Features – The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:28:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 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 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.

beauty-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.                                     

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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.

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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.

Teaching

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.

Motherhood

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?  

dinner

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.

 

anim

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.

spx

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.

kane-08

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.

kane-09

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.

kane-11

“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.

kane-13

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.

kane-14

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.

kane-15

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’,

kane-16

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.

kane-17

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.

kane-19

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.

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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!

kane-30

Would you write a comic for David Hine to draw? 

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

 kane-31

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

43

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.

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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.

206

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.

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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.

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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.

night-business-cover

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.”

band-for-life-27

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.

WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS ASSHOLE!!

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.

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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]

wmcleotrilby06

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.

brde-02-p06

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.

tmntnorthampton

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.

glorytpbcover01

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.
jem-13-p02-musicjem-13-p02_v6

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.

jem-16-p14-15-music

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.

shadoweyes1-cover-v1

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]

clb-013

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?

cheapnoveltiesinterior_20
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.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-46-38-pm
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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

MOONCOP_08

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?

WALDEN: Yes!

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.

marker_01

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.

ACI_sample

MOK: You were talking a bit about getting letters for teens. I write for teens also, for Rookie.

WALDEN: Yeah!

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?

WALDEN: No!

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

EPSON MFP image

Bagge Bradley Roughs 2

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

“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.

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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.

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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.

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Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor
#2

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.

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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.

img045
Mad
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.

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Glory
#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.

img076
“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.

kus!
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.)

img449
WildC.A.T.s Covert Action Teams #41-42
(1992)
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)
(2014)
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
Cerebus
#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. 

NeatStuff_Collection_3D

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.

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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.

NS#5-cover

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

Why?

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.

30

Recent work: “Burned at the Stake again”.

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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)Hemingway Mort D'Un Leopard cover img202
Hemingway is the focus of a revenge plot that spans decades in Marc Males and Jean Dufaux’s Hemingway: Death of a Leopard.  The story is broken into flashbacks in 1930s Africa and 1959’s Cuba, where the author encounters the beautiful but complicated Anjelica, the daughter of two friends who died in Africa.

Anjelica blames Hemingway for her parents’ deaths, and then seduces him over dinner. “Writing for me will always be a good way of exorcising the past,” Hemingway says in the story. Eventually, Castro’s regime intervenes as the conspiracy to kill Hemingway comes to a dramatic conclusion.

Hemingway Mort D'Un Leopard interior Castro img219

(Thanks to Plume Beuchat and Gaelle Ramet of the University of Lausanne for their translation help.)

Speciale Nathan Never #4, “Fantasmi a Venezia” (“Ghosts in Venice”) 1994

Nathan Never img466 (1)When the canals of Venice start to lose water and the wife a friend goes missing, Nathan Never is sent to investigate.

Part Blade Runner, part Sam Spade, this popular Italian comic book blends elements of sci-fi with film noir. In this story, Never, a detective from the Alfa Agency, encounters Hemingway while drinking at an outdoor café. Once Papa sits down, he tells Never about Venice and dispenses advice on everything from drinking vodka to aging.

“If you haven’t lived, getting old is a nightmare,” Hemingway says. “Life is something extraordinary, it should be lived. You should try to experience all the emotions.”

The story takes a turn for the surreal with Nick Adams (Hemingway’s literary alter-ego) shows up as a former “great traveler” who now lives in Venice. Adams and Papa reminisce about places that don’t exist anymore. Expanding the narrative frame, Never begins deconstructing his own life: “If I was a character in a novel, I would think that the novel wasn’t written by one person, but by multiple authors who didn’t speak to one another beforehand.”

Hemingway responds: “It’s always like this in life. There’s no single author. Otherwise, imagine how boring life would be.”

Eventually aliens and spaceships explain the water’s disappearance from Venice, but who cares—the story has Hemingway.

(Thanks to Alessandra Garzoni of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, for her translations.)

Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun (2008)Jesus Christ Name of the Gun Hemingway
Eric Peterson’ hyper-violent satire casts Hemingway in buddy cop genre, in which a vengeful, sandal-wearing Jesus of Nazareth is his partner. Here, the ninja-like Hemingway travels through time, assassinating history’s biggest mass murderers with the Son of God.

Begun as a web comic, the series embraces a strong moral core, punk rock ethos, Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo zaniness.

“I’ve got more photos of Hemingway and Thompson hanging in my house than I do of my parents,” Peterson says, who admits that Hemingway’s depiction might be “borderline disrespectful for the writer that I love so much.”

In the third book of the series, Peterson says that he “really wanted to hone in on the fact that Ernest is a man chased by and chasing the idea of his own strength.”

He adds: “The author holds a very special place in my heart. I get a bit miffed that maybe the ‘legend’ of Hemingway holds a place in the mainstream consciousness more than the work itself.  But, I think that’s just a part of his legacy. Same goes for Thompson.”

The Life After (2014) and Exodus: The Life After (2016), both limited series

Life After 2 LO Hemingway cover
When office worker Jude wakes up to discover that his sterile, repetitive life actually is Purgatory, he teams up with Hemingway to rebel against the celestial system.

According to creator Joshua Hale Fialkov, Hemingway was a relatively late addition to his series. “The Afterlife for Suicides is the most mediocre day of your life, lived out ad infinitum. So, who committed suicide but never lived a truly mediocre day? We landed on Hemingway,” says Fialkov.

In the book, Hemingway is Jude’s sidekick, the shotgun-wielding heavy who also manages to have a ménage-a-trois with a pair of sexy demonesses—in what is strangely one of the more tender episodes in the book.

“Part of the fun is that so much of his bravado and swagger was clearly exaggerated,” says Fialkov. “When you read his rough draft notes in any of his novels, the confident, ass-kicking man’s man is usually missing. That degree of insecurity that’s just bubbling under the surface is what makes him human, and a great foil for our protagonist.”

For artist Gabo (aka Gabriel Bautista), this was the second time his depicted Hemingway; the first was in the gleefully blasphemous Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun.

Carver
 #1-5 
(2015-2016)Carver cover Hemingway LO
Chris Hunt’s hardboiled, two-fisted hero looks and dresses like Hemingway in the 1920s—and that’s no accident. Part homage to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese series, part mash-up of Hemingway and Indiana Jones, Carver is a way for Hunt to deconstruct male archetypes.

“I believed there was some truth to the archetype in some way, and I wanted to find a way to introduce something that was recognizable,” says Hunt, who wrote and illustrated the five-issue,  creator-owned series for Z2 Comics.

Hunt is a native of Idaho; he says the “specter of Hemingway paints over things here.” The specter makes it into his work, where artist-turned-soldier-turned-adventurer Francis Carver tries to unravel a kidnapping plot in 1923 Paris.

If you look closely, you can find F. Scott Fitzgerald talking to a sailor whom Hunt refers to as his “Bootleg Corto Maltese.” Paul Pope, Hunt’s friend and mentor, also provides some backup stories and covers for the series.

Superman / Wonder Woman #13 (2015)Superman Wonder Woman 13 interior 2 LO
Ponder this: In DC Comics’ New 52 Universe, Superman uses Hemingway’s typewriter, which was a birthday gift from Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. When Wonder Woman teases him for using such an “ancient relic,” as Superman explains that “sometimes the sound of the keys hitting the paper helps me compose my thoughts better.”

“I can type fast, but I can’t write fast,” he says.

“I liked the idea of Batman/Bruce Wayne giving his friend Superman/Clark Kent a Hemingway typewriter due, of course, to Clark’s secret identity being a kick-ass reporter,” says writer Peter Tomasi. “In my mind’s eye, I imagined it was the typewriter that Hemingway wrote his Spanish Civil War dispatches on – a period in history I had a deep interest in due to a relative who served in the Lincoln Brigade.”

Click here to read PART 2

If you know of a Hemingway appearance we didn’t feature, please email: info [at] hiddenhemingway.com.

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Gordon Bailey, Co-Founder of The Nostalgia Journal, Dies at 59 http://www.tcj.com/gordon-bailey-co-founder-of-the-nostalgia-journal-dies-at-59/ http://www.tcj.com/gordon-bailey-co-founder-of-the-nostalgia-journal-dies-at-59/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94793 Continue reading ]]> Gordon Bailey-PHOTO-1

Gordon Bailey at a December OAF convention in Oklahoma City sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Photo by Robert A. Brown.

Gordon Francis Bailey Jr., a contributor to early comics fandom in north Texas, passed away July 13 after a brief illness, according to his sister, Katherine Bailey. Gordon Bailey was part of The Syndicate — himself, Larry Herndon, Joe Bob Williams, and later Mark Lamberti — a group that created The Nostalgia Journal in the summer of 1974. TNJ ran for 26 issues before it was acquired by Gary Groth and Michael Catron of Fantagraphics and became, first, The New Nostalgia Journal and then The Comics Journal. Bailey helped organize early conventions in north Texas and Oklahoma, and wrote about some of them in Trek in Texas — The 1970s Star Trek Conventions, one of his 18 self-published books.

Bailey was born July 21, 1956, lived most of his life in Fort Worth, Texas, and died a few days shy of his 60th birthday at Harris Medical Center in Fort Worth, the same hospital where he was born. He graduated from Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth and attended North Texas State for a year.

He fell in love with journalism in the ninth grade and though not eligible to take the journalism course, he sat in on the classes anyway and was appointed editor of his high school paper while still a junior. His first magazine was The BiWeekly Bomb — which was eventually banned by the high school administration. He collected comics, Mad magazines, and movie memorabilia throughout high school. Those loves persisted throughout his life. At 17 he published his first fanzine, Comic Fantasy Quarterly.

He owned a bookstore and a video rental store at one point, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a reporter and contributing editor for the Dallas Observer. Beginning in early 2009, he was a regular contributing writer for Austin’s Slaughter Creek Reporter, doing feature stories, restaurant reviews, business profiles, and the like as well as a regular movie column, “Box Office Rap.”

His Amazon.com author’s page lists 18 books by Bailey, including several on movie criticism and history, multiple original short story collections, a memoir, the above-mentioned Trek in Texas, and two science fiction novels released earlier this year, Bee World and 1950.

Gordon F. Bailey Jr. with his grandson, Gordon F. Bailey IV, October 24, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Rebecca Bailey.

Gordon F. Bailey Jr. with his grandson, Gordon F. Bailey IV, October 24, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Rebecca Bailey.

He was divorced and is survived by two sons, Gordon F. Bailey III (and his wife Rebecca) and Eric Bailey; a grandson, Gordon F. Bailey IV; sisters Jan Herr and Katherine Bailey; his brother, Joseph Bailey; and his parents, Gordon F. Bailey Sr. and Katherine Bailey.

John Wooley Remembers Gordon Bailey

Along with Larry Herndon, Mark Lamberti, and Joe Bob Williams, Gordon Bailey was a major force on the Dallas-Fort Worth nostalgia, science fiction, and Star Trek convention scene of the 1970s. In 1974, Larry, Joe Bob, and Gordon launched The Nostalgia Journal, an adzine that grew out of the progress reports they were creating and sending out to hype their conventions. Mark joined up around issue #19.

Those regular progress report mailings had started drawing advertisers, and from there it was a reasonably short step to a full-blown tabloid that emphasized ads — and drew the wrath of Alan Light, whose The Buyer’s Guide to Comics Fandom had been around for some three years doing the same sort of thing with no real competition. A firestorm of accusations and counter-accusations followed, with both camps dispatching often-incendiary preprinted correspondence to those who had advertised in the other’s publication. For a time there, you could singe your fingers picking up one of those inflammatory postcards.

Although his laid-back, soft-spoken demeanor might have belied it, young Gordon stood strong right in the midst of it all, giving as good as he got and helping write, edit, and otherwise produce The Nostalgia Journal until — after a couple of tumultuous years — they decided to sell it to Gary Groth and Mike Catron of Fantagraphics, who ultimately transformed it into The Comics Journal and made it the cornerstone of their publishing company.

I was around then, resettling into fandom-type activities after getting back from a stint in the military. Living near Oklahoma City, I could make the trek to the Dallas-Fort Worth area pretty easily, and I began helping with the conventions, which is where I first met Gordon.

We hit it off pretty quickly. Both aspiring novelists, we also shared a love for the offbeat and obscure in movies, comic books, and other literature. When the 1980s rolled around, we ended up spending a lot of time together at the fabled Dallas Fantasy Fairs and Dallas Fantasy Festivals, put on by Larry Lankford with a big assist from Paul McSpadden. As I recall it, Gordon helped with the movie programming there for several years, championing the notion (quaint now) of a room devoted entirely to showing features, shorts, and TV shows on 16mm film.

Gordon’s love of cinema led him to publish and edit a slick semi-pro publication called Movies Then And Now, which lasted four issues from 1988 to 1990. I was contributing editor and a writer for the mag. Other contributors included Michael H. Price, George Turner, and Tom Rainone. Gordon penned his own pieces for each of the four issues, writing both under his own name and the pseudonym Nelson T. Bunkworth. I can’t imagine Movies Then and Now made any money for him. But, God bless him, he gave contributors $50 per article.

The Dallas conventions were the glue that held a lot of us together, and when they evaporated in mid-’90s, many of us simply lost touch. Mark Lamberti, Gordon’s old Nostalgia Journal cohort, just recently told me of Gordon’s book about his convention days, 2013’s Trek in Texas: The 1970s Star Trek Conventions. Looking it up, I saw that Gordon had published quite a few other books, both fiction and non-fiction, in the latter years of his life.

Recalling all those beer-fueled discussions about our writing goals in rooms at innumerable Texas conventions, I was glad to find that out.

— John Wooley

John Wooley is a comic-book writer, novelist, and pop-culture historian whose most recent work includes the graphic novels The Twilight Avenger and The Miracle Squad (Pulp 2.0 Press) and, with James Vance, the introductions for Bob Powell’s Complete Jet Powers and Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl (Kitchen Sink Press/Dark Horse Books). In the past couple of years, two of his story synopses have been expanded into full-length Alley Oop comic strip adventures by Jack and Carole Bender.

Robert A. Brown Remembers Gordon Bailey

Gordon Bailey attended almost all (if not all) of the conventions put on by the Oklahoma Alliance of Fandoms. He was always good for a laugh, loved to talk about the books, and would go over your sales items with a finetooth comb looking for his “wants.” We would sit in the hotel café having a great time, shooting tall tales, and laughing a lot. I never saw him depressed.

He was like most of us in those days, a kid in a candy store with only a dime to spend, but he enjoyed spending as much as he could. I only made a few trades with Gordon, but they were easy ones. We’d select the books the other had we were interested in, come to an agreement on price and just stack them up until one of us ran out of “spending” power. Once in a while he’d offer more than a book was worth to get me to turn loose of it. Which to me meant he was a very serious collector.

I lost track of Gordon after the conventions went away (the real conventions), but I hope his eternal reward is to be at a show with unlimited funds. That would be heaven for Gordon.

— Robert A. Brown

Oklahoma Alliance of Fandom (OAF)

]]> http://www.tcj.com/gordon-bailey-co-founder-of-the-nostalgia-journal-dies-at-59/feed/ 3 An Interview with Maré Odomo http://www.tcj.com/mare-odomo/ http://www.tcj.com/mare-odomo/#respond Wed, 10 Aug 2016 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93979 Continue reading ]]>

LateBloomerCover_originalMaré Odomo is a young Seattle-based cartoonist who’s just released their largest work to date,
Late Bloomer from Retrofit and Big Planet Comics. Like many people, I first encountered Maré through their strip about Ash from Pokémon, the adorable and heartbreaking Letters to an Absent Father. From there, I followed their development through their PDF titled <3, their strips for Vice, and the Risograph-printed Internet Comics #1 and #2 for Retrofit. With soft graphite and mixed media drawings, Maré captures the feeling of memory more for me than almost any other artist I’ve seen. I spoke with Maré by email about teenhood, John Porcellino, and dreams.

ANNIE MOK: The title Late Bloomer recalls adolescence, and your work as a whole has a searching quality that I relate to being or feeling like a teen. What’s your current relationship with adolescence or with being a “late bloomer,” if you feel yourself to be one?

MARÉ ODOMO: Hi Annie, thanks for having me!

The title is a lot of things. It’s supposed to be a little silly and romantic. Romantic in the sense that it’s, I don’t know, irrational. But I’m serious about it. I’m a late bloomer. That’s me. I still feel like a teen sometimes. “Searching” is a good word. There are definitely still people I’m searching for.

It’s also funny because have I *actually* bloomed?? Who decides these things? I am definitely a late bloomer. I feel like my life and career are just starting.

I’m 27 right now, I mention it in the book. It’s my first book (as opposed to zines and minicomics) and it took me this long for it to come out. Like the book itself took over a year. A year and a half maybe? But also, you know, my entire life.

Maybe it’s supposed to sound a little guilty too. Like, “Sorry I’m late!” I’m like always late for stuff. It’s just who I am. I like the flower theme too. I wasn’t going to include any flowers in the book itself until I ended up adding a spread later on. The “Whatever!!!!” page, near the back.

The working title was 64pgs and it was only supposed to be a 64 page zine. It ended up a little over a hundred because “100” is a better number, but then I couldn’t call it 64pgs anymore lol. I mean I could’ve, but I didn’t want to have that conversation with everyone. “Why is it called 64pgs when it’s 100 pages…?”

MOK: This tiny book feels intimate, and it sports a subtitle of “comics/poetry.” It feels to me like an artists’ edition a little more than a traditional small press comic. The sparse cover layout and yellow and black remind me of Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions, another comic done in sparse graphite. What was the inspiration and/or driving force for the format of the book?

ODOMO: Blaise’s work was what pushed me into pencil comics. Like in early/mid 2010? Blaise and Aidan Koch. I was still in art school, right about to graduate, and very unsure about what kind of comics I wanted to make. This is also when I started drawing my Pokémon fancomics. I was trying a lot of different things and the pencil stuff is what stuck.

Like I said, the book was supposed to a 64 page zine. Like nice and fat, but still pocket-sized. I think 16 pages was the maximum amount of paper I could realistically staple together by myself. But then Box Brown asked me if I wanted to print something through Retrofit and I decided to use what I had for the zine so far. But then it turned into something bigger and different. Like, suddenly it was a BOOK and shit got more high-stakes.

Late_Bloomer4_original

It was always supposed to be intimate, though. I want my next book to be a lot fatter but still like… small, probably. I don’t know about pocket-size. But I wanted this one to be something you could put in your back pocket.

I added “comics / poetry” as a subtitle because it helps sell the book. You’re like “oh, I get it”. Or, “oh it’s poetry so I don’t care”.

MOK: As we talked about in our conversation in Comics Workbook #9, the intimacy in your work enacts boundaries. (Cartoonist Laura Knetzger blurbed that the comics are “Searching and sincere, yet guarded.”) In your seriesInternet Comics, the narrator of that work says “don’t @ me,” and here in this book, the narrator says, “I don’t care right now” and “If I see you, I will walk away.” Who are these narrators? Are they wholly you or a combination of fictionalized elements?

ODOMO: All of the narrators are me. Or versions of myself. They could be anybody but they’re actually me. They’re not anyone else.  Those pages are more about the person or people I’m addressing. In Internet Comics, I’m talking about like… having privacy. Or like agency. Like, treat me like a person instead of someone who makes memes for you to reblog. I’m not here for anyone to be like “oh this comic is literally about me” because it’s not. It’s about me, because who else is going to make comics about people like me?

“I don’t care right now” is… I don’t know, exactly what it sounds like. I didn’t really care about that page, I just knew I wanted to say those words. That page is kind of like “I can do whatever I want and I choose to do this.”

The “If I see you” page is about burned bridges and like all the people that screw you over or whatever and try to be friends or forget it ever happened. I’m not going to forget, I’m not going to fight you about it, but I’m not going to be your friend either.Late_Bloomer2_original

MOK: This book relies on cross-outs and erasures even more than Internet Comics did. What do these refusals mean to you at this point in time? How has your process changed through the Internet Comics series to this work? This book seems almost like a spiritual sequel.

ODOMO: I don’t know about relying on cross-outs and stuff. I think they give everything a kind of rushed feeling, but there are still pages and drawings that are labored over. You can tell that I’m spending time on it, not that that like… instantly validates my work. The scribbles are part of my visual language, it’s another layer, it says something.

When I build my pages up, it makes more sense to just scratch things out or paint over them, rather than trying to make everything look immaculate. Very few drawings come out looking perfect right away. I have to erase and cover stuff up just to make it all work. Plus I like the dirtiness of my pages, the texture and stuff. I want someone to look at my comics and be like “I could do that.” or like “I can adopt elements of this language for my own benefit”.

MOK: The confrontational, sincere tone reminds me of a lot of writers and artists, among them Frank O’Hara, Cathy G. Johnson, Ed Ruscha, Jane Mai (who also blurbed the book), and Basquiat. Were there particular influences you were drawing from as you developed this work?

ODOMO: I’ve never read O’Hara, don’t know Ruscha’s stuff that well, besides his photography. I’m just starting to get into poetry, haha. I like Taylor Mead a lot, I just got into him. He’s really funny but super insightful and timeless. Someone on a podcast, um, “We Should Be Friends”, said I reminded them of Jenny Holzer, who I didn’t know about until this year, haha.

Basquiat was definitely someone I thought about while I was working on this book. I have a book of his paintings but he’s not someone I consider an influence. He’s like over there and I’m over here. I need to listen to his rap again though. I love Cathy’s work. I don’t know Cathy that well though??

Jane Mai had another blurb for my book and I totally forgot what it was but it was not as silly as the one I picked. I love Jane Mai. Jane Mai is one of the best cartoonists / artists right now. She’s so powerful.

To, like, actually answer your question though:

John Porcellino is maybe the most obvious influence. There’s one page in this book, the one about hopping a fence and going to a 7-Eleven, and it’s like 99% John P. and 1% me. It’s kind of just how it came out. The way he talks about like nature and the cities and small towns and music and everything, he’s great. I consider him one of The Great American Cartoonists.

Who else do I like…? I don’t know. I think it’s all just… rap, these days. I wanted to write… hooks, essentially. The next book will be bars. I wanted like… imagery to be built up in the words, supported by the pictures, like a music video, but not necessarily related. Sometimes you have something to say and you just need an attractive or interesting image to bring people in.

I’m listening to Schoolboy Q right now because his LP just dropped. I wish I kept a list of all the stuff I listened to. But it’d be like Chance, Kanye, Future, Drake, Young Thug, Isaiah Rashad, Kilo Kish, Anderson .Paak, Gita, Kali Uchis a little bit, oh and MC Paul Barman. What else… um, Cardi B. Vince Staples. Carly Rae Jepsen. Damn, yeah CRJ. Especially that Rostam joint, “Warm Blood”. Earl Sweatshirt. Those are my writing influences right now, I guess. I haven’t been reading much.

MOK: Is there a particular message or emotion that you want to elicit in the reader with this book?

ODOMO: Haha, sadness I guess??? Uhhh. No that’s not right. I want to make people want to draw. I feel like even if someone sees my book and they’re like “dude I could make a better book than this” then that’s fine with me. My favorite drawings are the ones that make you want to draw. Or words that make you want to write or whatever.

That’s some meme shit. I basically make memes.

MOK: There are many side and ¾ back views of you, but as usual, there aren’t really any direct views of your face. Like the withholding in the text, what does it mean to you to sort of withhold your gaze from the viewer?

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ODOMO: I didn’t want to draw my face a million times. And everyone is like “god, cartoonists are just so in love with their own faces and love the sound of their own voice”. Well so what? Fuck you. I’m still drawing myself and making it about ME, but like trying to keep it visually interesting and not too same-y.

Backs of heads are like… allowing a little bit of intimacy between me and the reader / viewer but like… stopping them before they get too close. I’m setting the boundaries. For me, the back of the head view is like… there’s a person standing there and you want to reach out to them, but you can’t.

The withholding thing… that’s fun too, haha. That’s more in my writing than my drawings. I love scratching something out and making it so no one will ever be able to read it. I started using paint, too, so there’s like sometimes an entire pages that I end up covering up and wiping out. It’s my book, I can withhold what I want. I can have blank pages if I want. I like the way it looks.

CVasGFXXAAAHbeo

Late_Bloomer3_originalThere’s also that playfulness in scratching stuff out that I think makes it approachable. Like, it’s okay to make mistakes. Like I don’t take myself tooooo seriously, but also I do. I take myself super seriously.

I’m putting myself out there, you know? Being vulnerable and I’m trying to communicate something but, yeah, guarded. It’s like dating. I want people to fall in love with me and give me money.

Maybe that isn’t like dating.

MOK: Part of the Ed Ruscha comparison is the way text plays out in the book. In one panel, a figure holds the “a” in “sad” with chopsticks at a restaurant. In the next page, the word “NOTHING” comes out of cig smoke. It brings a magical realist tone to the story to me. What’s your relationship to language, and the ways that language is subverted or troubled in the book?

ODOMO: My relationship to language?? Cripes. Uh. I like it?

With comics specifically, too many people just type onto a page and I’m like WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? Or they scribble their words and you have to squint to read it. In my own work, I want my lettering to fit into the rest of my visual vocabulary. And I want my words to be effective and clear, even if the message is vague. I want my words to have WEIGHT and be part of the drawing itself.

It’s fun. It’s part of what makes comics unique, that everything can be done by one person and it’s all 2-D and flat and text just floats around.

I don’t know if I subvert language. I’m… using it. I don’t even know what that means. I guess I’m trying to subvert something. People’s perceptions of what comics can be. I want my comics to be comics, not movies. I want my drawings to look like drawings.

I’m not interested in like the graphic novel format. I’m more of a comics memoirist or essayist or poet and that’s a bigger distinction than I think people realize, than I realized. I don’t want to, like, write a “story”. That’s just not for me.

MOK: Late Bloomer includes fully-scanned sketchbook spreads along with more traditional comics pages. How was the sequencing developed?

ODOMO: The sequencing in the book is deliberate. I wanted to start out with kind of… not sad stuff, then it gets sad, and then there’s a bunch of drawings of birds, and then it’s kind of jokey and then it just ends. I think I’m still too close to it. I think it reads better backwards, so I don’t know why I did it the way I did.

There are early pages I made that I always knew I wanted towards the end, and late pages that I designed for the beginning. The bird pages are in what I consider the “middle” but they’re pretty far back. It’s weird how a narrative comes out of the book. To me, it reads like I’m coming out of a depression funk but it’s more like… all of this kind of thing just happens at once.

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A Conversation with Zack Davisson http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-zack-davisson/ http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-zack-davisson/#respond Mon, 08 Aug 2016 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93726 Continue reading ]]> KITAROcover_vol1
Zack Davisson is a writer and Japanese-to-English translator. He’s a scholar who has written extensively about Japanese folklore, but comics fans likely know him for his translation work for various publishers. He’s translated the late Satoshi Kon’s work for Dark Horse, but he’s likely best known for his work on Drawn and Quarterly’s publications of the work of Shigeru Mizuki.

Arguably one of the greatest comics creators to be translated into English in the past decade, Mizuki’s work has ranged from a personal history of 20th Century Japan in the multi volume Showa, to a biography of Hitler to a semi-autobiographical account of a desperate unit of infantrymen in the last days of WWII. Mizuki, who died in 2015, achieved international acclaim in the last decade of his life and was awarded the Eisner Award and the Golden Wildcat at the Angouleme International Comics Festival among other prizes. He remains best known in Japan however for his character Kitaro.

Kitaro, or GeGeGe no Kitaro, is a yokai and protects people from malevolent yokai and other creatures. Davisson described the character as a akin to a Japanese Hellboy, and there are certainly comparison, but while the books have only started to be translated into English, in Japan they have been a massive pop culture phenomenon for decades. There are live action and animated films, television series, statues, and Davisson spoke about the series and the character’s enduring appeal.

For people who don’t know, who is Kitaro?

Zack Davisson:  Kitaro is a yokai—the last survivor of the Ghost Tribe of underground dwelling monsters. He is nearly indestructible, and has a wide range of powers and objects like his hair which can be fired in in a needle attack, and his powerful chan-chanko vest sewn from the hair of his ancestors.  He’s got magic sandals, a snake that lives in his stomach, and a remote-control hand.

Even though he is a yokai himself, Kitaro uses his powers to battle against bad yokai that threaten humanity—think of him as a Japanese Hellboy, only 1,000 times weirder.

I like that description of him as a Japanese Hellboy, which I think is very apt, though Kitaro skews a younger. Could you talk a little about what the yokai are? I know that you’ve studied this and written a lot about the topic.

That’s a deeply complicated question that has been the subject of several books! There’s not a single definition of yokai, any more than there is of “monster” or “spirit.” Everyone will have their own definition. For me, I go by the Edo period usage of the word, which is how Mizuki tended to use it; a personification of supernatural energy. There is an old belief in Japan that the world is infused with latent magical energy, and this energy occasionally manifests into physical form. This yokai energy can take almost any shape imaginable, visible and invisible. There are hundreds of thousands of different kinds. All of the mystery spots of the world, all of the beasties and boggarts, are all this same energy given form—yokai.

I still have the Kitaro book that D&Q put out a few years ago. What was behind the decision to relaunch the series and publish it in this smaller format?

I can’t speak for the business decisions—and maybe D&Q will want to chime in—but for me accessibility is a key factor. Those big books are awesome, and well-suited to important, ponderous tomes like Hitler and Showa: A History of Japan. But I’ve heard several parents tell me Kitaro was too big for their kids to hold. I like the small format, I like that they can be tossed in a backpack. And they don’t cost as much.

We’ve had a few good years of Big, Serious Shigeru Mizuki. It was time for fun Mizuki to come out and play. I want kids to read Kitaro—that’s who he wrote the stories for!

There are seven books planned for Kitaro to come out in the next couple years. Is that all of the Kitaro stories, or are there still more?

Lots, lots more. Mizuki had a 60-plus year career, and Kitaro takes up a big part of that. He evolved the character over time, from the darker rental manga Graveyard Kitaro (Hakaba Kitaro) to the kid-friendly stuff of the 1960s that we are doing, to really random things like Kitaro Then… (Sono Ato Kitaro) which has an aged Kitaro at college in what can only be described as a teenage sex comedy. Or even Mizuki using Kitaro to make a political stance, like his anti-American Kitaro’s Vietnam War Diary.

Japan recently published a 33-volume Complete Works of Shigeru Mizuki, and I think about 17 of those were Kitaro-related, and ran about 500 pages each. So we are nowhere near having all of Kitaro!

So what’s in this first book, The Birth of Kitaro?

I wanted this first book to be a fun leap into the world of Kitaro. It has his origin story, which Mizuki wrote several times. I picked the one from Garo magazine because I think it is the best. Next, I put in the first Neko Musume story.  I noticed a big demand for her after she wasn’t included in the first release, so I knew we needed to fit her in. That’s tough though, because Neko Musume is like Bluto with Popeye—she plays a huge role in the cartoons and merchandising, but doesn’t actually show up very often in the original comics.  But this one is great. After that it is a fun mishmash. I stuck in the gyuki story, because it is awesome and the gyuki is a great monster. With others I tried to balance out story lengths.

Kitaro’s stories don’t follow any timeline or continuity. They were written at a time when people read them and threw them away, so Mizuki didn’t feel the need to connect one story to the next. It really makes no difference what order you read them in.

KITARO1_166You mentioned that the character was originally “darker rental manga Graveyard Kitaro (Hakaba Kitaro)” What is darker rental manga, exactly?

That refers to a post-war era entertainment that was the prototype for the current manga industry. Basically, kids couldn’t afford comics so they went to shops where they could rent them for a small fee then bring them back. Mizuki wrote comics for rental manga, but he was unsuccessful. He was highly influenced by American EC horror comics like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. His comics at the time were dark, gruesome, and unpopular. His Hakaba Kitaro of the time is a much darker version of the character, and not at all the likable character that most people know.

It was actually a television executive who suggested that Mizuki lighten the tone and ditch the name “Graveyard” from the title. That’s how he ended up with the much friendlier Gegege no Kitaro.

So this run of books is all the Kitaro from the sixties, while the older Kitaro from a couple years ago was a mixture of various stories?

The previous book had stories from the 60s as well. That was pretty much the Golden Age of Kitaro stories—Mizuki was in full swing artistically, and was still actively working on the comic instead of turning much of it over to assistants like he would in later eras.

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Of the many Kitaro comics that Mizuki made, what percentage would be these kid friendly stories? Is that the version of the character that people remember?

The 1960s Kitaro was such a massive hit that it became standard version of the character, making up the bulk of the stories. That is the version everyone knows. The darker Hakaba Kitaro is, honestly, just not as good. The art is crude. The stories are often copied from Western comics or books. I like them, but I seem them as a stepping stone for the genius that would come later. They’re a prototype.

And then some of the other stuff in the 80s/90s, like Kitaro Then are kind of oddities. It’s interesting that Mizuki did them, because you can see him stretching himself as an artist, but most in Japan have never read them. They would probably be surprised to find out they exist! Not that Mizuki was ashamed of them. They are included in the Complete Collection.

Was Mizuki using actual folklore and stories for the Kitaro comics? Was he making everything up? Some combination of things?

It’s really a combination, and Mizuki’s versions have become so ingrained in the culture that it can be hard to locate the originals. Like Walt Disney in the West, Mizuki’s versions have completely supplanted the older versions, and it is his stories now that are passed on to children.

It’s a tricky question, as it is impossible to say what is “actual folklore.” Vampires bursting into flame is considered “authentic,” but that actually comes from the films, not folkloric sources. Folklore evolves and Mizuki is an important part of that evolution. If you trace them back, most yokai we know come from Toriyama Sekien, who also just made things up. In fact, I would say that making up yokai is part of the grand tradition of yokai! If you are a writer/artists working with yokai and not making up at least a few of your own, you are missing the point!

What was behind the idea to include extra material like the Yokai files, puzzles, games, a history of Kitaro?

That’s pretty much all my doing, and D&Q has been kind enough to indulge me and go along with some of my crazier plans. I’m a writer as well as a translator, and I love bonus features like on a DVD. I think they provide depth and background to the stories. This is especially helpful with Shigeru Mizuki and his yokai world, who are not as well known here.

The extra material also reflects Mizuki himself, and how his books are published in Japan. Mizuki was a scholar as well as an artist, and his books are full of essays on yokai history and little spotlight yokai files, as well as puzzles and games and ways to test your yokai knowledge. It’s like he was doing Facebook quizzes decades before the internet. Often you can score yourself in the books, with the aim of becoming a Yokai Professor. Which is actually a real thing in Japan. The government sponsors a Yokai Knowledge Test every year, where you can be ranked based on your yokai knowledge. Recently a 5 year old girl became the first person to earn the coveted rank of Yokai Professor. All of that comes from Mizuki and Kitaro.

And—to be honest—at the end of the day I thought the games and puzzles would be super fun. And I wanted Birth of Kitaro to be fun! Hopefully the readers think so too.

I know that Kitaro has been turned into cartoons, movies, radio shows, video games. There are statues of him. What do you think accounts for this popularity?

I think it is difficult for people to understand just how popular Kitaro is in Japan. He is beyond Mickey Mouse level of famous; literally not a single living Japanese person is unaware of him. As to the “why,” that is difficult to say. My personal opinion is that Kitaro serves as a corner of a kind of Character Triumvirate. Mighty Atom (aka Astro Boy) represents a dream of Japan’s optimistic future, Kitty chan (aka Hello! Kitty) represents the stylish hope of Japan’s present, while Kitaro provides a link to the magical past, and to the wonderful, unseen world that swirls all around them.

Japanese people grow up and lives their lives in a world deeply immersed in kami spirits, yokai, and a vast pantheon of gods and monsters. Kitaro is sort of a friendly avatar of this spooky world. I don’t see a time when he will ever go away.

I know that you also write and translate different things. People might know that you also translate books by the late Satoshi Kon that Dark Horse has put out in recent years. What are else are you working on?

I’m currently doing two series for Kodansha, Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas and Kazuhiro Fujita’s Ghost and the Lady, but of which are incredible series and exactly what I like to work on. Queen Emeraldas in particular means a lot to me, as I grew up on Matsumoto’s work so it feels like coming full circle.

I also write essays for the comic Wayward from Image, as well as doing a currently self-published comic Narrow Road with my friend Mark Morse. I’m really proud of Narrow Road—we call it our “Hellboy meets Wind in the Willows,” based on old Buddhist monk traveler’s tales set in an adventurous world. We are doing the second story now, and it is coming along great. Aside from that, I have a couple of more unnannouced things in the works. Needless to say, I’m keeping busy!

KITARO1_174_175You’ve written about the many challenges of translation, and I have to ask, what has been the hardest aspect of translating Mizuki from Japanese into English for you?

The hardest part of any translation is finding the initial voice. When I first started out with Showa: A History of Japan, I struggled to hear Mizuki in English. I have to get into his head, sort of slip into his skin. Mizuki’s particular challenge is that he can so easily move between the high and the low. He can go from high academic to gutterspeak without missing a beat, because all of that was in him. He could lecture at a university and then drop a poop joke and it all sounded natural. As a translator I have to make those transitions sound equally natural.

KITAROcover_vol2What’s the next Kitaro volume coming out in the fall and what will it consist of?

More of the same! For the next volume, Kitaro faces off against the infamous Nurarihyon, the terrible Sara Kozo, and a bunch of other unsightly yokai monsters. It’s a great collection of fun stories—just like every volume will be!!!

Drawn and Quarterly has published a number of Mizuki books – NonNonBa, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, his Showa series about 20th Century Japan. What still needs to be translated?

If it were up to me we would tackle that entire 33-volume Complete Collection, and everyone would buy and cherish every volume! But I know that isn’t realistic. I have my wish list that D&Q knows, and we are slowly working through it.

For the next release after Kitaro, I would go back to his serious work and do his phenomenal Tales of Tono (Tono Monogatari) which is part adaptation of work of classical Japanese folklore, part autobiography of getting older, and part historical treatise on the storytellers of the Tono region. Plus there is horse sex, so it really has it all!

After that, I would love to do some of his pure horror work, like his adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror and his short story that inspired the series Death Note. His art in those earlier works is much cruder, and clearly imitating American EC horror comics, but they are great fun.

And then, ohhhh, everything. His Night Tales of Magical Cats book, his absolutely heart-breaking account of wartime Chinese sex slaves called Gunlang, his adaptation of the classic work of Japanese fantasy Tales of Moonlight and Rain (Ugetsu Monogatari), an account of his lifelong friendship with the Tolai tribe in Me and Topetoro: 50 Years, all balanced out with more Kitaro and silly fun like Sanpei the Kappa so there are some laughs as well! And why not some of his really weird stuff like Poop God Island?

I think that you could sell a few books with the title Poop God Island.

W00t! Let’s get rolling for that one! Just one look at the cover shows you what a masterpiece it is.

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Richard Thompson, 1957-2016 http://www.tcj.com/richard-thompson-1957-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/richard-thompson-1957-2016/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 12:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94618 Cul de Sac, passed away on July 27, 2016 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 58 years old. Continue reading ]]> “He was my great friend, first and last. In between, I recognized that he was a breathtaking talent, an artist who was better at writing and drawing than most people will ever be at anything.” —Nick Galifianakis, cartoonist, Washington Post

Richard Thompson, illustrator and creator of the syndicated comic strip Cul de Sac, passed away in northern Virginia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 58 years old.

Thompson was born in Baltimore on October 8, 1957. He was a voracious reader from a young age, and was particularly drawn to Winnie the Pooh and the works of Charles Addams and Dr. Seuss. His parents nurtured his love of illustration by enrolling him in extracurricular classes at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Thompson continued his formal art education at Montgomery County Community College, although he dropped out prior to graduation (which, Thompson proudly noted, did not preclude him from earning the university’s Milton F. “Sonny” Clogg Alumni of the Year Award in 2004).

In 1982, Thompson applied for a position at The Washington Post, which brought him to the attention of art director Francis Tanabe. Tanabe immediately hired him as a freelance artist, and the association would continue for nearly three decades. Thompson contributed regularly to both The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine, and was the newspaper’s unofficial staff artist by 1985. Thompson provided illustrations for Joel Achenbach’s Washington Post column and Gene Weingarten’s column in The Washington Post Magazine.

Ludwig Van Beethoven by Richard Thompson

Ludwig Van Beethoven by Richard Thompson

“In spite of the appearance of being an overnight sensation with Cul de Sac, Richard paid his dues,” notes longtime friend and The Art of Richard Thompson co-editor Mike Rhode. “He worked regularly doing illustrations for the Washington Post from the early 1980s, eventually appearing almost every day of the week.

“Richard was a successful working illustrator long before most people outside of a small world of editors and other illustrators ever paid attention.”

Many of Thompson’s earliest assignments for publications came through art director Bono Mitchell, who became one of his closest friends over the course of their 34-year working relationship. His reputation as a fast, reliable, and prolific illustrator earned him notoriety as an artist’s artist, with a who’s who of clients including The New Yorker, National Geographic, and U.S. News and World Report, for whom he contributed more than 400 caricatures over the course of nine years.

Early accolades from Thompson’s peers were the Gold and Silver Funny Bone Awards from the Society of Illustrators in 1989, and 1995 NCS Division Awards (also known as the “Silver Reubens”) from the National Cartoonists Society, in the categories of Newspaper Illustration and Magazine Illustration.

With encouragement from editor and collaborator Gene Weingarten, Thompson found an ideal showcase for his own writing in the form of Richard’s Poor Almanac, a weekly Sunday panel featured in The Washington Post. The sprawling, madcap Almanac presented “misinformation in handy cartoon form” on subjects ranging from traditional almanac fodder like weather phenomena and local fauna to entertainment and political news. “The ideal cartoon [for the Almanac] was made up off the top of my head with no research, with only its own comic logic holding it together,” noted the artist in The Art of Richard Thompson.

The most popular installment of Richard’s Poor Almanac, however, was carefully researched by Thompson. Upon learning that George W. Bush had opted not to invite an official poet to his inauguration ceremony in January 2001, Thompson composed his own poem from Bush malapropisms, and assembled them into a free-form verse entitled “Make the Pie Higher”. The cartoon was widely circulated online over the next year, was set to music by multiple composers, and earned its own entry on the fact-checking website Snopes.com.

makethepiehigher

The following year, Tom Shroder, Thompson’s Almanac editor, suggested that Thompson develop a family comic strip for The Washington Post Magazine. Building upon concepts established in Richard’s Poor Almanac, Thompson created a weekly feature called Cul de Sac, documenting the lives of the D.C. suburbs-based Otterloop family, whose surname was inspired by the Capital Beltway’s notoriously congested “Outer Loop.”

The weekly, watercolored incarnation of Cul de Sac launched in The Washington Post Magazine on February 14, 2004, as the irresistible force known as Alice Otterloop exploded onto the scene, while her immovable object brother Petey stood nervously off to the side. Many of the core cast members, including the extended Otterloop family, Alice’s teacher and fellow classmates at the Blisshaven Academy preschool, and the beleaguered class guinea pig Mr. Danders debuted in the Sunday feature.

CulDeSac2-LR500

Universal Press Syndicate Editor-in-chief Lee Salem contacted Thompson in 2005 to express admiration for his “Make the Pie Higher” cartoon and their subsequent correspondence led to the development of Cul de Sac as Thompson’s first attempt at syndicated daily comic strip “after almost fifty years of dawdling,” according to the artist. Cul de Sac launched with an impressive 70 newspapers on September 9, 2007, and immediately garnered accolades from Thompson’s fellow cartoonists. Less than a year after its debut in syndication, his peers in the National Cartoonists Society nominated Cul de Sac for Best Newspaper strip of 2008, with a subsequent nomination in 2010.

The strip’s first book collection, Cul de Sac: This Exit, was published by Andrews McMeel in September 2008. Lee Salem approached Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson to write the book’s introduction, sensing a kinship between the two artists. Watterson agreed, and his glowing endorsement of Cul de Sac marked one of his first public statements of any kind since the conclusion of his own strip more than a decade earlier.

“I thought the best newspaper comic strips were long gone, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong,” effused Watterson. “Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac has it all—intelligence, gentle humor, a delightful way with words, and, most surprising of all, wonderful, wonderful drawings.” The two struck up a friendship, and Watterson would visit Thompson at his Virginia home once or twice a year.

Cul de Sac’s reputation and circulation grew steadily over the next several years, eventually appearing in more than 150 newspapers. At the peak of the strip’s popularity, Thompson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. He had initially dismissed his symptoms as exhaustion relating to the addition of a daily comic strip to his already-full workload, but longtime friend Nick Galifianakis urged Thompson to visit a specialist, and the diagnosis was confirmed in the summer of 2009.

Thompson and Nick Galifianakis (photo courtesy of Galifianakis)

Thompson and Nick Galifianakis (photo courtesy of Galifianakis)

The comics community rallied around Thompson upon news of his diagnosis. The most notable of these efforts was the foundation of Team Cul de Sac, whose fundraising efforts benefited the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Friend and self-proclaimed Richard Thompson fanboy Chris Sparks spearheaded the organization’s most ambitious project, the Team Cul de Sac book and original art auction, featuring the works of more than 100 cartoonists, including Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis, award-winning children’s book creator Mo Willems, and Bill Watterson, whose painting of Petey Otterloop was his first public artwork since the conclusion of Calvin and Hobbes in 1995. To date, Sparks and Team Cul de Sac have raised more than $200,000 for Parkinson’s research efforts.

Thompson continued to produce new Cul de Sac strips throughout his treatment for Parkinson’s disease, and in 2011, he received the National Cartoonists Society’s highest honor, the Reuben Award, as 2010’s outstanding cartoonist of the year. He received a standing ovation at the award ceremony at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, and Thompson humbly thanked his friends and family in his brief, self-effacing acceptance speech.

Mo Willems, Hilary Price, and Thompson at the 2010 Reuben Awards at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Farago)

Mo Willems, Hilary Price, and Thompson at the 2010 Reuben Awards at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Farago)

In early 2012, Thompson announced a brief sabbatical so that he could focus on treatment for Parkinson’s, and his friends rallied around him once again as a series of artists filled in for him during his absence. Guest artists Michael Jantze (The Norm), Corey Pandolph (The Elderberries), Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Ruben Bolling (Tom the Dancing Bug), and Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!) guided Cul de Sac through March, when Thompson returned to the strip aided by children’s book illustrator Stacy Curtis, who inked Thompson’s penciled roughs.

Thompson’s health continued to decline throughout the summer, and after two months of irregular updates and reruns of past strips, he reluctantly announced his retirement in August to focus on his medical treatment. ”At first [Parkinson’s] didn’t affect my drawing, but that’s gradually changed,” he lamented in a statement released through his syndicate. “Last winter, I got an excellent cartoonist, Stacy Curtis, to ink my roughs, which was a great help. But now I’ve gotten too unreliable to produce a daily strip.”

The final installment of Cul de Sac appeared in newspapers on Sunday, September 23, 2012. Thompson had intended to produce a new installment to mark the occasion, but as he self-deprecatingly noted online the preceding Saturday, “Spoiler alert – I couldn’t draw a new Sunday so tomorrow’s is a repeat too. Sorry! I’ll do better next time.”

Thompson’s selection for the final strip was a quintessential Cul de Sac Sunday comic, one that had originally run in The Washington Post Magazine and had been re-worked as a Sunday comic in February 2007. The strip depicts a typical conversation between Alice and Petey as he introduces her to “‘comic strips,’ examples of a mighty yet dying art form.” Thompson often cited this as his favorite installment of Cul de Sac, because “it’s got drama, comedy and meta-ness, and it makes a point that’s self-deprecating enough to be self-loathing.

“I still like this strip a lot. It’s simple, built on misunderstanding and confusion, and it shows Alice and Petey at their best. I wouldn’t take Petey’s curtain line too seriously. He is a bit of a pessimist, after all.”

cds comic strip1

In the months following his retirement, his friends and colleagues set to work on multiple retrospectives celebrating Thompson’s live and his art. Curator Caitlin McGurk coordinated a solo exhibition of Thompson’s art, “The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object: A Richard Thompson Exhibition,” debuted alongside an exhibition of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library and Museum in March 2014.

Two months later, Andrews McMeel Publishing released The Complete Cul de Sac, the (nearly) definitive collection of Thompson’s strip, featuring an introduction by Art Spiegelman and running commentary from Thompson throughout. (Noting that 100 Washington Post Magazine strips were skipped in The Complete Cul de Sac’s publication, Thompson, Mike Rhode, and Chris Sparks took it upon themselves to self-publish a companion volume, Compleating Cul de Sac, the following year. Picture This Press is publishing an expanded version in time for the 2016 Small Press Expo.)

November 2014 saw the long-anticipated release of The Art of Richard Thompson, a career-spanning collection edited by David Apatoff, Nick Galifianakis, Mike Rhode, Chris Sparks, and Bill Watterson. That same month saw the release of a short documentary of the same title, directed by Bob Burnett and produced by Thompson’s friend and neighbor Andy Hemmendinger.

Courtesy of GVI

Courtesy of GVI

Thompson was able to witness one final tribute to his work in June 2016, as the Arlington, Virginia-based Encore Stage & Studio presented a live community-theater adaptation of Cul de Sac. The strip was adapted into a play written by Thompson’s wife, Amy, who had gone back to school to get a degree in theater when Richard was too ill to work. When describing Richard in the play’s official press release, she succinctly noted, “He never wanted to be anything other than a cartoonist.”

Thompson is survived by his wife, Amy, his daughters, Emma and Charlotte, his father, Richard, and his brother, Tim. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, either directly or through Team Cul de Sac.

There will be a public memorial ceremony in Washington, D.C. at the National Press Club on Saturday, August 27th.

Andrew Farago is the Curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, and with his wife Shaenon K. Garrity was one of the artists who contributed to Team Cul de Sac.

Special thanks to Mike Rhode for his assistance with this article.

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Pete Docter on Richard Thompson:

Richard Thompson’s skills as a consummate storyteller earned him the admiration of Pete Docter, director of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Up.

“No matter how great a movie’s concept or plot, the thing the audience really connects with are the characters. Finding those characters is a long road full of experiments and many people. At Pixar sometimes we ask outside artists to contribute sketches and paintings for the character designs,” notes Docter.

“I called Richard when Inside Out was still in the early concept phase. We at Pixar had played around enough with the plot to know we wanted the film’s central relationship to be between Joy and Sadness—who was, at that time, male, and named ‘Bud’ (I thought it’d be too weird and on-the-nose to name the emotions after their job).

“As a fan of Cul de Sac, I was in awe of Richard’s ability to develop characters that were so wonderfully unique, specific and truthful. Alice Otterloop specifically seemed very close to the spirit of what we were after for Joy, so he seemed like he’d have a lot to offer. Rather than doing design work, I asked Richard to draw up some comic strips. My hope was this would help him focus on character attitude and acting, and not worry about what the characters looked like. This turned out to work well. Though both Joy and Sadness went through some huge changes, I think his work did show some of the entertainment possibilities that we were able to take advantage of in the film.”

(Courtesy of Pete Docter. Used with permission of Pixar Animation Studios.)

(Courtesy of Pete Docter. Used with permission of Pixar Animation Studios.)

(Courtesy of Pete Docter. Used with permission of Pixar Animation Studios.)

(Courtesy of Pete Docter. Used with permission of Pixar Animation Studios.)

Inside Out was a massive critical and commercial success, winning the 2015 Academy Award, Golden Globe, and British Academy Film Award for Best Animated Feature.

Mo Willems on Richard Thompson:

Cartoonist Mo Willems, best known for his award-winning children’s books, was one of six guest artists who filled in for Richard Thompson on Cul de Sac during his first medical leave in 2012.

“Richard was a genius with a heart as adept and beautiful as his line-work. A loss for cartooning, and for me personally.

“I went out of my way to meet Richard specifically because I had never met Sparky Schulz and after that I wasn’t going to let pass an opportunity to tell someone who inspired me how wonderful their work was.

“I expected him to be polite and maybe even flattered, but I didn’t expect him to become a friend. Over the years Richard quietly showed me the meaning of bravery and the power of humor.

“By the time I last saw him, it took labor and concentration for him to speak, and even then it was very difficult to understand him. I remember him trying to communicate something to me, something I just couldn’t understand for the first few attempts.

“Did he need something? Something important?

“Nope, it was just a punch line to something I’d just said. Funny always.”

One of the fill-in Cul de Sac strips Willems created in 2012.

One of the fill-in Cul de Sac strips Willems created in 2012.


Shena Wolf on Richard Thompson:

Shena Wolf, Acquisitions Editor at Universal Uclick, the syndicate arm of Andrews McMeel Universal, served as Richard Thompson’s final editor on Cul de Sac.

“Working as Richard’s editor during the last years of Cul de Sac is unquestionably one of the highlights of my career. His work shows his genius, and it speaks for itself (and will continue to do so forever).

“Richard was hilarious and warm, always worried that his struggle with deadlines had caused us problems in the office (everybody here loved him, so this concern was unfounded). I am devastated by his passing, but grateful for his friendship.”

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Dancing on the Manhole Cover: The Genius of Richard Thompson http://www.tcj.com/dancing-on-the-manhole-cover-the-genius-of-richard-thompson/ http://www.tcj.com/dancing-on-the-manhole-cover-the-genius-of-richard-thompson/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 12:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94563 Continue reading ]]> “Heenkhahooghooghenk… Sniff… Sob.”

Like all comics connoisseurs, I’m mourning the loss of Richard Thompson, creator of Cul de Sac. But the first three words of this article are not mine. They belong to Thompson’s characters: Petey Otterloop, his younger sister Alice, and her friend Dill Wedekind. This particular strip — from February 2011 — displays Thompson’s emotional range, keen sense of the absurd, love of words, sudden shifts in tone, and the sheer vitality of his characters and his art. As each Cul de Sac strip does, this one gives you a glimpse of his genius.

1_CuldeSacFeb2011

To borrow Dill’s words, “It’s so unfair” that Parkinson’s disease cut short Thompson’s career — that we should get only five years of his syndicated strip, which ran from 2007 to 2012. Just as Petey’s brief but crazily onomatopoetic oboe solo elicits such a strong emotional response from Alice and Dill, so Cul de Sac maximized the possibilities of comic art. This particular strip begins by announcing its musical theme (“Sad Little Monkey”), then fully elaborates its aural ridiculousness, after which — surprisingly — sadness engulfs the younger characters. But Thompson somehow makes their pain funny via the fanciful narrative of the sockless monkey, a social outcast shunned by the popular lemur. A sixth, borderless panel finds Petey alone and silent — it presses the pause button, changing the tempo again, as reader and Petey reflect on the previous five panels. At last, in surprised recognition at the power of his art, he can offer only, “Wow.” Or, as Alice says in the fifth panel, “That was powerful stuff.”

Cul de Sac is powerful stuff. In the panels of each strip, Thompson manages to capture the narrative chaos of daily life. As he told R.C. Harvey in a 2011 article, “I’ve always had a feeling that life is a series of non-sequiturs, and that we’re all untrustworthy narrators.” Nowhere is that feeling more palpable than in the scenes at Blisshaven Academy, the preschool attended by Alice, Dil, Beni, Nara, Marcus, Kevin (“Buckethead”), and, later, Sophie. In the fourth nationally syndicated Cul de Sac strip (13 September 2007), one of the students (Dill is my guess) asks “Miss Bliss, what kind of egg was Humpty Dumpty?” Storytime now derailed, the students start tossing out guesses. Nara: “A duck egg!” Marcus: “A GOOSE EGG!” Next, Alice ventures into preschool literary criticism, placing the nursery rhyme in a larger context: “I’ll bet he was the egg of that chicken who crossed the road,” she says. “’Cause they’re both thrill-seekers with dangerous hobbies.” Marcus responds, “Good point.” Changing the subject completely, Dill concludes the strip by saying, “Whew! I think I’ve learned enough for today. Miss Bliss, can I go home?” In the first week of strips, his characters already have distinct lives of their own.

2_CuldeSacSept2007

Like Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, Thompson’s Cul de Sac gives us fully realized characters. Their behavior is less a set-up for a punch-line, and more a chronicle of the humor that arises from actual children’s interactions. Like the child characters in the aforementioned strips, Cul de Sac’s children have a vocabulary that can exceed their age, but use those words to convey the very real joys, pains, and exuberant misunderstandings of youth. One result is that there are frequently jokes in every panel.

3_CuldeSacJune2008

For instance, the four-panel Sunday strip of 22 June 2008 has about four different plot lines, as the children talk both to and past each other. While they clean out their cubbies on the last day of preschool, Alice and Kevin — at the far left of each panel — laugh at then argue over what they’ve found. Meanwhile, over on the right, Dill worries that they have “all been ‘let go.’”: “You clean out your cubby, then security escorts you from the building.” In the middle of the strip, Marcus is deep in his locker, unidentifiable as Marcus until he pokes his head out in the final panel: “LOOK AT ME!” Directly to his right and watching each of these stories, Nara stands in their midst, the sole character following the directive for cubby-cleaning. It’s like a play with ongoing action in different parts of the stage. On your first viewing, you miss some of the details, as characters talk over each other. So, you need to return to see it several times.

That’s the best way to appreciate Thompson’s genius — read the work, and then read it again. Its ability to generate joy in each rereading is one reason that Cul de Sac will endure, even though its creator has left us. Richard Thompson lives on in his work precisely because his work is so alive. His line is loose but solid, scribbly yet calligraphic, energetic but focused. Each panel of Cul de Sac — heck, each corner of each panel — is full of art, humor, and character. It’s full of invention and discovery, which is exactly how Thomson wrote and drew the strip. After Parkinson’s required him to hire Stacy Curtis as an assistant, he continued writing Cul de Sac for a few months, but stopped — in part — because his creative process required him to discover the strip as he drew it. As he said at the time,

I was having trouble separating the writing and the drawing. I found that one fed off the other more than I’d realized, that it was an organic process, to use pretentious art talk. Most of the time I’d start a strip with no clear idea where it was going, or there’d be an end without a beginning. And I’d figure it all out as I was inking it, which isn’t the best way to work and would’ve driven a conscientious editor crazy.

That’s one reason his work feels so alive and spontaneous on the page. He’s discovering the story and humor as he draws, and so we’re discovering it along with him.

Thompson could continue inventing during the inking process because he understood the comic strip so well — something hinted at when Cul de Sac becomes an occasion for reflecting on (or laughing about) the medium itself. Comics nerd Petey — and, later, his friends Andre and Loris — offer many occasions for Thompson to joke about, and even theorize comics. There’s the running joke about Petey’s favorite strip, Little Neuro, a parody of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland: unlike the protagonist of McCay’s gloriously imaginative world, Little Neuro never leaves his bed and so nothing happens. But introverted, obsessive Petey isn’t at all bored. He finds comfort in Little Neuro’s static world. There’s a strip I’ve had up on my fridge since I cut it out of the Sunday paper in October 2010, in which Petey’s explanation of the differences between boxes of children’s cereal versus those containing cereal for adults becomes a riff on the why (as Alice says) “Children’s literature is more compelling than the adult stuff,” and how comic strips differ from graphic novels. The final Sunday strip — actually a re-run of one from November 2007 — is a brilliant joke on the comics medium, which (as Petey says) is a “mighty yet dying art form.” A comic strip about misunderstanding the “sequential” in sequential art, Petey tries and fails to read a comic strip to Alice, who insists on believing that all the panels are happening at the same time, and that panel borders physically trap characters instead of marking temporal divisions. But the strip is far more eloquent than I am. To say nothing of much funnier. So, turn your attention away from these words and towards the comic below.

4_CuldeSacNov2007

See? Thompson’s strips speak with greater clarity than I could. As Art Spiegelman says in his introduction to The Complete Cul de Sac, the strip “was read and beloved by an uncountable number of readers, none of whom needed an instruction manual to ‘get it’ or get addicted to it.” Or as Bill Watterson wrote in the foreword to the very first Cul de Sac collection (Cul de Sac: This Exit), “Cul de Sac’s whimsical take on the world and playful sense of language somehow gets funnier the more times you read it.”

Like Alice dancing on a manhole cover (a recurring motif), the strip is charming but not cute, funny without being gag-driven, and a portrait of the artist as a virtuosic if slightly loopy improviser. And, yeah, that’s how I’m imagining Thompson now, his body restored to health, his hand again free of shakiness, his agile mind dreaming up new adventures, as he dances on that great manhole cover in the sky.

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Tributes to Richard Thompson http://www.tcj.com/tributes-to-richard-thompson/ http://www.tcj.com/tributes-to-richard-thompson/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94513 Continue reading ]]> WARREN BERNARD:

About eight years ago, a small group of us started to get together here in the DC area for what I called a Political Cartoon Salon. The group consisted of myself; Matt Wuerker, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist for Politico.com; Mike Rhode, one of the great bibliographers of the comics field; Nate Beeler, political cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch and winner of both the Thomas Nast and Berrymen Awards; and Rueben Award-winner Richard Thompson. It was an august group of creators with which to spend an afternoon eating pizza and looking at political cartoons from bygone days. 

Richard was big fan of the old pen and ink slingers: Thomas Nast, Ding Darling, and others. He enjoyed going through issues of The Masses, where such greats as Boardman Robinson, Art Young and Robert Minor plied their talents. Looking at these cartoons, Richard would wax philosophically about their technique and how fast the old guys used to work. These salons were a joy and Richard’s presence made them even more so. 

In November 2008, I found out that Richard and I had a common food hatred, that of the lowly, wrinkled raisin. He expressed his raisin-phobia in a daily strip of Cul De Sac. Upon seeing it, I tore it out of the paper, put it on my refrigerator and instantly wrote him an email to tell him I was a raisin-hating kinfolk

IMG_5839When he came for the next salon, I was totally floored when he presented me with the original to that cartoon.  Richard was a one-of-a-kind artist, but the anti-raisin strip touched on his magnificent mastery of the written word, as no one else could ever come up with the line expressing his total hatred of those shriveled grapes as spoken by Petey Otterloop: “Stupid sneaky raisins! How I hate the unfoodiness of them!”

At another one of the salons, I remarked how I did not have a copy of his book Richard’s Poor Almanac, which reprinted the strips he did for the Washington Post before he developed Cul De Sac. Sure enough, the next time we got together to look at more ink slingers, he brought a copy that he inscribed “To Warren; Gentleman, scholar, bibliophile & tour guide.  Here’s another damn book for your shelves. Your Friend, Richard Thompson”.

Though Richard himself was a pure gentleman, the best word to describe him does not exist in English. Richard was a mensch in the truest sense of that old Yiddish term. And as a tribute to Richard the Mensch, that anti-raisin Cul de Sac strip, along with another on the same unfoodiness subject, hangs on my refrigerator door to this day.

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CRAIG FISCHER:

I met Richard Thompson at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina in June 2008. This was my second Heroes, and I was co-chairing, with cartoonist and friend Ben Towle, an ambitious two-hour panel on EC Comics and MAD magazine. Ben and I organized this panel because long-time MAD editor Al Feldstein was on the Heroes guest list, but no one else asked Feldstein to participate in programming, a crazy oversight. This would be the first of our self-dubbed “mega-panels,” and we’ve done eight others since. We’re a Heroes tradition now.

When I told my friend Mike Rhode about the EC/MAD panel, I mentioned that I’d like to have cartoonists influenced by MAD help me interview Feldstein, and Mike suggested Richard Thompson. I was only marginally familiar with Richard’s art (I had fallen out of the habit of reading newspaper cartoons, even when available online), but I trusted Mike. I e-mailed Richard, he agreed to participate, and four of us (Ben, Richard, Roger Langridge, and I) convened to interview Feldstein. As it happened, we hardly said anything: Feldstein was a world-class raconteur who didn’t need prompting from us, and Roy Thomas—another enthusiastic talker and expert in comics history—asked questions from the audience.

HeroesCon 2008, Al Feldstein and Richard Thompson. Photo courtesy of Mike Rhode.

HeroesCon 2008, Al Feldstein and Richard Thompson. Photo courtesy of Mike Rhode.

During that weekend, I got to know Richard better. He was amazingly thin (though he would lose more weight as Parkinson’s ravaged him), and talked in the quietest voice I’d ever (never?) heard. Mike joked that he only heard Richard speak when Richard sat on his lap and whispered in his ear. But he was worth listening to: in group conversations, Richard would quietly sit back, everyone would forget he was there, and then sotto voce he’d lob in a comment that opened up an absurd perspective on the subject under discussion that made us all laugh. Richard was thoughtful and whip-smart, but he also stuck to a comic view of the world that refused to take anything or anyone too seriously.

The Cul de Sac original art Richard brought to HeroesCon was also richly communicative: I adored Richard’s whimsical writing, and his cute-but-ragged-like-Searle style of cartooning. He was clearly reinvigorating the domestic-comedy comic strip, and newspaper comics as a whole. I was so smitten with Cul de Sac that I bought original art from Richard, a daily strip from April 30, 2008:

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I chose this one because my daughter Mercer, who met Richard at that 2008 con along with the rest of my family, had a habit as a toddler of leaving the dinner table, stripping off her clothes, and running outside. Richard signed the strip “To my friend Herr Doktor Professor Craig Fischer,” and I can imagine him saying that phrase in his paper-rustle whisper of a voice.

For about three years after our 2008 meeting—until his health prevented him from traveling—I saw Richard at Heroes and occasionally at other comics events. We both attended the 2010 Ohio State University Festival of Cartoon Art, and I remember eating dinner with him when our conversation turned to the ways we use social media. I mentioned that my wife Kathy was very open about expressing her personal feelings in her status updates on Facebook, but that a typical FB post for me was “Hey! Check out this video of kittens on a Roomba!” Richard chuckled at that line, and three weeks later, imported a non-copyrighted variant into Cul de Sac (11/4/10):

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Richard credited me with the line in a post on his tremendously entertaining Richard’s Poor Almanac blog. I worried that Richard was working only three weeks ahead of publication, probably because of tardiness (Richard was always late for appointments and with deadlines) but also because the Parkinson’s was interfering with the steadiness of his drawing hand.

By 2011, the Parkinson’s was profoundly affecting Richard’s health and mobility. When I saw him at Heroes that year, for what would turn out to be his last visit, he was on metal crutches. Still, we kept the con as upbeat as possible. I debuted a fanzine I’d edited called Favorites (featuring essays by critics and cartoonists about their most cherished comics) as a fundraiser for Team Cul de Sac, a charity in Richard’s name that raises money for a Parkinson’s cure. (To date, the Team has earned over $200,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a few hundred of which came from Favorites.) Richard drew a lovely cover for Favorites:

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To thank him for the cover, my wife Kathy asked Leila Pratt Jackson, a friend and professional cookie decorator, to make a set of Cul de Sac cookies based on the strip’s characters. Leila also made one large cookie based on the cover of the Cul de Sac collection Golden Treasury Keepsake Garland of Classics. We had a little party in our hotel room in Charlotte, where Richard, my family, and Team Cul de Sac friends got one cookie each. Richard graciously gave Alice to my daughter, and devoured Mr. Otterloop himself.

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I saw Richard less after he stopped traveling to Heroes. Three months later, in September 2011 at SPX, he relied on his crutches more, but was determined to meet Roz Chast. He also whispered to me a slightly naughty joke—Richard’s humor was too gentle to be truly “dirty”—and the way he managed to hold onto his sense of humor struck me as both life-affirming and heart-breakingly poignant.

For two years after SPX 2011, we stayed in touch through a handful of letters I sent Richard, and that he was unable to answer. The tone of my letters was jovial, flippant; Chris Sparks, the founder of Team Cul de Sac, kept me updated on Richard’s condition, and I didn’t know how to write to someone in ever-declining health. I now wish that I’d tackled more serious issues in my letters. I wish I’d told Richard that I loved him, and talked about the pain my family was experiencing as my wife’s parents passed away.

The last time I saw Richard was at the opening weekend of the exhibit of his work at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in March 2014. It was inspirational to see Richard’s family and friends—and people unfamiliar with his art before the exhibit—crowd around him to offer congratulations and good cheer, but I also couldn’t ignore how folded-in on itself his body had become. That weekend, Richard also held court at the Columbus Hampton Inn for invited visitors, and I stopped by. His increasingly wan voice and my punk-rock-damaged hearing made conversation difficult, so much of our last time together was spent silently, with me holding his hand and smiling at him. Nothing—and everything—left to say.

Now I miss my friend Richard, just like the people who supported, loved, and cared for him before, during, and after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, including his wife Amy and daughters Charlotte and Emma; Nick Galifianakis, Chris Sparks, Mike Rhode, David Apatoff, Nell Minow, Bono Mitchell, Caitlin McGurk, and others I didn’t have the good luck to meet; and the HeroesCon personnel (Seth Peagler, Heather Peagler, Rico Renzi, Shelton Drum, Shannon Gallant, others) who have organized and staffed Drink-n-Draws over the last six years to raise funds for Team Cul de Sac. (The HeroesCon Drink-n-Draw will continue.) I think I speak for all these people, and I certainly speak for myself and my family, when I write: Richard, we love you.

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CHARLES HATFIELD:

A great cartoonist teaches you to see cartooning, and the world, in a different way. A great cartoonist entrains you to their way of drawing, listening, and observing, to their rhythms and to their linework, to the sheer gutsy outpouring of their personality on the page. A great cartoonist can get into your head, and make you see the world in their line, whether slick or scratchy, fluid or choppy, from the elbow or from the wrist (and with great cartooning, it’s always from the heart and mind too).

A great cartoonist makes a personal world, and invites you in. Such was Richard Thompson, whose death became news last Wednesday, July 27. That was a blow—not wholly unexpected, because Parkinson’s Disease, that terrible, idiopathic, unpredictable thing, had ravaged his body and severely changed his life, but still a blow, resounding and painful. Thompson’s passing hit me hard from two angles: a personal one, because his work had come to mean a great deal to my wife and me and because my own father has Parkinson’s; and a historical one, because Richard had come to represent, for me as for so many, the last great hope of comic strips in the newspaper funny page tradition. From my perspective, his Cul de Sac was the most refreshing newspaper strip of the past twenty years, with the richest set of loopy, endearing, maddening, beautifully cartooned characters. I consider it the last great example of the kid ‘n’ family domestic strip (home, school, playground, et cetera), and one of the most delightfully eccentric microcosms ever to grace the funny pages. The vein of comic strip art that includes Barnaby and Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes also includes Cul de Sac. Once I read it, I knew, I’d never look at comic strip children the same way again.

Cul de Sac (launched for the Washington Post in 2004, then taken national by Universal Press Syndicate in 2007) came fairly late in a busy career. Thompson had already built up a great vita as a gag cartoonist, editorial illustrator, and caricaturist. In fact I first learned about Thompson not through Cul de Sac, but through his work in Richard’s Poor Alamanac (2004), a collection of his purely local, inside-the-Beltway Washington Post strip (begun in 1997). My good friend Mike Rhode, proprietor of the ComicsDC blog and a close friend and colleague of Richard’s, showed this book to me and sold me on it. Good call: even though I lived far outside the Beltway, and knew little about the local details Thompson was riffing on, I found the book mesmerizing in its deadpan absurdity, wacky drawings, and hairy, energetic line. That was in 2007, even as Cul de Sac was going national.

Cul de Sac catapulted Thompson from stratosphere to exosphere. It was a classic-from-the-first-week comic strip based on premises that he himself worried might be “corny” and “stale”: kids, parents, neighborhood, that sort of thing. But it was uncannily good. Alice and Petey, the Otterloop siblings, he thought of “unstoppable force” and “immovable object” respectively, and the strip pitted their two tempers against each other in the same house—and also pitted the both of them, together and separately, against the world, including school and a splendid cast of other weird kids. Alice and Petey’s long-suffering parents were along for the ride, and Thompson wrote knowingly about how parents accommodate their kids’ quirks, manias, and fears. The great Cul de Sac characters, I’ve noticed, have that same combination of manic fixedness, anxious perseveration, and oblivious self-regard that I see in many of Schulz’s Peanuts characters, or Milne’s Pooh characters, or Tove Jansson’s Moominland critters. They are obsessives, each awhirl in their own orbit, each in the grip of their own ideas—but when they come together, or ricochet off each other, sublime comedy ensues. The beauty of this (as with Schulz, Milne, and Jansson) is that we don’t find these characters grating or unlikable despite their little madnesses and fixed ideas, their neurotic self-regard. We forgive or even relish their quirks. This is so very like the attitude of Alice and Petey’s parents toward their kids: an attitude of bemused affection that sometimes just barely manages to skirt exasperation, but never turns into outright resentment. Yesterday at breakfast, in a local café, my wife Mich and I observed a patient and crafty mother managing the sibling rivalry between her two children, big brother and little sister, sometimes with little needling notes of annoyance, but on the whole with grace and shrewdness (all this because of an argument over waffles). I was reminded of Mrs. Otterloop telling Petey not to chew his arm off.

On the personal side, Mich and I have a pastime of reading Cul de Sac strips to each other before bedtime, usually one or two weeks’ worth (culled from The Complete Cul de Sac of 2014). She takes Alice, Mrs. Otterloop, and other “girl” characters like Miss Bliss and Viola, while I do Petey (who for some reason I like to do in a sort of phlegmy, backed-up, nasal intonation), Mr. Otterloop, Mr. Danders the guinea pig, and other “boys.” I could do this for the rest of my life, frankly. Also, we were fortunate to catch, in 2014, the Thompson exhibition curated by Caitlin McGurk for the Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. In fact we made a point of vacationing in Columbus that summer just for the purpose of seeing the twinned Thompson and Bill Watterson exhibits there. The Thompson show, a wonderful, eye-opening overview of his work, brought the Almanac back to me, full force, while also showing the breadth of Richard’s work in caricature and illustration. I understood then—and this was reaffirmed later that year, when the gorgeous book The Art of Richard Thompson came out—that Richard was not only a great strip artist but a great artist, period. As a caricaturist, he was in Hirschfeld, Levine, and Sorel territory. As a humorist, he was on par with bone-dry masters of the absurd like Bob and Ray. As an all-around cartoonist and writer, a great, unpigeonhole-able talent, he was matchless.

To have had any personal connection to such an artist is a gift. I was fortunate to meet Richard briefly, maybe a couple of times, thanks to friends like Mike Rhode and Chris Sparks. That’s like being rewarded for doing nothing at all (besides being a hopeless fan). I offer my condolences to all of his colleagues and loved ones; I know his passing was not quite unexpected, but that it still hurt like anything.

I’m saddened by Richard’s death, but thrilled by the work that Chris Sparks and Team Cul de Sac have done in his name to support Parkinson’s research and raise awareness of the disease. I hope TCJ readers can contribute to that cause: part of the legacy of a peerless cartoonist.

Signature by Richard Thompson in the Cul de Sac Golden Treasury, 2010.

Signature by Richard Thompson in the Cul de Sac Golden Treasury, 2010.

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Jack Burton Davis Jr., 1924-2016 http://www.tcj.com/jack-burton-davis-jr-1924-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/jack-burton-davis-jr-1924-2016/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 12:53:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94261 Continue reading ]]> “I always wanted to be a cartoonist.”—Jack Davis

The longtime cartoonist and illustrator Jack Davis died on Wednesday at the age of 91.

Jack Davis was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 2, 1924. By his own account, he had an idyllic childhood. Both parents —as well as his school teachers— encouraged Jack’s artistic inclinations. Apart from drawing —“Only thing I can do is draw”— he was uninterested in and bored by academic pursuits. But he excelled at the High Museum of Art School. The school taught drawing from life and Davis found this enormously helpful — and invigorating, both aesthetically and experientially.

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Davis was drafted into the Navy upon graduation from high school in 1943. Once his superiors learned of his artistic skills, he was conscripted to draw several comic strips for the Gosport Weekly, the base newspaper.

His University of Georgia years were a whirlwind of extracurricular drawing activity and self-marketing, presaging a career of almost unparalleled productivity. He studied both oil and portrait painting and art history under Lamar Dodd, an artist and activist.

Eventually Davis landed a gig as an assistant to Ed Dodd (Lamar Dodd’s cousin) on the recently launched Mark Trail comic strip. This proved to be his biggest step professionally. Dodd suggested that Davis move to New York City and attend the Art Student’s League. “You’re good,” Davis says Dodd told him, “you gotta go to New York.”

Davis would, of course, move to New York, but not before falling in love with the woman he would soon marry.

Dina Roquemore and Jack Davis attended the same grammar school and high school, but they met each other for the first time at the University in their freshman year (although Davis was several years her senior due to his stint in the military). They met at the campus swimming pool. “She had a beautiful figure and I guess I was smitten with that,” says Davis with typically Southern gentlemanly reserve. “But I tell you, coming out of the Navy, after being in three years, not seeing anything but a Wave once in a while…that was something else. I mean, that was beautiful. On campus there were some pretty, pretty girls, and Dina was one of them.” They didn’t have any money to speak of, so their dates consisted of going to the movies and seeing each other on campus. The courtship lasted close to three years.

Davis decided to take Ed Dodd’s advice and try his luck in New York City. He had been accepted into the Art Students League, so he began attending classes at night and looking for freelance jobs during the day. He had a blue suit and a tailor-made pair of Cordovan wing-tip shoes, and, armed with a small portfolio of watercolors, Civil War drawings, and strips he’d drawn for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, began pounding the pavement, going to every syndicate and advertising agency he could find (he walked up and down Madison Avenue so much, he says, that he got an in-grown toe-nail.) He had no luck.

But, the Art Students League posted job notices on its bulletin board and he noticed one day that the cartoonist Mike Roy was looking for an assistant to help him draw The Saint newspaper strip. (The Saint was a thief-turned-detective, who had, by 1949, become a commercial fixture in pop culture, appearing in novels, movies, and comics. The strip was written by Leslie Charteris, who wrote the first Saint novel, Meet The Tiger, in 1928.) Davis went to the New York Herald Tribune, who was syndicating the strip, applied for the job and got it. (Coincidentally, the Herald Tribune ran a strip he previous year titled Silver Linings by someone who would play an important role in Davis’s lie — Harvey Kurtzman.) Roy worked on Long Island and would mail the original art to Davis, who would finish the backgrounds. He was paid $100.00 week, a steady income he welcomed since he had gotten engaged to Dina Roquemore while he was in New York and planned on marrying her the following year.

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He spent a year working on The Saint and attending the Art Students League at night. He took several classes drawing live models, but otherwise, Davis, says he learned very little that improved his drawing or technique. “There were just a lot of veterans there that couldn’t draw,” he said. “They were probably taking advantage of the GI Bill.” When asked directly what he learned at the Art Students League, Davis said: “I learned to exist. …Just the experience…I met some guys who were kind like the Dead End Kids, but they were just great guys who were walking the streets of New York. That was their hometown.”

Davis’s stint on The Saint ended in late 1950. He began making the rounds again and decided to add comic book companies to his list of potential clients. The 2nd or 3rd comics publisher Davis visited was a company he’d had no familiarity with, indeed never heard of — Entertaining Comics. Davis walked out the door with a script to draw. Davis didn’t know it at the time, but, as so often in his career, he was at the right place at the right time —he was about to become a star in one of the greatest constellations of artists ever assembled by a mass market comics publisher.

This was a heady time for Davis because not only had he stumbled onto the best comics publisher of the period, but he was bout to wed.

Jack Davis and Dina Roqumore married on October 22, 1950 in Atlanta, and spent their honeymoon at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Davis would liked to have lived in the city for another year or so, but the rent was too expensive, so they moved out of Manhattan and into an “itty-bitty apartment over the railroad tracks” in Eastchester, New York, just outside Scarsdale, in early 1951. He and Dina would often drive his completed pages into the EC offices: “My wife would erase the pencils before I got to Lafayette Street.”

combat-medic-frontline-combat-4Feldstein used Davis for all three of his horror titles — Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and Haunt of Fear. He was one of the most effective artists who drew horror stories at EC —and one of the most prolific; turning out more than 500 pages in less than five years.

Trophy-01-copyWhile the young artists that Gaines recruited to draw were continuing to improve their craft year by year, his comics, particularly the horror titles, were running afoul of the poisonously censorious political climate of the 1950s. There was, coincident with EC’s glorious rise, a growing backlash against comics, fueled by alarmist newspaper columnists, magazine writers, and Dr. Fredric Wertham’s notorious book, Seduction of the Innocent, that purportedly “proved” that comic books caused juvenile delinquency. The strict guidelines of the Code effectively put EC’s horror line out of business.

#33-Mad#2-Dec-52-copyLuckily, EC was publishing Mad.

Harvey Kurtzman conceived of Mad in 1952 (the first issue debuted in August). Kurtzman edited, wrote, and laid out its comics pages, just as he was doing concurrently with his two war titles. He did no drawing in Mad, but he enlisted the artists at EC most adept at humor: Will Elder, Wally Wood, John Severin, and, of course, Jack Davis. Davis was among the most versatile artists at EC, equally good at drama and humor, and capable of illustrating every genre — mystery, horror, war, Western. (Science fiction may have been the only genre at which he did not excel.)

Davis remembers the conception of Mad: “We got together and figured out that Harvard had the Lampoon, and you had different magazines: Esquire had “Esky,” and we sat around and thought up Alfred E. Neuman.” Davis appeared in every issue of the 23 comic book Mads except #s 7 and 22. Kurtzman never liked the comic book format, feeling it was shoddy and low-rent, so when the EC line began failing in 1955, Kurtzman used the opportunity to  demand that Gaines turning Mad into a magazine — under threat of quitting. Gaines complied; with the 24th issue, Mad moved from a monthly 10 cent comic to a bi-monthly 25 cent magazine. Davis continued working for the magazine format Mad, but six issues later, Kurtzman quit the magazine —his last issue was #28, July 1956— accepting an offer from Hugh Hefner to edit a much slicker humor magazine with a bigger budget — Trump.

Kurtzman asked Davis to join him at Trump. Davis’s allegiances were torn. But, he made his decision and he went with Kurtzman to Trump. Unfortunately for Davis and all the other creators Kurtzman assembled Trump lasted only two issues due to financial reversals in the magazine publishing industry.

HUMBUG_COVER-copyThus was born Humbug, a new satirical magazine, financed —and owned— by the artists themselves, and edited, again, by Kurtzman. The artists were Kurtzman, Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth, Will Elder — and Jack Davis. All the artists invested in the magazine except Davis who either didn’t have the resources to or wasn’t comfortable investing what little he had. (The fact that Davis’s son Jack III, born in 1954, was three years old, may have made him more attentive to his financial responsibilities.) The other artists agreed that Davis was absolutely essential to the enterprise, and offered him equal ownership and a monthly stipend. The first issue of Humbug debuted in June, 1957, but, this magazine, too, was another noble failure —it lasted 11 glorious issues in which Davis did some of the best comic illustration of his career.

In 1960, Harvey Kurtzman created Help!, his third —and last— humor magazine in partnership with Warren Publishing, an independent outfit owned by Jim Warren. Davis appeared in only a couple issues (possibly because Help!’s budget was relatively minuscule and Kurtzman couldn’t pay Davis what the artist was capable of getting almost anywhere else).

Davis was commissioned by Dell Comics to conceive, write, and draw a humor comic titled Yak Yak, two issues of which were published in 1961 and 1962. According to Davis, they asked him to do it because of his work on Mad —still paying commercial dividends a half a decade after he stopped working for the magazine. “Dell wanted their own Mad, so they approached me to write it and draw it. They sort of gave me my head.” The humor was essentially Mad-lite and Davis admits that he “struggled with it. I’d rather have somebody write for me or tell me what to do. I tried and failed.” Nonetheless, he turned out over 60 competent pages of humor comics.yak2

1964 and 1965 were breakthrough years for Davis. He drew the movie posters for Stanley Kramer’s highly successful 1964 comedy extravaganza, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. It was a tour de force of caricature and advertising efficaciousness and propelled Davis into the forefront of American commercial artists.MAD-MAD-MAD-MAD-World-1963-copy

Professionally, Davis’s comics work was mostly behind him at this point with one exception: In 1965, he returned to Mad, and continued to work for the magazine into the 1980s.

In rapid succession, Davis began contributing to the highest circulation mass magazines of the time: TV Guide, Esquire, Life, and his biggest coup — Time, for whom he did at least 26 covers from 1972 to 1976. Davis would, between 1964 and 1980, draw over 35 movie posters.

Bad-News-Bears-1981-copyDavis continued to produce work at a prodigious pace. He never had a character with which a mass audience could identify him —a Charlie Brown, a Calvin or Hobbes— but his drawing style itself may have been the most recognizable of any cartoonist or caricaturist in the world.

In 1988, he moved back to his beloved Georgia and finally started working at a more leisurely pace. He announced his retirement in 2014. His son, Jack III, an architect, designed his home on St. Simon’s Island next to the Frederic River. He lives near his son and his daughter Katie, who is an interior decorator, and whose husband owns The Hilltop Grille in Athens, in which a mural Davis painted is prominently displayed. 

Looking over his long career, he said, “You live your life and just to leave something behind is so great. And I feel that I’ve had a great, great life.”

Davis is survived by his wife, Dena, his son, Jack Davis III, his daughter, Katie Lloyd, and two grandchildren.

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Tributes to Jack Davis http://www.tcj.com/tributes-to-jack-davis/ http://www.tcj.com/tributes-to-jack-davis/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 12:00:57 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94265 Continue reading ]]> The incomparable Jack Davis has passed away. I (Dan) was honored to help bring him to the 2011 Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. He couldn’t have been nicer, and it was a real honor. I remain amazed by the breadth and depth of his work. He could be as gritty and detailed as he pleased, creating spaces that were alive with humanity and humor, or he could practice as Mark Newgarden beautifully put it on Facebook today, “Drawing = breathing” — the effortless and sure mark-making of a master. He was a truly giant of 20th century visual culture, and he’ll be missed.

Below, his friends and colleagues pay tribute to him. More images can be found on the Jack Davis Foundation web site, and, of course, all over the web.

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Jack Davis portrait by Drew Friedman

DREW FRIEDMAN:

Jack Davis has always been a bit of an obsession with me. When I was very young (early/mid ’60s) his work seemed to be everywhere! Bubblegum cards … Jack Davis! Comic books … Jack Davis! Magazines … Jack Davis! Paperback covers … Jack Davis! Record Album covers … Jack Davis! Movie posters … Jack Davis! You just couldn’t escape JACK DAVIS!! Which to me was welcome news because I adored Jack Davis! When his incredible poster art for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World appeared, quickly followed by his cover art for Mad’s paperback parody cover, “It’s a World, World, World, World MAD,” my head almost exploded. I wanted to kiss his feet.

Only later did I go back and discover EC Comics, and sure enough, who was their most prominent artist? JACK DAVIS!! How amazingly prolific! And how amazingly wonderful his work was, always innovative, fun, funny, beautifully watercolored or crosshatched. The guy hit a home run every time out! And I haven’t even mentioned the ’70s when he seemed to be on the cover of Time or TV Guide every single week! When did he sleep? Was there more than one Jack Davis? No matter, his amazing output happened, and this book is finally the proof!

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jack Davis, although as a contributor to Mad over the last twenty years I’ve met some several of the other legendary contributors, among them Mort Drucker and Al Jaffee, both incredibly sweet, lovely men. But I’ve heard Jack Davis described by more than a few people as possibly the sweetest Southern gentleman ever, which I always liked to hear. So incredibly talented, prolific, and nice. A role model for all of us who make a living drawing people to look funny.

And speaking of feet, over the years an occasional art director has asked me to do a caricature of a personality, including their “feet”… I’ve always declined with the following reason: “Feet are not funny.” Unless Jack Davis is drawing them.

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GARY PANTER:

My favorite works by Jack Davis are his various monsters, standing solo like the door sized Frankenstein poster sold in monster magazines, or clumped in wretch piles of scratching,  drooling, leaky, hairy, fly blown, boil plagued and wart encrusted werewolves, vampires, lackeys, hoodlums, degenerates and brainless tools. He was really good at organizing a picture– a hard thing to do when the picture has many elements. Jack Davis was continually spewing out crowd scenes of scheming teeming denizens to sell anything–movies, bathroom products, sporting goods– a true commercial artist knocking the crap out but most often knocking the crap out of the park into a very identifiable place of personal expression. 

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But I loved his monsters best–on bubble gum stickers, trading cards, and comic books. I am still looking for Yak Yak number two. I was completely smitten by Yak Yak one and took it on family vacation to a relative’s quarter horse farm in Louisiana. I wasn’t interested in horses, but was interested in Jack Davis’s beatniks and environs. The comic mysteriously disappeared on the trip, though it was never out of my sight for long. I suspect conspiracy to trash theYak Yak #1 and an an adult, an arrested development adult, I found another copy of it. Hooray for Jack Davis the scribbliest form generator.

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PETER BAGGE:

Back in my childhood Mad-obsessed days, circa 1966-1970, Jack Davis’s art was everywhere: trading cards, TV commercials, magazine ads, LP covers, etc. Now, normally, when someone’s work becomes that ubiquitous one could easily become sick of it. Resentful, even. Disdainful. Disgusted. But not once did I ever feel like I was seeing too much of Davis’s work. To me that would be like complaining about too much sunshine or flowers. There was no such thing as “too much Jack Davis”!

One piece of ubiquitous Davis art was a tiny ad for a “life sized” Frankenstein poster that used to appear on the inside back covers of comic books along with other novelty items like X-ray specs and itching powder.  I never considered ordering it since I was convinced that those ads were a scam when I was a kid. I also literally thought that poster was too good to be true.  I mean, a six-foot drawing by Jack Davis that I could hang on my bedroom door?  Why not throw in the Brooklyn Bridge while you’re at it! Imagine my shock and surprise when many years later I saw that very poster hanging on the wall of a friend’s apartment.  It was every bit as fantastic as I imagined it to be, and I cursed myself for being such a skeptic when I was ten years old!

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JOE KUBERT (2010):

He’s probably one of the most talented guys I know even though I don’t know him. I did very little socializing with anybody. But I did know him enough to speak with him when I met him socially. Aside from the fact that he’s one of the most incredibly talented guys I know, he’s also one of the nicest. His inking was so spontaneous. Everything he did was so goddamn fresh. It looked like he just slapped it right down on the paper. Maybe I liked it because I saw him doing what I was trying to do. His style and approach is different, but I imagine that he thinks the same way I do, and that kind of spontaneity is what I’ve always looked for. I’ve been trying to analyze this over the years and perhaps in some ways, it’s an unfinished look I’m going for and ultimately what I want the reader to participate in.

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JIM WOODRING:

When I think of Jack Davis, my mind is irresistibly drawn back to the days when I was a young man deep in the convulsive throes of worshipful admiration for everything connected with the old MAD comic.

My friends and I would pore over them endlessly, scrutinizing every detail and trying to explain to ourselves and each other what it was that made them so incredibly powerful, so potently perfect, so exactly what the black centers of our young American hearts yearned for. Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD delivered the goods like nothing had before. We still keep them, still look at them, still feel their righteous anarchic authority even today.

Jack Davis, needless to say, was a crucial part of MAD. The zest he brought to an assignment, the rhythmic brush work, the effortless flipping from wholesome to hideous, the toes busting out of shoes, the shocks of greasy-looking hair, the big knuckles, the frantic acting… it was nourishing food for the cartoon-loving soul. For us young connoisseurs it was a display of virtuosity to make us gnash our teeth and despair even as we exalted. He was inimitable, by which I mean you can’t get away with it. It shows.

Kurtzman’s MAD ended about sixty years ago, but Jack Davis’ work kept coming, overflowing the purview of comics and flooding the world with cartoons for magazine covers, ads, movie and TV show posters, album covers, pamphlets, book illustrations, newspaper comics, sports cartoons, bubble gum cards, animation designs and God only knows what else. I bet I saw at least one new Jack Davis drawing every week throughout the sixties and seventies. I’d like to see someone- preferably someone I don’t like- attempt to compile a Jack Davis Checklist.

As a cartoonist, Jack Davis hit the ground running. There may be a few clues out there as to whose work influenced his drawing style, but wherever he got his ideas he made them his own, body and soul. What’s more, he discovered in that style a range of possibility that enabled him to find the perfect default ratio of effort-to-effect. When he drew slowly his work was magisterial, stunning in its methodical building up of detail to great overall effect. When he worked fast his line had unparalleled energy and power of expression.

He preferred to work fast, possibly in part so he could spend more time away from the drawing board and more on, say, the golf course. But he felt that his quick drawings had a fresh energy that the finished work lacked. His book Some of My Good Stuff is a collection of sketches and layouts that make this point beautifully. The faster he draws the less he draws like anyone else. Can.

Jack Davis ripened early, became a great architect of American humor, had a fantastically prolific career for over sixty years, brightened the eyeballs of untold millions and died a beloved old stalwart whose reputation as a gentleman was as solid as his artistic credentials. It seems like enough.

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RUBEN BOLLING:

For a guy who started in comic books doing gruesome horror and grim war stories, Jack Davis’s transition to humor on Mad was not only flawless, it was revelatory; he found his true calling.

And as a kid who worshipped Mad Magazine, but especially the paperback reprints of those weird, dense first 23 Kurtzman comic book issues, I marveled at Davis’s art. He just drew funny, from the poses to the facial expressions, right down to the feet. Only Don Martin had a more distinctive, stylized way of drawing feet.

I knew I obviously couldn’t (and can’t) draw nearly as well, as expressively, as fluidly, as Davis. But just knowing that you can get that much funniness out of a pen was so thrilling, it helped compel me to find my own path.

Davis found huge success in the world of illustration, and it was fun seeing his work (always unmistakably) on movie posters, magazine covers and buses, but he was always ours. Our Mad guy who was a charter creator of the funniest comics ever made. The comics that inspired every humor cartoonist, and probably most humorists of any type, from a couple of generations.

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MICHAEL BARTALOS

As a kid my life revolved around MAD Magazine and its Usual Gang of Idiots. I honed my drawing skills by copying all those artists, but worshipped one in particular: Jack Davis. His style exuded such energy and spontaneity that it seemed unreal. If only we met, I imagined, I’d surely absorb his magical drawing abilities.

At that time his work was ubiquitous. Hardly a week went by without a new Davis movie poster or Time cover or album sleeve appearing in print, not to mention the continuous work he did for MAD. Despite this staggering output, his work never diminished in quality. It only got better.

When I discovered that my hero lived in the neighboring town, I wasted no time in presenting myself at his house, unannounced. His wife Dena graciously invited me into their living room and Jack stopped whatever he was doing (most certainly drawing on deadline) to look at the art I’d brought along. He complimented my work and took the time to sketch my portrait on the spot as a parting gift. The drawing meant the world to me.Jack Davis draws Bartalos-1-800x800

Later that year, our family happened to relocate to within a stone’s throw of the Davises. I took the opportunity to show up at their doorstep yet again, this time as a neighbor with my younger brother Greg in tow. Again Jack and Dena received us warmly into their home, and after reviewing my new drawings, Jack sketched Greg’s and my portraits as mementos of the visit.

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It isn’t every day that your idol turns out to be the nicest guy ever, accepts you into his house, draws your picture, and inspires you for life — twice over. But beneficence was at Jack’s core. Between his high-profile jobs for example, he also drew posters for the high school his daughter Katie and I attended. Because that’s the kind of guy he was.

As for absorbing his magical drawing abilities, let’s face it: the man was inimitable. I learned a lot by copying his work, but there was no matching his draftsmanship. I did however grasp the generous spirit of Jack’s art. He put his all into every illustration, offering a visual feast each time. His larger tableaus were typically rich with detail, teeming with layers of figures. The smaller ones packed no less of a punch, radiating their own intensity.

I love that Jack clearly took great joy in drawing and in spreading joy with his art. It shows in every piece, rendering his output timeless. Eventually my kids will marvel at his work too, for I’ve saved all my old MADs for them to discover. And when they do, I can’t wait to tell them about the coolest, kindest neighbor in the world.

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The Michael Zulli Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-michael-zulli-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-michael-zulli-interview/#respond Mon, 25 Jul 2016 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93724 Continue reading ]]> 79813-5 Puma Jacket16cx

Michael Zulli is one of a handful of trained artists who began drawing comics in 1980s and helped shape a new, more illustrative, look for the medium. Comics readers know Zulli for a series of collaborations with Neil Gaiman including “The Wake” story arc in Sandman, The Last Temptation, Creatures of the Night. He wrote and drew the acclaimed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Soul’s Winter and was a regular contributor to the legendary anthology Taboo.

In the past decade Zulli has published two books, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch in 2007 and The Fracture of the Universal Boy in 2011, but has spent much of his time and energy painting and is currently preparing an exhibition of recent work. He described comics as having left him behind, but he did return to the medium last year with a new comic.

Zulli’s first work in comics was The Puma Blues, a collaboration with writer Stephen Murphy, that was the first comic each them ever made. The series was part environmental fable, part science fiction story, that touches on many of the issues that became much more central to 1990’s culture in works like The Invisibles and The X-Files and elsewhere. The series also started life in one of those funny stories when the duo gave an eight page story to Dave Sim, who offered to publish it. Dover collected the series late last year along with an epilogue from Murphy and Zulli made for this volume. The series has always dark, but the epilogue was bleak, though it does contain a glimmer of hope.

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I have to admit that before this collection was published, I had never read The Puma Blues, or even heard of it. Though I was too young to have read them when they were originally published.

I don’t blame you, actually. Those days were the wild west of comics, really. There was a lot of very good things that happened and a lot of weird things that happened. I can’t say bad necessarily, but weird. At that point in history there was more than one distributor in the United States. People were self-publishing or there were small press imprints that were producing a whole variety of different things. It was the beginnings of what I saw as potentially a quite interesting period in the medium. The birth pains of growing up. Of course it didn’t work out that way. [laughs] One by one they all toppled and well now there is a comics industry in North America. At the time it seemed like it was possible really to really stretch or even burn the envelope entirely to get to a new place where the medium itself–which is always been creative and vital and largely misunderstood as a junk culture–could grow up and flourish and entertain any segment of society that it wished to.

It was on that premise that Stephen and I originally got together as completely and utterly void entities, really. On the day we approached Dave [Sim] at a small local comic shop in the area, we had eight pages of Puma drawn and basically done. At the time we were thinking the best place to go would be one of the smaller independent publishers. Back then a lot of them would have a main feature and then an eight page backup story that might change from month to month. We thought our best chances were to get into doing eight pages every two weeks for one of these things. When [Dave Sim] said, can you do twenty pages plus a cover a month I opened my mouth and said, yeah. From there it was a done deal. We both walked away looking at each other like, what are we going to do? The only training I ever had in comics was, believe it or not, I’d gone to the local bookstore and bought How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. [laughs] Which was a complete disaster, but I did learn a few things that I found technically appropriately. To this day I still cannot draw a comics page with blue pencil. I tried but I just hated the damn thing. The learning curve was daunting to say the least.

This is first comic that either of you ever did. How did you meet?

I had just come off about seven years of largely trying to support myself as a wildlife artist. I did manage to eke out a living. I’ve always been interested in the natural world and had tried to depict it with some fidelity. I was just burnt out. I happened to stumble across this new thing that a studio assistant of mine had come across called a comics shop. He told me where one was and I went there and the two things that I bought happened to be an issue of Epic Illustrated that contained Barry Windsor-Smith’s The Beguiling, and Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright. Between the two of them I just had this ridiculous epiphany–as all epiphanies usually are–and I thought if comics can do this, then that’s what I want to do. I want to work on that level. I began practicing on my own. At the same time I discovered Cerebus. I was absolutely dead impressed by that.

I went to another comics shop in the area and I asked the manager there if he knew a writer and he said there’s an employee of his named named Stephen. I arranged to meet him and we talked and we both had the same kind of goal, it turned out. We got along well. I found his ideas interesting and persuasive. He started writing me little snippets of things and I would do a practice page or two. We did a short five page story just in pencil. That got lost in the bowels of time somewhere. We took it to the next step and put Puma together. We’d done the first eight pages and that’s what we showed to Dave that day. If you look at the first eight-ten issues if you look closely you can see me as far as my work is struggling to find an identity. I was looking early Swamp Thing that Bissette was doing. I was looking at Dave’s stuff and how he was composing pages. I’m basically riffing off of that. Then I started settling into my own routine along with the scripts because Steven has a very interesting way of piling up panels on pages that’s pretty much his own, which I admire quite a bit. That started affecting the way I laid out a page. From there, at least to a certain degree, we started acquiring our own identities. It was a terrible amount of work, really, but the time seemed to go so fast. Issue by issue it seemed like we were breaking different ground all the time. It was a wonderful experience really.79813-5_Puma_lowres 21

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I didn’t know you were a nature artist, but you put so much care and detail in your art. You even have an early chapter “Empire of the Senses” which is almost completely nature scenes.

The title of that was ripped off of a song by Bill Nelson. When I read the script I thought, that just fits. You have may noticed there’s a lot of Bowie references in there, too. I always loved that line and it seemed to suit the character and his ongoing fascination with his father’s videotapes and things. Music has always informed by work. It’s a very important part of my work. I’m one of those people who cannot work in silence. I always used to have a local college FM station on while I was working that was really superb back in the day, WWUH in Hartford.

I think possibly I might have a mild case of synesthesia of some sort because growing up in a musical family I’d been around music all my life. My father was a jazz musician and so I grew up attending rehearsals and band meetings. I have a deep abiding memory of my father writing music arranging and writing music when I was small. Music is in my blood, in a way. I grew up with it. It’s one of those things I can’t really live without while I’m working. Styles and interests have changed over the years but it’s always been a constant companion while I work. I think for Steven too. I don’t know if he worked in silence or not but underneath the surface of Puma there’s a lot of musical influences. Which I don’t know if people would really get. Even the first issue involved music. Poor Rodney, that was taken from a Doors song I think. My then-girlfriend who was a partially trained musician transcribed it. The musical notation in the book is pretty accurate. I’m not sure. I don’t read music myself.

You and Stephen incorporated music throughout the book.

I always tended to think that the book was deeply vested in Gavia’s personal mindset. What we were really doing was taking an abstract look at his psycho-spiritual process along the way. It’s really part of the character and his mind. For me personally, when I’m building a character I always try to conceptualize some kind of psychological or spiritual underpinning of the character. That helps inform them physically–how they gesture, how they stand, how they sit, facial expressions. For me, characters become fully formed entities in my head.

What was it like returning to Gavia and this world after so long?

It was odd when we were doing the new stuff because that’s really not the way I draw right now. It is the way I drew Puma then–but thirty years on. It’s almost like there was no break in the actual continuity. I found that very very both moving and somewhat disturbing. [laughs] That I could fall into it that easily. It was deeply unexpected and not unwelcome, but it did come as a surprise that it came to easily. I really thought I’d have to labor at it to get myself back into that headspace, but lo and behold, it just happened. It seemed like one of those things just meant to happen. My working state is much different from that, but that’s Puma for you. It really was just picking up a thread and following it through the wood to its conclusion. It was nearly effortless. It was the good old days all over again, in a way, except a lot of baggage had been cleared so there was no impediment to it. I really just enjoyed the whole thing top to bottom. I continue to be extremely grateful to Drew and to Stephen for giving me the chance to tie up those ends. It was a wonderful experience.

When collecting the series was proposed, was it always with the idea of making an epilogue of some kind?

We had to quit too soon. Where it stopped just happened to be a good place for it to stop–him standing alone in the desert. I just love the way we segued as quickly as possible from the past to the present tense, at least in Gavia’s world. It worked really well, in my opinion, instead of picking up from the last panel. That probably would have been terribly difficult. As an old man dying of cancer we get to see the world through his experience and his hindsight. It really is a much grimmer place than when we left. It was bad enough then, but wow. It’s not a cheerful book, let’s put it that way. We did do things like videoconferencing, the armored taxi cabs, the terrorist attack on New York City, things like that that seems vaguely prescient.The industrial-military complex. Environmental degradation, which seems to be still an issue. The vague utopian still within me believes it should have been solved or at least agreed upon by this point in time. It still hasn’t been even though everybody knows exactly what’s going on. Nothing really seems to change.

Puma was never a happy book, but the epilogue was grim. Is that the difference of 25-30 years and yours and Stephen’s changing perspectives?

In a lot of ways. We both believe very much the same things now that we did then. That things should be taken care of, and taken care of very quickly, but other interests have a different agenda. The end result was we basically screwed up right to the very bitter end. A lot of me honestly at this stage in my life believes that’s possible. I do not think it will come from atomic warfare because that would be bad for business. I don’t think nuclear armageddon is around the corner anytime soon unless some fringe nut does something horrible with one, which is always a possibility these days.

Part of me hopes that the human race as a whole has a collective unconscious, as Jung would put it, that’s actively trying to not kill us all and wipe us all out. If we do it will be out of sheer hubris, which I see a lot of these days even more than I did back then. As far as I’m concerned these days the drug of choice is oneself, with the rise of easily available technology that tends to turn the eye inward to the self. Unfortunately it doesn’t go deep enough, it only goes to the mundane day to day existence. For instance when I was flying home from New York in October I sat across the aisle from a young woman and she was going through photographs she’d taken and it was literally recounting her entire day. Everything she ate, everything she saw, everybody she talked to. I thought, you were just at a place where all these amazing creative people had gathered to express themselves and all you bothered to do was take pictures of what you were doing and eating? She’s a somnambulist. You’re asleep, you’re not looking, you’re not experiencing life. You’re just there to put images on your machine because you don’t feel real and you need some kind of evidence that you are here now other than participating in the life you’re living. I found that terribly sad. When I say the drug of choice these days is ourselves, I really mean it. We are our own amusement. How are we ever going to get anything done when we’re so absorbed in the minutiae of our own lives? I find that very sad and tragic and bittersweet. There’s a lot in this world that needs attending to and experiencing.

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The nature drawings in Puma especially, but so much of the detail in the book feels like an act of witness.

It is. It’s an idea that we’re surrounded in what scientists call the ecosphere, for lack of a better word. It’s this incredibly beautiful and sophisticated system and somehow we think we’re separate from it? I don’t think so. We are not superior to it, we are a part of it and we should take care of it because in doing so we take care of ourselves as a species, too. If not for nature and the earth’s own sake, do it at least for your sake and your children’s sake. That’s all we have got. One day somebody could stop your electricity. What are you going to do? You’re completely unprepared to think about life without your support systems. I don’t mean to be excessively grim. I see a lot of hope. I cling tenaciously to it, but at the same time, Puma is sort of a shot across the bow to wake the fuck up. Take a real good look around you and see what’s really there. Participate in it. Because like it or not you are part of it.

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That moment in the coda when Gavia dies, this vision of the universe bearing witness to itself. That everything is connected and everything matters.

At the heart of Puma there is a bright little glow. That’s what we were trying to express with the Coda. You see the Zoo kids unmasking. There’s a point where Gavia says let the women lead the next one. Well, the first zoo kid to unmask that you see is a woman. That book she’s kneeling in front of is his diary. In one sense it’s say hello to the new boss, same as the old boss, but also that someone else is potentially running the show. There’s a glimmer of hope there. Hold onto that.

When he dies, I was dreading it. It was very, very personal to me. I researched the faces of people who died of opiate overdose very closely. I tried to make it as accurate as possible. Ecce homo, you know. That was a very difficult page for me to draw. Personally, emotionally, it was wrenching. I don’t know if you’d call it a ridiculous epiphany, but I was relieved when that was over. I really was. That was the hardest page to do of all the series–of anything I did. I wanted it to feel that way. I wanted it to feel how he felt. I don’t know if I made it or not, but I did certainly give it my best.

It’s not a quiet or peaceful death, it’s a brutal and sad moment.

Given his back story, in a way it’s like a Greek tragedy, it all seems to be inevitable. How else can you see that character go? It had to be that way. The seeds of that was planted form the very first page.

If he was going to get old, he would have a hard death.

It does seem inevitable. That that’s the way it would go. There was a lot of love in that page. Gavia is someone I’ve lived with and interpreted for a very long time. That series made me me–the guy that went on to do The Wake and Alice Cooper and all of those things. I owe Gavia a great deal. I think of him as a person. I know he’s fiction, but there’s a definite psychological reality to him as a person that I feel deeply connected to and very fortunate to have been his interpreter in this physical world. I am a Jungian and I can get out there sometimes if I’m not curtailed.

I think the epilogue works and I think one reason it did was jumping ahead as it did, and so the epilogue becomes its own thing.

Well, Thank you. Hopefully we got that right. I think Stephen did. To my mind he took the right approach, as succinctly as possible running through the years up to the point where everything converges and the last act is played out. I found very strange that there’s one scene in the new stuff where Bowie is 93 and he’s fading out and sure as shit, not more than six or eight months later, he does. A lot of people took that really hard. I hadn’t taken anything that hard since Lennon died in ’80.

I wondered what you were working on now.

I’m planning an exhibition right now of collected works on paper. I have material from the first issue of Puma all the way up to my own book Fracture. And single pieces, original fine art.

One reason I wanted to ask is because in recent years you’ve moved away from doing comics.

Not by my own choice. The industry itself has become entirely unfriendly to people like me. I don’t see a lot in it now that interests me. There’s no room for someone as independent as I am anymore. It’s all very slick, monitored and the system grinds on continually shoving talent into the meat grinder and spitting it out the other end. I’m not about product. I invest a lot of myself into my work and that’s simply not an option much these days. The reign of the superhero has succeeded and anything else is lucky to survive. I’ve personally have always been very fond of the once or twice a year graphic volume like the French do. I always thought that was a more mature and expressive form than the weekly or monthly comic format. It’s far more artistic, open and expressive than the formula that’s currently operating here in North America. But that’s just my opinion. Just take it as the inane babblings of an old curmudgeon. [laughs] I would have no problem at all working in comics if there were something there for me to work on. It’s not my fault, kids!

A few years ago you wrote and drew The Fracture of the Universal Boy and you originally said that you would make more.

I had a second and third volume in the works, but I decided to cancel. There’s a lot of back story to that book that I’m afraid I can’t really discuss. What’s done is done. I did have the second volume entirely plotted out and it was going to be much different from the first one. Fracture was an exploration of creativity and what the creative person goes through to win the freedom to express themselves–and succeed in doing it, which I think at times I have. It’s not about me in general or in particular. I really did try to build a character who could symbolically represent this. For weeks I struggled with this. Since I know my own face as well as or better than anyone else I just figured I’d use a bit of me. I’m acting out the role to a certain extent, but it’s not really about me. It really is about the psycho-spiritual nexus of creativity.

There’s a long tradition of artists using their own faces for their work.

Goya did it, Rembrandt did it, Van Gogh did it. No particular set of features and characteristics were coming together that seemed to meld into a viable vehicle for the representation of the main character. I came up with basically a reworking of me. I don’t even totally look like that character but he resembles me in many respects. It’s an avatar in a way of a creative person. That’s all. Period. Moral of the story is, kids, don’t let your kids grow up to be artists because they are really going to take a lot of shit. [laughs] It’s not the most secure job position in the world.

I hate the term suffer for your art because you don’t suffer for your art. You suffer because you’re an artist, not for your work. Your work is a joy. Your work is always joy. You’re made to suffer for it because to do this on many levels you have to be an outsider from the group. You have to be the lone tree on a hill standing looking down at the forest. You have to separate yourself or you are separated just by the sheer fact that you have become an artistic entity. As soon as you do that the rest of the trees in that forest somehow find you suspicious and untrustworthy or odd. That you have some kind of narcissistic drive that is telling everybody else that somehow you’re privileged when in fact bearing an artistic gift takes a great deal of struggle a great deal of strength and endurance. It takes as much as it gives and the older and better you get at it, the more it takes and the more it gives. You never stop. The more you learn the less you know. You have to keep very very in touch with the muse and when that muse decides to go it’s one of the most painful things in the world. It’s like part of you is amputated. There’s an empty spot in your world and when it comes back, it’s pure joy. You fly. You fly and you fall. It’s a constant iteration of Icarus and Daedalus.

It was interesting to read Puma, which is some of your oldest and newest work.

My newest work nobody’s actually seen. Fracture came out a number of years ago and I’ve gone down many different paths since then. I hope it’s seen eventually. If comics lure me back–if there’s a collaboration with someone I feel has got something to say and wants me to help say it–I’d be more than happy to. With provisos, of course. I require a certain amount of autonomy to work, which these days I am stubbornly unwilling to give up. The more you give to the industry, the less they’ll take. You have to draw a line somewhere and I’ve drawn mine. We’ll see if we can meet somewhere and maybe make some real art for a change. But c’est la vie. I’m open to anything, really. That’s my current state of being.

I’m deeply grateful to Drew for pulling this together and I am immensely proud of this book. I just want to thank everybody that’s ever been involved and anybody that’s ever read it or will read it. It’s just wee little Michael trying to find his way through the woods and basically coming out somewhere on a good note. I don’t think my career is over yet. Not by a long shot. I plan to stick around and bug the fuck out of people for a long time. [laughs] It’s like an old blues guy, they stop playing when they die. One day I hope to die at my easel with a brush in my hand, and just slip quietly out the back door.

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“I Never Thought of Myself as a Cartoonist”: A Glen Baxter Interview http://www.tcj.com/i-never-thought-of-myself-as-a-cartoonist-a-glen-baxter-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/i-never-thought-of-myself-as-a-cartoonist-a-glen-baxter-interview/#respond Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=94074 Continue reading ]]> Glen Baxter has been creating strange, perplexing, delightful pieces that blur (and possibly erase) the lines between art and comics since the 1970s. His work comprises a fully realized and delightfully odd world of cowboys, Boy Scouts, knights, wimples, snoods – a vocabulary of authority and adventure turned on its head that puts one in mind of a sane Henry Darger. He cites the collages of Max Ernst as an influence, and indeed his work has much of the straight-faced drollery of an Ernst collage, the same sense of playful subversion. Edward Gorey was an early champion, and there’s a certain shared DNA in their respective oeuvres – a Surreal shiver, a laugh earned not by a traditional joke, but through tension built up by the juxtaposition of the quotidian and the utterly strange. Baxter makes his home in London, and was kind enough to answer my questions via email. His new collection, Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings, is available now from New York Review Comics.

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Emily Flake: I was struck by something you said in an interview about the watching a Busby Berkeley film and experiencing it as a Surrealist piece of work. Your work seems to take the surface of an art form, divorce it from its original intent, and repurpose it for your own wonderful, absurdist ends. How did you come to work this way? Do you have a love for the source material itself, or more for the aesthetics of the work?

Glen Baxter: I grew up in a Northern industrial town after World War II. The only escape from the boredom, the grit, and the grey was the local Library and perhaps more importantly the Cinema. I often used to go three times a week (they changed the program three times each week). I remember walking into this darkened cavern with the flickering screen already alight with scenes of derring-do…

An island in a hurricane sometimes and memorably a city scene shot in black and white. An odd-looking man wearing a belted trench coat was leaning up against a tall building. New York cop walked by, tapping his billy club — “Hey waddya think your’e doing, buster, holding the building up? Scram!”

The figure immediately obeys and the building falls down.

It was my first Marx Brothers movie and my hero was Harpo…

So you see this sense of fractured narrative was already in place in the mind of this young lad. Then Surrealism kicked in and I was hooked.

Of course I didn’t know it was called Surrealism. I only discovered that later, when I escaped to art school. Everything André Breton said seemed to make sense. I came home from school one day and my mom was watching Dames on our TV. That’s SURREALISM! I exclaimed.

“Be quiet, Glen — it’s a Hollywood musical,” came back the reply.

Too late. I knew I was on the right track…

Your drawings look as if they’d been clipped out of an obscure children’s book from an earlier time. From what do you draw the inspiration for your drawing? That authoritative, strong line has an almost parental, reassuring, genial quality. Is that what makes it so much fun to subvert with the caption?

I was really blown away by the collages of Max Ernst: spooky, haunting, absurd. All these old steel engravings from the Victorian era with a magisterial authority subverted by the artist. THIS is what I wanted to do — but Ernst had already done it, so how to proceed?

Actually his work has been pre-dated by two English chaps, E. V. Lucas and George Morrow (the latter a Punch cartoonist).

They had collaborated on a collage novel way back in in 1911 called What a Life – it’s a photo Dada masterpiece, included in the Dada and Surrealism exhibition in NYC in 1936. It’s in the catalog.

But what to do? I had been collecting loads of old children’s adventure stories, partly because they were inexpensive and had beautiful color covers. I did this by trawling boot fairs (yard sales) and picked them up for a song because nobody else wanted them. Max Ernst did exactly the same thing with the steel engravings, picking them up at flea markets in Paris for next to nothing.

So here were the raw materials!

I loved the authority of the black line and realized that with a little tweaking I could create fragments of an absurdist narrative. I was reading Kafka and Raymond Roussel, so it just fell into place. So I had managed to avoid the trap of collage and felt liberated to draw in a way that seems to evoke this reassuring quality that NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG. Much like the work of Magritte… I’ve never looked back.

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Speaking of which, your work—to my eyes—subverts and upends, but does not seem to mock. That is, there doesn’t seem to be anything mean-spirited about it, but rather a generosity of spirit, a willingness to play. At the risk of sounding unbearably woo-woo, can you talk a bit about the “soul” of your work?

How I would love to be, as you say, WOO WOO – that’s hilarious! But you’re right — I don’t want to mock and certainly not be mean-spirited. It’s meant to be an act of subversion and hence liberation! What I really want the viewer to experience is the exact feeling of not knowing what to make of things. This DISLOCATION is a vital ingredient of SURREALISM of course.

To experience what the French call a FRISSON on encountering the marvelous and the unexplained, and somehow having to try to make sense of it – as I did all those years ago…

Do you draw the images first, or write first?

Tricky one this. Usually it’s drawing, but sometimes I have a word or a phrase I want to use. You will notice that snoods, wimples, and tofu appear from time to time.

One great achievement – I think – was my drawing IT WAS RUDOLPH’S TURN TO LUBRICATE THE CINDERS. It’s absurd but it also makes a kind of sense.

Also Wittgenstein did creep in to my early books. Art and philosophy are often present.

I did originally start out as a poet. I was invited to the Poetry Project at St Mark’s Church, NYC, to read from my works, by Larry Fagin (Adventures in Poetry) and Ron Padgett in 1974. I stood up at the lectern in the church and read to an audience of poets, filmmakers, and writers. They roared with laughter. After years of rejection in England I had found my audience.

After my talk I was encouraged to submit some drawings for exhibition at the GOTHAM BOOK MART GALLERY, which I did and had three shows there in subsequent years. At one of these exhibitions, I met Edward Gorey, who became a big supporter and one of the first people to buy my work.

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Over the course of your career, the definitions of “art” and “comics” — and the lines between the two — have blurred considerably. Has this affected your reception in the art world? How do you think of yourself as an artist?

I never thought of myself as a cartoonist. I came from art school with only a vague appreciation of comics. At that time (mid-1960s) comics were not a big deal in England. It was really the French who took up the cause, and suddenly comics were treated seriously and revered, their historical roots explored, etc… Bande dessinée is big in France, as anyone who has been to Angoulême can testify. I have had three shows there over the years.

In those early days the word CARTOON usually meant POLITICAL or SATIRICAL and TOPICAL. I think you will agree my work does not fall into any of these categories. To many it’s not FUNNY either. But in a way, I don’t TRY to be funny — it’s just the way the scenario turns out! The humor is a release. I don’t TRY to make people laugh. I just want to direct them to see the strange in everyday life. It’s all around us.

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Meeting Mr. Munch http://www.tcj.com/meeting-mr-munch/ http://www.tcj.com/meeting-mr-munch/#respond Thu, 21 Jul 2016 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93919 Continue reading ]]>
Munch_cover

 

Sometimes an artist unleashes a character no-one saw coming. In 2013, that was Steffen Kverneland’s portrait of Norway’s Edvard Munch. His graphic biography Munch shows “The Scream”’s creator to be a demonic party boy, an angry son and faithful nephew, a youthful nihilist and a tireless self-promoter.

Now, finally, you can make his acquaintance in English.

Its story zips around in time but its action is anchored in 1890s Berlin. There, Kverneland plunges you into a sexy, bohemian hothouse. Thanks to years of research, all the speech you hear is real. But best of all, the book is a visual fiesta. Munch steals from Munch, from portraiture, from punk, from early silent films and 19th century salon painting – not to mention a whole parade of isms: Impressionism, Cubism, Symbolism, Expressionism, Secessionism and more. Although its touch is light, this is art of erudition – made by a fan of Hogarth, Turner, Schiele, Caravaggio, Grosz, Matisse, Freud and Bacon.

Kverneland even writes himself into the tale. Here he’s accompanied by a friend, cartoonist Lars Fiske. The pair pop up frequently to conduct a tipsy argument about how the Munch story should be told.

To find out how he pulled it off, I tracked Kverneland down in Oslo. There, well before Munch, he was famous for his series Classics Amputated (that title is a pun on the Norwegian version of Classics Illustrated). But… let’s turn the history over to him.

Many new readers will meet you through the English version. Give us just a bit of background…

I come from Haugesund, a medium-small city on the west coast of Norway, and even before I could read I was into comics. Actually, I learned to read from Donald Duck. We also had Batman, Superman and Tarzan. Later, I got some French-Belgian comics in a weekly magazine: it had Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, Comanche and Blueberry. Heavy Metal was also sold in the Haugesund kiosks and, thanks to that, I read about RAW in Lou Stathis’ column. Then, in my twenties, I moved to Oslo where I came across the anthology Read Yourself RAW.

RAW made everything seem possible in comics – there were no limits to how far you could go artistically. In my career, getting to know RAW was probably the single most important influence.

I started Classics Amputated back in the 1990s, when I was part of this Oslo literary milieu. It was mostly students and they started a highbrow literary magazine called Vagant. They asked me to do some illustrations and comics for that. At the time, I was into modernism, absurdism, Beckett and William Burroughs cut-ups. But discovering RAW had made an enormous impact on me.

Why was it such a turning point?

Until I discovered RAW, I tried to pursue three separate careers simultaneously. I was a fine artist making paintings and drawings, an editorial cartoonist doing political satire for the money, and a comics artist. I did both commercial work – like the Norwegian MAD – and my own experimental comics. Then it dawned on me that I could combine them all, in clever highbrow comics with radical graphics.

So I did some cut-ups from literary texts, mixed them up and drew some naked politicians uttering all these mashed up fragments, just subversive, anarchistic stuff like that. It was all very spontaneous, improvised and great fun to make. Later, I approached one of the big Norwegian newspapers and asked if they wanted to run my Classics Amputated series. They gave it a full page in the Sunday literary section.

This meant I had to work my ass off. But, with this great new audience, my work became increasingly refined, controlled, and less nonsensical. But I had a doctrine, a Dogme 95-style vow of not cheating with the quotations. They always had to be accurate.

My credo was that every fragment of text, no matter how trivial, could be turned into a comic – and I did a great variety. There were literary classics like Dante’s Divine Comedy, which I set in Las Vegas and which was “played” by Frank Sinatra (as Dante), Dean Martin (as Virgil), Bettie Page (as Beatrice) and Elvis Presley (as God). I also did pulp romances, interviews with politicians and novels by contemporary Norwegian authors.

How did Classics Amputated lead you to Munch?

One day the editor gave me a copy of Rolf Stenersens’ 1946 Munch biography. It’s this first-hand story of the young author’s meeting with the old painter-genius. It’s absolutely hilarious, but still sort of accurate – and it was perfect for me to pick out the funniest anecdotes and “amputate” them. From the very first panel I made, there was just no doubt: Munch would be perfect as a comic book character. This was during the late ‘90s. Then, in 2004, I illustrated a Munch biography for youth. He also made cameo appearances in some of my other work during the ‘90s. But, in terms of me making Munch, the Classics Amputated were central – both in choosing him as a character and in the rules to use proper quotations, credit all the sources, etc.

Your fellow artist Lars Fiske is also important. In the book, everything starts when you two hit the Munch Museum and start decrying the painter’s “myth”…

Munch_229

Since the mid-‘90s, Lars has been published by the same guys as me, so we would meet at parties. Later, we were both guests at a Norwegian comics festival. We hated it; the program was just too commercial and lowbrow for us. So we snuck off to drink beer and talk about art, music and comics. It was so much fun we began meeting up back in Oslo. Then, in 2002, I invited Lars to contribute some panels and a comic-essay for my book Slyngel (Rascal). It was a book of two autobiographical comics. One contained childhood memories, but the other one had a story about Fiske and me at the boring festival. That became the prototype for all the nerdy, gonzo docu-comics we’ve been making since.

In 2004, we released the collaboration Olaf G. It’s a graphic biography combined with a sort of gonzo travelogue. Its subject is the Norwegian master Olaf Gulbransson who, in 1902, was headhunted by the excellent German satire mag Simplicissimus. In search of his story, we went to Munich and Bavaria, then we wrote and drew the book together. That collaboration became really successful and it was published in Norway, Sweden and Germany. It was supposed to come out in English from Fantagraphics, too, until the tragic demise of Kim Thompson intervened.

Lars and I kept on working together. In 2006, we published the first volume of KANON – which was meant to be an annual book with new work from each of us. No. 1 had Lars’ first chapter from what became Herr Merz, his graphic biography of the German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. My contribution was Munch’s first installment.  We’ve put out five numbers of KANON but, over the last few years, Lars and I have worked more separately. However, we plan to revive it in the not-too-distant future.

Once you decided to tackle Munch, where did you begin?

One thing was for sure – I did not want to do a linear, strictly chronological, cribbed-to-death biography. That’s a terrible structure, probably the worst you can choose. It’s highly predictable, it obliges you to include a ridiculous amount of boring transitional scenes – and it always ends with the death.

It’s puzzling to think of now but the key scene for me, this scene I was longing to draw, came from this story about a party at the villa of a poet, Richard Dehmel. It’s where Munch’s buddy Stachu Prszybyszewsky finally goes nuts. He takes off all his clothes, goes out to the woodshed in the middle of a winter’s night and starts posing as Satan (Munch, page 128-130). It was as if this fairly unknown anecdote, hilarious but also shocking, was simply beckoning me to make its comic adaptation. This was not part of the Myth of the Holy Genius Munch as we all knew it.

This Polish writer – a heavy drinker, a Satanist and a sexoholic – who was a close friend of Munch’s, he really intrigued me. So, of course, did Strindberg who I also looked forward to drawing and learning more about. Plus there were the women, like the mysterious Dagny Juel. She marries Przybyszewsky and gets shot to death at the age of 33. What was her story? I already knew that, during those feverish years in Berlin, Munch made practically all of his best-known works. That was when he became the Munch we know today.

Stachu the sexoholic impersonating Satan © Steffen Kverneland, all rights reserved

Stachu the sexoholic impersonating Satan © Steffen Kverneland, all rights reserved

So I decided to do a comic strictly about his Berlin years. That wouldn’t take forever to research, write and draw, but it would still make a strong, unified composition – maybe a hundred pages, tops. The title was going to be something like “Munch – Berlin”. It would begin with Munch’s arrival there and end with his departure; simple, logical and no-nonsense.

That was the initial plan?

Yeah, so I started buying all kinds of Munch books and reading everything about this relatively limited period of his life. I took notes of all the anecdotes and scenes, all that stuff I wanted to include. For me, the genesis has to be unpredictable and I have to be really engaged in the process – getting excited when I discover a good scene or anecdote I didn’t know, and able to start drawing those things right away. Of course, this meant I sometimes had to redraw whole chapters, or at least scenes, because I would suddenly stumble across a source superior to the one I had used. Maybe it would be closer to the subject, or funnier, or more detailed.

The real problem was that Munch’s life just didn’t follow a strict chronology. He would jump around all over his “timeline”. His credo “I do not paint what I see but what I saw” says it all. When he was in his early thirties in Berlin, for instance, he was painting about his first love and losing his virginity. Which had happened ten years before, back in Norway. So I was forced to expand my story immensely.

Munch_039But you stuck with historically accurate dialogue and descriptions?

I did, but it became increasingly harder to make this giant jigsaw puzzle fall into place. Often the story line would demand I get from A to B, yet I wouldn’t have any sources to make the transition. I finally solved this problem with three storytelling “crutches”. One, I would use radical jump cuts and then trust the reader to piece things together. Two, I employed what I started to call my “time-machine”: the scenes where Munch lies in his bed, drinking or smoking and remembering exactly when and where I needed the story to go. My third “crutch” was introducing the meta-level in which Lars and I appear to comment, digress and drink – but where we also take the reader from one scene to the next. That way, things never become predictable. But I assure you it was hard; often, it felt really impossible.

Did you have a Munch-like Dark Night of the Soul?

When I was doing the final editing of the story, I lost faith in it. I was alone in my summer place over a few weeks’ time. I was sitting there shuffling printouts of all those pages that, during the six preceding years, had appeared in KANON as five neat chapters. “A piece of cake”, I was thinking, as I sipped my whisky and started trying to organize them into a book. Only: it just didn’t work. Taken out of their context within each issue of KANON, the chapters seemed impossible to unite, they wouldn’t speak with each other. They didn’t connect. “Oh fuck”, I started thinking, “There’s no story in here. It’s just a pile of unconnected scenes. I’ve wasted seven years of my life!”

This went on for a week or two and it was truly horrible.  But, eventually, I was able to see some possibilities. If I made some new pages here, cut the entire sequence there, added a whole new intro in this place and a splash page in another one, moved certain scenes from the beginning to the end… and so on and so on until, at last, it kind of worked and made sense.

All your main characters – Strindberg, Munch, the Polish Satanist – are each portrayed in very singular styles. All of them resemble the real historical figures, but you also visualise their actual psychologies… especially with Strindberg. He’s clearly both a poet and a total madman.

When I designed the different characters, I would gather as many visual sources as I could: paintings, drawings and, hopefully, lots of photos. I would print them out, spread them around me, then start sketching. First I would sketch realistically, explore and get to know their faces. Then, gradually, I would try and exaggerate distinguishing features, break them down into simple, almost abstract – but, hopefully, easy to recognize – comic characters.

That process was very important because often I needed that level of abstraction. With Strindberg, for instance – and also with Munch himself – I had to go as far as I could. Because each of them had such an expressive character and temperament, and Strindberg… well, he was sometimes just plain crazy. When he went ballistic, I could be consciously inspired by expressionistic Cubism, adding a few dashes of emotional abstraction via the likes of Ralph Steadman and Peter Bagge.

My main problems came from minor, less famous, characters, for whom there were few or maybe no photos. In one case, all I had was a single caricature. I couldn’t even know if it was actually good or bad, it was just all I had. There was the same problem with their hangout in Berlin, the notorious Schwarzen Ferkel bar. All the written sources have to say about its interior is that the walls were filled with shelves ­– and they were crammed with bottles of booze. I just had to invent it.

A German caricaturist remembers Munch © Steffen Kverneland, all rights reserved

A German caricaturist remembers Munch © Steffen Kverneland, all rights reserved

Colors and styles I use in different ways for various reasons. For instance to indicate different points in time, as when full color indicates the  “present”, i.e. Berlin during the 1890s. Brown paper signifies flashbacks to childhood and youth; the black-and-white “photo-realism” historic documentation, like when Munch’s older self remembers his younger days. The sketchy line drawings on white paper are hasty notes, as if they were “made in the field” when me and Lars are out and about.

This freedom to change styles didn’t exist in comics during the ‘80s. It wasn’t even an option, nobody did it because it would be wrong, a “mistake”. The most important thing a comic artist had was his personal style. In terms of this, my first epiphanies came from Stray Toasters and Elektra Assassin by Bill Sienkiewicz. In those, he seemed to change styles just on a whim or whenever he felt like it. And it worked! If the script was tight, I realized, clearly you could draw with any style you wanted. The reader would still connect; it was no obstacle to the story. This apparently total freedom deeply impressed me, and I’ve been taking the same liberties ever since.

With Munch, did you have to stay flexible until the end?

Yes because reality never ceases to surprise you. Unlike fiction, it’s totally unpredictable. What surprised me most – although it was a blessing – was Munch’s own character. The myth about him is this black hole of a man, a suffering, haunted genius, starving, misunderstood, half-mad and always sad. But there were many more sides to him; just like the rest of mankind, he was a lot more complex.

For instance, he was known by friends to be a very funny guy who told jokes, wrote them hilarious letters and like to draw crude caricatures of himself on picture postcards. He was always surrounded by both friends and supporters. Munch had an enormous amount of self-confidence, too; when it came to promoting himself, he was really aggressive and inventive.

Of course, none of this was news to the academics and experts. But in general, with films, documentaries, novels, articles and the like, the same old myth is still being hammered home. I was actually interviewed in a recent documentary, Let the Scream be Heard, by Indian filmmaker Dheeraj Akolkar. He was and still is a big fan of my book – and yet he edited out everything I said that contradicted all the old myths. I was furious! But it just shows, those myths will always be there.

Graphic bios are really trendy – but a lot are just flat failures. Munch is something totally different. For one thing, it really shows how creativity works, the roles played by accident, friendships and chance discoveries.

To me, the great advantage of comics is their ability, when they’re done right, to show instead of tell. This applies especially to graphic bios of artists. Comic artists often know a lot about how paintings and drawings are conceptualized and made, so they can often visualize the process instead of merely trying to somehow “describe” it.

However I think there are three major traps. One is indulging in the myth: the starving, lonely, misunderstood, tragic genius. Two is the predictable, repetitive recounting of the artist’s life as seen from a great distance. Just transmitting information is, in terms of a graphic novel, really extremely boring. Three is adding irrelevant and banal “artistic” elements, most often elements of magic realism, to your story. It shows you don’t trust the project and never should have started it.

Kim Thompson would be over the moon having Munch in English. Almost every other language beat us to the punch!

Being published in English was my ultimate ambition or maybe I should say “hope”. I think it’s the wet dream of every comic artist. An English translation is your key to the rest of the world, you can really send it to any publisher anywhere. This is where the loss of Kim is enormous.

I hope no one forgets what he accomplished and all the bridges he built.

Even before it (even) came out in Norway, Kim told me he was going to publish Munch. He wanted to translate it himself, so we were having email discussions about that. For instance, I suggested that my own Norwegian dialect become a Southern drawl. But Kim felt that would make me sound too stupid. Instead, he decided to give Lars this kind of posh ‘Queen’s English’ voice. He was such a great guy, it’s so terribly sad he died.

In 2011, you know, he was a special guest at the Oslo Comix Expo. There, from the stage, he announced that Fanta was going to publish Olaf G. Which, of course, was thrilling for Lars and me to hear. Afterwards, we all ended up in a little neighborhood bar. Just Kim and his wife, Lars and his wife, me and Liv. We had a really great time. All of us were fans of the HBO series “Deadwood” and the weird eloquence of that character Al Swearengen. So we ended up all using the foulest language we could manage… We all appreciated a little break from comics-as-business.

Munch by Steffen Kverneland is now available in English from SelfMade Hero

 

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The Webtoon: A New Form for Graphic Narrative http://www.tcj.com/the-webtoon-a-new-form-for-graphic-narrative/ http://www.tcj.com/the-webtoon-a-new-form-for-graphic-narrative/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=93460 Continue reading ]]> It is always difficult to define terms, and this remains true for the many forms of graphic narrative. Various forms and different kinds of content make categories provisional, and the way terms are used changes over time. “Webcomics” generally means comics published on a website. But more strictly it refers to comics that are specifically created for and published/released on a computer platform. The term “webcomics” is often used interchangeably with terms such as “digital comics,” “online comics,” and “internet comics” although “digital comics” is sometimes used as an umbrella term that refers to all different digitally produced and distributed forms, including CD-ROM comics and mobile comics. Theorist and creator of webcomics Scott McCloud emphasizes the importance of digital creation—how things change when a creator purposely sets out to create a work for a digital platform—over the effects of digital distribution and circulation. He uses the term “infinite canvas” to characterize the virtually endless page of webcomics (or digital comics) compared to the print page of paper comics (Reinventing Comics 222).

McCloud’s claim about the virtually endless page of the webcomic can be questioned, however, since it does not provide an infinite canvas in practice, despite its conceptual potential. For instance, screen size and shape limit the way in which a creator produces comic panels and also the way the reader accesses them. Despite this, as I discuss in detail below, the webcomic has been constantly evolving, in a process that involves challenging its own limits and inventing not only new artistic forms but new cultural practices, such as different types of distribution and consumption, transmedial creation, and reader-writer interactions. In this article, I examine the differences between print comics and Korean webcomics, or webtoons, and the effects and implications that those differences generate in terms of the aesthetics of webcomics as a new medium, and also discuss the place of Korean webcomics from a comparative perspective. I lay out two general observations. First, “webtoon” is neither an equivalent general term like “webcomics,” nor is it a genre of comics; rather, the webtoon is a complex system created by the distinctive combination of two media (comics and the digital)—one that has brought about a discrete set of interlinked, mutually implicated changes in comics form and aesthetics, production process, and reading practice, and in the concepts and boundaries of authorship and readership, distribution, and consumption of cultural capital. Second, this web graphic narrative, developed in Korea specifically to utilize some of the potential that the digital platform offers, is a new mass media form that links to multiple media technologies and to contemporary mass media.

What is a webtoon, then? A webtoon is a combination of web and cartoon, and was coined in Korea to refer to webcomics. At first, many different terms were used to refer to these digital comics published on websites in Korea. One example is webmic (a compound of “web” and “comics”), which soon lost out to webtoon (a compound of “web” and “cartoon”; Song Yosep 123). In 2000, a Korean web portal managed by Ch’ŏllian had just created a new site for internet comics named “Webtoon.” But most of the comics appearing on this site followed conventional print formats; they continued to use page layouts modeled on printed pages. Webtoon was also briefly used to refer to flash animation, but that meaning soon disappeared (Pak Sŏhwan 128). Before long webtoon became the standard term for comics that are created for and consumed on the internet in Korea.

Among many differences between print and web comics, the most significant is the webtoon’s vertical layout. Before vertical-layout webtoons, comics creators who published their works on internet portal sites such as N4 and Comics Today (K’omiksŭ t’udei) in 1999-2000 created horizontal pages that were designed to fit the landscape layout of a computer screen, or that showed one-half of a page of a conventional comics format at a time (Pak Inha 69-70). Once the vertical layout appeared, it was quickly adopted by many artists and now dominates webtoon format. The first Korean webcomic that used this new form was Sim Sŭnghyŏn’s Pape and Popo’s Memories, serialized on a group blog page on Daum, a Korean web portal, in 2002 (Pak Inha 68). It used a vertical layout, and readers could use the scroll wheel on a mouse to read it. The comic that triggered the popularity of this vertical-layout format was Sunjŏng manhwa (A romance comic), created by a well-known webtoon artist, Kang P’ul, and serialized on the Daum portal the following year, 2003 (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/109).

Figure 1. Kang P’ul, A Romance Comic (2003) (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/109)

Figure 1. Kang P’ul, A Romance Comic (2003)
(http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/109)

 The form was then rapidly picked up by other creators and used in webcomics on portal sites such as Daum and Naver, which maintained sections for webcomics on their sites to increase visitor traffic.

Another significant characteristic of the webtoon is its transmediality. Webtoons play a central role within transmedia cultural production while being distributed through multiple platforms and re-created/co-created in this process. Webtoons themselves also become platforms for transmedia tie-ins in which diverse media features converge to create novel aesthetic effects and new cultural genres. Through webtoon’s key aspects of transmedia storytelling and transmedia tie-ins, I examine below the distinctive cultural practices surrounding the webtoon industry in Korea.

The early dominance in Korea of the vertical layout in color is not a phenomenon that took place in other webcomics markets. In Japan, for instance, many webcomics still use a page-like format derived from print and are often in black and white. The situation is similar in the U.S., where either short comic strips or page format for longer comics are popularly used in webcomics. In other words, in Japan and the U.S., as discussed further below, distinctive webcomics forms that would define a new direction of comics culture as a whole have not developed much since moving to digital platforms, although there are some innovative works of individual authors and artists. In these sense, webtoons in Korea appear to have broken away from inheritances from print publication more quickly than have webcomics in other places. After close examination of two distinctive characteristics of webtoons—verticality and transmediality—I therefore discuss the emerging global connections of the webtoon industry. By comparing the Korean webtoon phenomenon with the cases of webcomics in the U.S and Japan, I argue that the webtoon as a new media form is a collective innovation that has both changed overall comics culture and secured its place as a leading popular-culture form in Korea.

Korean comics are noticeably understudied. With the hope that this article can be utilized for (Asian) popular culture courses and (new) media studies courses for undergraduates, I discuss a broad spectrum of webtoon narratives, comparing them with print comics in Korea and webcomics in the U.S and Japan, rather than conducting lengthy analysis of the content of specific comics.

Verticality: Changes in Space, Time, and Directionality

Comics is a medium that interweaves both word and image and thus requires readers to exercise both “visual and verbal interpretive skills” (Eisner 2). It is also a “sequential art” as Will Eisner has defined it, later elaborated by Scott McCloud as being “pictorial and other images [juxtaposed] in deliberate sequence” (Understanding 9). Comics is also a form with specific vocabulary and grammar. Its most fundamental elements are panels (or frames), gutters (the spaces between panels), speech balloons, and text boxes (or captions). How a story is delivered in comics is determined by the way the creator frames a moment in a panel that is itself part of a continuous flow of movement, and also by the way he or she composes the image and text within the frames and arranges those frames sequentially.

One of the most significant differences that the vertical layout creates concerns the role of the gutter spaces. As many comics scholars have argued, the gutter is the space where the reader’s most active participation takes place. It is in this space that the reader actively connects the adjacent panels to construct the narrative flow. For instance, if we see a panel where a man is yawning while watching TV and the next panel shows the same man lying down in bed wearing pajamas, we, the readers, fill in what is missing between the panels: that the man decides to go to bed, turns off the TV, changes into his pajamas, turns off the lights, and lies down. This is what the readers construct to generate meaning or to create movement from still images. In this way, gutter spaces are a unique and generative feature of comics.

Despite their critical role, the gutters in conventional print comics are a visually dull, monotonous space, usually a narrow, white space between panels. But in webtoons, the gutter is used to create a diversified visual space to accompany the text. The gutter sometimes occupies more space than the panels and actively contributes to the narrative in various ways. In some cases, it is used to express the duration of time and/or changes of location by its length. A distinctively long gutter implies a long span of time or major change of scene. In other cases, the gutter uses a background color or design that defines the tone of the whole story. For instance, each episode of Sim Sŭnghyŏn’s Pape Popo uses one long, pastel-toned gutter which embraces all panels within it, and its light-peach or pale-pink color delivers the general impression of the story, which describes a young couple’s sincere and lovely romance (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/4392).

Figure 2. Sim Sŭnghyŏn, Pape Popo (2009) (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/4392)

Figure 2. Sim Sŭnghyŏn, Pape Popo (2009) (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/4392)

The vertical juxtaposition of expanded gutters with repeated images of a descending object gives the reader the illusion that the gutters are seamlessly connected, and thus maximizes the effect of verticality that those images have. For instance, the first episode of Ko Yŏnghun’s Changma (Rainy season) uses elongated gutters comprised of thick straight lines—that is, images of strong rain—throughout the first half of the episode (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/5968).

 Figure 3. Ko Yŏnghun, Rainy season (2009-10) (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/5968)


Figure 3. Ko Yŏnghun, Rainy season (2009-10) (http://cartoon.media.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/5968)

 The rain in these gutters seamlessly connects to other gutters and to the image of rain within the panels, despite the clear division between panels and gutters. The repeated image of rain in dark-colored gutters creates a feeling of fear or anxiety that hangs over the whole episode, in which the scene of a homicide is discovered.

The flexible gutter space in a webtoon also enables its creator to accommodate the text in more various ways. Since the gutter has an expanded space, comics creators often move parts or even all of the text (captions, monologue, dialogue, narration, and words for sound or motion) out of the frame. The relocation of text to the gutter space makes panel space less crowded and lets the reader focus on the images themselves. The separate deployment of texts in the gutter can also deliver different effects in specific contexts. In Kang Toha’s Widaehan K’aetch’ŭbi (Great K’aetch’ŭbi), for instance, the main character’s monologue at the beginning of the episode, explaining that he is unemployed and poor, is placed outside the panels. This external text housed in the gutter visually delivers the sense that the narrator “I” is detached from the character “I,” thus providing the reader with two presentations of the character that are sometimes in tension with one another (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/495).

Figure. 4 Kang Toha, Great K’aetch’ŭbi (2005) (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/495)

Figure. 4 Kang Toha, Great K’aetch’ŭbi (2005)
(http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/495)

The gutter is no longer simply a break that the reader bridges in her or his imagination. It now becomes a space more substantially involved in narrating the story and more actively used by webtoons creators. It is graphically diversified to deliver specific narrative elements such as the story’s atmosphere, span of time, setting, dialogue, and narration—elements that are supplied only in panels in conventional print comics. As the example of Ko’s Rainy Season shows, the boundary between gutters and panels becomes blurry and penetrable, so that the two spaces are inseparable and complement each other in delivering the story.

Webtoon’s vertical layout not only changes the artistic features and functions surrounding the gutter space but also alters the way the reader/viewer experiences time and space. As Art Spiegelman has commented, comics is a medium that expresses time through space by organizing and arranging sequential moments on the page (Chute and Jagoda 3-4). Time is not an element that is obviously visible in comics, so the organization of space creates temporality of various tempos and segmentations through a number of techniques. For instance, a long panel is considered to indicate or contain a long lapse of time, whereas several extremely narrow panels in sequence express a short, intense period of time, often used for suspenseful or action-packed situations. Thus temporality is instantiated through manipulation of space in comics. This is why Chute argues that “comics is not a form that is experienced in time” (Chute 8). However, comics is also experienced in time; with the inclusion of text—which makes comics distinctive from other visual art forms such as paintings and photographs—comics do express linear, quantifiable time as well as duration, or the experience of time. Yet, it is still undeniable that the expression of time through space is one of the vital features of comics as a medium. This unique temporal-spatial feature of comics becomes diversified in the webcomic.

For instance, an extended time-space experienced through an extremely long vertical panel delivers a sensibility of time and space that cannot be expressed in print comics because it would span a number of pages in that format. Episode 53 of Yun T’aeho’s P’ain (A country pumpkin) contains a panel that shows divers who go down to the bottom of the sea to illegally bring up antique ceramics that are believed to have been buried under the sand for several hundred years (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/30249).

Figure 5. Yun T’aeho, A Country Pumpkin (2014-15) (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/30249)

Figure 5. Yun T’aeho, A Country Pumpkin (2014-15)
(http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/30249)

This vertical panel is so long (the ratio of width to length is approximately 1:8) that the viewer/reader can see the entire panel only after scrolling down several times on a computer screen. The panel begins with the surface of the water where the divers have just jumped in and continues down to the sea floor where the wreckage of a ship is scattered. As the reader scrolls down the panel, he or she sees only water that becomes darker and darker and seems endless until it finally shows the wreckage of a ship, half-buried in sand, at the bottom of panel. This more realistic representation of the depths of the sea in the webtoon, compared to what is possible in print, effectively lets the reader share the sense of uncertainty and fear that the divers may be feeling.

The unusual panel space also emphasizes the lapse of reading time. While experiencing both the narrated time expressed by the characters’ description of the depth of the sea and the visual representation of the long space of the panel (graphically indicating the time it will take the divers to reach the sea floor in the story), the reader also becomes aware of the passage of reading/viewing time coordinated with the narrated time, precisely because he or she can see the entire panel only by the repeated physical movement of scrolling down. In contrast to regular-sized panels that fit within a screen and do not require additional scrolling, this panel’s extended time-space produces an artistic effect that is similar to camerawork in a film.

The use of vertical layout in the webtoon thus creates diverse expressive effects distinct from print comics. However, the vertical layout also limits the reader’s freedom to wander among panels on the page. In print comics, the reader’s eye can skim from the top left panel of the first page to the bottom right of the second page, and then go back to the first panel to read more attentively, in sequential order; hence the creator has less control over the reader’s eye and there are more diverse ways of constructing the narrative, depending on the reader’s reading habits. In webtoons, the reader’s freedom to wander is restricted. (Japanese Youtube comics “Mangapolo” that automatically play panels control the reading practice even more than webtoons, and films completely control the viewer’s freedom to wander.) Nevertheless, this more regulated directionality of the webtoon is optimal for certain genres, particularly horror and suspense. In the first episode of Kang P’ul’s Iut saram (A neighbor), for instance, the agitated movement of a middle-aged woman’s hands cutting vegetables appears repeatedly without any explanation. She then hears the sound of her apartment door opening and becomes terrified (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/3131).

Figure 6. Kang P’ul, A Neighbor (2008) (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/3131)

Figure 6. Kang P’ul, A Neighbor (2008)
(http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/viewer/3131)

 In the print version of this webtoon, which was published after the success of the web version, the reader can see her dead daughter entering in the next panels on the open page (10-11).

Figure 7. A print version of Kang P’ul, A Neighbor (Seoul: Chaemijuŭi, 2012)

Figure 7. A print version of Kang P’ul, A Neighbor (Seoul: Chaemijuŭi, 2012)

 The reader would have trouble avoiding this narrative information when turning the new page, whereas the webtoon reader must scroll down to discover the source of the woman’s reaction. This webtoon style controls the reader’s reading practice and is more effective in the horror genre because webtoons can accumulate tension by controlling the order of panels that the reader sees.

Webcomics are still evolving, and we cannot fully comprehend yet what they will bring in the future and how this will change the history of comics. However, it is quite obvious that various aesthetic changes that generate a different sensibility from that of print comics have already been made, and that in webtoon’s specific case certain styles are being identified as a distinctive—if not optimized—form for webcomics as a new medium. Today the industry of this new mass media form is growing even more quickly than before, due to the service of webtoons on the smart-phone platform: the vertical format of webtoons fits the smart phone’s vertical screen shape perfectly, requiring less frequent scrolling/screen-touching than page-format webcomics.

Transmediality: Transmedia Tie-ins and Storytelling

Because of its web platform, webtoon becomes a site where old and new media collaborate and multiple media functions are combined to create distinctive effects, stories, and genres. The general definition of “transmediality” that Elizabeth Evans provides is useful in explaining the broad range of the practices of cultural production involved in webtoon in Korea. Based on discussions that include Henry Jenkins’s theories, Evans explains, “In essence, the term ‘transmediality’ describes the increasingly popular industrial practice of using multiple media technologies to present information concerning a single fictional world through a range of textual forms” (1). In this section I discuss two different aspects of transmedia production practices within and surrounding webtoons. The first aspect is the transmedia tie-ins that became possible because of the webcomics platform—namely, transmedia narrative that is created within comics by combining multiple media functions rather than a story that is created separately, albeit coordinated and circulated on different platforms. The second aspect is the transmedia production of the narratives on multiple media platforms. Henry Jenkins’s insightful discussion of “transmedia storytelling” through the example of The Matrix phenomenon is helpful in understanding Korean webcomics trends. According to him, transmedia storytelling consists of the narratives that are deployed across diverse media platforms, creating an integrated world with unique involvement from each medium (Jenkins, Chapter Three). However, I would like to expand the scope of discussion of transmedia narrative production here by including traditional ways of utilizing a story to re-create a narrative for different media platforms—such as film adaptations and TV drama parodies of webcomics—which do not always make distinctive contributions to the fictional world-making of the story by revealing the features untold in the urtext.

Unlike print comics, webtoons themselves become platforms for transmedia tie-ins. A simple example is the insertion of background music to enhance the atmosphere and emotion. (For instance, Horang’s Kurŭm ŭi norae [A song of clouds], which depicts members of a music band, includes background songs for some episodes to enhance its storyline. The songs that were played through the webtoon were released as a separate music album afterward. [http://comic.naver.com/webtoon/detail.nhn?titleId=63454&no=7&weekday=mon])

Figure 8. Horangm, A Song of Clouds (2009-10) (http://comic.naver.com/webtoon/detail.nhn?titleId=63454&no=7&weekday=mon)

Figure 8. Horangm, A Song of Clouds (2009-10)
(http://comic.naver.com/webtoon/detail.nhn?titleId=63454&no=7&weekday=mon)

Webtoons also sometimes include short animations in the narrative. In 2009, Yun T’ae-ho published the webtoon SETI, which took full advantage of the layered media potential of the form, creating a new genre called the “Webtoon drama” that inserted a live-action TV drama to a webtoon. Yun designed his characters based on photos of the actors and actresses, and sometimes passed his drawings to the TV producers so that they could develop similar looks for the characters in the TV drama. The two teams worked together throughout the process and inserted a short video clip from the TV series at the end of each episode of the webtoon. This grafting of webtoon and short video clips was one of the advertisement strategies of a camera company (Canon) to demonstrate the capacities of an affordable personal lens versus an expensive professional film camera lens. The digital platform of webtoons also enabled the comics form to explore diverse possibilities, including the use of 3D technology and photographs, for more realistic creation of characters and backgrounds, as well as a sophisticated collection of colors and camerawork-like representations of space and time. This diversified grafting led webtoons to become more readily adapted to films and TV dramas.

Even print versions of webtoons enclose additional features that are enabled by multiple platforms. Until recently, publishing companies mostly published popular webtoons after they had been serialized and tested on portal sites or on personal web blogs. But now that webtoons are established as a new form of comics and there are well-known and popular creators, these creators’ webtoons are often published while they are being serialized on a portal site. In some cases publishing companies even contact a well-known creator, initiate the production of his or her webtoon, and then publish the print version afterward. Most print versions keep the basic format that web version had, except for cutting one long digital page into several print pages to fit it to the print format. But some print-book versions of webtoons also experiment with combining the print and digital forms. For instance, some print books provide access to exclusive video clips using a QR Code (Quick Response Code, or two-dimensional barcode) that readers can view on their cell phone screens; one example is Kang P’ul’s Chomyŏng kage (A lighting shop).

Figure 9. A print version of Kang P’ul, A Lighting Shop (Seoul: Ungjin Ssingk’ŭbik, 2011)

Figure 9. A print version of Kang P’ul, A Lighting Shop (Seoul: Ungjin Ssingk’ŭbik, 2011)

If the reader either photographs or scans the QR Code on a print page with his or her smart phone, he or she can watch scenes of the story (usually about 20-40 seconds long) that are made in an old silent-film style. These video clips, operated by the access to QR Code, instantiate complex transmedia layers of the interactions between the print and digital: in this case, a cinematic feature is accessed through the print version of a webcomic to be played on a mobile phone screen.

Webtoons are frequently adapted to film, TV dramas, musicals, and theater performances. The most common transmedia production is filmic adaptation. Most of Kang P’ul’s webtoons, such as Sunjŏng manhwa (A romantic comics), Iut saram (A neighbor), Pabo (An idiot), and Ap’at’ŭ (Apartment), were made into movies, while Yun T’ae-ho’s Ikki (Moss) was made into a movie and his Misaeng (Incomplete life) was made into a TV drama (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/view/ikki).

 Figure 10. Yun T’ae-ho, Moss (2008-09) (http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/view/ikki)


Figure 10. Yun T’ae-ho, Moss (2008-09)
(http://webtoon.daum.net/webtoon/view/ikki)

Producers in the film industry often read new webtoons to find potential scenarios and offer the creator a contract even long before the serialization of the webtoon ends. After witnessing the frequent transmedia production of webtoons, consumers of webtoons also anticipate the future circulation of the webtoon narrative on other media platforms. For instance, the readers/viewers of Yun T’aeho’s P’ain, which was serialized on the Daum portal site from July 29, 2014 to August 14, 2015, started to predict the cinematization of this webtoon when less than one-fourth of the episodes had been published. Some readers entertained themselves by making various casting lists and sharing them with other readers through the comments sections that are available at the end of each episode of a webtoon.

Unlike relatively simple transmedia adaptations of webtoons, Yun T’aeho’s Misaeng (Incomplete life), one of the most popular Korean webtoons, provides an example of complex narrative production and dis