Features – The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Fri, 13 Jan 2017 16:35:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.1 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) 1440 http://images.tcj.com/2011/04/tcj_talkies.jpg The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com 144 144 http://www.tcj.com/feed/podcast/ 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 editorial@tcj.com no no Tintin and the Curse of Clarity http://www.tcj.com/tintin-and-the-curse-of-clarity/ http://www.tcj.com/tintin-and-the-curse-of-clarity/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97887 Continue reading ]]>
A virtuoso draftsman with an imagination to match, Belgium’s Hergé (Georges Remi, 1907 – 1983) is Euro-cartooning’s nonpareil. Having sold over two hundred million books in a hundred languages, his creation Tintin is known around the world. Hergé’s fame, however, exceeds even the world of comics. When they reach the auction block, his originals now fetch fantastic sums. In 2014, going for €2.65 million, a double-page Hergé spread broke the existing record; last November, a single page went for €1.55 million.

Scrutinized by an army of “Tintinologists”, Hergé’s work also enjoys an impressive bibliography. Expanded yearly, this can range from PhDs to tomes such as last year’s Dictionnaire Amoureux de Tintin. This volume, not atypical, clocks in at 785 pages and features everything from how the artist saw roller skates to his “most overlooked” inheritors.

So how does Paris’ Grand Palais picture the subject of Hergé? Amidst so many competing theories, where does the blockbuster stand? Strictly speaking, it’s a hagiography traced in la ligne claire. Yet by assembling so many riches, they unwittingly let the work speak for itself – and it proves a disquieting tattle-tale.

Although it is worshipped as a “ninth art” in France, the Grand Palais has never before dealt with the bande dessinée. Here their explicit intention is to elevate Hergé and place him alongside Vélasquez, Warhol and Picasso. Critics have made a lot of this but the show was tailored to justify it. Every day, as soon as it opens, the place is packed with crowds aged “from 7 to 77” – Tintin magazine’s summary of its target audience. Yet the show isn’t describing merely a master storyteller or a titan of the bande dessinée.

Its portrait is that of a royal figure, an authorised and reified Hergé. A true peer of the very artists he collected, he is seen as a great whose drawing merits comparisons to Dürer and Da Vinci. For brilliance, scope and artistry, the art on show is indeed singular and it can certainly withstand a little overzealousness. In 450 original pieces from all stages of Hergé’s life, a visitor gets both the creation myth and apotheosis of his ligne claire. As a bonus, he or she also sees private paintings plus an illuminating survey of Hergé’s graphic design.

But all this is deployed in a curious anti-chronology. The expo introduces Hergé via a wall of his paintings, all of which were done during a year in the 1960s. Under the tutelage of abstractionist Louis Van Lint, the artist poured his energies into this different discipline. But the results, while honourable, have little to recommend them. As an abortive outing and a probable source of frustration (if not deep disappointment), they are an odd lead-in.

The paintings introduce a one-room mini-museum stocked with some of the modern art Hergé collected. The contents include six prints by Roy Lichtenstein (an Hergé fan), Jean DuBuffet’s La Cafetière, a Great American Nude from Tom Wesselman and the portrait of himself Hergé commissioned from Warhol. Bolstered by other pieces, including a portrait bust by Tchang Tchong-Jen, the dim room exudes a dusty and dated ambiance. Its real energy comes from the artist’s own work: Hergé’s riveting sketches for the unfinished Tintin and Alph-Art.

The expo has ten rooms in all, each with a theme like “The Curious Fox” (Hergé’s Boy Scout name) or “Lesson From the Far East” (the story of the artist’s friendship with Tchong-Jen, how it informed The Blue Lotus and transformed his life). At numerous points in many places, Hergé himself pops up on film. He is always modest, jokey and self-effacing; never does he answer a question with any depth. Whether Hergé is asked about the cinema, his work or his art, he remains anodyne. Yet his diffidence masked a sharp and probing mind. The artist was fascinated, for instance, with Balzac’s Human Comedy – as well as inspired by its recurring characters. He loved reading Simenon and Dickens but also Stendhal and Proust. In 1971, he famously exclaimed to the interviewer Numa Sadoul, “Tintin (like all the others) is me, in exactly the way Flaubert said ‘I am Madame Bovary!’… “.

Yet with regard to the public, as in the lines of his work, Hergé made himself a master of control. Just like his private feelings, the sharpness of his thinking was kept carefully under wraps. The same way he refined his line over and over, so it conveyed only what he wanted, the artist refined and guarded that face he showed the world. This is a tension palpable throughout the show, one that powered his art and helped to forge his style.

What work, however – and what a style! In so many ways, Hergé’s sketches, scribblings and storyboards are magical. At the height of his powers, they simply radiate invention. Hergé kept his energies harnessed via an extreme, labour-intensive process. Once he had decided the basis of a sequence, said the artist, “I use absolutely all the energy in my possession. I draw wildly, furiously, I erase, I scratch things out, I’m full of rage, I swear…I try to give each character’s expression and their movement as much intensity as I can “.

Out of “all these lines that blend, cross, run over and under each other” he refined and re-refined until he chose “the one that looks at the same time the smoothest and the most expressive.” Above the samples, as a wall text, hangs another quote: You can’t know the extent to which all this is long and difficult, it’s truly a manual labour!…It’s as painstaking as a watchmaker’s job. A watchmaker or a Benedictine monk. Or a Benedictine watchmaker.

The resulting line is astonishing in its fluid ebullience and its roots are inspiring. For Hergé was an autodidact with no formal training at all. As a youth who loved images, he explored, imitated and then discarded voraciously. Early on, the artist soaked up everything that attracted him – from children’s illustrators like Benjamin Rabier, Christophe and Oncle Hansi (Georges Colomb and Jean Jacques Waltz) right up to Picasso.

Employed towards the end of his teens by the Catholic paper Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), Hergé also fell in love with task after task: photo-engraving, lettering, photo-montage and page composition. The list of contemporaries whose styles intrigued him was just as varied. Some of them were poster artists, like Léo Marfurt, Cassandre (Adolphe Jean Marie Mouron) and Jean Carlu. But René Vincent –  who had the same Art Deco smoothness – worked in the world of fashion.

Remi already signed himself “Hergé”. From 17, he used this, the French pronunciation of his reversed initials (G.R.). But the man who helped him consolidate the identity was an outspoken, right-wing Catholic priest.

The Abbott Norbert Wallez stood 6’2″ tall and weighed 242 pounds. An imposing figure, he was the head of Le Vingtième Siècle’s publisher. Energetic, opinionated and a fervent fan of Benito Mussolini, the enterprising clergymen had actually managed to meet Il Duce. (He was the proud possessor of an autographed portrait). Hergé, who was a quarter-of-a-century younger, found himself impressed by the worldliness of the voluble priest. Asked by the Church to reinvigorate Le Vingtième, Abbott Wallez was bursting with schemes. One of these was a youth supplement, Le Petit Vingtième. In 1928, he asked his young employee to edit it.

No sooner was the magazine established than Wallez had yet another idea. Remi had drawn a boy and his dog for the Catholic Le Sifflet (The Whistle). Could he not turn them into a series for Le Petit Vingtième? The priest even supplied an idea for their début – a trip to Soviet Russia that would show the horrors of communism.

Soon, he had a keen Remi working twelve-hours a day. In addition to the new Tintin strip, Hergé had responsibility for his supplement’s covers, layout, typography and illustrations. Yet even on the days he needed to skip lunch, the artist made sure he popped in to see the priest. Wallez, he later said, made everything about their daily discussions interesting. “He was the first person who showed me what intellectual life could be”. In 1932, Hergé married his secretary.

Right up until his death the priest would remain a father figure. Wallez served time in prison for collaboration but, to Hergé, he was always a trusted counsellor. Hergé remained grateful for his first vote of confidence. But, says the artist’s biographer Pierre Assouline, he also saw in Wallez, “a spiritual father. Not spiritual in religious terms, but in the deepest sense.”

During the 1930s, as well as postcards and stationary, Hergé frequently designed advertising. From 1931, he signed all such efforts “Hergé Studios”. Then, in August 1933, after a contretemps with the city’s Public Works, Wallez was forced to resign his position. Without his mentor, Hergé became doubtful about Tintin’s future. Instead, he looked to advertising and took action to make Hergé Studios legal. Works from its brief existence – which officially lasted less a year – are lavishly displayed.

But Hergé’s promos for toys and travel prove revealing. Their lines are controlled and clean, their compositions neat and minimal. But, stripped of their period context, they lack genuine punch and brio. Rather like Hergé’s paintings, they are casualties of a missing ingredient: narrative.

One key to this may lie in Hergé’s childhood, wherein art played a slightly unusual role. Dutiful at school yet difficult at home, he was a rambunctious child who often needed “calming down”. His parents learned to accomplish this by giving him tools to draw. (If somehow that failed to work, their next choice was a spanking). In the end, the family communicated largely through drawing.

As an adult, Hergé would say he looked back on childhood “with sadness, morosity and, sometimes, even disgust”. The Remi home lacked colour; it had no music, few books and little overt affection. There was also a secret buried at the family’s heart: Remi’s father and his uncle – twins – were illegitimate. Neither had any real idea about their paternity. Young Georges learned about this mystery only as an adult. As a child, he was simply warned never to ask about or speak of his grandfather.

Remi’s mother was always fragile. Suffering blackouts and depressions, she was frequently hospitalised. Since his business called for travel, Remi Senior charged the young Georges with watching over her. Years later, when she had died in psychiatric care, Hergé was surprised to feel he had never known her. He was 39 at the time and her death triggered the first of several breakdowns.

All Belgian artists of Hergé’s generation endured not one but a pair of world wars. They had been born into an ultraconservative, mainly Catholic country – a colonial power that enjoyed a certain prestige. But in 1914, when Hergé was seven, that world was commandeered by the German Army. Their presence lasted four years, a cold, frightening, hungry period. Even when the occupation ended, shortages continued.

If none of this offered a recipe for happiness, neither did it make Hergé into a rebel. As visitors discover in the expo’s many photos, he always had the appearance of a model character. Every snap shows him as rigid, reserved and smartly dressed. But even a glance at his working pages will disclose another story. Hergé’s drawings are dark with battling versions of even the smallest gesture. Their action spills over boundaries, their faces melt from one emotion into its opposite and the frames are filled as much with hesitations as with decisions.

The art reveals what the exhibition doesn’t state: this was a Boy Scout who slept around on his (first) wife, a writer of adventures with no time to spare for travel, a self-promoter who – even under the Nazis – kept his eye on the main chance. All this and more is present in the work, which suggests the price Hergé paid for all that discipline.

There have been many theories about Tintin’s “adolescence”: an existential form of youth untroubled by sex or family. In the view of Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters, the artist added “very adult qualities to his own vision of childhood”. For the psychologist Serge Tisseron, author of Tintin chez le psychanalyste (loosely, “Tintin on the couch”), “His books are the history of a child who tells you how he sees all the adults around him and who reconstructs how they speak… Even his vistas are seen from the height of a child.”

The artist himself defined Tintin’s status more cryptically. He liked to paraphrase Jules Renard and saying, “Not everybody can have the luck to be an orphan!”.

Two things brightened Hergé’s own childhood: the cinema and the Boy Scouts. Taken from his earliest years to see silent films, he loved losing himself in their mute, alternate world. As an artist, he cited the significance of Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton. But Hergé was also influenced by early Westerns and by the likes of criminal mastermind Fantomas. The silent screen helped Hergé learn how to advance a narrative and he always remembered its protocols and etiquette.

If his family were fallible, the boy scouts brought him “camaraderie, nature and adventure”. For Hergé, scouting always remained “the great memory of my childhood.” It gave the artist precepts he felt he should always value, especially those which had to do with friendship and loyalty. After the Occupation, they were his rationale for supporting collaborationist friends.

Was Hergé – as so many critics insist – a Fascist and a racist? Was he anti-Semitic? At Hergé, all such questions go unaddressed. Fourth in the show’s ten rooms is one entitled “Success and Torment” which concerns the artist’s wartime work at a pro-Nazi paper. For Hergé’s career, this choice was critical. During the Occupation, with its controls, restrictions and paper shortages, it kept him visible and enabled his books to appear. Plus (as the artist joked to a friend) right after he joined, the paper’s circulation doubled.

But with the Liberation, things changed radically. Arrested four times and subsequently investigated, Hergé was ruled an “incivique” – a proscribed non-citizen. He was barred from ever again practicing his profession.

It was the lowest point of the artist’s life. Yet, unexpectedly, Tintin came to his rescue. The character, as Pierre Assouline has observed, saved Hergé twice. In the first instance, Tintin kept him out of prison. Many of the artist’s friends and colleagues received serious sentences, others had to flee and a few – like the editor Paul Herten – were put to death. Yet, says Assouline, “You simply couldn’t put Tintin in prison. Anyone who did that would have been covered in ridicule.”

But Hergé’s humiliation was total and public. One resistant weekly, La Patrie or The Homeland, even ran a parody of his strip called “The Adventures of Tintin in the Land of the Nazis”. This pictured his characters rejoicing at their freedom, with Tintin’s faithful dog boasting that Hergé never made him into a German shepherd.

Privately, the artist said death would have been preferable.

The second time, what saved him was Tintin’s market value. One of the character’s lifelong fans was a former resistant named Raymond Leblanc. With a spotless war record, Leblanc found success launching movie and romance magazines. He wanted to enter the youth market, for which he had conceived a weekly called ‘Tintin’. Leblanc searched out Remi and outlined his project. The artist, at an all-time low, was extremely doubtful. But a determined Leblanc soon succeeded in clearing his name. When they launched the magazine in 1946, a grateful Hergé even let him license Tintin products.

The rest of the Tintin saga is history – but its author never recovered. Hergé underwent years of recurrent depression and breakdowns. There was also a certain freedom, a singular spontaneity, that his art could never recapture.

The essence and heart of Hergé’s oeuvre, his most extraordinary achievements, were put in place during the ’30s and ’40s. In the exhibition’s rooms, “A Family on Paper” and “A Myth is Born”, the great treasures are his works from those decades. As the great bédéiste Jacques Tardi maintained, “Nothing has ever been drawn more beautifully than the first black-and-white Tintin books. The soft sensuality of the lines continues to move me.”

Hergé’s best trait is indeed peerless. As his colleague Edgar P. Jacobs observed to Benoît Peeters, ” What always struck me about Hergé’s drawing was the extraordinary vibrancy of his line… a good part of his genius resided in those lines that never stopped moving, whether he was drawing a plan, a piece of furniture or the fold of a garment.”

Yet the universe they delineate is, in many ways, not one for children. Recently Benoît Peeters, speaking on French radio, drew attention to the work’s darker side. “Hergé’s world is also a universe filled with terror… the alcoholism of Captain Haddock, the kind of dreams Tintin can have, the Yeti, the mummy, the suicides, the opium den…” Children can sense, he added, that Hergé never takes them for babies. “As a child, I was terrified by Tintin! I would often skip over pages to avoid a shock.”

Underneath that beautiful line and its pursuit of clarity, the fears one cannot help but sense were Hergé’s deepest. His drawings are explosive; they absolutely erupt with conflict. It’s an intensity best summed up by Remi’s friend Marcel Stahl, who knew him from the 1930s up until the end of his life. “Georges had a kind of anxiety… He didn’t have the knack for happiness. He never knew how to experience life like a normal person. There was always some problem, a well of dissatisfaction that affected everything in his life. And fame changed none of this.”

The Grand Palais blockbuster finishes up with a giant room, a “salon of the selfie”. It’s a space created especially for guests, a backdrop against which they can immortalize the visit. The room is covered by an enormous mural which, in 1973, appeared on the New Year’s card of Studios Hergé. Here are the boy reporter and Milou, Haddock, Thompson and Thomson, Castafiore and Calculus, with all the villains they fought and many of their compatriots. Some hold placards or banners emblazoned with positive sentiments. “Peace”, they read, and “Merry Christmas”, “Control Violence”, “Protect the Environment”. It’s a fixed pantheon, with all the reference points of an exemplary childhood.

Yet Tintin, just like Hergé, was never wholly exemplary and never really a child. Perhaps that’s why, despite the crowds, the room remains empty.

Hergé runs through 15 January at the Grand Palais in Paris; for Tintin fans, the catalogue is a treat

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The Best Comics of 2016 (According to Some) http://www.tcj.com/the-best-comics-of-2016-according-to-some/ http://www.tcj.com/the-best-comics-of-2016-according-to-some/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97531 Continue reading ]]>

We asked our contributors to send us their Best of 2016 lists. Many obliged! Thanks to all for doing this. Now onto 2017. -Eds.

Walter Biggins

1) Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian (IDW)

2) Tom Hart, Rosalie Lightning (St. Martin’s)

3) Ben Katchor, Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (D&Q)

4) Michel Rabagliati, Paul Up North (BDang)

5) Moebius Library: The World of Edena (Dark Horse)

Honorable mentions:

John Porcellino, King-Cat #76 (John Porcellino)

Gilbert Hernandez, Garden of Flesh (Fantagraphics)

Lewis Trondheim and Keramidas, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures (IDW)

Julie Doucet, Carpet Sweeper Tales (D&Q)

Notes: 3 of my 5 are reissues. Apparently, no women or no nonwhites made my cut until the honorable mentions. I suck. I’ll do better next year. 

Robert Boyd

2016 Favorites

My favorites from 2016. There are still a few on my “to read” pile that might make it—for example, The Greatest of Marlys would almost certainly have made it if I had read it in time.

They are in order from smallest to largest.

Endless Monsoon IV: Very Pleasant Transit Center by Sarah Welch. 56 pages, two-color risograph, 5” x 7”. This is a very slow-moving series about two young women trying to make their way in a world of somewhat straitened circumstances. The art is transmits the humid, sweaty feel of Houston very well.

Blammo number nine by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books ). 44 pages, black and white comic book. The two long stories in here are classic ’90s-style alternative comics stories—one is autobiographical (Van Sciver inadvertently offends a sensitive soul at the Center for Cartoon Studies and flashes back to his Mormon childhood) and the other a short story about a museum guard who starts to paint paintings in the style of long dead abstract painter being shown at the museum. Both stories are really good, and I liked especially have despite working in the museum, the museum guard is clearly doesn’t know the social etiquette of being in the art world. Van Sciver shows how difficult it is to cross the class divide because one must know the rules of the other side—it’s like a mini-lesson in Pierre Bourdieu.

What is Obscenity? The Story of a good for nothing artist and her pussy by Rokudenshiko (Koyama Press) 178 pages, 6” x 8.5” squarebound book combining color and black and white pages. This book combines articles and comics to tell the first-person story of a Japanese artist who spent time in jail for producing obscene art—specifically for providing digital file of her pussy for 3-D printing in a crowdfunding campaign. The comics here are straightforward and highly amusing, and her story is utterly incredible.

American Blood (Fantagraphics Books) 208 pages, 5.9” x 8.6” squarebound paperback book printed with purple ink. This book collects various self-contained stories that Marra self-published in his Traditional Comics line between 2009 and 2013, including The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd. I had never read these comics before but they were an eye-opener. Funny, satirical, etc.—if someone could take the best drawings that male high-school stoners from 1976 until now drew on their desks and make comics out of them, they would approach this book in sheer awesomeness.

Scorched Earth by Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books ) 82 pages squarebound, 6” x 9”, black and white). There is a long tradition in narrative art of having utterly reprehensible cads as protagonists: Sebastian Dangerfield in The Gingerman, Harry Flashman in the Flashman books, Withnail in Withnail and I. And now in Scorched Earth, Tom Van Deusen can be added to that immortal parade of assholes. His genius twist on the time-honored genre is to make himself the hateful but hilarious protagonist.

Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics Books) 160 pages, full-color, hardcover. There seems to be a theme with my choices this year—books about self-absorbed partiers. The trip to Amsterdam happens only at the very end, and it’s not any different from their current existence—just colder and wetter. Werewolf Jones descends to new levels of depravity, including making money of his 10-year-old quasi-feral son’s cam shows. But the real annoyance is Owl, the only one who seems to have a job. I find this book repeatedly hilarious.

Demon volume 1 by Jason Shiga (First Second) 176 pages, black-and-white, paperback. The incredibly bloody story of Jimmy Yee, a man who commits suicide over and over. At first it reads like an epic case of gaslighting, but the actual explanation is weirder than I expected. A bizarre concept taken to a logical extreme in a very amusing, violent way.

Founding Fathers Funnies by Peter Bagge (Dark Horse Books) 86 pages, color and black and white, hardcover, 6.5 x 9 inches. I’ve loved Peter Bagge since Neat Stuff (see below) and loved these strips when they first appeared as back-up features in various Bagge comic books. They work best as short stand-alone stories, but I’m very glad to be able to read them collected into a book.

Blubber #2 by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphic Books) 25 pages, 6.5 x 9 inches, black and white. Blubber is Gilbert Hernandez’s one-man anthology of superheroes and monsters fucking. When I read it, I wonder—why hasn’t this been the dominant genre in comics for years? It is my favorite comic book of 2016. I haven’t read issue 3 yet, so I have that to look forward to.

Nod Away by Joshua W. Cotter (Fantagraphics Books ) 240 pages, 7.8 x 10.2 inches, black and white. This ambitious science fiction story (it’s meant to be the first volume of seven) is packed full of ideas and characters and great artwork. Unfortunately it ends on a cliffhanger. Now I kind of wish I had waited until all seven volumes were out before I read it!

The Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin  (Dark Horse Comics ) 144 pages, black and white and color, 8 x 11 inches. These stories have appeared in various anthology comics, including Dorkin’s one-man anthology Dork, since 1994. The Eltingville Club started at the high tide of Wizard magazine, which at the time seemed like the ne plus ultra of degenerate fandom. Dorkin captured that vibe in his dense, hilarious comics. But fandom, if anything, managed to reach new lows, particularly regarding women fans—see “fake geek girls,” Gamergate, and incessant online and IRL harassment—and in bringing his Eltingville Club members to the present, Dorkin drags them even lower than where they started. It’s cruelly fun to read.

Peplum by Blutch (New York Review Comics ) 160 pages, 8.7” x 11.4”, black and white. A picaresque adventure story set on the frontiers of the Roman world, it makes me imagine what David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life would have been like if drawn by Frank Robbins or Alberto Breccia. Peplum is the mysterious story of a young imposter pretending to be a Roman nobleman Publius Cimber is part of an expedition that has recovered a woman frozen in ice. The ice miraculously does not melt despite its long, eventful journey. “Cimber” loves her, which is the source of all his misadventures. Blutch’s chiaroscuro style is breathtaking

Sir Alfred No. 3 by Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press) 40 pages, 9.75 a 13 inches, color. The Adventures of Bob Hope comic book lasted 18 years, and Tim Hensley has aped its format to tell a series of anecdotes about Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of them are familiar stories if you know your Hitchiana, but Hensley rarely just gives you a straight-ahead retellings of them. His humor is oblique; it’s not about a series of gags. That, combined with his pastiche of Harvey Comics drawing style, make this one of 2016’s best.

Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books).  488 pages, 9” x 11.6 inches, two volumes, hardcover. This one doesn’t completely count since I read every single issue of Neat Stuff when they came out. Bagge describes his readership as falling in the “lone weirdo” demographic. It has his immortal characters, Girly Girl, Goon on the Moon, Studs Kirby, Chet and Bunny Leeway, Junior and the Bradleys. But it also has a bunch little masterpieces that people may have forgotten, like “Do You Know Where It’s At?!?” and like “The Fall and Rise of Zoove Groover.”

The Nib , edited by Mat Bors, featuring a large variety of cartoonists including Tom Tomorrow, Matt Lubchansky, Emily Flake, Rich Stevens, Jen Sorensen, Keith Knight,  etc. These are all clever, funny political cartoonists, but what makes the Nib great are its journalistic comics such as Jess Ruliffson’s stories of life in the military, Kate Moon’s story on the Great Barrier Reef, and Ben Passmore’s first person “Letter From a Stone Mountain Jail”. Day after day, the Nib provides amazingly good political and journalistic comics. It’s a brilliantly edited site.

Pat Palermo’s Galveston Drawing Diary by Pat Palermo. Daily comics blog. Pat Palermo is a Brooklyn artist who is currently doing a residency at the Galveston Artists Residency in Galveston, TX. Since he arrived in August, he has been drawing a page of comics every day in pencil on lined yellow paper, scanning them, and posting them on his blog. They started off being about a fish out of water—a Brooklyn guy on a sub-tropical Texas island—and that is still a theme he returns to frequently. But his coverage of the presidential campaign and its aftermath slowly grew in importance as time went on. His drawing is fantastic but also has an appealingly casual quality.

Jessica Campbell

Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Someone Please Have Sex With Me by Gina Wynbrandt

Pioneering Cartoonists of Color by Tim Jackson

Libby’s Dad by Eleanor Davis

Epoxy Cartoon Magazine by John Pham

RJ Casey

What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean  

Unwell by Tara Booth  

Blammo #9 by Noah Van Sciver

She’s Done It All! by Benjamin Urkowitz 

One-pagers by Gizem Vural 

Rob Clough

1. Rosalie Lightning, by Tom Hart
2. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver
3. Someone Please Have Sex with Me, by Gina Wynbrandt
4. The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy
5. Exits, by Daryl Seitchik

Anya Davidson

This is random smattering of books and zines I liked in no particular order. Can I say that I think these kinds of lists are arbitrary, because there is a dizzying number of brilliant books out there that I haven’t read, so this is more of a “list of things I read that I greatly enjoyed” than a best of? 

a) Dias de Consuelo by Dave Ortega #’s 2 and 3

Beautifully executed serialized biographical comic about Dave’s grandmother.

b)Perfect Hair by Tommi PG

Dark and funny painted short stories about sex and loss

c) Crim Coblend’s Garage Island #3 by Max Huffman

Snappy strips drawn inventively. Shades of Daniel Torres and Lale Westvind

d) Almost Completely Baxter by Glen Baxter

This is a reprint by New York Review Comics. Absurd and transcendent gags.

e) Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Nick has an uncanny ear for dialogue and is finely attuned to the beauty and pain of the mundane.

Andrew Farago

Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart 

March, Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Demon, Jason Shiga

Power Man & Iron Fist, David Walker & Sanford Greene

Hot Dog Taste Test, Lisa Hanawalt 

R. Fiore

New Comics:

  1. King Baby (Kate Beaton)
  2.  Patience (Daniel Clowes)
  3.   Sir Alfred (Tim Hensley)
  4.   Peplum (Blutch)
  5.   The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke)
  6.   The Boys of Sheriff Street (Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal)
  7.   Nicolas (Pascal Girard)
  8.   The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Sonny Liew)

Old Comics:

  1. What Am I Doing Here? (Abner Dean)
  2.  Trump: The Complete Collection (Harvey Kurtzman et al.)
  3.  Mandrake the Magician: The Sundays Volume 1 (Lee Falk and Phil Davis)
  4.  Tim Tyler’s Luck (Lyman Young and Alex Raymond)
  5.   Moebius Library: The World of Eden
  6.  Complete Crepax Volume 1: Dracula, Frankenstein and Other Horror (Guido Crepax
  7.  Robert Crumb Sketchbook 1964 to 1968                                                                                   *.  Raymond Pettibon: Homo Americanus

In gathering my personal nominations I came across a couple of Amazon orders of forthcoming and just released books I’d made in April that illustrate the sheer profusion of notable comics that came out in 2016.  One was for The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen (Jorge Zentner), Providence (Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows), The World of Edena (Moebius), and Alack Sinner: Age of Innocence (Munoz and Sampayo, still forthcoming); the other was for Red Barry Volume 1 (Will Gould), Mandrake the Magician Dailies Volume 1, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian (Hugo Pratt), Tim Tyler’s Luck, and Dirty Duck (Bobby London, still forthcoming); not to mention another order I made a couple of weeks later including numbers 1, 5 and 6 on my new comics list and number 1 on my old comics list. 

The ask was for a Top Five, but I stretched it out to encompass what I consider the First Division; books that stood above the rest, that had some quality of revelation to them.  My ground rules were that anything that had its first publication in English in the United States in 2016 was a new book. Numbering is in order of preference, but in the old comics category the order of finish is arbitrary after the top two. The Pettibon is not ranked because quite frankly though I have this brick on the shelf I haven’t tackled it yet, but I can’t imagine this comprehensive retrospective of the Posada of the Los Angeles telephone pole couldn’t be one of the major books of the year.

Getting down to individual cases . . .

Hundreds of discrete choices each made for its own reasons coalesce one on top of another until they form a way of life, one that none would have imagined if they had set out to design a way of life, and yet compliance is nearly universal. One unit of the crowd sidesteps into an alleyway and says, What Am I Doing Here? In his collection of psychic vignettes Abner Dean blazed not a trail but a road not taken. He turned the cartoon caption from a joke into a poetic provocation that interrogates the image. Drawing his characters naked serves to impose awareness that they are creatures from a natural world, inhabiting their own artificial creation. With no intention to that I can discern he also portrays a segregated society, which only admits one kind of person. Dean doesn’t imply that this is a society on the brink of a social revolution, and yet 30-odd years a pop band would be rephrasing the question: “My God, what have I done?”

I lead with my top vintage pick because my top contemporary pick, Kate Beaton’s King Baby, is very much in the Abner Dean tradition. As it deals with happy things Beaton’s book lacks Dean’s sense of quiet desperation, but it has the same quality of seeing commonplace things with eyes both unsparing and enchanted. Where Beaton’s first venture into children’s picture books The Princess and the Pony seemed to strain a bit to bend its tale to its moral, King Baby is a perfectly executed little gem of observation, capturing something fundamental about the strangeness of infancy in an affluent society, from its say-it-all title to its elegant punchline. I think it can be assumed that any expectant mother with a comics-conscious friend can expect to be receiving this book as a baby shower gift for the foreseeable future. They’ll read it themselves and then read it to their children when time comes.

Running quickly through the rest, Patience turns the wish-fulfillment tale on its head with a passion that disintegrates irony, Sir Alfred is another example of perfect execution of a concept on multiple levels, Peplum is as slashing in its narrative as it is in its artwork, The Twilight Children left you wishing that its creators had just had more time, The Boys of Sheriff Street was a prime slice of Charyn American mythopoetics, Nicolas showed the enduring appeal of the Blechman fleck better than Blechman himself, and Charlie Chan Hock Chye was just a shock in its Maus-like encapsulation of an era.

When the modern era of classic comics reprints began you wondered when the bubble would burst. Was there really a readership for all these fifty dollar books, you’d wonder. Now we are coming to the point where we’re running out of classic comic strips. The Complete Peanuts is complete. Mickey Mouse has donned the Bing Crosby hat, which means the good times are just about over. In Dick Tracy we see the first glimpse of Moon Maid over the horizon, which means it’s about to go out in a blaze of lunacy. Little Orphan Annie is still more or less in the middle of its run, but you feel like you’ve seen about every move Harold Gray has, several times. The number of comic strips with wide name recognition and a ready contemporary readership is quite limited, and it remains to be seen whether a readership can be found deeper dig into the likes of Abbie an’ Slats or Barney Baxter. At the same time the addition of Dover Graphic Novels and New York Review to the ranks of retrospective publishers seems to have been a tipping point, and we’ve never had a wider range of comics of the past at our ready disposal. This does not even take into account the print-on-demand samizdat that is bringing us the high-quality likes of Kim Weston’s The Unavailable Carl Barks.

The icing on the cake of 2016 was the long-promised Trump: The Complete Collection (though a more honest title might have been Trump: Both Issues). It’s an exquisitely produced look at a road not taken, Harvey Kurtzman’s dream of a humor magazine with the full production values of a slick magazine that would be fulfilled fourteen years later by the National Lampoon. It is perhaps more notable for what it promised than what it delivered, but what it promised was tantalizing. I ordered Mandrake the Magician: The Sundays in a spirit of speculation, half expecting a mediocrity on the level of Lee Falk’s other strip The Phantom. Fortunately Phil Davis turns out to be a sort of Alex Raymond Light, and the absurd premise of a stage magician operating in the real world as a genuine wizard, evening clothes and all, in practice turns it into a kind of comic strip Weird Tales.

Do you suppose I might get by with endorsing Mandrake without dealing with Lothar issue? Didn’t think so. Racially demeaning characters might be divided into active and passive. The actively demeaning character acts out racially stereotypical traits, as it might be cowardice, ignorance, hedonism, sloth or superstition in such a way as to imply that they are characteristics of a race. In a passively demeaning character the demeaning characteristics are implicit, and depend on the assumptions of the readership. Mandrake’s enforcer Lothar is of the passive variety. He is capable, courageous, and loyal, yet he is a servant and refers to Mandrake as “Master” for no other apparent reason than that it is the “natural” order of things. Since Americans do not normally require their paid servants to address them as Master, the implication is that it’s Lothar’s idea. Lothar’s speech is pidgin, and yet English is not his native language. His adherence to a comic strip version of native dress could be taken as demeaning, and yet it does have some relation to actual African native dress. Namely, to wear a leopard skin is the particular privilege of a Zulu chief. So, potential dignity points for that, but it raises the question, why is this leader of a fiercely independent people calling this fop Master?

Finishing out my list, in Tim Tyler’s Luck you got to see Alex Raymond become Alex Raymond, The World of Edena is as much a feast for the eye as it is a famine for the mind, Complete Crepax Volume 1 is most notable for giving the first long look at Valentina I’ve been able to get, and Taschen’s Robert Crumb Sketchbook 1964 to 1968 presents these seminal early pages without the reproduction limitations imposed on them the last time around. The coming year has a hard act to follow.

Craig Fischer

In the documentary Cartoon College (2012), Scott McCloud argues that comics is now too vast a world for any single person to understand, metaphorically noting that “parts of comics have dipped beyond the horizon line.” And I’m one person presuming to name The Very Best Comics of 2016. My vision is flawed, I can’t see beyond the horizon, but here’s a handful of books from last year that I found moving, significant, funny, and/or edifying, in alphabetical order:

House of Women #3, Sophie Goldstein (self-published). In bringing her science-fiction rewrite of Black Narcissus to a lusty conclusion this year, Goldstein shows off her growth as an artist beyond The Oven and her other previous comics. When the three issues of House of Women are collected into a single volume by AdHouse, Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly—it’s only a matter of time—will the publisher replicate the attention to design and printing (those lavish die-cut covers and molasses-thick spot blacks) that Goldstein put into her self-presentation of the material? I hope so. 

Providence #7-11, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar). Almost a year ago, I wrote a long TCJ article analyzing the first six issues of Providence, and now I’m including the five issues that came out during 2016 on this Best-Of list. It’s remarkable, a deep dive into H.P. Lovecraft that also shows off Moore’s ability to structure a dense literary story in visual form. Providence #11 switches time and space between panels as much as Gilbert Hernandez’s most experimental work and still provides a carefully-planned, satisfying conclusion to the tale of protagonist Robert Black. One final issue awaits us in 2017, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I wish I could say that about other comic books.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, Sarah Glidden (Drawn & Quarterly). Very early in Blackout, Glidden asks an independent reporter (also named Sarah) to define journalism, and she replies, “anything that is informative, verifiable, accountable, and independent.” Makes sense, until the rest of the book reveals how messy and complicated the practice of journalism can be, in ways that are bracing, mature correctives to simple-minded Trumpist post-factualism. Further, Glidden’s tight focus on a tiny cadre of reporters allows them to emerge as fully-formed characters, especially a veteran and defender of the Iraq War who confronts people and places forever changed by 21st-century American foreign policy. “Maybe the question really is: what is journalism FOR? What’s the point?”

Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart (St. Martin’s Press). Obviously, the drama of Lightning circles around the incomprehensibly sad death of Tom Hart and Leela Corman’s three-year-old daughter, but it has so much more to offer than tragedy and despair. As I re-read the book, I found myself warmed by the gymnastics Tom and Leela go through to sell their New York apartment—they function as a close-knit, loving unit before and after their disaster—and the cascade of allusions (to The Vault of Horror, Louis, Astro Boy, My Neighbor Totoro) Hart uses to represent and process his feelings testify to the power of art to give our lives meaning and hope.

Sick, Gabby Schulz (Secret Acres). I have a friend named Toney who’s a horror film connoisseur, who’s brought movies like Audition (1999) and Martyrs (2008) into my life. When I gave him Schulz’s Sick for a Christmas present, he replied, “This book is almost too pessimistic and grim, even for me.” I get that. It’s harrowingly painful to watch Schulz’s physical illness—his unrelenting fever, his bloody shits—spiral into mental illness, into an anhedonia so black that Sick reads like (to paraphrase Cioran) a barely postponed suicide. But boy, can Schulz cartoon. His drawings of a child choked by a ghoul (a metaphor for domestic abuse) and a tableau of “all the beautiful people enjoying this beautiful world” (a Hell worthy of Bosch) are beautiful in their craft and directness of purpose. Toney again: “It is a singular example of an artist’s angry fist-wave at the cosmos…a totally original work.”

Best book about comics: Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins, Scott Bukatman (University of California Press). Hellboy’s World is an examples of academic comics criticism that is both full of intellectual insight and a blast to read. In lucid, often funny prose, Bukatman describes Hellboy as “a Howard Hawks movie set in an H. P. Lovecraft universe with art direction by Jack Kirby”; traces Mike Mignola’s love of literary occult investigators and characters who deny preordained destinies (like Pinocchio’s refusal to be a puppet); and discusses how Mignola’s bibliophilia influences Hellboy stories and the packaging of those stories into gorgeous library editions. (Bukatman even fruitfully compares Mignola with Yasujiro Ozu.) Hellboy’s World is pretty lavish itself, with full-color illustrations that raise the bar for future scholarly monographs.

Bacchus Volume Two, Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/IDW) / Casanova: Acedia # 5-7, Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon, Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá (Image) / Comic Book Creator #11-13, edited by Jon B. Cooke (especially #11, devoted to Gil Kane) / Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image) / Critical Chips: 10 Contemporary Comics Essays, edited by Zainab Akhtar (self-published) / Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian, Hugo Pratt (IDW) / Epoxy Cartoon Magazine, John Pham (self-published) / Frontier #11 (“BDSM”), Eleanor Davis (Youth in Decline) / Hellboy in Hell #10, Mike Mignola (Dark Horse) / Laid Waste, Julia Gfrȍrer (Fantagraphics) / Patience, Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics) / Sir Alfred #3, Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press) / Talk Dirty to Me, Luke Howard (AdHouse) / The Weight #4-5, Melissa Mendes (serialized online/self-published).

Shaenon Garrity

1. March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

2. Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

3. Demon by Jason Shiga

4. Otherworld Barbara by Moto Hagio

5. Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat! by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams

Richard Gehr

Der Räuber, Tilo Steireif & Robert Walser (Haus am Gern)

Smoke Signal #25

Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories, Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics)

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood, Kaz (Fantagraphics)

Patience, Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

R.C. Harvey

Best comics-related (history, biography) books: Tim Jackson’s Pioneering Cartoonists of Color, a much-needed resource; The Life and Art of Wesley Morse, the “lost” artist who produced engagingly rendered 8-pagers and nightclub illustration.

Comics collections: Gag on This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues.

Graphic novel: Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (shows how the form can be expanded and exploited).

Best comic books (in descending order, so you can use the first, which is 5th on my list, and drop the rest; or not): Cage (revitalizing and re-energizing the drawing part of comics), Strange Fruit (no lines in the art; just color—a painted book), Lady Killer (simply outrageous but superbly drawn).

Biggest Disappointment: Tokyo Ghost (brilliantly drawn, but the story is tepid stuff)

Anne Ishii

Bas Jan Ader by Kevin Czap, Ley Lines 8 (Czap Comics)

Fatherson by Richie Pope, Frontier #13 (Youth in Decline)

Yes, Roya by C. Spike Trotman and Emilee Denich (Iron Circus)

Gorgeous by Cathy G. Johnson (Koyama)

Libby’s Dad, Eleanor Davis (Retrofit)

Monica Johnson

1. Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart

2. The Complete Wimmen’s Comix

3. Disaster Drawn, Hillary Chute

4. Blackbird, Pierre Maurel

5. Don’t Come in Here, Patrick Kyle 

John Kelly

 We Told You So: Comics As Art, by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean

Krazy: George Herrriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand

The Complete Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge

More Heroes of the Comics, by Drew Friedman

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood, by Kaz

Robert Kirby

1. Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (St. Martin’s)
2. Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (2dcloud)
3. Our Mother by Luke Howard (Retrofit)
4. Band for Life by Anya Davidson (Fantagraphics)
5. Wendy’s Revenge by Walter Scott (Koyama)

Fave self-published minicomics are (a tie) The Warlok Story by Max Clotfelter & Zebediah Part III by Asher Z. Craw


Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

Trying Not to Notice by Will Dinski

Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

Virus Tropical by Powerpaola

Handbook by Kevin Budnik

Chris Mautner

Sir Alfred #3 by Tim Hensley

Peplum by Blutch

Laid Waste by Julia Gfrorer

Big Kids by Michael DeForge

Ganges #5 by Kevin Huizenga

Joe McCulloch

10. Hellboy in Hell #10 (Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Clem Robins)
9. Puke Force (Brian Chippendale)
8. š! #25 (eds David Schilter, Sanita Muižniece, Berliac)
7. Ding Dong Circus (Sasaki Maki, Ryan Holmberg translation)
6. Ganges #5 (Kevin Huizenga)
5. Laid Waste (Julia Gfrörer)
4. Carpet Sweeper Tales (Julie Doucet)
3. Peplum (Blutch, Edward Gauvin translation)
2. Sir Alfred No. 3 (Tim Hensley)
1. Rosalie Lightning (Tom Hart)

 Jason Miles

These are the 2016 comics that hit me hardest, stayed with me, nagged me.

In no particular order:

Blubber by Gilbert Hernandez

What me worry? These have been the most important comics to me. 

Patience by Daniel Gillespie Clowes

Painfully good. 

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Annie Murphy

Annie does that Alan-Moore-thing; illuminating the most curious and the most common injustices… crimes that we’re all vaguely aware and actively ignoring. Elemental detective work at its finest.

The Future of Art 25 Years Hence by Gary Panter

Beautiful, beatific absorbant. Humbling.

Love and Rockets vol. IV #1 by Beto + Xaime

Love and Rockets is my favorite thing made by humans. It’s more than that. The characters are real. I’m constantly wondering what Hopey’s up to or if I’ll ever find Palomar. Sometimes I hear people complaining that they don’t know where to start. Just jump in! Keep going if you like it and fuck off if you don’t. This is comics.

Providence by Alan Moore + Jacen Burrows 

Brilliant unpacking and resetting of H.P. Lovecraft, trauma, denial and xenophobia.

Urstory by Amy Kuttab

Conjures the timeless dustlight of childhood.

Late Bloomer by Maré Odomo

Holistic record of life. Euphoric.

Ancestor by Malachi Ward + Matt Sheean

Turned me inside out.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto


Super Powers by Tom Scioli

Comics and psilocybin. What’s the difference?

#25 and Mr. A #18 by Steve Ditko

New Comic Day.

Scab County by Carlos Gonzalas

I love the way this guy tells a story.

Mostly Saturn by Michael DeForge

I think this may be the first DeForge comic I’ve read all the way through. Obviously his stuff is visually brilliant, but to my eyes, all his comics (the ones I’ve tried to read) amount to a chromatic tribute to ennui… which isn’t my thing. I may reread Mostly Saturn and see it as another tedium trophy, but honestly I’ve been too scared because the result of that first reading was ecstatic! I feel this comic is the first true “Literary Comic.” It’s got this braided, experiential abstraction thing going on that transcends all the usual comic language bullshit. This may be a complete game changer.

Brian Nicholson:

Top five comics of 2016, offered unranked

Big Kids by Michael DeForge, Drawn And Quarterly

There are a couple of things that reoccur in Michael DeForge comics. The first is plots about bodily transformation. The second is that, from story to story, there are changes in the formal language, not just of the storytelling, but in the approach to a figure, working through new ways to cartoon that most identifiable form. Even though the overwhelming majority of these comics have been very very good,  the minor breakthrough of Big Kids is that, by focusing on a narrative of the transformation of the narrator’s perception, the trend in DeForge’s art, towards a more two-dimensional sense of the picture plane, away from depictions that feel grounded in three-dimensional space, can here dive even deeper into abstraction while the narration remains present in intimate emotional reality.

If DeForge’s other comics can be considered body horror, or likened to early Cronenberg, this comic is more like a queer take on the 1998 film Pleasantville, by way of They Live. While those films use color and black-and-white to refer to different levels of “reality,” DeForge sticks to color throughout, but instead uses a more distended and abstracted cartooning of the human figure as a metaphor for coming to terms with a deeper and stranger world. It’s a narrative of self-acceptance, about growing into a mature person rather than remaining a stunted child. While the narrative feels like a metaphor for hallucinogen-induced revelations, drugs, alongside sex and anarchist anti-cop politics are present as plot elements from the very beginning. The arc doesn’t begin at a place of presumed “innocence,” but rather an adolescent’s cynicism. The shift in the drawing is about going beyond the recognizable, the understood and agreed upon, to depict fresh feeling, a new awakening. Through the narrator’s lens, we see things we haven’t seen before, and are told they are depictions of everyday occurrences. It’s a new way of being alive to the commonplace. The conclusion of the book, the narrator’s caption of “I felt a lot of things,” should be echoed in the understanding reader.

Band for Life by Anya Davidson, Fantagraphics Books

One of the immediate pleasures of comics is their accessibility, both in the easy understanding they offer to a reader, and for how the cheapness of the materials needed to make a comic allows for underrepresented viewpoints to be heard. Occasionally, a comic comes along that is funny and true in a way that nothing else has been allowed to be, depicting a worldview unarticulated elsewhere. Anya Davidson’s Band for Life is both indebted to her own autobiography in the noise-rock underground and extends a deep literary and comedic empathy towards all marginalized people. The cartooning language is rooted in John Stanley, Milt Gross, Archie comics, the most accessible work there is. It’s a character-driven comedy for people who are not going to see themselves and their struggles depicted anywhere else.

In collecting a strip originally serialized online, it becomes clear how many characters there are in the narrative, how distinct they are from each other, and how much thought has been put into giving everyone a consistent backstory, and showing how these fully realized figures can be in conflict but still be depicted sympathetically. Using a Simpsons-like approach to building strips around people previously depicted as incidental supporting characters, in time it depicts a world of music-making more inclusive than most arts scene within the real world, an act of utopian idealization that’s a testament to Davidson’s imagination in the face of a widespread lack of it.

Shortly after publication, the way of life the book depicts would begin to feel actively endangered. In a 2016 where the awful outcome of Trump’s election was followed by the tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, and the white supremacist alt-right mobilized themselves to use complaints about fire codes to target live-art spaces to evict people from homes on the premise that these are places where radical leftists congregate, this book documents the way people’s everyday lives can be an act of resistance, even if they are primarily fighting to have the energy to make music against all the other pressures in their lives. The climax of the book, an extended sequence that didn’t previously appear online, shows how the band came to initially form. By using this flashback structure, the point is larger than just “life goes on.” The comic’s talking about a noise-punk band, rather than activism, and is a comedy rather than a political tract, but the book’s world building-via-digression allows the book to make the cogent point, denied by the self-interest-obsessed we must collectively overcome, that disparate people can come together to organize into a unit more powerful than themselves individually.

Pushwagner, Soft City, New York Review Comics

This is a gorgeous visionary work, initially drawn in the 1970s, then lost, only to be rediscovered a few years ago, and now finding publication through an English-language publisher. The drawings are massive, composed around repetition, grids, a depiction of a mechanized world. The line flickers with the inconsistencies of real human life. Adults are drawn in a simplified manner, redolent of children’s drawings, while the infant child is rendered deeply enough for us to know we are seeing this doomed world with its eyes. It has this wide-eyed view of the world, taking in cityscapes in all their dehumanizing detail. It’s insane that this book exists, as everything that makes it remarkable, how fraught and anxious it feels, the scale of it, the ambition of it, how much energy is being dedicated to the capture of tedium, feels like it should work against the artist having the focus to complete it. There’s a tension created between seeing some of the best drawings you’ll see all year and becoming bored at seeing page after page depicting long sequences of nothing happening, reminiscent of the way that humans becoming bored of the beauty of the natural world led to a desire for the comforts of technology which then constitute the soul-deadening effect the book describes. It feels remarkably ahead of its time, its masterful one-point perspective and slightly quivering line feeling like a mixture of alien observer, infant child, and security camera shooting in 70mm. Filmic analogies would compare it to 2001, Jacques Tati, or Koyaanisqatsi. The pages create their minimalist score out of the reader’s gasping. Ah. Ah. Awe.

Abner Dean, What Am I Doing Here, New York Review Comics

When this book was first published in 1947, it spoke a recognizable language in an unfamiliar way. There would’ve been some precedent, at least, to those familiar with gag cartoons. The lines are smoothly swooping, the black and white shading done with graceful wash. Still, the characters are naked, but without genitals. The worlds depicted in each panel have no grounding in recognizable situations. The punchlines offer explanatory context only by the fact that the set of feelings they refer to seems to be illustrated by the drawing. There was nothing like it then, and nothing like it followed. It feels like fine art speaking a gag comics language. It ends up aging better than any gags from that era I’ve seen. If the gag panels in a 1950 or 1960 Playboy cartoon feel dated in their gender politics, the naked-but-without-genitals figures here seem to speak only a language of romantic intrigue defined by longing and loneliness, and feel profound and timeless.

Eleanor Davis, Libby’s Dad, Retrofit Comics

Working with the single issue format for a short story, rather than contributing to an anthology, Eleanor Davis stretches out here in ways that allow for changes in tone larger than in any individual story she’s told before. There is a subtle, pitch-perfect control in the way the pages here slowly fill up with the color blue, depicting the shift from day into night by delineating more and more of the characters’ surroundings. The world becomes more defined by darkness, the young characters idyll being disturbed by the reality of the world they’re living in insinuating itself. The things that can be accepted in daylight can become utterly horrifying once the sun sets. The tension and sense of unease that develops is stunning. It’s not a horror comic, but the book hinges on a moment where Davis communicates her characters’ fear, and so demands a level of control from her over her audience that her previous work, based more on a sort of affectless tone of neutrality, didn’t. However, that moment of terror is only used to get to the conclusion, where this open-ended voice returns, and we are meant to read against the characters’ interpretation of events. We’ve been shown that the sense of safety felt in the daylight isn’t necessarily true, because living with fear every night slowly takes it toll, and just because we survive doesn’t mean the darkness should be denied as a force that defines people’s lives.

Tahneer Oksman

There were many books published this year that I loved and that I couldn’t fit onto a top-five list. Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this end-of-year exercise I decided to include works that I know I will return to again and again, and those that in some way (formally, emotionally, intellectually) surprised me.

Becoming Unbecoming. Una. Arsenal Pulp Press.

First published by the UK’s Myriad Editions in 2015, Una’s Becoming Unbecoming tells the story of a young girl growing up in Northern England in the late 1970s against the backdrop of the brutal murders of thirteen women (including many sex workers) by a serial killer eventually dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper. The book carries its central themes–of epidemic violence against women and the growing pains of adolescence–over a gently narrated landscape that continually changes shape to accurately capture how the personal and political always dynamically interact.

We All Wish for Deadly Force. Leela Corman. Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics.

Like the gorgeous and painful image gracing its cover, Corman’s We All Wish for Deadly Force packs an extraordinary emotional punch. The autobiographical pieces contained in this slim volume, adapting, at times, mythical, biographical, and surrealist slants, tell of longing, loss, rage, and bemusement, all from an incisive, capacious narrating point of view. It would be difficult to overstate the emotional grace of these short comics.

Gulag Casual. Austin English. 2D Cloud.

English calls this book his “first real stab at making art in comics,” and it is quite a tour de force. Reading through Gulag Casual is something like a cross between flipping through an exceptional artist’s private, experimental sketchbook and looking at pieces of art hung up in a Chelsea gallery. The colors, shapes, textures, and narrative snippets are unexpected, and the images and moods depicted throughout somehow appeal through their gruesomeness.

After Nothing Comes. Aidan Koch. Koyama Press.

After Nothing Comes includes a selection of six zines composed by the artist between 2008 and 2014, appended by a brief interview between Koch and Bill Kartalopoulos. This is another collection of experiments: landscapes, geographic and bodily, are pieced together by an artist dabbling in both naturalistic and abstract drawing styles. The pieces contained are image-word play, briefer and longer poems and narrative bursts examining the nature of disconnectedness and loneliness.

The Arab of the Future 2. Riad Sattouf. Metropolitan Books.

Like the first collected volume of his series, Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future 2 is a chronologically narrated story of a recalled upbringing. In this book, Sattouf describes a single year in his life (1984-1985), when he was just six and living in the small Syrian village of Ter Maaleh. Through his careful selection of detailed scenes from childhood shaped by sudden shifts in coloring, Sattouf viscerally evokes everything from the moments of first learning to read the words in his beloved Tintin comics to early imaginings of the sounds his toys made as they moved around at night.

Joe Ollmann

Here’s my list, in no particular order, probably forgetting stuff I loved.

All of Jillian Tamaki’s work on the Hazlitt site.
Patience  by Dan Clowes
Crickets #5  by Sammy Harkham
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Beverly by Nick Drasno 

Sean Rogers

I filed a top five for 2016 with the Globe and Mail, where my picks were Blutch’s Peplum, Chester Brown’s Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus, Anya Davidson’s Band for Life, Julie Doucet’s Carpet Sweeper Tales, and Aidan Koch’s After Nothing Comes. Here are another five that are every bit as good:

Love Nest by Charles Burns (Cornélius). Burns perfects the comic strip as virus—the idiom itself seems infected, contagious, incurable. Like Jack Kamen boiled down and made black and hard as obsidian.

Red Red Rock and Other Stories 1967-1970 by Seiichi Hayashi, edited and translated by Ryan Holmberg (Breakdown Press). Even with Holmberg’s best-in-the-game contextual notes, I’m not always sure what’s going on in Hayashi’s elliptical allegories and psychodramas at any given moment—but, my God, those moments. Some favorites: a rural community sprouting sleek skyscrapers, a girl’s small feet in a faceless man’s brogues, the silhouettes and snow as a woman pleads with the ghost of her husband, all of it haunted and corrupted by memories of war.

Sir Alfred No. 3 by Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press). Along with Deitch’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Blutch’s So Long Silver Screen, and Oshima’s Ninja, this is one of the great cross-pollinations between comics and cinema. Hensley’s limber wordplay is largely absent (though on location in the Alps, Hitch retches: “Pabst!”), but his cartooning and joke-telling have never been more tightly controlled.

Ganges Number Five by Kevin Huizenga (self-published). This one’s about everything—work and death and love and religion and the origins of the Earth—but it’s still remarkably humble and patient and curious and kind. Huizenga maps out what it feels like inside your head better than anyone.

“Kanibul Ball“ by Lale Westvind, from Kramers Ergot 9 (Fantagraphics). Westvind locks onto the maniac frequency that was humming away through the Golden Age, Kirby, the undergrounds, Pettibon—some Jungian, cosmic shit that rips out again here, resplendent and brutish and powerfully American.

James Romberger

Tim Hensley, Sir Alfred #3, Fantagraphics Books

Dan Clowes, Patience, Fantagraphics Books

Kevin Huizenga, Ganges #5, Fantagraphics Books

Mike Mignola, Hellboy in Hell, Dark Horse

Anya Davidson, Band for Life, Fantagraphics Books

Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian, Eurocomics/IDW 

Chester Brown, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, Drawn & Quarterly

Kelly Sue DeConnick/Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly, Image Comics

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Love and Rockets #01, Fantagraphics Books

John Arcudi/Tonci Zonjic, Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown, Dark Horse

Katie Skelly

Let’s start with Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen by Moyoco Anno. There’s always an element of humanity removed from Anno’s characters. Somewhere in her super deliberate line that gives way to sharp ribcages and scalpel-precise haircuts, there’s also a ravenous urge to consume and fuck. Anno is never really one for middle ground, although it doesn’t rob her stories of personality. Every now and then some funny or playful sensibility can sneak its way in, but to see Anno only for this would be a massive oversight. Speaking of bobbed hair biches, The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Other Horror Stories (Volume 1) is the book of revelations. (Full disclosure, I wrote a short essay for this book!) It’s an amazing excerpt from the breadth of Crepax’s career, and a clever move to start with his sojourns into (and perversions of) the horror genre. Like Crepax, Sarah Horrocks works in a language wholly her own and wholly alien to today’s comics tendencies in her series The Leopard, issue 3 of which came out this year. Forgive me, as I know she’s my dear friend and podcast partner, but who else is doing straight body count murder comics right now? (Note: please don’t actually tell me.) Nasty stuff. Conversely, Gina Wynbrandt serves up soul-murder with her humor compilation Someone Please Have Sex with Me, most impressively, resisting the self-affirmations most of the mills crave. But who knew the most life-affirming work this year would be (a) from Julia Gfrörer and (b) about kissing your loved ones goodbye in the plague? It’s there in Laid Waste: see if you don’t come away with a smile after that one, in the same way you feel a wash of positivity after seeing a film like Martyrs. And finally – give me some leeway on this one as I know it came out in late 2015, but my love of it carried through 2016 and nothing else has struck me the same way since: “Queue” by Dilraj Mann (Island #3, ed. Brandon Graham & Emma Rios). Mann swaddles his gelatinous figures in giallo gel lights as they maneuver through the tedium of hookup culture. I like how Mann does alienation through color rather than dialogue or emotional expression, and I love how his figures dominate the panels. There’s a thickness to his figures reminiscent of Jonny Negron but an agency that’s his own. And that was my year!

Leslie Stein

Last Look– Charles Burns

Beverly– Nick Drnaso

Disquiet – Noah Van Sciver

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus – Chester Brown

Nicolas – Pascal Girard

Tucker Stone

5. Red Team Double Tap Center Mass #1 by Garth Ennis

Dude finally changed his haircut, nice

4. Johnny Red #6 by Garth Ennis

Who is that weaseling over there by my garbage cans OH SHIT IT’S HITLER

3. Six Pack and Dog Welder Hard Travelin Heroez #1 by Garth Ennis

Oh man, his kid’s faces are so jacked up

2. World of Tanks #1 by Garth Ennis

“Cor blimey”, a spot of tea, AND a fucking tank?? ’nuff said

1. Red Team Double Tap Center Mass #4 by Garth Ennis

“Shoulda cleared the room, cuz here comes the boom” —Billy Joel.


Whit Taylor

This is a list of my favorite comics and minicomics from 2016.

Dad’s Weekend, Pete Toms (Hic & Hoc)

Blammo #9, Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books)

House of Women III, Sophie Goldstein (self-published)

Burrow, Marnie Galloway (self-published)

Self, Meghan Turbitt (self-published)

The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest, Luke Healy (self-published)

Summerland, Paloma Dawkins (Retrofit)

Diana’s Electric Tongue, Carolyn Nowak (Shortbox)

Your Black Friend, Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket)

Over Ripe, Sophia Wiedeman (self-published)

Our Mother, Luke Howard (Retrofit)

Frontier #11, Eleanor Davis, (Youth in Decline)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
, Annie Murphy (self-published)

Sir Alfred No. 3, Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)

Paul Tumey

My Favorite Thing is Monsters – Emil Ferris

A complex, wrenching, beautifully drawn magnum opus from a gifted and experienced artist new to the scene — worthy of the “graphic novel” label in all senses of the word. Delayed until February, 2017, this was supposed to be a 2016 book — and for me, it was: I was able to get a review copy in late October, and was blown away. I reviewed it already  here. You’re gonna love this one when it comes out.

Si Lewen’s Parade: An Artist’s Legacy – by Si Lewen, introduced by Art Spiegelman

Soldier-artist Si Lewen’s 1957 wordless story about the glorification of war and the cost to humanity is timeless and speaks to us as much, if not more, today than ever. Art Spiegelman discovered and befriended Lewen through his work on his 2014 “Wordless!” slide lecture/jazz performance tour. This edition presents Lewen’s story, with newly discovered “outtakes,” in an accordion-fold format, perfectly mirroring it’s content. This edition is really two books in one. On the reverse side of the work, Art Spiegelman has written a lengthy, fully illustrated introduction and interview that expands our understanding of Lewen as a warrior turned artist, bravely committed to his art and vision. The color images of his paintings included in the “ghost book” on the reverse side of the accordion book are simply stunning. Lewen died, at 97, a few days after Spiegelman presented him with one of the first copies produced. Ultimately, this book offers a parade of at least three compelling stories: Lewen’s parable, his life story, and the touching friendship between him and Art Spiegelman.

Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand

The first full-length biography of the artist who many, including me, consider to be the greatest comic strip creator in Western culture. In addition to learning the fascinating details of a major cartoonist’s life and career in this superbly written narrative, I came away from the book with a much deeper grasp of Herriman’s work, especially the monolithic Krazy Kat.

Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s, edited by Peter Maresca

The first years of the landmark, super-bizarre comic strip are surveyed in sumptuously restored color Sunday pages reproduced in their original size and colors. The spot-on curation selects four different continuities, and a fascinating selection of other pages, all buttressed by clear-eyed, rigorous scholarship. I would place this volume among my favorites even if I wasn’t a contributing writer, in a small way, to the introductory material. The importance of reading the great American newspaper Sunday comics in their original sizes and colors cannot be overstated — it is essential for gaining the true experience as the artist intended. In this carefully composed book, we get to see Gould’s signature visual style and bizarre vision of the world take shape in front of our eyes, which is thrilling.

Highbone Theater by Joe Daly

Daly did it again. I regard his Dungeon Quest series and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book to be among the funniest, most engaging modern comics I’ve read. Highbone Theater, a modern day, slacker magical realist version of the hero’s journey, delivers the goods again. I laughed out loud many times, and I wasn’t stoned. Like the herbs and chemicals so many of his character’s imbibe to attain mystic visions, Daly’s books take my mind to new places, and I love that about his work. 

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2016 Year in Review http://www.tcj.com/2016-year-in-review/ http://www.tcj.com/2016-year-in-review/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 19:01:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97721 Continue reading ]]> Illustration by Mike Reddy.

Illustration by Mike Reddy.


We don’t need to tell you what a year it’s been. So let’s get right to an accounting of what you need to read of The Comics Journal from 2016. Certainly there are omissions and mistakes here, but such is life.

Here are some reviews to revisit:

Sarah Horrocks on Peplum.

Monica Johnson on Blackbird.

Nicole Rudick on Carpet Sweeper Tales.

Robert Kirby on Wendy’s Revenge and Trashed.

Kramers Ergot 9 by Joe McCulloch.

Bob Levin on Gulag Casual and Robusto. 

Robert Boyd on Cometbus #57.

Sir Alfred #3 and The Greatest of Marlys by Chris Mautner.

Katie Skelly on Gorgeous,  Queen Emeraldas, and Someone Please Have Sex with Me.

Richard Gehr on Peter Arno.

Greg Hunter on Dream Tube.

Annie Mok on Soldier’s Heart and The Greatest of Marlys.

Rob Clough on 4 Panel Vol. 1, Rosalie Lightning, and Sisters.

Rachel Davies on After Nothing Comes.

For in-depth looks at a variety of topics, we offer you the following:

Joe McCulloch is the true hero of this and every year with his This Week in Comics column, filled with digressions, deep cuts, and great wisdom. Catch up on 2016 right here.

The great Ken Parille on Abner DeanBlack PantherSir Alfred #3, Patience, and comic book editing. 

R.C. Harvey, here on Al Smith and here on Alex Raymond.

Rob Clough on Retrofit Comics and the 60th anniversary meeting of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

Annie Mok interviewed Michael DeForge, Eleanor Davis and Julie Doucet.

John Kelly delved into the early work of Peter Bagge.

Frank Young on the madness of Chester Gould.

Abhay Khosla really summed up 2015 earlier this year. We miss him this year.

Monica Johnson on contemporary feminist comics and Paper Girls.

Alex Dueben conducted a massive oral history of Wimmen’s Comix. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Anya Davidson on Brian Chippendale’s Puke Force.

A Colorist’s Roundtable by Andrea Fiamma.

Peter Bagge interviewed Kaz and Chester Brown, and then J.R. Williams discussed the old days with Bagge.

Noah Van Sciver chatted with Tom Gauld.

Tim interviewed Richard Sala. 

Sarah Lautman, Ginette Lapalme, Jen Lee, Dash Shaw, and Aidan Koch all contributed excellent installments of our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Bob Levin wrote insightfully about Jack Jackson.

RJ Casey interviewed Nick Drnaso.

Kevin Huizenga talked to Ben Katchor.

Todd Hignite caught up with Daniel Clowes.

Robert Kirby talked with MariNaomi.

Ryan Holmberg looked at nuclear manga here and here.

Jeanette Roan went in-depth with Jason Shiga.

Dan got into it with Anya Davidson.

Greg Hunter talked to Gilbert Hernandez about the cartoonist’s incredible recent output and his podcast featured the likes of Gabrielle Bell, Ines Estrada, Anna Bongiovanni, and Eddie Campbell.

Robert Elder chronicled the many appearances of Ernest Hemingway in the comics. Part 1 and 2.

Emily Flake talked about the funny with Glen Baxter.

Ron Rege interviewed the great Dame Darcy.

Paul Tumey delivered a compelling deep dive into the work of Gus Mager, (twice!), a two-part revelatory look at White Boy cartoonist Garrett Price (1 and 2), a look at the early days of minicomix and a twopart chat with George Herriman biographer, and he reviewed the forthcoming My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

And there were sad passings:

Geneviève Castrée

Jack Davis

Richard Thompson

Jack T. Chick

Alvin Buenaventura.

See you in 2017. 

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Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part Two) http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-two/ http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-two/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97573 We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books, the topics covered include: the uncanonization of a direct sales manager, criticizing Will Eisner, the mole in the Journal, Fiore vs. Pekar, and Capital City vs. Diamond. Continue reading ]]> The following is an excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. The uncanonization of a direct sales manager; criticizing Will Eisner; the mole in the Journal; Fiore vs. Pekar; Capital City vs. Diamond.

(continued from Part One.)

Thom Powers at his Journal desk, 1993.

Thom Powers at his Journal desk, 1993.

Lighting the Feuds

Powers: There have been so many feuds it makes you wonder if there’s something peculiar to Fantagraphics that causes this pattern. I’m not sure I have an answer for that.

Groth: The Comics Journal was in a particularly contentious period in its contentious history by the beginning of the 1990s. We’d just gotten off of our campaign to shame Marvel into returning Jack Kirby’s art; we’d just won three libel suits in a row; independent publishers were gaining traction; the self-publishing movement was afoot; Marvel and DC were still dominant, of course. I saw the Journal’s mission as continuing to be a provocateur, to shake things up, to continue to challenge the status quo.

A microcosm of the public outcry following Gary's essay, "Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish".

A microcosm of the public outcry following Gary’s essay, “Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish”.

I wrote a couple pieces that caused a surprising and to my mind inordinate amount of controversy and condemnation. I wrote an editorial about the public response to Carol Kalish’s death, something I’m still pleased with. I was chewing off my lips for something like two months, because I didn’t want to write what I eventually wrote. Every week, I would get The Buyer’s Guide, and every week I would read these preposterous hagiographic letters and essays about Kalish. They became more and more attenuated reality. There were eventually letters from people who had never met her or even knew who she was, but who were praising her based on previous letters from people praising her, which were based on something Peter David said a month earlier. So, eventually, I decided that the context required me to try to redress the balance. And my objection was less toward Kalish herself than toward these mindless, over-the-top panegyrics about her, unrelated to her real contribution to comics or even who she was. I think that she got more ink after she died than Kirby, Hogarth, Caniff, Kurtzman, all these great artists, did.

I think the reason for that was probably because she was a professional networker. People get praised more because of their networking skills than because they’re great artists, and that offended me; it seemed like an utterly lopsided set of values at work. Fewer people knew and liked Burne Hogarth, so he got virtually no coverage, but because Carol Kalish was the friend of all retailers, she was smothered in praise. So anyway, I don’t know, it seems ridiculous in retrospect, because my piece was like what, 2,000 words, or something like that? It was a short, succinct piece. And you know, the ironic thing is it might have even created more of a shitstorm than my piece on Eisner.

Gary Groth, “Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish,” The Comics Journal #146 November 1991:

Of course, her job was to sell as much semi-literate junk to a gullible public as humanly possible. Her gift — or genius — was exploiting markets, manipulating public taste, pandering to the lowest common denominator. She was, in an odd sort of way, forthright about the crassness of her employer’s marketing methods. Once I witnessed a retailer timidly question Marvel’s strategy of filling their comics with sex and violence: Kalish’s reply, which was almost refreshingly free of the specious nod to morality to which less assured marketing tacticians would resort, was that little boys liked sex and violence and Marvel was in the business of selling comics to little boys. Hence and therefore.

Thompson: I understand why people were offended by Gary’s piece, but a lot of the criticism was off base. First, that it was written “too soon” — it was months after Kalish’s death — and second that it was an attack on Kalish herself. I suspect that to this day a lot of people who bear a grudge toward Gary never read the original editorial, just other people’s interpretations of it … or if they did finally read it, their perception had already been so colored by the outrage.

Groth: I reread my Eisner piece not too long ago, and it wasn’t bad. I stand behind it, but my God, it created another shitstorm. Even Jules Feiffer raked me over the coals for it in my interview with him. No one was allowed to say anything critical about Eisner then. I think that’s changed since, but in 1989, he was critically inviolate.

Gary Groth, “Will Eisner: A Second Opinion,” The Comics Journal #119, January 1988:

There are, it seems to me, two Will Eisners: The populist who defends mass-market junk and the elitist who champions comics as a form of literature; a shrewd businessman who prides himself on deal making and market savvy and an artist whose aspirations rise above the marketplace; an artist who uses his (and others’) gifts to package utilitarian products-to-order and an artist who strives to duplicate the human condition.

Feiffer: I thought Gary’s essay on Will Eisner was quite harsh. What was refreshing was that he was one of the few people not enamored of Eisner and didn’t genuflect, but at the same time I thought he went overboard in his judgments. There were all sorts of criticisms of Eisner’s work that I thought were legitimate; I didn’t feel like Gary in some instances was on the money here.

Groth: I wasn’t rabid about Eisner, particularly, but I couldn’t understand why no one else noticed that his graphic novels were really lousy, and lousy in an obvious and pronounced way. It pretty much shot my relationship with Eisner, who never forgave me — another example of naiveté on my part, though I probably never even considered that aspect of it when I sat down to write it.

Gary Groth, “Will Eisner: A Second Opinion,” The Comics Journal #119, January 1988:

These observations were prompted by my reading of The Building, and two blurbs from Don Thompson and Max Allan Collins that Kitchen Sink is using to advertise the book. Uncle Don thinks The Building is “inspirational” and “outstanding,” while Collins thinks it’s a “brilliant, graceful graphic novel” that brought tears to his “cynical eyes.” In fact, The Building may be Eisner’s worst book, a menagerie of clichés and an embarrassingly strident use of a hoary, heavy-handed literary device that could be productively employed in schools throughout the country as an example of how not to write a story, but which wouldn’t fail to impress our average comics reviewer as an example of High Art.

Groth: So again, I wanted to introduce a contrarian point of view to the public discourse. There’s nothing that comics fans hate more than something that upsets their little critical apple cart. I got hell for it; I think Don Thompson said I wrote it out of jealousy. But looking back on it, I would fine-tune it a little bit, but I think I was pretty accurate. God knows, considering what he’s done since then, I think it was probably pretty lenient.

Dave Sim and I went ’round and ’round. My disagreements with Dave — and this is long before he wrote that deranged anti-woman screed — were many. One, I remember, was his adoration of self-publishing irrespective of the quality of the self-publisher. I guess I thought that there was something about Dave’s worldview that was skewed and defective and fundamentally amoral … although I didn’t know how skewed at that time.

Gary Groth defends distributor Bud Plant from Dave Sim.

Gary Groth defends distributor Bud Plant from Dave Sim.

I haven’t looked at this in ages, but I think we had a back-and-forth where I wrote a couple of pieces about him, and he wrote a big piece about me in Cerebus, and naturally I wrote a response and so forth. It was one thing after another. I remember Dave also attacked Bud Plant over some utterly specious nonsense, and I mean Bud is probably one of the few fucking saints in the comics industry. So they had this big brouhaha, and not too long after that, Sim was palling around with Steve Geppi and lifting brewskis and watching football games with him. Earlier he had taken this exhibitionistically moral stance about what an unethical person Geppi was, and then shortly thereafter he’s buddying up to him. So I think he was displaying signs of neo-Ayn-Randian economic models back then that were sort of seeping out of his writing, which I thought were morally dicey. I think I went after that too.

At the time, these were like life-and-death issues and I wrote with that kind of urgency. Looking back, perhaps that was naive, but I wouldn’t mitigate that passion, in retrospect, for anything.

One day someone from Capital City called. I forget the guy’s name, but he was an executive at Capital, and I guess I wrote an editorial where I specifically referred to him as a schlockmeister. So, one day someone who answered the phone in my office buzzed me and tells me, “There’s a call for you.”

I said, “Who is it?”

And he said, “Well, he just said, ‘It’s the schlockmeister.’” So I took the call and this guy just yelled at me for five minutes. He was right in the sense that the reductio ad absurdum of my argument that he was responding to was that he probably shouldn’t have a job, and that 90 percent of the comics that Capital was distributing shouldn’t exist. But he was really personally, deeply offended by this.

That kind of conviction about art and what culture ought to be, and what excellence is and what we should be devoting ourselves to was beginning to be sidelined by an overwhelming commercial ethos.

Image probably had a lot to do with that — empowering mediocrity. That was a revolting spectacle, honorable men running to Image because Image suddenly had lots of money and power and clout. And because it was run by creators and creators were intrinsically the good guys.

I haven’t read the Creator Bill of Rights in a couple decades, but as I recall, I was somewhat skeptical of whether this was going to enhance the art form — and that’s what I wanted to do, that was my primary interest, that’s what I thought it was all about. I found a lot of these reformist or semi-reformist agendas, like Scott McCloud’s and Dave Sim’s, were more about giving shitty artists a bigger cut of the pie than anything having to do with art. In a lot of instances, I was not railing against the corporate mentality as embodied by corporations but the corporate mentality as it had been internalized by the more vocal creators.

I was banging my head against that wall, and the wall was winning. Apathy had taken the place of a more activist kind of agenda on the part of creators.

I couldn’t in good conscience champion the guy who pencils and inks Justice League of America. I mean, he probably makes a very good living. He doesn’t own the work. He knows that going in; it’s all work for hire, I think that you can make an argument that work for hire is intrinsically bad. It is just part of this whole commercial culture that encourages people to divorce themselves from their own work in any meaningful way. But you know, nobody’s going to listen to that argument.

Powers: There was a big break between Gary and Denis Kitchen.

Thompson: Kitchen Sink was falling apart, and not only was it falling apart, there was some weird stuff going on in its relationship with Tundra, with which it was merging. It was the big story at the time, and Gary was adamant that it should be pursued in the Journal, as well it should. Kitchen saw this as an attempt to sabotage him, and his paranoia was exacerbated when the Journal editor of the time, Carole Sobocinski, decided to become a mole for him inside the Journal.

Groth: I had what I would characterize as a collegial relationship with Denis Kitchen through the ’80s. We weren’t close friends, but we both suffered the same tribulations as marginal, alternative comics publishers, and we’d often gossip and commiserate at cons and at parties, and over the phone. I certainly considered him a collegial friend or a friendly colleague. He was always supportive of the Journal’s journalistic mission — he had been a journalist himself briefly — and he often complimented the magazine on its hard-hitting news coverage.

In the early ’90s, Kitchen Sink Press was going through he same miserable financial contractions we were. I think he was circling the drain just as we were. We solved our problem by starting Eros Comix. Kitchen tried to solve his by merging with Tundra, the alternative publishing company Kevin Eastman founded in 1990 and sunk his millions in.

Kitchen issued a press release in 1993 announcing Kitchen Sink’s purchase of Tundra. This was suspicious on the face of it; companies on the brink of bankruptcy don’t buy companies who are three or four times their size. My journalistic bullshit detector went off. This made as much sense as Fantagraphics buying Random House. We proceeded to do our job, which was to dig up the truth, and this put us in direct contention with Kitchen who did his best to prevaricate and hide the truth. As it turned out, according to what Eastman subsequently told me in his Journal interview, he, Eastman, has initially owned 51 percent of Kitchen for a while, and even financed the merger or acquisition to the tune of 2 million dollars — the opposite of how the transaction was portrayed by Kitchen. It became more personal when, during the course of our reportage I thought we were being stonewalled, I had a conversation with Kitchen and he told me he would answer our questions honestly or tell us when he couldn’t answer them, but insisted on the subterfuge that Kitchen had purchased Tundra. All this time, unbeknownst to me, our news editor and news writer were in cahoots with Kitchen to suppress the story.

Roberta Gregory characterizes the state of creators' rights in The Comics Journal #137 (1990).

Roberta Gregory characterizes the state of creators’ rights in The Comics Journal #137 (1990).

Powers: I visited Denis Kitchen back when Kitchen Sink was in Wisconsin, back when I was briefly the executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I visited Denis, stayed at his place, and on the way over people were saying, “Happy birthday, Denis.” In this low-key way he hadn’t bothered to disclose, it was his birthday.

Later that trip he said, “I started a publishing company to control my own work, but now this company controls me.” And I think that’s true for so many entrepreneurs and small businesspeople.

Marc Arsenault, designer and former Tundra employee: 
[Gary] called me up one afternoon, and what he had to say was a bit of a shock. He apologized to me. Apparently, a couple of members of The Comics Journal staff decided that what I and other former employees and associates of Kevin Eastman’s Tundra Publishing had to say about our time there was so horrendous, that — journalistic ethics be damned — it would be a good idea to let Denis Kitchen know what was up, off-the-record comments recorded without my permission or knowledge [in the course of their alleged news writing], and all.

Groth: Over the course of several months when this story was hot, I was increasingly frustrated because the Journal’s news writer simply wasn’t getting the story. He would submit drafts that were woefully feckless and evasive, I would return them for a rewrite with specific notes as to whom to talk to and what questions to ask, I would get another half-assed draft and this would go on and on. The managing editor kept telling me she was on the news writer and couldn’t understand why he was doing such a poor job either. What I didn’t know is that they were both in constant touch with Kitchen, had agreed to sabotage the news story and were feeding him information about how successful they were in undercutting the story.

I only learned about this when an intern working under them whom they had taken into their confidence came to me and confessed the whole cover-up. When I called Sobocinski at home and told her I wanted to meet with her, she never came back to work, and the next thing I knew Kitchen had hired her as his assistant.

Ilse Thompson:
The first collection of The Complete Crumb Comics that I edited started the first years of American Splendor. Because Crumb and Harvey Pekar both own the copyright on their collaborations, we had to get permission from Pekar to publish the work. He was against it. He wouldn’t. Crumb eventually persuaded him, and I got a memo from Gary saying that he had relented. When the book came out, I was arranging for complimentary copies to be sent to contributors, and calling people to confirm their addresses. I called Pekar, who popped a cork when I told him that American Splendor had been reprinted. He had forgotten that he’d OK’d it. “Gimme Groth! I’m going to sue him!” He demanded to speak with anyone in a position above me. I was afraid to tell him that I had edited it, and told him that everyone else was at lunch, because I didn’t want anyone to know I’d pissed him off.

The next morning, Kim told me that Pekar had called to apologize to me, and that I should expect a call from him. When he called, we spent an hour on the phone. He gave me a lesson in Russian literature.

R. Crumb's cover to the first American Splendor collection (Doubleday, 1986).

R. Crumb’s cover to the first American Splendor collection (Doubleday, 1986).

Groth: At first, Pekar refused to give permission to reprint the strips Crumb drew from his scripts. I had to call Crumb and ask him to call Pekar and intercede, which he did. My impression was that Pekar refused permission either because of some feud he was having either with Bob Fiore at the time or an argument I had with his wife Joyce Brabner, but which I remember thinking was a petty reason to deny his collaborator the right to include those strips in his complete works.

R. Fiore: The Harvey Pekar business was one of the more idiotic episodes I’ve ever been involved in. One thing to remember was that it came during that whole period when the move was being made and my return from Seattle, and if you read anything I was writing at the time you’ll see that I was just in a foul mood. You could see it in that ridiculous feud we were carrying on with the Comics Buyer’s Guide, overheated rhetoric mostly provided by me, as if we were in a death struggle with Don Thompson for the soul of the comics, (a) as though they had one and (b) as though it would have been worth having. I am put in mind of Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Falkland Islands War: Two bald men fighting over a comb.

Thompson: The Fiore/Pekar feud highlights one of the problems, which is that people would inevitably take the writing of one person in the Journal as a company-wide broadside, and generalize their dislike of that person into a loathing for the Journal and Fantagraphics as a whole. So a lot of people hate Gary for nasty reviews of their work that Gary may not agree with, or even have read.

Powers: For years I made pitiful attempts to get Bob to write in other venues. I published my own paper in Detroit in 1993, and I got Bob to write a column for me. Unfortunately, I only published three issues. I once gave copies of the papers to Christopher Hitchens and Hitchens asked me later, “Who’s Bob Fiore? He’s a great writer.”

Fiore: The biggest problem with the position I took with Pekar [re: the reductive use of animals in Art Spiegelman’s Maus] was that Pekar had a point, in that characterizing a people as pigs does have a certain connotation. The real answer to this is that, while it is a problem, Spiegelman defuses it by portraying Poles in a multidimensional way. The thing is, right at the time I was writing that column, I had heard this thing on NPR about Polish collaboration during the Holocaust, and I made this dumbass comment to the effect that, in making them pigs, Spiegelman was being too kind. Needless to say, this was not the way in which Spiegelman wanted to see his work defended. Anyway, having climbed out on this limb, I proceeded in the finest Field Marshal Haig fashion to defend it. What the episode proves is that the things that are most likely to make you look foolish in an argument are ego involvement and emotional involvement.

What impressed me about Pekar is that he actually went out and read The Lost Steps, much more of a commitment than I would have made in the same circumstances. (It actually is a book about a modern man who discovers a primitive society that he finds superior to the modern world and all its conveniences, but Pekar did some selective quotation that made it look otherwise. The dirty cheat.) What burns me up is that I found a quote from Orwell that said that Animal Farm was an allegory of the Russian Revolution, but it was too late. This was the sort of absurd point we went round and round on; Pekar would take a position that was objectively wrong but because of my ego involvement I kept trying to make him admit it, and that’s something he wouldn’t do. And you really have to wonder if someone who can’t see the difference between Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler has any genuine understanding of literature at all. The perverse thing is while artists always complain about being judged by people who couldn’t create art, when artists themselves try to judge a work of art they are immediately subjected to invidious comparisons or accusations of professional jealousy.

Groth: I remember Pekar telling me that he would never, ever allow Fiore to have the last word in that argument and that he would argue for the rest of his life if necessary and that if I ever stopped the argument and gave Fiore the last word, Pekar would continue it in the pages of the Comics Buyer’s Guide. It rampaged over many issues of the Journal and Pekar did indeed get the last word. Until now.

(continued on next page)

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Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part One) http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-one/ http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-one/#respond Thu, 15 Dec 2016 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97570 We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited and exhaustive oral history of Fantagraphics Books. This section's leading characters include Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Shooter, Helena Harvilicz, Frank Young, Eric Reynolds, and Tom Spurgeon. Continue reading ]]> The following is an excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. A tumultuous magazine for a tumultuous industry; Barry Windsor-Smith troubles Jim Shooter’s lower gut; the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest; Helena Harvilicz blows up; Frank Young melts down; and Eric Reynolds and Tom Spurgeon: the non-sociopath years.

Summer 1995 backyard party at Peter and Joanne Bagge's house, names tagged by Jim Blanchard and featuring a cross-section of lcoal comics, music and media folk.

Summer 1995 backyard party at Peter and Joanne Bagge’s house, names tagged by Jim Blanchard and featuring a cross-section of lcoal comics, music and media folk.

The Comics Journal vs. The Comics Industry

Barry Windsor-Smith, cartoonist: In the early 1990s, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and I were traveling to a downtown restaurant. We were crowded in the back of a yellow cab, and the chat was inevitably about the world of comic books. I wasn’t interested, so I was tuned out, thinking of things other than comics.

But then, the mention of The Comics Journal caught my attention and I briefly tuned back into the conversation as Bob snorted, “Fuckers!” with Jim concurring — “Those bastards.” It’s rare for Shooter to curse. I guess he reserves his expletives for The Comics Journal.

Chiming in, I said, “The Journal is the only real magazine we’ve got.” In that context, where Jim and Bob were openly hostile, my use of the term “magazine” implied an arbiter of taste, criticism and intelligence, like The New Yorker, for instance. They both looked at me briefly, and, turning away, Shooter’s ass tightened so fast that it almost overtook the speed of Layton’s gall bladder stricture — what little air was in the back of the taxi was immediately sucked into each of their lower guts with a thunderous stereophonic whistling sound. Following through, I said, “Damned good thing they keep us on our toes, right?”
The rest of the short journey down Broadway passed in silence. Staring out the window while returning to my private musings, I coined the ungainly term Reverse Fart.

Bill Williingham's inspired, Steadman-esque portrait of industry villain Jim Shooter for The Comics Journal #171.

Bill Williingham’s inspired, Steadman-esque portrait of industry villain Jim Shooter for The Comics Journal #171.

Steven Grant: We felt all the comics-news outlets, not just the Journal, weren’t really serving the needs of the comics-professionals community, and there was really no reason to expect them to. We [WAP!, the freelancer’s rights newsletter] never really conceived ourselves as being in competition with the Journal in any way, though I heard rumors the Journal thought we were positioning the newsletter that way. But there was a general sense of outright hostility from the Journal toward the rank and file of comics professionals — which isn’t to say a lot of the Journal’s assessment of the business wasn’t accurate, just that they often professed their views in ways that were perceived as elitist and confrontational — and there were a lot of professionals who didn’t feel comfortable discussing their issues with the business with the Journal.

Gary Groth: The “industry” at large, of which 90 percent or more consisted of Marvel and DC (and Archie), had schizophrenic views of us. In the early days, we would give Gerber and Thomas and Englehart space to rant about Marvel and Jim Shooter, which they appreciated insofar as comics creators had never had a public forum available to them to voice their grievances; it was really the first time that a magazine would give them that kind of space and allow them to express themselves uncensored. Before that, fanzines toed the company line and the vast majority of creators were frankly too feckless to speak out. And to be fair, the Journal could be perceived as schizophrenic: We’d often run negative reviews of their books while championing their rights as artists. So there was always a tension there. Some comics creators respected our willingness to uphold artistic standards and give even creators we didn’t necessarily believe maintained those standards a place to speak out, and there were other comics creators who despised us for our “attitude.” Our attitude was a big problem.

Kim Thompson: That was the point, I think, at which the unity of alternative-minded mainstreamers and alternative cartoonists started to fray. It was a relationship that just couldn’t hold. They were based on improving the mainstream model, and we were based on bypassing it — or smashing it. There was also a residue of hostility because of all the mean things we said in reviews.

Groth: By the time WAP! showed up, I think the scales had been lifted from our eyes — or my eyes — and I realized corporations like DC and Marvel were not reformable and the only moral option was to not work for them — which was not something the Journal could effect. WAP! was interested in improving conditions so that artists could make more money producing crap rather than get fucked over for producing crap. I saw it as a venue confirming the work-for-hire status quo, which I was increasingly uncomfortable with. I came to the conclusion that producing crap was the problem, not how much one gets paid for it. Of course, self-publishing and indy publishing wasn’t the answer either, but I didn’t think it through that far. If I had, I would’ve realized there was no answer and slit my wrists.

The "I Am Not Terry Beatty's Girlfriend" Contest call for entries.

The “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest call for entries.

Thom Powers: One thing that I think was notable when I was managing editor of The Comics Journal was that it did mark a particularly nasty streak for the magazine. It was issues #117 to maybe #124. It included the apotheosis of our attitude then, the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest, which kind of represented a split between Gary and Kim. I think Kim was really wary of our doing this. Gary and I were giggling over the opportunity.

Joe Sacco: I remember meeting Jim Shooter at one of the San Diego conventions and asking him for a quote about something or other, and him telling me, “I don’t talk to that rag.”

Powers: There are some things that I look back on during that period where I think they were a little too personal, and it doesn’t get any more nasty than the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest. But I have no regrets. We started the Swipe File then. That I feel a little bad about in retrospect.

Thompson: I thought some of it was pointless bullshit and served no purpose other than to undercut the Journal’s reputation and create additional enemies for no good reason. But I had enough of the same inclinations and history that I had no moral high ground from which to speak, so all I could do is grouse about individual instances, to little effect. Thom and Gary tended to reinforce each other.

Groth: Thom edited the Journal briefly and even wrote news. We were very much in accord, editorially and philosophically, in that we wanted to use the magazine to confront entrenched attitudes in the profession and attack the whole ethos of hackery, and we were willing to use ridicule and humor to make our point. Nothing, I should add, was done frivolously. The whole point of the “Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest was to underscore how fatuous it was to defend drek. I still think that was pretty inspired, if I may say so. Although Kim’s own comics criticism could be devastating, he was always a little queasy about such tactics.

Thompson: There was always a lot of hostility towards The Comics Journal and Gary, and it tended to divide itself pretty cleanly. Those who liked and regarded as valid the model and aesthetic of mainstream comics didn’t like us, and those who didn’t like the model and aesthetic liked us. There were people on both sides who went the other way, but that’s kind of the way it broke down.

Thom Powers and Gary Groth, circa mid-1990s.

Thom Powers and Gary Groth, circa mid-1990s.

Groth: I was given more shit for the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest than anything else we did — at least until I wrote an editorial about Carol Kalish. Even in retrospect, I think the “Contest” was pretty editorially inspired. The fact of it, but also the fact that it took balls to do it. One of the criticisms often leveled against us was that we were humorless and stuffy — yet this was about as funny and as incendiary as you could get. It was freewheeling, more in the tradition of, say, The Realist. I wish we did more things like this today.

The “Contest” came out of a predictably negative review of some short-lived and now-forgotten DC comic called Wild Dog written by Max Allan Collins and drawn by Terry Beatty. The only two people who wrote in attacking the review and defending the comic were Terry Beatty and his girlfriend (in two separate letters). Before we got their letters, though, Beatty called me up and literally screamed at me for five minutes — livid. The letters were brimming with indignation. I thought this was so funny that I initiated a contest, open to Journal readers, to write in defending the comic; the winner would get a subscription to the Journal. The only criterion was that the contestant couldn’t be Terry Beatty’s girlfriend. We received a lot of entries, as I recall.

The Comics Journal’s Revolving Door

Dale Yarger: Comics Journal editors were a strange breed, as you probably know — they went through like three or four a year for a long time. At least it seemed like that.

Groth: If one of the skills I was looking for in a Journal editor was sanity, I should generally be considered a pretty dismal failure at hiring Journal editors.

Thompson: Some were pretty good but slightly neurotic editors who just eventually snapped, like Helena Harvilicz and Frank Young, whereas others explored the outer limits of office sociopathy.

Robert Boyd: It was a fucking stressful job. Gary was really unhelpful — certainly one of his weaknesses. He was totally hands-off unless he had a problem, then he could be kind of an asshole. I think if he had been a little more helpful and positive when people were doing a good job, they could have accepted his occasionally harsh criticisms a little better. But it was such a difficult job, and people would do it without ever getting a pat on the back. I mean, editors just killed themselves to get this magazine out.

Helena Harvilicz: I used to read The Comics Journal, and I found an ad for the managing editor job in The Comics Journal, and I just sent them a résumé — it was actually a really goofy cover letter that I wrote. I think I tried to impress them with how funny I was, or something. I got quotes from people who knew me, about how great I was. I think it must have impressed them, whatever it was. I’d been out of school a couple years and I had worked in restaurants, and at that point I was working at Georgetown University as a secretary.

Thompson: Helena is a totally hilarious writer, a skill she was never able to really use in the Journal. She later did her own little fanzine, Nut Magnet, which was a masterpiece. She was also a character and a bit of a flake — this tiny, tiny woman who looked like she had barely hit puberty. My wife Lynn told me that she spent one of the first Fantagraphics parties she attended, when she didn’t know too many people, horrified that there was this 13-year-old girl drinking and smoking. “Is she someone’s daughter? Who brought her? Why isn’t anyone stopping this?”

The Comics Journal #132 (1989), cover by Lynda Barry.

The Comics Journal #132 (1989), cover by Lynda Barry.

Harvilicz: I had to fly out and buy my own plane ticket, because they wouldn’t pay for me to come out — at that point they were in L.A. I went out there and I just really hit it off with those guys. It was weird — like coming home in a weird way. We just had the same sensibility, and they just seemed to really like me and I really liked everyone. And then Gary offered me the job, which I was kind of shocked about, and then the salary was so poor he couldn’t convince me to do it. So they hired someone else, I think. I forget how much it was, it was pathetic — I think like $11,000 a year.

And then they hired this guy, Greg Baisden. He went up to Seattle with them, and then I guess as it often happens with Comics Journal editors, he lasted a very short amount of time. I thought Greg was kind of an idiot when I met him.

Groth: Greg Baisden moved up with us from L.A. Greg was an extremely good editor as well as a good news writer, but he also had a mercurial temperament — almost the stereotype of a “good” Journal editor. You had to take the good with the bad and I was willing to do that. Greg’s work habits were extremely erratic, but he was extremely committed to The Mission and that meant a lot. But he was unstable and had a temper, which proved problematic.

Greg wasn’t a bad editor, but he had what one might call anger-management problems. I once saw him throw an entire completed issue of Comics Journal paste-up boards across the room at Dale Yarger, but they fell apart like a poorly-packed snowball and Greg had to pick them all up again.

Groth: Once he even threw something at Dale Yarger’s head. I’m not sure if that or something subsequent was the last straw, but he left the magazine. Helena Harvilicz, who was working in tandem with him, took his place.

Thompson: He went on to work for Eclipse and then Tundra, and we would hear amusing reports from his tenures there.

Boyd: What would happen is that an editor would melt down mid-issue. This happened three times while I was there, first with Greg Baisden. I can’t remember what triggered it, but it had been building for a long time. That was the Kirby issue, and I basically finished it and started the next issue until Helena came on board.

Groth: I had been the primary editor of the Journal for the first eight or nine years (with, first, Mike Catron, then Kim Thompson), but at that point I had to devote more and more of my time to the company’s other publishing efforts and had to hire a managing editor to run the Journal on a day-to-day basis. Basically, the editorial template was there and I was still involved to greater or lesser degrees, depending upon how much time the rest of the company sucked out of me or what was going on in my personal life; sometimes I was very hands-on and sometimes not.

Hiring a new managing editor was always difficult. It requires a set of skills that are, if not unique, pretty rare, and I would often have to compromise because few applicants had them all. If I had to choose between someone with zero social skills and a broad knowledge of the history of comics and someone with excellent social skills and a spotty knowledge of the history of comics, I’d choose the former and reap the consequences in consequent office disruption. The people I eventually hired were usually intense, independent, focused and driven. And eccentric.

Harvilicz: They had remembered me for whatever reason and called me up again.

And at the time, I came across the country with this other guy, Thom Powers, and while we were driving he mentioned that I was going to be editor of The Comics Journal, which I was completely shocked about! I thought I was just going to be a reporter. I was working there for like two or three days, and Gary’s giving me all this stuff to do.

Frank Young: To succeed as managing editor of The Comics Journal, you need the skills of a samurai warrior and the fearlessness of an animal trainer. I doubt there are many people on this planet with both those skill sets and editorial and decision-making abilities. The job asks a lot of anyone.

Harvilicz: I went into his office and it wasn’t a breakdown, but I just looked at him and said, “Gary, I have no idea what I’m doing.” Because I had no experience. And he just looked at me and said, “I don’t want to hear it.” That was his training. At that point in my life it was perfect for me. Nowhere else was I going to get a job where I was going to be given so much control over anything.

Groth: I was still deeply involved in the Journal on a day-to-day basis then, conceptualizing the editorial lineup for each issue, conducting a lot of interviews, determining which books should be reviewed, going over the current possible news stories and determining which ones were important enough to pursue and so forth. Once those decisions were made, the managing editor had to make them happen. It was a dream job if you were so inclined, not so much if you weren’t.

Thompson: We always had a real sink-or-swim approach to employees, particularly the Comics Journal editors. I think in part because that’s how Gary and I had done it, although of course in our case we hadn’t been responsible to anyone else who might come down and yell at us. It was rough on some of them, but the ones who worked out always seemed grateful for the experience, and the ones who didn’t usually seemed to collapse because of character flaws or neuroses that had little to do with the actual skills.

Groth: I was stretched pretty thin by 1992 or 1993 — 15 years after I’d cofounded the magazine, and what I needed was a competent managing editor who could manage. I was still doing a lot of interviews at that time and I was writing for the magazine pretty often into the mid-’90s, but I couldn’t handle the day-to-day flow of … managing. So, the managing editor and the news writer and I would meet formally a couple times a week to discuss the forthcoming issue, and I’d answer questions, give marching orders and let them have at it. I would always give them a lot of latitude, but I have to admit that I felt the need to stand behind whatever feature or review or interview subject they suggested or I just couldn’t approve it. So, I was a little dictatorial that way, I guess, but I didn’t want the editorial core of the magazine to change.

Young: My story with Fantagraphics starts in 1990. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, I was 27 and I was taking care of my mother, who had cancer. It was a pretty grim year for me, and I was feeling kind of trapped. Just for the hell of it, I sent a review of one of the Carl Barks Library sets to The Comics Journal. I had been reading The Comics Journal since I was in high school and I never had any idea that I would be affiliated with the company. By that time, I had 10 years experience as a published writer and editor, for a variety of newspapers and magazines, all in the Southeast.

Thompson: I remember when we interviewed Frank Young he went into great detail about how all his previous jobs were horrible and all his previous bosses were assholes. The ultimate fate of his Fantagraphics employment was laid out right there for us to see and we didn’t put two and two together.

Harvilicz: Gary never did anything with the magazine, except hire that idiot to write those horrible columns! Who is that guy — Ken Smith? You know, I went to Johns Hopkins, and I had a philosophy degree and I couldn’t read that shit. I tried to cut it every issue! Gary was evasive about it, completely. He would never ever answer the question of why is this in here?
I always wanted to make the magazine more lighthearted and funny. And the interviews were great, but they were way too long.

Groth: I’m not sure there was a single Comics Journal editor who didn’t hate Ken Smith’s philosophy column, which made me all the more adamant to run it, of course.

Eric Reynolds' logo for one of Kenneth Smith's occasional forays into column writing at The Comics Journal.

Eric Reynolds’ logo for one of Kenneth Smith’s occasional forays into column writing at The Comics Journal.

Young: I wrote this article basically to take my mind off this miserable situation I was in. I got a letter back from Helena saying that she liked the article, and it got published. I did four or five things for them over the next few months.

Groth: Frank Young — very smart guy who knew comics, had taste and appreciated the form, perfect Journal material. But there was the temperament issue again.

Young: A thing I noticed right away was what a combative and mutually abusive relationship Helena and Gary had. They were meant for each other, because they both could push each other’s buttons. I think to each other they were just giant consoles of buttons that would get reactions. They would have screaming matches. About anything. Helena would just fly off the handle. She was a very competent person, she knew what she was doing, but she had a very chaotic personality at the same time. She would get into arguments with Gary about very trivial things that didn’t really have any importance. And he would just keep pushing her buttons until she would explode. And she would just freak out, and I think it was just great entertainment to him. He didn’t have any emotional investment in it.

Groth: I liked Helena. We had a volatile relationship, but I never took our arguments personally, and I didn’t think she did, though I could be wrong about that.

Harvilicz: I had no friends, I knew no one and I lived in the attic at the office at one point. It was really a crawlspace that I lived in for a couple months.

Groth: At one point, Helena asked me if she could crash in the attic for a while. I said, “Are you sure?” I mean, it was an attic on the same level as the Journal office on the second floor of the house, but the roof slanted down and you literally couldn’t stand up in it. Well, Helena could probably stand up on the far side against the wall, but then she’d have to crouch down if she moved a foot into it. I shrugged and said OK. She lived there for a couple months — rent free, of course; it was, I thought, a temporary measure. She’d make jokes about how any guy who came into her “home” had no other option than to get on his knees immediately.

Boyd: Then Helena quit suddenly.

Harvilicz: As much as I loved working there, mentally I was all over the place back then, and I felt like I’d learned the job. It wasn’t like I was the best magazine editor ever, but I understood it, and I was like: OK, what else is there? I really wanted to move into doing something else for Fantagraphics. Like being an editor — I was sort of lining up do that, and he’d given me a book to work on. And then we had that blowup.

Thompson: Gary and Helena were a volatile combination. Helena was a pretty good editor but she’d have these blind spots and sometimes not think things through, and Gary would get legitimately annoyed with her and call her on the carpet, and he’s not particularly gentle as a reprimander and she was fairly sensitive and argumentative. I could hear them screaming at each other in Gary’s office since we shared a wall.

I remember we were at a San Diego convention, Lynn Johnston was attending, and Gary told Helena to go introduce herself, give Johnston a copy of the magazine and ask if we could do an interview. Of all the issues to give this nice middle-aged Canadian newspaper cartoonist, Helena gave her the recently released “sex issue” of the Journal, which was totally filthy, full of hardcore porn images. Miraculously, Johnston weathered the blow and did eventually agree to the interview, but it led to one of those “Why did you do that?” colloquies in Gary’s office.

Helena Harvilica and Tony Millionaire, circa late 1990s in New York City.

Helena Harvilica and Tony Millionaire, circa late 1990s in New York City.

Harvilicz: Gary and I had a pretty weird relationship. I was always frustrated. People thought that I was attracted to him sexually. They did, because he has this weird magnetism for some women, but that really wasn’t the case. I was very frustrated in the relationship because I did want some kind of, something more from him — I had these really intimate, like, platonic relationships with men, and I knew he wasn’t willing to go there with me. And that was always frustrating for me. Later on, when I lived with Pat [Moriarity], I sort of had that with him, I had a close relationship with him. And then when I moved to New York, I lived with Tony Millionaire, and that was it! It was the perfect relationship I had been looking for with a man. We lived together, there was no sex whatsoever, but it was this intense relationship where we were really close. He’s a wonderful guy.
I really wanted Gary to be kind of like a mentor to me, which was just never ever going to happen. I was a little disappointed. I think Kim was a little more nurturing than Gary — I really liked Kim.

Thompson: Helena and I got along great, but then, I didn’t have to deal with her professionally. I don’t know if I’d have handled the Helena problems better than Gary. I had a mild crush on her, actually, which I confessed to her years later in San Diego when we were both drunk off our asses, and she said she’d had one on me too, but in her case it may have been the liquor talking, or she was just being nice. I don’t know. Of all the oddballs who trooped through the Fantagraphics offices, she’s one of my favorites.

Groth: I really liked Helena, but she was such a goofball that I may not have taken her as seriously as I should have. She would do a very competent job and then make a decision or say something so absurd or foolish or ignorant that I would go crazy and that would stick in my mind more than all the rest of her professional engagement.

Harvilicz: You know, I was feeling like I could take so much shit from Gary, and I really just did not let it bother me at all — a lot of it was shit I deserved. I remember one time he called me in his office after I’d done this interview, and he said, “Sit down — I want you to hear something.” So then he starts playing the tape back of me interviewing this guy — and this goes on for like five minutes. And he goes — “Now, did you notice that every time this guy started to say something interesting, you had to open your mouth?”

Young: Helena quit on Labor Day of 1991. We had just finished issue #144 and something happened over the weekend and she just exploded for the last time. She left a resignation letter that just said, “I have quit. Sincerely, Helena Harvilicz.”

Harvilicz: I remember going into that office and leaving a note — “I’m quitting, I’m going out to get drunk, this is my two-week notice.” And just put it on Gary’s desk. Because of the nature of who he is, or our relationship or whatever, he didn’t really even bother to follow up on it. He was like, “Fine, you quit.” OK. I think maybe if he would have apologized, I probably would have stayed.

You know, he’s one of those people who has to win, no matter what it is. He doesn’t really want to talk about it. He’s right, and whatever. On the one hand, though, it was like that’s great — I never had a boss before that I could go up to and say “fuck you” — you know? At least he takes it. He won’t admit he’s wrong, but he’ll at least listen to you give him shit.

In some ways I kind of regretted [quitting Fantagraphics], because I felt like at that time, I loved comics so much, and I just loved the company and everything.

The controversial "Sex Issue" of The Comics Journal (#143, 1991), with a cover by R. Crumb

The controversial “Sex Issue” of The Comics Journal (#143, 1991), with a cover by R. Crumb

Groth: I remember that Helena and I had an argument over some decision she made or was about to make, and I was frustrated because the decision seemed to me mistaken because it reflected an ignorance of comics history. At one point, she told me she didn’t know shit about comics, and I told her in that case she shouldn’t be editing a magazine about comics and she quit on the spot.

Harvilicz: I got drunk one night after I quit or was fired, I don’t remember what happened. And I called him up and said, “Uh, Gary — I want to come back and edit the Journal.” And he was like, really? I think he was like considering it. And I was like, yeah. And then the next day I sobered up and thought, “I don’t know why I did that, I’m never going back there!”

Young: I was helping someone move that day and afterwards I came into the office and there was a typed note from Kim Thompson on my desk that said, “Congratulations, you’re now the managing editor of The Comics Journal.” Without even asking me. It was quite the promotion.

I definitely had an agenda of making the magazine less threatening to the comics world. I was really excited to come out here and meet all these cartoonists, and as soon as anyone found out I was associated with The Comics Journal they would clam up. It was a little crushing, because, at the time, I had been making comics and was entertaining the thought of taking it seriously, and here I found myself at the epicenter of it and the only person that was really accepting was Pat Moriarity. Of all the people in the Fantagraphics world at the time, he was the most unguardedly friendly. He was interested in seeing the work I’d done and was very encouraging.

But the work schedule I had at the Journal left me with no energy to do anything else anyway. It was an extremely labor intensive magazine because everything was done by hand — all the graphics, color separations and typesetting. They processed photographic material with these foul-smelling chemicals, which gave me some chronic health problems for several years after. I was hoarse for two years afterwards and never have gotten my speaking volume back completely. There were people there like Dale Yarger, putting in these 20-hour days, who used to sleep at the office. That was the one thing that I wouldn’t do, even if I was working till 4 in the morning, I would go home to the insane Greenhouse in Ballard, where I lived with Tom [Harrington], Pat and Helena — the Fantastic Four. Helena began to see me as an old grouch, because I would complain about her ranting and raving at all hours — whooping it up and banging pots and pans and screaming like a gibbon.

Despite all the crazy stuff, I was actually very excited about working on The Comics Journal, but it had gotten a bad reputation as just a soapbox for Gary’s whims, to the point where if I had to do a news story and had to call someone, I’d get hung up on. I wanted to improve that somehow and I know that Gary didn’t like that — he made some passive-aggressive comments.

I have to say, I do like Kim, and of the two of them, I would say he’s the more levelheaded, business-like. He has some real problems with being passive-aggressive, and if Gary would get him going, he would just go along with things. I think Gary’s self-image was like Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. This zany guy that was sticking it to the establishment. The witty, charismatic guy that was putting the screws to the man, and Kim would get caught in the undertow of that sometimes. But on his own, Kim could also be, if overly harsh and critical, also very helpful.

I wasn’t very happy and I wasn’t getting paid very well, but I did like what I was doing on the magazine. It was getting at the idea I had, which was a magazine that was still part of Gary’s psyche, but was not something that people would hang up the phone on.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was the aftermath of the infamous Todd McFarlane issue, the mainstream issue. Dale and I had just busted our butts to get this issue out for San Diego. It was a tall order, but we dug in and delivered the goods on time. After the issue came out, and everyone else was having fun in San Diego, I took four days off — I was putting in 70, 80 hours a week, and just not getting anything back in return.

Gary and Kim called me into Gary’s office and proceeded to play this game of good cop/bad cop with me. Despite the fact that I had done what I thought was superior work for them for lousy pay, it was just the ultimate “fuck you” from both of them. I was just sitting there feeling so shocked and mortified I couldn’t say anything. Basically, they were telling me that I was doing a rotten job, and the Journal really sucked, all of which I knew wasn’t true. And the bottom line was that they wanted to finish up this special Harvey Kurtzman issue I was working on — a pet project of mine I’d been assembling for a year — they wanted to just slap it together as quickly as possible. Most of it was completed, or in the editing stages, but I wanted to finesse it. I just remember feeling so crushed, because they were basically telling me, well you poor pathetic schmuck, you’re just completely worthless and untalented, but no one else is dumb enough to take this job so we’re going to let you keep it. But you’ve got to work even harder and put less care and quality control into your work. And I did something I’ve never done before and never done since — I didn’t even clean out my desk. I just walked out of the place and never came back.

Thompson: The Frank Young thing was weird. The Comics Journal was always battling scheduling problems, but Frank had gotten fixated on the Kurtzman issue and it looked like it was going to take forever, just fuck up the schedule beyond its normal state of fucked-upness, mess up cash flow, advertisers, subscribers … It was like Michael Cimino edits a Comics Journal. We had some sympathy for him wanting to really bust his ass on it, but we weren’t in a position to let it slide for as long as it looked like it was, and we had a meeting where we told him he had to get it out. So far as I remember it was perfectly amicable, which just goes to show you: His perception was that we raked him over the coals for two hours. He sat there and looked at the floor and said “OK,” and the next morning there was a five-page single-spaced letter from Frank, which amounted to, “How dare you ruin my magazine, fuck you, I quit,” and that was the last we saw of him. He’d clearly been saving up his grievances.

Frank ended up working, at least for a while, as an usher at one of Seattle’s main movie theaters, so that was a little awkward, but we’re OK now.

A quintessential Journal issue from the early '90s, which featured the last of several Harvey Kurtzman interviews he gave the magazine over the years before passing away in 1993.

A quintessential Journal issue from the early ’90s, which featured the last of several Harvey Kurtzman interviews he gave the magazine over the years before passing away in 1993.

Groth: Frank was very proud of the issue that preceded the Kurtzman issue, and somehow thought that he earned the right to spend twice as much time on the Kurtzman issue because Kurtzman deserved more time and attention. That’s true, in theory, but you can’t run a magazine that way, so I explained to Frank that, no, he had the usual five to six weeks to put the Kurtzman issue together. The Journal was supposed to be monthly, but it was never monthly, and came out nine or ten times a year. You know, the editor of The New Yorker doesn’t get to put out the next issue two or three weeks later just because the issue he just put to bed was really good. Frank nodded and seemed to accept the logic of it, left and never came back.

Young: I was really upset and I wrote a scathing letter to Kim and Gary. If I had to do it all over again, I would have said these things in person. It was just a year’s worth of bottled-up frustration and rage. I found out later that some of the stuff I said about Kim and the way he treated people had some positive impact — I found out that he was being a lot nicer to people. I regret the harshness of the tone of that letter, but it was the best I could do at the time.

Groth: It’s always the delicate flowers who insist on their sensitivity in the face of the relentless negativity of the Journal office who write the bitter, five-page letters of resignation dripping with venom and bile. Frank Young’s ex post facto letter of resignation was a masterpiece of the genre.

Harvilicz: Then this Carole Sobocinski was hired, and that was like some nightmare that happened with her.

Yarger: Even when we were putting the Journal out weeks and months late, generally editors were a pretty devoted bunch, so I was used to a high level of commitment. They weren’t all as organized as they might have been, but they were committed. And Carole didn’t seem to have that same approach to the Journal, so it made my job a lot harder.

Boyd: I left right before Carole Sobocinski melted down. At first, we really got along, but after a while, I felt kind of used by her. We were barely speaking when I left. I wrote her a memo saying I wanted to keep writing Minimalism. She wrote back a terse note saying, “No, I’m taking it over. Give me all the minis you have to review.” I guess I could have gone to Gary or Kim and asked them, but I thought, “Fuck it.”

I had a huge box of unread minis that I put on her desk. She came down and said, “What do you expect me to do with all these?”
I said, “These are all the minicomics that people sent me. I think some are good enough to be reviewed, but it’s up to you now.” She told me to pull out the ones I thought were good. I laughed and said, “You have got to be kidding. I quit. I don’t work here anymore. You wanted this job, you’ve got it.” Then she gave Minimalism back to me — with a note saying I could continue writing it.

Later, when the whole Sobocinski thing exploded, Kim called me up and said, congratulations. You were the first person here that Carole hated.

Thompson: I’d grown to loathe Carole for several months before the blowup — I thought she was deceitful, lazy and self-serving — and had been urging Gary to fire her, but he stuck with her for some reason. He and I were having some of our periodic issues at the time and I have this suspicion she was playing those. She was very shrewd. What a horrible woman.

Eric Reynolds: I literally started at TCJ the day that Carole Sobocinski cleared out her desk, if memory serves. I may have even taken over her desk. Although we never worked together, her presence loomed that entire summer, as all of her subterfuge slowly came out and into focus.

K. Thor Jensen, cartoonist: I applied for the managing editor position at The Comics Journal in, I think, 1994. Might have been 1995. Of course, since my résumé was a paper route, opening mail on the night shift at the phone company and digging ditches for Labor Ready, I didn’t even get a call back. Prodded by my housemates, I called Fantagraphics and asked to talk to Gary.

When he wasn’t there, the receptionist — I forget who it was — asked if I wanted to leave a message, which I did. As best as I can remember it, it was, “This is K. Thor Jensen and you’re going to regret not hiring me as managing editor of the Journal because I can out-fight, out-fuck, out-type and out-proofread any of the fat-ass Colin Upton wannabes on your staff.”

A few months after that, when I had a strip published in the Journal, I used that as my biographical note.

Young: I don’t know everyone who’s edited the magazine since but I know a lot of people have gone through the same cycle of being the wonder boy or girl at first, and then at the end of their run they’re just the lowest form of scum on the earth and everything bad for the next six months is blamed on them.

Reynolds: The names of TCJ editors who left their position on good terms is a pretty small list.

Groth: I have to admit that I probably didn’t have much patience then — or now, for that matter — for Journal editors retroactively whining over how much work it was to edit the magazine. Was it a lot of hard work? Damned right it was. Is there anything worth doing that isn’t hard work? I don’t remember anyone I interviewed for a managing editor position telling me that the reason he (or she) was applying was because he wanted to put in a minimal effort and have an easy, cushy job. I would be very up-front about it: I told anyone who applied that it was a lot of work, a lot of hours and required a lot of dedication to the mission of the magazine. To me, devoting full time to editing the magazine would be a dream job. You’re given enormous (but not complete) autonomy, you have an opportunity to shape every issue, it’s intellectually stimulating, journalistically courageous and enormously rewarding. Financially, it was admittedly lousy, but it’s not like the magazine was ever a moneymaker and it was an opportunity you’re not going to find much in the real world to exercise your critical and intellectual faculties with few compromises or corporate considerations. Anyone who found this too much of a hardship wasn’t cut out for the job.

(continued on next page)

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“A Fair Bit of Alchemy”: A Q&A with Luke Howard http://www.tcj.com/a-fair-bit-of-alchemy-a-qa-with-luke-howard/ http://www.tcj.com/a-fair-bit-of-alchemy-a-qa-with-luke-howard/#respond Wed, 14 Dec 2016 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96384 Talk Dirty to Me and Our Mother talks about teaching at CCS, anxiety disorders, and his creative process. Continue reading ]]> lukephotowb

Luke Howard is a 33-year-old cartoonist and faculty instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, where he received his MFA. I first became aware of his comics in 2014, when I read his Ignatz-nominated mini, Trevor, in which he displayed his skill with playful, reality-bending narratives. This spring, AdHouse Books published Luke’s first graphic novel, Talk Dirty to Me, a quirkily funny, melancholy character study about a young woman at a crossroads (my TCJ review is here). This fall his newest comic, Our Mother, was published by Retrofit, and it’s his best work yet: a formally inventive, unique blend of bracingly honest autobiography and fanciful science fiction, imparted with equal doses of humor and sorrow. Spoiler: Our Mother has already made my Best of 2016 list. I interviewed Luke via email in late October and I’m very much looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Kirby: Can you tell me what roads eventually brought you to the Center for Cartoon Studies? (Basically, I’m looking for your cartoonist origin story.) 

Howard: Just like every human being on the planet, I was a cartoonist until I was about 10 years old. I truly believe that cartooning is an inevitable stage of childhood. But somewhere along the way we get too self-conscious and for most of us the cartooning stops. Lynda Barry wrote a whole book about that, right? Well, I was one of the unlucky kids who stopped. I wanted to be either Bill Watterson or Gary Larson when I grew up, and when I was around ten I asked my parents for a real cartooning desk with real cartooning tools. I figured as soon as I got the tools the professionals used I would become a professional and draw like one. So Christmas of 1993, my parents pull out all the stops and get me the real deal: a serious cartooning setup. The desk even angled the way I knew cartoonists desks were supposed to. I was all set to embark on my new career as a professional comics-making machine. But when I sat down for the first time to use it, I was devastated by the fact that my drawings didn’t look as good as Calvin & Hobbes. Somewhere in my stupid, ten year-old mind, I thought having the right tools would mean my artwork would instantly be on par with that level of cartooning. I couldn’t figure out why my drawings still looked awful; my brain neglected to see that I would have to actually practice to get better. So I came to the conclusion that I must not be destined to be a cartoonist and never touched the desk again.

In school I avoided any opportunity to make art and felt completely ashamed about my perceived lack of innate talent. Instead, I focused my creative impulses on film. Filmmaking became my passion and it was what I pursued all the way through college and into the working world. I made short films, I did commercial work, I edited, and I ran cameras. I was making a comfortable living in the film industry when the 2010 flash crash went down, which resulted in the demise of the company I was working for. Suddenly I was unemployed and having a hell of a time finding work. Somewhere in that depression of job-hunting and being creatively impotent my wife Abigail suggested that we try doing a comic-a-day project; she grew up loving manga and wanted to try her hand at it. I agreed to go along, making shitty gag comics each day. At first it was unbelievably painful, I was instantly 10 again and hating what was coming out of my pen. But I pushed through and after a month found myself actually enjoying some of the things I was making, even being proud of them. Here I was, 27 years-old, and I couldn’t get enough of drawing comics; I was neglecting to hunt for a new job because I was so fixated on making my daily comic. I realized this was an impulse I should be listening to. Then I heard about the Center for Cartoon Studies. Three months later we were moving our entire lives up to Vermont so I could attend the school. Man, it still sounds insane when I lay it all out like that. What a ridiculously irresponsible life choice. But it couldn’t be helped.

I have to say that reminds me quite a bit of your protagonist Emma’s struggles to figure out her life path in your book, Talk Dirty to Me. Was that meant to be autobiographical? 

That’s interesting. I never really thought about it in those terms before. I guess in the end it’s impossible for our comics not to be autobiographical to some degree – we’re always drawing from our own emotional experiences in one way or another. If there’s something autobiographical about Emma’s journey in that book it’s probably the fact that she’s so held back by a lack of confidence. Even as a young kid she has a lot of shame and self-doubt that keeps her from being the kind of person she imagines she could be. That resonates with me, even today. And whether that’s me feeling shamed by my shortcomings as a young artist, or Emma feeling shamed by her inability to blossom into somebody who is more secure, it certainly boils down to this idea that often we have a difficult time seeing value in ourselves. So when these liminal situations present themselves, that struggle is definitely what’s at the heart of things. Can you dig deep and find enough value in yourself to push forward? Is your confidence going to be what carries you over that hurdle, or is it ultimately going to be the thing that keeps you down?

Unlike Emma, whose future is still unclear by the end of Talk Dirty to Me, you seem to have found your niche. How is teaching at CCS for you? How does it aid or influence your own comics? Or does it hamper your process? 

It hampers my process in the way any full-time job hampers comics-making. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and a big chunk of energy and time is being eaten up by something that isn’t comics. So what’s the solution? Either make less comics, or work two full-time jobs – your day job and your comics job. For the time being I’ve gone down that second route. It’s rough, maybe not even sustainable in the long run. But there are things about my job at CCS that really keep the fire lit. My two years as a CCS student were the hardest and most productive work years of my life. As a faculty member, being around a tribe of young cartoonists that are going through the same things—pushing themselves to be stronger cartoonists with every assignment, and the constant flow of self-improvement—can be an incredible boon to my own productivity. And I think especially since I’m still relatively wet behind the ears when it comes to comics, being at the epicenter of an education system keeps me hungry for furthering my own education. Heading into my third year as a faculty member, I feel like I’ve almost been through four years as a student, if that makes sense. It’s funny, though, you mentioning that it seems like I’ve found my niche. That doesn’t feel all that true from my perspective. Not to say I haven’t been lucky to have the opportunity to make books with both AdHouse and Retrofit—maybe that is a niche of sorts. From my side of things it all still feels very precarious, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like maybe the next time I sit down to make a comic it’ll be like I’m 10 years old again, and what comes out on the page will feel unacceptable—the spell will be broken. I still feel a lot like Emma does at the end of that story, the future is unclear.

Man, how depressing was that answer? Maybe you can tell confidence isn’t my strong suit. But I’m really trying to work on that. As a teacher I get down on my students about being self-deprecating. I give them guff when they’re not being better champions for themselves. Sounds like someone’s not practicing what he preaches. Get it together, Howard.


A scene from Talk Dirty To Me (AdHouse Books)

Well, maybe now you can direct your students to this interview! Since you mentioned it, let’s talk about your new comic with Retrofit, Our Mother. I was very impressed with your humorous approach to the material. It really heightened the heartrending reality of your mother’s situation. Can you tell me about your process for writing & drawing it? 

I knew I wanted to do a humorous comic about what it felt like growing up with a mother that had an anxiety disorder. It had a big impact on me as a kid and having inherited the disorder from her later in life, I’d hoped that maybe unpacking that a little might be therapeutic. But I also wasn’t sure I would be able to tackle it in autobiographical form – I’ve always found autobio to be especially challenging—I enjoy the emotional barrier fiction allows. I also knew I wanted to tackle this story through disjointed narrative. I’m really interested in the power of nonlinear storytelling. Authors like Italo Calvino, Virginia Woolf, and Kurt Vonnegut have always drawn me in with that kind of writing. Something about the abrupt jumping from one thing to the next feels challenging and rewarding. I think it also does a good job of mimicking what life and memory feel like. I mean, whose life actually feels like a three act structure?

I’ve never been really good at sitting down and writing out a whole comic ahead of time. My comics feel more successful (or maybe just more honest?) when I’m doing a lot of the writing as I’m drawing. I tried to come up with some humorous vignettes that weren’t literally a depiction of anxiety, but instead just really felt like that anxiety. What does it feel like to have an anxiety disorder? Maybe it feels a little like being trapped in a giant robot with a guy named Kevin that just won’t shut up and refuses to die. What does it feel like to be going through the stressful process of finding the right medication? Maybe a little like experimenting on a caged animal. What does it feel like to inherit a familial disorder like this? Maybe a little like your family has put a hit out on you. This was how I boiled down the ideas. And after I had the vignettes that I felt best served as a skeleton for the story, I was able to start roughing out my pages and playing around with things as I went along. There’s a fair bit of alchemy in the process for me—like the story starts telling itself as I dig into it. There are a lot of half-penciled pages that get tossed when a certain direction leads to a dead end, and a fair bit of improvisation and unexpected pivots as well.


I like to pencil on crappy typing paper so that things don’t get too precious. For this project I was working relatively large – I think each page was about 19″ x 28″ or something close to that. I try to pencil through the whole story before I move on to inking. I don’t thumbnail, so the pencil stage is the most difficult link in the chain (and the longest). Sometimes I’ll find that a page I’ve penciled later in the story will require me to go back and re-pencil some previous page. I’m always carving out room in the process for that – it’s almost like a rewriting stage that happens along with drawing. I try to have the entire story locked down in pencil before I move on. I pencil really tight so my pencils usually look fairly close to how the final inks will look. To ink I’ll tape a piece of Bristol paper over my typing paper and use a lightbox to let the pencils shine through. With this particular project I wanted to try inking with radiographs (I’m usually using some kind of nib) and I was happy with the quality of the line.

Finally, I do all my color work in Photoshop. But really, more important than anything else in the process is making sure the story is feeling true and honest. I’d find myself stopping along the way and asking myself “does this feel true? Does this feel honest?” And whenever I could answer “yes” to that question, I knew I was taking the story in a good direction. Anytime I felt unsure or knew the answer was “no” was when I would start throwing away pages. All-in-all this ended up being a really rough story to tell. I mean, it seemed to come out of me relatively easy, but the emotional fallout of having to immerse myself in what these feelings actually feel like made for a very stressful spring. But in the end I found the process to be rewarding because of that. It actually forced me to deal with some deeper things I was doing a good job of avoiding.


Do you think that it’s harder/more time-consuming to work in this more instinctual way? Does your work with your students include honing their individual work processes? 

Like anything, I think different approaches work for different people. But, yeah, I do think there is something about the approach that you and I are talking about that transfers some of the heavy lifting to further along in the process. I may be getting into the drawing more quickly, but I think it also means I’m more subject to having to edit or even redo pages. Theoretically, fine-tuning a script and really nailing the thumbnails should protect you from as much editing later. But it just doesn’t feel like the right approach for me. I seem to need that spontaneity and surprise to last a little longer. I have trouble slogging through the drawing if I feel like I’m just copying all the decisions I’ve made in an earlier stage – I’d start to feel like a studio assistant to myself. And then I’d get mad at how little I’m paying myself—suddenly I’m going on strike, it’d be a mess.

As far as working with my students to hone their individual work processes? I’d like to work more with them on this sort of thing. Currently I co-teach a course called “Publication Workshop” with Cartoonist Jon Chad, which focuses on the more technical aspects of comics, things like Photoshop, InDesign, bookbinding, cover design, etc. So our class is really about learning all the tools that assist our stories, rather than the writing or drawing of those stories themselves. That said, I like to think the way we structure our class—with some of the philosophies of design and composition—ends up having an effect on how they approach their pages. Since design and narrative are intrinsically linked in comics you end up thinking about all of those things in tandem.

Speaking of design and narrative, I wanted to ask about the section of Our Mother in which you incorporate old family photos instead of drawings. Did going all fumetti come as a sudden inspiration as you were working, or had you planned it ahead of time? It’s one of my favorite sequences in the book. 


That is one of the sequences I am most proud of. Originally I had planned to have some sort of scene where a mother character and a child character have a more matter-of-fact conversation about everything that’s going on. Much of the book is more obscure or metaphorical, and I liked the idea of hitting this section and suddenly laying it all out there more directly—I liked how jarring and uncomfortable that could feel. But there was no intention originally to place myself or my own mother into the scene. After all, this was meant to be self-exploration behind the veneer of fiction, right? But just like how it happens in the story, I really did hit a wall when I was trying to conjure up how to end this story. I really did have this conversation with my mother, and I recorded it hoping that maybe some idea might shake out as we were talking. After that conversation I was struck with the strong feeling that I needed to break the fourth wall somehow. It felt like the right choice in that moment.

Throughout the making of this comic I had been spilling over old photographs from my childhood, texting family members, just trying to put myself back there. Now that I was faced with this strange decision to suddenly break out into non-fiction for two pages, it made complete sense to me that the photography would serve as the best indicator that not only is this something different from the rest of the book, but that it is closer to reality than the rest of the book. I also think there is something about old photographs that can be incredibly disarming. Maybe it’s that nostalgia is like the cousin of melancholy. I can’t help but feel a little emotionally exposed when I’m looking at old photos or old home movies. I feel lucky that I was able to stumble onto what this sequence ended up becoming. I mean, without getting too philosophical, it does seem like these things are sometimes given to you from the universe as much as you yourself are conjuring them up (he said, oh so ostentatiously…).

You said earlier that working on the book forced you to deal with things you’d been avoiding. Do you mean it was therapeutic?

Maybe not initially. Initially it was a bit devastating to work on. I don’t even think I realized how much stuff it was going to bring to the surface. After I handed in the final book, I hit a kind of emotional low point. Part of that may have just been the post-project blues, but a lot of it was spending so much time thinking about and digging up the past. My brain wasn’t going to let me turn that off when I was done with the comic – I couldn’t just put the genie back in the bottle. It was clear that I needed to start dealing more with some of the things that I was uncovering. So that’s when I started trying to see a therapist more regularly for a while – as much as I could afford, anyway. Maybe the book itself wasn’t therapeutic while I was making it. But it certainly was the catalyst for something therapeutic. I think making that comic lead to some really important personal growth. It’s funny to admit that a story with giant robots, a talking ape, and a farting hot dog had such a significant role in improving my mental health. But then again, maybe it’s fitting that way.


So what’s your followup, got anything on the horizon yet?

I have a few small things that I’m working on for the spring – shorter comics in the 24- to 48-page range. There is a longer project that I’ve been tossing around for a bit that I hope to start drawing this winter. It’s got a loosely sci-fi bent and it tackles a lot of the issues that I started getting at with Our Mother. I’m not done exploring mental health in my comics yet.

I also hope in the years to come to tackle a memoir about my childhood, growing up with a father who was in the Air Force and then ejected from the military when he came to terms with being gay. The impact of that situation on my parent’s marriage, the difficulties my father faced as he was forced to abandon his dream of becoming an astronaut because he couldn’t hide who he was anymore, and the trauma that was leveled on my mother as this all started to come out—our inability to accept homosexuality for so long in this society has ruined and/or messed with so many lives. At the same time, if my father hadn’t had to repress his homosexuality for so long, my parents wouldn’t have ever married, and this chubby ginger would never have been born. Anyway, as you can see, there’s a lot to unpack about my familial history. I’m just waiting for the right time.


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“Everything Was in Season”: Fantagraphics from 1978–1984 http://www.tcj.com/everything-was-in-season-fantagraphics-from-1978-1984/ http://www.tcj.com/everything-was-in-season-fantagraphics-from-1978-1984/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 13:00:35 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97414 We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited and exhaustive oral history of Fantagraphics Books. This chapter's topics include the wisdom of Gil Kane and Art Spiegelman and the growth of the Fantagraphics publishing family: Amazing Heroes, Nemo and … comic books Continue reading ]]> The following is an excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. This particular section covers the late ’70s to mid-’80s, when the company was headquartered in a three-story house in Connecticut, and began publishing comics as well as criticism. Watch out for appearances by Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, the Hernandez brothers, Peter Bagge, Jack Jackson, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Heidi MacDonald, R. Fiore, Bud Plant, R.C. Harvey, and Carter Scholz.

Long shot of the second Stamford office house, which was thankfully set back from the road (i.e., hidden from view)

Long shot of the second Stamford office house, which was thankfully set back from the road (i.e., hidden from view)


Gary Groth: I don’t remember our move to Connecticut feeling that momentous. Everything seemed impermanent to me back then. The company could have gone out of business two months after we moved to Connecticut; I would’ve just moved on.

Kim Thompson: You have to bear in mind that never in my life up until that point had I lived more than three years in the same house, let alone city, let alone country. So moving to Connecticut was a smaller leap than anything that had come before.

Rick Marschall, comics historian and Nemo editor:
I flattered myself at the time to think that I played a role, or planted a seed, regarding the move to Connecticut. I met Gary, Mike and Kim after I started at Marvel, and I had just moved to Westport for the second time. I remember urging a Connecticut World HQ for Fantagraphics on Gary as a matter of inevitability and pride. Comic-books artists in the stretch between Greenwich and Ridgefield included Gil Kane, Curt Swan, John Byrne. When I later moved from my apartment in Westport to a house in Weston, Bill Sienkiewicz took the apartment; Terry Austin then rented upstairs. Anyway, I have a recollection of urging Fantagraphics’ move to Connecticut for all these reasons — and of course proximity to New York City — and my memory is that Gary said “Connecticut?” in the same way Ralphie asks Santa in A Christmas Story, “Football? What’s a football?”

Groth: I knew nothing about Connecticut, had never set foot in the state before. But, New York was too expensive (although I don’t know if Brooklyn was more expensive than Connecticut at the time) and Connecticut sounded like the kind of place we could rent a house rather than an apartment.

Thompson: The move to Connecticut was a pretty big deal in one way: At that point we both quit our day jobs. I was a general office worker. Gary was doing freelance typesetting. He didn’t so much quit a job as stopped doing it. At that point we realized we had to do this as a full-time job or not do it.

Groth: When we got to Connecticut, we rented a house. It was only the two of us at the beginning. We worked in a basement in the house for about a year, but the basement flooded at least once, causing havoc with comics, files, everything on the floor (which was everything). So, we moved to this huge three-story house, in an exclusive section of Stamford. Everybody thought I was nuts, since I was the one who engineered this move, but I thought we needed more space and I thought it was something of a deal. It had five bedrooms, two living rooms, three sundecks, a ground-level “basement” that wouldn’t flood, a two-car garage. It was in this area surrounded by other huge houses, owned by TV-network executives and doctors and lawyers. We clearly didn’t belong there.

Groth and Thompson in the second floor where the office had grown, circa 1983

Groth and Thompson in the second floor where the office had grown, circa 1983

Dwight Decker, editor: Some people called it the Ski Lodge because it somewhat resembled one, built into a hillside so the second-floor back door was at ground level while the first floor/basement had a front door. It was well back from the street and pretty well surrounded by woods. There were other houses in the area, and I wonder if there was a potential conflict with zoning laws since Gary was running a business out of his house and there were UPS and other delivery trucks making frequent stops.

Kenneth Smith, cartoonist and writer:
Every closet and shelf-system was crammed with reference copies and Fantagraphics publications. The living room was rather shadowy and very amiably laid out, nearly a conversation pit. It must have been a fun place to work, even with hell-on-wheels deadlines over everybody’s heads. In retrospect, I guess I wonder why there weren’t more tables and working surfaces. I know I always have a shortage of unencumbered surfaces, not to mention shelving.

Thompson: It was the same thing, different place. We just lived in a nicer house.

Steven Ringgenberg, editor: It was in a beautiful neighborhood and I liked to go running when I lived there.

Groth: We shared a really long driveway with one other house. Five of us lived in the house. The office was on the ground floor in a large wide-open space, which included a bedroom and a sauna. Yes, a working sauna! The living rooms and the kitchen and two bedrooms were on the second floor and on the third floor were two more bedrooms. Our neighbors put up with us for six years. I don’t know if they knew quite what we did. I think they probably thought it was some drug-dealing operation, and the fewer questions asked the better.

Decker: Because housing was so expensive in Stamford, Gary sublet bedrooms to a couple of people who had nothing to do with Fantagraphics and worked elsewhere (I can’t remember if it was more than one). I can only guess what they thought of the mad goings-on.

Tom Heintjes, Comics Journal news writer:
As the new guy, I got the crummiest accommodation. It was a storage room where they kept boxes of back issues. I stacked the boxes up and laid a mattress on top of the boxes. I had enough room to sidle out and then sidle back in at the end of the day. All I ever did was work and sleep.

Mike Catron: It was a very nice house. It had paper walls, kind of a Japanese design. The upstairs main bedroom where Gary was had a huge sliding door with paper panes. Down in the basement, they had a sauna. It was a redwood booth, with a pile of coals, you’d turn on the electricity and you could get a sauna bath. That lasted until we needed more space and it became a storage area for something or other. Kim was fond of going down there in his little towel and taking a sauna.

Decker: Most of the work was done in the finished basement, which had a drawing table for paste-ups, a typesetting machine and a couple of desks. Somewhere in the rear was a small room where the back-issue stock was stored. Kim had a back bedroom, I seem to recall, but exactly where it was and if I was ever even in there, I’m not sure now. Gary had the master bedroom on what amounted to the third floor, facing a balcony that looked out over the living room. Hours were very irregular, with all-nighters being frequent. Gary in particular had shifted his schedule to the point that he almost never emerged before noon, and he had to struggle if he had a morning appointment in New York City.

Groth: Ernie Bushmiller lived in the house next to the beginning of our driveway. We could see his house from the balcony. I didn’t give a shit about Ernie Bushmiller at the time so I never even knocked on his door. But I remember passing his mailbox every day with his name on it.


Thompson: The first person we hired when we got to the new house was Peppy White. We hired him on to do production work. We were tired of doing it all ourselves.

Groth: Peppy moved to Connecticut from Virginia. He was a pal of mine from Virginia. We were expanding and needed another hand.

Preston “Peppy” White:
I moved to Stamford, Connecticut, when I was about 20. Having been friends with Gary since I was 14, and having similar interests in publishing and comics, I guess I was a logical choice to be the first employee.

Thompson: Hiring Peppy also marked the beginning of the period where the Fantagraphics staff was a bunch of our buddies working in the Fantagraphics commune. Tom Mason, a friend of a friend, was hired soon thereafter to supplement the production staff.

Peppy was a great kid. He looked up to Gary. At that time he was three or four years younger than Gary. The distance between 22 and 18, that’s a lot more than between 50 and 46. We got along great.

Heintjes: Peppy was a real character. He was a very high-strung, very energetic, very funny, very cutting and very witty guy. He was older than me. When I came there in my early 20s, he was in his mid-20s. He seemed experienced and worldly.

I always admired Peppy, because he was an art director on a lot of key, early projects.

Thompson: Peppy worked his ass off and was a really sweet guy. He was also kind of a goofball and accident-prone. I still remember the eerie calm in his voice when, in the middle of trimming sheets of cardboard with an X-Acto knife, he said, “Guys … I need someone to take me to the hospital. I just cut off the tip of my finger.”

Groth: He cut the tip of his finger off once with an X-Acto blade. I was about to take him to the hospital and thought I should grab the damned thing to take with us. I looked around for it on the floor and couldn’t find it! Then I noticed my dog, Plato, slinking off. Ooops.

Heidi MacDonald, writer: They once tried to set me up on a blind date with Peppy White. There’s a deep, dark secret for you.

Thompson: He would get into the most bizarre scrapes with girlfriends, other people, the law and household objects. These occurrences became known as “Pep stories,” and would get told and re-told, often by Peppy himself.


I spoke to him on the phone once or twice to set it up, but I really met Gil Kane for the first time when I interviewed him for the Journal at a Boston convention. Subsequently, I spoke to him on the phone often. We would have these marathon conversations. In the beginning, I don’t really think he knew who the fuck I was. I would call him, say, “Hello, Mr. Kane,” and he’d be off and running. I would occasionally interject a remark and set him off in another direction. He was so voluble that it was as if he hadn’t talked to anybody else between our phone calls and had to make up for it talking to me. At first I think he just enjoyed talking and I enjoyed listening, so it worked. When I moved to Connecticut, I called him up and we got together.

Thompson: Gary and Gil Kane knew each other before we came to Connecticut. There was a big Kane interview in Comics Journal #38. That interview cemented the beginning of their friendship. Certainly by that time, they were thick as thieves. Gil was a real father figure to him, and they had a warm personal relationship.

Elaine Kane, Gil Kane’s widow:
We lived in Wilton [Connecticut] and they lived in Stamford. They became really good friends. Gary would come to the house. We would go to their place in Stamford; they had big parties and everything. It was an interesting relationship. They were both very intelligent. The conversations were interesting. A lot of time was spent later on with Burne Hogarth as part of the group.

Gil enjoyed Gary and his — how can I put it? — not his odd behavior, but his against-the-grain behavior. Gary did pretty much what he wanted. Gary would come over and we would go to dinner and Gary would be wearing a shirt that said, “Fuck” on it. We would meet people and Gil with a straight face would introduce them and we could see the horror on their faces.

White: Once I went out to dinner with Gary, Gil and Burne Hogarth. Gil and Burne spent the whole night arguing with each other. Gary and I could only sit back and watch these two titans verbally wail away at each other about this point or that point as if the fate of the intellectual universe hung in the balance. Burne would be yelling and pounding the table and Gil would wave his hand in the air dismissively and say, “No, but you see, my boy … ”

We took a drive up to Gil’s house in Connecticut and surprised him on his birthday. He was really touched and had no idea we were going to do that. He had the biggest grin I’ve ever seen. We all had screwdrivers sitting in his studio.

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

Groth: I enjoyed how outspoken Gil was. Most artists of his generation had this unspoken but strictly adhered-to policy of never speaking candidly about their fellow professionals. Gil was willing to criticize publishers, people who wrote his paycheck, and that was enormously attractive to me. I told him once, when I was still in Maryland, that he reminded me of Gore Vidal, who was literally a year older than Gil, with, at that time, the same silver-colored hair, and the same aristocratic bearing. But, he replied that he felt more like Norman Mailer. Mailer was my height and bellicose. I didn’t get it at the time. He explained it to me and it made sense — Gil always felt like the odd man out in comics. Vidal was critical of entrenched power, but he was part of an elite social circle whereas Mailer was always viewed by his peers with skepticism if not outright hostility and occasionally a grudging admiration — just like Gil. So, I was only looking at surfaces when I made the analogy, and Gil was exactly right on a deeper level. Even though he achieved a certain literary respectability, Mailer acted like an outsider.

Gil Kane, circa 1971

Gil Kane, circa 1971

Elaine Kane: They respected each other. They would tweak each other about the business. There was a lot of trust there, too. They trusted each other. They were both great readers; they would read different things and discuss them. It was an interesting time. A very interesting time. They became very good friends based on mutual respect.

Groth: If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a handful of people throughout your life with whom you click. Gil and I clicked on a profound level. We shared so many of the same enthusiasms and admirations and passions. It’s such a pleasure to be with someone with whose values you’re so in synch. And so rare in the context! At that point, in 1979, 1980, we were roughly the only two people in the comics profession who shared these values. Or so it seemed. That would change and change quickly as The Comics Journal gained steam and more and more people who shared those values wrote for it, and more artists joined our cause. But early on, it felt like the two of us against the world.

Gil Kane, “An Interview with Gil Kane,” The Comics Journal #38 February 1977:

The thing in comics are the pictures, the images. Comics are totally a visual form at this point. Its entire appeal is in the emotional impact of those images, of those fantastic images — on the eye and the mind. And they make deep connections, deep emotional connections that keep people rooted to this material long past the time that they’ve gotten tired of the last repetitious comic book.

Groth: He really was a provocateur and attracted genuine animosity from his peers; he wasn’t just putting on an act, he was the real thing, he believed what he said. He was smart, and thoughtful and had theories about cartoonists, all of which made sense to me. He was the only guy in mainstream comics with his brains and ambition who wasn’t living up to them. We talked about it endlessly.


Art Spiegelman, cartoonist:
I can’t remember when I met Gary. This is the problem of being a memoirist with Alzheimer’s.

Gary Groth at a press conference in Marvel's office, circa 1981

Gary Groth at a press conference in Marvel’s office, circa 1981

Gary Groth at a press conference in Marvel’s office, circa 1981[/caption]Groth: When I went to New York, I’d go to Marvel press conferences and then go to other, more enjoyable social gatherings. I met Art at a party that might have been put on by Marvel or DC, which strikes me, in retrospect, as odd because it wasn’t Art’s context at all. The thing I remember mostly was talking to Art without being very familiar with his oeuvre. Art’s comics appeared in so many different comix that I didn’t quite have a handle on him. An artist-editor named Larry Hama, who was editing or writing some gung-ho military-related comic for Marvel at the time, walked up and started chatting. He and Art got into a big argument.

Spiegelman: I remember Larry Hama. I don’t remember arguing with him, but I guess I’m an argumentative type, so I guess it could have happened.

Groth: I could be wrong about the trajectory of the conversation, but Art must’ve known of this shitty comic Hama was editing, was clearly offended by it and told Hama exactly how he felt. And I remembered being impressed because Art was not pussyfooting around, he was telling him he was pushing a fascistic point of view, which is what I thought as well. It was a memorable confrontation, and you don’t see too many of those at comics parties. I remember being impressed and admiring Art, his willingness to confront someone like that.

Thompson: We knew about Spiegelman. Breakdowns had come out. We knew about Arcade, we knew about that material. We knew about the original Maus, “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” and all of that.

Groth: Art wasn’t a prodigious cartoonist. I was familiar with the major underground cartoonists, but I wasn’t familiar with Spiegelman. I had read a few of his things but couldn’t place the name. Kim knew either of him, or Kim might have met him on one of his trips to New York.

Thompson: Spiegelman was a fairly early major interview. As I recall, it was issue #65, and in fact when we first started talking to Art, he was working on the first issue of Raw. The first part of the interview was done before the first issue of Raw came out. The second part was after they had done the first issue of Raw and they were working on the second issue.

Groth and Thompson in a photo taken to accompany their interview in David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview magazine, circa 1981

Groth and Thompson in a photo taken to accompany their interview in David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview magazine, circa 1981

Spiegelman: I was aware of them; I don’t know what happened when exactly. We were monitoring what they were up to. It was all part of, at that time, a small market for weird material.

Thompson: As you might imagine, Gary and I and Art and Françoise clicked very much. Raw Books was a complete inspiration.

Spiegelman: We knew what we wanted to do very early on. It overlapped what was happening in comics. But it wasn’t of it. In some way it still isn’t. I feel somehow in the center of the mix and to the side of it. Even at a point where a lot of people we introduced in Raw are being published by Fantagraphics, I’m still bumbling to the side somehow.

Groth: I liked Art and Françoise, but I don’t think they were an inspiration to me, at least not in terms of publishing. Raw was sui generis and wasn’t really a model for anything I felt we were capable of doing. What I found inspirational about Art was his infectious enthusiasm for greater sophistication in comics. He was always discovering new (or old) cartooning talent. One of the major virtues of Raw was all the European artists it brought to my attention. Every time I would drop by Art’s place in Soho, he’d drag out various artists’ work that he had on hand for the next issue of Raw and proudly display and explicate it. His enthusiasm was absolutely infectious.

Spiegelman: It wasn’t just European comics. It was trying to find a place to stand as the underground comix tide lapped back out towards the horizons. There were a number of interesting cartoonists with no place to go. A good case in point was Charles Burns, who has certainly come into his own in the years since. But when we first met him, we were trying to shoo him away. When Charles showed up at our door after seeing the first or second or both Raws, we were trying to shoo him away since people were ringing our bell every so often because we lived and worked in the same place. We asked him, “Whoever you are, send stuff.” And then when he sent stuff, it was like “Please come back.”

He told us the stories of trying to get published in underground comix. That just seemed mind-blowing to me. It was proof that there was a need for this weird thing we were doing. That Denis Kitchen had no place for him, for example. Certain artists from the Arcade days still needed a home, because they couldn’t find one. Mark Beyer comes to mind as a good example of that. People I was teaching when I was teaching at SVA had no place to go, Drew Friedman and Mark Newgarden and Kaz being examples of that. There wasn’t any construct for any of these things in the 1980s. Anything that was even close became something we’d look over. Our aesthetic and Wendy Pini’s was very different, but Elfquest started at the same time, and we became very aware of that. Similarly with Gary, when he began publishing Lloyd Llewellyn and the Hernandez Brothers, it was interesting. If anything, it took me longer to recognize those artists because it was closer to my ideal of what a mainstream should be.

Groth: We weren’t publishing comics when we befriended Art; we were just publishing The Comics Journal. That was our connection: He was reinvigorating comics and publishing the kinds of comics we wanted to see and we were publishing a critical magazine that could write about them.

Thompson: We admired the literary graphic ambition. The enormous care they took with production. The integration of international work, which was certainly unique to them. They represented everything we wanted to see in comics.

We had great conversations about comics from the get-go. That I do remember.


Thompson: Money was always a problem. When funds would run low, we’d try to think of some way out. We had to figure out things that would make us a ton of money. That was the time we did the X-Men Companions, a Focus on: George Perez, a Focus on: John Byrne, an Elfquest companion as well. For all the hostility between us and Marvel and us and DC, they were remarkably accommodating with something like the X-Men Companion. They even shot a shitload of photostats of X-Men pages for us. There was an old idea that fanzines could print as much as they wanted, and it would serve as promotion. It was a little dicier doing a whole book, but they were perfectly amenable to it.

23-focus-on-john-byrneGroth: I cut a deal with Jim Shooter, who gave us carte blanche to use all the X-Men images we wanted to for the X-Men Companion. They even supplied black-and-white stats for us. My gut told me that there was a sort of quid pro quo implied, that we would be nice to Marvel in The Comics Journal as a result of this largesse. I chose to ignore that implication, of course.

Thompson: At that point, we’d also started publishing Amazing Heroes, which took a bit of the edge off our relationship with Marvel and DC. Not only were we publishing a magazine that was friendlier to them, but because of AH, The Comics Journal started focusing less and less on mainstream comics, which means we pissed them off less.

Heintjes: Gary offered me the princely sum of $12,000 a year, which is $12,000 more than I ever made in my life. I thought this was great.

Thompson: We never gave ourselves any money. Gary and I had to give ourselves minimal salaries. I didn’t get any salary for years. I was essentially unemployed. I still get those annual Social Security statements that list your annual salary all the way back to when you were 20 and there’s about five years when it’s literally zero, and then it moves up to $2,500 or something and finally cracks five figures years later. We didn’t buy much. We needed money for gas and food, movies and maybe a couple of books. Temptation only occurs when there’s a period when you’re flush, so that was never an issue with us. We usually had nice houses, but we had a bunch of people living there. In Connecticut we had a gorgeous house. But he lived there, I lived there, we sublet a room, the office was there and so on. There was no money to piss away, though.

Groth: We weren’t set up to publish comics, per se, but back then things were so loose. We had the distribution channels in the growing comics-shop market, and by that time there was Phil Seuling’s Seagate Distributors and Bud Plant and a couple of smaller distributors. We were probably dealing with four or five distributors. There may have been a shitload of them, but they were all pretty minuscule. We had the infrastructure and this inchoate distribution system locked in because of the Journal.

Thompson: Publishing was a logical thing. Gary had already done it. He’d done it with a magazine called Always Comes Twilight. That was more of a graphics thing, less comics, but there were a couple of short comics in it. That was in the late Fantastic Fanzine days. We were also publishing comics in The Comics Journal. We were reprinting the Howard the Duck and Spider-Man newspaper strips. And I think at that point we were publishing some short comics by Grass Green. We ran a few episodes of this utterly weird medieval comic by Don Rosa, years before he became the new Carl Barks.

Groth: Always Comes Twilight was basically a hold-over from my fanzine days, eventually published in 1976, a few months before we started the Journal, but full of the artists I published in my fanzine. I don’t remember why it took so long to publish or even how I managed to do it at that time.

Don Rosa, cartoonist: I don’t recall how the comic strip that I did for Comics Journal #41 came about … But I recall why I did that strip, especially since it was nothing like the comedy-adventure sort of stuff I’d always done. By 1977 I was living in an apartment, eating meals at nearby restaurants and eventually struck up a friendship with a waitress in a nearby Denny’s. I soon learned that she had a slight drug problem, but was very interested in fantasy “sword and sorcery” writing. I thought if she wrote a story for me to illustrate that might help her self-respect or something, anything to get her off needing the drugs.

A page from Don Rosa's fantasy epic "Tagdenah", serialized in the Journal for several issues

A page from Don Rosa’s fantasy epic “Tagdenah”, serialized in the Journal for several issues

So she wrote “Tagdenah”, a short story about a wizard in some medieval land. Never asked how she came up with that name. It was a short piece … maybe four pages, and I did it all with captions like Prince Valiant. She and I did a second “Tagdenah” strip for TCJ, but I don’t recall what issue it was in [#145]. I really don’t recall if there was any reaction from TCJ readers, probably because getting such approval wasn’t the main intention. But it doesn’t matter … I failed at helping the girl get off drugs, and I heard a few years later after I’d moved away that she had taken an overdose of drugs on the day of her little sister’s wedding — depressed, one would assume — and had died. So, the story behind the story has a sad ending.

Thompson: The Flames of Gyro by Jay Disbrow was the first original comic book we did. Disbrow, Hugo, Los Tejanos and Don Rosa’s Comics and Stories — they happened really close to one another. It’s all a blur.

Groth: I may have met Jay at a convention and I don’t remember if he offered to do a comic for us or if I asked him if he would; the former seems more likely. I thought it would be fun to publish an old school Golden Age artist who had dropped out of the field and wanted to come back.

Jay Disbrow, cartoonist:
Gary Groth, he must be in his 70s by now. Is he still publishing? I met Gary Groth at a convention. He remembered my comics for Star Publications. He let me do whatever I wanted, which was science fiction. The comic was called The Flames of Gyro.

Groth: We had a very extensive correspondence beginning in the end of 1978 about The Flames of Gyro. There was a lot of back and forth about this and other projects he pitched. He drew the book on these enormous, two-and-a-half-by-three-feet sheets of paper. Each page was as big as my desk. I’d never seen original art this size before. They stopped drawing them that big around 1952 or so.

Thompson: It was literally, “he was there and he had the book.” He said we could publish it and we said, “Sure!”

Groth: He drove the original art up and left them with us. Flames of Gyro was this goofy Flash Gordon-type science-fiction/fantasy thing. I shouldn’t say “goofy,” because it was dead serious, but that made it even goofier. It had this weird labored beauty to it, because it was drawn in a meticulous wash. That made it a production challenge because it had lettering and wash on the same page, so we had to double-burn it to make the wash reproduce in halftone while the lettering would retain its 100-percent black ink. I remember enjoying it as a learning experience.

Marschall: I was driving somewhere with my wife and kids — maybe to start a vacation — and I stopped in for some reason. Gary and Kim could not wait to show me the artwork that had just arrived. These usually quiet and invariably cynical guys were breathless, watching for my reaction as I looked at each page. I honestly thought they were putting me on. I mean: Disbrow, nice, old-school gentleman and all that; but I really thought it was the craziest junk I ever saw. Gary and Kim were serious; I mumbled some niceties and drove the hell out of there.

Groth: We thought it would be an interesting experiment, to see if we could publish a comic. Jay himself was such an ingenuous guy, a sweetheart, much older than us, though younger than I am now, I think. He had grown up in the very commercial environment of comics, so he was a real professional grown-up but also had a childlike enthusiasm for this work. He drove a big American car — something like an Impala — and smoked a pipe and wore a suit. He was like my dad (except for the pipe). I can’t explain why we published it, really, except we thought it would be fun and we genuinely liked Jay.

Disbrow: I used to work for L.B. Cole and I wrote my own material. But I hadn’t worked in comics on a full-time basis since the big crash of 1954. 80 percent of comics publishers folded after that due to the infamous Dr. Wertham and a congressional subcommittee investigation connecting juvenile delinquency to comics. Only the giant publishers survived that.

I had to go into commercial illustration, which paid more, but it wasn’t the same. With the comics, you have a romantic element, mystery and drama. I knew from the time I was 14 that was what I wanted to do.

Thompson: How many did we print? I don’t know. Maybe 2,000.

Disbrow: I
don’t think it sold very well, because it was a one-time thing. We didn’t do any more. It wasn’t competitive, because it was black-and-white. I’m sure it would have done much better if it had been in color.

Groth: We had copies of The Flames of Gyro for years. It filled our garage. We must’ve printed 10,000 copies. Finally, right before we moved to L.A., I asked Jay if he wanted to pick some up, free. He drove up in this gigantic car — a Caddie or a Buick or something. And we just kept loading the car up, filling the trunk, the back seat, every available space that wouldn’t be occupied by he and his wife, and Jay kept saying, “That’s enough,” and I’d say, “Just another few boxes, Jay.” We didn’t want to haul those damned things to California.

Ad copy for The Flames of Gryo, 1979:

What unholy power throbs within this medallion … that drives men to kill for it … and die for it!? This man knows its secret and has sworn to destroy it … but this man wants it — at any cost! From the freezing void of space … to the raging hellfire of a remote world … theirs is an epic conflict which can only end in death!

Disbrow: After The Flames of Gyro, I did a little bit more in comics and I went to the conventions. I did six years of a strip for the Internet called Aroc of Zenith, 312 pages, but I’m retired now.

Groth: Jay was drawing a sequel to The Flames of Gyro, but, uh, we didn’t publish that.

Bud Plant: I don’t think that sold very well. Maybe it’s time to pull those puppies back out. I thought he was a funky artist back then, but I kind of like a lot of those guys now.

(continued on next page)

http://www.tcj.com/everything-was-in-season-fantagraphics-from-1978-1984/feed/ 2
An Interview with Kerascoët http://www.tcj.com/kerascoet-interview-by-alex-dueben/ http://www.tcj.com/kerascoet-interview-by-alex-dueben/#respond Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96865 Continue reading ]]> paulantoinette_coverIn recent years Kerascoët has established themselves as one of the great cartooning teams working today. The husband and wife duo of Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset have created a number of books including two volumes of Dungeon: Twilight and the four book series Miss Don’t Touch Me, which NBM collected in a single volume. In 2014, NBM published Beauty and Drawn & Quarterly published Beautiful Darkness, two very different books, both of which were among the best books published in North America that year.

The two recently visited the United States, where among other things they saw the release of their first children’s book, Paul and Antoinette. It was also just announced that among their many upcoming projects, the pair will be illustrating Malala’s Magic Pencil, a children’s book written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, which will be released next year.

The first thing I read of yours, the first comic published here in the United States, was Dungeon: Twilight. Was that first comic you made?

Marie:  We started Dungeon and Miss Don’t Touch Me at the same time.

When did the two of you start working together?

Marie:  We met in art school and we started at the end of our studies. We lived in a very small space. We only had one desk and so we started working together we couldn’t switch from one thing to another. We heard about a contest to be published and we only had two weeks. We didn’t ask ourselves how to do, we just jumped.

How do you work? Do you both pencil, ink, and color?

Marie:  Yes.

Sébastien:  We don’t draw the same but we are complimentary.

Marie:  We don’t have the same style.

Sébastien:  We don’t separate the work–sketches, inking–like comic book artists sometimes do. It’s more like in animation or some Japanese manga-ka. She works essentially with the characters. I mostly do the backgrounds and things like that. But she also makes the mise-en-scéne, the storyboards, sketches, inking, coloring. It’s always different with each project because we don’t draw with the same style.

Marie:  And we change our process.

Artistically, your books are similar, but they each have a distinct look.

Marie:  Yes we try to change our tools and our process from one project to another. We like to explore different things. We don’t think about style, but it comes from us so there’s the style. Most important for us is to have a book that is coherent.

Sébastien:  When we start a project we make our own rules and constraints. We play with the rules, like playing a game, but we know the rules of the game. When it’s done we move to another thing. We want to always be surprised by our own drawings and process. When we do the same thing for a year it becomes a routine and we don’t want this.

How do you decide what projects to do?

Marie:  It’s hard to agree.

Sébastien:  It’s harder and harder

Marie:  It needs to have meaning and it has to be important for us. We need to have something to tell. Not to just make a book to make a book.

Sébastien:  At the beginning, a lot of it was from meeting people. We met Hubert and we wanted to do something with him. We talked about what all of us wanted to do together. Our projects are always collaborations so it’s not that someone is writing the story and then after gives us the story for us to draw. We work at the beginning with the idea of the project and what we want to do together.

Marie:  As a team

You enjoy complicated narratives.

M&S:  [laughs]

Sébastien:  Not so complicated.

Marie:  We like when stories are intense and very full. I don’t know how to say it. There’s a lot of panels, for example. We want big stories. Dense.

You like stories that are dense and they’re big, but I think about Beauty which kept moving in different directions and it was huge but also intimate.

Sébastien:  In France it’s three books, so when you read the three of them together it’s big.

Marie:  As a reader or spectator, I like to be lost. I don’t like to know what’s going on. I’m for me one of the best movies is Mulholland Drive because I don’t know what I watched. That’s the best thing. You go out of the movie and you want to go back to be in the movie. It’s still with you when it’s over. You carry it with you. That’s what I like in fiction.

missdont-touchme-1One example of that would have to be Miss Don’t Touch Me, which is four books, and the mystery that sets the plot in motion is solved and resolved at the end of the second book.

Marie:  For us the characters are very alive. With Miss Don’t Touch Me, the character is a real person and we wanted to know what’s happening to her after everything.

Sébastien:  When we talk about her, we talk like she’s somebody we really knew.

beautdark_pg59You’re also not afraid to go to dark places. I think everyone who read Beautiful Darkness was shocked by it.

Sébastien:  It’s probably the most intimate book we made because it was Marie’s idea in the first place. We worked with Fabien Vehlmann together because we had so many common ideas and thoughts that we wanted to put in the story. It’s about childhood and death and a lot of stuff. And innocence, I think.

Marie:  But there’s a comic part in it. You can laugh at it, too.

Sébastien:  It was our strange sense of humor.

Where did the idea start originally?

Marie:  I made a lot of sketches. I knew how to start the story. The first ten pages were very clear in my head. Then I met Fabien Vehlmann and we talked a lot about the story and it echoed in his work. It’s very funny. It’s about depression, but in a funny way. [laughs] He’s a very funny guy. When I talked to him about my story I told him I can’t draw it because it’s so depressing but when I told him about the sketches and he looked at them, he was laughing. I was so surprised. So the three of us started to work together.

beaut_dark_cover-fullBeautiful Darkness has a much more painted, lush style. You had that in mind from the start?

Marie:  Yes, that’s what we wanted. We wanted to be in nature and paint nature and have fun with it. We just finished Miss Don’t Touch Me and there’s a lot of backgrounds that are not funny to draw like buildings and cars.

Sébastien:  There was a lot of research.

Marie:  Lots of research. We live in Paris, but we wanted to feel nature and the seasons.

paul_antoinette_int2 paul_antoinetteint1Your publisher sent me a copy of your new children’s book, Paul and Antoinette. How did this come about?

Sebastian:  We started to work with Kirsten Hall of Catbird Agency in New York. She contacted us a few years ago. She was building her own little agency and she looked all over the world for people she wants to represent in the US. So we said, okay, why not.

Marie:  She showed our art book to Claudia [Zoe Bedrick] and she fell in love with a character we made a few years ago–this pig with the big glasses. She asked us to make a story about him and that’s how it started. We want to make more and more children’s books. For me it’s the holy grail of fiction. I’m so happy to see it.

So you had Paul and then gave him a sister.

Marie:  Yes, she said how about make a couple? We thought a strange couple. He looks very clean and strict and so we gave him a sister. [Sebastian] has a sister and I have a brother and when you are two you are very different roles. As a child my brother had glasses and was strict and everything was perfect in his room. I went to his room when he wasn’t there and just opened the door and closed it and when he came back he knew I had opened the door. I don’t know how because I didn’t touch anything. I liked gross things a lot. I ate the grease, the disgusting part of the meat, just to watch him react. I loved the pleasure of watching him react.

Sébastien:  It’s also a way to talk about accepting different people, and accept that people who aren’t like you can bring you something else in your life.

Marie:  I’m so happy with what she did with the book. It’s a beautiful book.

I gave the book to a few people to read who commented that they liked how the typical gender dynamic–that the girl would be neat and the boy would be messy–was flipped.

Marie:  Thank you.

Sébastien:  Most of our characters are female. We like strong female characters. Like Miyazaki.

Strong characters and complicated characters.

Sébastien:  Yes, Blanche in Miss Don’t Touch Me lived through a very difficult thing–her sister killed in front of her–and for us it’s very important that the characters always bring what they experienced in and after they don’t forget it. Sometimes in fiction [characters] live through a horrible thing and two minutes after it’s like, woo! Everything’s cool. I just lost my mother, my sister, my hometown but I’m great. For us, no, it’s not possible. She just lived through something awful. Even if after something nice happens, she’s always affected by this. We were talking a lot with Hubert because sometimes he made her do things and we would say, she wouldn’t do that because she’s not a victim. She will take the best of it and she will fight. When we draw we are always in the heads of the characters. Even when they are pigs.





















I did especially love the ending of Beauty, because it really made this point about the nature of beauty.

Sébastien:  It was a long process. If we had to write the end of the book when we were just starting the project, it wouldn’t be like that. It was the result of all the things that we did. We were very happy because Hubert’s first ending was dark and there was lot of death and we didn’t want that. We said, we did that, now we need a happy ending. What’s wrong with a happy ending? They fall in love and they are meant to be together so don’t fight against it. He agreed. It was against his nature at the beginning, but at the end he was very happy with it. We were very happy. But it was a fight. [laughs] We don’t want to always make the same kinds of things. If you want to surprise people you have to sometimes think differently.

beauty-2Beauty was the most recent comic that you’ve made which has been translated but I know that you’ve made other books since then.

Marie:  We had a book that just came out called Satanie.

Sébastien:  With Fabien Vehlmann.

Marie:  It’s about a group of people who go into the ground and go too far and they arrive in hell. It’s funny, too. [laughs]

Sébastien:  It’s like an adventure story. A road movie, but a road movie in the ground. It’s also a psychological story about what’s happening in the characters’ brains.

Marie:  The deeper they go, the more they know about themselves

Sébastien:  They’re struggling with their own demons but also real demons. [laughs]

Marie:  I’m working on a strange ABC in France with a friend. That’s my next book. It’s a strange ABC with phrases with all the words starting with the same letter. All the letters are like that. The translation has been very difficult. It’s difficult to make it work in French and English.

Marie:  We have a lot of projects. We are making another children’s story in France. We are working with a French theater to make children’s books from short plays.

Sébastien:  We also have a project in animation with Benjamin Renner who was the director of Ernest and Celestine. We’re working on an adaptation of Les Tchouks, the children’s books we made in France. We’re trying to adapt it for an animated TV show.


Thanks to Alix de Cazotte, Program Officer at the Cultural Services at the French Embassy, for arranging the interview.

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The Gift http://www.tcj.com/the-gift/ http://www.tcj.com/the-gift/#respond Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:00:52 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96677 Continue reading ]]> A grand drawing for Hal Roach, discovered during research for the biography of George Herriman, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, reveals the deep friendship between the famed movie producer and his resident cartoonist. For a two-part conversation between Paul Tumey and biographer Michael Tisserand, click here and here.


Chico and Groucho Marx were there. So were Walt Disney, Louis B. Mayer and Harold Lloyd. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were guest speakers, as were Jean Harlow and Will Rogers. The master of ceremonies was Charlie Chase. Few could dispute Film Daily’s report that the “Hal Roach anniversary dinner-dance was easily one of the best parties held on the coast in years.”

The party began on Thursday evening, December 7, 1933, and lasted until the next morning. Five hundred invited guests joined Roach at his studio in Culver City to celebrate his twentieth year as a studio head, with thousands more listening to an NBC radio broadcast of the proceedings. “Memory Lane was all lighted up with electrics,” reported Grace Kingsley for the Los Angeles Times. “The place had been fitted up like a palace.”

It’s likely, but not certain, that George Herriman was among those in attendance. Herriman’s friendship with Roach dated back to at least 1920, when they went on fishing trips together. Introductions probably had been made by Herriman’s close friend and former Los Angeles Examiner colleague Harley Marquis “Beanie” Walker, who appears to have begun working for Roach in 1917, writing titles for Harold Lloyd’s “Lonesome Luke” movies. When Herriman returned from New York to Los Angeles in the early 1920s, he set up shop in Walker’s office, and drew “Krazy Kat” while Roach’s comedies were being filmed around him.

Although news accounts of Roach’s party don’t list Herriman, a newly discovered Herriman cartoon is dated the night of the party, and most likely was presented to Roach at the event. It is a grand gift. There are sharp and funny caricatures of stars such as Laurel and Hardy, Will Rogers and Charley Chase, as well as Roach’s behind-the-scenes men, including Our Gang director Robert McGowan; Roach’s old friend Lewis Albert “Al” French; and Beanie Walker, shown “rhapsodizing rhetorically, attempting what might be termed, a ‘script.’” Roach’s father, Charles, and brother, Jack, are seated on a bench, with Officer Pupp, Krazy Kat, and Ignatz peering out from behind them. Soaring over the whole affair is a magnificent Hal Roach himself, riding a polo pony and announcing that he has just cleared his twentieth hurdle. “I do the hurdling, and he gets the credit,” responds his horse, wide-eyed.

Herriman inscribed his gift to “‘Hal,’ dolling,” adding the nickname he seems to have acquired on Roach’s lot: “The ‘Squatter.’” It is a characteristically modest move by Herriman, but the generous drawing is an unmistakable sign of the great affection shared between Hal Roach and George Herriman, as well as how much Roach must have enjoyed having the resident cartoonist drawing “Krazy Kat” on his lot. The full-color original of this gift has not been located; currently the only evidence of it is a black and white photograph that had been carefully preserved in a scrapbook by Hal’s mother, Mabel Roach. It is reproduced here for the first time.

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An Interview with Lawrence Hubbard http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hubbard/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-lawrence-hubbard/#respond Wed, 23 Nov 2016 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96254 Continue reading ]]> real-deal-1
We asked the great Johnny Ryan, author of Prison Pit and Angry Youth Comix to interview one of his favorite cartoonists, Lawrence Hubbard, who has just released the collected Real Deal Comix. Real Deal Magazine was a barely-known but much-loved comic published in the 1990s that contained hardcore gangster, Blaxploitation-influenced comics. It was rediscovered a few years back and written about over at my old alma mater, Comics Comics, and Lawrence did his first public appearance in years in 2010 at Cinefamily with Johnny in honor of my book, Art in Time. So we’ve brought them together again for a conversation about the new book.

Johnny Ryan: At what age did you start drawing? Who were the artists that inspired you? Was there a point early on that you knew you wanted to pursue art as a career? Did you receive any encouragement from your family? Was anyone else in your family an artist or have interest in art?

Lawrence Hibbard: I started drawing at the age of 3. I liked drawing mechanical things like trains, cars, buildings houses, and then I decided I needed to add people to the mix, at that young age I knew I wanted to be some kind of an artist, I loved to draw and couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. My mother encouraged me very much, my father sometimes, but he was a cold and distant man. My influences were the artist who drew the comics in the Los Angeles Times at the time, Rick O’Shay, Brenda Starr, Rex Morgan MD, Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. I liked it because it was violent, characters got killed, I remember one panel where Dick Tracy punched a guy with an upper-cut and his teeth shattered and blood flew out of his mouth! In a Sunday comic strip. I also loved Doug Wildey who drew Johnny Quest. I admired his realism. At that time Disney’s Wonderful World of Color came on Sunday night, and they would do specials about the “nine old men” — their great animators like Ollie Johnson and the rest who worked on Dumbo, Snow White etc., and I decided I wanted to be an animator.

For comic book artist I always loved Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Steranko. Also E. Simms Campbell, an African American cartoonist whose work was in Esquire, Playboy, Stag etc. I would like to do a film about him if I ever get a chance. I was also a big fan of Mad magazine in its prime, Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Dave Berg, Al Jaffee, George Woodbridge, Jack Davis, etc.

What was your high school experience like? Did you enjoy it? Did you ever have to beat the shit out of some wise ass punks?

My high school years were rough, my father had run out on us three years earlier and we were pretty broke, living on welfare and food stamps. I didn’t have any clothes or other fly gear a lot of my friends had (bellbottom pants, print shirts, platform shoes, cool hats, looking like the Jackson Five). I pretty much kept a low profile, but I always enjoyed my art classes.  After High School, I got a job at a now defunct savings and loan in the stock room, doing shipping and receiving and unloading trucks, no time for college, broke needed money. Over the years I took classes at Santa Monica College, UCLA, Otis Art Institute, but never had time to get a degree, always working and taking care of other people. Funny thing is all my fights took place in junior high school (what they call middle school now) when I was there in the early ’70s the gang bang shit was getting hot and heavy here in Los Angeles, Crips, Brims, Ace Duce, Piru’s (now called Bloods).

And you had a bunch of assholes running around talking that shit who were just wannabes, they would wear the gang attire, talk the talk, but they had never been jumped into “The Set.” These motherfuckers were always talking about jacking somebody, they tried to jack me numerous times. I fought like a motherfucker. I’m proud to say that after three years at Louis Pasteur Junior High I did not give up one cent! I was broke and angry and wasn’t taking any shit! I remember one time I fought 2 guys at once in the boys bathroom, they tried to jack me for my few wretched cents I had, I was like G.C, “Fuck this shit you ain’t taking my money!” It was like a fuckin’ movie! I slammed one dude’s head into the sink, threw an elbow at the other to get him off of me, then went to work on him, I felt no pain, no fear, I started growling, I felt a primal rage! They both said, “Fuck it! It ain’t worth it” and ran out the bathroom! I felt real mannish after that! If I can fight two motherfuckers  at once, one ain’t shit!  Word got around after that, I got my respect! I never fucked with anybody and I never backed down from anybody, when you’re in a fight you go into the zone, your adrenalin is pumping, your in survival mode, you feel the pain of the punches later! If a fool tried to jack me and stepped to me and said  “Homeboy, give me a quarter!’ I’d say “Fuck a quarter, I got a dollar! All you gotta do is take it from me” And they would punk out as usual.real-deal-73

Did you ever use your art to get women? List their names and phone numbers.

The majority of the chicks I have run into over the years don’t care about art that much. Ask me this again when and if I get the “Real Deal Show”!

There’s been some attempts to turn Real Deal into an animated TV show. Can you tell us about that?

A few years back J.J. Villard, the most hardcore Real Deal fan on the planet, got us a pitch meeting with Nick Weidenfeld at Fox Animation. Nick had just been hired as head of a new project called ADHD “Animation Domination High Definition”, and they were looking for new shows. This was the first pitch meeting I had ever been to and I was nervous and sick on the stomach, it was me, J.J. Villard, who had worked with Nick at Cartoon Network, and Adam Weisman, art director for Stussy, who had done a video about me and my work for Stussy.

It was so Hollywood! A cute young assistant ushered us into his office and offered us water, a minute later Nick entered the with his personal assistant, plopped down on the couch and said “What you got for me?” I think J.J. started talking first since they knew each other, then Adam showed him the one minute animated scene of Real Deal on a tablet, Nick smiled and laughed and seemed to be digging on it, then Nick started asking me about Real Deal, for a second my mind went blank — “Real Deal, who what?” Then I just started talking and went into the zone, gave Nick and his man several issues of Real Deal. Nick was smiling and said “I have to have this!” and we had a development deal! I couldn’t believe it! I had heard of people pitching for years and never getting shit! Anyway the money that was offered was so low I’m not going to mention it, but we had a deal.

After many meetings and tables full of sandwiches and drinks it was decided to hire a writer since me and Adam both had full time jobs and JJ was about to go into production with King Starking. After several meetings we decided on a talented young man named Brian Ash. He really studied the material well and seemed to pick up the Real Deal vibe. He wrote a full script and outlines to ten other scripts — good work. Anyway to make a long story short, after about a year we stopped getting phone calls, feedback and requests for comic books. We contacted the studio to find out what was going on, and when were we going into production. They finally got back with us and said some studio big wig in New York thought it was too violent and didn’t want to do it. They we’re sorry and asked if I wanted to come in and talk about it. I felt like someone had ripped my guts out! As usual, I had to say fuck it! and kept on going.real-deal-23

What was the lowest point in your life and how were you able to get through it?

I’ve been through many low points in my life, many deaths, many financial problems, etc. But one of the worst things to happen was when my partner in Real Deal, Harold Porter Mc Elwee, aka RD Bone, died of a stroke and a heart attack in April of 1998. I couldn’t have loved him anymore than anyone could; he was like a blood brother to me. It was devastating, and the fact that our futures were entwined with each other, we were going to have our studios together, comic books, animation, live action etc. Now it’s all gone! It can’t be! I have to keep going!

Tell us about your working schedule. How often do you get to draw? How are you able to balance having a “day job” with being an artist?

I currently work as a security guard in a high-rise building in the Miracle Mile area. I work Saturday through Wednesday, I’m off Thursdays and Fridays. I can only draw on my off days because when I get home on my work days about 11:30 pm I just pass the fuck out. We walk about three miles a day on our patrols  and we stand a lot, dealing with the idiots who come to the building and running out the homeless people who want to camp out in the lobby. It can be very draining. That’s the most frustrating thing about it is not getting enough drawing time, artist are like athletes and musicians, the more we practice the better we get! I worked for years in the IT industry as a Production Control Analyst, Computer Operator, Tape Librarian, Data Control Specialist. All those good jobs have either been outsourced or turned into month-to-month contract jobs with no benefits. I’ve been a licensed insurance salesman, but that’s all commission-based and a hard grind, one week you make money the next you don’t. I suffer for my art.real-deal-45

What do you have to say to those college sucking wimps out there that think your comics are too violent, misogynistic, and racist?

What I have to say to them is “Fuckin’ read Real Deal.” Whenever you have idiots who say that stupid shit, the first question I ask them is, “Have you read it?” Then they always say, “No.” Real Deal is satire and if you don’t get it, put the book down and step away from the table! People are so wrapped up in this politically correct bullshit its like they’re brains are constipated! They’re like Pavlov’s dog. If they see or hear things that aren’t PC, they blurt out certain responses without knowing what the fuck they’re talking about!

I just learned from the Inkstuds podcast that you’re really into conspiracy theories. What are the ones you’re most concerned about? Where do you go to find the most exciting conspiracy theories?  

You know it’s funny that so many things we are told just don’t make any sense if you think them through logically. Sometimes if you bring these things up, the powers that be try to slap you down or destroy you after they give you a chance to get your “mind straight” of course! I don’t want the shadow government coming after me, because I’m ill equipped to do battle with them. But just get into the details of the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Malcolm X, also 9/11, The USS Liberty etc. Many things just don’t add up and there are many coincidences and connections between the people involved that seem improbable, and thanks to the internet I see lots of people are thinking the same things I am. That’s what inspired me to create Real Deal #8 “The Psyop Issue”, it will show how it all fits together, at least in G.C.’s life!

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Edward Sorel on Mary Astor, Hollywood, and Operatic Gestures http://www.tcj.com/edward-sorel-on-mary-astor-hollywood-and-operatic-gestures/ http://www.tcj.com/edward-sorel-on-mary-astor-hollywood-and-operatic-gestures/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96863 Continue reading ]]>
mapdNow in his eighties, Edward Sorel has had a career that is the envy of most cartoonists and illustrators. His long career has included a significant body of work for magazines like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, The Nation, Ramparts and The Realist. He was a co-founder of Push Pin Studios with Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser. He’s a muralist, children’s book author, has illustrated dozens of books, and has been the subject of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

His new book is Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936. The heavily illustrated book tells the story of the actress best known for playing Brigid O’Shaughnessy in the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon. Astor was raised by a nightmare of a father, started working in Hollywood during the silent film era, was married multiple times. Her divorce trial in 1936 featured her “purple diary” which detailed her colorful personal life. It serves as a portrait of a very different time in ways that are both funny and puzzling. Sorel’s book is not just a straight up biography of Astor, but also his story as well and is heavily illustrated with what his fans will recognize.

I loved Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, and it was a revelation because when I think of Mary Astor I think of Brigid O’Shaughnessy, which I think is what most people think of when they hear her name.

The knock that she gets for The Maltese Falcon is that she was too old, or at least that she looked too old. Her alcoholism did age her a bit as she was only 30 when she made the movie, I think. She looked a little older. The real problem I think was that the Hays Office, with their insane censorship, did not allow Huston to show a sufficient amount of sexual passion to make the plot plausible. That final scene where he tells her that he’s going to turn her in, you’re supposed to feel that he’s really torn between turning her in and saving her because he really is passionately in love with her. There was nothing in the movie that showed it or made you feel it. I think there’s one kiss that ends with him looking out the window. So I don’t give her a knock. I think she was plenty sexy. I think it was more the censorship rather than her age that was the problem.

You make the point in the book that she was a good actor, but she made few good movies.

Very few good movies. Aside from Dodsworth, which to my mind was the greatest of all her movies, there are very few. I suppose she always acquitted herself as best she could, but the movies themselves are not worth watching. I was criticized by one person for not including The Palm Beach Story in my book but I thought that was basically a pretty silly movie. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Mary Astor in Dodsworth.

Mary Astor in Dodsworth.

I love Preston Sturges, but I agree with you about The Palm Beach Story. Besides Dodsworth and The Maltese Falcon, Red Dust is interesting but not great, and I love Meet Me in St Louis, but Astor is the mom and she’s barely in the film.

That time was her pre-suicide period. She was continually trying to kill herself because she couldn’t stop drinking. That was one of her mother roles.

You talk about how you learned about this sex scandal in the book, but did you know her work from before that when you were younger?

Certainly not. I remember her when I was 10 years old in 1939 in The Prisoner of Zenda because she was just so beautiful. She had the perfect turn of the century Victorian face. I remembered her in that, but no. When you’re a little boy you’re empathizing with male characters rather than female ones so I was more interested in James Cagney or others.

Throughout your career you’ve shown a lot of affection for that era of film.

Yes. As I intimate in my book, because of the studio system you saw the same supporting actors week after week. There was always Franklin Pangborn or Thomas Mitchell or Edward Everett Horton or any number of supporting actors you saw week after week and they became a kind of family. It was a family that didn’t have any conflict. I was always drawn to movies because there was a great deal of conflict in my family in my expanded family. Politically at any rate. Several members of my family were avid communists and they were always castigating the members of my family that weren’t communists, so there was always that conflict in my family.1-2

You mention in the book that you came upon this story decades ago. Why did it take you so long to write the book?

Because I had to make money. I had four children and had to send them through college. I was lucky enough to have lots and lots of deadlines. I made a surprising amount of money, considering. On the one hand I was very, very lucky to go through life making pictures. On the other hand I made a lot of worthless pictures. A lot of the most haunting work an illustrator gets is for advertising and most of that stuff is just worthless. I was doing a lot of that and then suddenly the field came to an end. As the computer took over and as the internet took over there was less and less advertising in print and then print started to vanish. Ten years ago I suddenly realized there’s not much work out there. I was lucky because I was able to create my own ideas and sell them to magazines, but that didn’t produce much income. By the time it utterly disappeared about five years ago I started thinking in terms of finally doing the book I planned to do fifty years ago. It took my three years to do it including a false start that got rejected, but I finally did it and the rewards were much much richer than anything I had done before. Even the murals that I did, which up until my book were the high spot of my artistic life. The book was even more satisfying than that.

What was the false start? What went wrong?

I was doing it relatively straight. I was telling the Mary Astor story and I wasn’t part of the story. As I walked out of my publisher’s office with my rejected dummy one of the assistant editors said to me, you know if you put yourself in the story, it might work. Once I put myself in the story, it was a breeze. It not only became amusing, but it was fun to write. I was having more fun writing it than I ever did drawing. I’ve always said that the only people who enjoy drawing are amateurs. Once you’re a professional, you have certain standards and certain visions of what the drawing should be and you don’t always come up to it. I can’t say the writing was fun, it was hard work, but I took great pride in it. It was my voice and my opinions and I was able to talk to Mary as long as I was in the book.

As someone who knows your work, the writing felt like the way you draw.

You couldn’t have said anything nicer to me. I have always admired spontaneous drawing and I have always hated my drawings because they occasionally got overworked. I have always admired people like [Ludwig] Bemelmans and Feliks Topolski and Jules Feiffer who have enormous energy in their drawings. I admire drawings that have spontaneity, and I don’t always have that. I think probably because my ideas are occasionally very operatic–they have many people in it and many things to explain. It’s very hard to be spontaneous when you have to do a picture with many elements and they all have to come out in the right place.endpaper_resized

There are lots of illustrations you’ve made over the years which have lots of elements and I’m picturing many. Along similar lines, the endpapers of the book have a nude Mary Astor reclining with the studios in the background and other elements. How did you decide on that image and assemble it?

The truth is that I love detail and I love reference material and I love swipe material. I do a lot of research. One of the reasons I do so many parodies of art that was done in the past is because the old masters were masters of composition. I’ve always considered composition my weakest skill. To have an old master where the compositions are perfect, it’s great fun to parody. When I was looking for something to do for the endpapers I went to Google and looked at hundreds and hundreds of designs and I must have found something that suggested the naked Mary Astor figure. I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember what my swipe material was. I knew the other elements that I wanted, so it was easy after that. There was the plane crash that her first husband died in and the movie studios she worked for. I have no shame about looking to other artists and other art for inspiration.

That differed a lot from all the interior drawings in the book?

I’m always amused when artists talk about where their inspiration comes from. The truth of the matter is that all of us are terribly influenced by photographs. Citadel Books did a whole series of movie books, paperbacks of different actors and actresses, and I have a lot of them. I never got proper training in life drawing and my mind is not a computer that can produce gestures easily. I need to see certain gestures–and convincing gestures. I think to the extent that my drawings are interesting is that the gestures are interesting. That’s what cartooning and illustration is all about. It’s all about gestures because there are no words–unless you’re a cartoonist doing a comic strip–so the gesture has to really tell the story. I work very hard at gesture. I hope it shows. I hope the labor doesn’t show, but I hope the gestures are convincing.

csofy-ew8aa9xdkWhy did you chose to draw the interior illustrations that you did?

The great thing about doing a book is that you can pick the scene you want to draw. There was one scene that I knew I had to do–her father attacking her because of what he considered her lack of ambition. I did a kind of strobe shot of his fist banging on the piano. I knew I had to do that even though it was a very difficult picture to do. Then there were the pictures that had absolutely nothing to do with the book that I did because I wanted to. There’s a picture of Tom Mix with some car that was made in Los Angeles that nobody knows about. I did it because it was fun to draw and I had a picture of it. The book was in my entire life this book was more a labor of love than anything I have done before.


I know that you went to art school, but you said earlier that you never studied life drawing?

Because it was impossible. I went into art school at the very time when drawing was considered rather old hat. The illustrations in The Saturday Evening Post were condemned as the lowest form of art, illustrated books stopped, the New York school of abstract painting was considered the acme of fine art. I graduated from Cooper Union in 1951. The good thing about it was there were plenty of jobs and the bad thing about it was that I still didn’t know how to draw. My drawing skill–which was not too bad when I was nine years old–had completely atrophied from going to High School of Music and Art and going to Cooper Union. The thing that was valued was design and abstraction. Which interested me not at all. And still doesn’t. Even though I started Push Pin Studios with Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser, which was essentially a design studio. I did learn how to do design, but it never really interested me. What I loved was drawing.

You seem to have found a niche of doing illustration fairly early in your career, though. At least that’s how it looks from the outside.

I suppose. Some young people have an image of what they want to become very early in their life. All I ever wanted really was to have my own apartment. When I was a young man I didn’t care how I got the money to get my own apartment, but the truth of the matter is I wasn’t good at anything except drawing. Fortunately I was able to make a life for myself where all I had to do was draw pictures. I was a hack to start out with and gradually became something more than a hack. I regard my early years of working for agencies and working for magazines as being paid to learn. I did what was required and in the process learned how to draw.

10You have been for many years now at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and The Atlantic and The Nation and work that’s above hackwork.

Well above hack work. I like the work I do. I’m proud of the work I do. But it’s the old line, if you want to be the top banana, you’ve got to start at the bottom of the bunch. One of the reasons I learned to work in pen and ink was because the easiest work to get was work from the newspapers. At the time I started out, there were a lot of newspapers. They didn’t pay very much and the only thing that worked in a newspaper was linework so I had to learn how to do line. And I did.

At the end you make the point that you hope someone will write a full-length biography of Astor, reissue the books she wrote, and put her on a stamp.

Yes. [laughs] I make a presumptuous comparison to Felix Mendelssohn who was instrumental in bringing Johann Sebastian Bach to prominence again. He was a largely forgotten Baroque composer until Mendelssohn showed his the magnificence of his music. I too am eager to remind people that Mary Astor did was a great talent, although the thing that must be said against her was that she did not value her talent. She had been offered many times contracts for leading roles but avoided it because she was afraid that it wouldn’t last long. She knew that as a supporting actress she could have a very long career and in fact she did. Supporting actors can have very long careers, but she didn’t do anything about getting good roles for herself. And it’s a pity.

Like I said before I knew her from a few of her films, but having read your book, she is a fascinating character.

Thank you. I thought so.

And more interesting than most of the characters she played on screen.

[laughs] Yes. A friend and I tried to turn my book into a musical but it proved to be impossible because she was a woman who did not take her life in her own hands. Most musicals are about women who are indomitable, like the Unsinkable Molly Brown or Coco Chanel or others. Instead of doing things, Mary had things done to her which made her an impossible subject for a musical. She still might be a good character for a straight play.

She’s just so passive.

Yes, very passive. Her evil father knocked all her guts out of her. She learned to be obedient and do what others told her to do. She kept marrying men who were the same way–who took control of her and very often exploited her and took advantage of her.

You said that this book is the most satisfying project you’ve ever made. Are you trying to write another book?

I’m trying to figure out a way of doing a memoir that’s amusing and yet says something about the political scene. How we went from triumph in World War II to Donald Trump in the 21st Century. I think we did it by having a series of incompetent and criminal Presidents from Eisenhower on. The only person I exempt partially from that description would be Obama, who I think is a decent and well-meaning person. The other Presidents, every one of them, committed vile criminal unconstitutional acts. Everybody forgets that lovable Dwight D. Eisenhower overthrew at least four democratically elected governments while John Foster Dulles was his Secretary of State, and the others that followed him were no better. I’m going to try to do a memoir in which my rage combines with my pleasant memories of those years.3

I’d be interested to read that. Over the years you’ve been willing to step on peoples’ toes.

Only powerful people. [laughs] No point in stepping on the toes of the weak and powerless. But yes, of course. Especially hypocrites. Especially Democrats who say one thing and do another. I had more fun with Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey than even with Richard Nixon although he was really probably the King of the Hypocrites. I’m more critical of those who are supposedly on “my” side than I am of easily recognizable enemies.

Well, Mr. Sorel, I know that you have to go. Thank you so much for taking the time.

You can call me Ed. I may be old, but I’m just a cartoonist. [laughs]

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“Why Draw Comics About Anything Else?”: The Keiler Roberts Interview http://www.tcj.com/why-draw-comics-about-anything-else-the-keiler-roberts-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/why-draw-comics-about-anything-else-the-keiler-roberts-interview/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96905 Continue reading ]]> kkKeiler Roberts quickly gained attention for her autobiographical mini-comic Powdered Milk, which explores her life with her family from right around the time her daughter Xia was born into the present, when she’s both a professor and cartoonist. With her bone-dry sense of humor and highly expressive, loose line Roberts pulls no punches in her short vignettes. While Roberts has the instincts of a humorist and structures her comics in that form, it’s her willingness to frankly address issues regarding the postpartum depression she experienced as well as her ongoing issues with bipolar disorder that give her comics power and authenticity. Roberts establishes herself as an irascible protagonist whose interactions with her daughter reveal an important truth about parenting: children are often as terrible as they are wonderful, and often at the same time. Xia functions as an unending source of funny malapropisms, to be sure, but she also reminds Roberts of her responsibilities. Roberts’ artist husband Scott functions as a kind of witty straight man, a source of calm and strength as Roberts goes about her day as best she can.

Roberts is also a keen observer of character dynamics and the humor of awkwardness, as a hilarious strip about a trip to a day spa that involves comparing bodies with a friend demonstrates. Roberts writes a lot about social anxiety and the ways in which she copes with the world, but her strong storytelling and character focus prevents it from being didactic. Her stories are little bursts of truth that trust the reader to make connections, and even the most emotionally wrought situations are tapped for their humor. She won an Ignatz award for Outstanding Series at SPX 2016, a couple of years after she drew strips in which she discussed her dread in potentially attending the show. She addressed all of these topics and many more in this interview, which we collaborated on together in a shared document. I edited it for format and made some minor corrections, as well as reordering some of the questions for clarity and flow.

Robert Clough: Where were you born and raised? How old are you, if I may ask?

Keiler Roberts: I was born in Milwaukee and grew up in Sun Prairie (which is just outside of Madison) Wisconsin. I’m 38.

RC: Did you grow up reading comics? Did you have friends whom you read comics with?

KR: No, I read the Sunday comics and a few things my brothers had lying around – Mad Magazine and Groo the Wanderer. I never read superhero comics.

RC: Did you grow up drawing? Did you draw with others, like siblings or friends?

KR: My three older siblings were all much better at drawing than I was. I drew slightly more than the average kid, but not a lot until middle school. I made dolls and doll clothes. I was too cool doing that to bother reading comics or drawing.

RCDid your parents support you in your endeavors related to art growing up?

KR: My parents always supported me in whatever I was interested in. They never questioned me about what I wanted to do. They weren’t fanatics though. They didn’t come to every event. I never felt like they were hovering. They also allowed me to quit things without question.

RC: What was your childhood like? In what ways does it inform your work now?

KR: I had a loving family, and we still all get along well. My childhood was full of the stresses that most kids face, though. I had all kinds of insecurities. Kids are cruel, especially girls. When I was around eleven, I think my depression started, as did my body issues. We had a ton of pets, which I loved. I don’t remember my parents ever yelling at me. I was always obedient, though. I wanted to please everyone. My mom is a much better mom than I am. Xia’s probably a happier kid though.

RC: Your mom makes frequent appearances in your comics. What does she think of you putting her on the page, and does she like this version of yourself that you portray for her?

KR: My mom has never said that she likes being a character, but she doesn’t complain about it. She’s a great sport. She says I make her look like an idiot, but I think I’m just making her a likable character. I think people can really relate to her character, but in person she can be very intimidating.

RC: How so?

KR: My mom is very direct and honest. She says what’s on her mind. She has a natural sense of authority. I don’t know if it comes from her voice, eyes, height, or personality, but she makes an impression. She’s really gentle and funny, but I don’t think it’s the first thing you see.

RC: Did you study art in high school or college?   

KR: Yes, I took as many art classes in high school as I could. I went to UW-Madison Wisconsin for a B.F.A. and Northwestern for an M.F.A. I studied painting. When I started college I planned to get a teaching certificate so I could teach high school art. I switched my major when I got involved with the advanced painting class at UW.                                     


Starting In Comics

RC: Was Powdered Milk the first work you self-published?

KR: No, I illustrated a children’s book that Steve Fiffer wrote called Arctic Bears Chase.

RC: You’ve said that you got into doing comics by taking a class with Aaron Renier. What motivated you to take that class in the first place, and what was it about the class that was so inspiring?

KR: I was working on a blog that had some autobio components. I wanted to work with images and writing in some way, but I knew nothing about indie comics. My husband told me to try comics. He’s the head of Animation at DePaul University. He hired Aaron to teach the comics course and then scheduled it to fit with my teaching schedule. It was the greatest gift he’s ever given me. I was also teaching full time at DePaul at the time and was in Aaron’s class with some of my own students. It was humbling.

Aaron knows everyone in comics. He brought all kinds of work in to show us along with his own pages that he was working on. The assignments had a beautiful structure. They really prepared us for the final project, which was a full minicomic. I made Powdered Milk vol.1. I felt like I was beginning a new life. I had even changed my last name a few months before. I knew then that Scott was right – comics were my replacement for painting, which I’d been struggling with for ten years.

RC: What was it about comics that replaced painting? Why were you struggling with painting? What was it you were trying to express that wasn’t coming through?

KR: I was trying to create a picture of life from my point of view. Painting has so many layers of interpretation based on its history and contemporary art. It’s pretty inaccessible to most people. You have to be trained to “read” a painting. I always felt the need to explain what I was doing but resented having to say anything at all about it. I don’t feel like I have to explain my comics. People understand them, and if they don’t like them it’s probably because their tastes are just too different from mine. I don’t feel the need to defend anything. The physical accessibility is also extremely important to me. I want everyone who wants them to have my comics. If they can’t afford a book, they can read a lot of it online for free, or go to a library.

This is what I think the reasons were, but really I just kept getting depressed from painting. Even when things were going well for me professionally, I didn’t want to be involved with the art world. Since I started making comics, every aspect of it – drawing, writing, reading, meeting people in the field, facebooking, and teaching – continues to open up in exciting ways. I always wanted to make some kind of book with words and pictures and figured it would be a children’s book, but after I did that I knew I really wanted to make something for adults.

RC: Why was it important for you to do something for adults in particular? Was writing for children alone too limiting, not allowing you to express what you wanted to express? Or was it simply the urge to express yourself autobiographically not really fitting into kids lit?

KR: If I had an idea that I really liked now for a children’s book I would do it, both the writing and the illustrating. I assumed, based on the children’s books I’d read, that  I would be very limited in terms of content. Some parents have told me that their children, who are Xia’s age and older, love to read my books. Maybe I could do something for kids with the same structure, style, and content as my books, with smaller changes. It’s actually been on the back of my mind for a while. I wanted to write for adults because I’m the audience I aim to please. I would have to feel the same way about writing for children – that my personal taste guided the project and I wasn’t working to please kids or publishers. I’d have to trust that kids would like what I like.

RC: Why draw comics about yourself, as opposed to other subjects?

KR: Why draw comics about anything else? I’m really interested in what’s true – real life experiences. I only have full access to myself. It’s not because I think I’m especially interesting. I would do autobio from your point of view if I could.

RC: Do you like having a sort of established “cast of characters”, each with their own roles in your story?

KR: I do, but I would like to include more people. I just haven’t found a natural way to do it. I have close friends that have never been in a comic.


RC: How do your husband and daughter feel about being characters in your work? Have you ever had to self-censor something because you realized it was too personal for them?

KR: They generally feel good about it. Xia laughs her head off when I read her parts to her. I do hold back on their behalf. I don’t write about Scott in ways that would make him look very bad or would reveal too much. He proofreads all my rough drafts if he’s in them. I won’t put anything in about Xia that I think might embarrass her. It’s hard to know exactly what that’ll be with kids though.

RC: Do you ever collaborate with your husband Scott? Are there unique challenges or benefits to living in a two-artist/cartoonist household? Do either of you ever seek out the advice of the other in helping to solve particular difficulties you might be having with what you’re working on?

KR: No. I hate working with him on almost anything. He wanted us to make a birthday card for Xia together and I scowled at him, drew a bunch of stuff very quickly, and said, “You finish it. I’m going to bed.” Of course when I woke up there was this gorgeously ornate card on the counter. He’d somehow covered everything I did in this lace pattern. I just want to get it done. He wants to take forever and consider all the options and then be elaborate. It’s not just him though, I don’t want to collaborate with anyone.

RC: Why?

KR: I’m too paranoid about pleasing the other person. I can’t trust my instincts.

We rarely ask each other for advice. It’s great having an artist partner because we can go to things together and we understand a lot about each other, but we work pretty separately. We share a studio but we’re on different schedules.

RC: Does being an autobio cartoonist in any way impact the way you live your day-to-day life? Do you find yourself “acting” in order to get a good “scene” for later?

KR: I don’t think so. I guess I go into certain situations with an open mind, thinking it might make good material (like King Spa), but I’d never say I’m acting. I’ve always been turned off by people who seem to be performing in life. They aren’t usually autobio cartoonists.

spaRC: The King Spa story is one of your most memorable. Do you remember any awkwardness in the actual moment, because what sets the story apart is the actual ease I sensed in the way you depicted it. Also, when your friend said, “Now we’re really friends”, did you know then and there you had the ideal punchline?

KR: I know there wasn’t ever any awkwardness among my friends who went there together. I don’t remember if I knew at that point that I would use that conversation. I’m generally forgetful about the process that lead to any comic. I’ve always recorded good conversations in my journal – long before making comics, so I may have just written it down to preserve it.

RC: You’ve alluded to dealing with body image issues. Do you find that drawing yourself nude is in any way therapeutic? Do you find it easy or difficult to do so?

KR: Yes, it probably is. I love bodies. One of my favorite things to do is go to the beach to stare at everyone – the more variety the better. I can’t articulate what it is that I love – why I care that some women carry their fat in their hips and others their thighs. My own body issues stemmed from not feeling sexy. I thought if I got thin enough then I would be “dateable.” It’s not hard to see where this perspective came from. My weight yoyo-ed significantly in high school. In grad school I watched a friend of mine flirt, and it dawned on me that personality is sexy. That should’ve made me feel better, but instead I started to worry more about my personality. Anyway, if I think about myself – my body or my personality – in a way that’s separate from sex appeal, I am ok with it all. That’s the way I felt at the spa with my friends. I have this funny body, like almost everyone else, and it’s super fun to draw. I don’t look at myself when I draw by the way. There’s even more nudity in [Roberts’ upcoming book] Sunburning. Scott just shakes his head. I don’t think it would be therapeutic to draw my body from observation. When I imagine things – anything – my body, a memory of an event, a place – I don’t judge it like I do in life. It becomes warmer and more acceptable.

RC: What cartoonists’ work did you look at before starting your own, if any?

KR: I learned of Gabrielle Bell, John Porcellino, and Vanessa Davis in Aaron Renier’s class. I loved them all immediately and they are still at the top of my list of favorites.

RC: John Porcellino was an early champion of your work, selling it through his Spit And A Half distro and generally talking you up. Did it feel immediately validating to have someone you admired support you right off the bat?

KR: I was shocked and deeply flattered. I still am. John is amazing in so many ways. I owe him so much.

RC: How did you settle on your current style, which is both naturalistic and minimalist?

KR: I try to draw without thinking about style at all. Like, if someone said to you, “Draw a little picture of your house so I can see what it looks like, and I’m leaving in five minutes.” I put in all the details that help to tell the story, and I use them to make a good composition, and that’s it.

RC: What cartoonists do you draw inspiration from now?

KR: I don’t know if there’s anything specific that I’m borrowing from their work, but some of the cartoonists I’m enjoying right now are Noah Van Sciver, Lisa Hanawalt, Simon Hanselmann, Carol Tyler, Roz Chast, Leela Corman, and Tom Hart.

RC: Do you consider yourself to be an artist who writes, a writer who draws, or something else?

KR: I think of myself as an artist because that’s my whole background, but I enjoy the writing part more. It’s easier for me.

RC: Do you enjoy the simple act of drawing apart from working on your own comics?

KR: Yes. I enjoy figure drawing the most, but only short poses.


RC: What’s the experience of teaching like? Do you teach cartooning, drawing or something else?

KR: I get Sunday night dread before my Monday classes, but I always enjoy working. I teach Indie Comics at the School of the Art Institute and Beginning Drawing and Figure Drawing at DePaul. I’ve taught all kinds of other classes, but this had been the routine for the last few years. The best part of teaching is getting to know the students. The more diverse the class, the better. I’ve learned that my first impressions cannot be trusted and many of the students who immediately irritate me become my favorites.

RC: How much of your own work do you show your students? How do they react to it?

KR: I usually show them a few stories in the beginning. It’s really awkward if I show them something funny and no one laughs. Sometimes it goes really well though.

RC: Is teaching satisfying on a creative level for you?

KR: I can be as creative as I want to be with teaching. No one tells me what to do at either school. It is satisfying, but I have to make something physical/visual in order to be satisfied in general.

RC: What’s your Indie Comics class like? Do you teach them cartooning, character and storytelling techniques? What texts do you use, if any? What comics do you have them read?

KC: The students do a few short assignments, then make a 24 page mini comic that they print for everyone in the class. I choose different readings every year. This year it was Best American Comics 2015, My Hot Date by Noah Van Sciver, Scab County by Carlos Gonzales, Sec by Sarah Ferrick, and we had two visiting guests – Nate Beaty and Whit Taylor. My husband is coming as a bonus to talk about Risograph printing. I also bring books every week to pass around. I try to select cartoonists that make really different work from each other. I talk with them a lot one on one while they’re developing their final comic. I don’t teach them cartooning, but we talk a lot about content, storytelling, composition, drawing, incorporating the text with the image, etc.

RC: Has Xia shown any artistic inclinations thus far? Is that a path that you’d enjoy seeing her pursue?

KR: Xia is drawing and making things constantly. It’s incredibly exciting to see what she comes up with. She’s more creative and talented than I was at that age, by far. I don’t think I’m hoping for her to become an artist, but I would feel really sad if she didn’t love making art throughout her childhood. It’s wonderful to have that in common. She shows a lot of interest in medical things – passionately playing doctor or vet. And she’s not squeamish like I always was. She’ll probably be a mover though, because she has always loved carrying big, heavy, awkward things around.


RC: Are you in any way motivated by the idea of talking about motherhood in an honest way in terms of detailing both positives and negatives? In other words, is breaking through the societal ideas of what mothers should be like and feel part of your mission as a cartoonist?

KR: I hope to write with honesty about all things, about life. There are positives and negatives and there is no movement in the direction of an answer. I’m annoyed by the depiction of mother characters in picture books. They’re always nice and caring, but rarely funny.They’re almost never a dynamic person/mouse/rabbit/bear with a true personality. I doubt I’ll ever write a children’s book with a fascinating mother character though, because I don’t have a specific mission as a cartoonist. I don’t have a message.

dammitRC: Was a general dearth (at the time) of comics about the experience of being a mother in any way a motivator to write so much about Xia?

KR: No, but I’m always at the edge of a trend, right after a few people become famous for it but before everyone’s doing it. I did a huge sewing project at the beginning of Project Runway, I had a blog right before Julie & Julia was made into a movie, when I still had to explain to some people what a blog was, and then I was diagnosed bipolar when Homeland aired. I have a sixth sense for these things. Now everyone has a comic about motherhood.

RC: Have you read Carol Tyler’s first collection, Late Bloomer? She had postpartum psychosis and goes into a lot of detail about how difficult it was for her as a mother–and this was all in the 80s. As far as I can tell, it’s the first sustained comics narrative about motherhood. It was like another 20 years before I saw more of these sorts of stories.

KR: Yes I did. That story knocked me out, it was so sad. I love the way she told it and the color she used. I’m reading Soldier’s Heart now. I nominated it for the Ignatz knowing it would be great. I wanted to save it so I could read it very slowly and enjoy it after the frenzy of jury reading.

xiaRC: Did any particular writing (comics or otherwise) influence your approach to talking about being a mother, or was this intuitive?  I’m thinking of not only showing all of the ways children are horrible, but finely honing your instincts as a humorist in crafting great gags.

KR: I love the way Louie C.K. talks about parenting. Not that many of my favorite writers/comics/cartoonists write about parenting. Lauren Weinstein, Glynnis Fawkes, and Summer Pierre are great. I’d say my approach to most aspects of comics is intuitive. I don’t go in with a plan. It all evolves while I work.

RC: You tackle a lot of powerful emotions in your strips and don’t pull punches, but there’s always a certain sense of restraint, even detachment in your comics at times. You have a dry wit, for example,  but you also never play up even the most intense emotional scenes. They have the same structure and tone as any other scene, like for example strips where you’re crying, or even strips where you’re angry at Xia. Is this a deliberate strategy or a function of your personality manifesting in your work?

KR: I’d say it’s mostly my personality, but it’s deliberate too in the sense that I’m aware of it and I don’t try to change what’s natural. I think a little detachment can let people in by allowing them to react in their own way. I’m not totally controlling the way it’s read. Some writers over-explain and I’d rather under-explain and risk being misunderstood. Each event is reduced to a small piece that represents the whole.

naughFor example, one page that people respond to in different ways is the one where I’m in the bathroom while naked Xia sits on the toilet. She says “This house is getting naughtier and naughtier.” You can figure out that she’s done something wrong, and maybe I did too. She ends the short conversation with “Don’t hurt me mommy, I’m just a little girl.” Clearly, there’s a lot of context that was left out. Some people laugh at that last line and probably see it as Xia exaggerating. When it happened, it broke my heart. Was she really afraid of me? I probably had forgotten that she was just a little girl and was treating her like a monster. I thought the conversation would have more power out of context, because the context makes it too specific. Many parents probably have a similar moment with their kid, and I wanted it to be relatable.

I use vignettes and unrelated stories that are like snapshots instead of continuous stories. I never lead the reader from one scene to the next.  I use isolated scenes because the stuff in between is cumbersome and boring to write. Also, I think in fragments and they seem related to me, often thematically, not in terms of time and sequence. I’m not trying to build towards a conclusion, so when I think of structure, I’m aware of varying the mood as I go.

22RC: How have you changed your approach in depicting Xia as she’s grown older, and how do you anticipate changing that approach again as she grows older?

KR: I address this with a couple stories in Sunburning. I don’t feel that it’s ok to draw bathroom scenes anymore, unless it’s done very differently. I’m trying not to embarrass her. She can read now, so all the content in my books is in her hands. I’m concerned about her reading scenes about me that don’t involve her. I don’t want to alter the way she perceives me.

RC: Do you intend to keep writing autobio focused on motherhood in short bursts, or is there a longer narrative you want to tackle at some point?

KR: Yes, I plan to continue using the same structure for now. I did write a rough draft of a memoir very recently but decided it wasn’t right for me. I’m pulling some of the stories out and separating everything. Having one theme that connected everything was not the way I wanted to think about that time. I’d rather experience my memories as vignettes. I don’t think in a linear way. There’s also never a resolution in my books, which is something that kind of defines memoir.

Mental Health

RC: You openly talk about having bipolar disorder (BPD) in your comics, though in the past you were reluctant to discuss it much because you weren’t sure you readers were interested. How do you feel about this now?

KR: After I wrote that page a few people (including you) encouraged me to write about it more. I’ve found a few more ways to go about it, but I’m still wary about making what amounts to a list of symptoms. It’s hard to make moods visual rather than verbal. Actually, it’s hard to verbalize them too. If I can find more interesting ways of communicating these things, I will.

RC: Did having post-partum depression (PPD) influence your later decision to talk more openly about being bipolar?

KR: Yes, definitely. The post-partum depression led directly to my bipolar diagnosis. I had a depression every year or so leading up to this, but I never felt as out of control or desperate as I did at that time. I couldn’t be honest about my life anymore if I left out that overwhelming factor of my life.

It was harder to tell people in person than it was to put it out there in writing. There was something about the specific label “bipolar” that I really debated. At first I was just writing about depression, anxiety, and irritability which is all in the normal range for people. Once it’s labelled it often means lithium, psychiatrists, maybe hospitals and delusions. I guess I wanted people to know that it’s not just some bad moods. I do have to work on it every day and my life is more unpredictable because of it.

unnamedRC: Was drawing your strips about PPD at all therapeutic, or did you find it to be grueling?

KR: I think it was therapeutic to be honest and to not have to carry this big, awful secret around. I wrote a few details about it, but I know I didn’t delve into the really dark parts. I can’t stand to think about what it was actually like. I don’t think that would be therapeutic and I imagine people would think I was being too dramatic. One of my biggest sources of shame is my stronger reaction to stress than typical people. I was traumatized by my miscarriage and other people suffer through 5-7 miscarriages or stillbirths before having a baby. There are always those stupid comparisons in my head, making me feel weak. When I had Xia I was very sleep-deprived, which is another major trigger for me. I felt totally crazy, trapped, and alone and I hated myself and desperately wanted to fast-forward or rewind a couple years. I knew I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to be alive in that life either. So, it is therapeutic to write about these things in my indirect way, but I don’t want to vividly imagine myself going through those times again.

RC: Is drawing in general a therapeutic activity for you?

KR: Yes. I love to draw, even though it’s really exhausting. I can feel something good happening in my brain that doesn’t happen otherwise. It’s the best way for me to meditate. I feel happy for a moment when I hear the word “draw.”

RC: For someone with social anxiety, you seem to engage in a lot of “opposite action” techniques. You teach art, you go to conventions and you’re social and you seem to have a lot of friends. Is all of this a concerted effort on your part to combat that anxiety, or it just an intuitive reaction on how to deal with depression & anxiety?

KR: I do engage in opposite action techniques every day. I’ve had cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. I know my anxiety will get worse if I constantly pick the more comfortable option.I think bipolar has its own perverse system of opposite action built in though. If you’re feeling really depressed, it’ll launch you into something else, like rage. There! Now you’re not depressed anymore. How do you feel?  


I married Scott because I knew he would make me go to things with him. It’s what I’ve hated about him many times, but some of it is good for me. I knew I would never stop being an artist if I were with him. I love him too of course, which I’m sure really comes through in my comics.

RC: It’s the most subtle part of your comic, your relationship with him. One gets a tremendous sense of ease with each other, no matter what.

KR: No one’s ever said that! That’s wonderful to hear. I was being sarcastic because my depiction of Scott is so unsentimental, but we are certainly at ease with each other.



RC: What reactions have you received from other mothers and/or other people with BPD who’ve read your work?

KR: Some moms have said I helped them feel better about what a terrible job they’re doing. That’s a backhanded compliment, but I’ll take it. Many parents have said I’m recording their lives. I have received feedback from three other people with BPD. It’s a pretty small section of the population and a lot of people aren’t open about it.

RC: Obvious question: have you read Ellen Forney’s comic memoir Marbles? It’s all about her BPD, and her take on the experience is different than yours.

KR: Yes, I have. I think her book is a great introduction to what bipolar is. It would be helpful to parents whose kids were just diagnosed. It’s autobiographical, but I still didn’t feel like I knew much about her personally. It’s very focused on the topic.


RC: What was this year’s Small Press Expo (SPX) like for you? You were pretty active in giving out free copies of your latest issue of Powdered Milk and really engaging people. Was this energizing or draining, or some combo thereof? Now that you’ve had time to reflect on it, what was the experience like of winning an Ignatz? I’m especially interested because of past strips you’ve done about SPX  in particular that talk about how anxiety-inducing these shows are for you.

KR: SPX was amazing. I was a judge for the Ignatz this year, so for months leading up to it I had been reading as much as I could. This was the first time I had a table there and was nominated. I made 500 copies of my comic and handed them out on Saturday. I felt very awkward about that, but people were nice and happy to get a free comic. Other than that, all the socializing at SPX was fun and energizing for me this year.

Winning the Ignatz was one of the most shocking experiences in my life. The whole time I was giving out my comics I wasn’t even thinking about winning. I was just using the nomination as an opportunity to publicize my work. I can’t believe I didn’t cry when Gina [Wynbrandt] announced I had won. My senses kind of shut down. I didn’t have anything planned to say and I forgot to thank anyone. The happiness kicked in after the ceremony and I felt pretty high for days following. My brick was taken from me at the airport, but I was too happy for that to even bother me much. When I wrote the comic about not wanting to go to SPX three years ago, I didn’t know nearly as many people in the comics world. Expos were really awkward because it was constant newness and nothing familiar. Now they feel more like reunions. I still don’t like to travel, but the destination is worthwhile.


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The Shaky Kane Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-shaky-kanes-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-shaky-kanes-interview/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96293 Continue reading ]]> On the occasion of Shaky Kane’s new book, Cowboys and Insects, Tim Goodyear asked the longtime British cartoonist a series of questions.

kane-01Tim Goodyear: The Shakyverse is a real place, it transcends the comics.

Shaky Kane: I like to imagine so. There’s a certain familiarity to everything I produce. It’s sort of populated or for want of a better word, furnished by the same stylistic tropes.

The very stuff I spent my time conjuring up onto the cheap sketch pads with wax crayons in my room as a child. It’s genuinely heartfelt. It’s a sincere appropriation of something very American. Something that resonated with me and I’ve kept close to me for the best part of 60 years.

kane-02Insects, especially giant ones; do they gravitate to you?

Giant insects have always held a fascination.When I stayed up watching late night TV, while my father worked nights, the giant ant invasion movie Them! made a real impact.

I thought it was the greatest. Likewise, I was thrilled to see American troops fighting off hoards of giant insects on the Topps Mars Attacks! bubblegum cards which were reprinted in Ireland and distributed over here by a company called A&BC. Giant Insects and GIs were as synonymous as Cowboys and Insects.

kane-03Eating bugs, zebras, hamburgers, human flesh; food plays a roll in many of your comix. Do you ask your collaborators to address diet? 

Well, it certainly isn’t part of my agenda. To be honest I’ve never really given it any thought. Cowboys and Insects, certain features a lot of Big Insect feasting. But that’s what made Bug Town famous.

kane-04In Cowboys & Insects your pages have a denser, fuller feel to them. 

I find it hard to think why this might be the case.

I certainly wanted this to look cool. I always draw big and shrink it down. I wanted the Stag Beetle Tusslin’  scene to look cinematic, I had a pretty clear idea in my head on how all this was going to look. It didn’t take much preliminary work. Soon as I read the script I had it all ticking over.

kane-05I like this page size your using. Could Cowboys & Insects be a counter culture morality tract/Bazooka Joe/Tijuana bible? 

Glad you picked up on the page size, I wasn’t sure if this was clear from the Previews listing. I’ve always liked the way comic art looks shrunk down. As I work on a book, I like to print out the pages as I go, and make up a version using a home printer. That way I can look back over the pages to keep an eye on how it’s going to look as the pages turn. To save ink I print them out smaller than the actual book size and paste the pages together. I’ve always liked the way this looks. With Cowboys and Insects, it being a standalone one-shot, I thought it would look neat the same size as the Minx books that DC brought out, with a paperback book cover. Castellucci and Rugg’s The Plain Janes is one of my all time favourite books.

kane-06You did a cover for Henry & Glenn: Forever and Ever. Do you read any of Danzig’s comix? 

That’s right, I was asked out of the Blue to do a cover for Tom Neely’s Henry and Glenn, Forever and Ever. I didn’t really know much about the book. I take it, that the premise is that Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig are a gay couple, is that right?  Is that even funny? I honestly don’t get it. I’d heard of both Rollins and Danzig. Glenn Danzig was in the original Misfits.  I always liked the album cover art, can’t say I was particularly taken with the music. Does he make comics? I’ll have to do a Google search.

kane-07I believe Danzig did some of the covers for the Misfit records, he doesn’t draw any of the comix. His style reminds me of the Famous  Monsters of Filmland that James Warren designed. Did you get that magazine? 

During the 1960s,  American import magazines and comic books would wind up on a spinner-rack in independent newsagent/ tobacconist here in the UK. The comic books would be at a kid friendly eye level, while the upper half housed Men’s Adventure magazines, True Detective and more adult orientated titles. As a pre-teen I was always viewed with some suspicion by the store owner, while I perused the spinner-rack. I certainly got to see issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland,

I remember how the paper of the books had become brittle during their long boat journey to these shores. Somehow I managed to get hold of a copy of Warren Magazines, DIY Monster Make-Up book. The Dick Smith classic. This would have been later than its American publication date. Rare oddities like this would turn up at indoor markets, along with back issues of comic books, and Alan Class publications. Alan Class comics were black and white repackaged vintage American strips, between full cover covers, with titles like Creepy Worlds and Sinister Tales. I was quite taken by the idea of becoming the neighbourhood creep. To this end I’d spend my allowance on spirit gum, crepe hair and greasepaint. All to less than spine chilling effect.


Do you have this Halloween’s costume sorted out already?

I still like the idea of dressing up. I like the way makeup smells. When my son was younger, I used to spend a bit of time putting together outfits. But here in the UK Halloween is always a bit of a letdown. Of course I’ve always got a bowl of treats ready for the Trick-or-Treaters,  who do the rounds. But unless I was going to an organized event, it hardly seems worth the effort. I like the run-up to Halloween. Asda (part of the Wal-Mart  group) in particular always has an isle of great spooky goods. And Poundland, who are the British version of Dollar City or Family Dollar, used to really go to town.

I’ve bought eyeball novelty lights, glow in the dark novelties, and a polystyrene butcher’s tray containing a plastic severed hand. They used to stock a whole seasonal array of B-Movies on DVD, and all for a pound, as the name suggests.

I think that for a time, British stores were hoping to replicate the interest in Halloween that exists Stateside. But it seems to be fizzling out a bit.


Are you into eco horror, Slow Death/carnosaur type stuff? Are these just Hine-isms? 

 I did actually own a copy of Slow Death. The one where the man is cradling a seal pup, framed by a bloodied club, with the caption ‘Over my dead body!’ on the cover. I loved the EC look of the cover art. I bought it under the belief that it would be an over the top underground read. Turned out to be a bit repetitively preachy. Overstating the message until I sort of lost interest. Bit like comic book ‘Door stopping’.  I got the idea that it was a gateway for the illiterate, as if comic book readers don’t get information from any other sources. I’ve no objection to comic books exploring social issues, but the story has got to be there. In my opinion at least.

kane-10Were you making your own comics before Escape #1? Is that what’s in Beyond Belief?

That’s what I’d always do. I was a very antisocial kid and would spend most of my time in my room drawing, ill thought-out strips, onto sketch pads. I’d color them with wax crayons, I found that if I colored first yellow, then lightly colored over with red, I’d obtain a very pleasing Californian tan skin color.

Red and blue applied in the same way made a perfect Batman body stocking color! My first published strip was of course, Hitler On Ice which appeared in David Hine’s Art college project  Joe Public Comics. This would have been during the early days of UK Punk scene.


“Hitler on Ice” was around 1977, an underground comix by all accounts; had you read American underground comix at this point? 

Again, these things somehow made their way here from America. There was a link with the American and UK underground press in the very early 70s. Oz, the notorious underground broadsheet started to put out US sized books under the name Cozmic Comics ( with the emphasis on the ‘Oz’). I certainly saw Crumb, Skip Willamson, I think Spain was represented.  There was a similar underground comic movement here in the UK. British creators would share the pages of these books. As well as appearing in the publication Nasty Tales. I was particularly taken by Chris Welch, he drew the biker strip Ogoth and Ugly boot. Welch had a more accessible style, at least to my then unworldly eye.

kane-12Deadline was where I first saw your comics. I got the impression it was a social group not just a magazine. Was it? 

I was actually about ten years older than most of the Deadline contributors. Jamie Hewlett, Alan Marten and Philip Bond came to the magazine straight from Art School. I’d been plugging away since I’d arrived in London. I’d do the odd unskilled work, while contributing single frame gags to The New Musical Express, and taking on any drawing job which came my way. Funny enough towards the end of Deadline‘s run, I went to live in Worthing, sharing a house with Alan Marten. To be honest I rarely saw him, I spent most of my time in my room, chain smoking while driving myself nuts ,while trying to draw idiotic stuff like the poorly received Soul Sisters for Judge Dredd The Megazine. I found it incredibly hard work, and it showed.


I’ve noticed you dig the Full Moon Videos, do you watch them all; or are there artists that you follow?

I’m a big fan of the movies Charles Band puts out. It’s very much a comic book world in itself. The Puppet Master and Demonic Toys movies in particular. I never detect that it’s done in a knowing way, a sort of postmodern wink to the audience. I think this guy makes these movies because these are the movies in him to make. That, these movies are as good as they are going to get. Different medium, but it’s exactly the place I come from.

There are people out there making, sort of, kitschy, retro looking art, and comic books which ape the way things looked in the Silver Age. But it always shows, you always pick-up the feeling that it’s ironic or a funny book. When I sit down to draw the pictures happen to come out that way. I’ve been drawing for a while now, I don’t imagine it’s going to change overnight, I’m not going to suddenly become Frank Miller.


Charles Band’s father made a movie (a couple at least) in the ’50s called I Bury the Living, and he composes the scores to many of the Full Moon movies, were there any comics or art culture in your family growing up?

Ha, that’s something I wasn’t aware of: Like father like son. No I don’t recall any real encouragement from my parents. Although the germ of the obsessions I’ve dwelt on, for the last 50 years or so, certainly have their roots in my childhood. My father worked unsociable hours as a baker. My mother was the biggest American TV fan. Together, we’d watch all the shows that made their way across the Atlantic during the sixties. I recall my mother ironing my dad’s laundered Baker’s ‘whites’ ,with the ironing board set-up in the doorway, so she could watch the TV from the kitchen. The Lucy show  starring  Desi  Arnez Jr.), Hogan’s Heroes, F Troop, The Lone Ranger, The Munsters (I really loved the Munsters), Bewitched, it was a great time to grow up in.

I’d stay up late on a Friday, when my dad worked nights, and watch the monster movies. The Universal Creature Features were a big part of the late night movie schedule here in the UK. At the same time that I was soaking up all these cathode rays, my father started to bring home American comic books and Men’s Adventure magazines from work. Big piles of them, I’ve no idea who gave them to him, but to me, it was like being transported to another planet. This was the early sixties, the books then were the greatest. Being a fairly self contained child, happy with my own company, I’d invest a lot of time trying to make my own versions of the pictures I saw in the comic books.

I’d draw onto anything I could get my hands on. The back of wall paper, card shirt stiffeners, even the packaging from store bought cakes! I was obsessed.


Your colors, the pastels and day glows. Do you paint much?

Like everything I’ve ever done, I achieve through pure perseverance.  I like to do things right off the bat. I don’t plan things to look a certain way. A lot of the look comes from working within the limitations of my Photoshop knowledge. I always like comic book colors to look flat. I like mechanical color. The times my art has been ‘professionally’ colored, it’s always jarred to some extent. I like that 60’s look, where the page was made up of overlaid color, I even try to  replicate the miss-registration. I have painted, I’ve always tried to keep that mass produced look in everything I do. I hate to see the ‘artist’s hand’,


Curt Swan is a favorite of yours, do you have a “Top Swan”, is he still stoking the flames for you today? 

 I still obsess about Curt Swan’s beautifully crafted work. My favorite period being the George Klein collaborations This would have been mid sixties.

DC had a real knack for employing the most shoddy inkers. So many strips were ruined, even fan favorite artist couldn’t escape the horror. When the combination worked it was the greatest. This is the period of American comic art which really set me on a course that I would  follow for over fifty years.

Neal Adams was the guy who changed things. I never really cared for the new realism. There existed a whole bunch of artist who followed his lead. Dick Giordano is a name that springs to mind. And it wasn’t  just the art, the stories were the worse, a half realized world of angry Hippies in horrible fringed buckskin, I didn’t even ring true, I really didn’t care for it. Towards the end of his career at DC, Curt was pressured into adopting the new house style. It was a shame to see his art losing what made it special in the first place. It didn’t gel and it soured his legacy.


Shaky 2000 is very visceral, grim, bleak, and disquieting. There is a literal cry for help, what was going on at this time? Was Shaky 2000 a mask, or possibly just a statement of employment? 

This came from a particular time in my life. I dwelt a little too much on the darker side of life. I was a 2000 AD contributor, we were known collectively as Art Droids. The name was a play on this, this feeling of dehumanization. The scripts I were asked to draw never played to my strengths as an artist. Like Jamie I was seen as the token weird guy.

The work I did outside of Fleetway, particularly the work for late period Deadline, again this is going back a while, was influenced by to some extent by the work of Richard Kern, and the cinema of transgression. It was fairly bleak and self indulgent. I don’t know how it impacted on the reader.

kane-18Through many of your comix there has been the scene, of a corpse being pulled from the harbor waters on a hook, to a dock. Is this autobiographical?  Dose Exeter have gruesome docks?  

The Drowned Cop! In The Shakyverse it’s usually a jetty. Jetty is a great word. There certainly are docks in my home town. A body being pulled from the river, is a constantly recurring local newspaper story, particularly during the summer months. Of course the docks and the quayside in general, have been turned into visitor attractions, and dining experiences over the years. The image of the hook and the drowned hero comes directly from a late sixties issue of Captain America, initially drawn by Kirby, but I’m sure I’ve seen a similar image by Steranko. I work from memory rather than reference images. It’s the gut feeling of things that I try to capture in my drawing.


Was the end of your stay at 2000 AD in step with your moving out of London and returning to Exeter? Was this when you became a father? Your comics output has increased dramatically since the turn of the century.

When I returned to Exeter, I was still a regular contributor to 2000 AD, regularly working for Fleetway. This was before the internet was the accepted form of communication. I’d phone into the office and receive typed scripts through the mail. During this time I’d moved away from the clumpy Kirby styling and felt like I was finding my feet as an artist.

Hand coloring the art, I was still unable to produce the flat mechanical color I was looking for, but  it was certainly getting a lot closer to how I wanted it to look. I was a family man, we had a young daughter, we’d sold our North London flat and had bought a house in Exeter, things were looking good. And then a management shuffle took place at Fleetway. Dave Bishop took over as editor, he wanted to make changes, I suppose make the books fit in with his vision, whatever that was.

I was out of work over night. Two days later I was washing dishes at the Post Office canteen. I signed up with a temporary employment agency and spent the best part of two years drifting from one low paid unskilled job to another, while my marriage fell apart. It was a fairly dispiriting experience, you might say.

It was after running into David Hine, at Bristol Comic Expo, over 10 years later, that I formulated the basis of Bulletproof Coffin. David was the one who actually took the project to Eric Stephenson at San Diego Comic Con, for this I’m eternally grateful. It was this, and of course the growth of the internet, which opened up a whole new world of opportunity.

kane-20Was Monster Truck created as a single image, then spliced into pages?  At what point did you stop creating the finished page on paper?

Monster Truck came from a strange period in my life. I was no longer working in comics and had found a job as in-house artist at a community paper. The editor made the decision to shut the magazine down, but in an unrivaled act of philanthropy, suggested that I used the office space to draw a ‘Graphic Novel’.

The deal was that I would still be paid for coming into the office, three times a week, and all he wanted in return were the first 50 copies of the print run of 500, that he could give out as Christmas presents that year. The offer coming out of the blue, I had no idea what to draw. I had a ‘filing cabinet’ of ideas stored away in my head, but no workable idea for the book. So I decided just to set to work. I’d let myself into the empty office and I drew whatever popped into my head.  I’d draw dinosaurs, big bugs, custom cars, all researched from frequent visits to the local library.

I’d draw them fairly big, get them shrunk down on a Xerox printer and manually paste them onto page sized templates. Where the images ran over the border of the page, I’d simply slice them and keep going, formulating the idea of the continuous loop as I worked.

Once I’d produced a batch of pages, I’d write a stripped back narrative, from the viewpoint of the driver, describing the journey as it might appear in a travelogue.

kane-21Has Shaky Kane’s Monster Truck ever been displayed in its full panoramic form?

In fact there is a version of Monster Truck out there, where the whole book glides past the screen. It’s quite a treat.

kane-22Michael Waspman, was he a novelist? Is there any of his work to be found?

This was someone overzealously editing my Wiki page. While I was working for the community paper, I’d spend a lot of time by myself. I always get struck by ideas, when I’m left to my own devices. I started to write them down in a notebook and built up a whole universe set in a fictional 1980s Charlotte. I chose Charlotte as the setting because Charlotte is such a common name for an American town that I needn’t be geographically accurate.

It was quite a yarn. It centred on the legend of The Man who walks The Tracks. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of little Bethany Tyler.  How to appease the spirits. Blood sacrifice and peep freaks.  It was about Ginger Palmer, Joey Dimebar, and Magic Tattoos. In fact I wrote this stuff before Kick Ass, and came up with the idea of comic fans becoming vigilantes wearing homemade superhero costumes.  It was about the desire to become invisible and ‘slip into other people’s live, naked and buzzing with pubescent  hormones’.

It was about a lot of things. I typed it all up naming it Charlotte [IN-VIS-IB-LE] under the pen name Michael Waspman, which to me sounded like an American pulp novel horror writer’s name. My times been taken up drawing, but I’d really like to one day get it all in order and tie up the loose ends. As a matter of fact, David was keen to do a comic book version before we settled on Bulletproof.

kane-24Aside from the convenience, was there a reason you stopped lettering your comix? I’m a big fan of your hand lettering. No disrespect to Richard Starkings.  

Over the years I’ve often heard people say how they liked the hand lettering on my older strips. The truth is I was never really that happy with it. It was never uniform enough for my own personal taste. I found it a real chore. The only time I’ve been happy with the way my lettering has looked, was when I hit on the method of writing out the captions with my left hand and then inking over it, cleaning up as I went. Sounds a crazy way of working, but it gave the letters a unique ‘spook house’ look, which didn’t attempt to mimic professional lettering.

I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. When I’m looking to produce a title font, I often print out the text in a straight Microsoft Word font. Print it out fairly big, then trace around the outline of the words. Gives it that classic hand lettered, mid sixties, Artie Simek look. A style I’ve never seen bettered. Richard (Starkings) has actually produced a Shaky Font. With the repetition of letters you get in a typed font, it certainly looks an improvement on my own undisciplined hand.

kane-25When you visited the USA was it as you had hoped? Did you discover anything that added to your comix?

I already pretty much had the whole place mapped out in my head before I arrived. So it didn’t really come as much of a surprise as sorts. I stayed for a couple of summers running in South Boston, which is I was informed a ‘blue collar’ area. I liked the things like going into Mom’s Laundry, Brooke’s Pharmacy, and Stop and Shop. Although similar to British stores, it was as if someone had taken all the goods out and replaced them with similar items. Walkers crisps becoming Frito-Lays chips, yet retaining the familiar logo. I liked looking at the goods on the shelves. I liked the way they sold cigarettes in the pharmacy.

What struck me most of all, was the easy way that strangers would enter into conversation, and the general good will that was extended to me as a visitor. Genuine curiosity as to what my impression of the country was. Really the nicest people.

kane-26Did you find the comics culture much different in America, did you visit any comic shops?

When I’m away from the computer, comics seem to retreat. I’d just seen the movie Hatchet, where the lead character wore a Newbury Comics ‘Tooth Face’ logo T-shirt.  So I set off to Newbury Comics. I was a bit surprised that instead of comics, the store mostly sold punk / heavy rock CDs, Horror DVDs and Boston Red Sox memorabilia! The comics were tucked away on a fairly short stretch of shelving. I did manage to get a copy of The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen trade paperback, which was a bit of a treat.

The Hatchet souvenir shirt was out of stock, so I settled for a regular Tooth Face shirt.  I actually featured the shirt along with a drawing of the Hatchet movie poster in the second issue of Bulletproof Coffin. Newbury Comics picked up on this, and when I told them the story about visiting the store looking for the Hatchet shirt, they sent me one free of charge! Isn’t that the best result? If you look up Newbury Comics on Wiki, under the references in culture section, it mentions how the store features in the opening credits of the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and how the logo appears in Bulletproof Coffin!

kane-26Last Driver is another new comic you’ve got coming out, what can we expect? 

This was a new thing for me. Last Driver is funded by a Kickstarter campaign. At the time of writing it’s overshot its goal, so it seems like a good idea to me. Last Driver is published by Dead Canary Comics who are a UK based independent comic book company. Chris Baker wrote it as a homage to 80s video store rental movies.

John Carpenter springs to mind, but this is a wilder ride than any movie I’ve seen. In a way that’s the thing that drew me to producing comics in the first place. Imagination is the only budget constraint.

In a nutshell the story, which is a very linear tale, centers on the adventures of Frank Sudden, who embraces the end of the world and sets off across the post apocalypse wasteland in his boss’s ‘borrowed’ car.

Along the way he encounters a mind boggling array of giant creatures, scream queens and double crossing scavengers, before fighting for his life in a makeshift arena where he is pitted against, amongst other abominations ( You guessed it ) giant ants.

It’s quite a yarn, Chris peppers the text with witticisms and observations from Frank’s peculiar singularly optimistic point of view.

I was given free rein on the actual character design, and I spent the best part of a year drawing all this up. I’m really happy with the look of this one, it’s got some of my career best artwork in it.


Last Driver offers a different view on the Shakyverse than Cowboys and Insects, Cap’n Dinosaur comes to mind as a Last Driver level of jubilant pop-sploitation. Is your relationship with Last Driver and Cap’n Dinosaur different than the other books?

Last Driver arrived as a fully written script. Written by Christopher Baker resident scribe at Dead Canary Comics. What was so much fun about putting these 60 pages together was the total trust that Chris put into me as the artist. Certain details, for instance the car featured in the script was a specific Chevrolet model, and the look of Frank Sudden, being a sort of John Carpenter video rental  mix of Rowdy Roddy piper and Kurt Russell, were very much part of the brief.

The actual look of the assorted monsters and the supporting characters was left to my judgement. I had worked with Chris on a previous strip. A great future shocker, entitled Campaign, featuring an atheist robotic president and a fundamentalist  robotic assassin, which in itself is an awesome idea.

So we already had a cool working relationship. I’m sure we’ll be back with a new project, just as soon as I’ve got a suitable sized hole in my schedule. Cap’n Dinosaur was very much my own project.

The Bulletproof Coffin characters, although not fully realised at this time, mostly came from ideas for characters I’d collected over the years. I had a vague notion of a cast of undead characters, who would exist in a comic book limbo. Somewhere between perceived reality and the actual comic book pages that imprisoned them. A vague idea. Cap’n Dinosaur came from these early drawings, although in a much more reptilian “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” guise.

Following Bulletproof‘s moderate success, I was looking to produce a strip that rather than following the meta path of the original series, was presented as a straight adventure strip. Of course most of my characters were tied to Bulletproof, Dave being, quite rightly, the co-creator of the book. So the only character I was free to use was The Cap’n.  In a way I would have liked to have produced something with the Coffin Fly. I had an idea at one point of a 80 page giant, like the old DC books, featuring each of the characters. But of course these things have to be by mutual agreement and it didn’t come to anything.

The script itself was written by a British writer named Kek-W. In fact he scripted one of my more successful strips for 2000 AD. A resurrected GI zombie yarn entitled Nightmare Patrol, the true inspiration for Bulletproof’s combatant cadavers The Hateful Dead.

It always feels as if everything I do, ties together to build a much bigger picture, a Shakyverse!

kane-28Cowboys & Insects, a comic wrapped in the lullaby of mid 20th century America. Is it real, the human nightmare?

David’s script on this book, which is a self contained entity, works on a number of levels. There’s a certain early Movie Monster giant insect trope, referencing movies such as Them! A theme I’d touched on in Monster Truck where The Kane gang are glimpsed rustling up oversized ‘critters’. Where there’s big bugs there’s big bucks to be made. There’s the Teen Romance tenderness played out in the unsure relationship between Chip the Rancher’s son and Cindy the girl outsider.

Then there’s the unquestionable authority of The Knights of the Head. A group of masked Klan-like vigilantes, culled from the small community of Bug Town, who bring down justice on those who go against the natural order of things. In this case a deviant vegetarian family. There’s a very telling line towards the end of the book where a rider voices the Donald Trump-like remark “You say you love insects? Let’s see how much they love you”

Certainly ticks the boxes of the human nightmare.

kane-29What’s on the drawing board now?

Right now? I’m working on two books. I work, alternate days on each one. I’m ten pages into a Bulletproof Coffin one-shot.  In this one we’ve gone back to the format of the first series and the comic book within a comic book. Again Dave’s come up with a real neat idea. There’s some great backstory on the inhuman nature of the original Coffin Fly.

There’s a real sci-fi B-Movie vibe to the featured comic book, which is entitled Hypno Vampires From The Stars! Plus there’s a look at the events immediately following Hine and Kane’s sell-out to the mysterious Shadow Men. It’s a lot of fun.

At the same time I’m close to finishing issue three of Richard Starkings’  long-time coming Beef series. Somehow events transpired to halt production for the best part of a year. But it’s back in production, and this is a real personal statement for Richard as a committed pacifist vegetarian. It’s a tale of wholesale animal slaughter, small town bigotry, contaminated beef and  wild mutation. And it features the rawest, beefiest, most messed-up avenger since Toxie. The Beef! This guy is literally made out of pulsing, living meat!


Would you write a comic for David Hine to draw? 

Now, that’s not such a bad idea. You got me figuring now.


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Ink in His Veins: An Interview with Benjamin Marra http://www.tcj.com/ink-in-his-veins-an-interview-with-benjamin-marra/ http://www.tcj.com/ink-in-his-veins-an-interview-with-benjamin-marra/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96277 Continue reading ]]> So, I just wanted to start this off by saying that I am a huge Benjamin Marra fan. I’ve been following his work for years – finding him first, on the now antiquated site Flickr, just before he started his own publishing imprint, Traditional Comics.

When I first saw his moleskin drawings I was blown away…  The drawings were how I wished I could draw.  Slick, tuff, and beautiful…  I’d never seen work that distilled cool into single images so perfectly. The work was an immediate fascination for me.  I was hooked and I wanted more.


Luckily, he’s prolific as fuck and since those early images online, I’ve watched as he’s forcibly taken over the comics landscape with the pure insanity of his skills, which have grown sharper and more refined thru his series of black and white, wildly creative and lurid self-published epics; all of which lead him to the Magnum Opus, Terror Assaulter: OMWOT which was released by Fantagraphics last year.  He’s easily become one of my favorite creators working and is also just a genuinely good dude and friend.

Now his newest book, American Blood, (his second book with Fantagraphics) collects those wildly creative self-published B&W comics into one densely packed tome of visceral joy and violent glee!!  I’m psyched for the chance to talk to Mr. Marra and ask him a few questions about his work. Lets dive in.


American Blood. Good title. What does it mean to you?

Ata, who runs Autsider Comics, my publisher in Spain, came up with the title. He wanted to publish a collection of my work in Spain and called the book Sangre Americana. I sent it to Fantagraphics and we basically did the same book and we kept the title as an English translation. Ata designed both logos for both books. He’s an excellent designer. I thought it was an appropriate title for a foreign translation of my stuff and the name just stuck. My work usually explores themes of America: sex, violence, race, gender. And one day: football and religion, which might be the same subject.


Violence is a key theme in a lot of your work. You use it in various ways from satirically, to perfectly timed comedic beats, and then sometimes seemingly just for bad-ass-ness.  What role does violence play for you in your work? Why is it necessary in your narratives? 

I get asked this question a lot. I’m not exactly sure why violence takes center stage in my work. It could be because of the genres that influence me directly: action movies, crime fiction, film noir, exploitation movies. I think it also may go back to the earliest times when I was drawing. When I was very young I believed there were things I was not allowed to draw, including violence. I read Darick Robertson’s black-and-white 1980s comic, Space Beaver, when I was a kid and there was a pin-up in the book of Space Beaver standing over a wolf guard he slaughtered with a knife. The pin-up was titled “Bloodlust” and Beaver was covered with his enemy’s blood, dripping down from his chest fur. I never forgot that image. It scared me as a kid. As a kid I was desperately afraid of violent acts. I think I may have started to draw violence as a way to have power over my fear of it. 


Sex is also a key component to a lot of your work and just like your use of violence, you use it to various effects from sexy renderings of the human form, to titillating hardcore pounding, to the absurdly awkward, verging on disturbing…  Is it a send-up of the genres you’re satirizing or are you trying to say more with these depictions of sex? 

Yes, it is a send-up of the way sex is handled in genre and American visual storytelling. It makes me think about the power images hold. If my work were prose and I were writing about sex I don’t think it would get the same kind of attention, but because the sex is depicted it somehow becomes more significant. I think sex is a very human act but for some reason it’s largely missing from a lot of visual stories in the U.S. In television that appears to be changing. Television is a lot more daring these days with the themes it explores. It’s obvious to state, but in many feature films graphic violence is accepted where sex is not. One theme is about the destruction of life, what tears us apart as humans. The other is about creation, feeling alive, and what we share as humans. It’s strange, but also a very human fault to be obsessed with doom rather than salvation. 07Another aspect of your work I appreciate and what I feel that gives it such power is the level of absurdism you play with. From the depictions of over the top violence to the stunted narration & dialogue, and protagonists whom wear their motivations/emotions on their sleeves, you seem to be making fun of reality at all times. What is it about life that you find so absurd?

Perhaps all of it. Especially living in the U.S. and then living outside the U.S. and seeing it from a new perspective. The mere fact that we exist is pretty strange to me. Sometimes even looking at the design of the human form is absurd to me.

Sometimes lost in the sex, violence, and absurd nature of your work is the fact that your comics are genuinely funny and sometimes outright hilarious. How does humor play a role in your work? 

Humor is a byproduct of the stories I tell. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s never been a specific intent for me. But I guess it’s a part of my storytelling instincts of what I feel works. I want to tell serious stories sometimes and when I try, the result is humor. I’ve just accepted it as part of my vision.


You seem very preoccupied with power and masculinity: the physical form of your muscular protagonists and their trails of strength or in terms of how it’s wielded by those in control (evil dog catchers, lizard men overlords, and crooked government officials).  You play with the archetypes of masculinity, both inflating it as well as inverting it. What is it about being a man you’re trying to say with these depictions of strength and power? Does this come from your need to assume a form of power of your own thru the making of your comics? 

Initially when I started making comics it was a reaction to the comics that were coming out at the time. I wasn’t into the portrayal of male heroes in mainstream comics. They all seemed burdened with doubt and despair. I felt like this was inconsistent with how heroes should behave. I chalked it up to writers attempting to inject depth into their male heroes by giving them a new dimension of sadness and self-doubt. It was too obvious of a creative choice to me. I understand comic writers are under punishing deadlines, but to me it was a lazy choice. On the other side, independent comics I was seeing a lot of sad-sack neuroses in male characters. It was a celebration of being a spineless, self-obsessed, wimp, or of anti-masculinity. I felt there could be an alternative to how male characters could be portrayed in comics. So it started as a motivation to do something different. Something I felt wasn’t occurring in comics at the time. It seems to have become an exploration into what it means to be a man.


I feel you have that rare ability to make comics that are enjoyable at face value as a visceral explosion of graphic ability, while also having a real depth of meaning, often verging on satire. I feel like you’re saying something with each of your comics without allowing the message to get in the way of the comic itself. Is this something you strive for, this dichotomy of idea? Or is it just a natural development from how you create your work?

It’s a natural development. My first and only real intention is to tell a story that works. Story is my biggest priority. It’s might be my only priority. All other decisions or intentions are secondary. But I think each of the comics I make are also about what comics are as a medium. They’re a declaration of what comics should be, or maybe just evidence of what they could be, what power they can hold. When I make comics or develop stories I try to access parts of my imagination that are pure and raw. It’s similar to my drawing approaches. I try to be as decisive as possible with my choices and preserve unfiltered moments of creative energy. I think that leads to more inherently personal work that is more meaningful. At the same time, the content of my work is very basic. I’m inspired by things lacking depth, like action movies, pulp science fiction novels, or TV shows like Walker: Texas Ranger.

I consider you a subversive artist because of this. Because you do “sneak” in deeper issues into your work.  Do you consider what you do to be subversive? Do you think everyone gets it? Does it matter if they don’t?

I can understand why the work would be considered subversive. It wasn’t a conscious intention when I started making comics or continues to be. It’s sort of like the humor in the work. It’s not important to me if people get it. I’m surprised when readers connect with my work.


You have such a strong and confident creative voice.  Do you ever suffer from self-doubt while working? Do you ever question whether what you’re creating is too out there and might miss the mark??

I don’t suffer from self-doubt. The work I make is a product of training myself to eradicate self-doubt. What is difficult a difficult challenge is perfecting my process when it comes to drawing. That is always going to be an eternal struggle. I don’t really question whether what I’m working on is too out there and I think I miss the mark constantly. The results of missing the mark is what could be called my style.

Do you think of an audience while creating? Do you think that is necessary to creating good work or do you let your inner voice “and the stars” guide you?

I don’t think of the audience when I’m creating content. But I do think about the reader when I’m considering formal storytelling choices. It’s sort of like if I were a prose writer, I’m not thinking about the audience with regard to the meaning of a sentence. But I want the sentence to make sense and be clear. I think it’s necessary not to consider the audience to make good work. It’s important to listen to what guides you from within. If you let an illusory external audience dictate creative choice, you’re not making art.


A small minority of loud people online have come out questioning whether a white artist should be creating works of fiction in a “black” world.  And that a white man parodying the rap world (Gangsta Rap Posse) or telling the story of an American slave (Lincoln Washington) is inherently racist. What are your thoughts on such criticism?

I don’t think too much about criticism. If you make things there will always be a portion of the audience who disagree with it. When I started making comics I never thought anyone would read them. There’s a ton of content out there and I’m thankful if anyone chooses to read my stuff. If people start talking about it then that’s even better. And if there’s a conversation about the work I make, then there are going to be multiple perspectives. I have a compulsion to make comics. It’s up to the readers to discuss them. It’s not my place.


You wear your love of D&D, fantasy adventure and barbaric protagonists on your sleeve, making several comics within that sort of world (Orion, Blades and Lazers, Naked Heroes). Does this go back to adolescent fixations? What is it about monsters, magic, power stats, and manly mayhem you love so?

It goes back to reclaiming something I didn’t experience as a kid. I didn’t play D&D or other RPGs much as a kid. For one, I didn’t know anyone older than me who knew enough about the game to run it. Secondly, my mom sort of believed in the whole Satanic Panic back in the ’80s and thought D&D would turn me into a devil worshiper. The art, as with comics, in early D&D is what pulled me in. The fact that I couldn’t play it made it that much more mysterious. I started playing and running RPGs about a decade ago and have multiple games going at once. What I enjoy about it is the cooperative, improvisational group storytelling form as well as the genre and tone of the games themselves. There’s nothing else that ignites my imagination the same way.


Rereading your The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd I found it played with similar ideas as OMWOT. Government conspiracies, over the top sexualization and uber violence in the name of America, all seem to be there, just representing opposing sides of the coin. Was that comic the seed from which Terror Assaulter grew from? Or am I waaay off base?

The Maureen Dowd comic definitely wasn’t what I was thinking of when I conceived Terror Assaulter. But you’re right on; they do share a lot of themes and ideas despite being very different comics. When I made The Incredible Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd. I’d been reading a lot of Vince Flynn books and those had a big influence. Terror Assaulter was more inspired by movies, witnessing 9/11 and the decade of NeoCon foreign policy that followed, and conspiracy theories I’d been exposed to.

102You’ve worked with a lot of musicians over the years doing record covers and posters as well as a comic for the New York band, Naked Heroes. You also have used music in your comics (which is very hard) in extremely gratifying ways, like the rhymes Gangsta Rap Posse kick and the Ripper and Friends theme song (all of which I feel should be recorded at some point).  What role does music play in your work? Is it a major influence on you creatively?

I love music, but I don’t listen to it much. I put it in my comics when the story demands it, but I don’t actively try to weave it into my work. Music isn’t a huge influence on me creatively. However, music does offer a wonderful opportunity and canvas for illustration. I really enjoy working on album covers. When it’s working it feels great.


I am openly jealous of your fashion sense and your ability to look good even as a Centaur. You’ve played with your “image” throughout the years, having posed for several amazing “artist/author” photos with many of your books and I was very happy to see these collected in American Blood also. Too many cartoonists take themselves too seriously. Is it important to you to take a piss like that and not take yourself so seriously? 

Yeah, it’s important to me not to take anything too seriously. When I did take art very seriously I found myself creating mental walls that I eventually had to knock down. I found myself creatively paralyzed and a perfectionist. I’m very serious about not taking things too seriously.

This is your second book with Fantagraphics, what has it been like working with them? Was this a relationship you sought after? Do you have plans to continue working with them?

It’s been a dream working with Fantagraphics. It’s not something I sought after. Working with Fantagraphics happened pretty organically over a few years. I do have plans to continue work with them. I’m working on my next book for them currently. I hope to have a large library of books with them in the near future.

 What are some of your favorite comics happening right now? Who are some artists you’d like to shine a light on that your audience might dig?

I mostly mine the comics of the past, so I don’t know about too much that’s going on these days. But I did love Wendy by Walter Scott. The next volume is due out next month if I’m not mistaken. Artists who’s work continually blows my mind are Ken Landgraf, as well as his collaborator John Jacobs, and Lawrence Hubbard, who’s Real Deal collection just came out. I saw some of Lawrence’s originals over the summer and I think seeing them in person forever changed me as an artist.

Do you have any dream projects (however unlikely) involving other people’s characters or properties?

For example I want to write a series of Troma comics involving several of their properties that various artists would then draw. Is there anything out there you wish you could get yer hands on? 

Not really. It would be fun to work on Jim Valentino-era Guardians of the Galaxy book, but I’d rather work on my own stories. I’ve got a queue of them in my brain and they all need to get out. I’d rather realize my visions than help someone else realize theirs.


What’s next for Benjamin Marra?

Night Business. I’m finishing the series right now as a single, complete, 10-chapter volume. It’s due out next fall.

One last question… What is best in life?

Obviously, “to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women,” as Conan said. There is no other answer.

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A Chat with Anya Davidson http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-with-anya-davidson/ http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-with-anya-davidson/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2016 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96228 Continue reading ]]> band-for-life-1

I am an unabashed fan of Anya Davidson’s work, which I first read in 2007. I loved working with her as an author, and published her first book, School Spirits, in 2013. Then, as now, she makes incredibly observant, funny, and generous comics. That last part is important. In all her many comics and zines, Anya seeks the best and most interesting of us and the world, though with an eye out for all that’s fucked up and mortifying. It’s a very delicate balance, and she never fails (no pressure there). Anyhow, I’m always amazed at how much she has to say, and doesn’t mind us listening, about her seemingly omnivorous set of interests.  Moreover, her comics are a joy to look at. Her thick-thin strokes dance on the page and her characters are always-recognizable graphic icons. Hers is a Kurtzman-esque cartooning technique that she can apply to any scenario of her choosing, though often with a SF undertone.

I read her new and wonderful book, Band for Life, in a few giant gulps. It charts the fortunes of the band Gun Tit, which is really an armature for her musings on culture, sex, money, love, and the weather. I love it. Anya will be at this week’s Comic Arts Brooklyn with a new zine, Golden Chimes and a new comic book, Lovers in the Garden. Go out and get her books.

Since we began talking about it a few weeks back in Chicago, I want to hear more. Tell me about your horse in Nova Scotia. And that lady, the one who looked after you.

I grew up on Prince Edward Island, which is near Nova Scotia-similar vibe but even smaller. Telling a Canadian you grew up on PEI is like telling an American you grew up in Arkansas. It’s not cool. I met a woman named Yogi Gamester. Actually, my parents must have met her and I’m not sure how. She’s incredible. She grew up exercising racehorses, traveled all over Canada. Ended up on PEI with a young child in a bad marriage. Got a divorce, was given some land in the settlement and built her own house. Then she started rescuing horses. On PEI, harness racing is a big deal, but any kind of racing is really brutal on horses. They start them too young, when their bones and tendons aren’t fully mature. They get terrible injuries and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Yogi started rescuing horses from the track, and taking in all kinds of unwanted horses and ponies. Last I knew she had over twenty. She teaches kids in the community to handle and ride the horses for practically nothing. My friends and I would ride all over the island on trails and dirt roads. We had complete freedom by age 9. We’d fall, we’d get fucked up, all the girls I met at Yogi’s grew up to be tough as nails. Yogi funds the whole thing with her own money, and a few donations. She works at the vet college in the shipping department, and I remember her taking us to the college to learn about horse parasites. We’d look at these giant jars full of parasites in formaldehyde, and watch movies about animal husbandry and eat pizza. She would often take in Dutch vet students. The Dutch are really serious about agriculture I think, which is why a lot of them come over to Canada. I’m starting to dredge up really old weird memories. Goddamn it, Dan. I’m conjuring up a handsome Dutch icthyologist and now I’m going to move on to another question. Oh, but you can check out her website here.

When did you discover music and begin performing?

I grew up crazy about music. First it was oldies, then it was ’70s hard rock, then it was grunge. Once I hit grunge, around age 12, I started reading about the bands I loved and learning that they’d been heavily influenced by punk. There was a record shop on the Island, Back Alley Discs. Chaz who ran the place started recommending me punk records. I had a best friend, Erin, who was obsessed too. Her mom worked at a nature store, and I remember we went down in the basement of the shop, where Erin would often hang out, and we put on Plastic Surgery Disasters. That was the first time I heard the Dead Kennedys. After that we went to a lot of shows, and started ordering 7-inches that sounded cool from distro catalogs. The zine Slug & Lettuce was huge for me. There was a small but active scene on the island. I didn’t start playing in a band (although I’d had some guitar lessons) until I was 18, and I moved to Chicago (from Nashville Tennessee. Long story.) for school. I met the members of Coughs, the band I was in throughout most of my 20s, at Food Not Bombs. They had a try-out and I became their singer.

What was the arc of Coughs? Sometimes people tell me Coughs was/is legendary. Tell me more.  

27338-500I’m not sure who you’ve been talking to. Did Ethan D’Ercole (killer screenprinter!) tell you Coughs was legendary? We were around for about six years, and we definitely had fans in Chicago, who were mostly other musicians who played in bands that we were fans of. We were on Load Records, with great bands like Lightning Bolt, Brainbombs, Sightings and Scissor Girls. We did two LPs with Load. LPs I’m still pretty proud of. We started out practicing in this basement at a place called the Creative Resistance Artist Collective and playing places like the A-Zone (Autonomous Zone), which was an anarchist space with a zine library, to playing clubs and more traditional venues. We toured a fair amount, east and West Coast, and right as we were breaking up we toured the UK. I’m so thankful for my time in that band. I got to see the world and meet people in contexts I never could have imagined. There were six of us, all really strong personalities. The members of Coughs are wilder, weirder and more brilliant than any fictional characters I could create. We were all really young when we joined the band, and some of us needed to leave Chicago and try other things. We’ve mostly all kept playing music.

I first heard of your work from CF and Carlos Gonzales back in 2007. How did you encounter those guys?

I met those guys on tour. Our first tour, I think, was the East Coast. Providence, New York, Boston. It’s very very foggy. I didn’t book the shows so I don’t know who the original contact was. All I know is that we showed up to Providence and I’d never heard of Fort Thunder and I had no idea that Olneyville was home to so many of the world’s most brilliant cartoonists. It was probably the single most formative experience of my life. I had brought a bunch of my own shitty zines on tour and they were so gracious. They were like “oh cool, you make comics. We make comics too.” They treated me like an equal, even though they were leaps and bounds ahead of me. It meant everything. If someone comes up to you with their shitty zine, treat them kindly, for fuck’s sake.

You are, despite your personal shyness, a natural performer. Do you miss the stage? What is the best show you ever saw?

I did miss it terribly but I’m in a new band With Conor Stechschulte and Chris Day, two amazing artists, and our pal Kenny Rasmussen on drums. I think we’re gonna be called Lilac. Fuck you, Kenny, we’re called Lilac now, OK? Deal with it. Just kidding. Kenny’s not gonna read this. He’s lucky–he’s not a cartoonist. It’s really really hard to find a group of people you connect with personally and musically. When you do it’s precious. It’s really hard to let go, and there’s a grieving process when you break up. Dude that “best show you ever saw” shit is impossible. I have favorite moments. I remember CF hanging from the rafters of the Che Cafe in San Diego. I remember Mindflayer playing at the Texas Ballroom, and XBXRX at the Fireside Bowl and Neptune at some club in Boston and the USA is a Monster in the basement at Mister City and Sisterfucker at the Mopery and the White Mice at some bizarre frat house in Philly and Tinsel Teeth at a warehouse space in Providence-not sure which one. Those are some stand-out moments.

band-for-life-181I somehow don’t think Guntit is actually based on your own bands (or maybe….), but the member do fit some rock archetypes. Are you a reader of rock bios? If so, which is your fave?

The name Guntit is taken from a real band. Lale Westvind, Thomas Toye and Laura Perez Harris were all living in New York (Lale’s since moved to Philly) and they started a band. When I heard they were called Guntit I was like, “that’s the best band name ever.” You know, the reason most of us start cartooning is we’re in grade school and we draw our teachers boning or something and our classmates think it’s hilarious so we keep at it. I wanted to make Lale, Tom and Laura chuckle, because they’re some of the coolest people on the planet, so I drew this proto-Band For Life strip and that’s how it started. But all the characters are fictional in the sense that they’re 95% me, a sprinkle of my friends and a sprinkle of observation out in the world. As far as band bios, yeah, I read Come as You Are, the Story of Nirvana when I was a kid and that was a big deal, and Confusion is Next, the Sonic Youth Story. Get in the Van, the Rollins one, is great. I read White Line Fever, by Lemmy, while I was on tour once. That’s a great one for reading in the car cause the type is huge. And Patti Smith’s memoirs. I don’t know if I have a favorite, although the Nirvana one turned me on to a lot of other music. I did very consciously set up a rivalry between Annimal, the drummer in my book, and Linda, the frontwoman. I’ve always hated the Rolling Stones, but I find the rivalry between Richards and Jagger really entertaining in a camp way. So I sprinkled some of that in. But it’s just a fact that bands have conflict. I don’t know if collaboration can exist without conflict.

I assume you like hippies and punks, but if you had to choose, which would you take, and body aside, which cultural parts?

r-1984967-1256753789-gifMy philosophy is perfectly illustrated by the cover of the LP by the band Uncurbed. It’s a picture of a bunch of half-clothed hippies in a commune, but the music on the record is just super nasty and crusty metallic hardcore. They have a song called Liberation Hippies and one called Party Punx. They got it right. Since the turn of the century there’s been an unbroken thread of counter-cultural activity and awareness. It takes different forms but the differences are mostly aesthetic. Progressives know that those boundaries are arbitrary, and divisive. Yeah-I get it-punks are supposed to hate hippies ‘cause hippies were all about doing drugs and burning out and they didn’t effect the social change they were supposed to, and it’s punk to hate your parents etc…The fact is, I hate all codified subcultures. I do and say and think what the fuck I want, and I dress however I want, and I recognize that everyone involved in any countercultural struggle is an ally. Janis Joplin was punk as fuck. Aesthetically I have to say my favorite decade is the 70’s.

Dogs. Tell me about dogs.

Dogs are disgusting and I wish I didn’t love them so much. Mine is getting old, which is really hard on a big dog. Her hind legs are getting weak. Pets are tragic.

Who do you think draws the best animals in comics?

I’ll tell you who draws the best animals but she’s not specifically a cartoonist. Kathleen Hale, author of the Orlando the Marmalade Cat series from the 1930-3-70’s. Her illustrations are stunning. Also, I’ve been reading about Jack Yeats, WB Yeats’ brother. He was an illustrator and cartoonist. He did a lot of drawings for this magazine called Paddock Life. His horses are amazing. So are Lautrec’s. There’s the whole school of “half animal, half people” cartooning. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat wins that contest. Brian Blomerth’s “Pups in Trouble” comics are lovely. Gilbert Shelton’s Wonder Warthog is great. Leslie Weibeler draws really good animals too.

Kathleen Hale, A Bicycle Made for Five, circa 1938.

Kathleen Hale, A Bicycle Made for Five, circa 1938.

Do you have any experience with the prison system?

No, and I felt a little weird about representing it, even briefly, in my book. I was institutionalized as a teen after a suicide attempt. That was my only experience of being held against my will, and having no autonomy whatsoever. Being told what to wear, being physically restrained etc… But I know it’s far different-I would never compare that experience to what people deal with in prison. I think our prison system is racist and irreparably flawed, and that it needs to be dismantled. I had my characters meet in prison because I wanted to illustrate their inability to function in conventional society, but one is coming from a place of uncontrolled, self- destructive anger and the other is acting specifically in protest. And there’s a B movie “women in prison” trope that I wanted to explore, because the book is very much about loving trash culture. Specifically Reform School Girls with Wendy O Williams, who’s a hero of mine.

band-for-life-215Do you care about artistic communities? Do they matter?

Yeah. I’ve always been interested in the idea of intentional communities. I’ve never tried living in a communal setting but I can tell you my personality really wouldn’t jive with it. I love hearing about Ida, for instance, the intentional queer community in Tennessee. I have some friends in New Mexico who all bought land right next to each other and are building Earth ships. They’re heroes. I’m an only child and I grew up pretty solitary. I’m not great at sharing, and I like to work alone. But I live within walking distance of  friends, and I love being in close proximity to them. It’s a fact that I would have nothing without the artists I’ve met over the years. Artistic community has really been everything to me.

Do you think we need a more robust ecosystem for comics? You seem pretty self-sufficient — always have — but do you feel like there’s a place where your work goes and reaches an audience?

I don’t know Dan. I mean, it’s easy to romanticize the days when print was stronger and there were more paying venues for cartoonists and illustrators. I’m really wary of nostalgia, and I can’t say if that was a better time because I wasn’t there. But yeah, I wish there was more distribution for comics these days, and I wish there were more newspapers and magazines that paid artists. I don’t think there’s much of an audience for my work, and I don’t care. You know what there is an audience for? Books about weddings and food. Pictures of cats in funny costumes. Pictures of celebrities at the beach. That’s OK. This world is absolutely, unconscionably terrifying. If you’ve had a hard day and you want to look at a picture of a butt in a thong, I’ll be the last person to criticize. The people who appreciate my work seem to find it. That’s amazing, and I’m very thankful. I’m obsessed with the book No Hidden Meanings by Sheldon Kopp. It’s kind of an atheist’s bible. It’s a list of precepts. 12, 13 and 14 say it all. “It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.” “You don’t really control anything.” “You can’t make anyone love you.”

bandfinal178Is page 178 basically your daily dilemma? 

Yes 100%. Being an artist can seem frivolous in light of how much healing the world needs. And I’m constantly being reminded of how insignificant I am, and how small the audience is for my work, and agonizing over whether I should have become a therapist or a teacher or a ceramicist. But I do think art is a necessity. I think it’s a spiritual need for human beings. I mean, there was a lot going on thirty-thousand years ago. You wouldn’t think that Paleolithic people would have a pressing need to paint horses and rhinos in the Chauvet cave but there they are. They had religious significance, they were an attempt to understand and influence the natural world. Am I comparing the success of my work to that of the Chauvet cave? Fuck no. I’m just saying that some people are compelled to make art and I’m one of them and I wish I could stop but I can’t. There’s also a part in the book where Linda says “sometimes I feel like I’m not living up to my full potential and other times I’m just thankful I’m not lying in a ditch drinking paint thinner.” That’s me too. Sometimes I’m just amazed I didn’t have to be institutionalized for my entire life. My psyche is kinda fragile. I think I’m doing the best I can.

Your comics have always been amazingly hopeful right alongside the crotchety humor. What gives you such optimism?

I’m very privileged.  I’ve had so much love and support from family and friends. I truly know what it feels like to give and receive love. I know the power of love. Plus, check out Kopp’s precepts #23, 24 and 25: “Progress is an illusion” “Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.” “Yet it is necessary to keep on struggling toward solution.” “

band-for-life-162It strikes me that you’re doing a kind of slice o’ life comics almost like American Splendor or something. Whatever comes to mind comes out of the character’s mouths. They are distinctly characters, but you channel your observations through them. They all can’t help but comment on everything from age to sex to urban life. Why funnel that through these monster/SF characters?

Ha! I’ve been asking myself the same thing. I thought for a while that it was more interesting to draw monsters than people, but I’m starting to change my tune. I wanted it to be a visual joke, really deadpan. I thought the incongruity would be funny-that you see these outrageous looking characters talking about really mundane shit. I was influenced by Melvin Monster, which you turned me onto, where there’s a monster world and a human world and the fabric between them is really thin and porous, and you can kind of step back and forth between them. And I was tremendously influenced by Brinkman and Chippendale, who do a lot of that. And I wanted to make a joke about the B movie “monsters and babes” trope, where the slimy monster carries off this gorgeous babe. I thought, “what if the monster and the babe lived happily ever after, in a really egalitarian relationship?” And then I got frustrated, ‘cause I was like “how can I address these really pressing, real-world issues like killer racist cops, if everyone’s green and orange etc…” That’s why I chose to try a different approach with Lovers in the Garden, my book that’s coming out from Retrofit in November.

band-for-life-89I was struck that by how casually you set up relationships between different species/same sexes, etc. And that they are all based on intense conversations and proclamations. It brings to mind, actually. Philip Roth, who you reference. Tell me about depicting love/sex/devotion. And Roth, too? 

I often wish that I was better at depicting sex explicitly. You know who’s incredible at that? Conor Stechschulte. His Generous Bosom  comics depict the weirdness and mechanics of sex so explicitly and brilliantly. Relationships and sex always surprise me. The way you can find yourself profoundly attracted to someone with whom you have nothing in common. The way you can be madly in love with someone you’re not attracted to. How you can end up in bed with someone unexpectedly. How you can be tormented for years with dreams about an ex, even in a happy relationship. It was important to me to try and depict devotion because capitalist culture always wants you to be looking at young flesh, new flesh. It’s kind of subversive to try and figure out how non-traditional couples can survive and thrive over the long term. I read some Philip Roth right after college. Portnoy’s Complaint, Exit Ghost, Goodbye Columbus. I tried to read Our Gang but couldn’t get into it. I liked Portnoy’s Complaint a lot but the Breast is my favorite. It’s such a stupid idea-this man physically becomes a breast. It’s in the tradition of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Gogol’s The Nose, so there’s definitely a precedent, but it’s so outrageous and he plays it so straight and it ends up being profoundly affecting. He takes his outrageous premise seriously and pushes it as far as it can possibly go. That’s what great sci-fi writers do. And I applaud his agenda-I read that he was really into busting up the stereotype of the effete Jewish intellectual man. He wanted to give Jewish men their sexuality back. That’s hot. 

band-for-life-142Tell me about your SF love. It’s been present the last few years in force. It seems both literary and visual and musical. What regions does it space? Like, concept records, Star Trek, LeGuin, etc?

My Sci-Fi love is deep and wide and all-encompassing, and has been ever since I can remember. David Cronenberg is probably my favorite director. His movies have this incredibly astute psychological sensibility-Movies like The Brood and Dead Ringers really tackle the horror of living in a female body in a way that few directors can match. I love Rodney Matthews and Roger Dean as psychedelic sci-fi album cover artists, and Robert Beatty is carrying on that tradition. I love Space is the Place, the Sun Ra movie, and everything about George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and the artists they worked with like Pedro Bell, Overton Lloyd and Ronald “Stozo” Edwards. Star Trek is perfect-As a kid I watched the original series. Battlestar Galactica is a huge favorite. Farscape is the best. I like the Left Hand of Darkness a lot. I was really into Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy and the Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk as a teenager. The Fifth Sacred Thing is interesting because it’s one of the few novels that imagines what a utopian futuristic community would look like. It’s a lot of guilt-free group sex and crystal healing which, come on, who doesn’t want that? I’m fascinated with Martine Rothblatt and other transhumanists, even though I think transhumanism is fatally flawed for reasons I won’t go into here. I’m not so much into hard sci-fi like Asimov and stuff. I can appreciate that stuff but I’m more into the psychological drama of space travel, and the ways we can use sci-fi to better understand our present. And I’m in love with Lane Milburn, who’s a sci-fi cartoonist. Sometimes he wakes up and tells me he’s dreamt about space colonies, or just flying through the vastness of space. I think he might have traveled here from another dimension.

This book is a collection of serialized strips — so nearly every strip has a punchline. Was that a challenge you made for yourself? To tell complete vignettes in each strip rather than focus exclusively on serialization?

No no that was all dictated to me by Nick Gazin, the comics editor at VICE, where the strip first appeared. He explicitly stated that every strip should end with a cliffhanger or a punchline. The whole form of the book-the fact that the story is told in strips, is because of the parameters around that gig. Even after the strip got axed from VICE I maintained that format because it was a really interesting challenge. I still don’t know if I’m funny, but I entertain myself. Sheldon Kopp, precept #30: “We have only ourselves, and one another. That might not be much, but that’s all there is.”


Your palette reminds me in some ways of all things great and glorious about our lord and savior Karl Wirsum. You come to color (I guess) as a print maker. How’s the difference like between printing color and using markers?

Karl Wirsum is a divine being, and I think he was super influenced by advertising, sign painting and other mass-distributed print media. I definitely come to my palette through printmaking, specifically 4 color process printing, or CMYK printing. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, key. Key is usually black. And then you get great secondary colors when you overlap those primary colors. Markers don’t have the same flatness, and I cheated. I had, like, a few different blues, I had a red marker and a magenta marker. I didn’t limit my palette quite as much as I do when I’m printmaking, but it’s still pretty limited.

Also: Replacements or Husker Du or both? There’s no wrong answer. 

Husker Du. Zen Arcade is such a genius record. This might be controversial, but I just can’t get into the Replacements.


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Jonah Kinigstein’s Savage TRUMP http://www.tcj.com/jonah-kinigsteins-savage-trump/ http://www.tcj.com/jonah-kinigsteins-savage-trump/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96681 Continue reading ]]> Jonah Kinigstein certainly embodies the single virtue that Donald Trump apparently values above all others: stamina. Not to mention indignation, which Kinigstein also has in spades. At age 94, Kinigstein isn’t slowing down. Given that the artist specializes in producing cartoons that excoriate public figures that he considers dangerous, stupid, and repugnant, it is not surprising that he was recently inspired by the current presidential election to unleash his full wrath upon the Republican candidate — Donald Trump.

Kinigstein works in the scorched earth tradition of such 18th and 19th century cartoonists as James Gillray, George Cruikshank, and Joseph Keppler, and embraces their somewhat rococo pen and ink technique as well as their penchant to exaggerate the grotesque (but not, in this instance by much). He does so with brio and passion equal to theirs, and if his images will not sway those still straddling the fence, those implausible undecided voters, they may give solace to the frustrated and deliver some much need humor to the agog.

A collection of Kinigstein’s cartoons savaging modern art and its enablers was published in 2014 (The Emperor’s New Clothes) and a new collection will appear from FU Press in 2018. A short interview about Kinigstein’s Trump cartoons follows.– Gary Groth

By way of prelude, by my estimation, you have been of voting age in at least 19 United States presidential elections. Have you ever experienced anything like this one? Does any public political event come close?

Of all of the Presidential elections, I have voted in, this guy, Donald Trump, is the personification of EVIL.  He’s a racist, Fascist, Nazi. redneck, liar, libertine, and a bully. It appears that he believes you can fool ALL of the People ALL of the time. This Joe Six Pack believes in the idea that if you say something LONG ENOUGH and LOUD ENOUGH it becomes true. He shoots from the hip thinking every male has the same predatory libido that he has. He wants to get rid of Mexican rapists and thieves when he himself is the worst rapist and thief of them all. When he is accused by his victims he shirks it off as though he is incapable of doing or saying these things.

His slogan of “Make America Great Again” is pure garbage. America is as GREAT as it will ever be right NOW!  Perhaps he wants to return to a time when African Americans sang, “I got plenty of nothin’ and nothin’ is plenty for me.”

This lowlife thinks he can stoop to the lowest form of transgressions and wants you to believe everyone really wants to be just like him. He is the most unethical animal that has ever run for President. I can’t recall any public political event that has come close to this, except perhaps when Hitler was running.


Pundits have been writing endlessly about Trump for a year now. Tell me what you find so uniquely odious about him?

This guy has the impression that below the surface everyone has the same ugly desires as he has and that he is the only one who acts on them. He wants everyone to join him.

Can you describe your own politics? Have they evolved over the last 75 years? Did you vote for FDR?

I voted for FDR and since then no one has been able to replace him.  I was disappointed when Adlai Stevenson lost the election to Eisenhower; he could have been a great president.

As far as I know, you had no plan to release these cartoons publicly. Did you draw these cartoons for yourself? What motivated you to express all this in isolation, as it were? Was it just an inner compulsion? Were you trying to purge your anger? 

I made these cartoons for myself, family and a few friends. I sent some to Hillary’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. I was very angry that this ass won the primaries. I asked myself what has happened to this country, especially after electing Obama twice. I was a very proud American then.

These drawings are looser and rougher —less refined— than your earlier cartoons about modernist artists (The Emperor’s New Clothes). It’s almost as if you were drawing faster than usual because you couldn’t wait to get to the next one. As someone who knows you, you don’t appear manic, but there’s something manic about these images. Am I mistaken? 

Yes, that is true. These drawings are less refined and more direct. The drawings were made with no previous draft, they were done once on paper. It’s true I couldn’t get to the next one fast enough. I didn’t want an elegance that finds itself when copied with a pencil drawing underneath.

What’s with the pitchfork-in-the-head motif?

The pitchfork in the hair refers to his bale-of-hay hair when Rosie O’Donnell aped him on TV a awhile ago.

kinig-trump-1 kinig-trump-17 kinig-trump-16 kinig-trump-15 kinig-trump-14 kinig-trump-13 kinig-trump-12 kinig-trump-11 kinig-trump-10 kinig-trump-9 kinig-trump-8 kinig-trump-7 kinig-trump-6 kinig-trump-5 kinig-trump-4 kinig-trump-3 kinig-trump-2

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Satire, Business, and the AAEC 2016 Convention http://www.tcj.com/satire-business-and-the-aaec-2016-convention/ http://www.tcj.com/satire-business-and-the-aaec-2016-convention/#respond Fri, 28 Oct 2016 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95860 Continue reading ]]> The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) has been meeting annually since it was formed in 1957. Their sixtieth meeting was held September 22nd-24th in Durham, North Carolina, in conjunction with Duke University’s Satire Festival. During the opening reception, show co-organizer J.P. Trostle said, “Wow, North Carolina is hell-bent on making this one of the most interesting and timely conventions we’ve ever had.” Trostle was referring not just to the passage of the odious anti-trans law HB2, but also to yet another victim of police violence, this time in nearby Charlotte. Indeed, there was some internal debate within the AAEC as to whether the festival should be held in Durham, given HB2, but it was decided that an organization whose purpose is to make pointed political commentary would be an ideal match for this controversy.

Opening reception at the Dwane Powell Retrospective in the Power Plant Gallery in Durham, NC. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

Opening reception at the Dwane Powell Retrospective in the Power Plant Gallery in Durham, NC. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

What interested me most about this festival was what factors went into it being considered a success. Editorial cartooning jobs have been shrinking steadily for years as newspapers fold and budgets decree that such posts are luxuries for the survivors. Of course, people have been shoveling dirt on the relevancy of political cartoons as early as the founding of the organization, and yet it continues to adapt and persevere. From the heydey of alt-weeklies in the ’80s to the movement to the web and multimedia platforms in the last few decades, editorial cartooning’s ability to provoke with a stark image is still powerful and threatening, a fact reinforced when one considers the fate of many such cartoonists around the globe.

Social media panel with AAEC President Adam Zyglis, The Nib's Matt Bors, Washington Post's Ann Telnaes and Joel Pett. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

Social media panel with AAEC President Adam Zyglis, The Nib’s Matt Bors, Washington Post’s Ann Telnaes and Joel Pett. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The AAEC convention has been held all over the continent throughout its history, making stops in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Chicago and Toronto, among many others. The nature of each convention depends not only on its location, but also the level of interactivity between the cartoonists and local institutions. For the festival in Durham, success was going to be defined as a close working relationship between the 74 cartoonists in attendance and the school, especially since Duke was not only hosting nearly every event, but was also a major sponsor of the convention. As such, the AAEC programming was both topical and often directly aimed at the students.

The HB2 panel discussion. The 2016 Political Cartoon & Satire Festival took place in a dozen locations across Duke University and Durham. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The HB2 panel discussion. The 2016 Political Cartoon & Satire Festival took place in a dozen locations across Duke University and Durham. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The meat of the AAEC programming was a slate of panels held in a theater on Duke’s campus. The subjects ranged from craft-related topics to larger political issues, and true to the AAEC’s history, the ideas came from both sides of the political aisle. For example, there was a panel called “Finding The Elephant’s Funny Bone”, which was about humor from a Republication perspective. There were panels on cartooning in the age of social media (both in dealing with online fallout and integrating it into one’s platform), the craft of caricature (especially in an election year), and the issues surrounding satirizing two huge targets in that race. The “Bathroom Banter” panel included cartoonists and a reporter discussing the issue, and the fact that this was a local matter made the interaction with the audience particularly lively. The panel went into specific detail about why HB2 is a poor piece of legislation qua legislation, and how it’s simply a thinly-disguised way of garnering socially conservative voters in an election year.

The cartoons & cops panel was a powerful highlight, with Jim Coleman, Senator Mike Woodard, Keith Knight and Darrin Bell. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The cartoons & cops panel was a powerful highlight, with Jim Coleman, Senator Mike Woodard, Keith Knight and Darrin Bell. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The panel titled “Black and Blue: Cartooning #BlackLivesMatter and Policing” seethed with rage and tension, coming as it did just a few days after the slaying of Keith Scott by the police in Charlotte. On the panel were Darrin Bell (cartoonist for The Washington Post and the creator of the strip Candorville), Keith Knight (the artist behind long-running features (th)ink, K Chronicles, and The Knight Life), North Carolina senator Mike Woodard, and moderator Jim Coleman of Duke’s law school. Bell had actually stopped doing political cartoons quite some time ago, until the murder of Mike Brown spurred him to get back on the scene. Knight’s chronicles of police brutality have been voluminous enough to merit an entire collection, titled They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? He did a short version of the slideshow that he’s lately been performing live, one that is regrettably already out of date, thanks to recent events in places like Charlotte and Tulsa.

The most poignant segments of the panel were the stories that Knight and Bell told of the first time they understood they were being targeted by police because of their skin color. Knight was a young man with dreadlocks putting up flyers for a rap gig, and was detained by a police officer who was looking for a robber with the description “black male, no other identifier.” Bell was a child when he had a toy water gun taken out of his hands by a white police officer and never returned to him. Up to that time, he had wanted to be a cop himself. Knight didn’t mince words, and said that even if black people did everything right, they were still getting shot. It was noted that change would take more than simply altering methods at police academies (though that might help); it would take a federally-funded initiative to teach classes about race in public schools. Senator Woodard was very much on their side, bitterly noting that the sort of legislature he’d like to introduce in the state congress would be laughed out of the session by the Tea Party-dominated group. Overall, Knight and Bell were resigned to keep calling out the same problems over and over again, while trying to be as funny as possible while doing it. During the Q&A, Trostle said to Bell that “a year ago, when we first planned this panel, I didn’t think it would be so timely.” Bell replied, “I did.”

Trump was everywhere: Politico's Matt Wuerker version (left) and how GADO sees the GOP candidate. The International Ink panel included co-host Kal Kallaugher, Rayma Suprani (with translator) and GADO. Photos by J.P. Trostle.

Trump was everywhere: Politico’s Matt Wuerker version (left) and how GADO sees the GOP candidate. The International Ink panel included co-host Kal Kallaugher, Rayma Suprani (with translator) and GADO. Photos by J.P. Trostle and Nik Kowsar, respectively.

If Knight and Bell showed how speaking truth to power can be a dicey proposition, the “International Ink” panel made that even clearer. Rayma Suprani of Venezuela, GADO of Kenya, and Rod Emmerson of New Zealand each spoke extensively about the unique challenges facing their nations and the blowback and threats they’ve received while addressing them. Suprani was fired in 2014, after nineteen years from her paper El Universal, for publishing a clever cartoon critical of deceased former president Hugo Chavez. She eventually left the country after fielding some not-so-veiled threats. Her work is colorful, clever, and uses a thick line weight to bring home her points. GADO, originally from Tanzania and one of the most important and popular cartoonists in east and central Africa, was also fired by his paper after criticizing the government. GADO’s skill with pen and ink is staggering, and his work is very much in the tradition of US cartoonists like Tom Toles and Pat Oliphant. The main difference is that he’s even blunter and meaner than those two legends, and that attitude extends to his use of puppets and animation to reach a larger audience. Rod Emmerson of New Zealand by way of Australia spoke of the way that some of his cartoons offended foreign nations but that he felt lucky that his paper always had his back. There’s no question that all three cartoonists would be major heavyweights in the US, and listening to each of them discuss the state of freedom of the press in their countries was sobering.

Cartoonists and Duke University Improv (DUI) play off each other in an epic comedy showdown. Kal Kallaugher, David Horsey, Rob Rogers and Cullum Rogers (no relation) fire off a stack of sketches on stage. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle

Cartoonists and Duke University Improv (DUI) play off each other in an epic comedy showdown. Kal Kallaugher, David Horsey, Rob Rogers and Cullum Rogers (no relation) fire off a stack of sketches on stage. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle

The student-oriented programming included two lunchtime cartooning sessions on a heavily-trafficked student plaza, a cookout with students from Duke’s public policy school, and a two-hour student workshop on visual storytelling. The most amusing interaction between students and cartoonists came during a Thursday night show that featured Duke’s sketch and improv groups. Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, one of the organizers, warmed up the crowd with a political caricature chalk talk that was piled high with one-liners. Later on, the cartoonists drew things for the improv team to react to, and then competed against students in a drawing contest. The shtick of that bit was the cartoonists handicapping themselves by various methods: drawing with their non-dominant hands, drawing with an lobster oven mitt on, drawing blind, and drawing with both hands behind their backs. The facility of artists like Rob Rogers, Pulitzer-winning David Horsey, and local cartoonist V. Cullum Rogers despite these impositions was remarkable. While this show held in a large auditorium was far from full, most of the audience was comprised of students, which was certainly a major goal.

"Night of The Simpsons" was one of the festival's best-attended events. From left to right: Bill Adair, Caroline Omine, Jeff Westbrook and Stewart Burns. Photo credit: Scott Burns.

“Night of The Simpsons” was one of the festival’s best-attended events. From left to right: Bill Adair, Caroline Omine, Jeff Westbrook and Stewart Burns. Photo credit: Scott Burns.

The big ticket events, as it were, came from Duke’s end of the Satire Festival. “Night Of The Simpsons” was the big draw on the second night of the festival, featuring Simpsons writers Caroline Omine, Jeff Westbrook, and Stewart Burns, and moderated by Duke professor Bill Adair. This was very much a craft- and process-related affair that nonetheless drew a large crowd, many of them undergrads who were undoubtedly interested in just how a writer’s room works. Writers on the show have a near-total lock on what actually is said and appears on the screen, with the artists given a little wiggle room to add background details. I asked a question regarding the legacy of the show and what kind of pressure the writers might feel, since people have been saying that The Simpsons stopped being good since the beginning of season two, and that everyone had a different cut-off point. Omine replied that her nephews were old enough to watch the show now, and they loved the speed and pace of the most recent seasons. When she showed them early-season episodes, they thought it looked and sounded weird, and there were fewer jokes landed per minutes. She acknowledged that The Simpsons changed the entire game with regard to American comedy, and what was subversive twenty-five years ago is simply default comedy today. Their duty now is simply to write the best gags possible.

The final event of the festival, "Facts and Comedy", also drew a solid crowd. From left to right: Naureen Kahn, Ishan Thakore, Adam Chodikoff, Bill Adair. Photo credit: Scott Burns.

The final event of the festival, “Facts and Comedy”, also drew a solid crowd. From left to right: Naureen Kahn, Ishan Thakore, Adam Chodikoff, Bill Adair. Photo credit: Scott Burns.

Speaking of “inside baseball” craft discussions, the big event on Saturday, “Facts And Comedy”, featured fascinating details surrounding fact-checking and late-night comedy shows Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and The Daily Show. Once again moderated by Adair and featuring a trio of Duke graduates (Ishan Thakore, Naureen Kahn, and Adam Chodikoff) who are researchers and fact-checkers for those shows, the presentation was chock full of details about how a feature story gets made for the show. They screened a scene where Thakore was on-site with Bee during a non-ironic welcoming of Trump voters, trying to fact-check so many absurd things from those voters that he wound up hyperventilating into a paper bag. Thakore said that he had Kahn with him and would yell to get on the computer and check a fact for him as quickly as possible. Thakore and Kahn also talked about the research done for a hilarious, biting piece on how the Religious Right in America sprang up in the early 1970s. It wasn’t about abortion–it was about segregation at Bob Jones University. All three fact-checkers noted that they’ve had to pour cold water on many a story from an excited writer and even the host, because they didn’t want to use the same tactics as explicitly partisan shows in using half-truths or distortions. Chodikoff even had practical advice for the undergraduates hungry for jobs like his: read Variety and The Hollywood Reporter‘s want ads, and then be in the right place at the right time. Virtually all of the programming is available to watch online at the Duke POLIS YouTube channel.

In addition to the festival’s events, there were various exhibits in conjunction with the festival that highlighted local artists and solicited a wide range of opinions regarding key topics. They made a powerful argument for editorial cartooning as an art and not just a political tool. I’m not only speaking of craft, though one look at the exhibits made it clear that a number of the cartoonists whose work was on display were every bit as good as any other cartoonists in the world. Even working within certain restraints and expectations, I found it remarkable just how much self-expression still went into these drawings, and how the different strategies employed revealed different things about each artist. Regardless of whether or not the cartoonist was creating explicitly autobiographical work, their drawings revealed a great deal about themselves as well as the times they live in.

V. Cullum Rogers points out a few favorites in his show at Bull City Arts Collaborative. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

V. Cullum Rogers points out a few favorites in his show at Bull City Arts Collaborative. Photo credits: Scott Burns and Nick Kowsar, respectively.

V. Cullum Rogers had a career retrospective with a focus on his developing skill as an artist over the years. Longtime Raleigh News & Observer editorial cartoonist Dwane Powell also had a career retrospective covering the last forty years, a time when the state of North Carolina made tremendous, progressive strides while also dealing with reactionary forces in the form of Senator Jesse Helms, current Governor Pat McCrory, and the sitting legislature. The state’s underlying racial tension and history of activism, the stark differences between its urban and rural areas, and shifting sets of priorities have made it a microcosm of larger issues affecting the entire country.

Shots from the HB2 exhibit "Bathroom Humor": Signe Wikinson (left), and co-host J.P. Trostle's homage to Marcel Duchamp, with a caricature of NC governor Pat McCrory. Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

Shots from the HB2 exhibit “Bathroom Humor”: Signe Wikinson (left), and co-host J.P. Trostle’s homage to Marcel Duchamp, with a caricature of NC governor Pat McCrory. Photo credit: Scott Burns.

That was made clear by the “Bathroom Humor” exhibit, which was a selection of editorial cartoons regarding HB2. It’s always exciting to see a wide variety of drawing styles, techniques, and philosophies. There were old-school editorial “labelers,” pen-and-ink stalwarts, artists who did it all digitally, artists who relied on color, etc. This is a uniquely meaty editorial topic because on the one hand, the rationale given by the governor is indefensible by any legal standard and incredibly poorly-thought out. It’s also embarrassing to the state at large, not only in terms of reputation but also in terms of economics, thanks to lost revenue due to business pulling out. At the same time, it’s incredibly timely and emotionally powerful issue to consider as LGBT rights are still in their relative infancy in this country, and this is a direct attack. The fact that the legislature sneaked in anti-employee rights laws on a rider makes the bill all the more cynical, as one gets that sense that they don’t even really have the courage of their convictions. The cartoons in the exhibit called McCrory and the legislature out on just that fact, with some truly biting imagery. V.C Rogers curated this exhibit, while Trostle co-curated the Powell exhibit, among the many things they did behind the scenes for the show.

The cartoonists take in "This Campaign is YUUUGE" (left); Duke students take in the live cartooning on the plaza (right). Photo credit: J.P. Trostle.

The cartoonists take in “This Campaign is YUUUGE” (left); Duke students take in the live cartooning on the plaza (right). Photo credits: Scott Burns and J.P. Trostle, respectively.

Even without all the local intrigue, this was an AAEC convention held during a presidential election year, which meant there were some fireworks. The fact that it was held during possibly the weirdest election of all time in the US only gave the cartoonists more material to work with on both sides of the aisle, and that could be seen in the exhibit “This Campaign Is Yuuuge!: Cartoonists Tackle The 2016 Presidential Race”, curated by Rob Rogers. The irony of the exhibit, and perhaps the entire event as a whole, is that no matter how absurd the cartoonists got in their satire, the actual reality of the campaign has managed to consistently top that level of absurdity. While satire is needed more than ever in a time when Hillary Clinton’s hand in making the primaries go her way, and when Donald Trump abandoned the slightest pretense of tact, dignity, or being grounded in reality, it’s getting more and more difficult for the satirists to keep up. Still, the mere fact that Trump has chillingly hinted at shutting down his many editorial critics if he’s elected president is a stark reminder of what’s at stake, especially as so many cartoonists are putting their lives on the line in places like Africa, the Middle East, and Malaysia. The art of editorial cartooning is very much still alive, even if the business of editorial cartooning continues to look for solid ground on shifting sands.

The author would like to thank J.P. Trostle for providing access to the show, logistical support, advice, photos, editing suggestions and all-around helpfulness. 

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kuš! Aesthetics http://www.tcj.com/kus-aesthetics/ http://www.tcj.com/kus-aesthetics/#respond Thu, 27 Oct 2016 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95447 Continue reading ]]> sh-cover-25Since 2007, the Latvian publisher Kuš! has been releasing a steady stream of short form (and mini-sized) alternative works from all over the world. Basically the only comics publisher in a country without a comics tradition, they’ve worked from the outset as an aggregater of writing and drawing practices ranging all along the art comic spectrum. So it is perhaps a logical continuation that the latest issue of their š anthology explores the process of being influenced by and appropriating a foreign tradition, namely manga. Kuš!’s David Schilter, along with co-editor Berliac (who drew the issue’s cover and is featured inside) talk about what it means to be a “Gaijin Mangaka”.

JOSSELIN MONEYRON: What gave you the idea for this issue’s theme?

DAVID SCHILTER: I honestly can’t remember. It seems like we were talking about it for quite a while. We enjoy doing things a bit different once in a while. Instead of asking artists to submit works on a certain theme, this time we invited people who are influenced by manga, and gave them free hand on what the stories can be about.

BERLIAC: Since it’s manga, it’s probable I brought up the idea. I liked the cohesiveness of “Female Secrets” and “Desassosego” (Portuguese) specials of Kuš! Would you say you also saw this “cohesiveness” among our chosen artists, before this issue? Or did it come as a surprise as we began making the selection?

David: I did see it among certain artists from previous issues, like Hetamoé, Mickey Zacchilli and Dilraj Mann. But it was a very exciting process to find more artists with similar influences. A lot of time spent on tumblr…

Art by Mickey Zacchilli

Art by Mickey Zacchilli

Josselin: How did Berliac end up co-editing?

David: As the idea was initiated by Berliac, it was clear from the beginning, he’d be part of it. Early on he suggested many names to include, and I often consulted him about my own proposals. At a certain point Berliac said he’ll want to get some credit, and then I suggested he’ll be the co-editor. From that on we worked closely on the whole issue.

Berliac: By credit I meant money, cash, dinero, but David completely misunderstood, or pretended to misunderstand. But anyways, I did remember David’s confession, during my “artist” residency in Riga in 2014, that he didn’t have much knowledge of manga beyond Tezuka and a few more. Therefore, he couldn’t have done this alone. Or maybe I should say that since I came with the idea and I’m a control freak, I’d never allow him to publish just any cartoonist. As a matter of fact, we don’t even like the same kind of comics, which was part of the challenging, fun part.

David: This is all true, though I honestly don’t think I knew any manga by Tezuka. Maybe the only mangakas I could name and have read were Yuichi Yokoyama and Kiriko Nananan. By now I tried to catch up a bit, particularly with publications by Breakdown Press and PictureBox.

Art by Andrés Magán

Art by Andrés Magán

Josselin: How were the authors selected? What were the aesthetic or narrative criteria that led to this line-up? A couple of stories seem very far from what we think of as “manga style”, especially once you’ve added color. What links them to the others?

Berliac: Personally speaking, I don’t believe there’s such thing as a “manga style”, therefore my criteria was actually to publish works which support my argument. Manga’s vocabulary is extremely broad, and all artists breath in and employ different elements. Color is still one of them: far from conflicting, GG’s use of red, for dramatic effect, is totally reminiscent of Seiichi Hayashi, and Andrés Magán’s color palette is clearly trying to emulate the 4-color process in which early children’s manga by Suiho Tagawa and Shigeru Sugiura were printed. Dilraj Mann, on his side, abandoned dynamic page layouts and angle variation commonly associated with modern manga, and instead went for an 1950’s Gekiga grid, and for the content he draws directly from the Kaiju (giant monster) tradition, from Godzilla to Kengo Hanazawa’s ongoing “I am a hero”. So yeah, what links them to the rest is the common denominator: they’re clearly influenced by manga.

Art by Dilraj Mann.

Art by Dilraj Mann.

David: I am not too interested in “classical” manga, I prefer those with a more experimental approach. I tried to select people who could also be included in a regular kuš! Issue. So, in a way, we got a broad range of very different styles, but still, each contribution has a clear manga influence and together they make a consistent book, I feel, that very much fits the kuš! aesthetics.

Josselin: The title “Gaijin Mangaka”, which has a very vague literal meaning, makes clever use of how these Japanese words have acquired a more specific meaning once extracted from their original cultural setting. Is it a term sometimes used by some of these artists to try and define their sensibility?

David: It took us a while to come up with a summarizing title, and it was a challenge to not choose something plain silly. First we even thought, we could give the artists a theme, but then we just wanted to leave the contents completely to them. At one time I came up with the idea of “Foreign Manga”. Google helped me to translate it to “Gaijin”. Berliac uses “Gaijin Gekiga” as his header on his website, so with slight adjustments we got our title. Though Berliac said “Gaijin” is often used as derogative term, so we did have some slight reservations.

Berliac: My Japanese friends explained to me that the term Gaijin was “extracted from its original cultural setting”, in which it had racist connotations, by foreigners living in Japan to refer to themselves. So, I don’t know about the other artists, but when it comes to defining my own work, I don’t have any reservations, quite the opposite, I gladly see myself as an outsider, and make it an identity factor in my own work. One of the nicest “fan mail” I’ve ever received was from Japan, from a man saying he could certainly trace Yoshiharu Tsuge’s influence in my work, but at the same time he enjoyed learning about my own cultural background and experiences. Isn’t this a bit like immigrating? I learn your visual grammar as fluently as possible, to tell you about myself, to connect, and I learn about your own culture in the process.

Art by GG.

Art by GG.

Josselin: Do some of these authors feel like they belong to a community of thought?

Berliac: Maybe, as long as you don’t mean a clear, conscious, willful, long-term association. I’ve talked to some of them about this, and mostly they seemed quite disconnected from each other, beyond having seen each other’s work online, and maybe traded publications once in a while. This is neither good, nor bad, and as a matter of fact, I don’t think it’s our duty, as authors, to consciously gather, or even to be clear about what is it that we share. That’s the duty of, well, people like David, who work full time to provide spaces (publications, galleries, festivals, articles) which would evidence this partially-visible threads in a more intelligible way for the public.

David: In a way, kuš! provides a platform for artists to meet, so maybe this issue does lead to a connectedness of sorts for these artists in future.

Josselin: There’s an almost ostentatious will not to feature purely mimetic artists, of the so-called otaku sort. Is it just because of your own taste, or was it thematically important to feature only artists whose interest in manga doesn’t supersede their other sources of inspiration? (in other words: why did you feel it was more interesting to feature artists whose style is a hybrid?)

David: We didn’t think about artists which we did not want to include, but rather, whom we wanted to feature. I personally prefer works which have some sort of personality, an artist doing their “own thing”. In the end it probably comes down to a matter of taste, I just can’t get excited about otaku manga – admittedly I had to look up this term first.

Berliac: That’s right. Despite we were indeed concerned with attaining a certain balance (a balance which is present in all of Kuš! issues, for example when it comes to nationalities and gender), the end of the line was what we would like to see grouped between front and back cover, period. Also don’t forget this is an anthology: you can’t like it all. Man, I flip through my copies of Garo, and 60% of it looks pretty bad! Also, calling some of the artists in this issue “Hybrids” is, in my opinion, a bit euphemistic. To me they seem more like artistically torn, schizoid, “Co-Dependent Cunts”, as Daylen Seu entitled her piece, two or more artistic personalities at war with each other. “I wanna do this, but without quitting this”. And that’s great, that’s what makes their work so interesting and unique, in these particular cases. They make these stylistic struggles an artistic asset.

Art by Berliac.

Art by Berliac.

Josselin: Some of the artists are mostly interested in alternative manga, while others profess their love for widely successful works and authors. Do you feel these – sometimes conflicting – traditions share more than just a national origin?

David: For me it seems to be like that with comics in general. Speaking for myself, I am not really interested in mainstream comics. Reading Fantagraphics books is about as mainstream as it gets for me. I can enjoy most of their books, but usually I read works from smaller publishers. I hardly pick up mainstream comics. Sometimes I like them, sometimes not. But of course, it is the same with alternative comics, I don’t love all of them either. In the end, the crude labels “alternative” or “mainstream” don’t say anything about quality.

Berliac: I don’t think there’s such division between those who like Alt-Manga and those who like more popular ones, among our contributors, to begin with. From their work it’s clear they all like different kinds of stuff at once, that’s part of their charm. Gloria Rivera shows in her piece the same love for Ebine Yamaji as for Rumiko Takahashi. Luis Yang is even more evident, his comic reads almost as a visual essay on this dilemma of influences: on the top half of each page he seems to pay tribute to the rough lines of Oji Suzuki and Shin’ichi Abe, and on the bottom he goes for a Moto Hagio-on-cough-syrup kind of aesthetic, with hyper-cliché dialogues straight out of disposable Shoujo magazine.

Art by Gloria Rivera

Art by Gloria Rivera

Josselin: Alt-manga’s deliberate pacing and aimlessness are often cited by the artists in the line-up as an inspiration. But a big feature of (at least mainstream) manga is its long episodic narratives. Is this type of storytelling also an inspiration and how does one hint at this in a handful of pages?

Berliac: I think the artists themselves should be asked this question. As co-editor, though, I can say, that when making the selection, we also tried to balance the authors working in both narrative and anti-narrative ways.

Josselin: Mainstream traditions around the world are very codified and tend to jar foreigners, while alternative productions tend to be more “universal”. How do you feel that affects the “global manga” production?

Berliac: Is there such thing as “global manga” production”? Or maybe better ask, David, do you feel there’s an increasing manga influence in the submissions for Kuš!, since you started in 2007 to this day?

David: I couldn’t say so. We’ve been inviting a bunch of alternative manga artists from Japan since our very first issues. Recently I discovered the brilliant Quang Comics from Korea and we had submissions from some of their members. I actually tried to involve Korean artists much before that, but the problem was the language barrier. So, well, in recent issues we do regularly have some manga contributions, which before was maybe less often. We’re not consciously, looking for manga, but we just enjoy having a range of contributors from all around the world. Probably we should publish significantly more manga, this issue already turned out to be way more popular than our regular issues.

Art by Ben Marcus

Art by Ben Marcus

Berliac: I reject the notion of Universal Alt-Comics vs Jarring Mainstream altogether. I don’t think “Kramers Ergot”, “Mould Map”, “Kuš!”, or any other Alt-Comics publication, ever rubbed Japanese readers in the right spot the way “Dragon Ball”, or “Akira” did to the western audience. I made a 60-page essay in (Alt)comics form about Alt-Comics, called “Playground”, and I still find myself jarred by them, whereas not by “Sailor Moon”, how did that happen?. If Alt-Comics were so universal, how come they sell so little, home and abroad, whereas jarring manga moves fully-grown adults to cross-dress like their favorite character? When people, like David, only read small-press publications, it occurs due to a frame of interest, a preference, a personal taste, even for political reasons, and not due to an intrinsic jarring characteristic of manga. Now, if we take your question in a less literal way, one is tempted to agree with Paul Gravett, who in the foreword suggests that the availability of Alt-Manga in Western languages influenced new generations of authors, consequently shaping their own work, etc. This is in some way true, but, call me a cynical maybe, it’s hard to believe that any of us discovered “Red Color Elegy” in 2009 and suddenly reached Satori: “Oh, this is what I will make from now on!”. If we reached such illumination, it surely happened with “Bakuman”. A clear example of how such critical phallacy (I think artists know as much as I, the critic, does), is the case of contributor Xuh, from Poland, who made arguably the most Garo-ish piece in the whole issue, and she didn’t even know what Garo was until Gravett sent his questionnaire.

Josselin: Some works in the collection don’t reference manga’s narrative style or aesthetic so much as they do the sort of supermainstream image factory that Japanese pop culture was for a few decades. What do you think that imagery (giant robots, schoolgirls, etc.) represents to non-Japanese artists?

Berliac: Same as for Japanese. I think in 2016 we should drop the idea that for-export pop culture belongs to its creators. You can’t expect people to grow on a certain literature for decades and not make it part of themselves. In Spain there’s a common phrase, for embarrassing situations: “I was left with a drop on the side”. When I asked if they knew where it comes from, they don’t have a clue.

David: I don’t know what that means.

Berliac: Oh, it’s part of manga/anime vocabulary. The drop on the side means “I’m embarrassed”. Also, I can’t stress this enough: artists are people above all, and as such, consumers of culture. We’re subject to another culture’s influence as much as anybody else. It’s not that we’re saying “oh, I love this Cherokee head-dress, I’ll wear it in Coachella”. Our generation grew up with manga and anime for years, it was a for-export cultural product spoon-fed to us, we literally learnt new vocabulary of our own native languages by watching the dubbed versions of “Sailor Moon” and “Ghost in the Shell”. You can’t expect that not to leave a mark.

David: I would confirm, contributors have generally a huge interest and respect for Japanese culture. Some even speak Japanese or try to learn it. Of course this shows in their comics.

Berliac: That’s right, Vincenzo Filosa is a Japanese translator and is currently curating the Gekiga collection for Coconino press in Italy.

Art by Vincenzo Filosa.

Art by Vincenzo Filosa.

Josselin: Finally, you’ve expressed an interest in how the collection would be received in Japan. Have you had messages from Japanese readers? Do you have a better idea now how it looks to that audience?

David: It’s difficult to say, as of course people don’t write us their feedback regularly. We sent books to TACO ché, a book shop in Tokyo, and they said the issue is very approachable for their audience. Similar feedback we got from our Chinese bookseller, who already ordered more copies.

Berliac: My Japanese friends loved it so much that they decided to make their own manga. Recently I exchanged a few emails with Asakawa-San, ex member of the editorial team of “AX” magazine (the direct continuation of “Garo”), and he said he found it quite interesting. My hope is that this showcase is seen either as a curiosity, a “look at these crazy westerners, putting soy sauce on their pizza” kind of product, or, ideally, from the quality-based point of view: good/bad drawings, fun/boring stories, no more. That’s what we’re all our efforts go to, after all, to make good comics.

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Lyn Chevli, Co-Founder of Tits & Clits, Dies at 84 http://www.tcj.com/lyn-chevli-co-founder-of-tits-clits-dies-at-84/ http://www.tcj.com/lyn-chevli-co-founder-of-tits-clits-dies-at-84/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96560 Continue reading ]]> Lyn Chevli, 84, who co-founded the first comic book written, drawn, and published solely by women, died October 8 at Laguna Beach, California, of age-related causes.

She was born Marilyn Keith, December 24, 1931, in Milford, Connecticut, but after her first marriage, all her friends and acquaintances knew her as Lyn Chevli. She lived with her first husband briefly in Mumbai, India, but their two daughters were born in the U.S.

She is survived by her younger daughter, Shanta Chevli, and a brother. She was pre- deceased by her older daughter, Neela Chevli.

Joyce Farmer provided The Comics Journal with the following remembrance.

titsclits01When Lyn Chevli moved to California with her mother and two small children in 1961, she never looked back. She had a bachelor’s degree in art from Skidmore College, but she didn’t like to draw, preferring instead to make silver jewelry and exquisite bronze sculptures using her beloved welding torch. With her then-husband, Dennis Madison, she started the renowned bookstore/art gallery, Fahrenheit 451, in Dana Point, California, then moved the business to Laguna Beach in 1968. The store carried a mix of new-age literature, including early underground comix.

Lyn became disturbed by the clever but bizarre and androcentric stories in the early undergrounds, especially Zap Comix, and decided to produce a feminist comic book that would match the Zaps in anarchic content, but from a woman’s point of view.

After selling the bookstore in 1972, she enlisted the help of another local artist — me — and together we set out to “get even.” Abandoning our first impulse to slice and separate body parts from our male cartoon subjects, we created antic stories and illustrations based on our own experiences of menstruation, birth control, chin hair, motherhood, lack of privacy, and society’s skewed attitudes toward all women of that era. Both of us had been involved in birth control and pregnancy counseling for the Laguna Beach Free Clinic for several years, and that experience informed our work, bringing forth a sense of empowerment and a sex-positive atmosphere for women, though we didn’t quite understand what we were doing at the time.

abortion-eve-coverThe first Tits & Clits went on sale in July 1972, generating appreciation — and sometimes disgust — among its readers. It was the first comic to be written, drawn, and published by women, preceding Wimmen’s Comix by a few weeks. The first print run of 20,000 sold out, and we went back to press for a second printing a year later.

Roberta Gregory, creator of Bitchy Bitch, has said that we “gave women’s liberation’s second wave a very badly needed dose of sass. The spirit of their comics was uniquely unlike any other aspect of the literature, and even other women’s comics of the era. They were my mentors, encouraging me to publish my own comics.”

In 1973, Lyn and I recognized the need for information about obtaining a legal abortion and undertook another book, Abortion Eve, an educational comic explaining the emotional stress an unwanted pregnancy causes in women, the medical aspects of an abortion, and the steps one must follow to end a pregnancy safely. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Roe v. Wade, came just before the publication of Abortion Eve and we were able to detail its relevance for women and women’s rights. Abortion Eve was welcomed for its precise, pro-choice information.

From Abortion Eve.

From Abortion Eve.

Because of its title, Tits & Clits could not get reviewed in any but the most radical magazines and newspapers, so later in 1973, we published what would have been the second issue of Tits & Clits as Pandoras Box Comics. The change coincided with the arrest of a number of retailers across the nation who were selling underground comix.

pandorasboxIn fact, Lyn and I also faced the prospect of being arrested for publishing and distributing pornography. We dodged that disaster with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, who fought for the free speech rights of the new owners of Fahrenheit 451, Gordon and Evie Wilson. They had been arrested for selling underground comix, but the last copy of Tits & Clits had been purchased by the authorities as research prior to their arrest and thus wasn’t available to include as evidence at the time of their arrest. The case against them was eventually dropped, and Lyn and I were never arrested, but we had experienced a strong lesson in First Amendment rights and also learned that freedom of speech could cost you your peace of mind.

Nonetheless, in 1976, we returned to the original name and published Tits & Clits #2. Tits & Clits appeared sporadically over the next several years, concluding its run in 1987 after a total of seven issues. Lyn stopped drawing stories after the third issue, but with that issue we began welcoming other new and established women artists to our pages. Lyn remained as co-editor through the sixth issue.

From Tits & Clits #4.

From Tits & Clits #4.

In 1981, Lyn began her writing career, starting with Alida, an erotic book for women. She wrote for The Blade (a local magazine for the gay community) and other publications. She also wrote two unpublished memoirs, one about her comix-era escapades, the other a moving narrative of her marriage and life in India in the 1950s. Lyn Chevli lived a long life and had a host of creative, intelligent friends. We will miss her imaginative and always exuberant adventures.

 Left to right: Joyce Farmer, Last Gasp Publisher Ron Turner, and Lyn Chevli at Berkley Con 1973. Photo by Clay Geerdes.

Left to right: Joyce Farmer, Last Gasp Publisher Ron Turner, and Lyn Chevli at Berkley Con 1973. Photo by Clay Geerdes.

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Jack T. Chick, 1924-2016 http://www.tcj.com/jack-t-chick-1924-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/jack-t-chick-1924-2016/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96518 Continue reading ]]> From "This Was Your Life!", circa 1964.

From “This Was Your Life!”, circa 1964.

Jack Thomas Chick, the prolific writer, artist, and publisher of religious literature, most notably an extensive line of small cartoon tracts, died in his sleep on Sunday, October 23, 2016. He was 92. No cause of death has been determined at the time of this writing.

Chick was born in Los Angeles on April 13, 1924. Though characterized frequently as private and interview-shy, assorted biographical statements collated by Robert B. Fowler in The World of Chick (Last Gasp, 2001) indicate that Chick studied stagework and direction in school, notably receiving an acting scholarship with the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts before service in World War II brought him to New Guinea and Okinawa. Per Chick’s official biography, he was of no particularly religious disposition as a young man, and his “salvation” came via an episode of radio broadcaster Charles E. Fuller’s The Old Fashioned Revival Hour; the notion of disseminating religious messages through popular media would prove central to his career, though Chick initially operated in a secular vein, illustrating a little-known gag panel feature, Times Have Changed?, for writer P.S. Clayton from 1953 to 1955, and working in technical illustration at an El Monte aerospace company.

The chronology of Chick’s entrance into illustrated proselytization varies among sources, but consistent across accounts are his reading of Power from on High, a compendium of articles by the 19th century Presbyterian revivalist Charles G. Finney, and an encounter with missionary and radio broadcaster Bob Hammond, who told Chick of Chinese communists distributing unusually engaging propaganda in the form of cartoon booklets. Format duly presented, Chick was moved to draw a comedic excoriation of his fellow Christians’ timidity and hypocrisy titled Why No Revival? – it was self-published with borrowed money in 1961 to little success, though its fortuitous gifting to the company owner at Chick’s secular day job purportedly inspired the funding of a second tract, A Demon’s Nightmare, published in 1962.

However, it was not until 1964 that Chick enjoyed major success. In years prior he had prepared an illustrated flip chart on the theme of salvation for the purposes of witnessing to prison inmates; the work was reconfigured into a cartoon tract titled This Was Your Life!, its agile mix of humorous drawing, scriptural citation and the all-enveloping certainty of eternal damnation — save for the fallen soul’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as their lord and personal savior — setting the tone for many of his characteristic works to follow. In a conversation with filmmaker Dwayne Walker, recounted in the 1998 second issue of Daniel Raeburn’s zine The Imp, Chick reportedly claimed to have been invited on television shows and welcomed at prominent bookseller conventions off the strength of this new popularity, though he disliked the celebrity surrounding Christian media stars. Chick Publications was incorporated in California in 1969; it asserts that over 150 million copies of This Was Your Life! have been sold in 100 languages to date.

From "Gun Slinger", 1997.

From “Gun Slinger”, 1997.

Chick’s company gradually expanded, most tangibly via the 1972 hiring of a second artist, Fred Carter, an Illinois native with schooling at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. In contrast to Chick’s caricatural yet often laboriously hatched visual approach, Carter dove into muscular stylization, his faces lurid and vivid, the heaviest of his dramatic scenes soaked with a sense of grotesquerie and excess that would not be ill-suited to contemporaneous horror magazines. At first Carter drew only a share of the b&w tracts, but in 1974 the pair began to collaborate on The Crusaders, a series of color works published as full-sized comic books, detailing the often violent and conspiratorial adventures of devoutly Christian men-of-action; Carter, however, was not initially credited for much of his work, a situation Chick attributed to his collaborator’s personal shyness in a 1980 letter to The Comics Journal (#54, Mar. ’80).

As a result, even today, the comics published by Chick tend to be identified with him alone, though their ubiquity is such that many readers no doubt fail to identify any creator at all beyond God above. Purchased by individuals or organizations at a low cost for the purposes of free distribution, Chick tracts became an aspect of Americana; marketed explicitly on their ease of use, many of the devout saw fit to simply leave the wallet-sized items on benches or tables, seeds rightly sown for the winning of souls. They were not often friendly messages. Frequently, Chick would lean on counterintuitive and emotionally upsetting scenarios, depicting the activities of palpably ‘good’ but unsaved people and condemning them to a deserved eternity of torture while rogues and criminals accept Christ and are welcomed gladly into paradise. “Going to heaven is not a matter of GOOD or BAD,” roars Gun Slinger, a 1997 tract. “It’s a matter of SAVED or LOST.” Adherent only to the literal word of the Bible — eventually, only to the 1611 King James version — Chick’s works veered into explicit denunciation of all manner of affronts: homosexuality; Halloween; Mormons; Muslims; evolution; rock music; and all the misguided souls who call themselves Christian but so plainly aren’t.

In particular, Chick became known for his vitriolic depictions of the Roman Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, a congregation named at the center of diabolical intrigues since the 17th century. Beginning in 1979 and continuing for six issues across nine years, The Crusaders was devoted wholly to the narrative of Alberto Rivera, a self-described ex-Jesuit with ties to anti-Protestant subversive activities who claimed knowledge of the Church’s central role in the creation of Communism, Nazism and Islam, as well as the Jonestown massacre, various assassinations, and other atrocities owing to its apocalyptic nature as the Mother of Harlots in Revelation. Chick and Carter also produced The Big Betrayal, a 1981 standalone color comic book derived from Charles Chiniquy’s 1884 memoir 50 Years in the Church of Rome, along with numerous other pieces on the anti-Catholic theme. Criticism began to mount from specialist and mainstream sources, including a January 26, 1981 article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. That same year, per a May 2003 Los Angeles Magazine profile by writer Robert Ito, Chick quit the Christian Booksellers Organization, purportedly citing Catholic infiltration.

Size comparison between a typical tract ("Kitty in the Window", 2016) and a full-sized comic book ("The Crusaders Vol. 22: Unthinkable", cover art by Fred Carter, 2016).

Size comparison between a typical tract (“Kitty in the Window”, 2016) and a full-sized comic book (“The Crusaders Vol. 22: Unthinkable”, cover art by Fred Carter, 2016).

By that time, Chick Publications had itself become a publisher of prose works and other books in addition to cartoon items; an early compendium of comics, The Next Step (1973), is still advertised in the back of most Chick tracts. By the 1990s, Chick had also elected to move into filmmaking; The Light of the World was released in 2003, a Bible history slideshow encompassing hundreds of Fred Carter oil paintings under a narration written by Chick, made available in over two dozen languages.

Yet as the 21st century dawned, interest in Chick’s work often took on a bemused or sardonic character. Parodies of Chick’s work dated back at least as far as the 1970s in National Lampoon, but the ubiquitous availability of images and information online readily facilitated itself to the sharing and alteration of short-form tracts, a tendency encouraged by the free posting of many b&w tracts to the Chick Publications website. Chick himself was not unconscious of his reputation. In the 2008 book Hot Topics, a compilation of controversial tracts with new commentaries by Chick and a co-author, David W. Daniels, the artist reflected on one of his most derided works, 1984’s Dark Dungeons, a Carter-drawn expose of tabletop role-playing games as demonology for beginners: “They stormed our website and pelted us with emails. They were offended – but they still got the gospel and will be without excuse on Judgment Day.” Perhaps mockery accomplishes the same goal of penetrating the reader’s defenses with God’s message; a live-action short film adaptation of Dark Dungeons was released in 2014, with Chick’s approval. Or criticism – 2008 saw the release of God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick, a feature-length documentary by Kurt Kuersteiner, pairing interviews with skeptics, experts and arched-eyebrow fans with true believer testimony from the likes of Daniels and Fred Carter. Chick himself was not filmed.

It is unknown exactly how widely-read Chick’s works have truly been. In an introductory letter to the 2016 Chick Publications catalog, he states that 800 million tracts have been shipped worldwide, with 200 different titles available. Some of these are wholly re-drawn versions of older tracts aimed at new audiences; there are versions of This Was Your Life! for women, black audiences (with distinct male and female variants), and Muslims. But many are new. Earlier this year, Chick & Carter released the 22nd color comic book issue of The Crusaders. On September 1, Chick released What a Shame!, the last of his tracts to publish during his lifetime. He had suffered a slight stroke in 1996, and a heart attack in the mid-’00s. “I’m almost finished with the 2nd tract for 2017,” he observed in the catalog. “At 91, I’m still working 8 to 10 hours a day, six days a week, trying to be ready for that trumpet to take us all home.”

News of his death was released on Monday, October 24, via the Chick Publications Facebook page. Regarding the future, Daniels, who in recent years had become something of a public face for the company, stated that “[n]othing” would change in terms of method, vision and purpose.

From "Congratulations!", 2006.

From “Congratulations!”, 2006.

Chick was preceded in death by his first wife and a daughter. He remarried, and is survived by his second wife.

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An Interview with Sophie Campbell http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-sophie-campbell/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-sophie-campbell/#respond Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96142 Continue reading ]]> A lot of her fans know Sophie Campbell for her recent work, from the relaunch of Glory at Image Comics with writer Joe Keatinge to the recent Jem and the Holograms series with writer Kelly Thompson. Jem in particular struck a nerve with a lot of fans and led to a profile of the book and its creators in The New Yorker. She’s also drawn a lot of comics for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their current incarnation at IDW.

She got her start at Oni Press where she drew Too Much Hopeless Savages and Spooked before launching the graphic novel series Wet Moon in 2005, of which there are now six volumes. She also wrote and drew two volumes of Shadoweyes, a dark science fiction superhero saga, which was reissued by Iron Circus in a new edition. That’s not to say that her career has been entirely smooth. She was involved in both Tokyopop–which published one volume of her proposed three volume series The Abandoned–and DC’s Minx, which published her graphic novel Water Baby.

Throughout her career, Campbell has been interested in questions of intersectional feminism, though as she admits in the interview, she only learned about what that meant in recent years. From the beginning of her career she was interested in and concerned with depicting a broad range of people. Wet Moon was always an unusual book, but from the start it had a tone and an approach all its own, and though her work has changed over the years, all of Campbell’s work remains recognizably hers no matter whether she’s writing her own projects or working on licensed properties.

Has Wet Moon changed a lot from the initial pitch you made to Oni?

The actual pitch was pretty similar except that it dealt more with the main character Cleo’s abortion and her relationship with Vincent, but Oni thought the subject matter was too heavy for a first book. In the final book her dealing with that and that whole backstory was pushed into the background. It’s only stated explicitly in the fourth book. I think it works the way it is, it was spiritually the same and a lot of the story is pretty much the same in the final book.

myrtle2016The first books seemed very surefooted as far as what you wanted aesthetically and tonally.

It was mostly me goofing off and drawing a bunch of stuff I like. I wanted it to be this slice of life story where nothing much happens. Obviously it’s deliberate and sure footed in the sense that you don’t accidentally draw a comic, but I don’t think I had a lot of awareness of what I was doing until I continued doing it. Things became more clear as I got older and I was able to decide more consciously what I wanted to do. Early on it was me going, here’s a bunch of characters that I like and here’s a bunch of things that I think are fun or silly, and I threw it all together and refined it as I went along.

Now you plot things out more?

I don’t really plot it out that much in advance. I know my characters and I know how I want them to look and how I want them to act, I have a better handle on the tone, so it’s easy for me to write as I go. You say it seemed really sure-footed, but to me it just seems like this nebulous blob where I don’t really know what I’m doing, but most creators look at their stuff extra-critically. I wish I could be like Bryan O’Malley or someone who comes out with his first book and it’s fully formed–to me. To him I’m sure it’s not. I’m sure he feels the same way that I do.

I’m sure you do feel that way, but rereading the books you manage to find this tone that combined drama and comedy, the pace was slow but deliberate, it was slice of life and you manage to combine those elements really well.

I do feel like I had the pacing down pretty quick. I don’t remember how detailed my script was in the old days, I think I tried to make it a little more understandable because I had to show it to editors back then. I can see how it flows in my head but when I write it, it doesn’t always come together until I get to the visuals. Once I started drawing the first book, I knew how the pacing needed to be. Maybe that’s the one thing I just knew in the beginning. I like to think I’ve gotten better, but I think the tone and the pacing have remained pretty constant since the first book.

Now when you write the books you don’t script them out in detail?

I like to know how many pages a book is going to be. Sometimes I’ll change it but I like to know a ballpark estimate, that’s the biggest thing. The panel descriptions are mostly just dialogue so I know how much is going to fit or how much has to fit in each panel, so overall it’s really simple because I don’t have to write it for somebody else, it doesn’t have to be detailed. I also don’t draw the pages in order, I jump around, I think about the book as a fluid state so it seems pointless to me to be very detailed in the beginning. Through each step it’s always changing, I’ll get rid of things, I’ll move panels around, I’ll add a page or cut a scene. It only solidifies at the very end when I send it off to the publisher.

Do you have an ending in mind for Wet Moon?

It keeps changing! I was going to do one certain ending, but then I wanted these two particular characters to stay together instead of breaking up and so I’m overhauling Volume 7 and scrapping all this stuff that I drew before. Because of all that, now the original ending I had doesn’t work anymore. Maybe eight or nine will be the last book? I thought I might periodically come back and do a short Wet Moon story here and there, that would be really fun. Just short little fun stories about whatever characters I felt like working on at that particular time. One thing I’ve been joking about for years is Wet Moon 2099. I could end the current series at Book 8 or 9 and come back a few years from now and do Wet Moon 2099. [laughs]


So the town has turned into a bayou or it’s completely underwater?

Exactly! Before the official pitch to Oni, Wet Moon was much more sci-fi, it took place at an art college on the moon and some of the characters were mutants and half-human or aliens or whatever. [laughs] Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with that. But that could be Wet Moon 2099.

I had been following Wet Moon and then I remember that you were of that generation that signed up with Tokyopop.

[laughs] Yes, I was!

You did one book of The Abandoned, and I think your response and others to Tokyopop has been pretty well documented over the years, but as far as making the book, was it very different from working at Oni?

Not really. Both Oni and Tokyopop pretty much left me alone. My editor at Tokyopop who was pretty new at the time, he didn’t really do any editing, we hardly ever talked to each other. In the beginning he suggested I change the story so the zombies came from a necromancer instead of an apocalypse-type event. I told him that was really stupid and he just left me alone after that. [laughs] I think he got fired over what happened with my book. The red spot color that was their idea ended up costing more money or something and I think it was a production nightmare behind the scenes. But besides that, they left me alone. [laughs] Things didn’t get horrible until after I finished the book.

Tokyopop had this vision of “Original English Language Manga” and they were excited and were suddenly publishing dozens of titles and then everything went South very quickly.

They pulled the plug on all of them. Their contracts were shitty, but at the time I knew what I was signing. I’m sure there are some kids that they bamboozled, but I was like, they’re going to own half of it which basically means they own the whole thing because I can’t do anything with fifty percent of something, but I really needed the money and I needed to move out of my parents’ house. [laughs] But when I signed it, how could I have known that they were going to pull the plug down the road and not do what they said they’d do? I guess that’s the part where I got “tricked,” but I don’t think even Tokyopop saw that coming.

You imagined something like Alan Moore’s relationship with DC where they sell the movie rights or make merchandise you hate, but they cut you a check.

Yeah, I guess that’s what I thought. When I signed it I imagined doing three books and they’d make some stupid TV show or something but meanwhile I’d have my own apartment. [laughs] I didn’t have all my eggs in the Tokyopop basket so it wasn’t a huge obstacle for me career-wise. I was upset about it but I just kept going and worked on other things.

You did another Wet Moon book, and then you wrote and drew a book for Minx. Another example of grand ambition which did not match reality.

[laughs] That was also a complete failure. It was similar to Tokyopop in some ways where they clearly just did not understand the readers. They were like, “okay, girls really like these manga books and they’re a certain size and they’re black and white. What do girls like? They like romance! They like real life relationships!” That seemed to be the extent of their thought process. Originally my book was more horror and they wanted it to be more slice of life so I toned it down, which is fine, but the thing that they missed is that a lot of the manga that people really got into was fantasy and action and adventure and sci-fi. The female readers that they were trying to get were not going to like these books which basically all had the same plot–this vaguely outsider girl is in a new place and meets somebody she gets a crush on. There wasn’t a lot to grab onto. You can’t just go in and claim a whole shelf at Barnes and Noble or expect to nab the same readership overnight, so they were stuck selling to the direct market which was obviously going to be a disaster.

I remember seeking your book out because it was yours and for the most part, it felt like you.

Even though there was a lot of editorial direction, doing that book was pretty smooth sailing. I didn’t fight with Shelly [Bond] or anything and I had a fine time doing it. The actual production wasn’t a disaster. The book itself was maybe a disaster, but that’s a whole other thing.


At what point did you start drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I did some covers and frontispieces for Mirage back in 2007 and I was going to do a Tales of the TMNT issue, but the Viacom sale happened. Dark Horse was going to get the license but lost it to IDW, which I got in trouble for mentioning online, they reamed me out for doing that. I really thought after it fell through that I could talk about it publicly, I didn’t think it would be a problem [laughs]. I know better now. Anyway, I was going to draw the new Turtles book for them but it fell through. Then IDW got the license and Dan Duncan got the job, I was pissed and went on Twitter and was like, “that was my book!” [laughs] I guess me being a grouch on Twitter caught their attention or maybe I was on their radar before that, but they approached me to do the Leonardo micro issue. That summer after I drew that issue, they offered me the main job on the ongoing series and I turned it down, I felt like I was too much of a fan to do it. I had a lot of trouble on Leonardo and decided that I couldn’t go through that every month, I was too emotionally invested to deal with it. But they ended up getting me back when I found out they were going to do Northampton, I couldn’t resist that, and I’ve been there ever since.


Then you drew Glory at Image in 2011-12. How did you get that job because I don’t think most of us expected you to draw a monthly superhero book.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a monthly series but I was in dire financial straits so I had no choice. [laughs] They needed an artist for Glory and Brandon Graham sent them my way, I thought it was a joke at first, that Brandon was just messing with me. [laughs] Brandon knows everybody, he’s basically built my whole career for me. I got the Minx job and some of the Vertigo stuff I was working on because of him, he introduced me to Shelly Bond, and he’s friends with Eric Stephenson so when the new Extreme stuff was being put together, Brandon was there at ground zero and got me involved. It was far outside my wheelhouse but I think it worked out well. I had a lot of fun doing Glory, it was a fun challenge.


So because of TMNT you had a relationship with IDW, how did you end up drawing Jem, which I don’t think is a comic anyone expected to see.

[laughs] I had done some Jem fan art several years before and it never really occurred to me that there would ever be a Jem comic at any point. When I found out it was happening I contacted my Turtles editor and demanded he put me in touch with who was editing Jem.

Did you have to fight hard to get the job?

No, not really. Kelly Thompson and I were up against a few other people, I don’t know who, but I just knew we would get it. I had a feeling. Kelly was bent out of shape about it, though, I mean that was her first big thing, but I wasn’t worried about it. I just knew in my gut it would work out! [laughs]

Most people don’t make a comic and then have someone write a gender studies analysis of the book in The New Yorker. When you read that did you go, yes, someone gets what we’re doing or were you like, well that’s interesting?

I was a little surprised that it happened. To some degree, I believe in death of the author, but it was really cool seeing them interpret all this stuff and analyze it and treat it like a serious thing. We were asked about gender studies texts and whether we were playing into so-and-so author’s ideas about gender. I was like, I’ve never read that, I don’t even know who that is. [laughs] I think the analysis–while I agreed with all of it and it was super awesome–went deeper than the level I was thinking about a lot of the stuff I was doing. [laughs] I can’t speak for Kelly but I definitely wasn’t thinking about it that deeply when I was doing it. I just wanted to draw big hair and cool outfits. I’ve since read a couple books like Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl which is one book the author of the article talked about. I loved the article but I’m not as knowledgeable as it maybe made me out to be.

You say that, but as a longtime reader I would argue that your work has been about issues of intersectional feminism from the beginning.

I’ve definitely become more aware of it as I get older. I’ve talked about this in other interviews where people ask me if there’s a social agenda with what I’m doing, and it’s yes and no. Yes because I’m thinking about that stuff so it can’t not have that aspect to it. Some decisions–just to have a fat character for example–are inherently political and you can’t avoid it and I think there’s some responsibility to be aware of it. But I didn’t really start thinking about that kind of thing until partway through my career. Looking back, now I can see how my work fits together with intersectionality and feminism, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I was like, “this is what I want to see, this is what I want the characters to be like,” and that was the extent of it. I tried to do what I wanted to see in comics, and what I saw in the world around me. But since having learned so much in the past however many years, I can look back at my work and see it more clearly.

One of the things about Wet Moon that appealed to so many readers was that you were telling stories about characters who didn’t look or dress like characters in other comics.

I knew it was different, but I wouldn’t have been able to articulate why it was different or why that was important at that time. Now I get it, but at the time, I was like, my friends are different and have different bodies and different backgrounds and different races, so that’s what my work is going to be like. I wanted it to be real on some level and real life has these things in it so that’s going to be in the comic as best as I could do it. Obviously I have blind spots, but real life has different kinds of people in it and I wanted Wet Moon to reflect real life to some degree.

And you were probably not expecting to be recognized for Jem, either.

It didn’t occur to me. I ran into some trouble on Turtles because they didn’t like that I drew April too curvy and I knew that was a possibility of that happening with Hasbro. I didn’t know how they’d react to me making this character skinny and this character fat, because in the cartoon the characters all looked the same, so I thought maybe the powers-that-be would want me to stick closer to that. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I also didn’t really care what their reaction was going to be, I always shoot first and ask questions later so to speak, so I didn’t ask them if I could make Stormer fat, I just did it. And then I was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t say anything about it. They hired me to do what I do and I did it, and it worked out great. I knew there were going to be fans who would complain the characters were too different from the show, but I was just doing what I always do and I had to be true to myself.

Did you have a say with Jem in how the book would be colored?

I’m rarely happy with colorists on my stuff so I wanted to hand pick who it was going to be. I wanted to be involved and talk to them. We looked at a bunch of people and I was pretty involved early on with Victoria, she brought her own sensibility and played off the early preliminary art I had done for the basic look and she took that and did her own thing. It came together really easy. She’s awesome.

In the concert scenes in Jem, you really play with the layouts in these one or two page spreads. How does Kelly write them and how much is just you going crazy?

There are certain beats that need to be hit in those scenes and I take those and then do whatever I wanted with the panel layouts. Sometimes I’d take the panels Kelly wrote and I’d combine them or get rid of panels entirely and fit them together another way. The concert scenes were what I felt like at that particular moment, I would do thumbnails but I wouldn’t really plan it out until I was sitting down drawing it. Kelly knew what I would do after a while and toward the end she’d be much looser with it because she knew I would disregard things she wrote. [laughs] Kelly would write: “Page whatever–Concert. Go nuts.” [laughs] Kelly wrote all the song lyrics, but I hand wrote the lyrics onto the page. Sometimes I would ask her to edit the lyrics down if there wasn’t enough room, since my hand lettering was on the large side. It was mostly me just going crazy and trying to make everything fit together.jem-16-p12-13-v2-music

Issue #16 was your last issue. Why did you decide to leave the series?

It was time to move on. I felt like after twelve issues I had to go back to Wet Moon, I was burned out drawing Jem, I wanted to draw other characters, and I was just dying to write my own stuff again, to draw my own stories. I had debated coming back for the Misfits series, though, but ultimately I decided it was time to go. I might come back and do a special issue or something next year, and I’m also co-writing one of the Misfits issues and doing a cover for it. But yeah, it was time for something else, drawing the same characters over and over again for over a year, however much I love them, gets rough. Some days I miss it already but I think I made the right choice.


What are you working on now? What comes next for you now that Jem is over?

I’m back working on Wet Moon 7 right now, very slowly. And even slower that I would be otherwise because I scrapped all the stuff that I’d drawn in the past couple years, so I’m trying to regroup and catch up to where I was. It’s so great getting to work on my babies again! I have more Turtles coming up, too, I’m doing issue #66 of the ongoing which will be out in January, as well another story next year but I can’t talk about that yet, it’s top secret. I also may be doing an Image book next year but I can’t talk about that, either [laughs]. I’d be writing and drawing that. We’ll see how that goes. And then hopefully I’ll be able to get back to Shadoweyes! All that will take me through 2017 and into 2018. I try to plan out a year in advance.


You did two Shadoweyes books. Did you have plans for more?

Maybe four? I have the next book written so that’s a good start, I’ve been writing draft after draft for it, I’m on draft like number eight, I think. I did the Shadoweyes reprint with Iron Circus and it was really nice getting a reset button because it had been such a long time since the last one came out in 2011. After I did Shadoweyes In Love, I basically almost ran out of money and had to put Shadoweyes on the back burner. I really miss working on it.

Will you ever return to Mountain Girl?

I really want to! I pitched a new version of Mountain Girl to a publisher a few years back and they didn’t want to do it, so I had to shelve it and work on something else. I’ve been talking about doing a digital version of it with one publisher, but now this Image book might happen so I don’t know when I’m going to be able to do it. I have too much stuff. I wish I could just do a book that ends and it’s over and not have to worry about a volume two. [laughs]


You like alternating between doing your own books and working with other people on different things?

I like to alternate with my own stuff too, Wet Moon and Shadoweyes and whatever. That keeps me from getting it a rut and it keeps me from getting bored. I get burned out from drawing the same characters every day for a super long time, like I was saying before. I think it’s good to change it up. Doing the licensed stuff is nice because it’s much more structured, I can do my own thing for a while and then I do Jem or Turtles and it’s like I don’t have to think about it quite as much because I have a boss who sets a schedule and I’m working with people who keep me on task as opposed to working by myself where I often veer off in another direction or get distracted That’s another reason I like to alternate, it’s always nice to go back to my own work after working with a writer and a boss, I can do whatever I want and it’s like coming home after a long trip, in a way.

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Getting Material: A Short Interview with Ben Katchor http://www.tcj.com/getting-material-a-short-interview-with-ben-katchor/ http://www.tcj.com/getting-material-a-short-interview-with-ben-katchor/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95792 Continue reading ]]> cheapnovelties-casewrapI was too young to learn about Ben Katchor from RAW. I learned about Katchor through Destroy All Comics, run by Jeff Levine with help from Dylan Williams, Frank Santoro, and others. This zine (published by Slave Labor Graphics (!)) was influential the way some blogs or twitters are influential now—flaring up as a node in a network for a year or two, then fading and dispersing.

I think I first read Santoro’s Katchor interview while in study hall in high school. Do kids still sneak magazines into school to read during study hall?Like Chris Ware,the other big discovery for me idac03-650x424n high school due to Dylan Williams’ interview in Destroy All Comics Vol. 2, No. 1, there was a historical consciousness to Katchor’s work that felt new in comics. This kind of “reality based” historical or anthropological viewpoint felt like a new landscape for comics in the 1990s: an alternative to superhero continuity checklists, fandom’s specialist crate-digging, and to the sex and goofs of the underground. (The ’90s also saw a sort of first blip of “cyber” and “electro” comics that started playing with computers as subject and metaphor and tool. It seemed “prog” at the time, but looking back there was some interesting stuff happening. Someone should put together a book of that kind of material? It was reacting to the graphics of computer games at the time, which were already threatening to change the face of comics forever…) 

Destroy All Comics represented a weird new mix of punk DIY and cartooning classicism, and Ben Katchor fit this atmosphere of history. There was a kind of newsreel grain and grayness to all his work, an atmosphere not only of history, but a feeling that the comic strip itself could be coming from another time. If you have had one or two glimpses of an actual newspaper page, with comics, from pre-1925, you may have noticed its density and layout doesn’t quite feel like what we think of as newspaper comics. Old comic strips can seem impossibly large and strangely gray-looking. Katchor’s strips for the most part have a similar perverse grayness and rawness of the era of cheap mass printing presses. 

*The exception to my characterization is the body of work comprised mostly of the strips Katchor drew for Metropolis magazine (beginning in 1998, and whose subscribers were primarily graphic design offices and architecture firms) and which are collected in Hand-Drying In America, (one of my favorite comic books of any kind published in the 21st Century), which are in muted, strange limited palettes of watercolor, I think? Lately he has been drawing everything digitally, which is another fascinating turn in his work (see here and other interviews for some discussion of this). These strips still appear every so often on the internet, as they have for years (Katchor as web cartoonist) and are available via the cartoonist’s web site.

This short interview (here’s another, longer one at Paste Magazine from the same promotional swing) is on the occasion of Drawn & Quarterly reissuing his first  book, Cheap Novelties; like all of Katchor’s books it is a masterpiece of bodegas, delis, and dialectics.

cheapnoveltiesinterior_82What are you working on?

I’m finishing up a long project on restaurant history; editing an anthology; directing the Illustration program at Parsons School of Design; writing a new story for the Hotel & Farm collection, among other things.

I’ve heard you are running a good comics department over there at Parsons. How is that going?

We teach comics and animation within the Illustration program at Parsons. A student can minor in Comics and Graphic Narrative. We have many people on our faculty who work with text and image: Matthew Thurber, Bob Sikoryak, Lauren Redniss, Nora Krug, Steven Guarnaccia, Mark Newgarden, Josh Bayer, Henrik Drescher, Lale Westvind, Neill Swaab, James Romberger and some interesting animators: Ted Wiggins, Ana Mouyis, Motomichi Nakamura, Gary Leib and others. We’d like students to think of themselves as artist/authors working on self-initiated projects.

Parsons is unionized, right? 

Only the part-time faculty are unionized at Parsons (SEIU); the full-time faculty are considered part of the administration and are not unionized. The part-time faculty union contract forbids them from striking. 

Interesting. The school I’m teaching at, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) is currently going through some unionization voting and organizing. 

The recent lock-out of all faculty at Long Island University and the ruling that graduate students can unionize are making it clear that without enormous endowments, it will become difficult for non-profit schools to cover their operating expenses — a good argument for funding “free” state, city and even national higher educational institutions, like in Europe.

I agree!

You give amazing lectures. Did teaching lead you to lecturing, or vice versa?

cheapnoveltiesinterior_76I always enjoyed the public lecture form and so invented some of my own lectures on various subjects long before I was teaching. In my own classes I try to keep lectures under 15 minutes.

I have to work on that. Studio art classes are definitely different than public lecturing. There’s a weird mix of working and talking. It can be an adjustment to go from the desk to the classroom.

Anything you want to say about the reissue of Cheap Novelties? It looks great. Drawn & Quarterly did a nice job with it.

I’m happy that it’s back in print. The design and image quality are a great improvement over the original small Penguin paperback. It is an absolute pleasure working with Drawn & Quarterly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cartooning this past year or so, and book design, and typography, and how the great cartoonists have been published over the years, what works and endures and what fades away. Do you get inspiration from collecting?

Most of my inspiration doesn’t come from the work of cartoonists, also I’m not very systematic in my approach to appreciation through collecting or studying of anything. 

cheapnoveltiesinterior_36Anyone in particular lately?

I’m always delighted to stumble upon a illustration by Robert Weaver that I haven’t seen. 

As someone with a long view of the built environment, what do you think about the Interneti-zation of our lives in the past 15 years or so? 

The access the internet affords us to archival material, independent journalism, social organizing, etc. should be a wonderful thing. Only because we’re physical beings this dematerializing of objects and minimizing of physical interactions has left people out of work and lonely. We’re ready for a guaranteed basic income scheme, so that people working in this immaterial realm can afford food, shelter and the theater.  

What do you think about software design, our “cyber” environment, especially now that you’re working digital more often? 

I was working with digital typesetting for years before this technology became adopted by the general public through “desktop publishing,” etc. and so the adjustment was just an opening up of access to more people.

You’re drawings are also digitally produced now. How does that square with the dangers of dematerialization?

You could argue that hand-controlled input devices for drawing allow for more delicacy of touch and response — like the difference between a stethoscope and an electro-cardiogram.

Do you collect old newspapers and magazines, or do you visit libraries for your material, or is it mostly online research now? Do you have a large collection of old magazines and papers, or is New York full of enough archive material?

I haven’t collected anything for many years. Most of my research is done online, but I still like to wander the stacks of the NYU library or stumble upon the book of great importance sitting on the $1.00 rack outside the Strand bookstore.

Your work is primarily dealing with the pre-internet world, though you occasionally throw in an Internet reference. What do you think the challenges will be for cartoonists interested in depicting the graphical environment of post-smartphone life?

I did a short-lived strip for a very early internet magazine called, I think, Internet Life — it was a print magazine. The strip was called something like “A Walk on Nohital Street,” and was about the life of someone tied to their desk poking around the internet. 

As long as we have physical bodies, the depiction of the physical world will interest me. The smartphone lives in the physical world, in the lint filled-pocket of an unemployed office worker who needs to find a restroom.cheapnoveltiesinterior_15

]]> http://www.tcj.com/getting-material-a-short-interview-with-ben-katchor/feed/ 2 Joost Swarte: Scratching The Surface http://www.tcj.com/joost-swarte-scratching-the-surface/ http://www.tcj.com/joost-swarte-scratching-the-surface/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96263 Continue reading ]]> scratchescover

The 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair will be hosting Flanders and The Netherlands as its Guests Of Honour. For the occasion, Dutch comics legend Joost Swarte has put together his first magazine in over 40 years. With an eye towards giving the best talent from these regions more exposure worldwide, Scratches will be published in English and also feature a host of heavyweight international friends along with a new Jopo de Pojo story from Swarte himself. From Holland there’s the dreamlike geometry of Wasco’s wondrous worlds, Aart Taminiau’s lovely pen and inked juxtaposition of late afternoon teenage boredom with a maestro’s success at an evening theater performance, and Milan Hulsing’s spacey tale of fictional early electronic music pioneer, Earl Blanchard. Representing the Flemish are dazzling dances from Brecht Evens with all the color and panache we’ve come to expect from him, a scene of strange sweetness from Charlotte DuMortier that keeps on revealing more and more to the eye, leaving one unsettled and looping back to the beginning, and Kristina Tzekova’s hypnotic stills of a deer in the waves, a strip beloved by Swarte. There is much more talent from these countries and other European nations within Scratches’ pages, as well as contributions from Robert and Aline Crumb, a back cover by Chris Ware, first and final stories by Art Spiegelman, and another tale from David B’s esoteric library. To round things off, Swarte has modern artists write about the little known but important work of such luminaries as Mark Smeets, Manolo Prieto, and Franz Masereel. After hearing of the project at this year’s Stripdagen Festival in Haarlem, Aug Stone spoke with Joost Swarte about all that went in to the making of the new magazine.

AUG STONE: Where did the idea for Scratches come from?

JOOST SWARTE: Well… (laughs) I must dig in my memories. I always have liked the idea of doing a magazine again. I started Modern Papier when I was 22. It was my first magazine, a small underground publication. We did a print run of about 1000-1500. Artist friends joined in, Peter Pontiac and people from the Dutch underground who were involved with the magazine Tante Leny Presenteert. And then in 1973 there was a publisher who wanted to reach a younger audience so I proposed to make Cocktail Comics, a magazine presenting the new generation of Dutch comics artists. It wasn’t too much of a commercial success although all the artists were paid a professional rate and that was already far better than with the smaller underground publications. And we had the same freedom as with the underground publications, so that was quite good. But then I got a lot of attention from friends and publishers to publish my work so I left the whole magazine idea aside. Until two years ago, when the new publishing house Scratch was founded in Amsterdam and they asked me to be an advisor.

At about the same time I heard of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the biggest in the world. The guests of honour at their 2016 Fair are the Low Countries, Holland and the Belgians, with whom we share our language. And I thought it’s a good idea to not only present the literature of our countries at the Book Fair but also the comics. So I started to talk with people from the literary funds in Holland and in Flanders. And they got interested and supported this idea. That was the start of the magazine. It’s intended to give an international podium to Dutch and Flemish comics artists. We’re doing it in English with the hope that they will also have future publishers abroad.

STONE: How did you find the process of putting it all together this time?

SWARTE: That was great. Of course I’ve always been interested in what’s new in the field of comics. Wherever I go – whether it be in Angoulême, or MOCA in New York, or in Luzern at the Fumetto Festival, wherever – I’m always looking for what’s new. I want to be intrigued, my curiosity needs to be filled in. I have a lot of new publications here in my house. I decided Scratches would be one-third Flemish, one-third Dutch, and one-third international, with known friends but also new artists. I like this mix of arrivées and new talent. I saw a lot of new material and I remembered especially this yellow, pictogram style comic by Veiko Tammjärv. I had seen it once in a yearbook of Finnish comics but never broadly presented anywhere else. And I was so impressed by it I thought ‘I need to have this one in Scratches’.

I have an assistant, Seb Ikso, here in my studio. He is a young comics artist recently graduated from the arts school in Rotterdam. Seb knows everything of what’s going on, what’s new. And he looks at it from another perspective. It’s very good to have somebody else with whom I can discuss these things.

Of course I tried to have the best from Holland and Belgium. In this first issue, part of my criteria was ‘who has potential for having their work published in other countries?’ On the other hand, I know for instance that Typex is busy on a huge project, a comic of the life of Andy Warhol, 560 pages, so I wouldn’t bother him until he is almost finished with that. Then there is Erik Kriek who recently came out with beautiful material. But I thought things that have gotten a lot of attention recently can go on their own strength, and they are already published in other countries. So it would be interesting to get artists in who are partly new for my audience, so that I can surprise people.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-47-20-pmSTONE: Tell me a little about the new artists that you feature.

SWARTE: I was very much impressed by a girl who lives in Liège, Belgium – Kristina Tzekova. She drew stills from a movie of a deer on the seaside jumping in the waves, and it’s an incredible piece. With her other comics too, she has a very feminine approach to the stories that she’s telling. She does them without words, it’s more about gestures etc. When I saw her material she told me about this recent thing that wasn’t published yet anywhere. At first I didn’t know exactly what to think of it because it seems that all the pictures over the six pages look alike. But if you go through it they start to work like a movie. This is a procedure that she does often. I know the movie that this is taken from and the drawn version is much better than the movie because she positions the deer always in the center of the drawing so if you concentrate it really comes alive and has a sort of Zen kind of appeal. That I like very much.

Another thing I very much like to present in the magazine is people in the comics field writing about others who are either in the comics field or just outside in the margins, but people who are very very important in my opinion. There are so many of these sort of artists. Frans Masereel couldn’t be missed here in the first issue. He is very important and I was very happy to be able to present some of his strongest works and to have an introduction by Toon Horsten. Toon Horsten is the man behind the magazine Stripgids, a Belgian magazine/fanzine that gives information about comics. He’s very knowledgeable and wrote a beautiful introduction. And then I have two more articles written by comic artists because I like the idea of artists discussing works by fellow artists rather than from an art historian point of view. So I asked Max to do something on Manolo Prieto. Prieto was a graphic artist in the 40s in Spain who did a lot of book covers for cheap novels. His artwork is due to the limitations of the printing process at the time. Graphically it’s so very strong that I couldn’t miss him. I think for young artists that are fond of what’s happening now and who love the Nobrow style of work, Manolo Prieto will be a great discovery for them. And then we have Mark Smeets, the Dutch artist who died in 1999. Mark Smeets was always one of the best artists in the Tante Leny Presenteert group. He was the best of us all, but he never made an entire comics story. Kramer’s Ergot and published some of his drawings with an introduction by Chris Ware, who is a great fan of Mark Smeets. Smeets was impressed by the imagination that comes loose with comic art and he made sketchbooks full of it. There is now a group of people in Amsterdam that are making files of all these old sketchbooks and through them we have all this beautiful Mark Smeets stuff. So I thought now with all the material available it would be nice to have him too in it. I asked the founder of the underground magazine Tante Leny Presenteert, Evert Geradts, to write his memories of friend and fellow artist Mark Smeets.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-47-55-pmSTONE: What did Crumb and David B. and Spiegelman have to say when you approached them to be in Scratches?

SWARTE: They loved the idea that I started a magazine! When we meet we always talk about our profession and what’s new etc. I recently wrote an article for Robert and Aline’s exhibition at the Cartoonmuseum in Basel. I wrote about the period that they started to draw, and what surroundings, what the world was like when they started their comics. When I visited them this summer, Robert showed me pages that were made for a non-comic magazine in France. Probably not many people would know of these and he was willing to put them in Scratches so I’m very happy about that. What I think is interesting in the work of Robert and Aline is the atmosphere in their comics, that the comics grow old with the artists. It’s not too often that happens. They grow older and the subjects they treat in their comics grow older as well.

David B. and I spent some time together when we were both invited for the comic festival in Buenos Aires three years ago. Since then we have kept in contact and I love his work. He was happy to participate. As was Chris Ware who made a fantastic page that was partly shown in an American newspaper. But I’m very happy that now for the comic field we will preserve it on the back of our magazine.

STONE: Tell me about your own strip in Scratches.

SWARTE: My wife said to me ‘I always loved Jopo, please bring him alive again’ and I thought that’s a good idea. The title of the strip is ‘Where Destiny Leads Me’, which is sort of Jopo’s motto. So I studied a scenario about the negative connotations of adopting this attitude in your life. It’s not parallel to my own life but I can imagine how destiny can lead you to situations that you don’t want.

It was fun to draw Jopo again. This springtime I was invited to be artist-in-residence at the comic festival in Luzern. They asked me to be at this hotel for about two weeks. So I decided to show on camera how I make my comic pages from the early pencil sketches up to the colored final. I sat in a drawing booth that I designed myself, with a camera above the table. Which means I did one page in 20 hours and it’s all recorded. During the festival the making of this comic was seen in time-lapse in an exhibition. It was fun to do. When I started it, I thought it would probably be like being a monkey in the zoo. The people come around and see what you’re doing but in fact people showed very much respect and they let me do my job. And in 20 hours it was finished. We haven’t shown it yet but that’ probably a future project.

STONE: What else are you working on at the moment?

SWARTE: The most important thing is probably a collection of all the artwork that I did for The New Yorker. That’s about 50 colored illustrations and maybe more than 100 black and whites. And I want to include in the book many of the sketches that didn’t make it. If I’m asked to illustrate an article, I read it and make small synopses in drawing form from different points of views. I communicate these early sketches with The New Yorker and they choose one. But the other ones that were not used often have an interesting approach to the subject and I think it would be nice to show them in the book as well. It will be about 120 pages, I would guess. The idea is to have it published come springtime.

I was also commissioned to make a children’s book. Next year is the 100th anniversary of The Style Movement (‘De Stijl’) which was a very important artistic movement not only in Holland but also internationally. It was a mix of avant-garde artists who wanted to have a sort of non-personal art. My idea for this book is to do an adventure with a cat as the main character passing from studio to studio, from atelier to atelier, visiting all these artists who were part of this movement. But I need to explain and talk about this complicated art movement in a way that everybody, children included, can understand. So it’s a crazy project and will probably be finished next spring too.

STONE: Are there plans for the next issue of Scratches?

SWARTE: The idea is to publish Scratches each year. The advantage of once a year is that you don’t double too much and you can surprise people with high quality stuff. So that’s the idea, to come every year. And for how long a time, you never know…(laughs)

http://www.tcj.com/joost-swarte-scratching-the-surface/feed/ 2
A Conversation with Dame Darcy http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-dame-darcy/ http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-dame-darcy/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 12:00:03 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95794 Continue reading ]]>
meat-cake-bible-cover-1000pixI was really happy to see the The Portland Mercury‘s recent headline regarding Dame Darcy‘s new collection, the Meat Cake BibleUnder the title“Comics, Here is Your Queen”, Suzette Smith remarks that “If You Ignore Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake Bible, I Will Riot”. I couldn’t agree more. Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake was one of the most culturally visible alternative comic book titles of the 1990’s. The 17 issues of the series, published by Fantagraphics from 1993-2008 were well circulated and known in underground art and music scenes of the time. Dame Darcy was a known character herself, instantly recognizable in her impeccable Victorian outfits. During the decade when things that would later be labeled as grunge, or rave, or riot grrl were being created, and before the Graphic Novel elevated the visibility of alternative comics, copies of Meat Cake were lying around everywhere, mixed into piles of music mags & zines. The Meat Cake Bible collects almost 500 pages of her best works. It’s an impressive chunk of cartooning by an important and uniquely individual feminine voice in comics. Nobody else is quite like Dame Darcy, and nothing else is quite like Meat Cake.

Rege: Let’s talk about the Meat Cake Bible! I want to congratulate you on this thing.

Darcy: Thank you, oh my god.

Rege: I have all the comics, but this is a really different thing, seeing it in this format.

Darcy: I know isn’t it? It’s like a treasure chest.

Rege: It is like a treasure chest. I like the way it’s being presented as a definitive collection, like a monograph.

Darcy: It looks like it will go down in history.

Rege: It’s a book for the library. It’s not called “The Complete Meat Cake”.  It’s not a nostalgic collection.  It doesn’t present itself as a collection of comic books put into a book. I never thought about that kind of stuff with these kinds of collections until I saw this. I don’t know if that was your idea, but it’s exciting to see it this way. 

Darcy: Well thank you, yeah. I was talking with Eric at Fantagraphics, who replaced Kim as my main person I work with. Eric said ‘describe this so we can think of a way to market it, what we’re gonna call it, you know’ I said: ‘Well it’s gonna be all of them together and I have bonus new stuff at the end that I just made this year, because I just wanna keep going with this series.’  I might just keep self-publishing a little bit until I compile enough for another one, you know… I think it shows past, present, future and all this stuff together. It’s a bible for my cult following. That’s why we decided to call it the Bible, because it just shows everything. You know what I mean?

Rege: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you next. It is edited. It’s not just every issue in order is it?

Darcy: No, it’s all over the place.

Rege: OK. That’s what I thought.

Darcy: I like it that way.

Rege: I like it that way too. This is a huge book, and it’s still not the entire series. That’s so much comics.

Darcy: [laughter] It’s almost 500 pages.

Rege: If it’s not everything, how much was left out? How did you decide what stories not to put in? 

Darcy: It’s not every little thing, no. I just think some of the extras and some of the fillers, like the front pages and end pages and inserts, just little dumb comics that weren’t like… were just amusing or whatever, didn’t make it in because we couldn’t have it be 800 pages, you know what I mean.

Rege: Mhmm

Darcy: But I think that’s good. Because then, if you’re really a die-hard archivist, you have to go find it. You know, then that way it’s like some hidden treasure still.

Rege: So it’s mostly just little things that are left out. It’s all of the most important works.

Darcy: Yeah, it’s like the main stuff. I feel like it’s really complete.

Rege: Yeah, me too. One thing that was amazing to me, from memory, when I think of Meat Cake, I mostly think of the Richard Dirt/Wax Wolf stories. The stories with the cast of characters are the ones that stuck in my mind. But looking at this book, there’s just so many stand alone short stories. I always knew they were scattered through the series, but looking at them all together, I’m kind of amazed.  There’s just so many.meat-cake-bible-199-1000pix

Darcy: Oh thanks, yeah… I just have so many ideas in my brain, I just gotta keep going you know what I mean? [laughter]. It’s all the little short stuff. I really love the Grand Guignol. I really loved fairytales and I love short fiction, it’s my favorite thing ever. I’m also ADD. When I get a new idea, I switch over to it. I’m Gemini so it goes all over the place.

I’m working on my next epic tome. Voyage of The Temptress is my new one. I’m doing it kind of as a webcomic –  I just like being done with something. I’m like ‘okay I drew six pages, that story’s done.’

Rege: This is not a graphic novel by any means. You’re a cartoonist from the pre-graphic novel era, which isn’t that long ago.

Darcy: Yeah, and all the kids do this manga thing now. Everyone does anime and this anime style. It’s fine, especially in my genre, Gothic Lolita. It’s all this anime goth. I’m Gothic Lolita too, but I have nothing to do with anime. All the millennials are super into anime and they need to expand on that, you know. 

Rege: I think eventually they’ll absorb it and do it in their own style or something like that.

Darcy: I hope so because I’m kind of getting sick of it. You know, you’re drawing really great, but you’re drawing just like anime. Come up with your own thing guys! I’m going to do a skill share video series teaching how to self-publish and do your own comics, and coming up with your own style is the main part of it! [laughter]. You’re not learning anything if you do that. You gotta go into your soul and come up with your own look!

I taught sequential art at the School of Visual Arts, and I’ve done lectures with PNCA and SCAD and Columbia and stuff like that, and one off things at public schools. I’ll volunteer. I did a little comics course for kids in the inner city schools in LA. I did it here for summer camp in Savannah. I’m all about it. One of the first things I say is, ‘Okay what’s you’re spirit animal? What’s your favourite stuff? What’s your favourite colour? What’s your favourite food? Combine it all in to a character, that’s where you’re going to get your style!’

Rege: That’s cool.

Darcy: Yeah, they come up with the cutest, hilarious stuff. I just love teaching people how to tap into their pathos. That’s what it’s really about. Just inspiring people with your work to be themselves, and to tap into their pathos. Like, be yourself so brazenly!

I love how when Obama became president he was like ‘yeah, I know there’s never been a black president before, but my reality and my confidence is so strong that I changed reality. I made it so there was a black president even though there’d never been one. In my world there could be one, and so now there is.’ I love that! That’s the key to manifestation and magic. Just alter reality so that it becomes your reality!

Rege: Oh my god.

Darcy: Seriously. I wanna be as big as Snoopy or as mainstream as Hello Kitty or some shit. Really I do.

Rege: I just came across your one page manifestation story in here.

Darcy: That’s so funny.

Rege: It’s like twenty years old, right.

Darcy: That’s so hilarious.

Rege: If I had seen this in the 90’s, nothing about it would have made sense to me. I might have flipped by it, but now I’m like ‘Oh look at this comic about manifestation that she did’. I want to ask you about auto bio in your comics. A lot of your fictional characters are also you.

Darcy: Yeah, that’s weird that you bring that up.

Rege: I think it’s a really important part of your cartooning. I think it’s been really influential. There are a lot of younger people that go between fantasy and reality in their comics in a way that they understand, maybe in part because of you. You have all these different characters, and so many of them look like you. They are all reflections of you.

Darcy: They’re wearing different costumes with wigs and stuff.

Rege: You never can tell when you’re reading it. It seems like half the characters are you. Some stories are complete fantasy, but others, with the cast of regular characters, seem like things that may have happened to you and your friends, that got turned into a comic. It sometimes even says so. There’s even a small amount of straight autobio. Your work goes in between all of this in a really fluid way.

Darcy: Oh thanks, yeah. When I’m teaching, I tell them how the key to writing is to never get writer’s block. Here’s how to never get writer’s block: just know that you have every right to your voice, to your vision, to your perspective, to the way that you talk, all of that is yours. You’re an artist. You have every right to just be who you are. Everybody’s got stories to tell. Everybody’s got a story about their life. Just write it down the way you would tell it to a friend. Don’t think about how you’re writing it, don’t think about anything else. Write it down. When you’re done writing it, you can look at it and tweak it and change it into what you want.

That’s what I like about Mark Twain. Mark Twain changed the way writing is. He changed English language. He just made up words, and put them in there. He told his story from the perspective of a Victorian, southern, little boy. It had it’s own thing. It’s almost like sitting in a lake. It has it’s own language, it’s own atmosphere, it’s own world. If you’re gonna be in it, you got to be in that world on those terms.

That’s the way my work is too. It’s very feminine-centric. You know I’m unapologetic about it. I refuse to be anything other than female-centric. My big issue with putting guns in women’s hands, as if now they’re carrying guns and so they’re feeling empowered? Women don’t care about that. We care about female-centric stuff. Women’s psychology is completely different. What little girls want to be, or fantasize about, or want to grow up to be, what women want is so different than what the patriarchy dictates to us through the media and through a constant barrage of commercials. What they really want and what they really respond to is biological. Nothing commercial and no amount of money in the patriarchy can change it. I finally think there’s a chance now, that what I do can go mainstream.

Rege: How is that part of being a cartoonist? In the twenty or so years that you’ve been publishing, there are many more women in alternative comics. There’s been a shift towards the feminine. I can see a lot of influence that you’ve had. You just did it the way that you wanted to. It’s in the way that you draw. It’s different.

Darcy: It’s never going to go out of style. I did that on purpose. I did that because I didn’t know when my movie would get made, or when my big break was gonna happen. I needed to make it not look dated, you know what I mean. It will never go out of style.

Rege: When I look at Meat Cake, I feel like there’s twenty five subcultures that owe you royalties from this style. It’s kind of hard to explain. I feel like there’s fashions & stuff that I saw first in Meat Cake, before I saw them in the real world. Like… girls in Meat Cake wore striped stockings long before it was a real life 90s fashion trend. It’s crazy to think of now.

Darcy: Well, Hot Topic is definitely gonna carry my stuff. I’m going to magnetize on that. I’m just tired of the shenanigans, it’s just annoying me now. You know, I came really close, multiple times to all of this stuff and now it’s just gonna happen because I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t take waiting anymore. I’m too old now and I just need it to happen [laughter]. It’s gonna happen, I’m okay with it. I’m ready.meat-cake-bible-51-1000pix

Rege: Alright. I want to ask you, how did you become a cartoonist? From knowing you personally, I understand why you play banjo easier than why are you a cartoonist. What comics did you read? I didn’t know that you started Meat Cake when you were twenty one. Growing up, did you always want to draw comics, what made you want to make them? It’s a really specific thing to do and it’s a bit harder than anything else.

Darcy: There’s one thing that’s harder, and that’s cell animation, which is what I started with. So because of that, comics were an easier thing for me [laughs].

Rege: So you were doing that first. 

Darcy: Okay well, Meat Cake is my number one thing. I did my analytics and found out that’s what I’m most known for. I’ve got these other books and I play the banjo and I’m from Idaho, but I’ve lived in New York City and all this stuff.

Rege: Well now there’s this book that shows it. You’ve got all this other stuff, and also work in all these other mediums, but this book is almost five hundred pages of comics!

Darcy: Well, I went to school for film, and I majored in animation. I was trained by my father, who is a sign painter. He taught me how to do fonts, and to draw and paint in Idaho, and to play the banjo.

Rege: Aha! I think that’s a lot of the answer!

Darcy: Yeah. All that’s in Highjacks and Hijinks, which is my next book. My ultimate goal is to make Meat Cake into a movie premiering at Comic-Con, and then the next year have Highjacks and Hijinks come out. It’s the making of what made Meat Cake, it’s about my life. So when people ask me, I can just say ‘watch the movie” [laughs], rather than explaining all of the multi-duplicitous things that are what my life is – it really takes a long time. I know a lot of weird people with really interesting, crazy life stories that have traveled all over the world, and lots of different things. That’s my thing. I’m not like most people, I can’t say where I’m from when people ask. I’m from Idaho, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and now Savannah. Those don’t have anything to fucking do with each other! [laughs] – I don’t know, I’d have to look this up but I think I’m the only fashion model who’s also a cartoonist. I feel like cartoonists aren’t fashion models.


Rege: Well, fashion models make zines now I think. [laughs]

Darcy: They make what?

Rege: They make zines, because everyone makes zines.

Darcy: Oh yeah, well, zines are great. I mean, I teach a zine course too, but you know what I mean, the comics.

Rege: You’re very out in the world as yourself and as a person. Comics are kind of quiet and isolating. They involve a lot of solitary work and…

Darcy: Well, I spent a lot of time in isolation in Idaho. I really hated school. I knew that if I tried to take any of the tests I would fail. I would just cut to the chase and draw comics on the back of the tests [laughs]. If I knew I’d get a question wrong, I’d just draw some cute comic on the back that was like ‘hey teacher I knew I was going to fail so I drew this comic as a makeup art thing’ They thought it was funny and they just let me get by. They’d be like ‘okay well that was enough, that’s like a D+’ [laughs].

Rege: The thing about your work in general, from the earliest stuff I’ve seen, it’s all done in your particular style, right from the very start. You have the filigree around the borders of every single panel right from the beginning. You use exactly the same, perfect Dame Darcy lettering style from day one. The sign painting thing helps explain that, I guess.

Darcy: Well, I lived in Idaho on a horse ranch half the year, and then I lived in a Victorian house in a small town in Idaho. I also helped my dad. I was my dad’s sign-painting apprentice. I lived like I was in the 1800s a lot even though it was the 70s and 80s. My house was from 1902. The ranch that we lived on had been that way for 100 years. We had no running water and shit, but it was a really nice cabin, up in the mountains in Idaho. We had to light a fire under the bathtub that we’d fill with a pump. We put the hose in the creek and pumped it out of the creek into the bathtub and lit a fire under it. Now we have indoor plumbing and things, but we used to drive to the little bone stores in the middle of nowhere. It would be the only thing around for miles. For 10 cents I could call my mom once a week ‘cause she was in town, and I was in the mountains. I’d also get a blue Nehi pop. Is that named after a Mormon saint? I think it is?

Rege: Nehi? yeah, it’s spelled weird.

Darcy: I think it’s a Mormon thing. I think that pop is from Idaho. But anyways, I thought Little House on the Prairie was contemporary. I thought we had a truck, but they just didn’t have one yet. I just thought we had a one up on them.

Rege: That’s funny. Little House On The Prairie does make me think of the ’80s, even though it’s not set in the ’80s.

Darcy: Oh yeah, and in the 70s my mom was making me Little House style dresses with matching bonnets that looked like that.

Holly Hobbie fashion.

Holly Hobby fashion.

Rege: Mhmm like Holly Hobby fashion.

Darcy: Yeah yeah I had those, I loved them, they were my favorite, which is why I’m so super into Lolita now. I hung out in full Victorian dress on a ranch, and now I’m in Savannah with all the Victorian houses around, all the furnishings are antique. It’s just the way people live… it’s a timeless thing.

Rege: So did you go from Idaho to San Francisco to go to school?

Darcy: Yeah. I had bad grades in school, but I took newspaper and was developing a portfolio because everyone was saying ‘you’re going to be famous’, you’re going to get a scholarship. We’re gonna make it happen, kid. We’re going to get you out of here’ My mother is from LA originally, and her mother works for the government, she works for the CIA. We weren’t allowed to know what grandma did for a living. I still don’t know. My mother’s dad was a psychiatrist. She was an only child, but she was also raised by a bunch of Catholics. Her mom did stuff in the 50’s that mothers didn’t usually do. She worked for the government, and only had one child, and was super careerist in the 50s. There weren’t afterschool programs and child care for working moms back then, so she took my mom to the catholic church and dumped her in with a catholic family, a litter of nine kids. So now my mom has nine god-siblings. My mother is a catholic, raised by an atheist who worked with the CIA. My mother is a really sweet, hardcore feminist catholic lady.

Rege: Ah, I understand that. They tend to like art. I was taught by nuns in High School.

Darcy: I lived in a place where I would sit on the bus next to a Mormon girl named Fawn or Misty, there would be three sisters named that. The three sisters would go on to have like 10 kids each. I would be sitting on the bus and would be like ‘So what do you want to do when you grow up?’ and like Fawn would be like ‘ oh I’ll have as many kids as the good lord gives me’ and I’d be like ‘are you kidding me? That’s just insane’ My mom was from LA and she knew a bigger world than that. She was like ‘We’re going to get you a scholarship and we’re going to help you’ I knew I was going to art school because my GPA wasn’t going to allow me to go to regular college.

Rege: Yeah I had a similar experience… when I discovered art school existed, I was like… that’s the only place I could possibly go.

Darcy: Yeah, I mean there wasn’t even an option for me. I wasn’t ever going to go to normal school. I was all about art class and building my portfolio and getting awards. I was in newspaper club. I was the cartoonist for the newspaper. I drew a comic called Tumor Humor. It started a lot of controversy because it was about the nuclear power plant in Idaho Falls blowing up, and everybody becoming radioactive zombies. A lot of the jokes were really sexy and scary and creepy and crazy like.

Rege: [BIG GASP] Right, too much. Too cool for school.

Darcy: They were in the school paper. They were like Meat Cake, but they were about the apocalypse and they were in the school paper.

Rege: Yeah, yeah, yeah in high school, yeah

Darcy: The teacher was really encouraging me. The kids were already like hating me, or loving me, or scared of me as it was. That shit just made it way worse. I did it for three years. I was 15, 16, and 17. Each year I kept winning at the regionals. There was a regional newspaper thing where everybody would get together from all over Idaho and Montana and Utah and wherever in the northwest. We’d stay in this huge, crazy hotel in Sun Valley that’s usually reserved for movie stars who want to go skiing. It was all the nerdy kids from newspaper classes from all over the place, and I kept winning. I won three years in a row. That really helped with my scholarship. I remember my grandpa saying he was really proud of me and I was like, ‘I don’t think you’ve read the comics though’ [laughs] He says he read them.

Rege: Alright, so here’s a question…

Darcy: There was one… wait let me just tell you what one of them was, because it’s funny! Just so you know what was in the school paper: There was a guy, and he’s glowing in the dark and his car is blown up and it’s just the axle, and all the town’s lights are off. There’s this girl sitting in this bombed out house that’s just made out of a shell of bricks and she’s glowing in the dark. They look like zombies, but they’re wearing like 60s teenybopper clothes because they were going to go out on a date. She’s a skeleton with a ponytail. He goes to pick her up and he pretends to open the door, but it’s invisible. She sits on the axle and they drive to makeout point, but there’s no light. When they make out, her tooth comes out in his mouth and he spits it out. Then, his boil pops and sprays all over her and she’s like: “That’s too much!! Take me home!”

Rege: [laughs] That’s… that is complicated for a high school comic. What have you been up to lately?

Darcy: I need regular income, so I’ve been working as a ghost host for three years. I also teach painting and art. It’s at this haunted house called ‘Escape Savannah’. It’s also my art studio. I got all my interns jobs working as ghost hosts too, so that they can get paid to work as ghost hosts, and also work for me. It’s all in the same unit.

Rege: Mhmm. That sounds like a Meat Cake comic, what you’re describing to me.

Darcy: It looks like a Meat Cake comic. All the girls look like the characters of Meat Cake.

Rege: Good work.

Darcy: It’s a good job because I can just sit there with a lightbox in the dark and draw my comics, while getting paid an hourly wage, when I need to do my deadlines.

Rege: That’s awesome.

Darcy: So I don’t just use the advance up. I get paid, and then I can put the advance in savings. I’ve come very close to getting a licensing deal. That’s what I really want now. I’m manifesting that now, because a licensing deal would be really fun, to put my designs all over a bunch of stuff. Like, virtual paper dolls. A reality world where everything is all over virtual stuff, and it doesn’t create landfill. I’m always very environmentally conscious.

Rege: Ahhhh! [laughs] 

Darcy: I got a scholarship at San Francisco Art Institute for two years. I didn’t get a full ride, but I went for two years. I majored in film with a minor in animation, because all of my comics – I’ve always wanted to make them into feature films. I’ve written three or four feature films now, and I keep making them into comics and graphic novels, because it’s the cheap way to just do it all by your own self, without having to spend all the money to create the world, as a movie.

Rege: Right.

Darcy: So, I was all goth, you know. Nobody was yet, as you know. My boyfriend lived in LA, and I would go to LA to see him all the time. We were born on the same day. We met through a goth music magazine. I was like 15, 16, 17. I kept going back to LA. My friends were pretty cool too. We’d order stuff through the mail because there wasn’t the internet yet. I’d go to LA and get the fashion, the music, go to coffee shops and art things and hang out with my boyfriend. I saw that there was a zine culture, and an underground music scene. I saw that you could make zines. I started writing extra ideas from my comics for the newspaper, and started making them into zines.

Rege: You did? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pre-Meat Cake, Dame Darcy zine. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

Darcy: Oh really? It was crazy. It’s really awesome when I do book signings and people come up to me with them.

Rege: I’d really like to see those.

Darcy: I was using the photocopier at my dad’s at my work, with my dad. He was a sign painter, so he had one. The school also had one they let me use, even though I was horrible and horrifying. I just terrorized everybody all the time at school. [laughs]

Rege: Mhmm did you….

Darcy: That’s why my autobio is called Hijacks and Hijinks, because all I wanted to do… all I thought about everyday was how to play pranks on everybody except my friends. You know, just fuck with everyone’s mind all the time.  But the principal loved me, and let me use the photocopier. They let me lay around in the nurses’ office when I wanted to.

Rege: Uh-huh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Darcy: [laughs] I hated it all. He thought it was funny or something, so he just let me do whatever I wanted. When I started school in San Francisco, I was in Caroliner Rainbow.

Rege: Your bio in the book list so many of the different things that you’ve done, but I noticed that being in Caroliner Rainbow didn’t make the list. The other things are more important & well known, but to me, Caroliner was something I was into back then.

Darcy: Yeah, well I hear about it a lot. He started to hate me once I started to get famous on my own, without his band. I was only 18, and I was already starting my own zines and stuff.

Rege: I feel like I may have gotten your 7-inches before I saw Meat Cake.

Darcy: That’s back when people knew me mostly as a musician.


Rege: I love that will of the wisp octopus 7-inch. It’s super beautiful. The art, and the sound on it is so mysterious. I remember getting it, and trying to make the connection between the music and the art. You know, in the 90s… you could get art, as well as music, from the same person, in two different places, and not know that they were related, or even made by the same person…there was no way to look it up.

Darcy: I know… they didn’t have analytics in the 90s.

Rege: When did you become aware of underground comic books? Did you discover sixties underground stuff in San Francisco?

Darcy: Well, my dad had Zap Comix  and my uncle went to the San Francisco Art Institute. My dad and my uncle were formally trained in fine art.

Rege: Meat Cake is done much more in the format of a SF underground comic, as opposed to other 90’s alternative comics. It came out around the time that people started doing comics as 32 page episodes of a 200 page book.

Darcy: My dad had Playboy, and Heavy Metal, and Zap Comics. I saw that you could make comics that had sexy ladies in them, that weren’t just cute, weren’t just snoopy or whatever. I thought that could be a career.

Rege: There you go.

Darcy: I saw that you can make other kinds of things into comics. The sexist portrayal of women in comics hurt my feelings, even as a kid. It hurt my feelings, the way that they were being portrayed, it upset me. I wanted to make comics that were fairytales, where it’s all about girls.

Rege: During the 90s, if you went over to somebody’s house that you thought was cool, you would definitely want to look at all their stuff. It was the only way to find out about anything. Meat Cake was always around those places. You could pick it up and read a few short, self contained stories, and understand the universe of Dame Darcy. A lot of other comics at the time were chapters of longer stories.

Darcy: The zine scene was blowing up. I was touring with Lisa Carver, and doing illustrations for Rollerderby, her zine. When you are a freak and you put on a freak show, and it’s a crazy weird rock show with hot girls, then you sell your books afterwards. It was the best way of doing it yourself, to get started at that time. I will never regret the early part of my life in these big, scary cities, risking my life to live there.rollerderby

Now I’m old and I’ve been established forever. Even in the hardest, darkest days in my life, there has always been fans that are encouraging me to continue, because of what I established as a kid. That’s just got me through the whole time.

Rege: Your drawings were dispersed all over the place, in little bits, along the way. Now there is this one big, giant book, with them all together.

Darcy: I know, I’m so excited.

Rege: It’s on nice paper, you can read it.

Darcy: Yeah, well now I’m pitching it as a movie, of course, because that’s been my big goal all along. I can just throw it down on the table like, “Bitch, make it happen, here’s a bible.” If this doesn’t prove that it’s mainstream marketable, like Snoopy or some shit.


Rege: It’s a real definitive thing.

Darcy: Thank you. I really feel like Kim is my guardian angel. I’m going to start crying and I can’t start crying. I feel like Kim Thompson is my guardian angel. He gave me my first break when I was in the 20, 21-years old. I was one of the youngest published female cartoonists at the time. I couldn’t go home to Idaho, I couldn’t live there again after all the work I’d done to get out, you know what I mean? Oh Kim Thompson! He’s totally my guardian angel, he gave me my first break. We were planning the Meat Cake Bible! It was so horribly shocking. I was so sad, I couldn’t believe it. So that’s why I dedicated Meat Cake Bible to Kim. I still feel like he’s watching over this project. You know, as a witch, I’ve done the rituals for Kim, just thanking him. These spells are like a telephone to the other world, where, you know, you can’t call people on the phone anymore but you can still tell them things. I feel like his spirit lives on in my work, and in the work that he helped produce with all these other amazing artists through the years. A little part of him is in all of our work.

Rege: That makes sense. Do you think that you’ll always draw comics?

Darcy: Oh yes.

Rege: Okay, so you’re a born cartoonist.

Darcy: Yeah. The question everybody had, all my teachers, all my friends, and everybody I ever knew in my life, was “how are you going to survive in the world doing this?”

Rege: [Laughs] Exactly, that’s the mysterious part. A lot of artists try comics, and then quit right away. Or they quit after a little while, and go on to do something else. Here’s a super nerd question. What kind of pens do you use? What kind of paper do you use? Do you care? Has it changed over the years? It looks like you’re comfortable with everything. Did you ever go through a period of only using, like really old quill pens or anything? Do you have a certain kind of ink that you love?

Darcy: I really love those old-fashioned dip pens with archival ink. But, they’re too precious. The ink spills. I tour a lot, and I move all the time. I’m always traveling everywhere, my life is very weird. So I wasn’t always in the position to have my table, and my ink, and my shit to paint with and draw with. My life couldn’t be preciously wrapped around this table with my stuff. I mostly use rapidographs, but I’ve had to change the ink in the bathroom of the train, you know, or I’ll have another one on the plane, in case the one I’m using explodes, or explodes when I get there. My go-to is rapidographs. It’s mostly because they use archival ink.

RegeYou don’t draw with a brush or anything like that.

Darcy: I can do it. It just looks a bit different. That’s like painting to me. If I’m going to paint, I’ll use paint and paint a painting. Going through the Bible, there are so many pictures of myself. It’s like a diary for me. With every page, I can remember where I was when I drew it, I can remember who I was dating at the time, or what was going on in my life at the time, or where I was sitting when I was drawing this page.

Rege: All of the photos of you in the book are fairly recent.

Darcy: Yeah, they’re all of me now.

Rege: You could’ve chosen to put in pictures that spanned over the last 20 years.

Darcy: There’s one of me when I was nine.

Rege: You could’ve put in a collection of pictures that showed what you’ve looked like along the way, as the comics were drawn, through the years.

Darcy: I fucking didn’t even think to do that. I’m super into feminism through femininity, that’s why I really like the Lolita thing. You don’t care who thinks you’re not sexy cause you’ve got a bonnet on. You’re like, “I’m going to wear this bonnet, and if you don’t like it, or think it’s weird, or don’t think I’m sexy, that’s your problem”. It’s just me, and I’m going to wear a bonnet because I think it looks cute. That’s what I love about Lolita, and that’s my brand of feminism. I’ll just do what I want bitches. I’m going to get a captain’s license, and I wear my mermaid costume as clothes every day, all the time. I’m just walking around in a mermaid costume because that’s what I feel like wearing. I don’t need to explain myself. I’ll introduce myself. If you want to look my ass up, you can. I’m just being me.

Rege: There’s a lot of sex in Meat Cake too.

Darcy: Yeah well you know, I’m feminist. [Laughter.]

Rege: Again, seeing it all collected like this, there’s a lot more sex than I remember.

Darcy: There’s lots of sex. The mermaid is always topless, and everybody’s always like, “whoops, my panties!” Girls are getting excited, and their vaginas are talking like, “yay!” People get excited and just pee, and girls make out with each other and shit and they don’t care. It’s because that’s what happens in real life right? So I just put it in there.

Rege: I remember reading your comics long ago and wondering, “where are these people who hang out and act like this? I’ve got to find these girls.”

Darcy: [Laughter.] They were out there, in every art school and in rock bands or whatever. They were my friends.

Rege: I’ve always liked the triangle boobs that you draw. It’s a great shorthand. You just draw this little dart. It’s the opposite of the perfect globes we see in most comics, right? Breasts have usually been drawn like beach balls.

Darcy: Oh thanks, I just thought those were funny. Not everybody has, or even wants fake, crazy boobs like that. It is really sad and anti-feminist and I don’t like it. I think everybody should embrace whatever beauty they’ve got, and everybody’s got different kinds of beauty. Don’t try to just go cookie-cutter or hate yourself for what you look like, just accept what you’ve got. I mean I’ve got pointy ears for crying out loud. I really got teased for that. Now, I’m really glad I have them. I’m from Atlantis, I’m a fairy, I’m a mermaid, and that’s the proof, my DNA. The pointy ears. I’m not a human.

Rege: Can you explain your idea of being a pirate, what that means to you?

Darcy: It means ultimate freedom. You get a lot of booty. I’m very anti-establishment. I don’t really care about rules. I’m going to get my captain’s license & learn to sail. When you’ve got the ocean, that’s where all the lines of countries are blurred. The rules are blurred, and if you don’t like it somewhere you can just sail away and go to another place. If you still don’t like it there, you can sail away and go to yet another place. There’s that freedom of having disconnect. I was mermaid queen, one of the coronated queens at Coney Island. I have the naughty nautical night cabaret, and all that. It’s not a costume. When you’re on a boat in a storm learning how to navigate the inter-coastal waterways of South Carolina, and nobody can see you or even cares who you are or what you did before. When the waters are rising, that’s the next logical step right?meat-cake-bible-119-1000pix

Rege: I like the way that you’re a pirate, you’re a mermaid, and you’re a witch. I like the idea that you can say all that in 2016, and a lot of people know what you actually mean. That wasn’t true as much 20 years ago, when you started.

Darcy: Yeah it’s cool. Every book that I’ve done, and every year that goes by, everything that I make, I always come “this close” to getting my big break.

Rege: It’s easier now than ever to explain what a witch and a cartoonist are. [Laughs.]

Darcy: I know. I’m a total realist. I know how to really live on a dime. I know how to live and strive through anything. I’m taking sea safety. I’m going to learn how to do CPR and all this other stuff even better. I’m super into knowing how to drive a car and swim and all this stuff because in any emergency situation, I want to know what to do. In a lot of ways I’m a total realist. It’s always been the background to every minute of my life.

Rege: Well you’ve got consistency with these drawings, that’s for sure.

Darcy: This is like the fiftieth book I’ve published. I’ve done so many books.

Rege: Do you feel like it’s a different book than the other ones?

Darcy: Yeah, I finally feel like in the end, Meat Cake is my heart, my soul, my brain. Like if you don’t know me at all, and you read Meat Cake, you know me more than anybody who thinks they know me, and hasn’t read it. I wish everybody had a book to just hand me to show me their heart, and their soul, and their brain – what it really, truly is. It would be very handy. Like, if I’m dating somebody, and I don’t really know him that well, or if I just met somebody, and they don’t know who I am, I’m like, “here’s who I am, look at my book.” If they’re all freaked out by it, or don’t like it, or get jealous, or wanna destroy me, or wanna fuck me, or whatever their agenda is after they see my book, It instantly determines things.

Rege: I have to say, most of the people I’ve met over the years that like Meat Cake a lot — They weren’t really into comics otherwise. They liked Meat Cake because they recognize it. They recognized themselves, and their friends in it. I’ve seen that reaction in people for 20 years. It’s appeal goes way outside of the realm of who is usually buying alternative comics. It’s been hugely influential.

Darcy: I know. It’s been fine being the unicorn in the room or whatever, but it’s been a little bit of the problem.

Rege: Yeah, you are a little bit of a unicorn in that way.

Darcy: What’s funny now is that I’m the grandma of all the Lolita anime girls. They might not always know who I am. Some of them do and some of them don’t. When they do, they’re like “Grandma! Here’s a crown made out of ice cream, we love you!” and when they don’t know who I am they’re like, “Oh she’s carrying a doll, and she has a bonnet on too, she’s another Lolita like us” or whatever. I want to live in a world where they all know me, because I told them. I’m putting Lolitas in my TV show, because Lolita world is really fun. The fashion is really great, everybody’s cool. We all have the same ideas about things, we live in the same adorable little wacky kind of sick planet. We are not represented very much on TV, or in movies. There’s a lot of fashion stuff, but there isn’t a mainstream movie or TV series about Lolitas.

What did we talk about when you interviewed me in Boston?

Rege: Did I interview you in Boston? Did I interview you on the radio?

Darcy: I know isn’t it weird? You interviewed me in Boston for a radio station.

Rege: I think we freaked out. We started screaming and yelling and shit. I think we got a little wild. [Laughs]

Darcy: We got weird.

Rege: We didn’t think about it. I think we just acted crazy.

Darcy: Yeah, well I’m not surprised. How old were we then?

Rege: I think you played a song. Oh, in our 20s.

Darcy: I think we were like 25, 24. I don’t know are you my age?

Rege: I’m 46.

Darcy: Oh yeah I’m 45, I just turned 45 this year. So yeah we’re the same age.

Rege: I totally forgot that happened.

Darcy: All artists truly care about is legacy, what happens after you die. The fact that I was alive, what I did to change society, what I did for feminism, what I did for the world while I was here, and what I left behind. Because, those books in the attic that I read, that were 100 years old, those people that are long dead? – they’ve influenced me. My ultimate goal in life is for the little girl from 2172 seeing my book. She will, because it’s been published. Maybe she’ll do something really weird and different for her time. Where she’s interpreting it in the context of her generation.

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“And It Lasted Forever”: An Interview with Tom Spurgeon http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-tom-spurgeon/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-tom-spurgeon/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96004 We Told You So, the Fantagraphics oral history he helped to compile. Continue reading ]]> Tom Spurgeon needs little introduction to readers of this site. He’s the editor and writer of The Comics Reporter, one of the most popular and well-respected websites covering the comics industry; he was the editor of the print version of The Comics Journal from 1994 through 1999, a pivotal time for comics; and he is the co-author (with Jordan Raphael) of Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book. His writing is always intelligent, grounded in history, and infused with his personal experience. Everyone who has read Tom’s writing feels like they know him.

Spurgeon has recently taken on a new role, as the festival director for Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), a city-wide celebration of comics art that in its first year has already established itself as a major event. It will be held again this weekend, and has attracted an impressive and wide-ranging guest list, including everyone from Garry Trudeau and Charles Burns to Carol Tyler and Stan Sakai.

Spurgeon is also the co-author (with Michael Dean) of a new book, We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited and controversial oral history of Fantagraphics (publisher of this site) which will finally be coming to stores this December.

I sent Spurgeon questions via email about the book, the festival, working for Fantagraphics in the 1990s, his health, and his relationship with Gary Groth. He returned them in record time.


TIM HODLER: How exactly did CXC initially come together, and how did you become involved?

TOM SPURGEON: It comes out of the Cartoon Arts Festival that used to be held every third year for decades by the OSU library that is now the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. That was a sort-of secret festival held here in Columbus, very strip-oriented as you might guess given their primary holdings, and it was supported very strongly by the syndicates. It was basically just a series of presentations by cartoonists and comics-makers to an elite audience, and a lot of hangout time. I think at the earliest one they all went to founding curator Lucy Caswell’s house for a meal.

Lucy moved into retirement from a full-time position at the Billy at roughly the same time the library and museum transitioned into the magnificent new facility AND the newspaper industry went right into the toilet. So a new model was necessary. A conversation by Lucy with her former student Jeff Smith and his wife, the force behind Cartoon Books as a business entity Vijaya Iyer, quickly expanded to rope in current Billy personalities Jenny Robb (the primary curator) and Caitlin McGurk, whose job includes outreach.

I get along well with Caitlin and Jeff and I think both of them take or avoid credit for bringing me on board depending on how well I’m doing.

What are your responsibilities?

I direct the festival, which means I’m primarily responsible for the logistics of it, the making it happen of it. That’s both in just making sure stuff gets set up but also that we’re executing according to our goals and ideals as stated. If I’m not on a committee, I’m being directed by a committee to do something or I’m in the room ex-officio offering advice and perspective based on the two-plus decade of ruining my life by paying attention to comics in its entirety.

How did you feel CXC went last year?

I thought we did really well for a first-year show, a two-day version of what we hope to become. Attendance was ahead of what I thought it would be (the figure we use based on our counts is 1200; I expected about half of that), and there were enough moving-stuff-around problems that it was really invaluable to have that under our belts going into a four-day model from now on. Just the basics. Like you forget if you go to a bunch of shows how much for most people stuff has to be explicit and easy to parse in terms of where things are and when and where to park, and so on.

Also, if you don’t schedule time for dinner with nothing going on, some people won’t eat! There’s comics to do! I’ll eat Tuesday!

What took you by surprise?

I was genuinely surprised in a good way how relatively sophisticated and smart we could get and audiences here even if they were unfamiliar with someone’s work would roll with it. We sometimes think of comics as this obtuse, weird thing — and it can be — but a lot of what comics-makers do is a lot of what a lot of artists do. Of all types. And I think people that have interest in art beyond its consumption can accommodate some pretty advanced talk about what that means.

Also, people have a really refined aesthetic for food trucks. Who knew?

Last year, CXC was described as a “soft launch” or a “sneak preview” of what the show would eventually become, and at least one press report said the first “real” CXC show wouldn’t take place until 2017. You’ve got some major guests coming this year—Garry Trudeau, Charles Burns, Raina Telgemeier. What should convention attendees and exhibitors expect? And are you out of the soft launch stage, or do you hope to expand dramatically next year?

I can’t speak for everyone involved, but I felt we had to get pretty big pretty quickly for a couple of reasons. The first is that the convention/festival schedule is crowded as hell, and I thought we needed to make a case for our place on the schedule pretty quickly as opposed to last decade’s model, where you could kind of grow the show for five or six years as the audience got used to attending.

The second is that one of the original conceptions is that this be a city-wide show. One of our explicit goals is to show off Columbus, even. So we run CXC out of about six venues in two different general locations: up on campus Thursday and Friday for the academic conference, peer to peer panels and auditorium presentations like Trudeau, then downtown Saturday and Sunday for the Expo part in our public library main branch with satellite events at the Columbus Museum of Art and Columbus College of Art and Design. We even move our late-night parties around.

The result is that there’s intense interest from about 15 civic groups to be involved, and we want to catch as much of that energy as early on as we can. You can’t tell excited people “hey, wait a few years; we’ll find something for you.” That just leads to people hating you if you’re successful and bailing on the idea if you’re not. But the resources they bring are an amazing thing, and more than worth any challenge in having that many moving parts.

So what can you expect? I hope a pretty full-service show. You can come Wednesday to Friday and see kind of the nerdier aspects, the gallery shows and the academic conference and the night-time presentations, all up on campus. You can come Saturday and Sunday to our downtown and attend a regular expo-type small press show, 100 tables, with four panel tracks. We even have hosted parties Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We have everyone from Image Comics to Youth In Decline in the Expo room; please, oh please God buy something. Or many things.

Shows seem, at least anecdotally, to have become increasingly important to cartoonists and publishers (at least those who aren’t firmly established in the general bookstore market). They certainly have become more frequent, and there are “important” shows taking place all over the country throughout the year. They are also expensive, especially if you go to a lot of them. Do you think this is a sustainable business model for small-press comics? What would be an alternative?

That’s like a whole essay of answers, but in brief.

I think you’re right in that we’ve crossed a line into there being some observable effects of so many festivals and shows. People no longer go to all of them, that’s basically impossible, most people are cutting back, and even some small-press attendees are waving off shows that don’t make them a special guest, or that aren’t really close, or that aren’t a guaranteed potential money-maker.

Do I think it’s a sustainable business model? No. Was it ever? Even compared to all the other shitty business models? Maybe, with a bunch of qualifications. If it ever was, it was just barely, and it was like — like most things in comics — to the benefit of a select few. There are people that can clear after expenses a few grand, which is probably more than they’re getting from any other single source. Of course there are social advantages and even spiritual advantages to connecting with people that actually read your work, or that know what you’re going through, that people will frequently do them despite knowing they might not be one of those that makes money.

The assumption I’m going on for the future is that people will do their locals, will do the shows that invite them in, and then will fill out the rest of the festivals they can do, perhaps up to four or five, with one or two shows with which they have a track record of good experiences. You’ll also see things like publishers explicitly supporting talent but not coming to shows themselves, and more people attending shows but only if a bunch of their friends do. I think you’ll also see more and more honoraria, and things like that. We are looking at ways in our development to one day perhaps have free tables for everyone accepted. That’s a long way off, and maybe not possible, though.

How do you see CXC compared to the other, more established conventions?

Catching up, mostly. There are a lot of great shows out there. That’s not me being nice, that’s me being jealous. A lot of the great shows benefit from being established, and have great, recurring, buying audiences as a result. At a certain point, you just need reps.

Conceptually, I hope that we’re just different enough that we become a unique thing for our guests and our audience, but still with enough broad appeal that sets of those at the show professional and at the show as a reader and fan will both include a lot of people.

The Billy and CCAD and other institutions are a big distinction. If most conventions are like tent revivals that pull up and leave when the weekend is over, we’re a series of churches — in the Billy’s case a cathedral — and we’re still here that next Monday. I think that provides a different feel even above and beyond what those institutions offer during the four-day weekend. We have great venues: we’re putting Seth and Ben Katchor in the Columbus Museum of Art this year, followed by Ronald Wimberly, who has an exhibit up over there as the Thurber House Graphic Novelist residency winner this year. The Thurber House is another one of those great institutions here.

We have a broader mandate than most shows. We’ll always have an animator. This year, we have two: Mark Osborne is showing a 3D version of his The Little Prince and the great John Canemaker is speaking on Winsor McCay at the same time there’s a McCay exhibit across the quad at the Billy. We do have a strong strip and a strong editorial cartooning presence. A diversity-driven Expo, SOL-CON, will have events up on campus on our Friday and its artists will exhibit with us Saturday and Sunday.

We have a strong professional development track, although I think most shows are expanding into this area. This year we have about 16 hours of programming aimed in that direction, and a few surprises. We will give out another significant cash prize to an Emerging Talent on the show floor.

We also really want to show off Columbus as a place we hope cartoonists will feel at home. We want people to come live here: it’s cheap, it’s a great city in which to be an artist, we’re close to everything east of the Mississippi and we have things like the Billy and the new comics major at CCAD. If you don’t actually live here we want you to feel like you have a second home here.


What is the best non-CXC show you’ve ever been to?

My first San Diego was pretty awesome. I got to talk to Jeff Smith and Sergio on the porch of the Hyatt until late in the morning, there was a ridiculous Fantagraphics party, and I got to moderate the panel where everyone yelled at Larry Marder for Image going to Diamond. I’m one of the few people that still enjoys a good San Diego. I also still have a fondness for the Chicago shows I went to when I was a kid. We’d one-day it and just spend as much money as we had on all the stuff we couldn’t find in Indiana, like American Splendor.

My favorite individual iteration of a show was the 2012 SPX, which was I thought was a tremendously sweet show, with a lof of people I care about in attendance.

I still feel the gold standard for a festival-style show is TCAF, though, in terms of the guest list and expo and reach and quality of the show.

How are you feeling, health-wise? Are things better after your scare a few years back?

I’m super-fat right now, but I feel great, thanks for asking. I got sick again in March. The wound that almost killed me in 2011 was conspiring to fill my lungs with clotting, and it got to the point that I went the first two months of this year severely oxygen-deprived. I was hallucinating and having severe confusion. The nerdiest part about that was that my hallucinations were like the Thurber drawing in that one Thurber-based movie: like cartoons dancing around on blank walls.

It wasn’t until my physical capacity diminished to the point I couldn’t walk across the room without being exhausted that I went to the hospital, though. I thought I was mentally fine except the hallucinations, which I just figured was a long-overdue psychotic break.

They zapped me with drugs and I’ve felt better than I have in years. I’m really lucky. We’ve lost a lot of great people in comics over the last few years. My friend and one-time Seattle roommate Jess Johnson died this year, for example. I still think about Kim and Dylan Williams. I was very fond of Darwyn Cooke and I think the whole field is like 3 percent less joyful and fun and hilarious for that guy not being in the room. It doesn’t get any better from here, either. I’m grateful and lucky.

The long-gestating book, We Told You So, is finally coming to print more than a decade after you began it. Obviously the Harlan Ellison lawsuit had something to do with that. Are you able to talk about that situation at all? And were there any other factors behind the book’s delay?

I wasn’t part of the lawsuit, so I suppose I can say whatever I want.

Me sucking would be the primary cause of the book not coming out. I was originally contracted for 30,000 words, which in the writing of it — well, the first chapter was about 30,000 words. The Ellison lawsuit killed any momentum and like the Fleisher lawsuit put a strain — much less of one — on my relationship with Fantagraphics. I think that’s just natural. That’s a tough journey to take. Like I said, I wasn’t even included in the lawsuit despite writing one book in question and editing the other. It was pretty goddamn weird.

Fantagraphics really wanted the book to come out. We had some strong disagreement as to how that would happen. Eventually, looking at my choices, I remembered talking to Kim Thompson’s parents back in 2006. They passed away soon after Kim did in 2013; they are no longer with us. I remember his Mom told me something straight-up about how happy she was that they got to talk about Kim. And if I had worked against the book finally being published, my best-case scenario — my best outcome! — was that she wouldn’t get to talk about her son on the record. So I reached out to Eric and Gary to change some things about the original contract which reflected our new situation and let go of my giant stupid ego.

You weren’t able to finish the book by yourself. How is the final product different from what you might have put together alone? Did you ever consider putting together the book in a different form, i.e., not an oral history?

It’s not exactly the book I would have written, not totally, but I’m proud of my work in there and I think Mike Dean did some heroic work in matching some of the later chapters he worked on to what we did with the earlier ones. I recommend it. Please buy it. I had a 37-email argument with Eric Reynolds about Jeremy Eaton’s ponytail for a picture caption and I don’t want to have wasted that time.

How would it have been different? I think I would have concentrated on some different issues. Like I’m fascinated by the falling out that a lot of Gary and Kim’s same-age peers had with the Journal in the early ’90s, and I think I would have covered that more. I’m more interested than the book ended up being interested on the way that Fantagraphics has shaped the publishers that come after. I think there a couple of people I would have focused on more, like Dirk Deppey. I think you can probably detect some shifts in tone if you read the work yourself. I think I would have hit on Gary becoming a father and Kim becoming a husband as key personal moments more thoroughly. Maybe. It’s hard to say!

I always wanted it to be an oral history. I like oral histories, I think the wider range of personalities involved with Fantagraphics is the story, and I think it pays homage to maybe the first great distinguishing element of the company: Gary’s interviews in the Journal.

I’ll tell you how long ago 2005 was, Tim. At the time I did the pitch, I sort of had to explain what an oral history looked like, and there weren’t a lot of book-length ones. I used the Terry Pluto book, Loose Balls, on the ABA and actually brought it into the Fantagraphics office. Now there are specific episodes of Blossom that have received the oral-history treatment. I can tell from reading Mike’s chapters that this had an effect on how those chapters came together — like people know that oral histories have overlapping narratives time-wise, you might introduce someone not when they first show up, but when they become important. That was a hard sell in 2005-2006, lot of arguments there.

How many people did you interview for the book? Was there anyone you wanted to talk to but couldn’t? Who gave you the best stories?

I don’t know, I’d have to count. Because my chapters literally involved fewer people, I bet Mike ended up talking to more people than me. But there were plenty. I wish Mark Waid had spoken to me back in 2006 when he declined to, because his was a colorful personality so he’s in the book but his perspective on himself and those times isn’t in the book. I wish Gil Kane had lived long enough to talk about his perspective on he and Gary’s friendship.

The best stories? That’s probably not for me to say because I knew almost all of the stories going in. It was more about tone and insight for me. Reading it, I thought early ’90s employee Helena Harvilicz came across really well; that was an interview she did later, not with me, I don’t think. I really liked the diary entries that Rebecca Bowen — she worked there in the mid-1990s — allowed us to use.


You used to work at Fantagraphics, and obviously your tenure editing TCJ was an important and popular one. What was Fantagraphics like when you were there, and how has it changed since you left?

That’s nice of you to say, but I’m not sure my tenure was remarkable unless you’re a typo-fetishist. I got lucky in that I had a lot of really good interview subjects fall into our range when I was there: Mignola, Mazzucchelli, Seth, Schulz, Ware. Also I was lucky enough to find Bart, whose “Euro-Comics for Beginners” column was one of the most important columns. I trust my sensibility about comics, although I’m pretty doubtful of my skills as an editor, magazine or otherwise.

I was probably one of the last employees who went to work for Fantagraphics in part because I wanted to be with people who got my jokes. I was pre-Internet, a solitary comics reader, and the thought of working on a magazine I enjoyed about a subject I loved was way more appealing than watching people sniff underwear at a Home Shopping Network warehouse. I was Gary’s fifth choice.

It was really young, Tim. I showed up for work about two months after Kurt Cobain killed himself — not related — so the whole city still felt young, but not excitingly so, maybe. But the office, Jesus. Gary and Kim were the oldest and they were like 37 and 39. Conrad Groth was a baby. The vast majority of us were 26 or younger. It was a lot rattier, with loud music and a lot of smoking on both porches. We did not have full computer coverage — Roberta Gregory used to come in to cut Rubylith and what is now the marketing room was half Kim’s office and half the stat camera room.

The general sociability of the employees is way, way, way up now as is their age. Eric now would have been the oldest employee then by almost a decade. And we were all dirt poor — that maybe is the same — my initial salary was huge for there, $15K. A lot of young people needed jobs, though, and it was a cool place to work. The staff photos from my era look like the line outside a methadone clinic.

How did—and how do—you get along with Gary?

Gary and I yelled at each other a lot, especially early on. I was scared to death, I am not high-functioning then or now, and I lied to get out of things. I was a sharp contrast to Scott Nybakken, who is almost a muppet — one of the nice ones, like Scooter. I still have this strong visual of Eric sitting in his chair in Gary’s office, legs held to his chest, watching Gary and I trade insults. There’s some of that in the book. If anyone out there ever sees me and wants to know what it was like to work at Fantagraphics in the 1990s, ask me to tell you the trash can story, which I will never write down. I spent my 26th birthday hiding in the library, crying, thinking I was going to be fired.

I love and admire Gary. I did so back then, too. We look at things very differently, and we both could probably tick off three to five things about which we disagree very, very strongly. But he’s also been a very good friend when I’ve needed one, above and beyond. He was a tough boss but he was good in a lot of ways, too, like letting me do stuff I wanted to do and backing me up publicly when things misfired, like the time TCJ eschewed a hit list for a “shit list.” I owe him the general shape of my life if not more than that, really.

The unlikely nature of the accomplishment that is Fantagraphics always floors me when I spend any time thinking about it. Gary and Mike and Kim were kids that spent a lot of time in their bedrooms. I think of teenaged Gary counting letters so that he could typeset his zine with a typewriter. I think of him talking to Harlan, the interview, and kind of wanting out loud there to be literary graphic novels without even being able to come up with what that would look like. I think of him hammering his best friend Gil Kane about the nature of making art and being brave in those choices. My life is richer for his specific achievements above and beyond my personal involvement. And Gary and Kim sticking to their guns through thick and thin just kills me. Hell, Gary and Mike started the company when comics was at perhaps its most unremarkable and most unlovable, and all of those involved, Preston White and Kim and so on, they all lived hand to mouth in order to do this. And it lasted forever. Tim, in the ’90s we had office meetings where they asked if anyone could skip a paycheck. They white-knuckled it for so many years, my head would have exploded in about 1992.

One of the main figures of the book, Kim Thompson, is unfortunately no longer with us. What was it like putting together the chapter on his death? What would he have thought of the book?

Kim was really supportive of the book in its earliest forms, and was enthusiastic about what it might become. I hope he would have liked the final result. He hated me assuming his opinion in life, so I’m going to respect that in death. Kim would be the worst ghost to have haunt you because he would do it 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. And he would speak in different ghost languages.

The Kim’s death chapter was the only one of the later chapters I did. What struck me about Kim’s death beyonds its suddenness was how quickly he shut things down. He really limited who he saw, what media he consumed, what conversations he had. So I wanted the chapter to reflect that, with a lot fewer voices, even if that wasn’t made explicit.

I also wanted to round off the book’s portrayal of Kim, and what a unique personality he was, and to underline how proud he was of his company and its legacy. He was always Fantagraphics’ truest believer.

What are your favorite periods and/or anecdotes from the book?

I liked all the early stuff because I could compare my perception of the company with the reality of it a bit, and that’s always amusing. Fantagraphics was not really a clubhouse by the time I was there, so the thought of all those guys living in the same space in Connecticut and working like mad in between sleeping and maybe leaving the house for a little social activity fascinates me, too.

Fantagraphics seems inevitable now, but it super-wasn’t. And in an era in comics where we have a lot of 40-year-old rookies, it’s amazing to think of a time when a couple of guys in their late twenties could carve out a major industry role for themselves. So anything that’s a reminder of that, I love.

My favorite story is probably about them driving to California and totally not being up to this task and one specific line from Kim during that whole ordeal. I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff, though.

What do you think is the book’s final value?

I hope people are entertained by it. I hope they get the value of commitment out of it, how they stayed the course. That’s never been a common thing but is super-rare now. I’m afraid in this era where we win argument some of the warts-and-all stuff may just be seen as “they’re proud of being dumbass jerks” instead of the humanizing quality I want it to be. I don’t want this to be a branding exercise. I don’t see it as a final or summary statement on those people, that company, its value.

I guess I hope people better appreciate the unlikely and immense achievement that company is, at a time when most of the principals are still alive to be appreciated.

How do you feel about the Comics Reporter these days? Do you plan to release any more issues of The Comics Report?

I think CR has been terrible for about two years and I’m way behind on Comics Report. I vow to catch up, and in the case of the site do a better job, but that vow doesn’t mean a goddamn thing until I do it. I’m terribly sorry, and embarrassed, and I should be. But again: that’s all just talk unless I can get back on track. And if I don’t soon, I’ll take a different approach.

The core reason I took on CXC is that I think we have a chance of making things better through that show for comics professionals and comics readers. That sounds dumb, but I really believe that. I wouldn’t have taken it on if I thought it would screw up my other work, but all I can do now is work out of it until I’m either back on track or surrender.

The Comics Report was intended to be a monthly publication offered as an incentive to backers of your Patreon fundraiser. [In the interests of disclosure, I should say that I am a backer of your Patreon myself.] Have any Patreon sponsors asked for their money back?

Sure. And they should have. And I’ll do my best to make it up to them, too. Most people have been positive and supportive, and I can’t say how much I appreciate that. I don’t take any of this lightly. I accept full responsibility. I demand better of myself and we should all demand better of non-creatives in comics. This is what failure looks like.

How has the evolution of the comics industry differed from how you envisioned it back when you first started covering the field? What would you change if you could?

Holy shit, what a question.

Here’s what popped into my head.

I’m an old man who likes to walk to the bank to deposit checks and pay my bills in person. This comes from my Dad, who was a Great Son of his city and a civic enthusiast.

What I see as the biggest difference in comics between 1994 and now is that we’ve dismantled a lot of the industry parts of it. My main interaction time-wise with comics in 1994 was going to the store and reading them. My main interaction now is interacting with comics people on Twitter. That’s not always a bad thing to give up on aspects of industry, because industries can be unfair and exploitative, and comics’ version was both.

Still, without some sort of structure… well, right now it just feels like we’re making comics and then throwing them into the ocean. I don’t even know when people I like are going to have comics out, and this is my job. I can’t imagine how soul-killing it is to work on something for two years, have it out, get one review and maybe a convention out of it, and then never hear anyone talk about what you did ever again. I see it as a systemic failure: we’ve had all the things happen to most media businesses decentralizing and spreading out cost, and ours was never that strong to begin with.

My main goal in my professional life, and I would suggest all of our main goals might include this because the “comics for everyone” fight has concluded on some fronts and still advances on others, is to make things better for those involved: yes, the readers, but primarily the makers of this material. It sickens me with all of the money made overall that we’re still in a situation where so many creators have to harm their lives in order to make art in a medium we love. Even the traditional ways people can have happy and successful lives making comics could use some bolstering.

So I’m hoping for a full-bore assault on this stuff. Greater honesty dialogue about money and reward — as soon as we started asking the kids to go to school, this became compulsory. More savage criticism of ethical shortcomings in contracts and pay. Greater participation in a wider arts world of grants, monies, and support from institutions. Paying people for every possible thing that we can, deciding not to do some things that don’t or can’t pay even if we really want to, and making people justify not paying someone something rather than the other way around. And I want to spend as much time as I have left, whatever that is, focusing on actually changing these things rather than winning the argument of them.

This will make for some brutal questions, and self-reflective moments just as tough. And then the real work begins. What I hope, though, is that we can at least be oriented in a way where harm seems less likely.

Either that or D’Arc Tangent #2.

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The Only Sensible Response http://www.tcj.com/the-only-sensible-response/ http://www.tcj.com/the-only-sensible-response/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2016 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95570 Robusto!!!, a collection of Serbian comics about war, black markets, and debauchery, plus an interview with the man behind it. Continue reading ]]> robusto-frontFor some the only sensible response… was the most vicious of gallows humor. —Matthew Collin.  This is Serbia Calling

When I was asked to review Robusto!!! (Lovecraft House, 2016) by its editor/translator/publisher Dragana Drobjnak, you could pretty much sum up all I knew about Serbia in two words: “Novak Djokovic.”

This turned out not to be strictly true. Thinking further, I came up with a war (against Bosnia), a massacre (Srebrenika), a NATO bombing, and a head of state tried for war crimes (Milosevic). Also Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. (My wife is a huge tennis fan.)

And I’d read Rebecca West’s pre-World War II classic, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Of which I remembered nothing.

So I did not appear the most qualified reviewer.

But I agreed to take a look.

I expected a single comic. I received a collection of twenty-four stories (over 200 pages) which had appeared between 2001 and 2005 in a fanzine, Krplj, that had been named for a Serbian parasitic tick which appears irregularly in nature, rather than in a biologically determined pattern. Robusto!!! was written by someone called “Wostok,” with three similarly single-named co-authors. Wikipedia was no help identifying him; but I did learn that Serbia’s Golden Age of Comics had ended with the Nazi invasion in 1941, had revived under Tito, and that, between 1971 and 1981, 717 million comics were published for a population of 22 million. (That’s 3.26 comics per person per year. Which looks about the same as in the United States.)

Then Lambiek.net informed me that “Wostok” was born Danilo Milosev Wostok in then-Yugoslavia in 1963. A computer operator and filmmaker, he is also known as “Ex-Wostok” and “MediaKritet.”

Robusto!!! credited twenty additional contributing artists who, according to its introductory material, were often people approached at art openings, rock concerts, bar brawls, “and other small events,” shown isolated pages, and asked to illustrate them. The result is a textually-complementary, off-the-wall, unsettling mix running from the childlike to Adults Only, minimalistic to expressionistic, cartoony to photo-incorporated collage. (Some photos are of figures anyone would recognize; others, I imagine, only Serbs would.) There are also many penises. If penises upset you, stay away.

Robusto!!! takes its name from a bankrupt toilet shop encountered within action of the story. This action occurs in the town of Bollywood (“Bolly” being Serbian for “idiot” or “imbecile”) in the fall of 1993. The text establishes – and supplemental reading, notably Tim Judah’s The Serbs (3d ed.)  and Matthew Collin’s This is Serbia Calling, confirm – that this was a time of economic catastrophe. By July 1993, inflation had reached 363 quadrillion percent. (By 1994, it was 313,567,558 percent per month.) At one point the government issued a 50,000,000,000 dinar note; two weeks later it was worthless. A year’s wages bought carrots; on the other hand, hours after a utility bill arrived, it was insignificant. People bartered, dumpster-dove, prostituted themselves to stay alive.

Serbia had gone to war in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1992. These wars, between people who had lived peacefully as neighbors for decades – if not centuries – were fought, fueled by tribal instincts and religious mania stoked to Old Testament intensity by governmental inflammations. Mass murder, mass rape, mass arrests, the forced deportation of millions, and the mass destruction of mosques, churches and homes resulted.

Within Serbia, black markets existed for everything from cigarettes to heavy artillery.  Cross-border smuggling raged. Banks were nothing but pyramid schemes and money laundries.  War profiteers, robber barons, and gangsters thrived. Judges were bought and advanced degrees purchased. The psychotic became normal, Judah wrote, and the normal insane. Life, Collin said, had been “stolen” from a generation; its “freedom… culture and… youth” extinguished. This generation’s response was an “almost nihilistic hedonism.” Survival was impossible; but one had to survive.


Robusto!!!’s central characters are three glue-sniffing, home brew-drinking “outcasts.” (Becoming “blotto” was a basic survival mechanism. Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, alone, developed 30,000 heroin addicts.) Peki, who resembles Oliver Hardy is one. Red, who wears a rabbit-eared hat is another, and Grampa, who wears a conical hat, like a Catholic archbishop’s is the third. (Why Red and Grampa wear these hats, and who Grampa is grandfather to are not explained. I suspect readers of Wostok’s earlier works may know.)

Having been evicted for not paying rent for two years, Paki, Red and Grampa consider self- employment. The mercantile efforts of others, selling pre-worn underwear, plastic sex organs, and moldy walnuts, do not appeal. So having taken residence in a condemned “shithole,” living on stolen food and moonshine made from potatoes – and when they run out, diarrhea – they begin selling pirated CDs, before expanding into pornographic videos (“Gang Bangs with Bisons and Baboons”, “Aunts with Whips”). “We are small time crooks,” Peki concedes at one point, “but the criminals are the ones in power.”

This sets in motion a series of adventures (Issues 5-8), which involve a visit to the massage parlor of the author of “fuckable poems,” celebrating spanking and whipping, among other perversions, and a rock club, where a fellow in a tutu and another in a Nazi helmet perform ear-splitting “sadotripmazotechnoturbotrans” music to an audience of deaf “nuthouse” escapees. The three outliers also have time to pick up two pets, “Freak,” a monstrous creature which eats rocks, and “Sir Fartsalot,” a bisexually overactive hamster.

Then things get really strange. The president has led the nation into war. (“In this damned country… as soon as one evil ends another begins,” Peki says.) The trio lock themselves and their pets inside their residence in order to avoid forced conscription. (Within Belgrade, during these years, only 13% of those eligible actually served in the military. The rest hid or fled. Over 300,000 people, most of them young, left the country.) They are soon eating rats, snails and wormy beans and smoking dried mosquitoes. But, usually initiated by a knock (“KUC!  KUC!  KUC!”) on the door, the world continually intrudes.

These visitors include the organizer of an art show (“Art No Limits”), which features works composed of post-spoiled bean soup defecation, used toilet paper, and vomit; a Lilliputian-sized World’s Greatest Lover, who boasts of having had sex with canned sardines; an agriculturalist who produces industrial-strength marijuana; a pig-snouted, reptile-tongued, eight-testicled professor of “dirtiest perversions”; an investigator of “the darkest and remotest corners of the human soul,” who once copulated with an extra-terrestrial; a fighter against pop culture, rasta, heavy metal, pocket pool, and Satan, whom he believes has commanded the nation’s youth to “Eat dead cats,” “Don’t go to Bible school,” and “Fart in your grandma’s mouth”; and, finally, an outsider artist/fanzine publisher, whose grandparents made a living exorcising demons, and whose insanely patriotic father had a proclivity for book and comic destruction. Many of these visitors decide to move in, leading to the invocation of “an old Bollywood proverb: “A house was never too small as long as no one living there had rabies.”

“What kind of world are we living in?!?” a fellow in Robusto!!!’s final panel asks, clutching his stiff-as-a-pole cock in double-handed masturbatory fashion.

It seems, after all a reader has witnessed, a reasonable question.

Some transgressive cartoonists seem to work out of an accumulation of internalized personal wounds which they splay upon the page like a suddenly burst pimple, to which others are likely to respond, “Uh… What’s on the next channel?” But Wostok’s book carries the weight of a trailer truckload of bloody-limbed horrors which, having previously pummeled an entire population, makes its dismissal impossible. It may lack forward-moving narrative pull, but it commands attention through its I-can’t-believe-you-topped-what-went-before accumulations. It may not lead to cathartic release; but it effectively assumes catharsis is a myth. It may present no relationships with psychological complexity to explore; but it has persuasively squashed them through the blow-upon-blow-upon-blow it has rained upon you.

Robusto!!! is unhinged and offensive, sure. It also seems honest and just. It convinces by its content that anything less would leave unscratched the ground from which it sprang. It is a you-got-nothing-on-me, Catch-22.  Bite this, Dr. Strangelove, it says. Blackly humored, deadly serious, it speaks, for a different time and a different place, truths that have been hard-earned.13495498_1176438799145222_7125626218787742815_o

After I had finished a draft of my review, I e-mailed Wostok several questions.  Here they are, along with his answers, both slightly edited by me.

LEVIN: My research says you were born in 1963, work as a computer operator and film maker and are also known as “Ex-Wostok” and “MediaKritet.” Is this correct?

WOSTOK: You are right. There is just a little correction with “MediCkritet.” This means “mediocre” in Serbian language and it was not a joke, but rather an expression of my huge frustration with my lack of talent for drawing!

Are you still creating comix? If so, of what nature? If not, why did you stop?

I already told you how unsatisfied I was with my drawing skills, so I burned all my comics that I have created up to my 25th year of life in autumn of 1988. I planned to quit comics for good and also to, er, kill myself, too! Fortunately neither of two plans of mine were fulfilled and now you find me still alive and in good health and drawing comics!

Robusto!!! is set in 1993, but seems to have been published between 2001 and 2005. If this is correct, why did you wait until so long after the events that you depicted had occurred?

Robusto!!! started more like a joke, actually. I was teasing my friends Red and (Peki?) because they tried to sell a few pirate discs just to get out of some debt. Then I said, “Hey, guys, you are criminals now, hahaha! But don’t feel ashamed because you are only small time crooks and the real big criminals are employed in our government and on other important positions in our state! Then I started to remember everything that happened in previous years in our unhappy and fucked up society and than I decided to make a comic serial.

What percent of the art was contributed by the individuals you approached at art shows, rock concerts and bar brawls, and what percent under less spontaneous circumstances?

I started to collaborate with just one accomplished cartoonist, Lazar Bodroza, and Robusto!!! was supposed to be a crossover serial, which was supposed to make mainstream comic readers interested in underground comics. But then our cooperation failed and I had scripts for ten episodes written and I decided to post it for drawing in empty panels and offer it to anyone interested to draw. It was my way of trying to relax from too much ambition probably. And also I was bored with most of the comics I had a chance to read at that time and then I said to myself, “If professionals create so much predictable and boring stuff maybe we should give a chance in fresh forces embodied in absolute beginners, amateurs, and other outsiders which didn’t have skills but also weren’t brainwashed with training!”

I know that the Rambo fellow is a real person. [Author’s Note: Rambo Amadeus,  one of the visitors to the “shithole,” was a member of the pun band KPGS, a Serbian acronym for Dick, Pussy, Shit, Tits.] What about the others?

Most of them are real persons. The most interesting is “Nymphomaniac” from this comic and in reality Radomir Belacevic, who was the owner of legal automechanic repair shop and also illegal bordello! He produced a few movies when he was in his last years of life, even a feature film western in which he is scriptwriter, producer, director, and main actor!

Most of the people in the photo-collage panels I didn’t recognize. Would they be known to other Serbians?

The leader of “Rotten Rose” satanist sect from my comic is represented by photo of Mitar Miric, who was “the worst officially dressed man in show business in Serbia in year 1994.” and is still a very popular although really bad folk singer!

Why does Red wear rabbit ears?  Did he and Paki appeared in earlier comix of yours?

He wears rabbit ears because I took him and three other friends who don’t play musical instruments to play in really important rock venue in Belgrade in year 1999. When they realized that they really gonna have a gig they got totally drunk and then found some ballerina clothes—actually it was clothes for ballerina for the role of the rabbit in some ballet play and they shared three parts of her costume and Red got the ears! So him and Peki had this retarded gig in Belgrade dressed as cretins and the only good thing about it was that they were so drunk that they don’t remember almost nothing!


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Here Lies the Heart: In Memorium, Jacques Noël http://www.tcj.com/here-lies-the-heart-in-memorium-jacques-noel/ http://www.tcj.com/here-lies-the-heart-in-memorium-jacques-noel/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2016 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95991 Continue reading ]]> Jacques Noël at right, Un Regard Moderne; photos: Steve Sampson.

Jacques Noël at right, Un Regard Moderne; photos: Steve Sampson.

Under cover of night, as September faded into October, bookseller Jacques Noël of Un Regard Moderne departed this life. It was not the sort of loss that cranks Le Monde into hyperbole. But outside of Noël’s Left Bank bookstore, the stream of passing mourners has yet to pause. A few leave notes or flowers but most stand in silence, remembering.

That’s because there is really no other bookstore – possibly no other place – like Un Regard Moderne. A literal temple to the book, it is most frequently compared to a den, a grotto or a cavern. Here the wary customer has to browse carefully, weaving in between the shaky stalactites, mountainous piles and heaving shelves of barely-balanced volumes. Noël’s tiny kingdom is layered, stacked and crammed with riches: bandes dessinees, fanzines, monographs on art, graphics and literature, Beat Generation rarities, Situationist tracts, self-published everything, graphzines, underground comics, leftist lit and erotica. It’s a place where Guy Debord meets Gary Panter, the Marquis de Sade sits atop Nazi Knife and William Burroughs knocks elbows with L’Association. For almost two decades, the shop has functioned thusly – both a living sculpture and a natural resource for artists, writers and thinkers.

Yet a relationship with Jacques Noël was always personal. That was simply how he saw his profession. Noël viewed himself partly as an advisor and partly as a magician – a “pharmacist” charged with prescribing to (and healing) his customers. In his world, a bookseller was there to surprise his clients, not merely serving but anticipating their needs. This rule held whether the client was Chris Ware, Charles Berberian or a local who wandered in from down the street. Most of those who sought him came in search of new encounters.

 Kim Thompson and Chris Ware visit "Un Regard Moderne", by Jean-Christophe Menu © Jean-Christophe Menu

Kim Thompson (left) and Chris Ware by Jean-Christophe Menu © Jean-Christophe Menu

The bédéiste Pierre LaPolice made a radio program on him. A “great many customers”, Noël confided to him, “come in hundreds of times without buying anything… Yet they are part of my family”.(1)

The shop was born out of just such a relationship. Noël had been selling books since the ’60s; he became the mainstay at rue Danton’s Les Yeux Fertiles. Then, at the end of the ’80s, Les Yeux was sold by its owner and he made Noël’s services part of the deal. The new owner, when he saw a swastika on Art Spiegelman’s Maus, ordered his vendeur to take it out of the window. Noël started grousing to various longtime clients.

One of these was a publisher named Jean-Pierre Faur. Faur, it transpired, had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. But he couldn’t really see himself selling the books. Still, he had a property round the corner in rue Gît-le-Coeur. A onetime driving academy, this had already known bookselling and publishing – albeit in the 1808. Faur offered it to Jacques Noël as a place of his own.

The name the new proprietor chose contained a history of its own, one that poetically encapsulated his aims. During the late ’70s, Un Regard Moderne was the fanzine of punk graphics collective Bazooka. Its members Olivia Clavel, Kiki and Loulou Picasso, Romain Slocombe and Lulu Larsen had studied together at the Paris Ecole des beaux-arts. They shared an aesthetic of equal parts subversion and drama, one whose imagery was always collaged, distorted and altered. During the spring of ’78, after Bazooka staged a “graphic occupation” of Libération, the newspaper started to publish Un Regard Moderne.

Despite its ephemeral nature, the publication was influential. Libé ‘s then editor Serge July calls its creators “the first generation to make a near-total break with the Gutenberg environment… a generation which made their eyes the basic organ around which language is organized”.(2) In London, Bazooka inspired a student called Al McDowell to form his own graphics collective. Then, in 1980, he co-founded i-D magazine.

Since it opened, Noël’s shop has emanated the same kind of ripples: spreading both ideas and imagery, forging unexpected ties. Those discoveries, epiphanies and relationships have crossed all all borders, including those of class, language and nationality.

When Noël took over at number 10, rue Git-le-Coeur, he also joined a very singular history. Un Regard Moderne sits halfway up a medieval street, one that looks a bit like an alley. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, its name changed numerous times. The current one, “Git-le-Coeur”, is the source of numerous stories. (On a tomb, the term “ci-gît” means “here lies”, thus the street’s title translates into something like “here lies the heart”). Older city guides say it probably marks the assassination, in 1358, of Etienne Marcel. A prevost, reformer and defender of local artisans, Marcel is often called the first mayor of Paris.

But it’s number 9, on the other side, that has become the magnet for the tourists. After 1933, over three decades, it was a boarding-house run by Monsieur and Madame Rachou. The place gained worldwide fame in Life magazine as “the Beat Hotel”, a flophouse for creatives such as Chester Himes, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. It remains a hotel today – a four-star, luxury, “destination” spot.

That contrast in character is a crucial thing about Un Regard Moderne. As writer Warren Lambert noted in one of many tributes, Jacques Noël was “a Mohican”, one of a vanishing – and almost vanished – breed.(3) His insistence on face-to-face connections made him atavistic. Chez Noël, says Lambert, “Books were always a method of you and he becoming acquainted. Each time he placed one in your hands, he was thinking that yours were the right hands. That they were the ones for which this book or that review or this particular fanzine was printed… in this, he was rarely wrong”. Noël believed in books as an encounter. If the act of reading was indisputably solitary, he felt, those acts of proselytizing and spreading the word must remain human.

Photograph by Steve Sampson.

Photograph by Steve Sampson.

Jacques Noël followed art and thought from around the world; visitors from everywhere could and did cross his threshold. But every one of them was entering the universe as he saw it. An initial foray into this world was often intimidating – and he knew it. “It’s not easy to enter a shop that often looks like it’s closed, one that wants to seem like it’s closed. But, then, all of us need a step to surmount”.

At 71, however, Noël had few illusions about the age in which he lived. He was frank about confessing financial difficulties. “The Internet is not the only way to make people discover things,” he told Carón Kiddo back in 2012.(4) “But if something can’t be found there, it doesn’t exist…and that can make the battle impossible… I can’t sell something which doesn’t exist”. In recent years, he noted, people had less to spend. Then, since the attacks, they came calling less frequently. Yet he never expected anything to be easy. As he also told Kiddo, “It’s worth hanging on ten hours a day, even if only one of those hours brings pure pleasure”.

His legacy is an immense one. In a post which now hangs on the closed door of his shop, artist Stéphane Blanquet sums it up with eloquence:

He was one of us, one of all of those who do, those who make images, make texts, make books, who make books out of words and out of pictures, those who make unique books, one-off books, books which burst at the seams, MAXIMAL books. Jacques Noël is a part of me, Un Regard Moderne is a part of me, a part of us, of our history, the history of those who create, of those who love those who create and of those who follow them.

Jacques Noël was himself a creation and a unique one, generous and, despite appearances, always organised; a singular creation made out of books and forged with all of us in his own particular place, his Un Regard Moderne.

Jacques Noël defended both the most obscure and the most obvious, the most advanced and those who were indefensible elsewhere.

He fought, he searched, he rooted things out, he set off on the most unknowable of detours, in order to find us treasures, to find the nuggets made out of three photocopies, the jewels still stinking of ink. Jacques Noël is part of us all and part of me.

This loss also proposes a pointed question. All of those who benefited from such largesse, such determination – what kind of world do we want? What kind of books and art? How much are we prepared to work to keep them truly human? Once or twice a week, I’ll still be crossing the rue Gît-le-Coeur. There, I often saw Jacques Noël out having a smoke. With that dark-clad figure missing, I hope I can keep asking those questions.

• The Centre National du Livre’s review L’INqualifiable is creating an homage to Jacques Noël. If he touched your life, or stocked your work and you wish to contribute, contact Philippe Liotard at redac@linqualifiable.com

  1. http://arteradio.com/son/12327/le_regard_moderne
  2. Le graphisme punk, Liberation, 12 August 1977

  3. https://www.facebook.com/UnRegardModerne/?fref=ts
  4. http://gonzai.com/le-regard-moderne-une-librairie-sans-fard/
Photograph by Steve Sampson.

Photograph by Steve Sampson.

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He Walked the Line: Thierry “Ted” Benoit (1947-2016) http://www.tcj.com/he-walked-the-line-thierry-ted-benoit-1947-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/he-walked-the-line-thierry-ted-benoit-1947-2016/#respond Mon, 03 Oct 2016 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95938 Continue reading ]]> Thierry "Ted" Benoit, official author portrait, © Rita Scaglia for Dargaud

Thierry “Ted” Benoit, official author portrait, © Rita Scaglia for Dargaud

La ligne claire has not made this much news in Europe for decades. On Wednesday, the Grand Palais opened an epic Hergé expo, which has received only raves from critics and the art world. Its curator, Jérome Neutres, calls it an ambition fulfilled. “Our whole aim is to show that Tintin’s creator was, quite simply, a truly great artist. We want to put him on the same footing as a Vélasquez, a Helmut Newton or a Fantin-Latour.”

Then two days after the opening, France discovered that Thierry “Ted” Benoit had died. Benoit, 69, may not have been the ligne claire‘s purest inheritor. But he was certainly one of its great innovators. As the obituaries and tributes to him proliferate, many have begun with similar sentiments. Benoit, they note, was more than just a wonderful draftsman. He was – quite simply – a truly great artist.

Just like Hergé, Benoit was also beloved. When he created his astonishing character, Ray Banana, the artist fused several French fetishes into one protagonist. The most obvious is an obsession with film noir and the ‘hard-boiled’ American vision found from Stephen Crane to Mickey Spillane. There’s also a very French view of le rock and roll, one whose iconography remains replete with leather, Brilliantine and brothel creepers. Visually, Benoit gave Banana a fixed, unchanging backdrop. It’s a particular French dream of the urban filched from Raymond Chandler, Edward Hopper and post-War Hollywood.

All in all, the view is rather sans sourire – unsmiling. Yet Ray was named for the jaunty sunglasses he never sheds.

One of Banana's first appearances, in "(A SUIVRE)" by Ted Benoit

One of Banana’s first appearances, in “(A SUIVRE)” by Ted Benoit

Initially Benoit hoped to work in film himself. He studied it at IHEC, the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques. Then, until 1971, he worked in television. But, being a fervent fan of Robert Crumb and his compatriots, Benoit soon got involved with French underground comics. By 1975, he had appeared in and worked for Géronimymo, Actuel, Métal hurlant and L’Echo des Savannes. In 1979, he published his debut album – the chilly and expressionistic Hôpital (Hospital). Portraying its central institution almost as a prison, it won Angoulême’s prize for the year’s best scenario.

Then Benoit discovered Joost Swarte’s L’Art Moderne, the ligne claire reasserted in flat pastels and pellucid lines. Already known for discreet, fastidious draughtsmanship, the Frenchman found his Dutch colleague’s recipe irresistible. In its clarity he sensed an existential elegance – but it was also the perfect vehicle for his stark and stylish world. Ted Benoit embraced the style and he never looked back.

It was in 1980, with La Berceuse électronique (Electric Lullaby), that Benoit unleashed the figure of Ray Banana. Part Clark Gable and part Phil Perfect, this dandy of a certain age stalks streets assembled from every ’40s and ’50s film Benoit had seen. If you should happen to order yourself a copy from Amazon, here – in the words of one French fan – is what you’ll get:

Ever dreamed of being able to live a stunning adventure? Just imagine: your face is hidden behind black shades as you start to drift away, in a melancholy reverie, uncertain what to do with all your mental anguish. Welcome inside the skin of Ray Banana. He’s a confusing character, one who marries the mug of Elvis with the viewpoint of a Brussels intellectual. But then you’ve just entered the subversive world of Ted Benoit. It’s one I’ve been unable to leave since my childhood.

By the mid-1980s, Benoit was helping lead an energetic French renaissance of the ligne claire. This was conducted by a varied group, composed of artists ranging from Luc Cornillon and his buddy Yves Chaland – tragically killed at 33 in a road accident – to Jean-Claude Floch and the wünderkind Serge Clerc. Swarte, who actually coined the term ligne claire, christened their emerging new aesthetic atoomstijl or “atomic style”. It reminded him of the spunky, Populuxe “style atome” that was pioneered by Jijé and Franquin in the ’50s.

Ray Banana by Ted Benoit © Ted Benoit

Ray Banana by Ted Benoit © Ted Benoit

The new artists’ neo-ligne claire had links to a ‘Rock & BD’ school of artists (including, in terms of its humour, Frank Margerin), most of whom were resident at Métal hurlant. But their style was soon as visible in illustration as it was in comics. By working for the UK’s Melody Maker and NME, Serge Clerc especially helped it spread into other arenas. But, with the quirky persona of Ray Banana, Benoit kept on pushing the limits of ligne claire in the bande dessinée. There, the world he created was something more than surreal. His Banana sagas do involve noir-ish crimes, but they also feature rock stars and extraterrestrials, religious cults, modern art and Platonic philosophy. In every story, however, the visuals are consistent. All are filled with the ’50s cars, cities and clothing the artist loved.

Madeleine de Mille, Benoit’s wife, was his colourist. But in 1986, to pay a special tribute, Casterman reissued Ray Banana’s Cité Lumière (City of Light). This time, the colour was handled by Studios Hergé. The homage marked a singular thing about Benoit: his talents won over both the hard-core fans of Hergé’s legacy and those who far preferred to follow independent auteurs.

There is another reason the comics world is mourning Benoit. This was his reprise of Edgar P. Jacobs’ series Blake and Mortimer. By the mid-90s, when he took up this challenge, it was the equivalent of a Mission Impossible. Jacobs had been Hergé’s close pal and sometime collaborator (his bursts of temper helped inspire Captain Haddock). Thus he was a massive and magnificent icon, and one with an enormous, ultra-theatrical talent.

Cover from "L'Affaire Francis Blake" by Ted Benoit

Cover from “L’Affaire Francis Blake” by Ted Benoit

Benoit helmed the series for just two albums: L’Affaire Francis Blake (The Francis Blake Affair) and L’Étrange rendez-vous (The Strange Encounter). Initially, both were heavily criticized. Now, they are seen as probably the finest revivals.

Benoit, who always worked slowly and meticulously, spent four years on each one of the books. He said he found the key to Jacobs’ world in its anti-contemporaneity. As Benoit told Le Figaro in 2001, “What I take from Jacobs’ own style is all theatrical because, with him, every frame is suffused by the maximal dose of drama. Blake and Mortimer isn’t a cinematic BD but a theatrical story. It’s the actual dated, bombastic, over-the-top quality – the outmoded grandiosity – which is the very thing that attracts new generations”.

At the end of the 1990s, Benoit took up scripting. For Pierre Nedjar, he concocted Le Homme de nulle part (The Man from Nowhere). This was narrated by Thelma Ritter, who is Ray Banana’s cheekily-named cleaning woman. In 2004, having declined any more of Jacobs’ British detectives, Benoit scripted Playback – a Hitchcock-style thriller – for François Ayroles.

"Los Angeles", 1982, by Ted Benoit, sold by Sothebys

“Los Angeles”, 1982, by Ted Benoit, sold by Sothebys

Benoit then began devoting himself to illustration. He produced advertising, posters and numerous silkscreen portfolios. Like his BD output, all of these now fetch a pretty penny at auction. Yet what colleagues and critics are remembering is a modest man. A trailblazer, certainly. But also, as all of them add, a deeply sympathetic and sensitive man.

Every year, for instance, Ted Benoit would attend Les Rencontres Chaland. Held in the village of Nérac – the town that was home to Yves Chaland – it’s a small BD festival which honors his long-lost friend. As it takes place this weekend, wrote the critic Jérome Dupuis, “undoubtedly the event will be plunged into sadness.” But Benoit himself, he stressed, will be elsewhere. “He’ll be up there alongside Chaland, in paradise”.

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New and Old: SPX 2016 http://www.tcj.com/new-and-old-spx-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/new-and-old-spx-2016/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 12:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95709 Continue reading ]]> Since Warren Bernard took over as head of the steering committee of the Small Press Expo (SPX) for the 2011 show, he’s often shaped the overall direction of the show around a particular theme. The 2014 show was a celebration of alt-weekly cartoonists from the 1980s, for example, and another year feted younger artists. This year’s theme was the fortieth anniversary of Fantagraphics, which I thought was an interesting choice given that the crowd for SPX increasingly skews younger and younger. Bernard is an ideal person to lead the show at this particular time, in part because he has the connections to bring in all sorts of guests, and also because his tastes are catholic enough that he’s willing to put together a show that manages to satisfy both of the main groups of people who attend.

Warren Bernard (at right). Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

Warren Bernard (at right). Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

SPX has always had a divide in its attendees and exhibitors. The nature of that divide has shifted over the years, but the same sorts of fans have tended to fill in on either side. On one side, with a slight tilt toward them in most years, is the alt-comics crowd. Fantagraphics has been one of the anchor points for this group and has always brought a lot of guests and debuted a number of new books here. Cartoonists who started off with their own minicomics at their own tables have joined their ranks steadily over the past fifteen years, as the Seattle-based publisher has steadily expanded its roster. On the other side is a group that’s difficult to label precisely, but one might generalize as fans of genre-based comics. These aren’t usually out-and-out Marvel and DC fans, but rather those interested in fantasy manga, adventure and fantasy comics with their own unique slant (from all-ages to erotica), and generally more lighthearted fare. In the early years, this took the form of self-published superhero comics. In later years, it shifted to fantasy webcomics. Now, there’s a huge influence from offbeat Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe.

Noelle Stevenson. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

Noelle Stevenson. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

If Dan Clowes is the quintessential alt-comics guest at SPX, then Noelle Stevenson is the epitome of the quirky fantasy guest. If the Ignatz Awards are mostly aimed at alt-comics fans, then the after-awards event known as “SPX Prom” is mostly an activity for that younger-skewing crowd. At best, there has been befuddlement or apathy between the camps, and at worst, there has been outright tension. Every other indy comics show that’s followed SPX has had to navigate this split and their strategies have defined their shows. Festivals like CAKE in Chicago and Short Run in Seattle have fully embraced the alt-comics aesthetic. Shows like Autoptic in Minneapolis, Paper Jam in Brooklyn, and Linework NW in Portland have taken that aesthetic one step further, eliminating commerce as much as possible while adding more activities. On the other hand, a show like TCAF in Toronto fully embraces the increasingly wide spectrum of genre comics that are not Marvel or DC as part of its programming, with weirder alt-comics tending to be grouped together.

The tension that has marked some past shows was simply not in evidence this year. I attribute that to Bernard’s decision to take over the entire ballroom at the Marriott hotel that serves as the show’s headquarters. The show moved to its new location a decade ago, after outgrowing its old Holiday Inn location in Bethesda. That first show had about three hundred exhibitors; I attended, and was interested in about a quarter of them. The show this year had seven hundred exhibitors, and I was interested in about the same proportion, meaning that the actual number of interesting exhibitors has zoomed up to nearly two hundred people. Bernard solved the problem of turf by expanding it for everyone. This year more than ever, it was possible for fans of different interests to have completely different experiences, to never interact and still have a fully satisfying experience. Of course, some of the differences were less pronounced than one would think. For example, the crew behind Adventure Time is like a young alt-cartoonist all-star team, featuring the likes of Tom Herpich, Jesse Moynihan, Michael DeForge, Seo Kim, Sam Alden, Luke Pearson, Jillian Tamaki and more. An upcoming issue of Ryan Sands’s cutting-edge anthology Frontier will feature Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar.

The Fantagraphics set-up at SPX. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

The Fantagraphics set-up at SPX. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

One thing is for certain: the folks who came to the show were ready to buy. Every single alt-publisher I spoke to said that they had excellent sales. Fantagraphics reported sales surpassing four days at the massive San Diego Comicon, for example. Nothing touched the record-breaking SPX of 2012 (which was the best show many publishers ever had), but everyone seemed quite pleased. Fantagraphics brought a huge contingent, including cartoonists who rarely do shows like Clowes, Joe Sacco, Dame Darcy, and Jim Woodring. Koyama Press had a big spread as well, and brought a number of their artists. Annie Koyama continues to spot many of the the best new artists. An example this year was the debut of Daryl Seitchik’s debut Exits, which I will be reviewing for this site shortly.

Indeed, what I’ve noticed among most of the alt-comics publishers is that they have a tendency to work with young talent, nurturing and establishing a long relationship with them. That’s the Secret Acres model to a tee, as they debuted Gabby Schulz’s impressive Sick, years after publishing his Monster to some acclaim. There are more cartoonists banding together around mutual interests, including an increasing growth in publishing comics-as-poetry. Kevin Czap’s Czap Books and L. Nichols’s Grindstone have teamed up to publish the beautiful series Ley Lines, creating a sense of aesthetic continuity while giving each cartoonist total creative freedom.

Another prevailing model is the comics store/publisher. As Dan Stafford of Kilgore Books noted, he kept selling out of Noah Van Sciver’s minicomics, so he figured he’d be able to make a profit if he simply took on the task of printing them. That’s snowballed into some interesting new releases. Van Sciver is his anchor, much as Michael DeForge fulfills that role for Koyama Press. Box Brown moved his Retrofit Comics into a partnership with Jared Smith and Big Planet Comics, which was a great move for both parties. Even some ex-stores continue to have a presence by keeping their hand in publishing, like Locust Moon and Bergen Street. It’s another example of how niche and boutique interests like alt-comics can survive if one finds an audience, expands it slowly, and builds loyalty through excellent service. In an age where big publishers and big-box bookstores are taking huge losses, the interest in creating zines and other print art-objects only continues to rise. Floating World, another strong presence at the show, has actually been using the store/publisher model for quite some time.

The Fantagraphics SPX 2016 lineup. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

The Fantagraphics SPX 2016 lineup. Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

Artists from the Fantagraphics roster were nominated eleven times over six different categories in this year’s Ignatz Awards, which are given out at the show. They were shut out until the final category, Outstanding Cartoonist (the biggest Ignatz award), in which Noah Van Sciver, Kevin Huizenga and Daniel Clowes were all eligible. Van Sciver had broken his string of Ignatz defeats earlier, with the hilarious comic My Hot Date, which he had published with Kilgore. No cartoonist has had a better eighteen months than Van Sciver. Another nominee in this category was Tillie Walden, an outstanding young cartoonist who had already picked up the brick for Promising New Cartoonist. Walden was the basis for the unseen female cartoonist at the heart of James Sturm’s very funny and misunderstood short story “The Sponsor”, the full version of which was published in the D&Q Anniversary Anthology. In the story, a cartoonist contacts his sponsor when he can’t deal with the fact that a younger cartoonist had just signed a deal with D&Q at a very young age, while he was still unpublished. The optics and immediate reaction surrounded Sturm’s decision to make the young cartoonist female, led to a social-media controversy in which Sturm was accused of sexism. In the context of the longer story that followed, it’s clear that this was more a long-simmering matter of professional jealousy than simple sexism, though the critique made some sense. In a matter of truth being stranger than fiction, nineteen-year-old Walden beat six-time Ignatz winner Clowes and five-time winner Huizenga for the brick–and she wasn’t even there!

Jacq Cohen (left). Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

Jacq Cohen (left). Photo credit: Meredith Rizzo/SPX.

As noted earlier, SPX is a show that is increasingly diverse and it continues to skew young as it grows its audience on a year-to-year basis. Considering the make-up of that audience, it’s not a surprise that the awards went the way they did, but I wondered what effect this had on their sales. In talking to their publicist Jacq Cohen toward the end of Sunday, she reiterated Fanta’s overall success, but I asked her how many readers were under twenty-five or thirty years old. To my surprise, she said the answer was nearly half, but what they bought was different from older fans. This made sense, even as Fantagraphics fielded a “classic” lineup for their major panel, and a smaller “next wave” group for another panel that included the likes of Ed Piskor, Ed Luce, and Simon Hanselmann. These cartoonists have put Fantagraphics on bestseller lists, as younger company members like Eric Reynolds and Cohen pursue new talent. Their willingness to publish archival comics and comics strips, to continue to provide a home for the older members of their roster, and to seek out new talent has made them unique among all comics publishers. Fantagraphics always has one eye on sales and isn’t as daring in its publishing choices as smaller operations like 2dcloud, but there’s no question that they provide the best balance of forward-looking alt-comics and classics of anyone, and the frantic activity surrounding their table and the prominence of their cartoonists in so much programming is proof.

SPX has been around for nearly twenty-five years and has been in this rough format for about twenty, when the first Ignatz awards were held. In many respects, its dynamic hasn’t changed, and that’s especially true on the alt-comics end of things. When the show debuted, the energy of the young but established Xeric-generation cartoonists (like Tom Hart and the artists published by Tom Devlin’s Highwater Books) was the show’s lifeblood and cutting edge, even as there was still a great deal of respect for underground cartoonists like Kim Deitch and Bill Griffith who were special guests. As the years have gone by, teens and cartoonists just starting out continue to make up a large portion of the attendees and cartoonists in their twenties continue to act as the vanguard. What has changed is how each subsequent generation of artists has increased in size and become more diverse. Despite limited opportunities to make a living from comics, there are now more cartoonists than ever. Part of that is due to educational opportunities finally opening up, part of that is due to the sustained and even increasing importance of zine culture, and part of it is that the increased reach of alt-comics through bookstores, libraries, and shows like this has begun to have a significant and long-reaching impact on culture. The organizers of SPX understand their role and responsibility in smartly propagating this culture, and the day-long workshops are a sign that they’re taking that role seriously. While there are more quality small-press publishers than ever before, the greatest joy I still take from the show is someone in the know handing me a minicomic from a young cartoonist who I’m not familiar with. The fact that those sorts of minis are better now at this show than they ever have been is why SPX is still important.

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“My Way of Witnessing”: Warren Craghead on Donald Trump http://www.tcj.com/my-way-of-witnessing-it-warren-craghead-on-donald-trump/ http://www.tcj.com/my-way-of-witnessing-it-warren-craghead-on-donald-trump/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95763 Continue reading ]]> Always an artist on the respective fringes of fine art and alternative comics, Warren Craghead has carved his own niche exploring repetition, societal ills, and what can be learned from investigating both of them through sequential illustration. His topical current project has taken this practice to the harrowing next level.

The tagline at the top of Craghead’s new blog is “Donald drawn daily until this nightmare ends.” That has served as a warning and a threat, as Craghead has done just that—drawing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, seemingly more and more abominable, each and every day.

I wanted to know why Craghead embarked on this venture, what toll, if any, it has taken on him, and if outlandish caricatures and political cartoons can teach us anything in this era of current events.


RJ CASEY: Is there an official title of this blog? What do you call it?

WARREN CRAGHEAD: Trump Trump. I took that Tumblr name because I wanted to use the Trump name and then realized when you repeated the name, it also works as a verb at the same time. I started doing it at the spur of the moment during the Republican National Convention, thinking, “I should do this.” Luckily, Tumblr makes it very easy to start a project like this and share it.

You started it during the convention? What was the spark there that prompted you to start this daily drawing project?

The first drawing went up the night Trump accepted the Republican nomination. I decided I will then draw him daily until, hopefully, early November, when he loses. I wanted to pair the drawings with actual quotes from him, along with a link back to that quote, so it’s not like I just made it up. During the first few weeks, some people argued with me that he didn’t say those things, but I could then point out exactly where it came from.

This project is kind of a companion piece to two other projects I do. One’s called ladyh8rs and the other is called USAh8rs. Ladyh8rs are grotesque portraits of misogynist public figures and with USAh8rs, I draw grotesque portraits of un-American public figures, but my idea of un-American is probably different than what people usually associate with that word. If you’re racist, you’re un-American. If you’re anti-feminist, you’re un-American. If you’re a homophobe, you’re un-American. Trump, of course, fits all these bills.

I wanted to draw him because I feel like we are really reaching a new low. He’s horrible in every way and every day brings a new revelation of corruption or his willful ignorance or his belligerence. It makes it very easy to want to fight him and what he stands for.

And are these drawings actively fighting him?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t have any grandiose ideas of changing tons of people’s minds, but I wanted to make this a daily thing because I’m worried. Not so much about the people who are hardcore Trump supporters — I know I’m not going to change any of their minds. I’m worried about the people who are going to hold their noses, but vote for him anyway. The people who will willfully squint their eyes and not take into account the stuff he’s saying and doing. So everyday when I put my drawing up on my Tumblr and all of my social media feeds, I go, “Here’s a picture of him and here’s something he’s said.” I want to bring to the forefront the idea that you can’t just pretend he’s a good guy. I will put up drawings of him again and again and hopefully some people will realize this again and again.

With other projects I’ve done—I’m doing a project where I’m drawing World War I a 100 years later and another project where I’m drawing the Armenian genocide—everyday I do a drawing and put them up. After a couple years of being into these projects I began to realize that a daily thing can have its own rhythm, slowly eroding away and dripping into people’s subconscious. I’m hoping by continually showing that this guy’s really horrible, some people may overcome their partisanship and not vote for him.


You mention, “eroding away.” Does drawing Trump and genocide day after day have an effect on you? Does it erode you away?

That’s a good question. [Laughs] With Trump, it doesn’t. I find a little delight in drawing him because he’s such an animated and weird guy. I’ve never drawn one person this many times. Usually figures I draw are less of a specific person. I’m made comics my whole life, but I’ve never really thought of myself as a cartoonist, but now I’m learning some of the things that good cartoonists know how to do. You have to learn how to draw somebody. A real good political cartoonist will know how to draw President Obama—they’ll exaggerate the ears or the skinny neck or something. You pick up on traits. I’ve been making comics and drawing for twenty-five years, but am just now learning basic things about political cartooning by drawing the same guy over and over.

Do you consider yourself a political cartoonist?

I fought against the idea of being thought of as a cartoonist. I come from the fine arts world and just thought of this as making drawings. I admire a lot of people who are great cartoonists, but I never thought of myself that way. But yeah, I guess I am. Trump is a political figure and I’m drawing caricatures of him—that’s pretty cut and dry. But it’s not like the classic editorial-page cartoons with elephants and donkeys. I do realize that I’m backing my way into political cartooning in a weird way.

Some of the reasons I started this blog, or the reasons I draw Syrian refugees or victims of drone strikes, is to make myself look at it and really see it. A few years ago, I drew illustrations of a gas attack in Syria where the government officials killed hundreds of kids and civilians. I only heard about it, but finally I Googled images of it and it is horrifying to see. I made myself look at these images and made myself draw them. I made myself witness it. I know it’s nothing like being there or being a part of it, but still, it’s a lesson and a reminder.

With Trump, drawing him is reminding me everyday that this man’s a monster.


All the portraits have a similar feel—they are usually staring straight ahead at the viewer. How much of that is planned? How much prep work goes into these drawings?

I usually draw them in batches. They are all on index cards in pencil. I find photographs of him smiling, winking, doing gestures with his hands, and draw from those. Then I just take a photo of them using the camera on my phone.

Some of the drawings have an ominous shadow coming in from different angles. Is that light pencil shading or from using your phone?

That’s just from taking a photo of the drawing. I like things dirty and distressed. I could go into Photoshop and clean it up and make it really nice, but I don’t mind the grit and grime in my stuff. If there’s a shadow or wrinkle in the paper, I make a choice to leave it there.

You’re known for your poetic, minimal comics, but these Trump drawings are a departure from your usual style. They are so in-your-face and outrageous. Was this a conscious shift in style and tone?

It’s been happening slowly over time. A couple years ago at SPX, I had a table and had my experimental poetry comics there. A person came up to me and said, “I’ve seen your stuff on Comics Workbook.” Those are the comics I do about my kids, so they are straight up fun and goofy. The person said, “I really liked those a lot,” then picked up my books and put them down and walked away.

Many people come to my work from many different ways. I think what you’re mentioning is similar to that. I didn’t change my style consciously. Starting with the ladyh8rs project, and even before that, when the Egyptians kicked out Mubarak, I was so overcome with how awesome that was and the ability to watch a live feed of it, that I just started drawing and made a book about it. Since then, things have happened—I’ve been drawing the Black Lives Matter movement, I drew hundreds of images from the Mike Brown crime scene in Ferguson. It’s my way of witnessing it and making sure I’m seeing it. I am never going to pretend to be a part of it or be important at all, but I can’t help but be affected by these things.

That leads into my Trump blog. And you’re right, this is far way from what I’ve done in the past, but I’ve been discovering more about myself from doing it.

What does the future hold for this blog?

Hopefully in November, I can stop drawing him.

So there’s an end game in sight?

Yeah, when the election happens. I’ve had several people ask me to print the drawings up in a collection and I’m going to try to figure out how to do that in a way that I can somehow raise money to oppose him.

If he wins, will you continue do this everyday?

I figure if he wins, he’ll continue to keep saying stupid, horrible things, so I guess I’ll keep doing it. There’s a part of me that really likes these projects where I sign myself up to do something on a daily or weekly basis. Sticking to it keeps you honest. I was talking to a friend a mine, a younger artist, and she asked, “Why do you do these things?” I said that with all the distractions of jobs, kids, family, everything else, I just have do it. I made a commitment to an audience, no matter how small, to do this and carry it through. Even if it’s just a little bit every day, it quickly adds up. These kinds of projects can be useful to some artists, and they are definitely useful to me. As for Trump . . . please don’t vote for him so I don’t have to draw him anymore. [Laughter]

How has this project changed your perception of caricaturists or editorial cartoonists?

I always had a healthy respect for artists who could take a brief thought and turn it around and make it something awesome very quickly. It’s just incredible what some illustrators can do. There are tons of artists, especially in the comics world, that can make great work with no money and no time at all. For the past year, I’ve worked at a non-profit contemporary art gallery, and I can say that there’s more great work in one row at SPX than there is in the contemporary fine arts world as whole. That might get me in trouble.

I’ve learned a lot about shorthand tricks and small variations, and how hard learning those can be. I have even more respect now for the people who can draw the same characters, page after page, and keep it all interesting.

Has this daily routine changed your perception of Donald Trump at all?

You’d think it might turn into Stockholm syndrome at some point. [Laughter] Maybe one day I’ll look at a drawing I just completed and go, “He’s not so bad.”

But you draw him as some kind of boorish, melting monster!

[Laughs] Yeah, he’s getting gross. His nose fell off very early, and now his ears have fallen off too.

I read through a lot of horrible things he’s said to find the quotes for the blog. It’s not made me sympathetic towards him, but it’s made me understand him a lot more. He is a weak person that bullies people into giving him approval. He’s so puffed up that I think he even knows that he’s hollow underneath it all. It’s scary now because he could be president, but I think he’s sad and probably lonely. He’s never had any friends because he’s a terrible man.

Is this understanding something you try to express through your illustrations of him?

I want to push how far out I can draw him while still keeping him human. It’s taken me a while, but I feel like I’ve gotten him nailed down. I want to make him look on the outside the way he seems on the inside.


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Wren McDonald: Not a Cartoonist’s Diary http://www.tcj.com/wren-mcdonald-not-a-cartoonists-diary/ http://www.tcj.com/wren-mcdonald-not-a-cartoonists-diary/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95551 Continue reading ]]> Day One


(continued on next page)

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A Conversation with Tom Gauld http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-tom-gauld/ http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-tom-gauld/#respond Mon, 12 Sep 2016 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95398 Continue reading ]]> MOONCOPcasewrapIn his latest book, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly), Tom Gauld takes us to a downsizing lunar colony to follow the routine of its lone police man.  The subject and setting are perfectly suited for the artist who has steadfastly developed an impressively dry, quietly absurd sense of humor. I’ve long been a fan of Tom’s comics, as well as what appears to be a never-ending work ethic. All of that on top of being one of the nicest people you could meet in comics.  It was my pleasure to have this opportunity to find out more about him, his life, and his work process.-Noah Van Sciver

Noah Van Sciver: I go back and forth about whether or not an artist should discuss their work. Whether or not it should be left up to the audience’s interpretation. Are you ever thinking “ah, please don’t ask me about that comic, I really don’t want to talk about it” at shows or in interviews? 

Tom Gauld: I go back and forth too. I can definitely see the appeal in being a Stanley Kubrick type who just makes the work and allows it to speak for itself and never does any interviews about it. But I think it’s just the way of the business that a bit of promo helps, so I don’t mind talking a a bit about the work, I hope I can give a bit of background and some related thoughts without explaining the whole thing away. 

I’ve heard some artists talk about their work so smoothly and expertly that it’s slightly put me off the work itself, as if there ought to be some mystery in the work, even for the artist.  What’s interesting in doing these interviews is that the questions quite often make me think about elements of the work which I hadn’t consciously considered while I was making the work, so I have to think “why did I do that?” or “is that what I meant?”. 

When I was in Europe earlier this year, it occurred to me that there was so much comics history there that an American comics reader would be ignorant about, but it seemed that Europeans were mostly caught up on the comics scene over here. Remember at Angouleme there was a show up about Lucky Luke? I had no idea who that character was but the show was packed full of people. It was pretty amazing to see. How were North American comics viewed from your perspective in as a student? 

The UK, especially when I was a child, was in a funny in-between state where we had our own comics alongside imported American comics and translated European (usually French) comics. I was aware of mainstream/superhero American comics much more through television and movies than through comics. 

My comic reading started when I was maybe eight years old and my parents would take me every week to the local library and I’d get out a new Tintin or Asterix book, which were the only comic books they stocked. Though I remember they did once have a Lucky Luke. Later, I started getting Battle (a weekly comic with war stories in it – I was slightly obsessed by soldiers and wars) and that led onto 2000ad which I read into my teens.

In my early teens I’d got to a shop in Aberdeen (our nearest city) called Plan 9, mainly to buy lead wargaming figures and roleplaying games, but sometimes I’d pick up a Batman or Punisher comic. I think I was more interested in the art than the stories and I never bought a long run of them. I kept going to Plan 9 and that’s where I discovered Deadline, DC vertigo comics, Eightball and all sorts of wonderful things. 

Most of the comics which inspired me when I was at college and beginning to draw comics were by North Americans: Clowes, Ware, Seth, Gorey, Katchor. 

Was Buenaventura your first publisher in the US? How did that come about?

It’s hard to remember how I met Alvin. I think it would have been through Sammy Harkham who published a few pages of my work in Kramers Ergot 5 years ago. He must have seen my comic strip Hunter and Painter somewhere (it was originally published as a daily strip in the Guardian and I think I put some pages online) and persuaded me to do a mini-comic of it. I liked Alvin a lot and we were going to do another mini comic of a very short story I wrote called The Gigantic Robot, but as we worked on it we decided it would be fun to print it as a big board book instead. 

Alvin could be eccentric and disorganized, but he was a great champion of comics and a talented designer and we made some lovely things together. He hand printed a beautiful letterpress edition of my drawing Character for an Epic Tale and we were talking about doing another print together when he died.

I’d actually agreed to do a book for D&Q before The Gigantic Robot (and perhaps even before Hunter and Painter) but I kept getting stuck on it and doing short comics instead. Tom Devlin at D&Q was very understanding about the glacial pace of making the book which became Goliath, but I imagine it was slightly infuriating for them.

What does a typical day go like for you? Are you drawing everyday?

I share a studio with six other illustrators and designers, in a building with lots of other creative types. I work best in the morning so I try to get to my desk for 8.30am, the studio is usually very quiet until 10 am so I try to get stuck into drawing straight away. People will filter into the studio throughout the morning and I chat a bit, but I try and focus on work in the mornings. We often go out for lunch at a local cafe. Sometimes I think I’d get more done if I was locked away in a room on my own, but I do enjoy the company. In the afternoons I’ll draw some more and aim to finish by 5pm so I can get home to the family. If I’ve got a lot to do I might draw a bit more at home in the evening or make a few notes about an idea.

I aim to draw every weekday, but sometimes I get caught up in admin or emails or orders and the day gets away from me. When that happens I’m always a bit annoyed with myself because I know I should have done an hour’s drawing at the beginning of the day when my mind was clear.

MOONCOP_18When you’re working on a story how much of it is open to improvisation? I mean do you tightly script everything out before drawing the final comic and stick to the script, or are you ever drawing the final comic and thinking “Oh yeah, and then that’d be funny if this happens…”

I do quite a lot of planning but I don’t write out a whole movie-style script at the beginning.  Mooncop started as a tiny 20-page mini comic which I drew in pencil in an afternoon. I liked it but thought I could make more of the story and setting. So then I started sketching my ideas about the characters and the setting and writing scenes, sometimes typing on the computer and sometimes as scribbly writing and thumbnails.  When I felt I had enough scenes I drew the whole thing in pencil and had a few people read it, then I edited it a bit and then inked it all. All through the process I was tweaking and changing and adding, but not really improvising. 

I’m not sure that this is the best technique for making a graphic novel, I feel like for my next book is like to have a bit of a looser process. Though I don’t know quite how.

MOONCOP_52I imagine while working on Mooncop you were constantly being interrupted by illustration work and the deadline for your Guardian strip (as well as family duties). Is it ever difficult for you to switch gears on projects?

Yes, Mooncop had to fit into the gaps between my illustration and regular cartooning jobs and that definitely slowed it down a bit. 

‘Switching gears’ is a good metaphor, I think. Sometimes I’d put Mooncop aside to work on something else for a day and then not be able to get started again. I’d look at the folder but just not have the energy to get going (like trying to set off on your bicycle in top gear). The short Guardian and New Scientist strips come much more easily to me, and the weekly deadlines force me to just get on with it.

I hope I’m not coning across as negative about making long stories. In the end I know it’s worth the extra effort to have a bigger space in which to tell more of a story or show more of a world.

I should add that I don’t feel, as some cartoonists I know do, that illustration jobs are a horrible imposition to be undertaken only for the money. I really enjoy illustration other people’s work and probably spend half my time doing illustrations. It’s a less painstaking task for me than making comics, and I enjoy the “here’s a problem for you to solve” aspect of it. I think I’d go a bit mad if I did nothing but comics, I don’t think I have enough to say to warrant doing it full time.

Do you need silence while you work?

Not really, a bit of hubbub in the background can actually be helpful I think. When I’m thinking of ideas or writing dialogue then I can sometimes get distracted by noise and I can only really listen to music with no words, but when I’m drawing (and especially inking) I can chat a bit and often listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

 If I’m stuck for ideas I like to leave the studio and go and work in a coffee shop and I think that mixture of walking to a new place, caffeine and a feeling of slight busyness around me can help my brain get going. I see from your diary comics that you draw in coffee shops too. I think there’s probably a platonic ideal of a perfect coffee shop for cartoonists. I think it’d have amazing coffee, lots of generously-sized not-wobbly tables for one and the staff would eject anybody with one of those piercing voices which you can’t ignore.

I feel like Mooncop and Goliath are both the perfect size for a graphic novel, which I think is around 90-150 pages. That’s just enough to tell a perfectly capsulated story with enough character development, and is comfortable to read. Was that a conscious decision or do you wish you could publish a 500 page book that hurts the reader while they read in bed?

That’s nice to hear. I worried while working on both those books that they were too short. I tried to make them longer, but I found I had nothing more to say, and that I was stretching it out for no good reason. In both cases I decided in the end that the story had found its own length and I just had to go with it. I would like to write something a little longer in future, but only if I can find the right story.

MOONCOP_26Mooncop feels very anti-technology. All of the robots and automated machines don’t work properly and even the outpost on the moon was rundown and being downsized and abandoned. Do you feel like most of the new tech stuff we get is basically unnecessary and maybe even harmful?

I’m not sure it’s quite anti-technology. The moon colony is not a futuristic utopia but it’s also not really a dystopia, it’s sort of in between, which seemed more interesting to me.

One of the things I was thinking about was how in the sixties and into the early seventies it seemed there was such a positive feeling about technology: It was going to make everyone’s life better! It was flying people to the moon! It was making space age modern architecture! Whereas now it feels like we’re all much more ambivalent, and (most of us) realise that technology won’t solve all our problems. 

 I have mixed feelings about technology in my own life and in our world. I really like sharing my cartoons on twitter and seeing people enjoy, react to and share them, but it does have that slightly druggy, addictive quality. 

I know that you draw by hand, have you felt any social pressure to start drawing digitally yet?

Not really. Do you feel a social pressure?

In weird ways, yes. I’ve started becoming freaked out when artists I know switch over to drawing digitally.

I do use a computer for cleaning up the art, adding the color and fixing things, but I still like the feel of pen on paper. Also, I feel a bit that when the work is in the computer, it’s got away from me a little. Like I’m separated by a pane of glass and I don’t have the same connection as I’d have to the paper drawing. Computers are great for perfecting things but perfection isn’t always what you need.


Your work is so funny that I assume that you were a little introverted nerd as a child. Is this true or false?

That’s pretty much true. I wasn’t cripplingly shy, but I was very happy on my own, drawing and making up stories. I did enjoy making people laugh with funny drawings.

What’s on your drawing table right now?

I’m not working on a new book. I have a few vague ideas but I’m not going to rush into anything. Some day I want to do a kids book and something with animation, but I feel there’s still so much to do and learn in comics so it may be another graphic novel. At the moment I’m doing my weekly cartoons for the Guardian and New Scientist, a few bits of illustration and promotion for Mooncop. The piece actually on my desk is a drawing for a signed bookplate for ‘Police Lunaire’ (the French edition of Mooncop) for the lovely Parisian bookstore Superheros.

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Tillie Walden http://www.tcj.com/tillie-walden/ http://www.tcj.com/tillie-walden/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:00:31 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93969 Continue reading ]]> ACIfrontcover

Tillie Walden is a young Texas-based cartoonist who has three graphic novellas from UK’s Avery Hill Publishing to her name (The End of Summer in 2015 and I Love This Part and A City Inside in 2016), as well as her upcoming graphic memoir about synchronized skating for First Second, Spinning (fall 2017). Tillie wields a high degree of technical polish with her clean inks and dreamy watercolor tones, always in service of challenging emotional storytelling, often centering around teenage queer relationships. I spoke to Tillie by Skype from her apartment in Austin.

Interview transcribed and edited by AM.

ANNIE MOK: So The End of Summer is getting re-released?

TILLIE WALDEN: It went out of print and it’s getting a bigger edition.

MOK: With extra material?

WALDEN: There’s gonna be a little prequel strip. We’re gonna redo the design of the book, redo the covers. I can see the prequel strip on my desk right there.

MOK: What’s it like to revisit this story, which is this fairy tale, Little Nemo-esque story—there’s a big cat in it named “Nemo.” What’s it like to come back to this world?

WALDEN: It’s surprisingly enjoyable! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to re-engage with the story because once you finish something, you tend to put it away and lock it up. I thought that it would be gone from me. But sitting down and re-drawing the backgrounds and the characters, I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s why I did this book, it’s really fun!” It makes me want to draw old characters and look back at other things. I can only do it to a certain extent. I can do this short prequel strip, but I don’t have a sequel in me.

MOK: I always wonder about that stuff, I’ve never done that, except for my memoir comics which are sequel-y. Thinking of stuff like Hellboy and Peanuts, I wonder about a connection to characters over a long period of time.

WALDEN: I always wonder about people who work on something for like, ten years. I haven’t even done comics long enough for that to be a thing for me yet. It seems like a crazy ride.

MOK: How long have you been making comics?

WALDEN: I’ve been making comics for three, four years. Three years seriously, there was an extra year for my senior year of high school where I was just kind of learning.

MOK: But you transitioned from fine art?

WALDEN: I did. And it was a very extreme cut-off for me. It was like, one day I was painting, and the next day, “I will never pick up a paintbrush again! I will only draw comics!”

MOK: I feel like that’s one of the quintessential teen feelings or experiences.

WALDEN: You have to go full-force into it. I told my art teachers, I know you’re gonna give me assignments, “Make a linoleum print.” And I was like, “I’ll make a linoleum print, of a comic. But I won’t do not-comics. And my teachers were cool with it ‘cause it was my last year of high school, so they were kind of, “Okay, whatever. Do whatever you want.” I’m glad I did fine art ‘cause it taught me a lot, but it’s not something I’d wanna do ever again.

MOK: Coming back to The End of Summer, in which fine art influences are very apparent, one of the main things that strikes me about that book is the architecture of the book. And by that I mean the literal architecture in the book [Tillie laughs]. There are high ceilings of the kind you’d see in Little Nemo, and I think of fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen seeing this stuff. Do you have any connection to fairy tales?

WALDEN: I don’t think I have a very solid connection, but a lot of media I liked as a kid were magical or sort of tales. I liked all the stuff from Studio Ghibli. I got attached to that style of storytelling, which is why that comes out in The End of Summer. I like not being in the real world [laughs] most of the time, and the architecture was my way to create that. I knew when I was drawing it that with every panel I would make the place a little bit bigger and I would make the people a little bit smaller and it would make it more dizzying.

MOK: Have you seen Citizen Kane?


MOK: That makes me think of the shot where he’s lost everything and he walks back to the window and he seems tiny and he seems giant all of a sudden… What was your favorite Ghibli film?

WALDEN: I’m always embarrassed to tell people, but my favorite is Whisper of the Heart.

MOK: Why would you be embarrassed about that? That movie is amazing.

WALDEN: When I was younger, I loved the ones like Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, that are super magical. And they still have a place in my heart. But I ended up as I got older really attaching to Whisper of the Heart in part because of how they portray the main character and her struggle of finding what she wants to do. That connected with me so deeply. She finds a story to tell, and she starts working on it! I can watch that movie over and over because that’s a narrative I will always relate to.

MOK: So speaking of the journey of making a book, looking back on any of the projects that you would want to talk about in more detail, I’m curious about your process. Especially now that you’ve done three books, the process of planning a book, and planning pages, and editing. How does the process start for you? How does the idea germinate?

WALDEN: Usually it starts with images. I come up with one scene in a story, and I have that scene in my mind, and it starts to build. If we’re talking about my first three little books, each time the process has become more loose. For End of Summer, I did a lot of planning, and at the end there was a lot of editing. For all my books, me and my editor at Avery Hill, we always look at it harshly and try to find everything we can to fix. With A City Inside I stopped thumbnailing because I realized that’s a part of the process I don’t really need, but I was doing it before because I thought, “That’s how cartoonists do it!” I write down in a notebook—when I’m planning a story, I can’t type for some reason, I wish I could because it would save my hand, but I can’t. So I get a notebook and I just put down plot points. From there I just go for it. For I Love This Part, I wrote down a couple plot points, then I sat down with a marker and a stack of paper and loosely drew the entire book, and I sent that to my editor. And I said, how does this look, can we do this as a book? And he was like, it’s great! Draw it! And I have all those pages still, so it’s funny to compare the marker drawings to the final pages, some are very similar.


MOK: How did that spontaneity change the storytelling?

WALDEN: I think it let the flow work a lot better. Drawing it all in one go let me… It let the tempo of my drawing decide the tempo of my book. As my drawing got faster, the tempo of the story and the images… I also think when I started I Love This Part, I decided I’m only gonna do a single image on every page, that’s a format that I won’t break. So I have to find a way to build a tempo with just one drawing on every page. Having both a limitation and freedom is a really great way to work.

MOK: Were these marker drawings drawn at size [of the final printing]?

WALDEN: Yes! I think 8 ½ x 11” pages. A Tombow marker or something.

MOK: What kind of paper?

WALDEN: It was paper I had never used before—I got it from JetPens, that manga paper? It worked well for this because it’s smooth and the pages are light so I could sort of [makes fast paper flipping motion]… ‘Cause Bristol board’s very thick, so when I’m holding it and I’m drawing on it, it feels like a THING that I have to really focus on. But using the lighter paper, I could just draw quickly.

MOK: What about the finals? What did you draw those on?

WALDEN: I had to use a thicker paper because I do watercolors directly on my inks. I used a recycled Bristol from [Canson], 9×12”. I drew it with the Faber-Castell pens. I have a weird thing where I have to use a different paper with every project, so the paper lives forever with that project [laughs]! I think it’s because I associate the cover color of the paper with the project. So I Love This Part will always be dark green to me. And The End of Summer will always be brown. My skating book will always be light green.

MOK: You’re gonna run out of papers mid-career.

WALDEN: I know [laughs]! I’m gonna have to figure something out, it’s a very weird quirk.

webbionewMOK: In 20 years, you’re gonna be in trouble… I’m impressed, it seems like these [books] came out in a short time [within two years]. [The ice skating graphic memoir] Spinning with First Second is coming out when?

WALDEN: Next fall, but it is already done, because it has to be done… That’s how the big publishers work!

MOK: What did you learn with each project, and in-between projects?

WALDEN: I’m gonna go down the list. Doing End of Summer taught me that I can do things. When I started it, I didn’t know if I could really draw. I knew I could hold a pen, but I didn’t know if I could translate what was in my mind to paper, and that book proved to me that I could. I Love This Part was my first book with gay characters. I’ve been out for a long time, but I was hesitant to draw gay characters, ‘cause I was like, “It’s gonna make me a gay artist, I don’t want to be that!” But that book taught me that I do want to draw gay characters. That kind of narrative is really important to me, and I realize that as the book made the rounds on Tumblr, and I get so many sweet letters from sweet teens… I do events at LGBT youth places with the book, that book just sort of opened up that whole world for me. And A City Inside, showed me that I can do projects for fun, or serve a purpose for me and they don’t have to be big and important. ‘Cause my First Second book, I felt like I have to make this my memoir, it has to be good, solid, important. A City Inside, I was like, I want to do this poetic little thing, I don’t really know what it is, but y’know […] I think Spinning is gonna be a very accessible book, because it’s YA and I want younger people to read it.

MOK: Can you tell me about the monologue format [in A City Inside]?

WALDEN: That’s sort of how the story came to me, as I was talking to myself in that voice. Telling myself a story. I liked how that sounded. Something in it sounded different from how I’d done stories in the past. Or different from how I’d done narration. That’s where the images, story, and style followed along.

MOK: Who is that narrator?

WALDEN: I don’t know, I don’t feel like it’s me, but I felt the whole time like someone was sitting next to me telling me that story. And obviously whoever’s sitting next to me is me really, because it’s all coming from me, but it felt like I was sharing the space. In a lot of other stories, it feels like it’s me projecting onto the page. This felt like I was strangely collaborative with all my ideas and my internal voice.


MOK: You were talking a bit about getting letters for teens. I write for teens also, for Rookie.


MOK: I’m wondering what your relationship with your readers or fans is like.

WALDEN: It’s really lovely. I feel like I spend an excessive amount of time responding to a lot of these kids who reach out to me. I’m really touched because it’s hard to reach out to people who you like, or whose work you like. It’s something I was scared to do as a kid. These are teens who don’t get a lot of representation, who don’t get a lot of stories about themselves, and a lot of them say that. It feels like this great connection! I’m amazed how many have found me.

MOK: What have visits to LGBTQ youth spots have been like for you?

WALDEN: They’re wonderful. There’s actually one in Austin that I was scared to go to when I was [laughs] an LGBT youth in Austin! A teacher was telling me to go there, and I was like, “I just can’t!” To be able to be with them when they read the comics and see their reactions, it’s so wonderful. I don’t know if you’ve seen the the comic I did about Steven Universe? I read that one to teens and we get to share this moment where we’re relating to, y’know, being in love and you can’t tell anyone about it, and also being fangirls together! They’re cute [laughs].

MOK: […] What artists who are making work currently are you over the moon about?

WALDEN: I am really in love with Jillian Tamaki, not a surprise. Especially the stuff she writes and draws herself. I adore her writing and her art, and when they’re merged together it’s just, it’s beautiful. I love her stuff. I love Eleanor Davis. She was in Austin recently and I really wanted to like, search the city for her [laughs]! I love her style, the openness of her art, it’s something I would love to experiment with in my own work. Everything she does. I also really like Emily Carroll. All three of these people are very different, but they’re very present creators right now, and I also love about all three of them, like Jillian Tamaki and Eleanor Davis, they share a lot about themselves, in both their work and their presence online, and I like that, because I feel like I can read their work, kind of get to know them, interact with them if I want to.

MOK: Yeah, they’re all top #1 twitter-ers.

WALDEN: Totally [laughs]!

MOK: […] I’m curious about how you process relationships and breakups in your work [Tillie laughs]. That’s something I’m very interested in, I Love This Part being both a “love song” and a “breakup song” at the same time. A City Inside being kind of a love song as well. I write a lot of love songs and draw a lot of love comics [laughs] or romance comics, a lot of which are memoir-based. Can I ask you about that?

WALDEN: Yeah! Recently I interacted with the girl who I Love This Part is based off of, and it was bizarre and lovely. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. But I feel a little guilty when I do romances, because what I’m putting on the page is very much my own dream/memory of how it went. It all feels very much my side, from myself. That always feels a bit dishonest, because a relationship is between two people, but at the same time I can’t really stop myself. When I made I Love This Part, I felt like when I was doing the breakup, it has to look to like this. It felt like this, I have to draw it like this. And then I think, “Well, it was kind of like that! But in real life, there was other stuff.” It feels complicated to me to depict relationships. I also worry about the other person seeing it or experiencing it, because it feels so heavy in my perspective. It feels very biased. But at the same time, because I’m depicting these relationships and breakups heavily from one side, I think it becomes intimate. The reader can get down and deep in it. I also don’t know [laughs] if I had enough relationships in my life to accurately portray a relationship between two people! Because I haven’t had many long-term relationships, and the few I’ve had have now been immortalized in comics.

MOK: It seems evidence shows that you only need to have a relationship to write about a relationship! And you’ve written several, so you’re succeeding in that goal.

WALDEN: Thank you.

MOK: I once hooked up with someone, and the next morning I ran into someone I hadn’t met, but who—this is confusing, maybe, without saying any names [Tillie laughs]—but who was the ex of someone I was friends with who had written a story [based on their relationship and breakup]. I was like, “Yeah, I read that story,” and she was like, “Yeah, I read it and I was like, it’s such a bummer! She sees everything so melancholy!”

WALDEN: [Laughs] That’s so funny.

MOK: Yeah, and it’s a sad story. I certainly understand where she’s coming from. Proof that one person’s perspective is never both people’s perspectives.

WALDEN: Yeah. And it’s funny how in my life, there are certain relationships I’m totally okay drawing on, and taking aspects of and turning it into a narrative. But there are a couple where I’m like, I will never touch that with comics. Some relationships, maybe it’s like, it’s too much, or it meant too much or hurt too much. Some things, I have a very clear line. “That girl? Nope, never gonna be in a comic!”

MOK: I wonder if that will change over time.

WALDEN: I was thinking about it. It could be that over time, that line breaks down. I don’t know.

MOK: Do you know about Dickens with David Copperfield?


MOK: He had a traumatic incident in his childhood where his family went into debt […] and he was put to work in a shoe blacking factory for a couple months. And he never wrote about it until David Copperfield, and he’d never told anyone about it really, never told his family […] Then him sharing that ended up being this giant thing that helped change history, because [the book] helped change child labor laws.

WALDEN: Wow [laughs] maybe I’ll change laws!

MOK: I hope so!

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Before Neat Stuff: A Look at Some of Peter Bagge’s Lost Early Work http://www.tcj.com/before-neat-stuff-a-look-at-some-of-peter-bagges-lost-early-work/ http://www.tcj.com/before-neat-stuff-a-look-at-some-of-peter-bagges-lost-early-work/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95244 Continue reading ]]> When looking back at the output of an artist’s career, there’s early work… and then there’s early work.

One useful way to review the early work of Peter Bagge is through Fantagraphics’s massive new slipcase box set package of his pre-Hate title, The Complete Neat Stuff (1985-89), which puts together all 15 issues of that wild, all-over-the-place, early work into a, er, “neat” two-volume hardbound unit suitable for bookshelves. It serves as a fine addition to any 1980s comic-book collection; a look back at what was going on in the alt-comix world some 30 years ago; and a great snap shot of a young artist finding his way as a storyteller. There are also tons of sick jokes, hyperactive, and explosive drawing and serves as the backdrop for what Bagge would go on to do with Hate, his most seminal work, a few years later.

It’s a terrific collection, beautifully constructed, and has some great memories from Bagge about his days leading up to, and during, that period of time. And while Neat Stuff was an anthology title, it was also a one-person show, albeit one person with an awful lot of voices. For long-time fans, the box set is a delightful reminder of just how free, joyful, and sophomoric (in the best comic sense) so much of Bagge’s early work was; the variety of styles and artistic approaches he used, especially in the earliest Neat Stuffs, is berserk. For those who only know his work from Hate and beyond, the utter weirdness of certain pieces, coupled with the diversity of some of the other stories’ intentional stupidness, will be an eye-opener. But most of all, for me, it’s a reminder that Neat Stuff was consistently extremely funny during a period of time I don’t particularly recall as being all that funny. Especially in comics.

So I completely recommend The Complete Neat Stuff for a look at the early work by one of our most important voices.

Bradley family model sheet lo res

Peter Bagge’s Model Sheet for the Bradley Family, 1983.  From the Collection of David Coulson.

But now I’d like to take a look at some of Bagge’s earlier work, specifically some never-before-published, or very-little-seen, pieces that were done during the period just before he began Neat Stuff. In his introduction to the NS box set, Bagge writes that in the early/mid-’80s he had a meeting with Fantagraphics and approached Gary Groth with two separate ideas for books; the first was to have Fantagraphics take over the publishing of Robert Crumb’s Weirdo anthology, which Bagge was then editing, and the second for an unnamed all-ages and kid-friendly humor anthology, which would be along the lines of Mad. That project never happened, but some materials were created for it, some of which made their way into Neat Stuff and Weirdo, while others never went beyond the idea stage and have gone unpublished and unseen before this article. 

Bagge’s co-editor for that proposed anthology was New York cartoonist David Coulson, who now lives in Pittsburgh. Most of the images shown here are from Coulson’s collection, with the exception of the Comical Funnies cover at the end of this piece. I recently spoke with Bagge and Coulson and asked them to share their memories of the pieces and of the times in which they were created.

Bagge: “I can’t even remember if we even had a working title [for the all-ages project]. I don’t even remember throwing titles around with David. And again, it was just that when I was at home and I came up with anything that I thought was all-ages friendly, I would either do a strip or write a rough or jot down ideas… and the main person I was going back and forth with was David. But we never got that invested in it.”

One finished piece that did come out of the collaboration was this early Bradley Family strip, that ended up running in Weirdo #13. Bagge gave these roughs to Coulson as guides for the piece, which can be seen with Coulson’s finished art below.

Bradleys Pg 1


Bagge Bradley Roughs 2



“After Peter took over as editor of Weirdo [in 1983], we were working together on stuff for Stop [a John Holmstrom/J.D. King/Bruce Carleton-edited magazine from the early 1980s] and talking about doing a comic book together like the one he did with Ken Weiner, called The Wacky World, and he asked if I would draw and do the finishes for that Bradleys strip,” said Coulson. “The visual script he gave me was very complete–there are differences but it’s pretty complete. I think he liked what I did because it was more, like, ‘traditional looking’ than his stuff. He said it was more subversive because it looked so real.”

“David was far more accomplished than me at that time,” said Bagge. “I was still struggling mightily with my draftsmanship back in 1983. So I just wanted to see what the end results would be like. I was happy with it, of course — I love David’s art — but I of course had no choice but to keep on struggling with my own art.”

Bagge also provided Coulson with model sheets for each of the Bradley Family characters.  “These sloppy Bradleys model sheets must have been for David’s eyes only,” Bagge said. “It also suggests that we were gonna do more Bradleys strips together, which I vaguely recall was the case.”

Buddy Bradley model sheet lo res

Babs Bradley model sheet lo res

pop bradley model sheet

Mom Bradlsy model sheet lo res

Butch Bradley model

Among the other items Coulson held onto from those days is this Bagge treatment of a proposed “couple strip” that Bagge says looks like a “VERY modified version of Chet and Bunny,” characters that had reoccurring strips in issues of Neat Stuff.  “I have no recollection of that script, or what I had in mind for it.” Coulson remembers the treatment being done for a proposed strip about a television critic.

bagge couples strip

Typical of Bagge’s work for the proposed anthology was this never-finished piece titled “Do These Things.”

Bagge do these things

That ‘Do These Things’ page is pretty funny!” said Bagge after seeing it for the first time in decades. “That’s something Dave was going to draw for me, I assume. And it very much represents what I had in mind for a kid friendly comic book. Something more absurd than MAD, and not so satire-oriented.

New York City in the early 1980s was a hotbed for young alternative-type cartoonists, with many having connections to the city’s art schools, most notably the School of Visual Arts (SVA).  SVA’s faculty at the time included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Jerry Moriarty, and Art Spiegelman, whose RAW magazine included contributions from his students–Drew Friedman, Mark Newgarden, and Kaz. Bagge, who attended SVA in the early ’80s, fell in with a different group whose self-published efforts included Stop and Comical Funnies, which Bagge launched with Punk‘s John Holmstrom. Shown below is Bagge’s cover to issue #2.

comical funnies bagge

“For years I lived on 7th Avenue in NYC, between 20th and 21st St.,” said Bagge. “It was a halfway point between Penn Station and the Village, and thus had an endless stream of suburban teens heading back and forth from one destination to the other, especially on weekends. Lots of black guys who looked just like this cover character used to loiter along that stretch, selling drugs to the teens and/or hitting on the girls. Those shoulder-held boom boxes were a fixture with them too, and some of them were HUGE. (I actually bought one myself — they had good sound quality! I still have it and listen to the radio on it next to my drawing table.) Anyhow, these guys really cracked me up — they were living caricatures — so when I got a chance to do a cover for Comical Funnies I drew one of them. Funny thing was, the other Comical Funnies guys, particularly Holmstrom, were afraid it’d be deemed racist (naturally), yet instead of refusing to run it they insisted I color the guy as a caucasian — as if that would fool anybody! The most insane artistic compromise I ever made.”

Through Holmstrom, who was then doing work for Scholastic’s kid-magazine Bananas, Bagge also did some forgotten strips for a forgotten teen title called Maniac.

braniacs lo res

Bagge: “‘The Brainiacs’ is a slightly modified version of a strip I used to do for Video Games Magazine, called ‘The Video Kid,’ in the early ’80s. I see these tear sheets are from something called Maniac Magazine. I have ZERO memory of that publication! I don’t even have any copies of it! Weird!

And like many New York cartoonists at the time, Bagge was also doing “pay the rent” work for the notorious Screw Magazine, which was at the time being art directed by his pal Ken Weiner.

daily screw lo res

Bagge: “That ‘Daily Screw’ page was page 1 of a 3-pager I did, satirizing daily strips in an X-rated fashion. Screw used to have a 3-page comic strip or spread in every issue. I did at least a half dozen of these between 1980 – 1985 (as well as many one pagers). All or most of these were collected in a Screw Comics collection Fantagraphics put out in the mid-late 1990s.”

So, why did Neat Stuff happen and not the unnamed all-ages anthology?

Bagge: “How I remember it was that when it would get up and running, that is seemed like David was, more than anyone else, keen it than anyone else I could think of off-hand. I’m sure that Ken Weiner, who is now Ken Avador, I think he liked the idea a lot too at the time. Even though his day job at the time was being the art director at Screw. [Laughs] He also was trying to figure out a way to get away from the x-rated stuff. The thing with Ken Weiner, though… he was a Gemini. [Laughs] He changed his goddamn mind every day! But David is a rock-steady guy and he seemed like he would be a really good person to work with.”

“But then two things happened… really, the one and only publisher I pitched it to was Fantagraphics. And that just blew up everything. I went to Fantagraphics to pitch to the both doing Weirdo, because Weirdo was a little up in the air with me taking over.  Ron Turner’s [Last Gasp’s publisher] initial response was that he didn’t want me to be the editor. So Crumb leaned on him, and eventually Crumb got his way, but in the meantime Crumb said, ‘You might want to talk to other publishers.’ So, the only place that was in driving distance of Hoboken, New Jersey [where Bagge was living at the time] was Fantagraphics, when it was in Stamford, Connecticut. So I went up and met with them. They didn’t want to do WEIRDO because what Crumb had been doing with it was way too weird for them, and they also told me that doing anything that was ‘all-ages’ was just like ‘touching the third rail.’  They had only just started publishing comic books. Prior to that they were just The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes, and they wanted to establish themselves right out of the gate as an adult comic publisher. They didn’t want to muddy the waters by doing ‘all-ages’ stuff. And so that too away the possibility of them publishing the all-ages anthology that I was pitching to them. ”

Peter Bagge promo

A Bagge business flyer, 1980s.  “That’s a postcard sized business card I made that I’m sure got me no work at all.”

“But the biggest monkey wrench of all is that I showed them my most recent work and they loved it and said right there and then that they’d give me my own comic book. And I didn’t anticipate that at all, but that sounded perfect. But I also knew that if I was going to do my own comic book it was going to take up literally all of my time, so something had to give, and it was the all-ages anthology that me and David were talking about.”

Bagge continued to edit Weirdo or several more issues and what eventually became Neat Stuff was held in limbo as both Bagge and Fantagraphics moved to the West Coast.  “I had this understandable fear, which turned out to be misplaced, that Gary Groth was going to wake up and say, “Wait a minute! What the hell was I thinking, giving this guy his own comic book?’ [Laughter] I was just convinced that once the had moved and were established in Southern California that he was going to change his mind about giving me my own comic book. There was a good bit of time–maybe six months–where we were out of touch because I was moving myself, and I just devoted as much time as possible to Weirdo. And I was very happy with the first bunch of issues I did for Weirdo, the first five that I edited. I thought they came out really well. But then Gary Groth called and said he still wanted me to do my own comic book. He wanted me to do it quarterly, but I talked him down to three times a year of Neat Stuff and I never blew deadlines. But that had to come first, and especially for the last two issues of Weirdo that I edited, I wasn’t really happy with it and I knew it was because I wasn’t putting all of my energy into it. So I thought it was best for everybody if someone else took Weirdo over and by that time Aline Crumb’s kid was out of diapers and she said she’d take it over. Which was great. It was like the perfect solution.”

And so now, some 30 years later, we have a great box set of Bagge’s Neat Stuff as a result. I assume a Hate box set is being prepared as I type this.

http://www.tcj.com/before-neat-stuff-a-look-at-some-of-peter-bagges-lost-early-work/feed/ 1
When Wolverine Met Hemingway: A History of Ernest Hemingway in Comics: Part 2 http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-a-history-of-ernest-hemingway-in-comics-part-2/ http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-a-history-of-ernest-hemingway-in-comics-part-2/#respond Fri, 02 Sep 2016 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95125 Cerebus. Continue reading ]]> Hemingway is everywhere.

He’s in two movies this year (Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, Genius) and his books continue to sell and get special editions. The third volume of his letters just came out, too. Not bad for a guy who has been dead for 55 years.

Hemingway’s influence continues to permeate pop culture, and comics are no exception.

While researching my book, Hidden Hemingway, I fell down a rabbit hole and started collecting Ernest Hemingway references in pop culture—including more than 40 appearances in comic books.

For Part 1 of this series, which documents his team-up with Wolverine and more, click here.

Part 2 takes us through Hemingway’s cameos, parodies and homages in comics such as Superman, Weird War Tales, Lobo, Jenny Sparks, Simpsons Comics and a slew of foreign titles. At the end of the article: an interview with Dave Sim about his sexually-charged take on Hemingway in the “Form & Void” arc of Cerebus.

Shade the Changing Man
#31-32 (1993)

“What inspired me to put Hemingway in the book? Partly, because Shade—being a pretty crazy book where almost anything could happen—was a great opportunity to include two of my heroes: Hemingway and James Joyce,” says writer Peter Milligan. “Both of these writers have meant an awful lot to me.”

In this time-bending, two-issue story, Hemingway and Joyce (writer of Ulysses) team up with Shade to battle an adversary in the Area of Madness.

“When I was young I really responded to [Hemingway’s] writing—especially his short stories. I loved that sense of so much meaning being hidden beneath the often simple actions of a short story. ‘Cat in The Rain’ and ‘The End of Something’ are two great examples of this,” Milligan says.

Hemingway was obsessed with Joyce, who was 17 years his senior (although they are depicted as contemporaries in Shade). Hemingway wrote that a nearly-blind Joyce once picked a fight, then stepped behind him and ordered: “Deal with him, Hemingway!” Milligan recreates and reimagines the scene, and tucks in other bits of biography, notably Hemingway’s early childhood dressed as a girl, when his mother raised him as the twin of his older sister.

In a particularly powerful part of the story, the two authors are transported from 1927 into a modern library—in which each gets to read his own biography. Hemingway doesn’t like what he sees. Milligan’s caption reads: “Hemingway moans audibly as he sees a photograph of himself taken only days before he committed suicide…A withered white-haired man, old before his time, alcoholic and finished.”

Milligan says that “reading about Hemingway and Joyce’s relationship in Paris, I was struck by how, though obviously very different in character and artistic intent, these two apparently got along famously…I hope that something of their characters and their relationship came out in that crazy comic book.”

Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority #5
Perhaps it’s only natural that Hemingway—in this incarnation a trans-dimensional military officer—would be in love with Jenny Sparks, the living embodiment of the 20th Century. In just a few short pages, Hemingway saves Sparks from falling to her death and proposes marriage. He is rejected.

“Oh, as if I’d be interested in anything other than becoming Mrs. Hemingway, you big Soppy Git,” says Sparks.

Later, she gives him some literary advice: “…I still say nobody’s going to want to read a bloody novel called The Old Cuban Guy and the Big Fish.”

Beware the Creeper #1, 2, 5 (2003)
In writer Jason Hall’s Beware the Creeper, 1920s Paris is the stage, and Hemingway is one of the bit players in this violent melodrama. The main story focuses on twin sisters Judith and Madeline Benoir, a Surrealist painter and a playwright, respectively. After Judith is raped by an aristocrat, a mysterious figure (the Creeper) exacts revenge on his family.

Appearing in three issues, Hemingway shows up to throw punches and ponder the Lost Generation.

“To be sure, we went pretty broad with our portrayal of Hemingway but it was intended as an affectionate caricature,” says artist Cliff Chiang. “He provided a nice contrast with the more abstract pretensions of the Surrealists, while his legendary lust for life made for some humorous cameos.”

He adds, “It’s his final appearance in the book that is the most important when he gives some sincere, hard-earned advice to our lovelorn heroine.”

That advice centers on the American bohemian set coming to Paris to find—and reinvent—themselves.

“Well, we drink to escape,” Hemingway says. “We could always drink ourselves to death, but then suicide is the coward’s way out. Maybe you could just become someone else…less painful, anyway.”

Superman #277 (1974)
Writer Elliot S! Maggin has fun with a Norman Mailer / Ernest Hemingway mashup named Ted “Pappy” Mailerway, a former reporter turned hunter and temperamental man of adventure.

Superman Mailerway 277Mailerway was even a reporter at the Daily Planet before the arrival of Clark Kent, and he put the moves on Lois Lane. In one flashback panel, he embraces Lane from behind and suggests they cover a story abroad together.

“N-no, thanks, Mr. Mailerway! I’m just a city girl!” she tells him.

Curt Swan provided pencils on “The Biggest Game in Town!” in which Mailerway hunts the biggest game in Metropolis: Superman. He doesn’t want to kill the Man of Steel, mind you, just prove that he’s Clark Kent. In the end, Superman outwits Mailerway, who still has his doubts.

Superman 277 Hemingway

Weird War Tales #68 (1978)
Hemingway—uncharacteristically smoking a pipe and clad in a reporter’s trench coat and fedora—stars in “The Greatest Story Never Told” a six-page story by Paul Kupperberg, with pencils by a young Frank Miller.

Kupperberg remembers: “I had no idea who was going to draw it when I wrote it, and even if the editor had told me it was going to Frank Miller, I would have asked, ‘Who?’ Frank was still a total newbie at the time, with only a couple of short stories to his credit.”

In a story set in 1937, Hemingway covers the Spanish Civil War near the city of Teruel, a Nationalist stronghold. Instead of a battle, he finds himself witnessing townsfolk summoning a demon to wipe out 100 fascist government soldiers.

Weird War Hemingway

He’s spotted after the massacre by an old man, whom he tells: “I have always felt an affinity for the underdog with the courage to bite back! And you, mi amigo, have style—and the rarest of gifts of a people at war…grace under pressure.”

Fitting the theme of the series, Hemingway says: “One has to expect horrors in war—of all sorts! This is merely one of different kind.”

Kupperberg liked using historical figures in stories; Alexander Graham Bell even shows up in one of his Atom stories. In 1978, Kupperberg was only a year or two removed from earning his college English Lit major, which influenced his choice of characters.

“I’d been reading a lot of Hemingway and Fitzgerald…so I guess when I was trying to come up with ideas for Weird War Tales, Hemingway’s time as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War was on my mind,” Kupperberg says.

Though not a fan of hyper-masculine Hemingway persona, Kupperberg says Papa “had a lasting impact on me stylistically.”

“His prose was sharp enough to cut and I love his spare, clean style, especially by the time he got to The Old Man and the Sea,” Kupperberg says. “To this day I use a lot of little stylistic ticks that I picked up reading him.”

Kupperberg’s story would get a second life 11 years later, when it was reprinted in Sgt. Rock Special #6.

Hemingway by Frank Miller Weird WarThanks to John Wells for helping identify the
Weird War and Superman stories, and providing scans.

Corto Maltese: Celtic Tales (1972)
In Hugo Pratt’s story “Under the Flag of Gold,” a Hemingway stand-in, Officer Hernestway, helps liberate gold hidden by the King of Montenegro in the Church of Sette Casoni. Hernestway only shows up in a few panels, as a volunteer ambulance driver for the American Red Cross—the same job Hemingway held in Italy, before he was injured in a mortar attack on the Italian front.

Corto MaltesePratt’s title character, Corto Maltese, also appears in Christopher Hunt’s Hemingway-inspired Carver series as an unnamed sailor (see Part 1 of this article).

Death by Chocolate (1997)
Time travel and talking dogs dominate David Yurkovich’s wonderfully weird graphic novel.

As Yurkovich tells it: “I wanted to do a time travel story and…feature Hemingway because I thought it would be an interesting challenge to insert him into the narrative. The story takes place just prior to Hemingway’s suicide, and this is foreshadowed (though intentionally not graphically portrayed) in the story. In the story we are introduced to Sir Geoffrey, a canine from another world on which dogs (not man) became the dominant species.

“Sir Geoffrey’s society has begun to embrace the arts. Providing an artistic contribution to society is soon mandated by lawmakers, and Geoffrey is outcast for failing to possess any artistic skill. He teleports to Earth using a special ankle bracelet and is adopted by a caring family. Geoffrey can read and write and eventually stumbles upon the works of Hemingway and is blown away by the writing. He decides to travel back in time and learn from Hemingway so that he can eventually return to his home world as a great writer. Meanwhile he is being pursued by the FBI and a cryptic trio responsible for safeguarding the time stream.”

Fishermen Story: En Attendant Hemingway (2004)
In Irek Konior’s French graphic novel about monster-size fish and a small fishing village, Hemingway is the equivalent of Godot from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The difference? Hemingway actually shows up to save the day.

Fishermen Story: En Attendant Hemingway

The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest (2013)
In Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon series, classic authors are adapted by modern comic book artists.

Steve Rolston illustrates a piece of journalism that Hemingway wrote for the Toronto Star, titled “Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris.” The panels echo the warmth of Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, in which Hemingway chronicled his life as a struggling writer in Paris, raising a young son with his first wife, Hadley.

It would all unravel, however, when Hemingway began to have an affair with their friend Pauline Pfeiffer, a wealthy fashion writer for Vogue. (He would later marry Pauline, the second of his four wives.)

“I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her,” he wrote of his first wife in A Moveable Feast.

Paris 1000 RolstonArtist Rolston says that he wasn’t “immune to the romantic mystique of Hemingway and the other expat writers living in Paris at that time. That probably drew me to this piece of writing more than anything.”

Rolston was also drawn to this adaptation because it was based on a story for the Toronto Star. “As a Canadian, I liked that he was addressing both Americans and my countrymen,” Rolston says.

Interesting side note: Rolston loves The Left Bank Gang (also written about in this article), in which Norwegian cartoonist Jason “reimagines Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald as struggling anthropomorphic cartoonists,” Rolston says. “I even gave it a cameo in my comic: there’s a boy on the street reading a French edition of Jason’s book.”

The second story in The Graphic Canon, Volume 3, “A Matter of Colour,” was actually written by a teenage Hemingway for his high school literary magazine, the Tabula. He appears in Dan Duncan’s adaptation as the narrator of this boxing tale, though as the bearded Papa figure of his later years.

The Hemingway Triathlon (in production)
Dirk-Jan Hoek has posted 86 pages (as of September 2016) of his Hemingway opus, which portrays the author struggling to overcome writer’s block and impotency after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Hoek has a website and a Patreon account, which you should check out here.

Hemingway Triathalon
Hoek writes that his book isn’t a story and “most of the story did not really happen. That includes the Hemingway Triathlon itself, in which the author replaced the regular sport activities with hunting, fucking and drinking. But true or not true, my story does paint a real picture of the author and his obsession with his macho image. An image that became harder to sustain when he grew old and his body and mind paid the toll of drinking and war, car and plane incidents. Do you want to know what happens when the gap between image and reality becomes too wide?”

All 86 fascinating pages are up and translated by Peter Jamin at http://www.hemingwaytriathlon.com/

Barry Ween Boy Genius 2.0 (2001)
Creator Judd Winick recreates a famous photo of a bare-chested, aging Hemingway posing in front of a mirror with boxing gloves.

In the caption, Barry Ween’s journal paraphrases Hemingway—“In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway describes genius as the ability to learn at a greater velocity”—but mixes up the attribution.

The actual quote comes from Death in Afternoon: “A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge.”

Yet, Ween’s observations cut pretty close to the bone: “For a suicidal drunk with a pathological fear of latent homosexuality, Papa did all right.”

Big Book of Vice (1998)
Strangely, Hemingway doesn’t show up in the Alcohol chapter of Steve Vance’s Big Book of Vice. Instead, he gets a one-panel cameo in the chapter on Cuba, illustrated by Rick Geary, as part of the Sin Cities section of the book.

Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor

Ellison pits himself in a poker game against Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain and a few others in this bumper splash page between the stories of this anthology. Artist Eric Shanower illustrates individualized cards for each of the players, and Hemingway holds cards featuring a bullfight, a safari and snow on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Shanower used Yousuf Karsh’s famous Hemingway portrait for reference in this collection that took a decade to finish.

“Harlan said he’d write the pages if I flew to L.A. and watched over him like a guardian angel. So I did,” remembers former Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz. “The pages got written. The book got published. The artwork got returned. I remember nothing about Hemingway.”

Heavy Hitters Annual #1 (1993)
This story, “A Movable Beast,” is a play on words referencing Hemingway’s posthumously-published Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast.

Paris isn’t the backdrop for this tale, however: It’s an alien planet where Hemingway—clad in safari gear—finds himself hunted by the planet’s reptilian inhabitants.

“I had in mind the ‘Bad Hemingway’ contest held every year to see who does the worst Hemingway-type writing,” says writer Mike Baron. “And that’s what I was shooting for in the story.”

This story was part of Baron’s Feud tales within Heavy Hitters, as published by Epic.

Artist Mark A. Nelson remembers, “Since the story had a little tongue in cheek to it also, I pushed the ‘Great White Hunter’ image and then pushed it a little further.”

Things do not end well for Papa Hemingway.

Hemingway in Feud
Thanks to Nat Gertler for the find!

Kiki de Montparnasse (2012)
In real life, Hemingway wrote the introduction for Kiki’s Memoirs in 1929, so it’s only natural that he show up for a cameo. Kiki (real name: Alice Prin) was a singer, actress, painter and model, best known as the figure in Man Ray’s surrealist photo, “Le violon d’Ingres.” She was known as the “Queen of Montparnasse.”

The Left Bank Gang
(2005), Pop! (2016) and Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories (2008)*

Hemingway appears three times in Jason’s work, most recently in a one-page portrait of a suicidal Hemingway in Pop!

Jason, Hemingway in Pop!
Norwegian artist Jason (the pen name of John Arne Sæterøy) is best known for his minimalist, often dialogue-free, panels populated with people or anthropomorphic animals. Hemingway gets both treatments.

In The Left Bank Gang, Hemingway (here a graphic novelist instead of a novelist), F. Scott Fitzgerald and company are portrayed as humanoid animals.

“I’m still not sure if [Hemingway is] a cat or a dog, actually!” Jason says. This particular story, he says, was born out of reading biographies, particularly Hemingway vs Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson and Hemingway: The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds. In fact, the French edition of this book was originally called, simply, Hemingway.

In one true-to-life sequence, Hemingway comforts a wounded Fitzgerald, whose wife insulted the size of his manhood.

09 Left Bank Gang Fitz Hemingway
“It’s completely normal,” Hemingway assures him in a following panel. “Don’t listen to Zelda. She’s crazy.”

The rest of the book is reimagined history, culminating in a heist inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Killing.

In the story collection Pocket Full of Rain, Jason places Hemingway directly in one of his own famous short stories. In The Killers, a pair of hit men hold Nick Adams and some diner employees captive as they wait for their target to show up: a boxer who ran afoul of their unnamed client. Adams, Hemingway’s literary alter ego, goes to warn the boxer (who is holed up in a boarding house) after the killers leave.

In Jason’s story, however, he substitutes Hemingway for the boxer, and the result is a Hemingway stand-in meeting the author himself (a device also used in Nathan Never, written about in part one of this series).

Pocket Full of Rain Hemingway*Dates reflect English-language translation release dates, minus Pop!, which has not yet been released in the U.S.

Lobo (vol. 2) #36 (1997)
In Alan Grant’s self-referential narrative, “Death Trek 100, Part Two: Analysis of a Story Where the Writer Runs Out of Plot,” a pipe-smoking Hemingway appears as part of a literary Greek chorus. Accompanying him are Mark Twain, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and others.

Artist Carl Critchlow wasn’t supplied with any photo references, but the best he could manage in those pre-Google days were “some grainy images from my local reference library, where I also found mention of his love of cats—so I threw a few in to help with identification and kept my fingers crossed it was near enough for any interested parties to work out who it was supposed to be.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 5.34.50 PMLobo, of course, is on one of his ultra-violent rampages, as the famous authors add meta-commentary. Example:

Melville: “I don’t understand, sir…The story’s finished, but there are three pages left to fill!”
Shakespeare: “Oh, my God! I’ve just had a terrible thought—maybe he’s filling it with us!”
Hemingway: “You mean—we’re only plot devices?”

Sartre & Hemingway (1992)
What happens when a young, philosophical mind (Jean-Paul Sartre) meets a brawny, testosterone-soaked writer (Hemingway) in 1924’s Paris? Answer: Hemingway fights a sword-wielding Salvador Dalí. Written in German and illustrated by Dick Matena, this hardboiled tale revolves around Eva, Sartre’s childhood love who was once a maid in his family’s home and has now fallen into prostitution. Hemingway shows up to punch people.

Satre & Hemingway & Dali
Simpsons Comics
#135 (2007)

OK, Hemingway doesn’t actually appear in this Simpsons homage, “The Bald Man in the Sea.” Here, Homer is a stand-in for Santiago, the “old man” locked in a struggle against himself, the elements and a strong-willed marlin. It goes as well as you might expect.

“When you are dealing with a property that has told hundreds of stories, you have to dig deep. My father-in-law was a big fishing enthusiast so it was always in the back of my mind to do a fishing story. The Simpsons have a bay and so I decided to figure out what I could create,” remembers writer James Bates.

Bates considers straight parodies to be lazy. But a good homage is a different thing, he says. “I love the man against himself wrapped inside man against nature stories. So when the goofy pun ‘Bald Man and the Sea’ popped into my balding head, the story was born,” Bates says.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 6.28.31 PM
There’s even an alternate ending.

“My original ending had Homer waking like Santiago but he noticed his foil (Ned Flanders) getting accolades on TV. Ned had caught the fish after Homer tired it out,” says Bates. “Not quite the quiet dignity of Hemingway but very much Homer. D’oh!”

Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald (2013)
Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, disliked one another deeply. Zelda thought Hemingway was a phony, and Hemingway considered Zelda a bad influence who contributed to Scott’s alcoholism and his eventual inability to write.

Superzelda Hemingway
World’s Finest Comics
#304 (1984)

Hemingway, looking like the Comedian from Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” makes a cameo in the backstory of the superhero villain duo Null and Void. Writer David Anthony Kraft features the Crooks Company, a reference to the Crook Factory, a real life covert submarine-hunting and spy ring in Cuba that Hemingway headed up during World War II. Later, his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, called the operation an excuse to drink with his friends and to get more gas for fishing while allowing Papa to play soldier.

Magazine #24 (1955)
Hemingway is the subject of a parody in Mad’s first issue as a magazine, after its first 23 as a comic book. The author—here “Pappa” Heminghaw—finds himself in the jaws of a lion, as illustrated by Bernard “Bernie” Krigstein (who also provides the opening splash-page illustration). Mad parodies Hemingway’s 1950 novel Across the River and into the Trees in text as “Out of the Frying Pan and into the Soup,” promoting it as “The First Part of a ½ Part Novel.”

Mad Hemingway interior LO
This issue of Mad also came five years after E.B. White’s skewering of the same novel in the New Yorker, his parody titled “Across the Street and into the Grill.” In all, the Mad parody seems oddly-timed, coming three years after Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer Prize and propelled him to win the Nobel Prize.

Frantic! #1 (1958)
Hemingway gets spoofed again in this Mad knockoff, Frantic. Cuban-born creator Ric Estrada was a Hemingway fan, as he also did a story in Our Army at War #234 (featured in part one of this article). In fact, Estrada often told of the impact Hemingway had on his life.

“In 1947, at the age of 19, I was sponsored by my journalist uncle Sergio Carbo and his friend Ernest Hemingway to move to New York and study art and become a professional cartoonist,” Estrada wrote on his blog, before his death in 2009.

Here, three scant images illustrate a full page of text parodying The Old Man in the Sea. “Ernest Heminghay” is the author of “The Old Man and the She.”

Here, an 84-year-old man struggles to keep his young girlfriend away from “the sharks,” aka Ivy League men with “three-button suits and crew cuts and filtered cigarettes.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 5.12.21 PM
“I caught her truly and well, and she is a good catch and she is mine,” the old man says.

It ends about as well as the original novella.

Thanks to Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe, whose book about Mad magazine imitators, Behaving Madly, comes out next year.

Yama-Yama (1981)
Hemingway appears here in name only, credited as the co-author (with “Hans Cristian Andersen”) of a story that appears in Robert Williams’ underground comic Yama-Yama, a flip book collaboration with S. Clay Wilson. In Hysteria in Remission: The Comix and Drawings of Robt. Williams, editor Eric Reynolds wrote that the raw, pornographic comic was meant to “mock a proliferation of punk rock comics…Crude and vulgar were the aims.”  

Williams would gain mainstream attention later in the 1980s for his infamous cover for Guns N’ Roses first major label record, Appetite for Destruction, also the title of his painting.

Murder Can Be Fun #2 (1996)
John Marr’s comic series, Murder Can Be Fun, profiles those who met bloody ends. Zander Cannon’s overview of Papa’s life lasts all of two pages, and sticks mostly to the facts, if you ignore the panel that depicts him as a war correspondent with a Star Wars AT-AT in the background.

One small bit of grisly fact-checking: When Hemingway committed suicide, he tripped both triggers of his shotgun—not just one barrel, as stated in Murder Can Be Fun.

Also in this issue: Jayne Mansfield, Andy Warhol, Bob Crane and Brandon Lee.

#30 (2012)
Hemingway shoots at a caped villain along Parisian rooftops in a prologue story “Fantomas: L’Affaire La ‘Glory’!”—illustrated  by Roman Muradov, best known for his work in the New Yorker and the New York Times. It’s not the only time Hemingway is a touchstone in Muradov’s work (see next entry).

The title character, Glory, is Rob Liefeld’s Wonder Woman-esque warrior demoness, which explains why she spans decades. Writer Joe Keatinge took over the character in a later incarnation, adding a backstory with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Hemingway.

“He’s my favorite author, so that’s where it came from. I wrote this whole history no one is every going to see, including Glory meeting Hemingway in Spain,” says Keatinge. “I just love the way he writes. There’s no bullshit…it’s all very direct, all very to the point.”

In the story, as Glory cradles her prey in a headlock, Hemingway compliments her on the collar.

“You flatter me too much, Ernest! I couldn’t have captured him alone!” she says. “We may be the lost generation, but we can accomplish great things now that we’ve found each other.”

kuš! #22 (2015)
Hemingway shows up again, although indirectly, in Roman Muradov’s work in the “Fashion” issue of kuš!, an international comics art anthology published in Latvia.

“It is actually a sort of tribute to Hemingway, although through a slightly twisted perspective,” Muradov says.

The story is also reprinted in Aujourd’hui, Demain, Hier, a collection of Muradov’s work from Dargaud.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (A World War I Tale) (2014)
Hemingway appears in a single panel of Nathan Hale’s engaging, hyper-researched account of World War I in digestible comic book form. Like in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the political sides are represented as animals, although Hemingway is human, along with Winston Churchill and J.R.R. Tolkien. (As mentioned elsewhere in this piece, Hemingway was a volunteer ambulance driver in WWI.)

WildC.A.T.s Covert Action Teams #41-42
Why is the young Hemingway always fair-haired? In this time travel story, the WildC.A.T.s chase their adversaries—The Puritans—across time to keep them from altering it. In these issues, Grifter, Void, Max Cash and company find themselves in WWI, aided by a teenage Hemingway, who drives them around in his Red Cross ambulance.

Across two issues, the creators manage to misspell Ernest (as “Earnest”) and Hemingway (as “Hemmingway”) and put him on the French instead of the Italian front, but time travel challenges enough storytelling conventions, so why not spelling and geography?

Le Vieil Homme et La Mer (The Old Man and the Sea)
Thierry Murat’s French-language graphic novel of The Old Man and the Sea features Hemingway as a stand-in for the audience. In an ocean-side café, he hears a small boy’s tale about his friend, the old fisherman who struggled in bring in a great marlin.

In the epilogue, Hemingway tells the boy that his story is beautiful. In response, the boy says, “C’est pas une histoire, m’sieur Hemingway. C’est la vie..” [“This is not a story, Mr. Hemingway. It’s life…”]

Hemingway then goes home and writes the first line of the story.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 6.19.15 PM
#251–265 (2000-2001)

Other literary luminaries, or their doppelgangers, have appeared in Dave Sim’s 300-issue run of Cerebus, including Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.

The title character—a humanoid aardvark who starts as a barbarian and becomes a prime minister, a pope, and finally, an outcast—is the vehicle for Sim’s exploration of philosophy, religion and gender politics.

In this story, “Form & Void,” Cerebus treks home with his love, Jaka, and they encounter his idol, author “Ham Ernestway.” This Hemingway avatar depicts the author at the end of his life, nearly subverbal as he fights a losing battle with depression. His icy wife Mary, always at his side, works to protect his legacy.

This spare story arc near the end of Cerebus’ 300-issue run is part comic book, part obsessive notebook of Sim’s Hemingway-related citations and tangents published at the back of each issue. The research Sim conducted for this arc is staggering, and he goes to great lengths to prove that Mary Hemingway kept a handwritten journal from her 1953 safari in Africa that’s since been lost or destroyed in favor of her typed and edited manuscript.

Sim’s references rely heavily on Hemingway’s posthumously published The Garden of Eden and its depiction of gender ambiguity. On one page in Cerebus, an older Hemingway begins to disrobe, revealing women’s lingerie.

Hemingway Cerebus Lingerie
The text quotes Hemingway: “Mary is a sort of prince of devils….She always wanted to be a boy and thinks as a boy without ever losing any femininity…She loves me to be her girl, which I love to be – not being absolutely stupid, and also loving to be her girl since I have other jobs in the daytime.”

Sim goes farther than most scholars and biographers in claiming that Hemingway was bisexual.

“If all of the Garden of Eden manuscript pages were ever published, I’m sure Hemingway would become a de facto bi-sexuality poster boy,” Sim says.

Below, a longer Q&A with Sim about Hemingway and Cerebus.

Q: What inspired you to put Hemingway in Cerebus?
A: I took Norman Mailer’s word for it that Hemingway was the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the Literary World and decided that I would “do” him as the “capo di tutti capi” [“boss of all bosses”] literary presence in Cerebus—all without having read of word of his fiction. If he’s good enough for Mailer, he’s good enough for me.

Q: Did Hemingway’s writing have any impact on your work?
A: I’m a huge fan of the very early Hemingway, but ultimately decided that most of his work was “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Not much “there” there. The lower-case in our time I would rate the highest [in our time was Hemingway’s short story 1924 collection printed in Paris. His 1925 expanded edition, printed in New York, was upper-cased as In Our Time—ed.]. Some parts of Men Without Women. I’d rate Fitzgerald and Mailer higher than I do Hemingway.

Q:  Even though you weren’t a fan of Hemingway’s work, what was your understanding of the author’s popularity during his lifetime? What was his appeal?
A: The adventurer! All the frontiers would be explored in the course of Hemingway’s lifetime and he was one of the last to travel to exotic locations and write about them and his choices were very astute: he made Kilimanjaro, bullfighting, the running of the bulls at Pamplona and the Spanish Civil War, among others, his own

It must’ve been both a great joy and a great burden to be Hemingway, probably both simultaneously, and in a way that mixed very badly with atheism and alcohol. His “black ass” was largely self-inflicted, I think.

Q:  Scholars have linked Hemingway’s “black ass” moods, as Hemingway himself put it, to his family’s generational struggle with clinical depression and a legacy of suicide. Since you wrote the “Form & Void” story arc, how have your views on mental illness changed?
A: They haven’t. We all go through periods of “black ass” in our lives and it’s up to us to pull ourselves out of it. Hemingway didn’t, which was a failure on his part. Period.

Q: In the end note for “Form & Void” and in “Tangent,” you wrote that Mary Hemingway murdered her husband, and should be brought up on “first degree murder” charges. It’s been some time since you wrote that—was this hyperbole, or do you believe it to be true? Is the failure to prevent the last of several suicide attempts the same as murder?
A: The fact that she left the keys to the gun chest in plain sight suggests to me that she knew what she was doing and she knew what the result would be. So, it seems to me definitely premeditated. That having been said, it was Hemingway who unlocked the gun chest, loaded the weapon and pulled the trigger(s).

Q:  In 2012, you told the Comics Journal: “I think Hemingway was completely bi-sexual…” which is a bolder statement than his biographers have made. What you led to the conclusion that Hemingway was bi-sexual?
A: Two things: first, Mary Hemingway’s Africa diary where it was clear that he was fantasizing that she was a young boy—his “kitten brother”… Second, The Garden of Eden book which he wildly “over-wrote” to the tune of hundreds of pages trying to explain his sexuality in such a way as not to sound gay. He couldn’t do it and gave up trying. If all of The Garden of Eden manuscript pages were ever published, I’m sure Hemingway would become a de facto bi-sexuality poster boy.

He wanted to be all man and all woman and he wanted his wives to be all man and all woman. Mary documented that in her journal, he snooped and read it and had to add his own entry after doing so, knowing that Mary’s journal would be read, in order to “clarify” things for posterity. I think he thought that everyone was like that: all man and all woman and that he was the only one who was honest about it.

Thanks to Betsy Edgerton and Mark Cirino, my co-author on Hidden Hemingway, who both provided eagle-eyed editing on this piece.

If you know of a Hemingway appearance we didn’t feature, please email: info [at] hiddenhemingway.com.

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“I Don’t Think About It. I Just Do It.”: Catching up with Gilbert Hernandez http://www.tcj.com/i-dont-think-about-it-i-just-do-it-catching-up-with-gilbert-hernandez/ http://www.tcj.com/i-dont-think-about-it-i-just-do-it-catching-up-with-gilbert-hernandez/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=95006 Continue reading ]]> Gilbert_imgThe most recent comics from Gilbert Hernandez read like the products of a restless imagination: familiar and surreal, confrontational and good-natured, sometimes all at once. And, of course, there’s a lot of them to choose from. While many of Gilbert’s contemporaries release a new book every year or two, he crafts stories at a rate that outpaces nearly everybody. If ‘Los Bros Hernandez’ didn’t already include Jaime and Mario, the term would still be a suitable nickname for Gilbert, who sometimes appears to be doing the work of multiple cartoonists.

There’s Blubber, a staple-bound series of bizarre and obscene humor vignettes, the second issue of which appeared earlier this year. Love and Rockets: New Stories #8 likewise arrived near the start of 2016, the final volume of the iconic series’ most recent incarnation. A few months after that came Comics Dementia, a collection of curiosities and one-off stories from throughout Gilbert’s career (effectively a Gilbert-only companion piece to the earlier Amor y Cohetes collection). His most recent 2016 release, Garden of Flesh, is perhaps his most provocative: ninety-six pages of comics erotica based on the stories of the Old Testament. Before the year ends, Gilbert also plans to debut Psychodrama Illustrated, another series in the Blubber format, this one featuring stories of his character Fritz (based both in her world and the world of her films).

What hopefully comes through in this interview is the obvious joy with which Gilbert discussed this run of comics. Producing work at such a prolific rate would have to be its own reward. Even so, it’s reassuring, and a little amazing, that one of the form’s greatest living cartoonists is having so much fun.


Greg Hunter: How was San Diego Comic Con for you this year?

Gilbert Hernandez: The usual. I go because I take my family, and we have a pretty good time. We see certain people once a year, so that’s nice. But as far as business goes, it’s just so crazy there. It’s all about Hollywood.

Are you still able to see new things there within the realm of comics?

What’s good is that new cartoonists come up, unwavered. Nobody’s discouraged about making new comics; people are still doing it, which is great. Hollywood and the mainstream haven’t destroyed that yet. [laughs] Which is great. Seems to me people who are into comics continue to thrive, keep going.

In terms of your own comics, I wanted to as a couple questions about Blubber first.

[Hernandez laughs]

Blubber2-coverBlubber takes certain aspects of your work—the physicality of animals, unusual shapes, lots of playing with bodily functions—and gives them their own specific venue. And the release of Comics Dementia is interesting next to that, since it shows how similar things have appeared in your work for years. So I’m wondering what motivated the creation of Blubber as its own space for these sorts of comics.

I just didn’t see a lot of comic books like that around. Because I was looking at old underground comics, and I was surprised again at how free and completely nuts they were. We’re talking fifty years ago now. So I just felt that a lot of comic books, at least from my peers, have become pretty conservative, pretty safe. You know what to expect from certain cartoonists who are New York Times bestsellers. [laughs] There’s nothing wrong with that. I just saw a void. I just thought, “Where’s the nutty stuff? Where’s the stuff that S. Clay Wilson and Robert Williams used to do?” There’s not really a lot of that. You see it with cartoonists that don’t have such a big name, but you don’t see it with big-name cartoonists.

I don’t know what really pushed me over the edge. I re-read some of the material in Comics Dementia, because I had to edit part of it, and I realized how much I was already doing that. But I went over the top with the X-rated stuff [in Blubber]. And I like to confuse people. Make ’em feel uncomfortable once in a while.

Between Blubber and now Garden of Flesh, how much did you think in terms of provoking people, or how much do you think about outside reception of those stories in general? A comic like Blubber is just filled with penises, which is maybe not an uncommon sight in the alternative canon, but the larger culture’s less open to it, and some of the more mainstream literary cartooning may not feature so much of it.

I just realized a long time ago—and I used to keep fighting this—that I have to separate different aspects of my comics. There’s the Blubber-type comic that I can do, there’s the graphic novel-type story—it’s just a different audience. Different people looking for different things in comics. And since I’m all over the place, I’m able to do a little bit of all of it. I can do a straight-ahead, serious-minded graphic novel without the Blubber stuff, and then I can do something in between. Love and Rockets, with [a focus on] relationships. I can emphasize the characters. Whereas Blubber’s just complete id.

Do you feel a certain responsibility to do that, given your … I don’t want to say ‘job security,’ but you’re in a position to take risks.

You know, if there were other books like Blubber coming from other people, I’d probably just do a few issues and then back off. But since nobody’s going to go where I’m going there, I’ll keep doing it for a while.

I don’t know. I just know that I have to separate it, because it’s a different audience. There’s a large audience for comics, but I’ve discovered there’s just groups of people who like different things. They like their comics to be certain things. If I go too far in Love and Rockets with fantasy, or crazy violence-type stories, people will be asking, ‘When are you going to stop doing that? [I want] Palomar. When are you doing to do this?’ They always want me to do what I’m not doing.

But—that’s not entirely crazy. I can see where they’re coming from. ‘I read Palomar stories and felt really connected to the characters. This other stuff is something else.’ And since all those something-else’s are different aspects of my personality, I have to find different places for them. You’ll notice the sex in Garden of Flesh is different from the sex in Blubber, say. … Yet it’s still sex, and most people see it as the same thing, but of course, it isn’t.

I was curious about the difference—and the similarities—between those books. Like you say, they’re both extremely sexual in different ways. In Garden of Flesh, for instance, Adam is something of a clown. He tells Eve, ‘Your birth interrupted a nice dream I was having.’ I did wonder, between that and the slapstick in Blubber, do you tend to think of the sexuality of your male characters as more comedic than the sexuality of your other characters?

Sometimes. Yeah, I tend to do that, make the guys kind of buffoonish. They still get what they want, but they’re kind of clowns afterward. I basically made Adam and Eve airheads. [laughs] They have no back-story. They’re just sort of, ‘duhhh,’ enjoying each other.

I guess I never thought about that. I do make the guys kind of out of it, when it comes to the sex or the characters in the stories. And with Blubber, I just like to make fun of people.

Gilbert_img2What drew you at first to those early Bible stories?

Well, when you’re a kid—I was raised Catholic, so they teach you about Adam and Eve. And a crazy imagination like mine goes into, ‘Well, they were naked back then. What a world! You’re out in this nature …’ All this stuff that would titillate my child mind. You don’t really understand it … but this is supposed to be about God and goodness, and you’ve got naked beautiful people running around.

And there have been different versions of it. Movies and comics and such. Ultimately with Crumb’s version of it, you can tell he’s really enamored with that story of Adam and Eve, because he’s done it several times. He likes something about it. And I remember just reading [R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis] and thinking, ‘There’s no real love here, no real passion for living and living amongst people. They’re really mad at each other, trying to use each other, kill each other.’ And that’s in the Bible. But what was left out was a passion in faith and a passion in loving. I just wanted to focus on that in Garden of Flesh. The people who have sex have families, they do love each other. That’s part of what the fantasy is in my version.

I wasn’t going to bring up Crumb’s version, because I worried it’d be rude to draw a comparison, but since you mentioned it, how much were you thinking about Crumb’s Genesis as you were doing Garden of Flesh?

Just one afternoon I was looking at Crumb’s book again—I’ve looked at it several times—and I just kept thinking over and over, ‘Where’s the love in this?’ The spiritual passion, this and that. It’s not there, and that’s how Crumb saw the Bible: without it. And I think it’s in there, as far as I know.

But I didn’t want to go to the Bible. I looked at Crumb’s and started thinking about it: ‘I have time, I can draw an Adam and Eve story. Why am I thinking about it? I can just do it.’ That’s how I make comics now. I don’t think about it. I just do it. Put your thoughts on paper, draw them. That’s why I create a variety of comics: different kinds of outlets.

Gilbert_lucyI’m a lapsed Catholic myself, and I think that every former Catholic carries with them a different thing from their experience in the Church. That upbringing in the Church, do you see it reflected in your storytelling in particular ways?

I guess I do normally, in my regular stuff, because another interviewer asked me, why do I stop at Noah? Why don’t I go on to Sodom and Gomorrah? [laughs] What I wanted to show was the airhead, beautiful love of Adam and Eve, other characters.

I just felt that, growing up, there was so much grimness to being Catholic, so much weird, creepy stuff you had to go through. But there was also some kindness and love. The nuns that I had for catechism—the school that I went to had catechism on weekends—the nuns were the kindest teachers I’ve ever had. It was a good feeling a lot of the time, to be a Catholic boy. And then you get too old, get to a point where you go, ‘Man, this is creepy.’ [laughs]

And I like the creepiness, but I wanted to show the love now and again. It’s genuine. I found genuine love from my grandmother, who’s very religious. So I think it’s kind of bogus to just look at it one way. ‘Oh, the Catholics are horrible monsters!’ Yeah, sure. The Inquisition? Of course. I agree. But the thing is, there’s other people: poor farmers, poor people, who have a beautiful faith and live their lives. That’s a true thing. I think people might not want to know about that, or think it might not be cool.

Garden of Flesh has a range of tones. You know, there are moments of humor, with the airhead Adam and Eve; with the creation of Eve or the marking of Cain, some big, bold, Jack Kirby-type moments. So I was wondering, were you ever constrained by those stories? Or did their being so familiar give you the room to do whatever you wanted?

I just wanted to tell it straightforward, in the sense of emphasizing, of course, the sex and beautiful people. But those things happened: The darkening of Eden, Cain and Abel. That’s part of the story, so I couldn’t avoid that. But I didn’t want it to be sensational. My violence is usually pretty sensational. But I just put [Cain’s slaying of his brother] in because it’s part of the story and I didn’t want it to be ignored. … But I got to those things, then got back to the naked people.

And no real big message. I just wanted to do the light, loving version of that part of the Bible.

I want to loop back to something you said earlier about jumping right into comics making. Because one thing that struck me in Garden of Flesh was the two-panels-per-page layouts you had. Which contribute to the humor, and which also probably help distinguish it from other comics about the Bible and other comics about sex. So I was wondering how much you played around with layouts or with pacing before you arrived at that two-tier setup.

I had thought about doing the Adam and Eve story in different books—in Love and Rockets, in one of the Fritz books, the movie books. And I just couldn’t make it fit.

And growing up, I didn’t only see magazines of comics and comic books. My brother Mario would come home with little packagings from Mexico, which would have little digest-sized books, and they would have two panels on the page. They were usually soap operas or crime dramas, and every once in a while, he’d pull out this one called Mini Color. It was done with two panels a page, in color, drawn really nice. A man and a woman are stranded on an island, because this giant octopus wouldn’t let them leave. [laughs] And then there’s this whole crime element … I couldn’t read it. I don’t read Spanish. But I made up my own story in my head, and I always loved this little book. I’d always wanted to do something with that, that format. So I did what I often do—put two ideas together. ‘If I do a Bible story, I have a reason to do a book like this [with two panels a page].’ It just fit perfectly.

I want to make sure we talk about the upcoming format change to Love and Rockets. Was there anything you weren’t getting from the New Stories format?

Just too many pages at one time for each of us. About fifty pages each. So it became a burden. Because you spent a lot of time with the pages—a lot longer than you would with a magazine or a comic book. For us, that becomes a burden because we just over-think things. You go slower rather than faster with a project that’s too long. And just physically, we’re getting older. [laughs]

And, you know, we grew up reading comic books. There were no graphic novels when we were kids, so that’s in us—to have a book coming out all the time. We liked doing Love and Rockets as a comic book for years. The New Stories—it did help a lot, at first. I could do really long stories in one issue, which was great. But it got tiresome. So we tried to go back—we didn’t know what format we were going to go after. Tried different sizes, different ways, and just couldn’t figure it out. I guess we just came to the conclusion that returning to the magazine size was the best thing.

Given how many comics you draw in a year, and the different venues for cartooning you have, what helps you determine whether something’s the best fit for Love and Rockets in particular?

I’m always reminded that it’s about the characterization and the characters that readers are familiar with. It doesn’t have to stay there, but that’s usually what we hear the most. Love and Rockets has become, at its strongest, comics about relationships and characters. So when I do go off into a fantasy world or abstract drawing and stuff, there’s a group of people who like that, but the others are still waiting for the characters and the stories about connections between characters.

Now that we’re going to be having sixteen pages each, that reduces it back to, ‘What’s the most important thing that must go in this book?’ The simplest answer is that I’m going directly into characterization again, really just focus on character stories.

Do you feel the weight of other people’s expectations with Love and Rockets comics more so than the rest of your stuff?

Love and Rockets is almost its own entity [laughs], and I just fill it up. Love and Rockets has a life of its own, and its strength—readers, and reviewers and critics tend to find the strength in the connections between characters. Some of it’s nostalgic, I have to say. ‘I read Love and Rockets when I was thirteen. I want it to be the same.’ Well, we can’t make it the same for you. [laughs] But we can work hard to make the characters interesting to read.

And I have outlets. For Jaime, it’s different, he only has one place. He’s only doing Love and Rockets. For him, he’s going to try different things [within Love and Rockets]. I’m going to stick with the characterization because I have other comics, I have the Fritz books, I have Blubber. I’m actually going to have a companion book to Blubber after a few months.

Is it possible we’ll see a [Blubber #2 character] T.A.C. Man ongoing somewhere in there?

[laughs] Oh, he may return. Who knows.

Some of those characters are ones that I literally created as a small boy, and I just fooled around with them in my head for a while, and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll stick them in this Blubber story.’

COMICS-DEMENTIAYou’d mentioned earlier helping edit Comics Dementia and going through those older stories. I was curious if there are any other major surprises that you’d found looking back through those comics.

When I do look back through my older comics, sometimes I cringe. Sometimes I’m surprised at how much effort I put into it. Because I ease up a bit now, because I’m doing so many comics. I don’t make them as dense as I once did. That’s interesting to see—how much thought and effort I put into them. I guess it is different when you’re younger. [laughs]

In terms of the cringing, how common are regrets for you?

Regrets … Ah, there are just a few storylines that went in a certain way because I didn’t focus on keeping it going the way I should have. I made it go a different way, I changed the plotline because of some other reason, some other story that I had done. There are certain regrets—‘Oh, if I’d just kept going this way, the story would’ve turned out the way I wanted it to.’ So, you know, mistakes, I make them along the way.

As we wrap up, let me ask you about [Psychodrama Illustrated], the companion book to Blubber. You’re diving into the actual comics-making as quickly as possible, following your impulses there. At what point did you decide this upcoming work was a companion book and not something for the pages of Blubber itself?

Well, Blubber is just a crazy hoot. It’s just jackass-type humor. I don’t want to get serious with it because not everybody who wants to read a serious story from me is going to look at that book. A lot of people just don’t want to look at those kinds of comics. I know that.

So I need comics that are a little more experimental, a little more out there, but aren’t necessarily X-rated. Like I said, there are things different readers want from me that just don’t always belong in the same place. Not anymore.

The only trouble with having separate books like that is, a lot of the time, readers never know they exist. That’s the only problem. Love and Rockets is where people find our stuff, mostly. That’s good, and again, that’s why I have to choose the most important things to put in it. But I understand that in some comics stores, Love and Rockets is still in the back of the room, with other ‘X-rated’ comics.

I was surprised when people started to say, ‘Love and Rockets is this big deal. There’s Superman comics, and then there’s Love and Rockets next to it.’ Not necessarily.

Having the other books doesn’t always help. Blubber probably gets noticed because it is so outrageous. I know retailers show people—‘You’ve got to see this. It’s so outrageous.’ But the companion books … I’m not sure they’re going to be noticed until they’re in collections. A lot of people wait for collections.

Have you met people or heard from people, maybe younger comics readers, who encountered your work for the first time through something like Blubber?

Yeah. They don’t mention if they’ve crossed over to Love and Rockets, but they will say that Blubber’s a really funny comic book. That’s as much as I know. I just met this guy recently at a comic book store. He was only there because his girlfriend works there. He wasn’t a comics guy. But she showed him Blubber and he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever read. That made me feel good. … Nice kid. He wasn’t like a weirdo or anything.

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An Interview with Peter Bagge on Neat Stuff http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-peter-bagge-on-neat-stuff/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-peter-bagge-on-neat-stuff/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93889 Continue reading ]]> Editors’ note: To commemorate the release of the Complete Neat Stuff, we asked Peter Bagge’s old pal, J.R. Williams, to interview him about his groundbreaking comic. 15 issues of Neat Stuff were published from 1985 to 1989, and they capture Bagge’s incredible comic writing, elastic cartooning, and an entire sense of humor that would have a huge amount of influence in the ensuing years. 


J.R. Williams: I thought it would be interesting, for the record, to hear about events leading up to your decision to pursue a career in cartooning/comics.  Many of the artists I’ve known (myself included) were doing creative, comics-related work of one kind or another throughout their public school years and onward, often motivated by some future professional aspirations.  But in your introductory notes to the Neat Stuff collection you’ve stated that you didn’t “officially” decide to become a cartoonist until early 1978, which was some time after graduating from high school (in 1975).  You also mentioned that, after graduation, you worked for about a year-and-a-half in order to raise enough money to continue your education.  Could you elaborate a bit on what was going through your mind after high school, and how you eventually chose to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York?

Peter Bagge: I naively assumed I’d be going to art school right after high school. I was already accepted at Parsons (another NYC art school), but my parents neglected to tell me that they didn’t have a penny to give me for my education, and seeing how my HS grades were appalling scholarships were out of the question. So all I could do was get a day job and bide my time.

I got a job where my older brother was working during the summers: at an art foundry called Tallix, in my hometown of Peekskill, NY. It was a curious mix of blue collar and artistic work, and the work force there reflected that: working class hippies, basically. All of my siblings wound up working there at some point. Both of my sisters met husbands there, and my younger brother made a career out of it, as a mold maker.

I didn’t care for that work though, and later wound up working in the mail room of Reader’s Digest Magazine in nearby Pleasanton NY, which was a ridiculously easy and lazy job. But while at Tallix I met an older artist guy who told me about the School of Visual Arts, which was cheaper and less demanding than Parsons. Sold! So I enrolled [there] instead while I saved my tuition money.

You did tell me that you had occasionally created some very rough comic material in your youth, mostly for the amusement of yourself and your friends, but that it wasn’t anything you took very seriously at the time.  When did you first get the notion to put more effort into it?  Was it only after making your “vow” in early ’78?  Or, were there any earlier attempts worth mentioning, perhaps in relationship to your courses at SVA, or…?

Prior to my “vow” my comics art were just doodles to bide my time and amuse friends. My disinclination to pursue it as a career back then were [was] twofold: One: I didn’t know what kind of comics TO do! I didn’t like what was happening with daily strips, and I also had no interest in superheroes — let alone being a nameless inker for Harvey comics! And second: ALL of my teachers — as well as my dad — did all they could to discourage me from being a cartoonist. The thought of that seemed to horrify every single adult I knew. Instead I got a lot of “you can draw, so be an architect! Or a cartographer! Or how about advertising!” None of which I gave a fucking shit about!

You mentioned attending a night course in cartooning taught by Sam Gross (aka “S. Gross,” whose cartoons often appeared in the New Yorker, The National Lampoon, and elsewhere).  You also claimed that cartoonist P.C. Vey was one of your classmates.  Are there any thoughts or stories you’d care to share about your relatively brief time at SVA

I took Sam Gross’s night course at SVA. It was good, but he focused on writing gag panels, which I had no interest in pursuing. My favorite thing about Gross was how he would insult my more vain and presumptuous classmates, who were more than worthy of his contempt. He used to make them cry! But man, were they full of shit. Of course, any teacher who spoke to their students like he did today would be fired on the spot. He seemed to like my work, but would qualify every compliment with “don’t get a big head, kid.”

PC Vey was a classmate of mine in (I think) Jerry Moriarity’s drawing class (Jerry was best known for his RAW strip “Jack Survives”). Vey drew then exactly [as] he draws now. I liked his work and complimented him once. He looked at me like I was a bug and turned away. Moriarity was a great teacher, though. I had a great rapport with him. He was obsessed with the old comic strip “Nancy,” which I never either loved or hated. I agreed with him that Bushmiller’s work was unfairly maligned, though his love for it made me wonder if he was crazy! But he almost single-handedly started a hipster cult over Ernie’s work.

You attended SVA for only three terms.  What did you come away with from your experiences there?  What sorts of things influenced your decision to drop out?

I dropped out mainly because I ran out of money. I needed a job — a FULL TIME job — to get by. But I didn’t miss the place, either. SVA made me take a lot of courses in subjects like painting, sculpture and photography, which mainly taught me that I didn’t want to be a painter, sculptor or photographer. Not that the teachers were all that inspiring. Most of them showed up late, hungover and eager to hit on their students. I had nothing but contempt for them. And the then huge sway of abstract and conceptual art dominated the school at the time, which was a great way for blowhards with no skills to make the rest of us feel like rubes. SVA — and the New York “fine art” world in general — was a total scam back then.

Once your decision to become a cartoonist had been made, how did you proceed, at first?  You said you didn’t really know (or socialize with) any other cartoonists at that point in time, and it seems that a few years would pass before you began to make connections with other like-minded artists.

Well, I started reading underground comics (especially R. Crumb’s) in earnest while at SVA, and decided “THIS is what I want to do.” But by then I was out of school and working day jobs. So I drew comics in my spare time, using tools like a crow-quill pen that I had no instruction in using, and, well…winging it. I drew a LOT, though. Obsessively, and naturally got better as a result, though I had a huge learning curve ahead of me. Comics are hard! Sure, “anyone” can make a comic strip (as many drunken accountants and dentists have informed me through the years), but to make a GOOD comic? I’d say dentistry is easier!

Right!  So, now that your academic life was officially trashed, your REAL education could begin.  Somewhere in the midst of all this you met Joanne, the future Mrs. Bagge.  Jo often used to say that she “always wanted to marry a cartoonist,’ so there was a match made in heaven!  I seem to recall that she had some art or design school background…later on she would contribute her skills as a colorist to HATE.

Joanne was a fine art major at SVA. That’s where we met. And unlike me she enjoyed all aspects of art making: painting, sculpture, photography, etc. I didn’t have the patience for anything except drawing. The other mediums were too messy and expensive! Anyhow, I was still commuting from my parents’ house at first, which was a real pain. Joanne had an apartment, so I just moved in with her. I’m still waiting for her to kick me out, ha ha!

You said you were hanging out in a coffee shop where Joanne worked when you made the acquaintance of “Buzz” or “Buzzy,” another cartoonist who would eventually introduce you to John Holmstrom…

Yes, Buzzy was this groovy black guy with dreadlocks who stopped doing comics shortly after I met him. I can’t remember his last name. Anyhow, he was a classmate of Holmstrom’s, and correctly guessed that John would like my comics, so I brought some sample strips down to the Punk offices.

Kaz, Ken Weiner, Peter Bagge, 1983

Kaz, Ken Weiner, Peter Bagge, 1983

It was through Holmstrom, I guess, that you finally started to make some connections with similarly-minded artists/cartoonists…

Yes. Punk‘s regular staff was mainly Holmstrom and this great artist named Bruce Carleton, who later became the art director for Screw. Ken Weiner (later Avidor) also contributed to Punk regularly.

You have some interesting stories about “Legs” McNeil, PUNK Magazine’s “Resident Punk.”

Legs was Punk’s “mascot,” which pretty much meant he did no work and drank too much and caused trouble. At parties he would shove the biggest guy in the room from behind and then point at me and shout “Pete! Why did you shove that guy!?” A real comedy genius. He became a good writer, though. Please Kill Me, a history of the early punk scene he co-wrote, was a great book.

Could you explain how you and Holmstrom became collaborators on Comical Funnies?

Punk went out of business right after I met John! I met him sometime later and asked him if he wanted to start a new magazine with me, only this one would be all comics. He agreed.


Around this time, more or less, is when you began contributing to The East Village Eye (your first published work), Screw, and High Times

Yes, and I think Holmstrom may have introduced me to all those magazine’s art directors — or at least pointed me in their direction. High Times paid decently — WHEN they paid, that is. I usually had to sue them to get paid. I was a regular at NYC’s small claims court back then. High Times wouldn’t even send someone to rep them, so I routinely won by default. Very odd way to get paid, I must say. High Times was going to buy Punk back in 1979 — give them real offices and salaries — only HT’s founder, Tom Forcade, then shot himself in the head, which ended that. High Times itself was a financial mess after that. Drew Friedman’s brother Josh was an editor there briefly (he worked at Screw before that as well), and he used to yell at me every time he saw me come through the door. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know we can’t pay you?!?” He also thought my small claims court routine was utter insanity, which it was.

At what point did you introduce yourself to Robert Crumb?  According to your Wikipedia bio, you sent him some copies of Comical Funnies.

Crumb published his mailing address in Weirdo magazine, which debuted in 1981 (Comical Funnies started the year before that), so I eagerly sent him copies of our lowly rag. Being able to write to him at all excited me greatly, since he was my absolute hero. He wrote back a nice letter, and we stayed in touch regularly after that. I sent him everything I did, and after a year or two he started to publish some of it.

Could you relate how you came to meet with Art Spiegelman, and how he responded to your work?

I sat in on Art’s classes at SVA a few times (he was by far the most informative teacher there at the time), and in 1980 he and his wife started the comics anthology RAW magazine. It was deliberately high end and a bit too rarefied for my own sensibilities, but all my arty friends (including Joanne) urged me to submit work to it. Not surprisingly Art passed on my work (it was still WAY too crude at the time), but he gave me a lot of sound advice, which I routinely hit him up for after that. He was a great source for information.

In addition to your comics work, you were also pounding the pavement in search of freelance illustration jobs.  You have a couple of funny stories about your meetings with art directors…

Oh jeez. The good old days! The very first AD I met was a young woman who worked for the long defunct Soho News. She was late, flipped through my samples quickly and then shoved them back at me, while sleepily informing me that she had a problem with people named Peter. What a pro! I’ve had AD’s literally run away when they saw me with my portfolio, and another started screaming at me and came close to HITTING me, insisting that I didn’t have an appointment. When his secretary reminded him that I did he just sat down and went “Oh.” These people were often obviously drunk, high or hungover back then too, as were most of my SVA “instructors.” I guess the Mad Men mentality was still alive back then. I have other insane stories along these lines, but I should leave it at that for now.

Although you were obviously putting a lot of effort into self-promoting and getting your work out into the world, I’d venture that it was still tough trying to sell yourself and make a living in such a competitive market…especially with your unique creative sensibilities, which weren’t altogether in alignment with the mainstream.

Well, I had a hard time finding ANY market for my work back then. Comic books were almost all super hero crap by then (though that started to change mainly when everyone started to self publish), and I didn’t want to ink for Harvey comics for pennies a page. I worked almost entirely for porno magazines and the occasional kiddie publications. Dirty old men and 10 year olds have very similar artistic sensibilities, it seems!

In your intro to the Neat Stuff box set you’ve already related how Crumb invited you to take over the editorship of Weirdo, and how that (rather indirectly) led to Fantagraphics’ offer to publish your own title.  But your (by then) wife, Joanne, had a business opportunity of her own which manifested around this same time, and this required you to pack up and move to Washington state.

Jo and Peter, 1985.

Jo and Peter, 1985.

Correct! Jo was about to open up a New York style deli with her sister in the suburbs of Seattle. Her sis and her husband already lived out here. We visited and loved the place, so we were more than eager to make the change.

Your brother-in-law, Mike Tice, was a member of the Seattle Seahawks football team.  Mike’s wife is Joanne’s sister, Diane.  The Tices were living in Woodinville, which is outside of Seattle, just east of the northern tip of Lake Washington.  As I recall hearing it, Mike wanted to open an authentic New York-style delicatessen in the area, and Diane and Joanne were to run the place.  So that’s how you and Joanne ended up living in the Seattle suburbs.

Yes, something like that. Joanne and I were also eager to relocate. We visited them in Seattle and liked the place a lot, so it was an easy sell to get us to move.

Here’s where I personally enter the scene…sort of.  I’d been cranking out mini-comics and other comics-related material for a couple of years or so, and sometime in 1984 (or thereabouts) I thought I was finally ready to submit some work to Weirdo.  I’d prepared a two-pager titled “Skinboy Lives In The City.”  At the time I wasn’t aware that Crumb was relinquishing the magazine’s editorship, so I sent my submission to his address.  Naturally I was a bit surprised—and delighted—to eventually receive a card from you, explaining that you were Weirdo’s new editor, and that you had accepted my piece for publication.  So, that started communication between us, though it would be a while before we would actually meet.  While you and Joanne were busy moving across the country, I was in the process of moving up to Portland from my home town, Salem, Oregon.  Sometime in early 1985, once you and Joanne were settled into your new apartment in Redmond, Washington (due east of Seattle, across Lake Washington), you invited me up to visit for a few days.  Sometime during my stay, you invited me to move in with you & Jo temporarily, giving me a chance to seek out potential employment opportunities in the Seattle area.  I got the impression that you were kind of desperate for someone you could talk with about comics and other alternative-culture-type stuff…you hadn’t yet made many Seattle-based friends, and Redmond was a pretty dull, squeaky-clean suburban experience!  Consequently, a month or two later I returned…this would have been in the spring of ’85…April, if I remember correctly.  I ended up staying for about a month-and-a-half.

That all sounds accurate. Redmond wasn’t so bad, and we knew some nice people there, but it’s true that there was no one there into what I was into. I met some like-minded folks in Seattle proper, but getting them to visit me in the ‘burbs was like pulling teeth!

c-neatStuff-06It was a nice, relatively new two-bedroom apartment.  You had turned one of the bedrooms into your “studio.”  We all shared the place with Butch, the world’s meanest cat (he seemed to like me, for some reason).  The routine, on an average day, was that Jo would go off in the morning to the delicatessen to work (the “Fill Yer Belly Deli” was in easy walking distance).  You’d go into your studio where you’d be slaving away on Weirdo or turning out pages for Neat Stuff.  I’d typically be sitting at the dining room table, working on whatever (I did manage to land some short-term freelance work while I was there).  We’d usually have some music playing in the background…sometimes cassettes of one punk band or another, but more typically it was some radio station playing rock/pop from the ‘50s and ‘60s (you had introduced me to Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s Kicks magazine, which celebrated wild, primitive and obscure rock ’n’ roll from the “golden age.”)  Long stretches of time would pass with nobody saying anything…then, out of the blue, I’d hear you suddenly burst into maniacal laughter in the other room.  I’d say, “What’s so funny?”  You’d always reply, “Ahh, just somethin’ I drew!”

Yes, I used to have the annoying habit of laughing at my own work. I don’t do that at all anymore. Guess I’m not funny anymore!

 It wasn’t terribly exciting around there much of the time.  That’s just real life in the ‘burbs.  Still, we had a lot of laughs, and Joanne’s cooking was always excellent!  I do remember that you were a very dedicated, hard worker.  You had to be, I suppose, having such a full plate.  You had a really complicated, labor-intensive method of roughing out and composing your comics pages in those days, involving tracing paper, flipping pages over on a light table, and etc.  Could you describe this process in more detail?  I’m wondering how you arrived at this method, and whether or not you’ve continued to use this same process throughout your entire career.

I write my stories in long hand, then rough them out on printer paper, and then pencil them on tracing paper taped on top of the bristol paper. THEN I re-draw it on the BACK of the tracing paper with a soft pencil, and then rub that on to the bristol paper, after which I re-pencil the transferred pencils. The key here is being able to see the pencils backwards, which allows me to see everything that needs correcting more clearly. I’m sure it’s due to my dyslexia that I tend to draw rather lopsided, and can’t spot what’s “wrong” until I see what I did backwards. I don’t know where I got the idea of doing it this way either.

I remember attending a number of social gatherings where most of the other guests were members of the Seahawks team and their spouses.  It felt kind of strange to be at parties where there were a bunch of professional athletes towering over me…I mean, I’m a little over six feet tall, and under normal circumstances it’s not unusual for me to be one of the tallest persons in the room…but some of those guys were enormous!  It contributed to a general sense of weirdness or displacement.  The players and their wives were all nice people—they didn’t treat us like geeky comic book losers, or anything—but we didn’t have a heck of a lot in common with them, either.


The players were all pretty different once you got to know them. Some were very smart and sensitive, others were coked-out assholes. A lot of them were born-againers too, though that had no bearing on whether they were decent people or not. Steve Largent — who was arguably the team’s biggest star back then, and later a US congressman — was a devout Christian, but he also was one of Joanne (who is an unabashed atheist)’s favorite customers at the deli. He was very friendly and unpretentious.

None of them were as physically big as Joanne’s brother-in-law, though. Tice is six foot one million inches tall, with a personality to match. I met Mike when he was still in high school, and he was that tall back then too. Next to him his teammates all looked like runts!

I also remember how much these guys stuck to the unwritten Professional Athlete’s Code, which is to never badmouth each other around “outsiders.” Their wives were bound by no such code, however, and weren’t the least bit shy about their opinions re: the other players and their wives and girlfriends. The players’ wives were a pretty fun bunch!

blog002One of the highlights of every day—most days, anyway—was when you’d return from your post office box with whatever had been submitted to Weirdo.  Often it was really amazing or wildly amusing stuff from artists like Jim Woodring, Dennis Worden, Chester Brown…along with their submissions, artists would often include other printed examples of their work, so we always seemed to have piles and piles of crazy reading material on hand.  Frequently you’d be on the phone with Crumb, or with Weirdo publisher Ron Turner, or with one artist or another.  It seemed so strange that sparkly, conservative Redmond, WA was such a nexus of twisted creative activity!

That was a fascinating, curious time for comics art, where what what was to become known as “alternative” comics was starting to arise from the ashes of the by-then long dormant underground comics movement. All these artists like the ones you mentioned were doing what they were doing out of impulse, and they all had such wildly diverse styles. Someone like Jim Woodring: where did that vision come from? It was totally unique.

I know you put a lot of effort into editing Weirdo, but you also seemed to enjoy it immensely.  There certainly must have been some pressure on you to fill Crumb’s shoes, so to speak, but it appeared to me that Crumb’s attitude was, “Pete’s in charge—it’s his call!”  I remember there was some tension involved when you rejected a submission from ZAP contributor Spain…

He submitted some work that had originally appeared in Screw, and was hoping to make some extra money off of them [it]. It was hardly his best work, so I reluctantly passed on it. He said nothing to me, but told Crumb he wanted to kill me. Fun!

I once caught some flack for you from Dori Seda.  She’d had some work published in Weirdo when Crumb was still editing, but you had rejected something she’d submitted and she was really pissed.  I was at one of those booze-drenched after-hours hotel room parties during the San Diego Comic Con when I first met Dori, and shortly thereafter she tore into me…apparently she knew that you and I were pals.  “Hey, Williamson,” she shouted (getting my name wrong)…”what does Peter Bagge have against me?!?”  Somehow I managed to calm the situation, and Dori & I became pretty good friends afterwards.  That kind of angry outburst seemed very uncharacteristic of her, once I’d gotten to know her better…she actually had a very friendly, even goofy personality, most of the time.

Crumb adored Dori’s work and printed everything she showed him (she was an employee of Last Gasp at the time). I was less enamored with her work, however, and passed on the first batch of comics she sent me. In response she wrote a very insulting letter, where she also threatened to kill me. I wasn’t amused. Years later I met Dori in person (her art improved greatly and she had her own comic by then). She was very friendly and acted like nothing bad had transpired between us, but when I reminded her of her letter she burst out laughing, which I found even less amusing. She was a real nut case.

While staying at your place I remember cutting the rubylith color separations for your “Vomit Glossary” poster.  I was also working on one of my early Bad Boys stories there.  At the end of the comic, the Bad Boys drop “Fatty” from a high treehouse, seriously injuring him…”Fatty” was bawling, and the Boys were laughing their asses off, of course!  I showed you the story and you liked it…but you said, “I think it would be funnier if ‘Fatty’ was DEAD!”  I was sort of horrified, at first, only because I liked the character and didn’t really want to kill him off!  But after I’d thought it over I figured, what the hell…it’s just a cartoon…Warner Brothers characters are frequently “resurrected” after miraculously surviving explosions, drops off of cliffs, etc.  The absurdity of bringing a character back to life after death in subsequent stories without any explanation whatsoever appealed to my sense of the bizarre.  You said, “If you change the ending, I’ll publish it in Weirdo!”  So that’s what I did.  More often than not, I used that same twist at the end of every Bad Boys story afterwards.

John Holmstrom once showed me how to cut color separation overlays in a few short hours, and I was proud to be able to pass that now useless skill on to you! The sister of one of the Seahawks loved that vomit glossary strip I did and wanted to turn it into a poster. She thought we’d get rich off of it! So she printed up way too many copies of it and then moved away, leaving me with the posters. I still have some of them.

eat_shot_or_die_1024x1024Also while I was there, you and I collaborated on a mini comic titled “Eat Shit Or Die!”  A good part of the inspiration for that story came from Basil Wolverton’s weird, wacky science fiction comics from the ’50s.  I think I’d brought a couple reprints of these along when I came up to Washington to stay.  These stories were often told in first-person by one of the characters, and something unspeakably horrible would always happen to the narrator by story’s end.  We were both really amused by it!

We were obsessed with Wolverton’s melodramatic sci-fi stories! They had such miserable, tragic endings! You also were obsessed with the Ramones at the time, and played them constantly. This was also around the time we began swapping cassette tapes of obscure music with other cartoonists. [Dennis] Worden, [Mary] Fleener, Kaz and even Crumb made a lot of tapes back then, though after a while you became the KING of the oddball compilation tape. You made like at least 3 entire tapes that contained nothing but songs about chickens!

Dinner at Filipe's, 1988, with Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, Mary Fleener, Peter Bagge.

Dinner at Filipe’s, 1988, with Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, Mary Fleener, Peter Bagge.

 One night we did have a bit of excitement.  Butch the cat had gotten into a recent fight…another cat had bitten him hard on his hind end, near the base of his tail.  Later, one night after we’d all gone to bed, there was this huge commotion in your bedroom.  I guess the cat’s wound had gotten infected, abscessed, and basically exploded…the cat was screaming, Joanne was hysterical, all the lights in the place went on, and you hustled poor ol’ Butch off to the vet.  Good times!  Quite a bit later, after your daughter was born, Joanne said Butch “committed suicide” out of jealousy by walking out into a busy street and getting himself run over!

Man, Butch was a handful. He was born in a Mueller’s spaghetti factory in Jersey City. His mother lived in the factory and got killed when Butch was 2 weeks old. A neighbor of ours gave him to us. He was a mess from the start. Mike Tice HATED him when we lived with them! I think you were the only person that liked him! You used to always say “I just let Butch be Butch.”

NS JUNIORSeveral of the characters who would populate the pages of Neat Stuff had appeared in print previously.  You give a lot of background information on the origins and development of your various recurring characters in the second volume of the Neat Stuff collection.  In addition to your character-driven stories you’d occasionally throw in pieces that were obviously inspired by satirical magazines like Mad or Cracked.  Something I’d forgotten is how much you referenced popular culture, especially music…though quite a few of your references might have been rather obscure to the average reader.  I laughed out loud when “Moms” Mabley made a special guest appearance in Neat Stuff !

I was definitely “narrow-casting” back then, making references that only a handful of friends and readers would get. I don’t think “Moms” Mabley was THAT obscure, though. She was a regular on the Flip Wilson show and other variety shows when we were kids! It’s funny: I’m currently writing a comic biography of Zora Neale Hurston, and while researching the Harlem Renaissance Mabley’s name comes up often! She was openly gay even back in the ’20s, and incorporated that fact into her act (depending on the audience, of course).

I decided to return to Portland in May of ’85 and eventually found employment at a local animation house, Will Vinton Studios.  After living in Redmond for about a year, you and Joanne finally moved into Seattle proper.  You regretfully gave up editing Weirdo in order to focus your energies on Neat Stuff, though sales of the latter title weren’t taking off as you’d hoped.  You’ve stated that you were tempted to give up a career in comics out of frustration, but somehow you managed to stay motivated…you would go on to produce 15 issues of Neat Stuff; Hate would premiere in 1990.  When did you begin thinking about making the transition in titles?

NS First bradleys

The Bradley Family — and particularly Buddy Bradley — were starting to dominate Neat Stuff — which was no surprise, since they (and he) were the most autobiographical of all my characters. So I started to think it might be a wise commercial move to start a new title that focused on [that] character, as well as change it to a traditional comic book format (Neat Stuff was magazine sized, to help distinguish it as an adult comic, though I never cared for that format). All of this turned out to be an accurate hunch on my part.

The ’80s were very difficult for me, financially. Joanne was doing fine with the deli, but I didn’t want her supporting me for any longer than she already had. We also were also starting to talk about having a baby, which made making money that much more important. So the financial success of HATE couldn’t have happened at a better time. I still occasionally think of getting out of the comics business, if only for variety’s sake. But I really don’t have any other marketable skills. And it’s not such a bad racket overall. Most of my 9 to 5 friends are very envious of my life!

Peter Bagge, 1985.

Peter Bagge, 1985.

Titles like Love and Rockets and Neat Stuff paved the way for the alternative comics boom of the 1990s.  After Fantagraphics relocated to Seattle in 1989, the city became a sort of mecca for aspiring comic book creators (I lived there myself, from 1992 – ’95). You had already established contact with many other up-and-coming artists through your work on Weirdo, offering encouragement to those who had aspirations similar to your own.  A number of these artists would go on to create their own titles, some of which would be published by Fantagraphics.  Any thoughts on your standing as an alternative comics pioneer?

I can’t really say I was ahead of the curve, or that much more of a trailblazer than any of my peers at the time. We were all moving forward together, trying to accomplish the same things. I also was being as much a FAN of these other artists as I was a friend when I’d help them out — if and when I COULD help them out, that is. I WANTED to see them succeed, if only so they’d make more comics for me to read!

Do you ever think about reviving any of the Neat Stuff characters, or at least come up with ideas for stories involving any of them…?

Not really. I had played a bit with some of them post NS — most recently Chet and Bunny Leeway for a semi-animated strip I did for Adobe in the early 2000s — but I never come up with any ideas that would suit any of them in particular. They were all mostly part of a long learning process for me, I’d say.


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An Interview with Nancy Burton http://www.tcj.com/nancy-burton/ http://www.tcj.com/nancy-burton/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94109 Continue reading ]]> 01 The Promise

Recent work: “The Promise”.


Nancy Burton has published under many names in her career–Panzika, Nancy Kalish, and most famously, “Hurricane Nancy.” Burton’s comic Gentle’s Tripout, which she signed Panzika, began appearing in The East Village Other in 1965. She would go onto contribute to It Ain’t Me, Babe in 1970, which was included in Fantagraphics’ recent collection of Wimmen’s Comix, but she stopped making art in the early 1971. In recent years Burton has returned to making comics and she launched a YouTube channel where she regularly posts her artwork.

I was able to reach out to Burton earlier this year when she contributed to The Oral History of Wimmen’s Comix and afterwards she was kind enough to consent to a longer interview to talk about her work and her journey.

I know almost nothing about you so I wondered if it might be possible just to talk a little about your life and your background.

I grew up in a leftist family; we lived in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York City. The last stop on the A train! I learned early about marching and picket lines with my union dad. As I grew up I got involved in the Protest movements; I marched on Washington, protested against the Vietnam War and for Integration.

I loved classical music, folk, and went to every Alan Fried concert I could get to. Chuck Berry was my favorite. I fell in love with Elvis, too. Hail Hail Rock & Roll!

I daydreamed my way through school, doodling all the time. My leftist mom’s plans for me included becoming a teacher and marrying a doctor. Go figure! Instead I married a poet and we backpacked through Europe. Somehow we managed to cross the borders into some of the communist countries; that ended any romance with the far left.

When did you travel through Europe? What countries changed your politics?

I traveled in, I think, 1963 and 1964 to Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Hungary, Spain and Morocco. In Hamburg, Germany I worked in a pudding factory alongside migrant workers, mostly women, from Turkey and with very interesting lives. I found out later that they and many other poor people from the war torn states were invited by the governments of France, Germany, Holland etc. to help with the reconstruction of western Europe. They were called “Guest Workers” They were supposed to return to their homeland when their guest visas expired but most of them stayed, even though they were classed as laborers and refused education and any opportunity to improve their lives.

We hitchhiked into Hungary and stayed in Budapest. There I was able to get to know some wonderful young people who had fought in the uprising against the Soviet Union. They were fascinated with us because they wanted the freedom of the West. What really turned my attitude around was when I went through the Berlin wall, going from the vibrant, industrious and colorful West to the grey, colorless East. Everything, even the people looked grey. So it was seeing for myself and by direct observation that I decided I would never be a slave to any political system. After spending a month or so in Morocco I travelled home to New York from Casablanca on a freighter.

Did you study art?

I went to Buffalo State Teachers college after high school and did a few art classes, but I was more interested in the whole Western New York art movement and experiencing all that great abstract work.

What was the Western New York art movement?

The Western New York group were a bunch of painters at the time, including one of my teachers Mr. McCracken. Clifford Still was an enormous influence in that group and I spent hours In The Albright Knox gallery looking at his work.

What inspired me while I was there was seeing Bosch’s work. I was amazed to find that a great artist saw pictures in the same way as I did.

A lot of cartoonists of your generation were reacting to abstract expressionism. How did abstract art help open up possibilities to you?

What Clifford Still gave me is a different concept of space. I was in London four years ago visiting family and went to the Tate Modern and sat in the Mark Rothko room and sat for along time soaking up the influence. Obviously I appreciate the abstract. When I traveled in Europe years ago I saw the black and white striped cathedral in Siena Italy; I’d say that influenced my work later. 

Were you interested in art nouveau? Because I see a lot of Mucha and other artists like that in your work?

I loved looking at art nouveau. To say you see a lot of Mucha in my work is an awesome compliment. As a born New Yorker who visited museums a lot from an early age I could say I have been influenced by innumerable works of art. My god Klimt! I just finished a kartoon called “The Kiss”. I had to laugh at the inside joke–it sure ain’t a Klimt. I tried to oil paint abstracts in college. This resulted in canvases gone grey from over correction by me. On my Kartoons I very rarely correct and it is a pleasure to work this way. Just do another picture.

So you were always working in black and white, at least in terms of the comics? You seem to really like that contrast.

I have always worked with pen and ink in black and white. My style is primitive and I just create whatever I see in my odd universe. The monochrome contrast leaves no room for maybe. It’s there or not, you either see something or you don’t. I guess we could call it psychedelic, but psyche really means soul which is where my art comes from.

The main thing I learned during this time is that the artist is a creator and there is a commitment in being an artist that you compromise at your peril. There wasn’t a lot of this kind of work around the East coast, I was into the art, not the illustration.

After you discovered The East Village Other, which started coming out in 1965, how did you start contributing to the newspaper?

In New York I literally walked into The East Village Other office, showed Gentle’s Tripout to the editor and without any written contract or pay began contributing that cartoon strip.

EVO-GRAHPIX-FULL-02As a younger person I have only a vague sense of the paper. Was The East Village Other political? Was it psychedelic?

The East Village Other had just started up and was very avant-guard and freethinking. In fact one of their top contributors later wrote a book exposing mind control. You might say people were thinking out of the box. Trina Robbins later acknowledged me as the first female underground cartoonist in New York, based on that work for The East Village Other.

Your strip was called “Gentle’s Tripout” or “Gentle’s Trip Out”? I’ve come across both.

Tripout is one word. 

Why was that the title?

Remember the slogan “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out?” “Tripout” is a play on “Drop out”

Did you sign the first strip “Panzika”? Or did that come later?

As I can best remember, I signed Gentle’s Tripout “Panzika” because that was my poet husband’s last name. “Hurricane Nancy” came later.

What was the first “Gentle’s Tripout” that you brought to EVO?

I don’t have an archive of the Gentle’s Tripout strip but I brought the first one I did to East Village Other as soon as it was done cause I thought it was a great idea. My belief at the time was Christ was gentle–that’s reason for the name–and my character was a gentle alien. In my way I was trying to say, have adventures and find you own truth.

Were you a big reader of comics then? Or as a kid?

I did read comics when I was young but my favorite images were pictures of cave paintings and Egyptian wall writings. The Sunday comics were great and I did love Little Lulu!

So how often were you making Gentle’s Tripout for EVO? How many comics in total did you make them?

Gentle’s Tripout ran weekly for a few months in The East Village Other. Some time before Gothic Blimp Works started up a new editor came on the job at EVO and I was told Gentles Tropout would no longer be included. I don’t remember any reason being given. So EVO was over for me. It was before The Monterey Pop Festival for sure. I got to California somehow–probably flew–before the festival began

So you were never in Gothic Blimp Works?

So far as I remember I never was published in Gothic Blimp Works

[Editor’s note: There’s at least one strip, below, from 1969].

"The Chub Takes a Trip", Gothic Blimp Works, 1969

“The Chub Takes a Trip”,
Gothic Blimp Works, 1969

How long were you in New York?

I was in New York City from 1965 to mid-1967, then mid-1967 was the Monterey Pop Festival. Thanks to a photographer friend I managed to get into the press box within arms length of the stage.

After the Monterey Pop Festival I stayed in San Francisco for a while and my cartoons were published in a small underground newspaper that was published by a couple of gay hippies. It was at this time my cartoons changed and became more psychedelic than during Gentle’s Tripout.

When I left New York to go to San Francisco I was able to disconnect from the put-down of my work by the new editor at EVO and my poet husband, also. The unexpected relief was so great I thought I’d gone to heaven.

I have to shamelessly ask, what was the Monterey Pop Festival like?

The Monterey Pop Festival was days of the most incredible live performances. One that stands out is Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar while playing. I was hanging on to the stage looking up and it seemed to all of us there that the music was completely erotic and never missed a beat. Some of us slept on the floor of a big long house while the musicians jammed all night. I saw Brian Jones jamming with Jimi Hendrix on one of those nights. Ravi Shankar calmed the audience down and a lot of us felt like we were outside our body. Janis Joplin was the most moving female singer ever. It went on and on, one great show after another.There were drugs of course but nobody was wildly out of control. The drug scene and use seemed mild. We were there for the music which our peers were producing and there was a sense of unity. Every performance left me feeling nothing in life can be better than this. Every performer was 100% in communication with the audience.

You were doing this very psychedelic work and I’m curious how it was received and were there a lot of comics like this around 1965 or so when you started doing this kind of work? 

I went to San Francisco for the Monterey Pop Festival, experienced the Summer of Love and stayed. While I was there I did some work for a small underground paper. One of the memorable and inspiring things for me was the beautiful concert posters being published at the time.

Was there something in particular about California that made you go in a more psychedelic direction? Were you moving in that direction before?

The biggest influence regarding changes in my work in California was feeling the closeness to the land and Native American art. Just look at the eyes on totem pole characters. The poster art of San Francisco and the crafts and clothing of West Coast hippies inspired me as well. My work became more my vision with no significant input from those around me. I let what I now saw in my mind go into cartoon form. I did do LSD which was very strong. It was so easily available it appeared to be being shipped in and not by any hippies. It’s purpose was not enlightenment but to just to drive us mad. Like, “Make people dumb and irresponsible so as to kill any positive change this movement would produce.” 

In San Francisco I was putting cartoons in that underground paper and traveling around the area and was hanging out. I went to one seminar given by the Maharishi, but I didn’t understand what he was saying. As I’ve mentioned, getting dumber & dumber. Obviously I have been able to disabuse myself of any idea that drugs are a route to wisdom. Others of my acquaintance were not so fortunate.

Was it in California you started going by Hurricane Nancy?

I took on the name of Hurricane Nancy during the summer of ‘67.

Were you in touch with other cartoonists when you were in New York? What about in California?

The only other cartoonist I have ever been in communication with is Trina Robbins. You could say with some truth that I am a loner in cartoons.

trina_70s_artists_wimmenscomixHow did you connect with Trina? Was it when you were both in San Francisco?

I never personally met Trina. She tracked me down. I was already back living in New York when she contacted me and asked me to contribute to It Ain’t Me, Babe. Trina is a real finder of female cartoon artists and I am one of her finds.

How did you get involved in It Ain’t Me, Babe?

She asked me to contribute and I did. It was that simple. Sent her the work and my photo. I actually stopped working and publishing after It Ain’t me Babe.

When did you stop?

I stopped making comics in 1971


I became very discouraged by personal events in which my purposes as an artist were lost to me. I more or less gave up trying to create aesthetically. At that point I was pretty much a lost soul–personally and artistically. In desperation I left everything and everyone, and cut myself off from very painful associations in which I realized we were just damaging each other and not helping each other at all. To handle the confusion I began to form new associations with artistic and creative people on the basis of whether or not I could help them and they could reciprocate. The results were so encouraging that I made a career of it.

When you stopped making art, what did you do after that?

I stopped doing visual art in 1971, my irresponsible indulgence in harmful drugs took such a toll that I became artistically blind. Fortunately I was not so far gone as to accept psych treatment.

What changed? Why did you start making art again a few years ago?

The wake up call for my own art came in 2009 when I contracted breast cancer. During the treatment I began kartooning a lot more. That was the start of krazi kartoon and some of the YouTube pictures are from that period. Some of the images were inspired by the doctors, staff and close friends who helped me. I showed them around and made prints as gifts of thanks. I survived the disease and the treatment and I have been cancer free since 2010.

Given this new lease of life I felt inspired to kept drawing and then decided to put the images with voice-overs on my web site because I can’t stop producing pictures. I figured the art would find it’s own audience that way. I would love to find a publication that would do a weekly cartoon for krazies in all walks of life.

Why did you feel the need to coin this term, “krazi kartoon,” to describe what you do?

My work is called krazi kartoon because its source, nature and roots stem from my belief that art, whether primitive or sophisticated, must be an unrepressed, personal, creative act. This can look pretty crazy to others.


Recent work: “Burned at the Stake again”.


Recent work: “Mixing Races”.

I know that there were many years separating your earlier work from your more recent work, but do you work the same? Has your process changed?

No, I work in the same way as I did in the sixties–swift pencil sketch and then pen and ink. The size of the paper and types of pens change, but overall it’s the same technique. 

Do you still have a lot of your old work in addition to the new work?

I have 65 original older works (some with up to 4 images in one frame, plus 14 Gentle’s Tripout original strips and I have 3 boxes of original strips from the early period. Plus about 15 prints from that time where I don’t have the originals. Of the new work since 2006 I have 100 original images. The total is close to 200 originals, strips and single images.

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When Wolverine Met Hemingway: A History of Ernest Hemingway in Comics: Part I http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-a-history-of-ernest-hemingway-in-comics-part-i/ http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-a-history-of-ernest-hemingway-in-comics-part-i/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94148 Continue reading ]]> Celebrity cameos aren’t new to comic books. Both Stephen Colbert and President Obama appeared alongside Spider-Man, and Eminem got a two-issues series with the Punisher. Orson Welles helped Superman foil a Martian invasion and John F. Kennedy helped the Man of Steel keep his secret identity.

While working on Hidden Hemingway, my book about the writer’s hometown archives, I fell into a deep rabbit hole: Ernest Hemingway appearances in comics. I found him battling fascists alongside Wolverine, playing cards with Harlan Ellison and guiding souls through purgatory in The Life After.

He’s appeared alongside Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Donald Duck, Lobo—even a Jazz Age Creeper. Hemingway casts a long shadow in literature, which extends into comic books. It’s really only in comics, however, where the Nobel Prize-winner gets treated with equal parts reverence, curiosity and parody.

But as author Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried) has pointed it, there is no one Ernest Hemingway. In fact, comic books provide a more nuanced view of Hemingway than other forms of pop culture (see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris).

In the 40-plus appearances I found across five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), Hemingway is often the hyper-masculine legend of Papa: bearded, boozed-up and ready to throw a punch. Just as often, comic book creators see past the bravado, to the sensitive artist looking for validation.

Here, in part one of a multi-part series: we explore Hemingway homages, appearances and doppelgangers in comics, from the divine to the ridiculous.

TabulaComic Our Ideas of Heaven Tabula 1917

Hemingway’s depiction as a comic character came early, in his senior yearbook, the Tabula, published by Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1917.

On page 138, in a comic titled “Some things We’ll Miss,” Hemingway appears under the subhead “Ernie’s Diving Form.” In the drawing, Hemingway stands awkwardly—with stubbly legs and hair tucked under a swimming cap —atop diving board. On the sidelines, his classmates rib him, Atta boy cupid!”

Tabula swimmingAnother comic titled “Our Ideas of Heaven” features a newspaper sports page that reads “Hemingway Stars / Wins Plunge / and / Breaks End of Tank.” In parentheses under the illustration, a caption says “All this is true fame.”

Hemingway’s own idea of heaven was very different when he described it to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925: “To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on 9 different floors…”

Captain Marvel Adventures #110 (July 1950)

Captain Marvel Adventures 110 Hemingway img011
Hemingway’s first appearance in mainstream comics was a bit underwhelming. In fact, you have to squint to see him. As Captain Marvel and President Harry Truman tour the Half-Century Fair of 1950, Hemingway is one of the luminaries who populates a panel of cultural leaders. Hemingway is in the upper left-hand corner, accompanied by contemporaries such as Walter Winchell, Albert Einstein, Bing Crosby, Jackie Robinson and Louis B. Mayer. This was one of the few appearances published in his lifetime.

Coogy (1953)

Coogy-Feb-1-1953 copy
This is the first of several Hemingway parody comics to appear in Coogy, Irving “Irv” Spector’s “Pogo”-inspired strip syndicated by the New York Herald-Tribune.

The strip had a brief run from 1951 to 1954, and Spector became better known for “funny animal comics,” and as an animator, notably on The Jetsons and The Flintstones. He also logged writing credits on How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Pink Panther cartoons.

This Sunday strip, “Across the Old Man and Into the Sea,” parodies two Hemingway novels (The Old Man and the Sea, and Across the River and Into the Trees). In the story,  Mo (a bear) is mistaken for a marlin and lashed to the side of an overzealous fisherman’s dry docked boat. Ultimately, Mo gets rescued by his grandson (Coogy) and a friend, as the manic fisherman is left to dream about a successful catch.

(Special thanks to Ger Apeldoorn for directing me to this piece).

Vidas Illustres: Ernest Hemingway (1964)

Vidas Illustres Hemingway img246

What this 1964 Mexican comic book, Illustrious Lives, from gets wrong in fact, it makes up for in passion. Thirty-two pages of adoring, biography-bending passion that starts with the legend and work backwards (the most harmless example: Hemingway grows a beard at age 18 and never shaves it).

Particularly interesting: The final page of Hemingway’s bloodless suicide, where he’s discovered not by his wife Mary, but a young man who says, “Pronto! Un Medico!” The caption translates, roughly, to: “It is believed that his death was an accident that happened as he cleaned his shotgun.”

Our Army at War #234 (July 1971)

Our Amry at War interior 4 panel img025
Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos appear in a backup story titled “Mercy Brigade” in this Sgt. Rock-led book. In the eight-page story, a (historically inaccurate) blond Ernie rescues hospital patrons during a bombing raid, providing cover with a table he carries on his back, saying “Don’t despair! Old Ernie’s here!” He also foils an espionage plot and inadvertently kills the knife-wielding villain with a single punch.

“I-I’ve killed man, I killed a man,” he says, before his friends divert him back to the battle at hand.

At the end of the story, writer-illustrator Ric Estrada provides more context, stating: “This was a highly fictionalized account of three young men who served in the ambulance corps during World War I…who went on to become famous author: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Jon Dos Passos.”Our Amry at War interior panel img025

How highly fictionalized? Fitzgerald never left the States during WWI. (Maybe Estrada should have included Walt Disney, who served with the Red Cross in France.)

Adventure of Uncle Scrooge Treasure #3: The Trip to Key West (Der Ausflug nach Key West) (1984)

Adventure of Uncle Scrooge Treasure 3 Hemingway panel LO img332Papa gets Disney-fied in this tale of Donald Duck and family searching for treasure in Key West as a hurricane looms off the Florida coast.

I saw a few warped panels from this comic framed on the walls of Hemingway’s house in Key West. The word balloons were in German, and I couldn’t find a version in English. I was stumped until Klaus Strzyz, a former editor and translator for Ehapa Verlag (the publisher of Disney comics in Germany), pointed me to this 1984 comic book.

The story was written by Adolf Kabatek, then chief editor of Ehapa Verlag. Strzyz believes that the issue was illustrated by Marco Rota, the art director of Disney Italy, in the style of Carl Barks. However, a Disney comics database maintained by Inducks identifies Miquel Pujol as the artist. An English-language version was never produced.

In this panel, Papa chats with a friend outside of Sloppy Joe’s Bar in 1935, as the town braces for the hurricane. It’s worth noting that the real Hemingway weathered a hurricane that same year, which inspired his piece “Who Murdered the Vets?”–his first-hand account of the storm, published in New Masses.

Wolverine #35-37 (1991)

Wolverine 37 LO img054 (1)When a time vortex takes Wolverine back to the Spanish Civil War, he encounters Hemingway at a bullfight, and promptly takes a swig from the author’s wine bottle. Heroic Hemingway acts as a guide to the out-of-time Wolverine and fellow Canadian superhero Puck.

Papa, however, is a secondary character in this three-issue arc, barely appearing in the same panels with Wolverine until the very last frame.

George Orwell also appears in this story under his real name, Eric Arthur Blair, in a story inspired by military historian Antony Beevor’s The Spanish Civil War. “I always liked Hemingway,” says Wolverine writer Larry Hama told me. “Wish I could write as pared down as him, but that requires real bravery.”

Hemingway: Muerte de un Leopardo (1993)