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The Pause That Refreshes

Today, R.C. Harvey returns to the site with a lengthy exploration of how money has influenced comics:

Al Capp, who drew Li’l Abner as a newspaper comic strip character for most of his adult life, had a wooden leg and a speech impediment. When he talked, he punctuated his utterances with hiccoughed hoots of laughter that heralded the approach of a punchline long before anyone else could see it coming. In discussing his choice of careers, he used to say, amid irregularly emitted but almost suppressed guffaws, that he decided to become a comic strip cartoonist at the age of 11 when he learned that Bud Fisher was paid $5,000 a week for drawing Mutt and Jeff as newspaper comic strip characters and was constantly marrying French countesses.

“I decided that was for me,” Capp would hoot. “After all, how much—hoot!—does a bottle of ink cost?” Another hoot.

This autobiographical fragment is, like many promulgated by Capp, somewhat awry. Fisher didn’t marry the Countess Aedita de Beaumont, whom he met on a trans-Atlantic boat ride while returning from France, until 1924 when Capp was 13 not 11. And by 1924, Fisher was making considerably more than $5,000 a week. (The Countess and Fisher soon divorced, but she and her offspring inherited the copyright on Mutt and Jeff, so her name appeared in the fine print on the strips.)


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Broken Frontier interviews Conor Stechschulte.

Most of my favorite art has a strong sense of the uncanny. The very act of reading comics involves the reader filling in the causes for represented effects, which is a big reason why I think it’s a medium uniquely suited for telling the kind of stories I’m interested in.

The stuff I want to get at, like desire or a kind of elemental fear or anxiety, are only diminished through trying to explain them. In fact, once you start explaining them you sort of aren’t even talking about them anymore. That said, I don’t want the reading of my work to feel trivial or obtuse. Trying to balance those things is the whole game for me right now, I think. Wish me luck.

Abraham Riesman interviews Michael DeForge.

Everything makes me anxious. I realize I’m anxious for no reason or reasons I can’t always control, but yeah, I was an anxious kid. Now I’m an anxious adult. Even when my comics aren’t overtly about that, they do depict a world that has a very nervous, hostile energy to it, because I think that is still the way I entered the world. I feel like there’s a buzzing hostility underneath the surface of everything, even though I know rationally that’s not actually the case.


—Reviews & Commentary.
For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jackson Ayres tries to pin down the so-called Dark Age of Comics.

If [Alan] Moore and [Frank] Miller are the creators most responsible for this grim and gritty turn, both are ambivalent about its legacy. Moore has frequently insisted that publishers misunderstood Watchmen, claiming they and culpable creators used it as validation for nihilistic, nasty, and insubstantial stories presented as sophisticated fare for “mature readers.” Even Miller, who, unlike Moore, has not dramatically changed his creative agenda or style, once described DC’s decision to kill Robin in a 1988–1989 run of Batman — an outcome determined by a readers’ poll — as “the most cynical thing that particular publisher has ever done.” Here Miller suggests an important distinction between cynicism as an artistic perspective and the cynicism of corporate publishing imperatives.

Jeet Heer’s New Republic piece comparing Donald Trump to various figures from comics history is only tangentially related to this site’s interests, but I’ll take whatever Jeet-on-comics writing I can get.

In the imagination of right-wing populism, nationalism is a bridge that crosses the chasm of class. [Daddy] Warbucks might be richer than us, but he protects us from foreign foes. In the comic strip, Warbucks even had his own private army of assassins, who happily tortured and killed whoever menaced [Little Orphan] Annie. With his promise of brass-knuckle tactics against the Chinese, a wall against Mexicans, and a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Donald Trump is the Daddy Warbucks of our time, ready to save Little Orphan America from the crafty foes of other nations.

Carol Tilley has uncovered from the Billy Ireland Library archives a 1940s-era comic book entitled The Uncanny Adventures of (I Hate) Dr. Wertham.

A police officer brings a juvenile delinquent to see Wertham, who agrees to psychoanalyze him. The first question Wertham asks the boy is whether or not he reads comics, and the boy responds, “Sure! Don’t everybody???” Wertham immediately seizes upon a connection between comics reading and juvenile delinquency, and the boy, realizing the possibilities in misleading the doctor, plays along. Wertham assiduously studies a funny animal comic the boy gives him, determined to prove the comics—delinquency connection. Ultimately Wertham pardons the boy, telling him that it is “the comic book publishers…and not you who should be punished!” Wertham gathers more comics for study and sets on his course to document the ill-effects of reading them.

—News. Some forty French publishers, including everyone from Dargaud and Delcourt to L’Association and Cornelius, have announced they will join together in a full boycott of next year’s Angoulême festival unless there are major changes. Although I found this elsewhere, I believe Bart Beaty was the first English-language comics writer to bring this to North American attention.

2D Cloud is currently running a Kickstarter to fund its next season of comics. A few weeks ago, the publishers wrote a piece on Medium called “Can Indie Publishers Afford to Grow?” explaining some of their thinking.


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