed actor bringing death to all revelers in his path (to the delight of surrounding celebrants) until he encounters a pregnant woman evoking the Virgin Mary whose body provokes a nuclear/angelic reaction with the death figure’s sword, plunging him into despair as the city around them blossoms into a new, surreal, phallic, pagan state.

If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see that several of the panels have what I’ll call ‘superimposed’ figures, though I don’t really know the proper term of art here. Echo images, depicting the same figures in different positions, or sometimes different locations, as if gesturing toward a forgotten and overwritten history; certainly, this foregrounds the manufacture of the prints themselves as a human effort, along with the fact that a thick white border surrounds the inky pages, as if they’ve been laid on a clean table for perusal in an exhibition. Coché does not always publish work in this style – his 2008 book Hic Sunt Leones divides oil paintings into four-panel arrangements, sometimes accompanied or overlapped by word forms in various languages. All of this work, however, seems to speak of a history in disarray, a chaotic body of interpretation harboring the glimmer of what we once assumed was divinity…


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.



Crickets #6: Man, what’s with all the magazine-sized comic books lately? No complaints from me, though – my Ignatz collection desires for the company of peers. Also, I would never turn down a comic this good; we’ve got a real Best of 2017 contender here, In My Opinion, as Sammy Harkham unveils his 48-page latest, most of it comprised of chapter 4 (of a projected 6) of “Blood of the Virgin”, his fictional and altogether absorbing account of low-budget horror movie-making in the American 1970s. There’s plenty of trouble in store for harried editor-cum-writer-turned-director Seymour, rapidly nearing a personal meltdown… if you’ve seen Hang Loose, the short film Harkham wrote and directed with Patrick Brice, you’ve caught a glimpse of the self-destructive masculinity which permeates these events. Plus: a short adaptation of poetry by Francis Edward Ledwidge (from the 2014 First Second anthology Above the Dreamless Dead), several letters, and a hidden message of sedition. Published by the Commonwealth Comics Company, and distributed to comic book stores by Fantagraphics; $8.00.

One! Hundred! Demons!: A reissue, yes, but special attention should nonetheless be paid to this 2002 release from Lynda Barry, a fervently-admired (and perhaps not so widely-read) book that seemed like the grand testament to her talent prior to the welcome swelling of interest subsequent to 2008’s What It Is and the artist’s educational pursuits. Now published by Drawn and Quarterly, the 224-page color work lays out over a dozen vignettes of “the life moments that haunt you, form you and stay with you.” A 9.5″ x 6″ hardcover. Samples; $21.95.


Hostage: This is another D&Q release, one that’s had an author’s tour announcement on the publisher’s front page for long enough that I mistakenly thought the full title was “Hostage on Tour” for a while, i.e. until five minutes ago. I still kinda like it. But anyway, this 436-page(!) blue, white and black hardcover sees artist Guy Delisle depict the 1997 kidnapping and confinement of a Doctors Without Borders admin in the Caucasus region, primarily (it seems) to communicate the experience of being imprisoned and alone for prolonged periods. Released in French in 2016, this marks a turn of Delisle’s nonfiction focus away from periods in his life, while presumably maintaining some sense of the specificity of time and place that has brought him renown, even if that place is a small room. Preview; $29.95.

Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special: By god, I remember buying the first issue of Street Angel with its salmon cover and the SLG logo in 2004 – at one point the story obliquely name-checked Wilkes-Barre, PA, the city where I went to college, and I wondered who the fuck Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca were. I’m still wondering about Maruca, come to think of it, but Rugg has long since emerged as an expert practitioner of personalized action comics and a keen student of historical funnybook textures – qualities well-known today through the works of artists like Tom Scioli, Michel Fiffe and Ed Piskor. Now, Jesse Sanchez — the titular Street Angel, homeless teen martial arts master — finds herself in the front of Previews courtesy of Image, which publishes this 40-page color special as an 8.5″ x 12″ hardcover album. Samples; $19.99.

Splitting Image 80-Page Giant: I remember buying this too. Or, rather, my beloved late great aunt (who’d been reading comics since the Harold H. Knerr Katzenjammer Kids in the Great Depression and helped teach me to read via Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse reprints) bought it for me I was 11 years old and crazy about the new Image superheroes like Shadowhawk and the Savage Dragon. Written and drawn by Don Simpson, Splitting Image was a two-issue parody of the foundation of Image, published by Image itself, lampooning both the personalities of the Image founders as well as the early Image comics; I can still recall Dale Keown’s Pitt, ‘after a long night of battling evil corporations,’ searching the urban jungle for a public restroom… a Pitt Stop, y’see. Also included in this squarebound commemorative reprint (Image being 25 years old this year) is the entirety of the 1994 normalman-Megaton Man one-shot, in which comedy superhero-or-thereabout characters devised by Simpson and Image’s Jim Valentino clash in a scenario concocted by the creators with help from Bob Burden (Flaming Carrot Comics) and Larry Marder (Tales of the Beanworld); $7.99.

Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 (of 4) (&) Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #1 (of 4): Two beginnings for new miniseries by artists known for severe detail. Dead Orbit is written and drawn by James Stokoe, of self-started projects like Wonton Soup and Orc Stain, but maybe better-known now for another auteurist licensed comic, Godzilla: The Half-Century War. This one may bring back memories of some of the odder, seemingly hands-off movie tie-in comics Dark Horse used to release, like the time Jim Woodring & Justin Green wrote an Aliens comic for F. Solano López (Aliens: Kidnapped, 1997-98). Britannia is a Valiant comic, albeit not set in the Valiant superhero world (or, not as far as I can tell); it’s the work-for-hire creation of writer Peter Milligan and artist Juan José Ryp, the latter known for a Moebius/Geof Darrow-informed approach emphasizing noise and fury waist-high in pits of gore, when not lunging into the outright pornographic. That said, 2016’s original Britannia miniseries (the concept concerns the investigations of a detective-of-sorts in the days of the Roman Empire) saw Ryp unusually restrained, almost in the manner of an audition for handsome bande dessinée historical adventure work – some rather muted colors by Jordie Bellaire further calmed the look. I think the whole team returns for this sequel, so we’ll see what happens (UPDATE: no, there’s a different colorist – Frankie D’Armata); $3.99 (each).

Her Bark and Her Bite: Don’t know much about this. A Top Shelf/IDW release, it’s apparently the debut graphic novel by James Albon, a British illustrator. A woman becomes resentful of her boyfriend’s affection for his new dog in a 72-page story set in a world of high-society glamor. Lots of colored pencils and some un-paneled layouts going by the samples, kind of a less-controlled Eleanor Davis, to hazard a meager comparison; $9.99.

The Book of Chaos: Not ringing a bell either, though I have a little context – it’s a new Humanoids release from writer Xavier Dorison, who collaborated with the artist Christophe Bec on a previous Humanoids series titled Sanctum, as well as with Mathieu Lauffray on Long John Silver, which Cinebook has in English. In French, he recently wrote a Thorgal album for that series’ co-creator Grzegorz Rosinski. This one is an earlier (if overlapping) work with Lauffray, a 2000-14 supernatural adventure series titled Prophet in French, presumably re-titled to reduce confusion with SF comics around here. Probably makes for a lush production, 9.4″ x 12.6″ in hardcover, 216 color pages; $39.95.

Star Hawks Vol. 1 (of 3) (&) Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48: A pair of interesting newspaper strip reprints here. Star Hawks came relatively late to the world of new adventure strips, launching in 1977 from creators Ron Goulart & Gil Kane as a unique double-sized two-tier daily; Goulart was succeeded by a number of writers, including Archie Goodwin, while Kane received some assistance from Ernie Colón and Howard Chaykin. IDW collects 320 pages of the SF project at one installment per page, so as to best serve its unusual visual approach. Dan Dunn is also an IDW release, also presented at one strip per page, but that’s because it’s vol. 10 in the Library of American Comics Essentials sub-series, which specializes in printing noteworthy (but maybe not *extremely* salable) selections from out of a feature’s wider run in just that format. The work of artist Norman W. Marsh, Dan Dunn originated as “Detective Dan”, a 1933 original tabloid comic, anticipating the all-new contents of comic books a few years later, starting with New Fun. By the end of ’33, though, Dan Dunn had become a proper newspaper strip, serving up crime-smashing drama not entirely unlike that of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which had debuted in ’31. At 344 pages, the IDW book presents the first year of dailies; $39.99 (Star Hawks), $29.99 (Dan Dunn).

W.B. DuBay’s The Rook Archives Vol. 1: Of the 1970s mainstream comic book heroes, I don’t think very many people recall the Rook today, but for a while the time-traveling gunslinger character epitomized the Warren b&w magazines’ status as a counter-mainstream to the smaller, color superhero comics; while still ostensibly a horror anthology, Eerie in particular began to feature recurring characters and long serials less beholden to horror genre specifics than informed by a sense of brooding fatalism. The Rook eventually became a freestanding anthology magazine of the same title, but these 128 pages — a Dark Horse hardcover presentation at 8″ x 10″ — originate in 1977-78 issues of Eerie, the stories written by Bill DuBay (also an editor at Warren) with contributions by Budd Lewis and Jim Stenstrum. Luis Bermejo, one of many Spanish talents active in the American b&w mags at the time, is the dedicated artist here; $19.99.

The Draw of Sport: We conclude this week with a Fantagraphics release devoted to the art of sports cartooning, a practice familiar to anyone who’s researched the origins of newspaper comic strips, not not nearly so well-represented in contemporary print. Murray Olderman has been writing and drawing about sports since the 1940s, and this 7″ x 9″, 200-page hardcover offers 150 illustrations of athletes active during his career, with accompanying personal takes related in prose; $24.99.

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Lichtenstein and the Art of Letters Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:00:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> When I started reading Marvel comic books in the 1970s, I was baffled by the lettering. While it didn’t appear to be typeset, the dialogue, narration, and sound effects looked too perfect to be done solely by hand. I was sure that the letterers must have had some help — maybe a weird mechanical device controlled their fingers as they worked. How else, I thought, could they form the thousands of words in a comic book’s balloons and caption boxes with such precision and consistency? Years later I learned — with some amazement, and a little disappointment — that no strange machines were involved. Letterers typically used a plastic “Ames Guide,” T-square, and pencil to create reference lines for words inked freehand. Like the artists who drew a comic’s pictures, letterers worked on pages much larger than the book’s printed size. When the original art was photographed and reduced during production, guide lines and other imperfections vanished, leaving behind only the letterer’s calligraphy.

I especially loved the lettering in Marvel’s early superhero comics. Often done by Artie Simek or Sam Rosen, it looked much stronger than other companies’ text, giving the characters’ already bombastic pronouncements an even greater sense of drama:

Letters by Artie Simek, from Daredevil #21 (1966). © Marvel Comics.

Yet I had the impression that, of all the people involved in comic-book production, letterers were considered the least important, not only by fans, but by the companies who hired them. In some of the story credits he wrote, Marvel’s Stan Lee would praise the art (and his own scripts) as “daring” or “vigorous” and then make a joke about the letterer, whose name always appeared last: “lettered with a soggy penpoint by S. Rosen.”

Letters by Sam Rosen, from the title-page credits for Daredevil #13 (1965). © Marvel Comics.

After reading many credits like this — and noticing that letterers regularly went unnamed in other companies’ comics — I got the message. In the comic-book production hierarchy, lettering took last place.

Though histories of comics focus on artists, writers, and editors, letterers played a crucial role in developing and expanding the aesthetic that defines the classic American comic book: oversized sound effects, text in capital letters, copious words in bold, sentences ending in ellipses or large exclamation points (seldom in the mundane, undramatic period). The power of the best mid- and late-century comics comes not only from the artist’s bold visuals, but from the writer’s prose as rendered in a strong, precise, and easily-readable hand.

Letters by Sam Rosen, from Daredevil #58 (1969). © Marvel Comics.

Despite Lee’s occasional jokes about letterers, he understood their significance and preferred to hire those whose force and clarity matched the drawings of the artists they worked with, innovators such as Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, and Steve Ditko. And it was often letterers, not artists, who created a comic book’s all-important title logo, a design element almost as significant as a superhero’s costume.

1968 ad for Beware the Creeper #4, with ad lettering and cover lettering by Gaspar Saladino. © DC Comics.


I didn’t see Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book paintings until long after I read my first comic, but I sensed he was drawn to the same amped-up visuals that I was. While comics could be pure kitsch, like other pulp fictions they could express emotions in moving, if at times blunt ways. Wanting to access this energy, Lichtenstein appropriated comic-book panels he described as “highly charged,” an emotional response partially generated by the imagery’s connection to his life. Having served in Europe during World War II, he was fascinated by war comics, and the sources for his “crying women” paintings, critics have claimed, often play out his troubled relationship with his then-wife; when a comic-book source featured a brunette, Lichtenstein often turned her blonde, like his wife. As Adam Gopnik rightly notes, Lichtenstein’s changes made his “images more like the comics than the comics were themselves.”(1) The artist thickened objects’ black outlines, brightened colors, and eliminated details, acts that clarified and exaggerated the originals’ graphic sensibility. But, puzzlingly, he took the opposite approach to lettering, making it less comics-like. He often ignored the originals’ careful spacing, placement, and design, all of which gave comic-book text a near machine-like accuracy and authority. Though Lichtenstein’s visuals magnify comics’ “highly charged” pop-art vibe, his lettering frequently weakens it, obscuring traces of his works’ pulp origin. To put it another way, Lichtenstein’s lettering sometimes looks kind of sloppy.

The artist has cast such a shadow that nowadays, when many people think of classic American comics imagery, they imagine, not actual comic-book panels, but Lichtenstein’s paintings and their countless pop-culture parodies. The same holds true, it seems, for comic-book publishers. Rather than dig into the company’s vast archive of romance comics for inspiration, the 2015 cover for Marvel’s Secret Love looked to Lichtenstein, especially for its lettering:

Art by David Nakayama. © Marvel Comics.

When I think about Lichtenstein’s art, I can’t help but recall what’s missing: the carefully composed, artful lettering on display in his comic-book sources. Perhaps Lichtenstein should have recruited master letterers such as Marvel’s Simek or Rosen.


The comics Lichtenstein appropriated were created with an aesthetic and through a printing process that emphasized the primacy of black lines. A panel’s objects were defined by strong black ink outlines that easily distinguished them from the color background, an instant legibility also shared by the text’s black all-capital letters. This mutual reliance on black marks establishes an important visual connection between a comic’s words and its pictures, a relationship apparent in this Gaspar Saladino-lettered and Irv Novick-drawn panel from a 1962 war comic:

© DC Comics.

Lichtenstein revised this image for Whaam! (1963), his best-known work:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

In Lichtenstein’s painting, unlike its source, the imagery’s thick black line work threatens to overwhelm the narrow, almost wobbly narration lettering. Even at the painting’s large size, the thin text skews the original comic’s word-image balance: the proportions are off. When compared to bold contours of the jet and the explosion, Whaam!’s narration, in which letters crowd together, reads like a tentative italics, the wrong format for such stark imagery. And while all of the source’s lines of text are parallel to the panel’s rectangular border, some of Lichtenstein’s lines (especially “through the sky”) slant toward the bottom right. The yellow text-box’s placement, which differs considerably from its source’s location, also makes for an odd design element: its left side merges into the jet’s tail, awkwardly blending diegetic and non-diegetic features. All of these questionable choices work against the blunt clarity central to post-war comic-book lettering design. When designing Whaam!, maybe Lichtenstein should have studied Saladino more carefully.(2)

In the first panel of his triptych As I Opened Fire (1964), Lichtenstein magnifies the pop power of this Jerry Grandenetti image from All American Men of War:

© DC Comics.

He intensifies its stylization by eliminating the plane’s nickname and the engine’s exhaust pipes:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Flat grey areas become silver, red, and blue; the propeller blades transform into a bold circular design; and the sound effect and its exclamation point swell. But, as in Whaam!, the artist seems less invested in his narration lettering, deemphasizing its compositional role by shrinking the letters’ proportions as well as their rectangular caption box, which has too much empty space on the right side. The reedy text looks like that found in comics produced by companies whose standards — and production budgets — were far lower than Marvel’s and DC’s. Needing to crank out page after page in order to eke out a living, these publishers’ letterers sometimes rushed through their work.

Though most of the era’s comics were hand-lettered, a few companies deviated from this practice to save money. Charlton’s Drag-Strip Hotrodders #16 (1967) accurately credits the text to “A. Machine.”

Like many of his Pop-Art peers, Lichtenstein sought to bring a machine-like industrial aesthetic to fine art, exaggerating the look generated by the limitations of commercial printing. But if he desired a “technical, almost engineering” appearance, as he often said, lettering like that in Whaam! and As I Opened Fire defeats it. Despite being hand-lettered, the source text looks far more engineered than Lichtenstein’s words. In this detail from the drawing I Know . . . Brad (1963), Lichtenstein makes what any comic-book editor would consider several mistakes, flaws that bring unwanted attention to the lettering. The “I” starts too close to the balloon’s edge and the spacing between “I” and “Know” and “Feel” and “Brad” is awkwardly inconsistent.

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

The distance between the “M” and the balloon’s left side and the gap between the exclamation point and the balloon’s right side differ dramatically. The top oval of the thought balloon’s tail pushes near the “RA” in “BRAD” and the lettering slopes to the lower right, out of alignment with the image’s horizontal lines, such as those that form the blinds and window sash.

By the end of the second line of text, there’s more trouble. Lichtenstein fails to leave room for the exclamation point, the most important punctuation mark in American comics history: its excessive use signifies comic’s pulpy, commercial theatricality. Having backed himself into a corner, he compromises by cramming in a tiny exclamation point that’s incongruous with the character’s melodramatic expression. (Here, as in Whaam! and elsewhere, some of his letterforms use strange proportions: the “R,” for example, features an over-sized enclosed space and a very short leg.)

Lichtenstein’s 1963 Image Duplicator: A study in awkwardly spaced, crowded lettering and inconsistent letterforms (the “G” is particularly unattractive). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Invested primarily in the meanings of Lichtenstein’s text rather than its design, art critics frequently discuss the complex semantic interaction between his paintings’ words and imagery but pay little attention to the lettering itself, especially to the kinds of problems affecting works like 1964’s I Know . . . Brad:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein followed by his source.

The last period in the ellipsis crowds the balloon’s right border (compare this spacing with that before the “M”) and the thought balloon’s bubble tail comes closer to the text than a skilled letterer would place it. He messes with another consistency rule when he creates the peculiar spacing before and after the apostrophe (it’s closer to”Brad” than to “feel”), a flaw especially apparent when compared to the original’s conventional layout.

Viewing Brattata (1962) along with its Russ Heath-illustrated source reveals more of the issues that affect both versions of I Know . . . Brad:

Lichtenstein followed by Heath. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein; © DC Comics.

In Lichtenstein, lines of narration crowd each other and creep over the panel border on the left edge, but not the right. The dialogue threatens the word balloon’s boundaries, the spacing between words changes randomly, and the thin sound effect looks bland, lacking the original’s cartoony style. Based on a George Tuska Buck Rodgers comic-strip panel, Lichtenstein’s Emeralds (1961)

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

also suffers from placement and punctuation glitches (e.g., the undersized apostrophes), along with erratic shifts in the letters’ heights. His shaky, inconsistent text often looks like it was created without the help of guide lines.

The source followed by Lichtenstein.

Because Lichtenstein needlessly increased the gap between “those” and “emeralds,” he’s forced, as in I Know . . . Brad (1963), to shove a small exclamation point against the panel’s border. And in contrast to the distance maintained between the other words’ letters, the L, D, and S in “emeralds” nearly run together — did he forgot that bold text is thicker and therefore requires additional space?

Letters by Jean Izzo, from Sgt. Fury #68 (1969). © Marvel Comics.


In the “text and image” aesthetic of comics, words function like pictures, something Lichtenstein, in these works at least, didn’t seem to fully grasp. His lettering frequently feels like an afterthought, and its carelessness weakens his compositions. Part of comics’ pulp power resides not only in the words’ meanings but in their appearance, in the ways that their shapes interact with and echo other elements within a panel and on a page. The design errors that plague Lichtenstein’s work seldom occur in the era’s best produced comics, despite the fact that commercial letterers typically fashioned hundreds of text-filled word balloons and captions boxes per day (it’s this repetition that made them more proficient than Lichtenstein). They worked under the pressure of looming production deadlines and within the limited confines of comic-book production art pages. Given that Lichtenstein operated with large canvasses and more time to plan each detail, it’s surprising that his lettering frequently looks like a rush-job — a problem his paintings’ sizes only further exaggerate.

With its large size and place in museum collections and on gallery walls, the fine art painting invites, even appears to demand, “extended contemplation.” Yet the children’s comic book, at a size smaller than most magazines, calls only for a quick read. Unlike a painting, the mass-produced serial comic also generates its own obsolescence — another issue will always be out soon. It’s ironic, then, that the longer I look at a Simek- or Saladino-lettered comic, the more masterful it becomes. I can’t say the same of most Lichtensteins.

Working against the individualist ethos of abstract impressionism, Lichtenstein wanted to eradicate the artist’s personality from the art. Yet his lettering reveals, in ways that his images do not, the artist’s hand: the hand of a wonky letterer. Comic-book editors assigned art and lettering to different production team members, not only because a division-of-labor model sped up assembly and increased profits, but because the tasks were recognized as distinct skills. Like Lichtenstein, many comic-book artists were strong image makers but weak letterers. Perhaps to avoid Lichtenstein’s lettering difficulties, the Secret Love cover imitates its predecessor’s font but not its erratic layout and cramped spacing:

Lichtenstein-style lettering done better than Lichtenstein. © Marvel Comics.

Knowing the pulp importance of the exclamation point, the letterer employs a stronger, more comic-book-y one than the weedy form Lichtenstein favored.

Detail from Lichtenstein’s It Is . . . With Me (1963) followed by a detail from the source. Note Lichtenstein’s thin exclamation point and the questionable spacing both before and after it. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.


For decades, comic-book fans have bristled at the mention of Roy Lichtenstein. They believe he should have given some credit — and a lot of cash — to the artists whose work he swiped. They resent the fact that our culture celebrates millionaire fine artists, yet ignores low-brow draftsmen who labored in assembly-line obscurity. Lichtenstein’s defenders — his fans — respond to attacks on the artist by invoking “all art is appropriation” as a seemingly critique-proof way to dismiss, and even erase, the skill and originality of the commercial artists who invented and expanded the aesthetic he relied on. Lichtenstein’s achievement, they say, lies in the ways he reimagined disposable mass-produced imagery and made it museum-worthy. They’re right about this, but Lichtenstein’s imagination was curiously selective. He didn’t always see what was happening in his comic-book sources. The original panels deliver a “highly charged” effect precisely because of the semantic and design interplay between boldly drawn black-outlined images and precisely drawn black letters. By concentrating on his sources’ drawings — and not their hand-drawn words — Lichtenstein overlooked much of comic books’ graphic power.

Perhaps it’s time we look carefully at lettering and think about the people who created it. After all, Whaam!, one of the twentieth-century’s most recognizable works of art, takes its title — and much of its impact — from its sound effect lettering. It would be a happy consequence if, despite Lichtenstein’s deficiencies with text, his art helped us to appreciate the countless and frequently anonymous work-for-hire-letterers who did so much to define American Pop Art, whether it hangs on a museum wall or graces a comic-book page.

1. Adam Gopnik,

2. The Grand Comics Database (, the most extensive source for comic-book credits, does not identify the comic’s letterer; it is certainly Gaspar Saladino, one of DC’s most talented and prolific letterers of the era. Please read seminal letterer and historian Todd Klein on Saladino: Full credits for the comics I cite above can be found at

3. In 1965 Stan Lee tried to capitalize on the Pop Art movement’s visibility and legitimacy by referring to Marvel as “Marvel Pop Art Productions.” After fans complained, he quickly reverted to the earlier name.

The ‘Pop Art’ logo appeared on several comic-book covers in 1965; the 1966 column in which Lee announces the reversion. © Marvel Comics.

4. Colorists, too, have not been given their due. For many decades, their names never appeared in comic-book credits. Even after letterers began to receive acknowledgment, colorists still went unnamed.

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, Comic Art, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, Boston Review, GuitarOne, The Believer, and elsewhere.






THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/19/17 – Glyph Reader International) Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:00:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Recently I purchased a copy of Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira, the new Kodansha Comics translation (by Kevin Steinbach) of what’s basically the catalog for a 2016 exposition of tribute art arranged in honor of Katsuhiro Otomo’s receipt of the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. You probably know if you want this already, being a fancy compendium of 79 pinups images of the sort that Epic used to put in the back of the Akira colorized issues, plus Otomo’s own cover illustration. Each of the featured artists also gets a very brief biography, a small bibliography, and, sometimes, a bit of space to write about their “encounter” with Otomo’s work; less than half of the entries, however, provide such thoughts. There are too many well-composed but uninteresting depictions of rubble and motorcycles and Tetsuo’s cape for my liking, but some of the more striking pieces do raise some interesting questions on the deceptively knotty topic of Otomo.

For example, there’s this piece by the Hong Kong manhua artist Li Chi-Tak, who is known in the U.S. exclusively as a name in the credits to a movie: the 1996 Jet Li vehicle Black Mask, which was based on his comics. Otomo’s influence is evident at varied points in Li’s career, and here he presents the only contribution to this project that actually functions ‘as’ a panel from Otomo’s own work, specifically the sequence in Domu where the heroine, a small girl, unfurls the full force of her psychic powers. It’s actually a little too histrionic to fit in with Domu — in a 2008 lecture, the critic and artist Kentaro Takekuma discusses Otomo’s tendency to give background and character lines identical weight, thus affording setting the same prominence as people, which I think encourages a certain reserve to Otomo’s characters, even as they face severe bodily and psychological peril — but at the same time it tidily fits the theory of Otomo’s work espoused by Angoulême art director Stéphan Beaujean in the tribute book’s opening essay: that Otomo defied the “formalism” of manga, in terms of cartoon icons positioned in particular arrangements to suggest manipulations of time, speed, etc., by imbuing “the drawn line itself” with emotion, which I take to mean an emphasis on the qualities of in-panel drawing rather than juxtaposition or page layout. Of all the book’s contributors, Li best suggests this emotion of line as it might function, albeit vivified, in Otomo’s comics.

By contrast, other artists just go their own way. This is also a Domu piece, by Daisuke Igarashi, whose art does not show many outward signs of Otomo’s influence; some of you, though, will recall his series Children of the Sea, released in English by VIZ, and from that you will detect a similar fascination with childhood inquisitiveness and mysterious biological phenomena. This is not an adaptation of any specific image from Otomo’s book, but rather a means of expressing how Otomo’s work coincides with Igarashi’s personal interests. Of course, children in Igarashi’s work can be quite spiky and impulsive, and if you’ve read Domu you know that this quiet scene is soaked with menace – perhaps the girl is only imagining the villain sitting next to her, the whole comic occurring in her head during a slow afternoon at the apartment complex, but the invisible presence is just as likely to persuade some pliable adult to charge her with a box cutter or open fire with a stolen gun. The game is played both ways.

Another innovation with which Takekuma credits Otomo is pressing the issue of ethnicity in Japanese comics. As the translator and education Matt Thorn has suggested, Japanese readers see themselves in the code of icons that form depictions of people in comics: “the stylized characters in manga, with their small jaws, all but nonexistent noses, and famously enormous eyes,” register nonetheless as Japanese. To Takekuma, however, part of Otomo’s project as a young artist was to strip elements of stylization from manga, to accommodate realism by depicting racial characteristics with a “blunt objectivity,” rather than through the prevailing cartoon shorthand. This image by RanXerox creator Tanino Liberatore appears to depict Tetsuo, judging from the mutating arm and blown-back hair, but he does not register to me as Japanese. Liberatore is the only one among the contributors to implicate race in this way, and — while I admit this may not be his intention! — in doing so, he also becomes the only contributor to evoke Otomo’s longstanding theme of power and its abuses; is Tetsuo not exploited, violence done to him under government authority?

It has to be noted that the picture we have of Otomo in the west is very limited, as very little material from his first decade of professional work has been published over here. Noticeably, the Japanese artists involved with the tribute draw from a deeper well of material, with two pieces devoted entirely to a 1976 short story, Highway Star, which can’t even be read illegally in English. One is by Neon Genesis Evangelion character designer and mangaka Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, but above we see the other piece, by Hisashi Eguchi, a very popular illustrator and founder of the now-defunct artistic manga venue Comic Cue, to which Otomo contributed, along with (eventually) the likes of Yuichi Yokoyama. Eguchi is one of few contributors to have actually collaborated with Otomo; he was also character designer on the 1991 anime OVA Roujin Z, which Otomo wrote, and in his accompanying “encounter” text, he describes his relationship to Otomo as that of a kid brother, despite their similarity in age. Eguchi also states his preference for Otomo’s earlier work, declaring it “pure” and likening it to jazz and rakugo comedy – a comparison he may have snatched from Naoki Urasawa, which, if not precisely refuting Takekuma’s theory of Otomo’s realism, does suggest a current of tradition running through his early work.

Eguchi, incidentally, is renowned for his drawings of women, which we might contrast with this piece by Fumiko Takano. Entirely unknown in English publishing — though some of her work has been translated to French — she is very well-regarded by her Japanese peers, and, perhaps relatedly, dives even deeper into personal reference. Her piece isn’t even related to an Otomo work; as she explains in her “encounter” text, it relates instead to a personal encounter between her and Otomo in the 1980s, where Otomo showed her the correct way to draw a bicycle. Motorcycles, as it happens, are popular images throughout Akira and the included tributes, so there is nonetheless a certain commonality between this rarest of references and the more popular swathe of Otomo’s work. Also rare is Takano’s status as one of 5 women included among the 79 contributors; at the same time as Otomo’s celebration at Angoulême, the festival found itself swamped with controversy over its initial 30-artist list of candidates to receive the next Grand Prix, literally all of which were men.

This, finally, leads us to the question of legacy. After Akira wrapped in 1990, Otomo’s output as a comics artist became very limited; as a result, very few of the tribute pieces acknowledge anything he has done in the past quarter-century. Olivier Coipel, an artist who specializes in American superhero comics, presents a simple joke: after all the action of Akira, Kaneda now has very little going on. Revolutions do not often make satisfactory administrators, so he drinks his days away on a park bench wearing a man bun. Elsewhere in the book, Akira enjoys an eternal youth, though not a lot of these depictions are very inspiring. In analyzing Otomo’s influence for Naoki Urasawa, the aforementioned Hisashi Eguchi (I’ll link it again) asserted that what Otomo accomplished, while impressive, was also imitable. You could learn his tricks, use them, and end up with something that looked like his work; this was partially why he was popular among artists. “He always really wanted to do movies anyway,” Eguchi mused, and Urasawa replied that Otomo once told him that he stopped drawing comics because “he’d already drawn from every angle there is, so he lost interest.” Otomo is still popular among some young cartoonists today, but it’s a popularity born of a receding time. Manga does not look like him anymore, though Akira itself is a strong brand. Is it like those spent beer cans, consumed out of habit and forgotten in a haze of nostalgia? I don’t have the answers, but maybe I’ll find them in the 35th anniversary hardcover boxed set, due in Autumn.


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.



Ganges #6: Not one, but two continuing alternative comic books up the spotlight this week! Ganges is the signature series by Kevin Huizenga, a magazine-sized serial-of-sorts begun via the Fantagraphics/Coconino Press “Ignatz” line of comics in 2006, but now self-published with distribution by Fantagraphics. Supposedly this 32-page issue marks “The End” of the story of Glenn Ganges, distracted man, attempting but failing to sleep — an effort which comes to encompass an extraordinary span of marital, video gaming, literary and geologic history — but the reality is that sleep cannot often be ascertained until one is awake again. Unmoored by fading consciousness, the story fragments into one-, two-page bits, times and settings shifting abruptly between panels. Plus: deleted scenes, more of “Rumbling”, teasers, letters, and comics-making tips; $8.00.

Berlin #20: Now that Seth’s Clyde Fans is set to wrap in July, this Jason Lutes historical fiction opus has to be the longest-running incomplete Drawn and Quarterly project, right? Black Eye Productions, of course, was the original publisher back in ’96 – I think it’s fair to associate it with D&Q in general, though. Fascism continues to spread its toxin in Germany for these 24 pages, “but some can see it better than others.” Two more issues remain to be finished; $5.95.


The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? #1 (of 4): This is also a longstanding concern, though a notably mischievous one. I remember when the first issue of the first Shaolin Cowboy series debuted from Burlyman Entertainment in 2004; almost the entire first issue was spent on an extremely long ‘pan’ across an absurd lineup of combatants raring to face the title character. The most recent series (Dark Horse, 2013-14, collected under the subtitle “Shemp Buffet”) consisted almost exclusively of a prolonged fight scene against a horde of zombies told in rhythmic panel arrangements, just zombies, chainsaws, zombies, chainsaws, over and over and over – I vividly recall picking up issue #3 of 4 from the stands and thinking “he’s still fucking doing it!” He, of course, is writer/artist Geof Darrow, and preview images suggest that this particular comic (again from Dark Horse) will feature at least a few pages of traditional explication, including the solution to the puzzle of why the Cowboy is not dead after getting himself killed at the end of the last series. I think the plot somehow involves a large pig, and possibly the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, but it’s hard to say right now. I am pretty stoked for this! Preview; $3.99.

Imagine Wanting Only This: Your lit comics pick of the week arrives from Pantheon with the debut graphic novel by Kristen Radtke, a 288-page hardcover account of journeys through architectural ruins across the globe “and the delicate passageways of the human heart.” Definitely more ambitious than the average bookstore autobio, this comes highly recommended by Tom Hart, author of Rosalie Lighting, the best comic of 2016. Radtke has been active for a while in literary and media magazine editing; her art style is a bit reminiscent of Laurenn McCubbin, if more overtly photo-referenced from my quick glace. Give it a flip; $29.95.

Roughneck (&) Soupy Leaves Home: Here’s two more serious-minded comics, both coming from talents probably best known for work with genre comic publishers. Roughneck is the new solo book from Jeff Lemire, a 272-page Simon & Schuster release about a former hockey player dealing with family trouble and trying to avoid encroaching violence. Lemire first came to prominence writing and drawing the similarly provincial Essex County trilogy of graphic novels, so this grittier spot nonetheless may provide secure footing. Soupy Leaves Home is a 208-page Dark Horse softcover, a seemingly YA-targeted story of Depression Era rail-riding with a girl runaway disguised as a boy. The writer, Cecil Castellucci, is experienced in young adult prose, though her comics work has been most prominent in various DC imprints, including the current Young Animal, where she writes Shade, the Changing Girl, a variant on the Steve Ditko concept. The artist is Jose Pimienta; $29.99 (Roughneck), $10.99 (Soupy).

The Filth (&) Wonder Woman: Earth One: For reasons unknown, DC has two new softcover editions of comics written by Grant Morrison this week. The Filth is the really notable one, despite being 15 years old; I think it’s the best comic he’s ever done, refining the scattershot evolutionary SF posturing of The Invisibles into what I’ll call ‘lamentable escapism’ – an escape from the hopelessness of depressive real life into a succession of grotesque action comic escapades that peel back only more layers of ichor-sticky societal flesh. Also, the formidable art is consistent — and consistently gruesome — coming from UK comics veterans Chris Weston & Gary Erskine. I’ve not read Wonder Woman: Earth One, a 2016 collaboration with artist Yanick Paquette, but I understand it to be an attempt to retell the title character’s origin in a manner unencumbered with current superhero continuity – I think this is the first time it’s been in softcover; $19.99 (Filth), $16.99 (Wonder Woman).

Savage Highway: Your Eurocomics pick is a Humanoids release, pairing a European writer with an Asian artist in a manner that’s become familiar in BD of late. Did you know Li Chi-Tak from way up at the top of this post did an album with veteran Belgian comics writer Jean Dufaux last year? It’s titled The Beast, and I hope its translated on Europe Comics or something soon. Anyway, this 168-page hardcover collects a 2015-17 series from writer Mathieu Masmondet and artist Zhang Xiaoyu concerning travelers who seek society in a ruined future world. Note that Humanoids is also re-releasing the original Jodorowsky/Giménez Metabarons series as four softcover books, starting this week; $24.95.

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: Every so often we get a Hellboy comic in the very trim 7″ x 10″ hardcover album format, I think as a means of showing off the artist. Gary Gianni is at the center of this one, both drawing and co-writing with creator Mike Mignola. I remember Gianni’s solo MonsterMen stuff as having a simpatico tone with Mignola’s stuff, so they should blend well for 56 pages; $19.99.

Hogan’s Alley #21: Finally, your magazine-on-comics of the week is the newest edition of editor Tom Heintjes’ annual-or-so collection of articles and interviews relating to popular comics, with a special emphasis on newspaper features and works from the past. Issue #20 won an Eisner last year. This issue promises a never-before-seen interview with George Herriman, rare art from Jack Davis and Wally Wood, and coverage of cartoonist/novelist William Overgard and editorial cartoon depictions of Barack Obama. You can probably even find it at the Barnes and Noble magazine rack, which is not something I can say for a lot of these publications. Official site; $6.95.

Today’s front page image is by Masamune Shirow, a detail from his contribution to Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira. I was kind of wondering if anyone would try to do anything saucy with the assignment, and, as recent history indicates, the smart money for that would definitely be on Shirow. As it turns out, the Ghost in the Shell creator contributes an extremely odd conglomeration of references to all manner of Otomo works, with characters and objects from manga, anime — even an adaptation of Otomo’s comics with which he had no direct involvement! — strewn around a street in the aftermath of some disaster which has obliterated depth perspective from the world. Directly below the image is a (roughly) 250-word supplementary text in teeny-tiny type in which the artist attempts to explain what he is doing. It is absolutely fucking nuts, and proof yet again that Shirow does whatever he wants, however he wants it done. The smut quota, meanwhile, is fulfilled by Requiem Vampire Knight artist Olivier Ledroit, who draws a katana-weilding cyborg woman wearing nothing from the knees up but Kaneda’s jacket and a choker with a butterfly charm. The jacket is unzipped.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/12/17 – St. Deals) Tue, 11 Apr 2017 12:02:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Time to do what comic book stores do best.


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 Artist: Unless I’ve missed something — and I never miss anything, I am always right about everything, forever — this is the first product of the new distribution deal between the respected UK art comics publisher Breakdown Press and Seattle’s own Fantagraphics, for the purposes of affording Breakdown’s wares greater access to comic book stores. They’re starting with a strong one – this 64-page collection of webcomics by Anna Haifisch popped up on a number of Best of 2016 lists, presumably due to its alternately droll and surreal glimpses into the unglamorous process of being alive in the art-making scene, though often it’s just stories of awkwardness and forced amusement that could occur among any group of young people. Very delicate and funny drawing; $19.99.

Babybel Wax Bodysuit: This Retrofit/Big Planet release from artist Eric Kostiuk Williams is also a collection of stories, albeit a good deal shorter at twenty 7.25″ x 10.25″ color pages. They look pretty interesting, though, coiling with decoration and insets and suggestive molten shapes. Topics include “self-worth, Internet culture, and the fascinating grotesqueries offered up by our science-fiction present,” per the publisher.


American Barbarian: The Complete Series: Some of you will recall the 2012 AdHouse edition of this webcomic series by writer/artist Tom Scioli, one of several variations on his longstanding fascination with Kirbyesque aesthetics, although there’s also an interest in toyetic, ultra-franchised characters that perhaps jumps out a little more following his work on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. It is the publisher of that latter series, IDW, which now reissues American Barbarian as a 268-page, 6″ x 9″ softcover. Introduction by Rob Liefeld; $19.99.

Caravaggio Vol. 1: The Palette and the Sword: Your orthodox Eurocomics pick of the week sees Dark Horse once again dealing with writer/artist Milo Manara, but no longer through the omnibus format of (many) prior releases. Rather, this 64-page, 8″ x 10″ color hardcover matches the sole extant French volume of what is expected to be a series of albums on the adventures of the Italian master, save for what I understand to be a decrease in size from 9.4″ x 12.6″ compared to the Glénat edition. This is pretty much the 71-year old Manara’s big mainline color comics project of the decade, so if you admire his craft you’ll certainly want a look. Preview; $19.99.

Toppu GP: And moving along to manga, we now encounter the most recent project by Kōsuke Fujishima, creator of the inescapable 20th century love comedy fantasy Oh My Goddess! This one’s a sports serial, specifically concerned with motorcycle racing – from the pages of the prominent seinen monthly Afternoon, although Kodansha has also made individual chapters available digitally in English as they happen via comiXology and the like; $12.99.

The Complete Phonogram: Being a 504-page monster hardcover in which we find the entirety of this music-as-magic genre fiction/personal metaphor project from creators Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, dating back to 2006, when Image was not nearly so popular a place to be; the series struggled financially, though I think you can still say it ‘launched’ the creators in terms of comic book visibility. Now the pair run The Wicked + The Divine, a similarly music-themed but considerably more prominent Image fantasy project, so it makes sense for this older material to be accessible in as uncomplicated a format as this; $49.99.

Aliens: The Original Comics Series Vol. 2: Decades ago, the Dark Horse Aliens series had a reputation as unusually high-quality movie tie-ins, due to their willingness to retain offbeat talents for original stories. Notably, this 224-page 8″ x 12″ hardcover collects 1989-90 issues with art from Denis Beauvais (at that time an artist for the Aircel series Warlock 5, and subsequently in large part an illustrator in the gaming field) and Sam Kieth (who, immediately before, had co-created The Sandman at DC, only to depart after a very brief run). Samples; $39.99.

Judge Dredd: The Cape & Cowl Crimes: This appears to be a new 160-page Dredd compilation put together for a North American audience, published by Simon & Schuster, which has done a few of these unique jobs before. Poking at the never-ending obsession with spandex in overseas comics, these 2000 AD stories from across a good span of time — going back at least as far as ’87, smack in the middle of the blood ‘n thunder era heralded in no small part by the arrival of certain 2000 AD contributors on the superhero scene — demonstrate their own enduring antipathy; $19.99.

Black Panther & The Crew #1 (&) All Time Comics: Bullwhip #1: Finally, we have a pair of new superhero comics with different aesthetic aims. The Crew is the newest spinoff of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ popular run on the Lee & Kirby creation, with poet and academic Yona Harvey also writing, and genre veteran Butch Guice heads up the art. I would call this the ‘prestige’ end of straight-ahead contemporary corporate superhero comics. Bullwhip, meanwhile, is the latest from the Fantagraphics-published superhero line fronted by writer Josh Bayer, once again pairing young and old talents on the art – last issue’s inker, Benjamin Marra, is now the penciller, with longtime Marvel hand Al Milgrom inking; $3.99 (each).

Today’s front page image is a detail from the “NUDE” variant cover to Hellina: Kiss of Death #1, a July 1995 release from Lightning Comics, pioneers of the nude variant cover and originating publisher of Hellina, so named because the title character is from Hell.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/5/17 – Warmer) Tue, 04 Apr 2017 11:56:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The natural world, courtesy of the Belgian artists Rémy Pierlot & Vincent Fortemps, from their collaborative story in the 2009 Frémok anthology Match de catch à Vielsam.


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.



Providence #12 (of 12): Being the final installment of this very dense and bookish series written by Alan Moore, ostensibly an attempt to suggest a shared universe for H.P. Lovecraft’s various short stories, but really a series of dips into the everyday lives of these horror characters before or after the stories in which they were featured, with Lovecraft himself existing alongside them, the point of it being a sort of externalization of the early 20th century fears that Moore sees as typified by the biases and metaphors in Lovecraft’s writing. That said, given that the story kind of seemed to end last issue, I suspect that what we’re in for here is an overarching finale for *all* of Moore’s various Lovecraft-based comics with artist Jacen Burrows (colored here by Juan Rodríguez), much in the way that Promethea #31 was the conclusion for Moore’s entire America’s Best Comics line, despite several of those titles (including Promethea itself) releasing subsequent issues. But then, moreso than any other Moore-written comic, in my opinion — yes, even the later The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories — Providence demands a strong degree of familiarity with the source materials upon which Moore is riffing, so maybe it’s not that big a step to assume you’ve also read an additional stack of Alan Moore-written comics from years past. From Avatar Press, which will also have issues of the blood-drenched WWII superhuman drama Über and, via its Boundless imprint, the infernal naked lady series Hellina (so named because she is from Hell), thus summarizing its ethos as its 20th year in business continues; $4.99.

Secret Sneyd: The Unpublished Cartoons of Doug Sneyd: In the great tradition of absolute caprice, I will now spotlight a 280-page book of dirty gag cartoons by a Playboy artist. Specifically, these are roughs – sketches intended to get the joke across, none of which ever reached any state of completion. Might be interesting and/or amusing. A 5″ x 6.5″ Dark Horse release; $14.99.


Love and Rockets #2: I think you may have heard of this series; it’s by a pair of brothers, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, and they kind of do what they want for 36 pages. It’s magazine-sized, 8.5″ x 10.75″, like some of the old Direct Market fare used to be. I was at the MoCCA Arts Festival last weekend looking to get a copy, but Fantagraphics was already sold out by the time I got there, because I stupidly elected to spend time with friends; $4.99.

Eleanor & the Egret #1: I’ve had a great deal of difficulty getting a bead on AfterShock Comics. It was founded by a group of comics industry and Hollywood veterans, among them Mike Marts of Marvel and Joe Pruett of Caliber and Desperado, so I presume there’s some kind of IP development effort going on, though in practice the whole thing seems like Dark Horse Presents if it were a publisher, but not *Dark Horse*, if you get my drift. But hey, this is comic book drawn by Sam Kieth, and I’ll link to a comic book drawn by Sam Kieth, sure. It’s scripted by John Layman, who had a pretty big hit with Chew over at Image – the story concerns art thievery and talking birds, in some manner. Preview; $3.99.

Rock Candy Mountain #1: Not too long ago, the artist Kyle Starks attracted a decent amount of hype for Sexcastle, a crowdfunded homage to the 1980s action cinema, eventually picked up for wider distribution by Image. That same publisher now releases a new comic book miniseries from Starks, a WWII-era comedy about a two-fisted hobo and Satan; $3.99.

2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special: “Wait, didn’t they just have an anniversary issue a few months ago?” No, you fool. You god damned fool, that was 2000 AD #2000, whereas this is the official 40th Anniversary special, a 48-page color & b&W magazine now available in North American comic book stores, offering new stories that’ll either acclimate readers to regular features or tantalize those happy to see some old favorites return: Al Ewing’s & Henry Flint’s Zombo is in this issue, as well as Robbie Morrison’s & Simon Fraser’s Nikolai Dante. Note that Rebellion also has a pair of 2000 AD collections out this week: The Order: Die Mensch Maschine, from the very capable writer “Kek-W” and the old-school painted comics veteran John Burns, and Kingdom: Aux Drift, a combat-heavy post-apocalypse series from Dan Abnett & Richard Elson; $7.99.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations Vol. 1: If you’re as old as me — and you’ll probably need to be almost exactly as old as me, because a lot of this stuff potentially remains a mystery to generations prior — you remember a time when Masashi Kishimoto’s youth ninja comic Naruto was one of the great engines of manga’s popularity in North America. It helped a lot that the anime adaptation was enormously popular and widely pirated; glancing as the “Popular” tab on, the Naruto Shippuden television series (just recently concluded this past March in Japan) is *still* in fifth place. So, it makes perfect financial sense for a sequel manga to begin, though I suspect it makes physical and mental health sense for Kishimoto to step back into a supervisory role, while writer Ukyo Kodachi and artist Mikio Ikemoto head up the comic’s actual production. It’s Boruto! Naruto’s kid! Next Generations! From VIZ; $9.99.

Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art: Finally, I presume Dynamite did okay with 2015’s The Art of José González, because now we’ve got a 272-page hardcover dedicated to pretty much everybody out of Spain who contributed to Vampirella magazine and the other Warren black & whites in the ’70s and ’80s, many of them associated with Josep Toutain’s agency, Selecciones Ilustradas. In fact, many of these artists were represented in British weekly comics as well, along with other global endeavors – writer David Roach’s text intends to address this wider exposure, if the book’s solicitation is any indication. Splashy, lavish, often thoroughly photo-referenced and flagrantly decorative, this whole mini-era of counter-mainstream comics perhaps annoyed those who valued readability and succinctness as paramount qualities in genre fare, but I find its extravagance reliably compelling; $39.99.

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Gluyas Williams: Master of Line and Shape and Subject Mon, 03 Apr 2017 12:00:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> His drawings had a pristine purity that gave them a distinction no other cartoonist was able (or willing) to achieve. His line, seemingly fragile in contrast to strategically placed solid flat blacks, was sturdy and not at all delicate: of rigid unvarying width, it faithfully, dutifully, outlined his subjects without affectation or folderol—no wrinkles in clothing, no shading, no shadows. Pure and simple as his attitude towards his subjects, it was a wholly workmanlike line, as workmanlike as the people he studied and understood and drew.

Rick Marschall interviewed him in 1975 and published the result eight years later in Nemo: The Classic Comics Library No. 3, prefacing the exchange with a flood of appreciative and accurate assessment (in italics):

            Gluyas Williams did more with less than practically any cartoonist in history. His masterful panel drawings are genre studies, more often than not crowded with figures, and frequently confusion is the mood. No: confusion is the subject; urbanity is the mood. …

            All of Williams’ characters somewhat nervously floated through the twentieth century, slightly intimidated by technology and more than a little suspicious of the traps and trappings of modern life that awaited, ready to attack, around every corner.

            Perfect were his evocations of personality types and the upper-middle-class milieux that he delineated. But Gluyas Williams’s most stunning accomplishments were as a draftsman. Here was an artist in total command of his media—every pen line is in place, nothing superfluous, yet everything so marvelously expressive.

            Here is the doing-more-with-less ideal, aspired to by many cartoonists, in its finest incarnation. … The stark economy in a Williams cartoon came nowhere close to sterility: rather the scenes were vibrant and bursting with personality. Every figure is doing something—and doing something so expressively that you feel a part of the scene. Added to these gifts were Williams’ awesome sense of design, perspective, and composition. 

Gluyas (pronounced GLUE-yass) Williams (23 July 1888-13 February 1982) was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Robert Neil Williams and Virginia Gluyas. His early education took place in Germany, France, and Switzerland. He attended Harvard University, where he served as art editor of the Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor magazine of legend.

In 1911, after only three years, Williams graduated with a B.A. and went to Paris for six months to study life drawing in the studio of Angelo Colarossi, a celebrated model. Williams didn’t plan on becoming a painter, but he realized, as he later told Marschall, “I just had an idea that it would do me good—and I think it did, too. I mean, you learn how the body is put together, and just draw and draw and draw all day.”

Upon his return to the United States, he followed the example of his older sister, Kate Carew (her married name), who was, by then, a success drawing for newspapers.

Said Williams: “They had newspaper trucks that went around town delivering newspapers to newsstands, and they all had billboard-like signs on the sides—‘See Kate Carew, the only woman caricaturist’ or something like that. They sent her everywhere—sent her over to Europe to come back with Teddy Roosevelt on the boat when he returned from his hunting trip (in about 1910).”

She was sent to London which is where she was when the War broke out. “It was then that she did a great many theater things—caricatures—for The Tattler, for The Sketch. She was good!” Williams did a daily comic strip for the Boston Journal, which he later disavowed because it was “terrible.” “You have no idea how bad it was,” he told Marschall. “I worked at it for one full summer and then I said, ‘This is not for me!’—and vice versa. And I got a job on The Youth’s Companion.” He was soon the head of the magazine’s art department, and he stayed there for the next ten years.

While there, he also freelanced cartoons to various publications. His first significant sale was to Frank Casey, art editor at Collier’s. Casey bought and published as a cover a Williams drawing that had been rejected by the weekly humor magazines Life and Puck. And with that, he began selling his cartoons regularly to Collier’s, and when Charles Dana Gibson bought the old Life humor magazine in 1918 and hired Casey as art director, Williams became a steady contributor to Life.

Williams married Margaret Kempton in 1915, and by 1920 he felt secure enough as a cartoonist to give up his salaried position with Youth’s Companion in favor of a full-time freelance career. In addition to cartooning for magazines, he wrote and illustrated a political spoof about “Senator Sounder” for Life and he did theatrical caricatures for the fondly recalled Boston Evening Transcript. These efforts brought him to the attention of William Randolph Hearst, for whom he worked briefly, traveling to Washington, D.C., to do political caricatures.

In 1922, he also illustrated Of All Things, first of the book collection of Robert Benchley’s humorous essays.

Williams had met Benchley at the storied Harvard Lampoon. Williams was art editor, and Benchley was an aspiring cartoonist. His first drawing printed in the Lampoon showed two Irish women standing next to a smelly garbage can. One says, “Ain’t it offal, Mable?” It was a standard bad pun joke of the day.  In her biography, Robert Benchley: His Life and Good Times, Babette Rosmond says all of Benchley’s cartoon characters looked Irish. No doubt he was partaking of an established cartooning custom: most highly comical characters of the time were either Irish (and looked like monkeys) or African American (with big lips and bugging eyes).

According to the popularly circulated report (by Benchley), Williams pretty soon took Benchley aside and said, “Now look, Benchley—you’ve written some things and they aren’t bad, but your drawings aren’t very good. Why don’t you just stick to writing? We have plenty of pictures.” Reportedly, Benchley, in rehearsing this tale, would complain that he could’ve been making ten thousand dollars a week if he’d just stuck to drawing. But Williams disputed the story in his interview with Marschall: “Of course, he just made that up: I don’t think I ever said any such thing at all.”

In other tellings of the story, Benchley maintained that Williams’ advice at the Lampoon had effectively set his feet on his career path. Said Rosmond: “Robert was overjoyed and rather staggered when he was elected president of the Lampoon—the grandeur of the office scared him. He wondered if he would be equal to it; but he needn’t have worried. His performance on the job founded a Benchley tradition: both Robert Benchley’s sons, Nathaniel and Robert, Jr., were presidents of the Lampoon in their respective years at Harvard.”

Among the people who Benchley (and, presumably, Williams) knew in those Harvard days, Rosmand reports, “were Frederick Lewis Allen, who would be come Harper’s editor-in-chief; and John Reed, later famous as author of the chronicle of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, who has the dubious distinction of being the only American to be buried in Moscow’s Red Square.

“Reed,” Rosmond continues, “was another person who recommended that Benchley pursue a career in writing, sending him a letter inviting him to join Reed at his house at 42 Washington Square in the Village. Said Reed: ‘I will guarantee that you get a good room and fair treatment; the water pipes burst about once a month, and the gaslight is not what it should be, but who cares? BOHEMIA! O BOHEMIA!’”

Williams’ first Benchley book was followed by another in each of the next two years and nine more over the next two decades. Williams illustrated them all. And in return, Benchley wrote the Preface to the first book of Williams’ cartoons, The Gluyas Williams Book, published in 1929. The two creators would be forever linked. Williams’s drawings of Benchley and his milieu so perfectly caught the mood of “the little man” encountering the humiliations and frustrations of life in the twentieth century that the cartoonist’s work was often acclaimed as the best part of the books. In this collaboration, Williams found his metier, a subject and a treatment that were exactly attuned to his sensibility.

In his customary role as the put-upon “little man,” Benchley elaborated upon his relationship to Williams in the aforementioned Preface to The Gluyas Williams Book (quoted here at length and in italics):

There is only one drawback I having been Mr. Williams’ model for so many pictures. After years of capturing those particular facial characteristics of which my mother is so fond, he has quite unconsciously taken to putting me into all his drawings, commercial and otherwise, as the typical American Sap. … My friends point out to me that I have been caught to the life in a Williams drawing showing the delight with which dear old Uncle Tasker will receive a dressing gown for Christmas. When people come to me and say: “I saw your picture in Vanity Fair today,” I know instinctively that it was not among those nominated for the Hall of Fame but in the back of the book among the advertisements typifying the sort of men to whom a Bates umbrella or a pair of Goodyear rubbers will be an ornament.

Not only in his advertising drawings but in those amazing full pages in The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan where the face of Mr. Mencken’s Boobus Americanus is called for, mine is the face.

Thus, through his conscientious attempt to illustrate my books faithfully, Mr. Williams has made me his lay figure, and owing to the enormous popularity of his drawings, I am fast losing all personal identity and becoming a type, like the Gibson Girl.

However, if this is to be my path to fame, I am content. There could be no surer or more permanent way of going down to posterity. For while there are other artists who have caught something of the American scene, and other artists who can draw well, I know of no other artist who combines, as Williams does, that sure insight into the common mind and a technique which might well be turned to more important things—if there were things more important. I believe that Williams drawings will be preserved for expert contemplations both as data on the manners and customs of our day and as graceful and important examples of its art.

On another occasion (in the Introduction to Fellow Citizens), Benchley waxed more favorably yet (in italics):

I have sometimes felt that Gluyas was a little overconscientious in delineating my extra poundage in each book, but my friends tell me that, if anything, he has been kind. All in all, it has been a beautiful relationship.

One of the remarkable things about Gluyas Williams’ work is that he not only keeps it funny but, through the exercise of some sort of necromancy, he has managed to keep drawing as well as he did twenty years ago.

I see him only about once a year, when he comes to New York to check up on my waistline for the next book, but on those occasions, his usually placid face becomes livid as he recounts his most recent escape from lynching at the hands of his compatriots.

In American Heritage for December 1984, cartoonist Edward Sorel describes the annual dinners (in italics):

Although Williams lived in Newton (a suburb of Boston) and Benchley in Manhattan (a suburb of the Algonquin [a celebrated hotel ands watering hole for New York wits]), both made it a practice to meet at least once a year in New York. Over cocktails and dinner Williams would get caught up on all the gossip that never reached Newton.

Williams would later recall those dinners with his old friend: “He was a wonderful man, probably the wittiest man in New York in his day, but he never hogged the limelight. If you were with him he had the rare gift of making you feel that you were the one who was saying the witty things.”

But Williams must have been pretty good company himself. Charles Dana Gibson, Harold Ross, Edward Streeter, and Alexander Woollcott were not the sort who suffered fools gladly, and all valued his friendship. He seems to have had enough good qualities to fill a Boy Scout manual. He was loyal: he stuck with Gibson in 1929 when Gibson’s old Life was failing and other contributors had switched to The New Yorker. And he was modest.

When the publication date of his tenth book approached in 1938, Benchley had become increasingly dissatisfied with his printed humor pieces. By then, he was making a living as a theater critic and doing short humorous films. “I wish they would never get it out,” he said about the forthcoming tome. “I haven’t seen Gluyas’s drawings yet, but they have got to carry it, I’m afraid.” By then, Williams was well into his major contribution to American cartooning. In 1924 Williams sold a single-panel daily gag cartoon series to Bell Syndicate, which distributed the feature nationwide for twenty-five years.

The title of the feature varied with the subject, as was the practice then in similar endeavors by by J. R. Williams and Clare Briggs and others. Whether called “Suburban Heights,” “The World at Its Worst,” “The Moment That Seems a Year,” “Difficult Decisions,” “The Neighborhood League,” or any of a half-dozen other names, the cartoon focused on the minor crises and tepid tribulations of middle-class life in the suburbs of an America that was becoming increasingly urban. The cast was composed of mostly anonymous businessmen, housewives, and youngsters, but a comfortably portly fellow named Fred Perley was frequently the springboard to the day’s chuckle.

Williams explained his philosophy for the feature: “Two things I strive for in my cartoons: to bring the reader to smile at himself in the past or to make it easier for him when the incident happens in the future.” As a rule, Sorel said, “Williams drew only those things that he had observed personally. Years after he retired [in 1953], he described his working methods this way: ‘I’d watch for things to happen at the West Newton Station in the morning or evening—things like somebody trying to get through the station door to buy a paper, just as everyone else surges out to board the train; or trying to get a taxi at the station on a rainy night; or the way everyone in the station starts for the platform when a train rumbles by, and it’s usually a freight train. All those little everyday occurrences can be built into cartoons.’”

Said Edward Street (whose Father of the Bride Williams illustrated) in The Gluyas Williams Gallery (in italics):

Gluyas Williams’ humor is a compound of gaiety and sadness, gallantry and failure, pompousness and frustration, mixed in accordance with some secret formula that he alone possesses and seasoned with a dash of futility and a pinch of wistfulness. He sees humans as confused, insecure, well-intentioned duffers bluffing their way through the world of half-baked customs and screwball mores which they do not understand but cannot sidestep. You like his people and you sympathize with them for the good reason that they are always you—just as they are always Gluyas Williams.

… with a few sparse strokes of his drawing pen he manages to convey the idea that his subjects are not only making fools of themselves, but are quite aware of it. One senses that, in spite of their embarrassment at being discovered, they will do nothing to correct the situation. They are caught in strong currents and find it easier to turn on their backs and float than to struggle against them.

            In the same book, humor writer David McCord goes to greater length (in italics):

This universal human quality—a love, not a contempt, for his fellow man—is what sets Gluyas Williams in a class by himself. Satire has no place in his method of characterization. Even his painfully correct reporting of some of America’s incredible playgrounds shows not the slightest trace of mockery. That crowds of men and women can look and act as they do, and affect to find pleasure and recreation in the sordid mass, is part of the subdivine comedy in which he enters as a spectator, never as a critic. …

Every figure in a Williams drawing is doing something of value to the picture; every niche and quarter of the background is justified and correct. The illusion of distance, rain, and atmosphere, and of the unexplained, is effected solely by ‘the lucid, faultless line we have come so to admire.’

In addition to his syndicated cartoons (which reportedly ran in about 70 newspapers, a goodly number in those days), Williams produced illustrations for numerous books and advertisements.

Williams was soon also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, which had been launched by Harold Ross in February 1925. Although Ross began soliciting cartoons from Williams almost at once, the cartoonist did not produce anything for the magazine until 1926. “Ross would write,” Williams told Marschall, “but I’d say that I was based in Boston and I didn’t know enough about New York to be of any use. And then he finally sent me a cartoon idea about the house wrecker who has the wrong address. 

“I did it and sent it over, and Ross sent it back and said that it won’t do: he said to get more fun into it—have a woman taking a bath while they’re taking the bathtub out and like that. [Cartoons with women in bathtubs were standard fare in the Ballyhoo magazine comedy of the period, but I doubt Ross thought along those lines. He did, however, make suggestions that Williams couldn’t accept, whatever they were.—RCH]

“Ross said to change it and put those things in it, and he’d buy it. I sent it back just as it was and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t touch it because my idea of humor was understatement rather than slapstick.’ And Ross wrote—oh, how I wish I’d kept that letter!—it was a wonderful letter, saying, ‘You’re perfectly right. I’m going to change all my ideas on drawings. Of course that’s much subtler your way and better.’

“And after that letter,” Williams concluded, “I thought to myself that this was an editor I’d like to work for.”

For most of his career, Williams lived in West Newton, a suburb near Boston, but he did his work at a studio in the city at 192 Boylston Street, to which he commuted, completing his weekly quota of cartoons in four mornings. He took his syndicated assignment seriously, said Sorel: “He made certain that he was always fifty or sixty drawings ahead, just in case he got hit by a truck.

 “He was also cautious,” Sorel went on. “Fearing that the ramshackle building he used for a studio would catch fire, he kept his reserve pile of drawings in the local bank. Each week he would take out a week’s supply and send them to the syndicate. But in 1933 Roosevelt declared a bank holiday. ‘My deadline was at hand, and I couldn’t get to my drawings,’ Williams later re-called. ‘The Boston Globe had to pull strings and arranged for me to go under guard to my bank to get the drawings. The guard was supposed to make certain I didn’t take any gold out.’” Added Sorel: “The bank-holiday story was one Williams told over and over. It was an incident that must have seemed like high adventure in a life that was otherwise prosaic: marriage, children, a home in the suburbs, a summer place in Maine, grandchildren, and retirement at the age of sixty-five. He is quoted as saying: ‘I was sixty-five. It seemed like a great age to retire, so I did.’ But some friends believe he was afraid that further drawing would cost him his sight. He had almost three decades yet to live after he retired.

At one o’clock every day, having finished his self-imposed quota for the day, Williams left his studio in Boston and returned to life in suburbia, pursuing such activities as cabinet-making, sailing, billiards, reading detective stories, and playing bridge. The father of a son and daughter, Williams exemplified in many respects the kind of life his cartoons depicted.

For The New Yorker, Williams produced the full-page cartoons under a series of titles that typified his approach. Under the heading “Industrial Crises,” for example, the cartoonist depicted the panic and dismay among company officials “the day a cake of Ivory sank at Procter & Gamble’s” and the chagrin and consternation that prevailed around the boardroom table when “a director of the Diamond Match Company absent-mindedly lights his cigar with an automatic lighter.” 

Typically, a Williams cartoon was crowded with people, each a distinct individual doing something appropriate for the scene. In “Office Building Lobby,” Williams showed a throng of businessmen rushing to enter or leave, one looking at his watch, another asking the elevator operator a question, yet another consulting the building directory, two people arguing, a man flirting with a woman, and so on. 

In “The Waiter Who Put a Check on the Table Face Up,” an entire restaurant population, waiters and customers, looks aghast at the offending party— as does every member of the audience at a piano recital when a woman snaps her purse “during a pianissimo” (every member of the audience depicted in individual eccentricity in an expansive two-page cartoon).

Williams sought to reveal the humor in ordinary life among ordinary people doing everyday things. In many of his earliest endeavors, he said he was inspired by the French cartoonist Caran d’Ache. In these, Williams filled a full page (or two) with a sequence of drawings depicting in pantomine an individual’s growing frustration at performing some activity— a man struggling to remove a stubborn dandelion from his lawn, a father trying to read aloud to his son who fidgets in his lap and climbs all over him. 

“I was devoted to d’Ache,” Williams said to Marschall. “I liked his things enormously; although our styles of drawing were entirely different, his way of approaching things appealed to me.” Later, Williams reflected the influence of British cartoonist H.M. Bateman when he depicted the fate or faux pax of “The Man Who … ”

Both models are evident in “The Woman Who Suspects All Restaurant Glasses,” a succession of pictures showing an imposing matron arriving at a restaurant table and then intently examining her water glass while a gathering crowd of observing waiters displays, first, increasing concern, then obvious relief when the glass passes inspection.

Sorel believed that “the pen-and-ink technique Williams used to record his observations owed much to the work of Aubrey Beardsley. At first it is difficult to see what Beardsley’s erotic, serpentine illustrations have in common with Williams’s open, sunny drawings, but the use of solid black shapes in an otherwise delicate line drawing is common to both. In fact, Williams was so in awe of Beardsley’s work that he never used white paint to correct a line, because he believed (erroneously) that Beardsley never ‘whited out’ mistakes.” “It was some of a shock, therefore,” noted McCord, “when a young American artist (Matlack Price) discovered some Beardsleys ‘fairly plastered with Chinese white.’”

Oddly perhaps, Williams favorite comic strip cartoonists were E.C. Segar and Frank Willard, neither exactly in his manner in either drawing style or subject. Both Popeye and Moon Mullins were determinedly slapstick betraying no restraint whatsoever, and Williams’ humor is nothing if not restrained. Williams soon honed his influences into his own brand of pawky humor, low-keyed and restrained, and evolved a distinctive graphic style that was the perfect complement to the comedy. His drawings, models of lucid simplicity, were precisely outlined with a sturdy, unvarying line and then starkly accented with solid, flat blacks. In both attitude and visual treatment, Williams’s cartoons were so wholly unpretentious that they seemed the embodiment of only honest reportage on the human condition.

Famed British cartoonist, and one-time editor of Punch, Kenneth Bird (aka Fougasse) said: “It will be readily agreed that Gluyas is in a class by himself; but to put this down to his drawing, or to his technique, or to the style he adopted would be to do him very much less than justice.”

Sorel agreed, advising that “if you want a quick fix on what upper-middle-class Americans were doing between the two World Wars, look at the cartoons of Gluyas Williams. It will take less time than reading Dodsworth or the works of J. P. Marquand, and will be just as accurate. Accurate observation was the essence of Williams’s art, and he was, in the words of one magazine editor, a ‘superb noticer.’”

Williams died in Boston in 1982 at the age of 93. Said Sorel: “The thousands of drawings he left behind remain a superb guide to manners and customs during three decades of the American saga. They are also, to a large extent, his autobiography.”

A few more fragments of his autobiography are posted forthwith. 

Bibliography (for the compulsives among us)

Most of the information about Gluyas Williams’s life and career can be found in Current Biography (1946) and in a 1975 interview with Richard Marschall published in Nemo: The Classic Comics Library No.3 (October 1983). Among the books he illustrated are Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter (1948); There’s a Fly in This Room (1946) and Wrap It as a Gift (1947) by Ralf Kircher; How to Guess Your Age (1950) by Corey Ford; The Camp at Lockjaw (1952)by David McCord; and the following by Robert Benchley: Of All Things (1922), Love Conquers All (1923), Pluck and Luck (1924), The Early Worm (1927), The Treasurer’s Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing (1930), From Bad to Worse (1934), My TenYears in a Quandry (1936), After 1903—What? (1938), Inside Benchley (1942), Benchley Beside Himself (1943), Benchley—Or Else (1947), and Chips off the Old Benchley (1949). Williams cartoons are collected in two volumes, The Gluyas Williams Book (1929) and Fellow Citizens (1940), both accompanied by appreciative and informative introductions as is The Gluyas Williams Gallery (1957), which includes sample text and illustrations from several of the books on which the cartoonist collaborated plus a few cartoons. As far as I know, none of his syndicated cartoons have been collected or reprinted (except those you find in this essay—a spectacular exclusive).

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Episode 18: Maggie Umber Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]>


On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro.

Previous Episodes

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
]]> 0 0:35:15 On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. Mike Dawson no no
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/29/17 – Goodbye, Sweetheart) Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Above we see my favorite bit of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying – published in French in 2007 and entirely re-lettered by the artist herself for the 2017 English edition. Goblet also collaborated on the translation itself, with Sophie Yanow; it’s a work that benefits from as much of the artist’s presence as possible. Immediately, we think of the unique state of the work’s visual presentation: how its ‘color b&w’ pages incorporate the wear of time into the drawing, because some of the boards are a decade older than the eventually published book. And yet, to usurp time is not the only defiance of the work; even Goblet’s resistance to narrative chronology, to the spectacle of ages passing, even modest ones, is not the paramount affront.

The tradition of American autobiographical comics is that of centering the author. Harvey Pekar, addressing the reader; the present-tense exclamations of Robert Crumb’s myriad neuroses. Goblet’s autobiography, to this American, is marked by departure. Primarily, she reacts. To my mind, the narrative genders her associations: with men, she interacts with strong, charismatic, not always sympathetic personalities. There is her father, a drinker and a fast driver with whom she spends roughly half the book trying to visit. There is also her lover, with whom roughly the other half of the book is concerned; in fact, he co-wrote those portions of the text concerning him, and by god is it not disquieting to witness a male leaving some imprint on a formidable female artist’s work, his lover’s work? God, it unnerves me, though I don’t know the details that aren’t in the book, and art anyway isn’t really really-for-real in touching the banality of creative exchange.

But anyway, up top: they have temporarily broken it off, Goblet and her lover, and her father will not accept her tears. This is the primary crossover between the two streams of male interaction in Pretending Is Lying, and here — perhaps with Goblet herself — we see a new facet of her father’s blowsiness. “Believe me my dear, nobody’s important enough for your tears…” It is not that he wants to overpower her with his personality; this is perhaps what happens regardless, but he does not want it. What he wants, is for her to be as fierce as him, though she will not do it in the same way.

Women, in Goblet’s book, are less knowable. An ingenious prelude introduces Goblet’s mother as a magician and a charlatan, believed to possess nigh-wizardly powers by the young “Nikske”, which means “Little Nothing”. Later, the mother is presented as a fearsome God, binding the child Goblet with rope as she screams and cries; it is horrifying, and followed immediately by the mother’s wary comfort of the child, who accepts everything as natural. Goblet’s own daughter is elsewhere characterized as faintly unknowable in the way small children inevitably are, while her father’s lover is drawn as a Munchian grotesque, with whom Goblet comes to quarrel over her daughter, a double-reflection of her mother. The women in the book, thus, are powerful and contentious figures, against whom the artist collides.

To her father, Goblet depicts herself absorbing. Or perhaps she is absorbed. As it happens, when her father drives off with her, drunkenly, dangerously, in chapter 3 of 4, Goblet physically disappears from the book. The final chapter depicts only her lover on-panel, as he seethes over boots, listens to music, tangles with the cat, and from the author’s disappearance we understand the absence of her as a presence in his life. Previously, he was characterized as haunted by a ghost, by the indecisive conclusion of his last relationship. Goblet draws the other woman as a ghost, another elusive feminine figure, but she simply declines to draw herself at the end of her book, and her absence is felt, by us and him. Hers is a space in his obnoxious, talkative mind. His cat brings a dead bird and he invents from that a reason to call her. Goblet pulls back from depicting characters to depicting city architecture; François Schuiten appears in the Acknowledgements. She pulls back from architecture to birds, and then to just the sky, a smear of oil against paper, with text booming in space. God, she is there again. She didn’t leave.

“I really want to see you!” he says.




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.



What Parsifal Saw: A new Fantagraphics collection of recent work by Ron Regé, Jr., without a doubt one of the most distinctive cartoonists of his generation. The slim, 80-page color softcover deals in “magical, alchemical, ancient, and mysterious ideas,” per the publisher, which as it happens is also issuing a new softcover edition of Regé’s 2012 esoteric manifesto The Cartoon Utopia this week, in case you missed it the first time. This is total invocation here – a whirling tour of an author’s worldview with no conceivable compromise; $14.99 ($24.99 for Utopia).

Otomo: A Global Tribute To the Mind Behind Akira: TALES OF CAPITALISM – I saw the Japanese edition of this at the same bookstore where I picked up Golgo 13 magazine last week; the ¥ 5,400 cover price translated to north of $70.00 USD off the rack, which was definitely too rich for my blood. Now, like magic, Kodansha has a much less expensive English edition ready at basically the same dimensions: 168 pages at 10.7″ x 12.4″ in hardcover. You may recall Ōtomo winning the Grand Prix at Angoulême in 2015; this book is essentially a mass-market catalog for an exhibition held the following year in his honor, amounting to a fancy collection of tribute art by international notables. Contributors include Manuele Fior, Masamune Shirow(!), Tanino Liberatore, Taiyō Matsumoto, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka, Naoki Urasawa, Juan Giménez, Stan Sakai, Tsutomu Nihei, Jordi Bernet and the late Jirō Taniguchi, among many others. Will anyone dare throw in a Domu piece? Note also that Kodansha is planning a deluxe all-hardcover box set of the entire Akira series (and the Akira Club art book) in the unaltered right-to-left format for this October; $29.99.


Audubon: On the Wings of the World: If the Otomo book above doesn’t fit your criteria for a comic — which would make since, because it isn’t — then your *formal* Eurocomic pick of the week is this 2006 album from artist Jérémie Royer and writer Fabien Grolleau, profiling the 19th century naturalist of the title, author of the famous The Birds of America. Lots of opportunities for nature drawing, released in English via Nobrow as a 184-page, 8.07″ x 10.83″ color hardcover; $22.95.

Lobster Johnson: The Pirate’s Ghost #1 (of 3): Your no-doubt extremely smooth and pretty mainstream costumed action comic of the week comes from one of the most reliable teams around – writers Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, and artist Tonči Zonjić. With the main Hellboy series wrapped up, this is the only Mignola-branded project where I never miss an issue, as the focus is very tight (early 20th century period antics starring a determinedly un-nuanced pulp avenger), the pace is very fast, and nothing ever really gets in the way of its formidable surface appeal; $3.99.

Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality #1: In contrast, I don’t really know anything about the Black Mask-published Space Riders title (“Capitan Peligro and his fearless crew deal harsh justice to the scum of the galaxy while searching for the hidden truths of the universe!”), under which this appears to be the second miniseries, but I do like what I’ve seen of the artist, Alexis Ziritt, who works in a kind of tattoo art style buzzing between Mike Allred and Gary Panter. Try and flip through if you see it. Preview; $3.99.

Valerian and Laureline Vol. 14: The Living Weapons (&) Blake & Mortimer Vol. 24: The Testament of William S.: Cinebook has a whole stack of Franco-Belgian translations out via Diamond this week, so I’m gonna highlight a duo of classy youth adventure comics with long histories behind them. The Living Weapons, granted, isn’t from *too* many years ago, being a 1990 release from creators Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières. If you have the old iBooks omnibus Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (2004), this 56-pager is one of the albums in there. The Testament of William S. is far more removed from the source; it’s actually the newest Blake and Mortimer investigatory adventure, released in French only last year. The writer is Yves Sente and the artist is André Juillard, working in the tradition of creator Edgar P. Jacobs for 72 pages set in the late 1950s, at which time the actual series was already ten years old; $13.95 (Weapons), $15.95 (Testament).

Scene But Not Heard (&) Beyond Palomar: Here’s a pair of books from longtime alt-comics guys that have been around before, and now will be available again. Scene But Not Heard is a 128-page collection of wordless, rather Kurtzmanesque color comics Sam Henderson created for Nickelodeon Magazine, perhaps rousing memories of an era when that very mainstream forum gave a lot of work to small-press cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver contributes a comics-format introduction to the Alternative Comics release, which was initially co-published with Top Shelf, although I don’t know what the status is now. Beyond Palomar, meanwhile, is a collection of Gilbert Hernandez comics from Love and Rockets, specifically the one that contains Poison River, one of the holy fucking shit comics of the late ’80s/early ’90s. It is accompanied by its lifelong companion companion serial, Love and Rockets X, for 256 big pages of challenge and reward; $14.95 (Scene), $16.95 (Beyond).

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Also humor but not exactly comics is this print iteration of an enduring type of online entertainment – the funny commentary on wacky old funnybooks. Actually, I can’t remember the last time something like this appeared in print. The author is Jon Morris, a webcomics artist going back quite a ways (he was nominated for an Ignatz in 2001, the year the awards were cancelled), and a comics blogger dating to at least the late 1990s. The present volume is a 256-page Quirk Books survey of oddball rogues, following up on a 2015 look at similarly goofy superheroes; $24.95.

Asian Comics (&) On the Graphic Novel: Finally, here are two University Press of Mississippi books-on-comics now available in softcover editions. Both are of some unusual interest. Asian Comics is a massive (352-page, 8.5″ x 11″) overview of the comics of 16 nations – not Japan, but China, Hong Kong, Korea, India and others. The author is John A. Lent, founder of the International Journal of Comic Art, and I man whom I suspect has forgotten more comics than any of us have read. On the Graphic Novel is a 375-page Bruce Campbell translation of a text by Santiago García, a Spanish-born writer and translator recently seen with the artist David Rubín on a version of Beowulf released stateside by Image. García “follows the history of the graphic novel from early nineteenth- century European sequential art, through the development of newspaper strips in the United States, to the development of the twentieth-century comic book and its subsequent crisis,” as the publisher puts it; $30.00 (each).

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A Look Back at 20 Years of Mankoff’s New Yorker Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 1:30 in the afternoon, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, sent a memo to the magazine’s roster of cartoonists. A minute later, the same memo arrived at the inboxes of the rest of the staff.

“We are going to have a change,” Remnick began, quoted by James Warren at, “—after more than two decades as cartoon editor, the incomparable Bob Mankoff is stepping aside from that post and assuming what is arguably a higher post, that of a regularly contributing artist. Bob has been a remarkable and innovative partner to me, as he was to Tina Brown [Remnick’s predecessor]. He brought a real sense of originality to this work, but, even more important, a sense of the artists and their interests. He has brought everyone’s best work to the table and managed a complicated balancing act with grace, sustaining the work of people who have been publishing in The New Yorker for many years while bringing new artists into the mix, including more diverse voices and views of the world.” “A huge antic talent and wonderful wry observer,” Tina Brown told Warren. “I saw how special he was immediately and will always be proud I made him the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.”

Remnick continued: “In addition to going back to the drawing board with greater frequency, Bob will edit an ambitious new anthology, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons [scheduled for publication in 2018], and will continue to work with Condé Nast on redeveloping the Cartoon Bank, which he founded and ran for many successful years.”

Mankoff, “known for his erudite, absurdist sensibility and a distinctive, pointillist drawing style,” said Andrew Chow at, will enter into this new phase of his career on the first of May. And what will he do then?

“I think I will rest on my plaudits for a while, if I can find them,” he told Michael Cavna by phone at Comic Riffs. “Last time I tried resting on them, I slipped and threw my back out, so I’m going to be cautious.”

Cavna asked: upon reflection, what will he miss most? “The unwarranted adulation and respect that comes with the imprimatur of being cartoon editor of The New Yorker,” Mankoff said. “However, if no one is looking, I might try to sneak that imprimatur out of the building.” And what might the late Mollie Mankoff — whom the cartoonist describes as the stereotypical smothering Jewish mother — say to her son, if she could, upon his farewell from an editorship that greatly enhanced the magazine?

“They paid you for that?” Mankoff quips. He said he is looking forward to finding the comic side of an increasingly fraught era, reported Chow: “The humor is very dark, but it’s there. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything.” And if he’s not up to the task? “I’ll go bowling,” he said, with a laugh. That’s pretty much what there is to the public Bob Mankoff—a joke and a quip. Or, rather, jokes and quips in a seemingly unending cascade.

Bob Mankoff is a funny fella. A very funny fella. He could be a stand-up comic. Instead, he’s the cartoon editor of the most prestigious cartoon-publishing enterprise in the country. Tall and thin with a salt-and-pepper moustache and chin whiskers fringing a cadaverous visage framed by long luxuriant locks, Mankoff obviously enjoys being funny. And that’s part of his act: when making appearances hither and yon, he joyfully assumes the persona of an egomaniacal cartoon editor.

In the guise of a towering ego, he struts back and forth across the stage, mugging and dropping one-liners at every step. He basks in the laughter he provokes in his audience. He enjoys the spotlight so much that he doesn’t share it noticeably with the three New Yorker cartoonists who have accompanied him to Chicago on a promotional tour in the summer of 2004 for the new landmark compilation, The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, a nine-pound 656-page gargantuan compendium that prints 2,004 of the cartoons the magazine has published from its first issue, February 21, 1925, through the February 23, 2004 anniversary issue. This historic achievement comes equipped with two CDs that contain all 68,647 cartoons published during that period.

Mankoff pauses, an elaborately dramatic moment, and then says he’ll give ten bucks to anyone who can find a cartoon in back issues of The New Yorker that isn’t in the Complete Cartoons. Another pause. “Twenty bucks if you keep quiet about it,” he snarls with a fiendish grin.

My first exposure to Mankoff’s stage persona was in watching him in a video as he introduced The New Yorker’s digital archive. He held up a disk, saying every cartoon the magazine had ever published was recorded on the disk.

Then he dropped the disk and pretended that it was smashed beyond repair. But—no matter—he quickly reached into his suit coat’s inner pocket and produced another disk. Holding it up, he said: “Backup.” At the time—mid-1990s—the rest of the world was just beginning to appreciate the necessity of backing-up whatever was put on a computer. Mankoff dramatized the need—with a laugh. Then I saw him “live” at that promotional appearance in Chicago.

Behind Mankoff on stage is a table at which are seated David Sipress, Matthew Diffee, and Charles Barsotti, each with a table mic in front of him. They watch, rapt, their editor cavort in front of them, gesturing at key rhetorical moments to the projection screen behind them upon which New Yorker cartoons flash in sequence, beginning with some early ones from the magazine’s first year and continuing through 2004.

When Mankoff reaches the year Barsotti’s first cartoon was published in the magazine, he urges Barsotti to take up the narrative, but as soon as Barsotti says something, Mankoff jumps on it, elaborating on the idea to make it funnier. Barsotti tries a couple more times, but we never find out much about what he thinks because Mankoff is helping him along every time.

When the chronology gets to Sipress’ debut in The New Yorker, he is invited into the monologue. Mankoff asks him a question or two, Sipress responds, grins, and Mankoff plunges on into the next decade. Diffee enjoys a similar monosyllabic cameo appearance.

During Mankoff’s monologue, we find out that he is not only cartoon editor for The New Yorker, he also contributes cartoons from time-to-time, and he’s the president (or CEO) and founder of the Cartoon Bank, an online cartoon marketing operation that he invented and then sold to The New Yorker. Mankoff pauses at this point to wonder, eyebrows erect with mock suspicion, about conflict of interest, which he expresses in terms of organization chart logic: who’s in charge here, he wonders. Mankoff is, of course.

During the question-and-answer period following Mankoff’s presentation, we learn that The New Yorker cartoon editor is no longer involved in picking the magazine’s cover illustration as of yore. That duty has fallen to a relatively new staff position, art editor, filled these days, and since its inception in the early 1990s under Tina Brown’s editorship, by Francoise Mouly, who, with her husband Art Spiegelman, is apparently responsible for bringing much new talent into the magazine, often recruiting from the ranks of Spiegelman’s underground cartoonist “gang” (as Mankoff termed it) whom she and Spiegelman promoted in their avant garde 1980s magazine, Raw.

Mouly not only cultivates cover illustrations but, we assume, all other illustrations in the magazine that are not captioned cartoons. Mankoff, I suspect, wishes it were otherwise, that he, like his predecessors in the cartoon editing chair, had some say in these matters. But he doesn’t. Much.

I also suspect that Mankoff chaffs a bit at the fame the magazine’s reportage has earned over the years, beginning, most spectacularly, with John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” in the 1950s. He mentioned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh a couple of times in a less than deferential way.

The New Yorker enjoys a reputation as the forcing bed for the modern single-panel gag cartoon: the genre achieved its apotheosis at The New Yorker, and the magazine is revered among gag cartoonists as a result. Its cartoons also rank high on the cultural scale generally. But the New Yorker writers seem to stand higher in our sober Puritan work-ethic culture: serious reporting is closer to God than silly laughter. And it was ever thus.

Mankoff, I think, is somewhat resentful of this state of affairs and regards cartoonists, justifiably, as superior beings. After all, many cartoonists, he observes, can write passable prose; few journalists can draw acceptable cartoons.

Asked about the future for cartooning, Mankoff says, “The future will be online in combination with on-demand publishing.” His opinion reflects his own bias in favor of the business he created, Cartoon Bank, a distinctly online, on-demand operation.

How acute his prognostication is may be judged from his response to another question. He was asked his opinion of the current plight of editorial cartoonists, whose ranks have steadily dwindled over the last ten years or so as newspapers discontinue staff positions. Mankoff professed to know nothing about this dilemma; he has never even heard about the crisis, he said. But he may have been kidding. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

All of the minor annoyances that plague Mankoff fade when he’s on stage. There, he’s in his element—always joking. His wife is a tolerant person, he implied: there are few places they go together that she doesn’t hit him for uncontrollable wise-acreage. “Like when I got to the supermarket,” he explains, “and they ask, ‘Paper or plastic?’ And I say, ‘You know, I’m gonna eat it all here.'”

Someone in the audience asks, “How does a cartoonist protect his work from being ripped off?” “Guns!” Mankoff quips.

Warmed by the glow of the spotlight, he prances around the stage, mugging to the audience and sometimes laughing at his own jokes, the perfect caricature of a genuinely funny man, thoroughly enjoying himself. And we, seated in rows at his feet, enjoy him just as thoroughly.



Mankoff in public is what everyone doubtless thinks a cartoonist should be—a wise-acre, a smart-ass, a stand-up comedian spouting punchlines at every breath. And Mankoff, 72, is good at it. He started as a class clown. It was self-defense.

According to Cavna in a profile he wrote about Mankoff in 2014, as a youngster, Mankoff “needed to develop techniques to combat his mother’s solo obsessiveness and onslaught of Yiddishisms. … When it comes to his mom, the issue was always one of closeness. The cartoonist says Mollie Mankoff, as an ever-loving presence, was not a Jewish mother — she was a Jewish smother. “He became the Boy Gevalt, developing a mouth as rapid as Mom’s. ‘Yiddish excels at combining aggression, friendliness, and ambiguity,’ he writes, ‘a basic recipe for humor that my mother was excellent at cooking up and on which I was spoon-fed.’

“Mother and son had a less-than-ideal personal relationship, Mankoff says, but the dynamic was perfect for honing his humor: she was not an audience but a target, and comedy thrives on conflict.”

“I am a ‘made’ cartoonist,” Mankoff he says, “but I was born a comic.”

“Beyond his parents’ walls,” Cavna continued, “Mankoff soon became the quick-quipping kid from Queens. He went to New York’s High School of Music and Art, but his draftsman’s hand didn’t match the best in class; it was the gags that gave him an edge and a niche. By his calculation, it was humor that leveled the playing field of life.”

“You need chutzpah, whether you’re Jewish or not,” Mankoff said during his profile interview with Cavna. “Humor levels the playing field. I understood that early on — that was something I had.” The class clown is “on” all the time. Quips define his personality. For the sake of his individuality, he needs the attention that he gets by cracking wise all the time. Given this display of egotism, it is surprising to realize that as an editor he went outside and beyond his spotlight-craving essence.



The New Yorker is a notoriously tough market for cartoonists to break into. It customarily takes years and thousands of submissions before a cartoonist finally sells one to the magazine. In his memoir, How About Never—Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons, Mankoff discusses his first sale to The New Yorker —and that of other New Yorker cartoonists. Michael Maslin submitted cartoons for seven years before he sold one. Mankoff’s first sale occurred, in 1977, after he’d submitted 2,000 cartoons in merely two years.

The legendary exception to this agonizing rite of passage is Roz Chast. She sold a cartoon on her first try in 1978 when she brought a portfolio of her work in to Lee Lorenz, then New Yorker cartoon editor. I like to think she’s still undergoing the initiation phase even though the magazine is publishing her attempts with clockwork predictability.

Like most children who wind up as cartoonists, Mankoff doodled all the time as he grew up. At the High School of Music and Art, he learned that he didn’t draw well enough to aim for a career as an illustrator or artist. But he didn’t stop doodling, and his doodles were often funny. His senior year at Syracuse University—1966, when he was 22—he encountered Syd Hoff’s book, Learning to Cartoon.

“The preface was very encouraging,” Mankoff writes, “—with genial Syd assuring me how easy the process would be.”

But Mankoff’s first experience trying to sell cartoons to magazines by taking a bunch of them around to cartoon editors’ offices in Manhattan was bleakly unsuccessful. To avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam, he entered graduate school. Attending, first, Atlanta University, an all-black college in Georgia where (he says) he was the only white guy, and then Fairleigh Dickinson University, he earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology. But “when my experimental animal died, I took it as an omen to quit,” as Mankoff puts it, and, having never given up drawing funny pictures, he entered the cartooning racket, submitting cartoons to the numerous magazines that were headquartered in New York.

He sold several cartoons but the Holy Grail for magazine cartoonists, he knew, was The New Yorker. It paid better than any of the others. And it had status.

Setting his sights on selling to The New Yorker, Mankoff describes in his memoir his research: he looked at New Yorker cartoons in every reprint volume he could find, learning, among other things, that “there was no such thing as a typical New Yorker cartoon.” They could have short captions or long ones, be whimsical or satirical or philosophical. “One common thread,” however, that ran through them all “was that they made the reader think. You had to be a participant in the experience, up-to-date on the latest trends and buzzwords, aware of the world around you, and possessing a mental flexibility able to appreciate different comic visions, techniques and talents.”

Two such talents inspired Mankoff, he said—Saul Steinberg for his “philosophical meditation in ink,” and James Thurber, for his weirdness and “his apparent lack of drawing skill.” Here was something Mankoff could aspire to do. Although his initial cartoons were drawn with lines, Mankoff soon developed a distinctive “style” of his own, creating his images by using dots—stippling, it is called. “I might say,” he said, “I eventually found my style by connecting the dots.”

Instead of adding gray tones to his linework with a wash, Mankoff did what he saw in halftone reproductions of photographs: he added gray tones with dots. The closer together the dots, the darker the gray.

In his study of New Yorker cartoons, Mankoff realized that “the perfect melding of an enigmatic image in need of humorous clarification by a one-line caption was the hallmark of the New Yorker cartoon.” This verbal-visual blend is the hallmark of all good single-panel cartoons: the picture is a puzzle, and the caption explains the puzzle. Or vice versa. The single-panel cartoon is the haiku of cartooning.

As cartoon editor, Mankoff also came to understand that New Yorker cartoons often ridicule the magazine’s readers. The presumed reader of The New Yorker was culturally literate, socially aware and empathetic. Cartoons often satirize the pieties of these readers as well as their self-centered dissatisfactions. Writes Mankoff: “The most New Yorker magazine-ish cartoons are not making fun of the less fortunate, and they’re not faux rebellious, speaking ‘truth’ to power. Rather, they ridicule their own class—maybe, just maybe, producing some skepticism about its unconsciously held assumptions, and, if not an out-and-out laugh, then at least an out-and-out wry smile of recognition.”




After his first sale, Mankoff appeared regularly in the magazine. He was good enough and dependable enough that he was offered a contract in January 1981. A contract New Yorker cartoonist agrees to give the magazine first refusal rights: it gets first choice of all his/her    cartoons. Those that are not accepted he can try to sell elsewhere. A contract cartoonist is also paid more than a non-contract cartoonist; the payment increases over time and according to the number (and size) of the cartoonist’s cartoons that are published.

The New Yorker’s famed taste about what a good New Yorker cartoon is results, inevitably, in more cartoons being rejected than being accepted. Typically, as you correctly suppose, a New Yorker cartoonist has heaps and piles of cartoons the magazine has rejected. As cartoon editor, Mankoff says he looked at about 1,000 cartoons a week (500 from contract cartoonists). He winnows this down to about 50 good ones and takes them to the weekly “art meeting” with editor Remnick and others (usually a secretary or assistant), where about 20 are picked for publication at an average rate of about $675 each. Before publication, every cartoon is checked against the computer-file of New Yorker cartoons to make sure the same punchline hasn’t appeared in the magazine before. Ideas, not artwork, sells the cartoons. “It’s not the ink,” Mankoff intones, “it’s the think.”

Mankoff is  conscientiously on the look-out for new talent, always, and he would like to see more women cartoonists in the magazine. “I’d say about 10% of the cartoons submitted come from women,” he said in an online interview recently, “and there’s no doubt if women ran the magazine and one was cartoon editor, more would be selected.” (And what you wish for….) The rigorous selection process means, usually, that about 30 good cartoons, at least—not counting the other 900-plus submissions—are homeless.

The usual practice of freelance magazine cartoonists is to produce a batch of 10-20 cartoons a week. In offering them for sale, cartoonists begin with the highest-paying magazines (The New Yorker and, until last year, Playboy). The cartoons rejected by those markets are then offered to other magazines, starting with the next highest paying and going down the list until the final possibilities (paying, sometimes, only $5 a cartoon) are reached. Cartoons that survive this process are presumably really lousy, but at any moment going down the list of markets by their rates of payment, a cartoonist has several cartoons that he/she thinks are good but haven’t sold.

Before he was cartoon editor, Mankoff was selling to The New Yorker pretty well: one week, the magazine bought seven of his 10 submissions. But that meant he still had three unsold cartoons that he thought were good enough for The New Yorker. And most weeks, he had more than that left over.

He realized that other New Yorker contract cartoonists also had a substantial number of unsold cartoons every week. And since the left-overs had been concocted expressly for The New Yorker sensibility, most of them were not suitable for other publications and could not be offered for sale anywhere else. That’s when Mankoff had his idea: why not create a platform on which these unsold cartoons might have another change to sell.

“The basic idea for the Cartoon Bank,” he writes in his memoir, “was quite simple: to do for cartoons what photo-stock houses had done for photos—make cartoons available to publishers and the general public for purchase and licensing.” He elaborated in his phone interview with Cavna: “In the early ’90s, the market for magazine cartoons was already not only drying up, but dried up. There was still the Everest of The New Yorker, but the rest of the markets were pretty much the equivalent of foothills.” [And most of them were quickly giving up publishing cartoons.]

Quoted in the spring of 2005 by Jerome Weeks in the Dallas Morning News, Mankoff explained the disappearance of cartoons from most magazines in those days by saying that “they’ve gotten over-designed—there’s no place for a cartoon.” I’ve been saying as much for years: cartoons disappeared from magazines when art directors started controlling the content of the publications. Art directors like solids—solid colors, solid blacks, solid white space, and the solid “gray” of columns of type. Cartoons interfere with the cadence-counting impulse of page design by manipulation of solids. 

Said Mankoff in his memoirs: “I conceived of the Cartoon Bank as a way for cartoonists to make money by licensing the nine cartoons out of every 10 they did that got rejected, often unfairly by obtuse editors like I became. The Cartoon Bank hasn’t been a failure, but it hasn’t been successful enough to do what I wanted it to do: provide enough of a supplementary income so that cartoonists could devote themselves full time to cartooning. When it does that, I’ll be very proud. Until then, I’m partially proud.”

He added: “Most of the cartoons rejected by The New Yorker, then and now, are quite good.” Good enough to still attract buyers.

He started the Cartoon Bank with just New Yorker cartoonists, but it soon expanded. Even though it didn’t produce enough supplemental income to make its cartoonists independent financially, it worked as a marketing device. The other aspect of Mankoff’s idea was to make the Internet the platform. All at once, there was a virtually universal marketing mechanism.

The Cartoon Bank was up and running by 1991 when The New Yorker acquired a new editor, Tina Brown, from her previous post at Vanity Fair, where she had been editor since 1984. Brown thought the Cartoon Bank was a “million-dollar idea” and urged Si Newhouse, then owner of The New Yorker, to buy it from Mankoff. After a few years, Newhouse went along with her, and they made Mankoff an offer.

Mankoff agreed to sell the Cartoon Bank but only if two conditions were met. First, he would continue to be the president of Cartoon Bank. His second condition amounted to extortion: he’d sell the Cartoon Bank if The New Yorker would make him its cartoon editor. In describing this ruthless (not to say unscrupulous) proposal in his memoir, Mankoff says he didn’t, really, expect them to meet his second condition. (But he felt that proposing the second condition at least proclaimed his ambition.) The magazine had a cartoon editor, Lee Lorenz, also a cartoonist, who had been at that post for 24 years. In order to give Mankoff the job, they’d have to fire Lorenz. And it was Lorenz who had brought Mankoff into the magazine’s stable of cartoonists. How much of an ingrate was Mankoff? Mankoff slides by this moral contretemps by saying, simply, that “Lorenz decided to retire later that year.”

Then, presto—“ambitious, eligible Bob got tapped by Tina for the job,” assuming what would soon be the last great cartoon editorship in the country. Was Lorenz offered any special inducement to retire? Did someone urge him to retire? Mankoff doesn’t say.



And what kind of cartoon editor was Mankoff? Not bad, over the long haul. In fact, very good, all things considered. And with Mankoff, there are a lot of things to consider. He was the fourth person to fill that function but the first to have the title “cartoon editor.” The first to act as cartoon editor was Rea Irvin, a cartoonist and artist who was at foundering editor Harold Ross’s elbow since the magazine started in February 1925. Irvin’s taste in art and in comedy established the basic aura of New Yorker cartoons—as well as the design of the magazine. Irvin quit his unofficial role when Ross died in 1951, but by then, Jim Geraghty (not a cartoonist himself) had joined the staff in 1939 and held the cartoon editing post until 1973 when Lorenz assumed the cartoon editorship (albeit still without that title; both Geraghty and Lorenz were called “art editor”; Irvin was called “art supervisor”).

At first, Mankoff concentrated on the Cartoon Bank. At The New Yorker, the process of submitting and selecting cartoons and a stable of cartoonists whose talents were proven meant that the cartoon operation could proceed with little guidance from Mankoff. But the Cartoon Bank was still in a start-up phase, and he spent comparatively more of his time as its “president” and chief operating officer.

Once the Cartoon Bank was running as smoothly as could be expected, Mankoff shifted more of his attention to the cartoon editorship. Critics carping from the sidelines had complained that the quality of the artwork and the sophistication of the humor in New Yorker cartoons wasn’t what it used to be. To which, Mankoff, writing his memoirs, responded: “It never was.”

It is true, however, that few of the New Yorker cartoonists draw in ways that compare favorably to Peter Arno or George Price, Helen Hokinson or Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow Jr., Chon Day, Alaln Dunn, Syd Hoff or Mary Petty, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, William Steig or Gluyas Williams. At the same time, the magazine no longer runs full-page cartoons; indeed, for most of Mankoff’s tenure, cartoons didn’t even rate a half-page.

And there were other subtle changes that had seeped into New Yorker cartooning over the years. In the old days (roughly until Geraghty came aboard), cartoons were often written by people who weren’t the cartoonists. George Price’s distinctive comedy was not his: all of his New Yorker cartoons were written by others. Staffers James Thurber and E.B. White often provided captions for drawings submitted by other persons. By the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons. (In fact, to reveal an undisguised bias of mine, true cartooning, blending words and picture, can most happily take place in a cartoonist’s mind, not a writer’s. Which may account for the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades. And, even—inevitably—into current decades.)

Talking to Weeks at the Dallas Morning News in 2005, Mankoff says he had to “teach” The New Yorker editor Remnick about how cartoons should be deployed in the magazine. New Yorker cartoons are topical (and always have been) but not as front-page topical as newspaper editorial cartoons. For decades, thanks to the magazine’s founder’s Puritan bent, sex was taboo as a subject for cartoons. Then when Tina Brown took over as editor, that area opened up. New Yorker-style sex, that is. In his memoir, Mankoff explains—”that means no sex. No sex is funnier.” He cites the drawing of a couple in bed, the woman snuggling up to her husband and saying, “Is this a good time to bring up a car problem?”

In their phone interview, Mankoff told Cavna that since he became editor, “the biggest change was that cartoons, even of the very benign variety that appear in The New Yorker, now have great power to offend — at least among the easily offended — a class whose numbers grow even as I write,” Mankoff says. “Now, even Canadians take offense at being stereotyped as polite.” Mankoff jokes about the shift, observed Cavna, but when he inherited the lofty office from Lorenz, he had to cultivate cartoonists who worked in comic tones increasingly absurd and meta — talents who, “when they use a cliche, they destroy it,” he likes to say.

When Remnick became editor in 1998, cartoon humor backed off a little from Brown’s edginess—but not as far back as William Shawn, who had succeeded Ross in 1951. “It didn’t happen immediately,” Mankoff says in his memoir. “We needed a while to shake off Tina’s inclination to shock.” 

Although Mankoff has a clear grasp of what makes a good cartoon—its blending of words and pictures—any issue of the magazine contains cartoons the humor of which is essentially verbal: the caption doesn’t need the picture for its comedy. Here are a couple captions without pictures:

“My life has become a tangled web of fictitious user names and fiendishly clever passwords.”

“So, as you can see, health care is so complicated you may never get well.”

Other cartoons, happily, maintain a visual-verbal blend that makes them superior representatives of the artform.

Over the last year or so, runaway whimsy has elbowed New Yorker social satire out of the running as the most frequently published: too many cartoons feature talking animals saying just what you’d expect a talking chicken, say, to observe about a weather vane or goats going to have  their entrails read or a couple of moose (meese?) who avoid crowds because they claim not to know the plural form of the name of their species. 


Mankoff’s great achievement as cartoon editor is not so much in evolving the nature of the cartoons as it is in the cartoonists: he brought new talent into the magazine.

“Lee Lorenz handed me a plane on automatic co-pilot,” Mankoff said of the established roster of talent. “People were ready to do this forever,” he told Cavna in the 2014 profile. But, added Cavna, as the comedy zeitgeist shifted, Mankoff came to a realization: he needed to cultivate a new crop of cartoonists. In his memoir, Mankoff says: “This wonderful plane flying on autopilot needed some actual piloting or it was gong to run out of fuel. Unless I shifted my course, all that would be left of the New Yorker cartoon tradition would be found in cartoon anthologies. So, I would have to do what Lee had done and find some new cartoonists.”

 But before any new cartoonists could get a foot in the door, Manoff said, “I need to open the door a bit wider. That’s why in 1998, I established Open-Call Tuesdays when anyone who wanted to show me cartoons could make an apointment to see me. Previously that privilege had been restricted to established New Yorker cartoonists. … I thought Open-Call Tuesdays was a great idea, that in and of itself it would bring a bunch of new cartoolnits to the magazine. And a lot of fresh-faced aspirants did show up.”

But Mankoff realized showing up was not enough. These new talents needed cultivation. So instead of simply giving them rejection slips—the usual New Yorker cartoon tutorial—Mankoff started coaching them. “Why shouldn’t the new generation have the privilege of covering their bathroom walls with rejection slips [like he did]?” he asks in his memoirs. “It wasn’t just that I wanted younger cartoonists to suffer as I had; I understood that you learn more from your failures than your successes. But I realized that if all you ended up having were failures, all you would have learned is how to fail. So I broke the code of silence and became a real blabbermouth, giving aspiring cartoonists feedback and developing a mini-course in cartoon fundamentals and the psychology of humor.”

He tinkered with captions and explained why. He pointed out composition variations in the pictures and asked why one was better than another. He also did the unheard of. He arranged for newcomers to get published in The New Yorker quicker than the magazine’s traditional arduous acceptance rituals allowed. “If I had to wait for new cartoonists to assimilate all the rules and produce perfect cartoons before they could get into the magazine, I would be waiting a very long time,” he says in his memoirs. “And time wasn’t on my side.”

With Remnick’s collusion, Mankoff eased talented new cartoonists into the magazine a little before they were absolutely, unquestionably ready. “We were cutting new cartoonists some slack,” he explains, “—doing some affirmative action, giving them some reinforcements to get them hooked on cartooning the way I had been.”

Positive reinforcement might take a while. Recruit Matt Diffee waited eight months before his second cartoon was purchased. “When he was finally published again,” Mankoff says, “the improvement was obvious, both in the idea, which is not just a twist on a common cartoon cliches, and in the drawing, which also departs from traditional cartoon conventions by creating a fantasy scenario.” 

“What I absolutely take satisfaction in is that, as I leave as cartoon editor, I leave The New Yorker and my successor with a bumper crop of new and talented cartoonists who came in under my tenure,” Mankoff said on the phone to Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “To name a few—Liana Fink, Emily Flake, Drew Dernavich, Paul Noth, Harry Bliss, Edward Steed,” Mankoff said, before wryly deciding to name more than a few: “Alex Gregory, David Sipress, Joe Dator, Zachary Kanin, Farley Katz, Pat Byrnes, Ben Schwartz, Tom Toro, Chris Weyant, Amy Hwang — well, you get the idea.”

Chicago-based New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes expanded on Mankoff’s role during his interview with James Warren at “Bob Mankoff sees thousands of individual cartoons each week, but what he looks for are individual voices. And then he cultivates them, as he did mine. Mankoff gave me my big break, not simply by buying a cartoon, but by buying into me as a cartoonist.

“And it’s amazing he can do that for me,” Byrnes continued, “—and so many other cartoonists he has brought into the magazine. The number of cartoons he sees each week would numb anyone else’s sense of humor. But Bob has a sense for humor. He not only sees what is funny, but why it’s funny.”

And, yet, Byrnes went on, Mankoff seems to take it all quite seriously. “Some of it’s an act. He loves to wear the persona of the crusty New York cynic, but inside he’s still a gangly, insecure, smart aleck kid. That’s evident in his most famous cartoon, ‘No, Thursday’s out. How about never? Is never good for you?’ No surprise, the cartoon was autobiographical. He can be deadly serious and outrageously silly in the same breath.”

Ironically, the more cartoonists Mankoff brought into the magazine, the fewer are published regularly. With only 15-17 cartooning slots to be filled in each issue and a couple dozen new cartoonists—plus the roster Mankoff inherited—there are more than twice the number of cartoonists than there are places in the magazine for their cartoons. Still, a few, mostly standbys from Lorenz’s day, get in nearly every issue—Roz Chast, Barbara Smaller, Dave Sipress, Michael Maslin, Tom Chitty; of the newer cartoonists, Edward Steed and Drew Dernavich and, lately, Liam Francis Walsh.

With his interest in computers and the digital universe, Mankoff also contributed to growing The New Yorker’s Internet audience by shepherding the daily presence of cartoons on the magazine’s website. And in the print magazine, he developed the weekly cartoon caption contest from its once-a-year appearance in the short-lived annual Cartoon Issue of The New Yorker. His successor will inherit more than an airplane on auto-pilot. And she is both a throw-back and a iconoclast: like Geraghty, she’s not a cartoonist. And, that’s right, she’s the first female cartoon editor at The New Yorker.  

In the memo announcing Mankoff’s retirement, Remnick made the introductions: “The person I’ve chosen to be the next cartoon editor is Emma Allen, who has worked in recent years an editor of The Talk of the Town, a writer, and the driving force behind Daily Shouts, which is one of the best features of Unlike Bob and Lee, she is not a cartoonist, but then neither was James Geraghty, who did the job before Lee. (Hell, William Shawn was not a writer, either, and he wasn’t too bad in the editing department. [Shawn was the second editor of The New Yorker, succeeding Harold Ross, the founding editor, in 1951.] ) Emma has a terrific eye for talent, knows the history of cartooning deeply, and is an immensely energetic and intelligent and sympathetic editor. She will work with Colin Stokes [associate cartoon editor] on selecting cartoons, running the caption contest, and creating a bigger digital footprint for cartoons. I am quite sure that we have only just begun to figure out new ways to explore and exploit digital technologies as a way to distribute your work to more and new readers. All of this is intended to stake out a healthy future for cartoons at The New Yorker.”

To which Mankoff had the final word (as he often does): “My greatest gratitude goes to the cartoonists. I know how much easier it is to pick a good cartoon than do one, much less the many thousands they have done and will continue to do. And, continue they will, with Emma Allen who now takes over this most iconic of all New Yorker features. I wish her and them the best of luck. And me, too—I’ve got to find that old cartoon pen of mine.”

Here at Hare Tonic, we’ll edge out Mankoff’s final word with some from one of the cartoonists he brought into the magazine, Pat Byrnes, who made an observation that’s James Warren recorded:

“Oh,” said Warren, “a final thing noted by Byrnes that involved not Mankoff but Remnick and the art of leadership. It’s a little thing, but one that editors everywhere should note, especially those who increasingly rely on (and, in many cases, shaft) freelancers and other needy journalists.

“‘The important detail to cartoonists is the ‘2:32 p.m.’ part,’ Byrnes noted, referencing the time on the email Remnick sent to the magazine’s editorial staff. ‘Remnick’s email to the cartoonists arrived one minute earlier,’ Byrnes said. ‘I know that’s not much, but it speaks well for Remnick that he informed the cartoonists first.’”

Well, yes. But he didn’t pick a cartoonist to be the new editor. What does that say? With Playboy no longer an outlet for magazine cartooning, The New Yorker is the last magazine cartoon outpost in civilization. How well will Emma Allen serve the profession and the arts of cartooning? We’ll see.

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Risograph Workbook 4 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:00:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Ryan Sands, Publisher at Youth in Decline, joins me for Part 4 of my ongoing series where I speak to some of the pioneers of risograph printing.

I started this conversation with Mickey Z, then spoke to Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing, and caught up with Ryan Cecil Smith – check out the rest of the Risograph Workbooks: Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey ZRisograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing; Risograph Workbook 3: Ryan Cecil Smith.

Now Ryan Sands steps up to the plate!


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

Sands: The legend is true! When folks ask me what got me into risograph printing, the answer is the photo below:

Comics risograph printed by genius Mickey Z

When I was still just a baby zinemaker, I got to know Mickey Zacchilli and her work online. We became friends talking about horror manga via my old blog Same Hat, and Mickey did some cool drawings for my “mixtape” zine Electric Ant (which includes Mickey and Michael DeForge‘s first-ever collaboration, the end papers for Issue #2). I was totally enamored with Mickey’s comics, and how she used limited spot colors to give the zines a lot of life. Before her risograph comics, I hadn’t seen people use their own handwriting as a specific layer of color, which makes a zine have this cool depth while still looking like a hand-made DIY object.

Titus Andronicus drawing by Mickey Z for the Electric Ant zine (2008)

People ask me about risograph a lot, and I get hesitant to characterize it as a look or aesthetic unto itself. The machine is just a means to production, and how artists mess with it and use it is a reflection of their priorities and style – Mickey uses the riso to maintain spontaneity and a handmade griminess to the comics, while someone like John Pham applies his printmaking emphasis and precision to create these really sharp and dense books full of color and gradients. Then there are folks like Ryan Cecil Smith, and Colour Code Printing‘s Jesjit Gill, who want to push the color blending and technique as far as possible, recreating (and sometimes surpassing) the sharpness of CMYK offset printing. A risograph machine is just tool that allows creators & publishers to speed up & expand on an existing approach.

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

I currently use a RP 3105 at my space, which doubles as a little print shop and as a warehouse/shipping hub for Youth in Decline. The machine I use now was purchased by my friend David Murray (Telegraph Gallery/SEIBEI) via Craigslist – I believe from a printer in Sacramento who didn’t want it and basically gave it away if he’d pick the thing up. We co-parented that machine when David lived and had an office here in the Bay Area, and I basically learned how to risograph over the course of printing Thickness #1 on it.

Jonny Negron’s cover artwork (2011)

From Julia Gfrörer’s story “The Chasm” in Thickness #3 (2012)

At some point along the way, I also purchased a risograph GR model from a church near Oakland, which had been using it to print their weekly bulletins for years. They were getting rid of it to get an all-in-one laserjet printer, and sold the machine to me for like $150. So, for a short while I actually had two risographs, but I gave my GR Series machine to another local SF bookmaker, Luca Antonucci at Colpa Press. It was getting expensive to acquire additional color drums (and keep supplies stocked) for two different models, so I doubled-down on the RP 3105. It’s such a sturdy workhorse, and can print up to 11″ x 17″. I have 8 or 9 different colors for it, I believe.

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

Oh no, I have no formal art training whatsoever. I think of myself as a publisher (or zinemaker) first & foremost, and use a few different printers and methods to make books. Youth in Decline uses a few local offset printers, a bindery, as well as my own machine – it all depends on what a specific artist wants to do for their project.

That said, I did screenprinting in high school and college – mostly to make t-shirts – and learned a lot about stencils and color trapping via trial & error. The basic principles of screenprinting (layering inks, overlays, etc) all completely apply to the risograph. In university I worked as co-editor of my school newspaper’s A&E section, and that was where I learned a few layout programs like Quark and InDesign, and how to plan out book signatures and layers.

I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…

Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).

On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.

Left: Assembling Wacky Wacko Magazine #1 (2015) and Right: the press release follow-up letters for Dream Tube, printed on leftover wedding invite card stock (2016)!

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. I remember you stapling and folding zines the night before festivals like many of us but I think for you it has been different because of the riso – can you speak to the excitement surrounding the options now, as opposed to “just xerox or offset”?

You’re right, my background is as a zinemaker and I’ve stapled thousands of zines by hand over the years. I have usually taken the approach that I want to learn something myself and do it by hand before I pay someone else to do it – whether collating and stapling, trimming, or perfect binding square books. A risograph is not some magical machine that takes the work out of DIY, but it does totally change the economics of self-publishing at a slightly bigger scale than purely DIY zines (say, doing 200-1500 copies of a book). For a run of that size, the cost of printing a 2-color book on Risograph is cheaper than xeroxing a B&W zine, and than printing offset in the US.

When I started Youth in Decline, I originally maybe conceptualized it as a risograph publisher, and all our books would have a signature “risograph” look. But, by the 2nd book I wanted to do – a collection of full-color paintings by Hellen Jo – I felt limited by that definition. Now I think of the risograph as one of many tools in the toolbox, and let the content decide the production approach (offset, xerox, risograph, digital-only) and not the other way around.

From Frontier #5: Sam Alden (2014)

Some of my favorite things we’ve done have included a little of each medium. For both Frontier #5: Sam Alden and Love Songs For Monsters (a Science Fiction chapbook by Anthony Ha), we did the interiors on risograph, the covers offset in full-color, and then worked with a local bindery to bring the entire thing together and trim/bind the books. There’s something really nice and elevated about a book mixing those techniques together with decent finishing that looks “pro” but still very personal. I also try to use the machine for anything that would cost money to do elsewhere – we’ve printed our shipping labels, our manila envelopes, our subscriber mailings, and even our wedding invites(!) on that damn thing.

Can you talk about how you choose to take on projects – how has it changed over the years?

We’ve put out a few dozen books by now, but Youth in Decline is still very much a small publishing house with limited bandwidth. My mission is basically focused on two things: Developing and fostering new talent with thoughtful editorial & production attention to their work, and helping most-established and international creators indulge in an interesting or experimental book or digital project. Youth in Decline is still (for now) my side project after work, so I try to work with good people on projects that have something unique and urgent to say (both aesthetically and narratively).

My wife Jane and I were lucky enough to welcome a daughter at the start of 2017, so we’re taking a bit of a hiatus as we figure out this parenting thing. Juggling everything is a challenge, but we have some really cool plans in store for our Frontier series and other projects in the 2nd half of 2017 and in 2018.


See the latest publications from Youth an Decline HERE. Be sure to check out Mickey Z’s new RAV 2nd Collection and the Frontier series.

Mickey Z – RAV #2

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/22/17 – Welcome to the “real” world.) Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This past weekend I had the great fortune to pick up the Spring 2017 issue of Shogakukan’s quarterly Golgo 13 magazine – a nearly 300-page compendium of complete storylines featuring Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, the Perfect Machine of Snipe, a hyper-competent assassin created by gekiga founding father Takao Saitō way back in 1968. Next year it’ll be half a century of people getting shot directly between the eyes from a faraway perch, but don’t fool yourself into thinking the franchise is irrelevant; later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan will be hosting an online manual in which G13 will dispense valuable (and presumably non-murderous) safety tips for business travelers abroad. Canny move for a comic aimed squarely at aging men, but as I was soon to find out, the feature is not without a lingering energy.

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

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

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

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

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

Still, he’s gonna need a little help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is closed, but we’re still open.


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Style and Fashion Zine #3C by Ryan Cecil Smith

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

Now Ryan Cecil Smith weighs in with his riso story.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Previous Episodes

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of books made by Colour Code Printing

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Next week will be Ryan Cecil Smith!


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emil Ferris: I got that bite 14 years ago.

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



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

Paul Tumey: How did the younger students react?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS featuring "Mama"

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS featuring “Mama”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Additional Links:

Part One of this interview

The Comics Journal review of My Favorite Thing is Monsters

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Paul Tumey: Were your parents artists?

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

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

Emil Ferris: It began with Lil’ Abner actually!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

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

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

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

Emil Ferris: Me too! Val was tops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Tumey: Holy Shit! Nice monster!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Paul Tumey: A transformation, or a transmuting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venom #2 – Mickey Z


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Cell Phone Comic #1 – 2016

Next week: Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing!

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

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

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

The Lecture


Additional Notes

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Outtakes

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

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

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

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

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

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

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

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

Alternate Structure

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

The Hungry, Homeless and Disenfranchised

Max and Moritz

Katzenjammer Kids


The Face

Simon and Kirby Sandman story


Voracious Appettites

Feininger’s Pie-Mouth

Segar’s Wimpy

Jiggs – Irish foods

Dagwood sandwich

Lulu/Frog’s Legs


Food Dreams and Nightmares

McCay’s Dreams and Henrietta

Mad: Restaurant!/ Supermarket!

Tain’t the Meat

Corpse that Came to Dinner

Lost in the Andes (nightmare of altering food source)


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

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

Art is everywhere.


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us continue the ascent:



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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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



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


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


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

Now she’s back after about ten thousand pages.


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

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


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


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


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


XC: The emoticon of being sad that you died.


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


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


Holy shit, am I still in 2010?


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


Update: Some people have died, sort of.      

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Onward to Act Six…

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futchi Perf and other Czap Books By Czap

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Czap Books

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Czap Distribution

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

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

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

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

Ley Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another illustration will help, published this time in 2016.

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

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

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

We can read Shirow by these terms too.

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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