The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Thu, 25 May 2017 12:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 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 The Magical Twins http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-magical-twins/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-magical-twins/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100568 Continue reading ]]> The Magical Twins (Les Jumeaux Magiques in the original French) was the first collaboration between Alejandro Jodorowsky and Georges Bess. It was originally published in 1987 in French comics magazine, ‘Le Journal de Mickey’. Although ostensibly intended for young readers, The Magical Twins contains all the imaginative transformation we expect from a book written by Jodorowsky.

The book opens on a magical bird, Lyrena, a distant cousin of The Incal’s Deepo, racing to deliver an urgent message to Kether, the “city of the pure spirit” at the center of the kingdom. In Kabbalah, Kether (meaning ‘crown’) is the highest sphere of the Tree of Life — the “source of all light”,as the comic says. This very first panel wonderfully shows us what a master Jodorowsky is — creating a world for children but refusing to water down any of the story, knowing that they will ‘get it’. This is mirrored in the structure of the story itself, as the young royal twins, Mara and Aram, slowly learn along with with reader what is needed to save the kingdom.

The story proceeds when Lyrena’s message arrives and the children subsequently set out to free their father, King Jodhia. As with any good coming of age story, they must face the many dangers in crossing the Four Forbidden Islands before the villainous Tartarath will even agree to fight them. As the King’s message fades, he advises his offspring to “focus all your attention on your five senses”. Invaluable advice as the trio encounters challenge after challenge where, like the first rule of Magic warns us, nothing is as it seems.

The Magical Twins is full of Jodorowsky’s wisdom and invention. Pervading every page are the notions that one must face challenges head on, and in doing so it is possible to transform the energy behind these difficulties from negative to positive, making it available to aid you in future. Or, as Jodorowsky might literally phrase it: Gaining control of our demons to later use them as angels. Jodorowsky lets his imagination and childlike wonder reign free as the trio encounters saw-birds, fish-scented flowers, a candy island, and a nation of inescapably depressed citizens where the path to the governor is made by that leader’s own tears. This last trial contains the wonderful line “Why, when joy is here, the exit is everywhere”.

Bess does an excellent job of rendering a children’s fantasy world full of adult challenges. Severe enough to be taken seriously, the demons and landscapes they inhabit are neither too off-putting nor too ‘cute’. Their portrayal reinforces the message that facing adversity allows you the chance to overcome it. Credit must also be given to colorist Jean-Jacques Rouger whose palette helps draw one into the wonder of these multi-toned illusory tests.

With its positive spiritual vision and Jodorowskian playfulness-in-the-face-of-death, The Magical Twins is a book to be enjoyed and learned from by readers of all ages.

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An Interview with Noah Van Sciver http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-noah-van-sciver/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-noah-van-sciver/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100741 Continue reading ]]> Noah Van Sciver’s Fante Bukowski Two (Fantagraphics Books) is an extensive follow-up to the Eisner-nominated first installment of Fante Bukowski, published in 2015. In the sequel, Fante’s epic search for praise and promise continues, landing him in Columbus, Ohio – conveniently at the same time that the author relocated. Due to our busy and exciting lives in this shared bustling metropolis, Noah and I caught up over email to talk about the new book, his experience so far in Ohio, and more. Readers can anticipate more of the love-hate experience that comes with cringing along at Fante’s exploits once again as he stumbles through a new town, discovers zines, alienates his peers, burns down a motel, and somehow still manages to capture a sympathetic piece of Audrey’s heart. Van Sciver’s gifts of well-crafted humor and comedic timing shine stronger than ever in Fante Two, while still incorporating some of the wistfulness for which much of his other work is known.

Hey Noah. Congratulations on your recent Eisner nomination (Best Single Issue) for Blammo no. 9, and on the DINKY award for Best Work from a Small Press! You’ve been kinda killin’ it lately, and now Fante Bukowski Two is officially out there. How are you feeling about this point in your career?

Thanks! I feel good. I’m just glad that anyone reads my comics.

One of the highlights of Blammo no. 9 is the White River Junction, Vermont story. Having lived there myself for a year, I got a special kick out of that one. Can you tell me a little about your experience out there?

I’m glad that I did it, and I learned a lot while over there, mainly by hanging out in Stephen Bissette’s class. It was my first time doing work around so many other people who were also working their asses off. It’s kind of a boot camp for cartoonists. I watched how hard the students had to push themselves and I kept thinking, “man, I don’t think I could graduate from here!”

I took advantage of being out east, and did all of the comics shows that I have always wanted to do. So, I was out of town frequently and when I was back I hid and drew my comics. Truthfully, I don’t feel like I interacted with the school as much as I should have, and I have some guilt about that.

Stephen Bissette told me you were one of the hardest working people he’s seen up there. How do you feel about the CCS program, if you’re willing to share that? I know they have more and more competition these days, with comics programs popping up all over the country.

It can be a good, helpful experience for people. If you’re serious about being a cartoonist and learning as much as you can, you’ll get a lot out of it. But you’ll also see people who get caught up in the drama that’s created in such a small community. That’s what you have to avoid.  Artists arrive to find that they’re no longer the best in their town, and others become more excited about being around other weirdos that working on their comics takes a back seat to hanging out and having parties. 

In Fante Bukowski Two, our man lands in Columbus. This conveniently coincides with your relocation to, as Fante says, “the artistic GALAXY that is Columbus Ohio”. My question is basically, “why here, why now” for both you and Fante. What brought you to Columbus, how has it been for you this past year, and was bringing Fante here a creative decision out of sheer convenience of familiarity, or something more?  

When I moved to Columbus last summer I came with about 20 finished pages for Fante Bukowski Two, and I didn’t really have a story in mind other than Fante has spent a year traveling around the country and has decided to try his luck in Columbus, OH, as I was about to. It worked well because as I was figuring out the city I could have him do it right along with me. Maybe it was a way of helping me feel more comfortable. My past year here has had it’s ups and downs, but a lot of that comes with trying to create a life in a new city alone and the anxieties that come with that.

Has it lived up to your expectations? What have you been doing with your time here? 

Yeah, it’s been good. I mostly keep my head down and work on my comics during the day and then go hang out with my neighbor Bryan Moss, visiting all the Half-Priced Books stores and drinking at night. Our tastes in comics are just different enough that we aren’t searching for the same comics and we can turn each other on to different artists.

What is it about Columbus that makes it an ideal setting for Fante?

Having the setting be in Columbus was an inside joke because I realized that nobody knows anything about this city, and so I could claim it as a hive of literary greatness, where every writer you love lives. Hopefully somebody far away will passively accept it as a fact. Nobody has a mental reference or familiarity with Columbus the way they do for Cleveland or Cincinnati and so I felt free to create my own for the reader.

Yeah, that lack of identity that Columbus has is one of the things it seems to be most insecure about. This is definitely a city that has attempted (and failed) at branding itself in different ways over the years. And it has demolished a lot of its own history, which doesn’t help. That has always kinda bothered me, but what’s funny is that your reinvention of it as a city where every “great” writer lives would probably bother me a thousand times more. I guess at least the way that it currently is makes it a best-kept secret. I’ve started to take a sick pleasure in outsider’s assumptions that Ohio is a totally boring, cultureless wasteland. I hope it keeps them away from ever finding out it’s cool and ruining it.

Yeah, and driving up the rents! Good, stay away everyone!

What do you find you like about it here, and what do you dislike?

I live in a historic part of the city, which is right up my alley, taste-wise. I love walking around my neighborhood. Columbus isn’t very far from a lot of cities so going to shows in Chicago or New York is easy. Living in Denver, it felt like going anywhere required a 5-hour flight. It felt very remote out there and that was annoying and isolating. Columbus is also a comics hub, with the Billy Ireland comics collection and museum and the frequent events and all that. I appreciate those. I don’t like Midwestern sweaty summers and all the insects. That’s my complaint. Ha ha.

There are some real places in Columbus that I recognize in the book, like Forno, Bob’s Bar, the Leveque tower, and Tommy’s Diner – are there many others? There are certainly some beautiful city street scenes in there. I don’t think we have a White Pride Tavern, but nothing surprises me anymore.

No, it’s a very fictionalized version of the city. Kilgore books, for example, is a Denver bookstore, but I couldn’t help myself including it in Fante’s Columbus since it’s an establishment so dear to my heart.

A bookstore like Kilgore is one thing that Columbus is sorely missing. I wish we had something similar.

God, me too. It was my clubhouse.

Considering the timing of both of your moves, how much of a comparison should people draw between you and Fante? You’ve also drawn “yourself” into this book, though Noah Van Sciver the character is almost as unlikable Fante – which seems intentional. Are they both the worst of you, or not you at all? What experiences of Fante’s OR “Noah Van Sciver’s” do you relate to? Like, oh, living in a hotel… (I’m thinking of when you were up at CCS). 

A lot of Fante Bukowski’s experiences are based off of my own. I was a “struggling, unappreciated” cartoonist in my early 20s and did and thought a lot of things that I’m deeply ashamed of now. I did actually go to a Dave Eggers reading once just to introduce myself and give him my mini comics, hoping he would publish me in Mcsweeney’s and I did walk around Denver with a backpack full of my latest mini comics trying to sell them. I drank shitty wine and drew all night. In those early years I thought I was going to be a great cartoonist one day and everyone would be sorry for how they were dismissing me. I couldn’t see that actually I was just a bad cartoonist. I’m older and more self-possessed these days, which helps me examine my 20s objectively and skewer the delusions I labored under in those embarrassing days.

I’ve never thought it was necessary to write main characters that were likable people, and in humor the more unlikable the better I think.

If you and Fante share a lot of the same experience, can you talk a little about your decision to include yourself as a character in the book?

That was just for a joke. I wanted Audrey to be involved with somebody awful and I felt that awful person should be a fictionalized version of me.

How has Fante Bukowski been received by your readers?

They must like him enough, although I do occasionally get an email from somebody unsure of whether or not I like him personally.

Is he a sympathetic character to you?

To me he is, yes. I really like him.

What was and is your actual relationship with Charles Bukowski and John Fante’s work? In your 2015 interview with PASTE you mention having gone through a phase of it, which is certainly common – especially for American men, it seems. Can you talk more about that though? What does their work represent to you, and how do you feel about it now? 

Oh yeah, well, I love Bukowski and John Fante very much. They’re easy to read, passionate books about being a struggling, sensitive (but still masculine) outsider and I think there’s a romanticism to that that a lot of men get into and are protective over. I’ve read almost every Charles Bukowski book and most of John Fante’s output as well. I’m not making fun of either of those authors. I’m making fun of the 20 something writer who’s more into being the cliché of the unappreciated genius, than actually learning how to write well.

This book is so genuinely funny – there are sequences on almost every page that had me actually laughing out loud. You’ve gotten very good at comedic timing. While I’ve found humor in all of your work in one way or another, most of your other long-form books have been much more directly reflective or downright sad. Do you feel like one tone is calling you more than the other these days, and why?

I’m conscious of learning to be a proficient comedy and drama storyteller. I don’t want to be a single note cartoonist. If I learn to blend it all together then I’ll draw comics that readers can’t just passively read. I want people to feel satisfied after reading my stories if it’s possible.

You’re doing a great job at it. When you say learning, I assume you mean by way of studying other works. Who are you reading and what are you watching that you learn the most from?  

For a long time I was buying and reading alternative comics from the 90s and early 2000s. Drawn & Quarterly magazines and issues of Zero Zero, stuff like that. There are a bunch of artists from that era that I get inspired by that you don’t hear about much these days. Someone like Pentti Otsamo, for example, did a little book called The Fall Of Homunculus that I really love. Just straight storytelling. I don’t dig very deep with film, but I pay attention to story structure and look up to the Coen Brothers who are perfect at weaving humor into an otherwise dramatic story.

A page from One Dirty Tree.

It seems like you are always working on multiple projects at a time, and from talking to you I assume your memoir One Dirty Tree your the main focus at the moment. Is there one style of storytelling that you enjoy more than another?  

I do bounce around from story to story. That’s just how I work, and I chock it up to artistic A.D.D. Lately I’ve been getting so tired of drawing that memoir book, but it’s getting close to the finish line. Or at least it’s in sight so I have to keep going. I don’t have a preference for styles. It just depends on how I’m feeling at them moment. 

A page from All Time Comics by Noah Van Sciver.

Speaking of the different notes and tones, are there any new styles you’ve wanted to experiment with – like horror or science fiction? I remember feeling suspicious when I heard that Dan Clowes was going to be experimenting with sci-fi stuff (The Death-Ray, Patience) but in the end it worked really well.  

The closest I ever came to something like that was the issue of All Time Comics I drew for Josh Bayer last year, and it was really challenging for me because I haven’t read enough superhero comics to internalize that style. But I wound up enjoying it because it was new for me. My regret is that the learning curve is very evident in the comic…

Had there always been plans for a sequel to Fante Bukowski? Is this the end of the line for Fante?

The first book was the easiest and quickest comic I ever drew. I just had so much fun working on it and drawing everyone, that by the time the book was published I knew I wasn’t finished with the character yet. As I worked on this book I felt like it was the middle story of a trilogy where everything has to go wrong. I do have a plot I’m proud of worked out for a third book that will end the story. I’ll get to it eventually, and that will be the final Fante Bukowski comic. 

I would love for you to put out a book of poetry by Fante Bukowski. Just saying. I’d buy it.

 Ha ha! My buddy Bruce Simon said I should do that too.

Audrey’s book gets optioned for a film directed by Michael Bay, and we’re seeing lots of your contemporaries get their comics and graphic novels optioned these days. Have you had any offers? If you could choose, which of your books would you want to see as a movie the most? If it were Fante Bukowski, who would play him? Audrey? Who would direct?

No, I’ve had no offers ever. I always wanted The Hypo to be a stage play, Saint Cole to be a Focus features film and Fante Bukowski to be a Netflix series. The easiest casting for Fante is Zach Galifianakis, though he’d have to pretend to be 24. And Audrey would be Nora Zehetner. Fante’s dad would be Jeffrey Tambor in my mind.

Sounds like you’ve put some thought into this. I hope some rich film person reading this takes a hint. How do you feel about some of the recent or upcoming film adaptations of graphic novels and comics? It seems like people find film to be the terminal degree for any art form, but a lot of times when I see a film adaptation of a book or comic, it replaces the original thing in my mind, and not in a good way. 

Yeah it’s risky. It can go either way I guess. I don’t think the Ghost World movie hurt the graphic novel sales though. It depends on the comic you’re going to option and how close they are to you. I read that the Simpsons as characters came about because Matt Groening didn’t want to give away his Life In Hell bunnies.

How much input did you have on the book design? It’s phenomenal. And I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a long time to realize that the penciled “1st Ed. RARE” on the inside cover wasn’t real, heh.

I am a terrible designer and I have no problem turning over the files to Fantagraphics to put together. Luckily I’ve worked mostly with Keeli McCarthy (who was one of the inspirations for Audrey) and she hasn’t failed me yet. I get really excited to see what she’ll come up with. It’s my favorite part.

She does an incredible job. What about the pin-ups? Your idea? Are there any you hope to get for Fante 3? 

I just took the pin-up section idea from Ed Piskor and Hip Hop Family Tree. I have a list of some artists I’d love to get a drawing from. Like Nick Drnaso for example. I’m a big fan of his.

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How Great It Is http://www.tcj.com/how-great-it-is/ http://www.tcj.com/how-great-it-is/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100952 Continue reading ]]> Today:

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s Caitlin McGurk talks to Noah Van Sciver about his excellent new Fante Bukowski 2, as well as their shared homebase of Columbus, Ohio, and other sundry comics matters. 

Stephen Bissette told me you were one of the hardest working people he’s seen up there. How do you feel about the CCS program, if you’re willing to share that? I know they have more and more competition these days, with comics programs popping up all over the country.

It can be a good, helpful experience for people. If you’re serious about being a cartoonist and learning as much as you can, you’ll get a lot out of it. But you’ll also see people who get caught up in the drama that’s created in such a small community. That’s what you have to avoid.  Artists arrive to find that they’re no longer the best in their town, and others become more excited about being around other weirdos that working on their comics takes a back seat to hanging out and having parties. 

In Fante Bukowski Two, our man lands in Columbus. This conveniently coincides with your relocation to, as Fante says, “the artistic GALAXY that is Columbus Ohio”. My question is basically, “why here, why now” for both you and Fante. What brought you to Columbus, how has it been for you this past year, and was bringing Fante here a creative decision out of sheer convenience of familiarity, or something more?  

When I moved to Columbus last summer I came with about 20 finished pages for Fante Bukowski Two, and I didn’t really have a story in mind other than Fante has spent a year traveling around the country and has decided to try his luck in Columbus, OH, as I was about to. It worked well because as I was figuring out the city I could have him do it right along with me. Maybe it was a way of helping me feel more comfortable. My past year here has had it’s ups and downs, but a lot of that comes with trying to create a life in a new city alone and the anxieties that come with that.

Elsewhere:

The influence of Dungeons & Dragons on the last 20 years of comics has been pretty huge but mostly unexamined. That may not change, but here’s a preview of David Kushner and Koren Shadmi’s upcoming biography of D&D creator Gary Gygax.

Over at Comics Workbook, RM Rhodes offers commentary on The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen by Jorge Zentner and Ruben Pellejero.

Not comics: I didn’t know about this huge digital trove of Sister Corita Kent imagery. Amazing.

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Trashman Lives http://www.tcj.com/trashman-lives-2/ http://www.tcj.com/trashman-lives-2/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100916 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the most interesting-sounding releases new to stores. This week’s highlights include memoirs by Gabrielle Bell and Jason.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—I can’t even summon the energy to read this National Review attack on comics being studied in college (apparently ‘cuz they’re dumb and they turn kids into pinkos or something), much less argue against it. But it’s the controversy du jour.

—The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Keiler Roberts, and the most recent guest on RiYL is David Lloyd.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/24/17 – The Philadelphia JNCOs) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-52417-the-philadelphia-jncos/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-52417-the-philadelphia-jncos/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100921 Continue reading ]]>

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Him http://www.tcj.com/him/ http://www.tcj.com/him/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 14:59:31 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100904 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Frank Santoro continues his journey into risograph printing with an interview with Panayiotis Terzis.

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

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

Elsewhere:

The longtime Marvel and DC cartoonist Rich Buckler, now best known for co-creating Deathlok, has passed away at the age of 68.  Here is a fond remembrance from a longtime fan.

Here’s a good piece on Samuel R. Delany’s recently published diaries. 

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Risograph Workbook 6 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-6/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-6/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100830 Continue reading ]]>

Runner, Risograph print by Panayiotis Terzis

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

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

I’ll turn the mic over to Pan now:

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

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

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

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

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

A spread by Lane Milburn from Trapper Keeper #1

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

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

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

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

Trapper Keeper #2 with a Joe P. Kelly cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The back cover of Bluetooth, with Leon Sadler – 2010

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

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

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Aisha Franz

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

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

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

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

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

A spread from Xoana by HOPE

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

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

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Brenna Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

A spread from Magalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis 2016

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

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

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

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

Megalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis

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

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On the Camino http://www.tcj.com/reviews/on-the-camino/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/on-the-camino/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100754 Continue reading ]]> Before the release of On the Camino, few cartoonists seemed less likely to publish a memoir than Jason. The Norwegian artist has spent decades creating deadpan genre stories defined by slapstick and muted emotions. 2013’s Lost Cat, for instance, approaches noir storytelling as if it were a mindfulness exercise, sticking to a rigid four-panel grid and a single repeating spot color. It’s a good book but not a warm book, and it conveys little about its creator beyond general impressions of his taste and sensibility. This makes On the Camino, Jason’s first autobiographical work, a major departure, and yet it retains most features of his previous comics—most notably the use of animal figures in place of people, including a dog’s likeness for Jason himself.

A reader might take the dog avatar as a sign the artist hasn’t abandoned the devices that earned him a cult following. Another reader might take it as a reason not to expect new emotional directness from Jason. They’d both be right. But if Jason appears to approach autobiography from a position of relative safety, On the Camino soon reveals itself to be a book about the distances between Jason and other people.

The comic documents Jason’s trip along the Camino de Santiago, “an historic 500-mile pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.” As a travelogue, it offers a series of low-stakes, often charming anecdotes about the walk, its challenges, and its culture. But On the Camino is more moving as a document of Jason’s social longings and anxieties. The book begins with Jason on a train at the outset of his trip, urging himself to speak to other passengers. The first night on the Camino, he tells readers, “I eat alone [at a hostel]. I still haven’t said a word to another hiker.” The dog avatar doesn’t just create continuity with Jason’s previous books, in other words; here, it’s a constant reminder of the barriers between Jason and his surrounding world.

As the travelogue proceeds, Jason strains to be present during the trip and sees his fellow travelers bonding with greater ease. At a crucial stage of the walk, he mentions that, “I have no one to share the moment with.” The depth of this loneliness is anyone’s guess. The book explores it only as a series of moments, and for a memoir, On the Camino is coy about the details of Jason’s life. A reader who begins the book knowing that Jason is a cartoonist from Norway will end the book knowing that Jason is a cartoonist from Norway who recently turned fifty. But his personal remoteness is very much the substance of Camino. Jason-the-subject struggles to reach out to people, while Jason-the-artist carefully controls the depiction of these struggles. (There are compelling questions hanging over the book: whether he needs to be this way to create the work he creates; how much the personal limitations troubling Jason inform his talent for artistic economy.)

Reactions may vary about the quality of On the Camino strictly as a travel book, something this review can’t evaluate from firsthand experience. Alumni of the Camino might read the comic and find a lot they recognize and a lot they can’t relate to; Jason’s memoir probably doesn’t capture the walk’s full spectrum of emotional highs and lows. Even so, the book would be worth the trip solely on the strength of how Jason depicts the Spanish scenery. His previous book, If You Steal, sometimes reads like a showcase for its colorist, Hubert, and that book similarly deserves a read on the merits of its coloring alone. But throughout the black-and-white Camino, Jason’s line is the star. Drawing notable locations along the trail, he even allows himself occasional splash pages and a modest amount of extra detail. The result is a number of quietly beautiful standalone images.

On the Camino is not short on gags or pop-culture references, either. Readers see Jason on the trail, quoting Christopher Walken’s infamous Pulp Fiction scene to himself, and later, imagining himself as the subject of a film shoot. He also passes through a quaint old village and imagines seeing Disney-ish fairy-tale characters. (Not all the gags are winners.) And when Jason first begins to feel kinship with his fellow travelers, a joke about Martin Sheen’s The Way (also about the Camino) is his way in. It’s a telling moment, and one that lends a possible context to Jason’s larger body of work. Any piece of art can be thought of as an artist reaching out to readers/viewers/etc., but after On the Camino, a reader might be particularly inclined to view Jason’s comics this way. His work has always treated genre and culture as a sandbox, but Camino suggests a desire for connection beyond the genre play—that Jason, despite the deadpan affect of his cartooning, wants a book like On the Camino to be a path he and his readers can share.

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Tell Us About It http://www.tcj.com/tell-us-about-it/ http://www.tcj.com/tell-us-about-it/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100843 Continue reading ]]> Greg Hunter’s here today with a review of Jason’s first comics memoir, On the Camino.

Before the release of On the Camino, few cartoonists seemed less likely to publish a memoir than Jason. The Norwegian artist has spent decades creating deadpan genre stories defined by slapstick and muted emotions. 2013’s Lost Cat, for instance, approaches noir storytelling as if it were a mindfulness exercise, sticking to a rigid four-panel grid and a single repeating spot color. It’s a good book but not a warm book, and it conveys little about its creator beyond general impressions of his taste and sensibility. This makes On the Camino, Jason’s first autobiographical work, a major departure, and yet it retains most features of his previous comics—most notably the use of animal figures in place of people, including a dog’s likeness for Jason himself.

A reader might take the dog avatar as a sign the artist hasn’t abandoned the devices that earned him a cult following. Another reader might take it as a reason not to expect new emotional directness from Jason. They’d both be right. But if Jason appears to approach autobiography from a position of relative safety, On the Camino soon reveals itself to be a book about the distances between Jason and other people.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Sean Rogers at the Globe & Mail profiles publisher Annie Koyama.

“I respect how Annie has built her publishing company carefully over time,” said Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual Best American Comics series, who collaborated with Koyama Press on Aidan Koch’s poetic, painterly After Nothing Comes. “[Annie’s] always focused on her core interests, never overextending herself, slowly developing step by step to create a stable and vibrant independent publishing house with a strong identity that is built to go the distance for her artists.”

But more than a decade ago, creating that publishing identity was far from Koyama’s mind. She was thinking instead of her globetrotting dreams. “I was going to drop everything and travel,” she recalled of her plans to escape an increasingly numbing career in advertising. Having made a lot of money in the industry – “because I didn’t put it all up my nose” – she’d set aside a sum to fund her travels. Then illness waylaid her.

—The cover art for R. Crumb’s Ballantine-published collection of Fritz the Cat comics has set a new original-comics-art auction record, selling for $717,000, the highest ever for American comics.

The record price for a piece of comic art anywhere in the world is still over $3.5 million for the flyleaves/end pages for the Adventures of Tintin albums, by Herge.

—Amnesty International UK has released a podcast telling the story of Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani in her own words.

More than a year and a half after she was first arrested, and after a huge international campaign for her release, Atena was freed from prison on 3 May 2016. Her 12 year and 9 month sentence had been reduced to 18 months, after an appeal. The charge of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ with her cartoon was upheld, though it was decided she had already served time for this.

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Boundless      http://www.tcj.com/reviews/boundless/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/boundless/#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100668 Continue reading ]]> It’s said that great works of art are meant to be viewed at a distance from eye-level. Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless, inspires this same viewing condition. Tamaki’s book design means she compels the reader to rotate the text vertically in the opening pages, urging her to engage with Boundless in a novel way. Rotating the text into the vertical position, the reader cannot help but hold it at arms length. The text requires perspective, interpretation, and closure, to either go past the boundaries of conventional story-telling with Tamaki, or otherwise close the conceptual divide Tamaki exploits. Boundless is composed of unrelenting questions. The gap between question and answer is as great a divide as any other in the text. Boundless’ opening questions, “Do you want to be my friend?” and “Do you want to look at art at 2AM?” immerse the reader in Tamaki’s story-world as active agents, co-constructors, and confidants to the text. This makes the unfolding narrative a personalized journey for answers along Tamaki’s interconnected double-page spreads. In this way, Tamaki ensnares the reader into her own carefully crafted story-web.

Tamaki applies her narrative voice and style to both human and natural subjects, resulting in a formlessness, or perhaps an erasure, between human and natural subjects. Lines such as “I get stronger with every passing day” are difficult to attribute to the water depicted in the scene or the person swimming within it. Similarly, affirmations such as “And I’m going to be respected” create a curious relation to either the worker shown carving a tree or the tree itself. This fluid relationship between Tamaki’s words and images provoke a captivating plurality, one that tumbles down one vertical double-page spread to another. At times, the human is relegated to the periphery of the page, clinging to subjectivity in the face of sprawling nature across the two-page spread; at other times, the reverse is true, with the human form clinging to its subjectivity while it views the world from a liminal position in Tamaki’s text. With each page, humanity and nature vie for a balanced co-existence.

Playing with shot-reverse-shots and perspective-altering reveals with every page-flip, Tamaki forces the reader to re-consider each connection between a story’s images and words. Oftentimes, Tamaki’s rough-hewn, partitioned, silhouetted, or highly-contrasted bodies present themselves as opportune vehicles for the reader’s own bodily experience. Sometimes Tamaki renders bodies highly materially: carefully detailing variations in each facial contour, wrinkle, and mark that captures a person’s unique identity. Other times, the lines are sparse, a few broad strokes on an empty page. The latter style invites the universal experience into the represented body while subverting the body’s materiality. Even through the gaps of such incongruous character renditions, Tamaki demonstrates the webs and gaps, the boundaries of representation, and the effects perception can have on our constructed social realities. 

Tamaki’s chapters, “Body Pods” and “1.Jenny” visualize, represent, examine, and question how invisible social constructions affect perceptions of ourselves and our realities: What is natural and what is artificial? What is fact and what is fiction? Who are we and how do others shape who we are? Perhaps ultimately, what is the meaning of life and death? In Boundless, the fictive and the real casually coincide in a characters’ existence and in Tamaki’s composition. While the narrator of “Body Pods” reflects on a celebrity death, her boyfriend, Alex, suddenly announces he’s been cheating. The unexpected drama and unreality of the situation is at once gutturally human and artificially staged. As the narrator storms away from Alex, she runs deeper into the woods, perturbed by Alex’s disengagement with the artificial social script of her expectations: “He didn’t cry or fight back or try to make me stay, which was extremely irritating.” Requiring the natural to be more artificial is ironized by her position in the lush forest setting. As Alex’s voice echoes in her recollection, “We’re all going to die one day,” the narrator clings to the artificial to suppress the naturalism of death, be it relational or bodily – the only coping mechanism she can employ.

In another chapter, “1.Jenny,” the question of the Mirror Facebook, is the question of “What is reality?” or “What space constitutes reality?” As Jenny falls further into the internet space occupied by her alternate-self, Tamaki’s metaphoric inclusion of other natural-yet-artificial spaces are also explored. Jenny dives into water, swimming in circles in the liminal space of an artificial water receptacle – a public pool. Similarly, Jenny is socially swimming in circles, immersed in a fluid medium that feels like its natural counterpart: an interconnected social life in an artificial, enclosed space – the internet. As Jenny’s therapist observes of her obsession with the Mirror Facebook: “Whether it’s ‘real’ or not is irrelevant. The value of the profile is the response it provokes within you.” With such compelling sequences Tamaki asks: What might it be like to look upon yourself from the outside? To consider your opposite self? To consider natural and artificial boundaries? What response does the medium provoke within you? While Tamaki creates the text to question, probe, and circle, her interactive and innovative compositional approach ultimately leaves the answers up to the reader.

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Existing Biz http://www.tcj.com/existing-biz/ http://www.tcj.com/existing-biz/#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100823 Continue reading ]]> Today:

Irene Velntzas reviews Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless. 

Tamaki applies her narrative voice and style to both human and natural subjects, resulting in a formlessness, or perhaps an erasure, between human and natural subjects. Lines such as “I get stronger with every passing day” are difficult to attribute to the water depicted in the scene or the person swimming within it. Similarly, affirmations such as “And I’m going to be respected” create a curious relation to either the worker shown carving a tree or the tree itself. This fluid relationship between Tamaki’s words and images provoke a captivating plurality, one that tumbles down one vertical double-page spread to another. At times, the human is relegated to the periphery of the page, clinging to subjectivity in the face of sprawling nature across the two-page spread; at other times, the reverse is true, with the human form clinging to its subjectivity while it views the world from a liminal position in Tamaki’s text. With each page, humanity and nature vie for a balanced co-existence.

Elsewhere:

Douglas Wolk writes about Captain America and politics.

Vice has a good and frank article about the financial life of a young cartoonist.

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Comics Vs. Hitler: An Interview with Mark Fertig http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-industrys-battle-against-hitler-an-interview-with-mark-fertig/ http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-industrys-battle-against-hitler-an-interview-with-mark-fertig/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100805 Take That, Adolf! about the anti-Hitler comics of the WWII era. Continue reading ]]> Arguing over who the greatest comic book superhero is, an argument that often takes the form of who-could-beat-up-who, remains a school yard ritual to this day. But there’s no point in arguing over who the greatest comic book supervillain is: It’s Adolf Hitler.

During the Second World War, the real-world dictator appeared on more comic book covers and in more comic book stories than any of the top ten, twenty or fifty villains of that era combined. Everyone fought Hitler, the Nazis, the Axis Powers, their allies and sympathizers, and, for a time, analogues of them. Not just every superhero of the early 1940s, from the household names to obscure, forgotten heroes, but even the likes of Little Orphan Annie, Andy Panda, and Donald Duck. Sometimes that fighting was abstract, like pitching war bonds or leading paper drives, but more often than not it was in punching Hitler and his cronies in the face, kicking him in the crotch and otherwise visiting cathartic comic book violence upon his caricatured avatar.

In his new book Take That, Adolf!: The Fighting Comics of the Second World War, Mark Fertig chronicles the greatest comic book conflict of all time, when the burgeoning American medium went to war against Hitler. His work is part art book, containing over 500 restored comic book covers from the era, many presented full-sized, and part history, containing a heavily-illustrated 43-page essay about the era that not only offers context to the medium’s boom years and patriotic politics, but also reveals details rarely if ever divulged in such histories.

Whether one’s interest is in the art or the history, the characters or the creators (or any combination thereof), Take That, Adolf! offers a thorough and compelling take on how the Second World War was depicted–and partially fought–at the newsstands of the Golden Age.

I recently spoke with Fertig, whose previous book for publisher Fantagraphics was Film Noir 101: The 101 Best Film Noir Posters of the 1940s-1950s, about the scope of his book, the ugliness of war-era propaganda and the immortality of the pop culture Nazis.

J. CALEB MOZZOCCO: In the terms of the sheer number of covers included, the one cited on the back cover is “more than 500.” Just how many of the World War II-era covers does that entail? Does your work here include every example of Hitler-punching and swastika-smashing, or 90% of it, or half of it? 

And can you tell us a little bit about the criteria you employed when choosing what to include and what not to? I admit that when I first heard about the book, I imagine a collection of covers that mimicked 1941’s Captain America Comics #1, only with different heroes delivering the blow to Hitler.

MARK FERTIG: Perhaps the best way to get at the answer to these questions is to talk a bit about how the project got started.

Before I decided to write this book, I tried to buy it and came up empty. I’ve nurtured life-long fascinations with comic books and the Second World War; I learned to read from comics and have been avidly collecting them ever since, and my fascination with war goes back nearly as far. As a college professor, I’ve taken groups of students to places such as the Normandy beaches, Anzio, and Monte Cassino, to Dachau and Auschwitz. Given the key role the war played in the early development of the comic business, I imagined that there would be at least a half-dozen books already out there. Some routine internet searching turned up next to nothing—just a chapter here and there in Golden Age histories that I already had on my shelf.

I’d previously written a book about movie posters for Fantagraphics, so I put together a gallery of a dozen or so WWII cover images and emailed them to Gary Groth with a general outline of what I thought the book ought to be about. He responded immediately and told me to get to work on it. The only question he asked was when I thought I could have it finished. It’s great to work with a publisher who trusts.

I began by trying to get a sense of just how many covers might be in play. I did countless more internet searches, then dusted off my copies of Gerber’s Photo-Journal Guide to Comic Books and examined each page with a magnifying glass, building a spreadsheet of titles and issue numbers as I went. I started to believe that the list was comprehensive when it surpassed 1,250 entries, but throughout the project I continued to discover new covers. As a matter of fact, one of the best images in the book, L.B. Cole’s outrageous cover for Taffy Comics #2, was first brought to my attention by the book’s designer, Jacob Covey, well after I had submitted everything and thought my part was finished. No one can be sure exactly how many covers directly or indirectly addressed the war, but I’m convinced that at least 1,500 and possibly as many as 2,000 deal with it in one way or another.

Narrowing the possibilities down to a manageable round number of 500 or so wasn’t difficult. As I collected images numerous organizing themes emerged, and these became the spine of the essay: pre-war covers, patriotic heroes, kid gangs, changing depictions of Hitler and other Axis leaders, racist images, war bond drives, funny animal books and so forth. There were so many different things happening on the covers for so many different reasons that after choosing the best examples of each I easily had a book’s worth of covers to set about restoring.

L.B. Cole, 1945



On the subject of that famous Captain America cover, given its prominence in the genre, I was curious why it doesn’t adorn the cover of the book, which instead features a collage of various lesser-known star-spangled heroes manhandling caricatures and symbols of the Axis powers. 

In the book I describe the cover for Captain America Comics #1 as the comic book equivalent of Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. It’s just everywhere — I’ve even seen it printed on canvas and sold at Target. Along with the covers of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, it’s one of the most recognizable and iconic images in the history of comics. That’s why it didn’t belong on the cover of this book. My fear was that by using the Simon and Kirby cover, potential readers might assume that the book contained nothing more than familiar content. Hopefully by showcasing lesser-known or forgotten heroes like The Shield, Captain Freedom, and Uncle Sam, along with a range of iterations of Adolf himself, readers might understand that there was a lot more going on in the comic books of the war years than they previously realized.

Most American comics fans will be familiar with the idea of Jewish-American comics artists, writers and editors using their medium to act out wish-fulfillment or revenge fantasies against Hitler and the Nazis, but I found your phrasing in the “Building Toward War” section interesting. You wrote that, “They began to understand that their creations might be used to warn the public about Hitler and make a dent in America’s pervasive isolationism.” The idea of pre-War comics warning American youth about the war in Europe seems fascinating; do you have any sense of how effective that warning was? Did the comics of 1940 and ’41 convince many readers that U.S. involvement was inevitable, or desirable?

It’s difficult to say to what extent pre-war comics swayed public opinion or actually convinced anyone that American involvement in the war was inevitable, in spite of how much an agenda-driven publisher such as Timely’s Martin Goodman wanted to do so, because the larger domestic zeitgeist of the late 1930s and early 1940s was already all about war. Life magazine covers from 1939 showed images of Japanese soldiers, German naval vessels, and British ack-ack gunners. The United States began drafting young men into the service in September of 1940, the Lend-Lease Act followed soon after.

Naturally there was significant opposition to this rising tide of nationalism from a large segment of the public who didn’t want to see America involved in another catastrophic foreign war, including many on the political right who denounced FDR as a warmonger. It would have been easy for an ostensibly children’s medium such as comic books to simply avoid the war altogether, but given that by and large it didn’t, it’s apparent just how motivated the predominantly Jewish-American creators were in getting the word out about the threat posed by Hitler and Nazi Germany. Who knows how far they actually moved the needle? I think it’s enough to recognize how hard they were trying.

Irv Novick, 1940


I think we also tend to imagine that the comics industry was all-in from the get-go, but you note that superhero comics sort of eased in to direct engagement with Nazi Germany, using swastika-like symbols, being coy with unnamed foreign dictators and countries, or giving them pseudonyms. What accounts for that reluctance—was it political sensitivity, or the relative newness of the medium and the genre, or both? And where would you identify the turning point between drawing weird X-symbols on covers vs. swastikas? Was it the success of Captain America, or the attack on Pearl Harbor, or was it more gradual?

Given the lens of history and what we now know about the Nazi regime it’s easy to assume that comic books would have jumped right in and started pounding on Germany from the get-go, but the typical superhero stories of the late 1930s featured domestic villains who instead reflected the dreary realities of life in depression era America: racketeers, slumlords, and crooked politicians. But soon enough the looming war in Europe and tensions with the Japanese replaced the Great Depression as the central preoccupation of American life, and comic book villains quickly embodied the change.

And yet, despite creators’ desire to spread the word about Nazism, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion in the years and months leading up to Pearl Harbor that we would go to war with Germany, or that we would even go to war at all. This period of uncertainty led all of those pseudo swastikas, imaginary countries and dictators with names that only sounded like Hitler. Readers were gobbling up war stories, but publishers had to be cautious. What would happen if we didn’t go to war after all? In one oft-told industry anecdote, Martin Goodman swapped Hitler’s name out of a story at the eleventh hour because he somehow imagined the German dictator would take him to court.

Any skittishness that publishers felt vanished in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and the war in Europe officially got going. Even if the United States never got into the actual fighting, Nazis were fair game because they were at war with our allies, Great Britain and France. Creators rushed to get swastikas onto their covers and real Nazis into their stories. MLJ’s Top Notch Comics #2 was first, followed a month later by Timely’s Marvel Mystery Comics #4. By the end of 1940 the kids of America were learning all about the Battle of Britain through their comic books, and Martin Goodman couldn’t get Captain America Comics #1 out fast enough, because by then he was terrified that Hitler would be dead before the issue reached newsstands.

Edd Ashe, 1940

How difficult is it in 2017 to engage with the art collected herein? You repeatedly mention the racism prevalent in the comics at the time, not only in the depiction of demonized, dehumanized Japanese, but also of African-Americans. I imagine many modern readers will need to do a bit of mental gymnastics when it comes to decoupling the racism of many of the images from the rest of it in order to find value.

The value in these comics lies in the truth they tell about the America of the war years, a truth that is sometimes overshadowed in our pop culture reverence for the American fighting man and the “greatest generation.” The racism found in the comics, movies and radio programs of the period is as ugly as it is ever-present, so it couldn’t be ignored.

Artist unknown, 1942

I guess it would have been possible to make a book about these covers and stories while minimizing the topic in the text and being extra careful about which images to include and which ones to leave out, but I would have felt like a fraud if I’d done so. And while the book is undoubtedly a celebration of the comic book’s contribution to the war effort, my goal was also to tell the whole story, warts and all.

I doubt anyone would have noticed if I’d omitted something as obscure as Dell’s The Funnies #64, but it was on newsstands in 1942 and so I needed it in the book. And if I’d not mentioned Fawcett’s Steamboat, then I couldn’t tell about the schoolkids who were horrified by the way the he was depicted and actually managed to do something about it. That’s a story worth knowing, particularly because we seem to have made so little progress on race in the seven decades since the war ended.

I really hope that readers don’t try to decouple the racism from the images or just look past artwork that offends, but are instead reminded how glaringly badly the country treated groups of Americans who, ironically by means of the war, proved that their work ethic, courage in battle and love of country was unsurpassed by anyone.

Another thing I learned in your book that surprised me was that in 1943 the Writers’ War Board started trying to influence the comics of the period, and they pushed publishers to work even harder to further dehumanize the enemy through their depictions. That would make the line between government propaganda and a more innocent, or at least diffuse, advocacy on the part of creators awfully blurry. It’s also a little bizarre to think people reviewing the comics covers featuring bestial Japanese and essentially saying, “Well, this is a good start, but could you maybe make this more racist?”

And yet that’s how it actually happened!

The WWB was one of the big surprises of my research—I’d never heard of it before I began the project. If we take a step back and look at the First World War, many Americans believed that they had been lured into fighting by government propaganda. A generation later, FDR needed the full support of an already suspicious public, so he avoided overt propaganda in favor of a “strategy of truth,” while relying on unofficial volunteer groups like the WWB to craft and disseminate the kinds of messages that the government couldn’t.

When Hitler put London under the Blitz, Americans were first in line to condemn the indiscriminate strategic bombing of civilians. But as the war ground on and on and the Allies came to believe that strategic bombing (and ultimately the atomic bomb) was needed to hasten the end of the war, Americans had to be convinced that regular Germans were as responsible as Nazis for starting the war, and that the Japanese were little more than insects. Comic books were blunt, crude, and lowbrow enough to dodge serious scrutiny or criticism. And because practically everyone in the country was reading them, the WWB saw them as an ideal propaganda tool.

Artist unknown, 1944

We talked a little about that famous Captain America cover, and I did want to ask you about the good Captain, as he’s an exemplar of this era and this type of cover. As you noted, he wasn’t the first patriotic superhero, and he was followed by scores of imitators. What made him different, to the degree that he’s starring in movies today instead of The Shield or The Fighting Yank or whoever? I think we tend to assume it was simply that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were just so much better at the game than so many other guys; is that it, or are there other factors that lead to Captain America’s lightning-in-a-bottle quality?

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why Captain America has managed to stand the test time, but my cynical self wonders if it’s just because he’s a Marvel property. It was Captain America who reemerged in Avengers #4, not The Shield or Captain Freedom. If those characters belonged to Marvel, we might be talking about them instead. In spite of that landmark first cover, the amazing Simon and Kirby pages that followed, and the chart-busting sales figures, Cap was put on ice in 1949. Had he not been resurrected by Lee and Kirby fifteen years later, it’s possible he’d be forgotten today.

Still though, that origin story makes me think otherwise. Captain America is, without a doubt, the most appealing, most wish-fulfilling character to come out of the war. I’ll quote Steranko once again, “He was the American truth. The face unrevealed behind the mask was ours.”

Superheroes were around for a few years before the United States entered the war, and they are obviously still around now, but could you imagine the comic book superhero without World War II? The war obviously played a huge role in the development of the genre, but is that role inextricable?

It’s definitely not inextricable. After all, only a handful of superheroes survived the war. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman managed to carry on for DC, though The Shield had been shoved off the pages of MLJ comics by Archie Andrews; Stan Lee and Martin Goodman threw in the towel on Captain America in 1949. Fawcett determined that Captain Marvel’s lagging sales no longer warranted defending their copyrights against DC, so they agreed on a settlement and got out of comics altogether. Other superheroes went into an extended hiatus; most of them simply vanished forever.

Audiences were jaded by all that death, the atomic bomb, and news of what had been done to Europe’s Jews—guys in tights suddenly seemed childish and silly. The rise of the superhero comic had been so bound up in the war that once the fighting ended, nobody knew what else to do with the characters. Wartime comics were almost exclusively plot-driven, with minimal character development. Superman and Batman had once been New Deal ass-kickers; now they were uptight squares. The world at the end of the war had grown up; superheroes comics needed to grow up too, but the writers and artists who had been banging out the stories as fast as they could since the late 1930s weren’t ready to do it. So, readers moved on. Many developed a grim fascination with lurid crime and horror comics; others gravitated to Archie and romance titles; still more went for westerns. Only Donald Duck was as bulletproof as ever. For a while it looked like superheroes would be remembered as a fad of the 1940s.

Then the generation that fought the war started having kids—tons of kids—and remembered how important the superhero comics had once been to them. Their nostalgia for comics, coupled with a surging youth-oriented consumer culture, reignited an interest in superheroes. Superman got his own television show. DC brought back the Flash then launched the Justice League. Marvel dove in shortly thereafter with a healthy dose of angst—you know the rest. In the end it wasn’t the superheroes who saved themselves; it was the generation who fought and won the war, and read a lot of comic books while doing it. They may have moved on from comics, but they didn’t hesitate to encourage their children to start reading them.

One of the fascinating things about this era of comic book history is that it is unique; we would never again see comic book superheroes taking a side like this in any of the many wars that followed, and, in fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine comic book covers going to war now like they did then. Do you have a sense of why that is? Was the nature of the war, the new-ness of the comic book, the absence of television, the mores of the 1940s?

The scope of the war and the many ways in which it dominated American life is almost impossible for anyone who wasn’t alive at the time to imagine. Blackouts, air raid drills, rationing and scrap drives defined daily life from coast to coast. Women entered the workforce to replace the men who left to fight. Kids practiced identifying enemy aircraft, planted victory gardens, and donated their comic books to paper drives that they organized themselves. No family was left untouched by the fighting; every heart skipped a beat at the sight of a Western Union uniform.

When General Eisenhower told the servicemen who land at Normandy that “the eyes of the world are upon you,” he wasn’t kidding. As news of the invasion reached home the country literally shut down. Banks, schools, and shops all closed as Americans went looking for the nearest radio. Movies, songs, radio shows, and comic books all focused on winning the war. That such a global conflagration could happen again in the era of nuclear weapons is unthinkable.

It’s also important to recognize that comic books now occupy a markedly different place in world popular culture; comic book movies, television shows and merchandise generate billions and billions of dollars each year for conglomerates like Time Warner and Disney. It’s difficult to imagine that in this day and age they’d be allowed to take a side.

In your research and work in making this book, did you encounter a particular artist you were previously unfamiliar with whose work you appreciated, or perhaps appreciated in a new light? Personally, I was only vaguely familiar with the name Alex Schomburg before reading Take That, Adolf! and now I could stare at his drawings of The Flaming Torch and Toro all day.

It wasn’t any one artist that got to me –though Mac Raboy, who did wonderful Captain Marvel Jr. and Master Comics covers, has skyrocketed in my esteem)–it was the way the comics were made.

Like many others, I grew up believing in the Marvel bullpen—artists hunched over drawing boards in a big room, typewriters clacking away in the background. As a kid I thought that if I could make it to New York City I could sneak into the Marvel offices and see it all happening in one place. Comics may not have been made that way, but the packagers of the Golden Age came closest. Of course most of the packaging shops had more in common with a factory assembly line or even sweatshops than they did with my imaginary Marvel bullpen, but they were where most of the greats got started.

There’s something magical about being young, broke, full of dreams and there at the beginning of something. My favorite comic book story of all time is the one about how Charlie Biro, Jerry Robinson, Bob Wood, Mort Meskin and a bunch of their pals spent an entire weekend hurriedly banging out the 64 pages of Daredevil Battles Hitler, with nothing to eat and a blizzard raging outside, just so publisher Lev Gleason could get his hands on a bumper crop of newsprint. While working on Take That, Adolf! I must have stumbled across that story in a half-dozen places, and was floored by it every time.

Charles Biro, 1941

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about why Hitler and Nazis in general became such pervasive comic book villains, to the point that heroes are still fighting Nazis in various forms today, and, in a sense, never stopped fighting Nazis. There’s the obvious reason, of course, with Hitler perpetrating the greatest crimes of the 20th century, but characters as diverse as Captain America and Hellboy are still fighting Nazis today, and much of Marvel’s multi-media franchise is built around the fight against the crypto-Nazi organization “Hydra,” which use elements of Nazi iconography.

Nazis are great fodder for pop culture entertainments because they offer such narrative economy. As soon as we see that swastika we know everything we need to know—no wasted panels, paragraphs or minutes of running time. There’s also no risk of readers or viewers gaining sympathy for the Nazis and switching over to their side; it’s one less thing writers have to worry about. What’s the best thing about the movie Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber. Alan Rickman is so good in that part you wish he’d escaped and come back for the sequel. Half the audience was cheering for him. But nobody ever watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and whispered to the guy in the next seat, “I hope the Nazis win…”

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Get Up http://www.tcj.com/get-up/ http://www.tcj.com/get-up/#comments Wed, 17 May 2017 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100747 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, J. Caleb Mozzocco interviews Mark Fertig, the editor of Take That, Adolf!, a recent book on the anti-Nazi comics of World War II.

The value in these comics lies in the truth they tell about the America of the war years, a truth that is sometimes overshadowed in our pop culture reverence for the American fighting man and the “greatest generation.” The racism found in the comics, movies and radio programs of the period is as ugly as it is ever-present, so it couldn’t be ignored.

I guess it would have been possible to make a book about these covers and stories while minimizing the topic in the text and being extra careful about which images to include and which ones to leave out, but I would have felt like a fraud if I’d done so. And while the book is undoubtedly a celebration of the comic book’s contribution to the war effort, my goal was also to tell the whole story, warts and all.

I doubt anyone would have noticed if I’d omitted something as obscure as Dell’s The Funnies #64, but it was on newsstands in 1942 and so I needed it in the book. And if I’d not mentioned Fawcett’s Steamboat, then I couldn’t tell about the schoolkids who were horrified by the way the he was depicted and actually managed to do something about it. That’s a story worth knowing, particularly because we seem to have made so little progress on race in the seven decades since the war ended.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Eleanor Davis was one of eight people arrested yesterday at a Georgia Board of Regents meeting. They were protesting policies that restrict access for undocumented immigrants.

Board members left the meeting when the protest began. When they returned, the demonstrators continued their protests. Several demonstrators repeated the phrase “To come for one of us is to come for all of us,” before their removal.

The demonstrators were taken to the Fulton County Jail.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Process Party is Tom Spurgeon, and the most recent guest on Virtual Memories is R.O. Blechman.

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Leadership Level http://www.tcj.com/leadership-level/ http://www.tcj.com/leadership-level/#respond Tue, 16 May 2017 12:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100738 Continue reading ]]> Well folks, it’s another day, another nerve-racking story. It’s endless. Anyhow, there are still comics. First, Joe McCulloch will tell you about the week in comics, with a side of Corben. 

Elsewhere:

Tom Spurgeon gives us a brief report on TCAF this past weekend.

Here’s a nice local story about Paul Karasik’s commencement speech for this year’s graduating class from the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Not comics: The New Yorker profiles printer and publisher Gerhard Steidl. This is a good read about book-making and niche-publishing that should be of interest in today’s publishing climate.

 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/17/17 – I Feel So Damn Good I’ll Be Glad When I Got the Blues) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-51717-i-feel-so-damn-good-ill-be-glad-when-i-got-the-blues/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-51717-i-feel-so-damn-good-ill-be-glad-when-i-got-the-blues/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100773 Continue reading ]]>

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Open the Door! http://www.tcj.com/dont-open-the-door/ http://www.tcj.com/dont-open-the-door/#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100717 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rachel Davies reviews Sarah Ferrick’s Yours.

Years ago, my primary hobby of choice was looking through old photos. Photos of a group of people mid-laugh at a restaurant’s outdoor patio, clutching Coca Cola branded paper cups that I admired for their antiquated design. Photos of men in a makeshift home–were they soldiers? Miners? I wasn’t quite sure. Women dressed in outdated styles posed with their homemade holiday tinsel. It was irrelevant whether I knew a subject of the photos, or even knew someone who knew someone–it was mostly an exercise taken up because I was bored with the outcome of my own social life. The inherent glossiness in a movie’s presentation of social life bored me–I wanted to observe the glee found in the opposite outcome without it being orchestrated, and that’s what the photos showed me. What was most exciting about these photos was when a photo was graced–months, years, decades ago–with a tiny inscription on the back, some textual clue of how the person behind the camera felt about its subject. The words left behind placed me in the original viewer’s feelings, making the experience all the more emotional.

Reading Sarah Ferrick’s Yours, I’m reminded of the warming sensation of flipping through old photos at this point in my life. While her drawings aren’t inherently social and don’t give me a glimpse into a communal experience, her spare, crushingly meaningful choice of text is similar to the words left behind on the back of a photograph. Her pages are distinctive for their lack of characters; when a figure appears, it’s actually a jolt–breaking with the text-only mode means stumbling to making sense of a character’s appearance. In place of figures, Ferrick morphs her letters to the point where they become more interesting than any standard character. She elevates and surrounds them, giving words far more meaning than available in a dictionary, saturating them with more personality than a simple italic possibly could.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. This year’s Doug Wright Awards were announced this Saturday.

The Librairie Astro comic store in Montreal is raising money via GoFundMe.

Our yearly city tax bill has swollen to an enormous size, leaving us with a $25,000 shortfall. And that’s why we’re coming to you, hat in hand.

We’re just a small independent book/comic shop, not some huge outfit like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. We don’t have more money than God, like they seem to.

—Reviews & Commentary. Hyperallergic reviews the 2dcloud horror anthology, Mirror Mirror II.

In this volume, editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer curate a murderer’s row of alt-comic talent. Anthologies tend to wobble in quality from one story to the next, but the work here bottoms out at vivid and frequently reaches greatness. Empowered to grasp as deeply as they please into the darkest possibilities of their imaginations, these artists merge [Gretchen Alice] Felker-Martin’s ideas of great horror and great porn into a chimera of hideousness so lovingly detailed that it becomes beautiful.


—Interviews & Profiles.
At LARB, Alex Dueben talks to Gabrielle Bell.

When did you say this is a book, and not just a few comics?

I actually can’t quite remember. I mean this is my first full-length book. I’ve tried to do full-length books before and I end up burning out. Like I said, I could spend 10 years on a page so I didn’t really want to turn this into a book, because I didn’t want to fail at that. [Laughs.] I think it was just going to be a small collection of stories, and then when I gathered enough stories, I thought, this could be a book. I’m so cautious now because I failed a lot. [Laughs.] I don’t have that hubris you have when you’re young and think that you can do anything. When I was young I was like, I can write a graphic novel easily! I managed to do some good short stories. Not knowing how to do something sometimes gets you through it. But so does knowing that you don’t know how to do something. I’m aware now of how much I don’t know.

And here’s today not-exactly-comics link, though both interviewer and interviewee are occasionally involved in comics, and several comics creators are mentioned within the interview itself: the great Junot Diáz interviews the even greater Samuel R. Delany.

JD: People have called you a sex radical. What do you suppose they mean? What does it mean to you? Does it come with any political commitments?

SD: Intellectual radicals, rather than actual radicals, are people who say things where they are not usually said. And, yes, all true radicalism has to begin in the body—so being a sex radical means you have to be ready to act radically and be willing to speak about it in places you ordinarily wouldn’t—such as an interview about an activity you might otherwise confine to a journal. That’s how I started—and the world got started around me, as it were, when my mother found my secret writings, took them to my therapist, and they ended up in an article: Kenneth Clarke, who was the head of the Northside Center where I was going for child therapy, quoted them in an article in Harper’s and again in his book, Prejudice and Your Child (1955), and I found myself published because of it. My first professional sale, as it were. I got a lot of attention for it, too. It is the source of most of my “radicalism.”

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The 2017 Doug Wright Award Winners http://www.tcj.com/the-2017-doug-wright-award-winners/ http://www.tcj.com/the-2017-doug-wright-award-winners/#respond Sun, 14 May 2017 03:24:50 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100727 Continue reading ]]> [Press release follows]

The winners of the 13th annual Doug Wright Awards, recognizing the best work and most promising talent in Canadian comics, were announced this evening at a ceremony in Toronto. One of this year’s winners was a first-time Doug Wright Award nominee, and all three are first-time winners.

Doug Wright Best Book Award

(For the best English-language book published in Canada)

Bird in a Cage, by Rebecca Roher (Conundrum Press)

Doug Wright Spotlight Award (a.k.a. The Nipper)

(For a Canadian cartoonist deserving of wider recognition)

Steve Wolfhard, for Cat Rackham (Koyama Press)

Pigskin Peters Award

(For the best experimental, unconventional or avant-garde comic)

The Palace of Champions by Henriette Valium (Conundrum Press)

Giants of the North

This year’s inductee to the Giants of the North Canadian cartoonist hall of fame, which celebrates creators who have made a life-long contribution to the field, is pioneering cartoonist and comics journalist Katherine Collins, formerly known as Arn Saba before transitioning in 1993.

Saba’s character Neil the Horse made his first appearance in Canadian newspapers in 1975 before starring in a 15-issue run of his own comic from 1982 to 1988. Neil the Horse Comics and Stories (Aardvark-Vanaheim, Renegade Press) is often referred to as the world’s first (and last) singing-and-dancing comic book, in reference to Saba’s inclusion of intricately choreographed dance numbers and original sheet music written to act as a soundtrack to Neil’s adventures.

Saba spent several years contributing to Morningside, CBC Radio’s popular national morning show, where he carved out a niche as a commentator on comics and cartoonists. In 1979 he produced and hosted The Continuous Art, a five-part documentary series that explored the cultural ghettoization of comics via interviews with cartoonists Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Milton Caniff, Walt Kelly, and Gil Kane, among others.

Collins was on hand to accept her induction.

The 2017 Doug Wright Awards ceremony was a feature event of this year’s Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) and was held at the Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel Forest Hill ballroom in downtown Toronto. This year’s awards were hosted by Dustin Harbin, a cartoonist and illustrator from North Carolina, and a regular attendee of both TCAF and the Doug Wright Awards.

This year’s winners were chosen by a jury consisting of Sue Carter, editor of Quill & Quire, Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews, and the books columnist for Metro; Alison Lang, editor of Broken Pencil, a magazine focusing on alternative culture in Canada; and Dakota McFadzean, comic artist and author, and 2016 Doug Wright Award winner.

The Doug Wright Awards are a non-profit organization formed in 2004 to honour the lasting legacy of the late, great Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright (1917–1983), whose strip, Doug Wright’s Family, ran in newspapers in Canada and around the world from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. The Doug Wright Awards recognize comics and graphic novels published in the previous calendar year.

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Talking TCAF with Christopher Butcher http://www.tcj.com/talking-tcaf-with-christopher-butcher/ http://www.tcj.com/talking-tcaf-with-christopher-butcher/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100696 Continue reading ]]> Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) has changed the North American comics scene profoundly. Ditching the prevalent for-profit comic show model, TCAF aimed to promote the work of comics to the public. It is free for the public to attend, takes place in the largest library in the city, offers childrens’ and librarian and educator programming, and invites top-notch artists from all over the world, while only charging exhibitors a reasonable amount. Even though every major city now has an indie comic show, many of them following TCAF’s footsteps in various ways, TCAF is still exceptional in its breadth of programming, guests, and support for exhibitors.

TCAF takes place this weekend at the Toronto Reference Library. I spoke with Christopher Butcher, Festival Director at TCAF & manager of The Beguiling, which is the main sponsor of TCAF.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Kim Jooha: What do you do at The Beguiling, TCAF, and Page & Panel?

Christopher Butcher: My name’s Christopher Butcher, I am the festival director of TCAF, and I co-founded it in 2002 with Peter Birkemoe, who owns The Beguiling. I’d been a customer of the store and I’d been living downtown for a while with my roommate Bryan O’Malley. He was making comics, but there was not really any comic conventions that a creator like him could go to, and I had a lot of friends who were in the same boat.They weren’t quite Canzine, but they weren’t also quite like the big FanExpo.

They wanted to go down to SPX. I think they had Joe Matt in the car, and he was a guest, but no one could drive. Peter asked, “Are you going to SPX? Can you drive a car?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll drive down for the group.” I’d always taken van or car loads of my friends down to SPX. We would go every year, because that was the kind of show.

On the way, I was like, “Why are we driving to Maryland to go to a show? Why isn’t there a show like SPX in Toronto?” And he’s like, “Because it’s too much work and I don’t want to do it.” I’m like, “But you’re the only one who could do it. The Beguiling is the center of indie comics and making comics in the city.” And he’s like, “No, that’s stupid.” I was like, “Well, it’s going to be a long car ride, then.” I just badgered him for ten hours. Then, by about three quarters of the way through, he was like, “Ah, fine, I’ll do it, but you have to do it.” So, the deal was that I would mostly put together the show and he would mostly pay for it.

We both had very different Rolodexes of people that we worked with, cartoonists. He was part of the late ’80s, early ’90s alternative scene in Toronto: Seth, Chester [Brown], Joe Matt, and the D & Q guys. I was more contemporary, up-and-coming cartoonists: Oni Press, Image, and that kind of thing. So we started putting together the show. The first one was in March 2003. It was really under the radar for the comics community.

A lot of people don’t know what the first show was. They think it was the one in 2005 where we had the tents behind The Beguiling and in the Honest Ed’s parking lot, but it was actually on Trinity-St. Paul’s on Bloor. It was a little church. We chose that space because Toronto had done an independent book publishers’ fair there, the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, which also didn’t really fit the comics community in Toronto. We only had 600 people show up in the first year.

That’s a lot, though.

That’s a lot for the first year, but The Beguiling had done their 15th anniversary party and they had filled the Bloor. They had 7 or 800 people just to come out to see Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Seth, Chester, Joe, and I think somebody else on stage.

It was okay, it was a good start, and it grew from there. We started adding people along the way, because I think a lot of people realized that it is a really important thing to have a show like this in your city but it also is a tremendous amount of work and I think people don’t realize that from the outside all the time. A lot of people would come and then leave after a year or two. To be honest, Peter and I are not the easiest people to work with sometimes, so that contributed a lot [laughs]. But yeah, we had a vision and we just had to keep doing it. We just had to keep pushing for the show to exist.

It really changed in 2007, because Toronto’s public library system approached us and they were like, “Could you do something like TCAF in Toronto Reference Library?”

So the library approached you guys first?

Yeah. We were like, “Well, we’re already locked in at Victoria College, but why don’t you come and send some people out to see what we do, and if you think that that’s cool, maybe we could talk about 2009?” Because we were doing it every two years. Peter was adamant that we didn’t go more than every two years, because it was so much work that it took away from The Beguiling.

They came and checked it out and they loved it. They said, “You can come to Toronto Reference Library, that would be great.” The library now is very different than it was then. The central atrium has pretty much remained the same, but everything around it has changed. There was no Appel Salon, the Browsery was very different, there was no space there, really. It was really cut off, lots of little hide-y corners and nooks. But, we still did it the first year, and it was successful. But it’s been a learning curve, learning how to use the building and work with the Toronto Public Library staff, who we really disrupt what they do for three or four days. The two days of the weekend, but also in the preparations and things like that.

The Toronto Public Library’s like, “You have to do this every year, because it’s too hard for us to do it every other year.” And we did. We started doing it every year, and that meant bringing in people that could be more available, year round. I think in the second year we brought in Miles, and in the second and a half year we brought in Andrew T.

So second year —

At the library, I mean, sorry. So, in 2010 or 2011, we brought in Andrew T and Miles to work it, and they’ve been with the festival very consistently ever since, and we’ve kept adding … Beguiling staffers have stepped up and added more time, we’ve added more people. Some of our exhibitors had actually become staffers, because they also, in their worlds, organize little groups of people, for conventions or they act as mentors for younger generations of cartoonists. They’re like, “We know what you guys do is really hard. We want to step up, we want to help out,” and that’s really awesome.

We’ve just had some great people join the festival, so now we get to do it year round. Then, adding Page & Panel store was good, because we just got an office out of it. The store is great, I love Page & Panel, but oh my God, I’m so happy to have an office to actually work in.

TCAF until 2014 was mostly run out of a computer on the second floor of The Beguiling. I just was there 70 hours a week in that chair. You know the one behind the counter on the second floor was my computer? We added that computer because I was doing so much TCAF work that it was hard to ring people through. All of TCAF was done at that computer until 2013, and then we finally got an office so I could have a computer behind a door that closed, which was good. I can just come here and work on TCAF stuff uninterrupted. I get twice as much done in a day. It’s kind of crazy, the amount of work that we actually put out.

Before 2010, it was only you working on TCAF?

Yeah, no, we had a lot of people that stepped up for specific roles. We’re very fortunate.

So you came to The Beguiling in 2002?

I was a customer at the store for a few years before that and I just became friends with Peter. I didn’t work at The Beguiling at the beginning, and one of the employees got a job. I was there a lot, setting up TCAF stuff —

When you started working with TCAF, you didn’t work at The Beguiling?

I was just like, “I’m just a guy who’s got this crazy idea, and I just need a computer to work on it with you.” Peter’s like, “Fine,” so I stole one of the computers upstairs to work on. I got to know all the staff, because I was in there all the time, and they asked me to like, “Can you cover the register?” “Can you cover a day?” “I got another job, can you work five days a week?” I was like, “Great.” I didn’t like the job I had at the time and I wasn’t great at it, so it worked out. I started working at The Beguiling in June or something like that, of 2003, but for the first seven or eight months I was just working on TCAF.

Was TCAF the first comic show that didn’t ask public to pay?

We did ask people to pay in the first year. It was five dollars, or pay what you can, because everything in Toronto for the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s was five dollars/pay-what-you-can. And we made probably a thousand dollars or something like that at the door. Almost nothing. Because it was dumb. A lot of people were like, “Oh, I’m going to check this out, I’m not going to pay.” Or like, “I would have given you a hundred dollars.” Well, spend that money with the creators.

We decided in 2005, because it was going to be tents and it was going to be outside, to make it free and to attract as many people as we can. Treat it like everything else that happened behind Honest Ed’s.

And that became the philosophy for the festival. It was determined by where we chose the venue one year, and we just went from there. And we went from 600 people in the first year to 6000. We were taking photographs of the area and counting people. As soon as there’s no barriers to entry, people who were on the fence will be like “Oh, I’ll go check it out then.”

Now our success is a barrier to entry. People like you, who thought “Oh, it’s not going to have the things I like.” No, we’ve totally got exactly, we’ve got more space than ever for people who are doing the art comics, the most alternative artists in that field are coming every year. But it’s also— there’s all this other stuff.

The festival started because I liked a certain type of comics. Peter liked a certain type of comics with a little bit of overlap and we both respected each other’s ideas, and that’s what the first show was. It was people from this spectrum, and as the show has gone forward and we’ve added more people and they bring their own tastes and we get more credibility, internationally, so we’re able to attract different creators who might not have come or might not come to North America at all, that spectrum gets wider and wider and wider every year.

It means that we can cover more of what we think are the best comics in the world, and that’s the point of TCAF. It is to create a platform and to make space for people who are doing good work. Charge the creators as little as we can get away with, charge the public nothing, and create a space where people can buy and take home these pieces of art work and creators can pay their rent that month. That’s what TCAF is.

How does TCAF choose its international guests? It’s very hard to see international — especially Japanese — guests in alternative or indie comic shows.

What we’ve done for the last couple years is, at our annual meeting, our wrap-up meeting after the festival’s over, everyone who had any kind of position of authority with the festival comes to the meeting and we get their feedback. One of the things we say is, “Who is your dream guest for next year? International, local, whomever. Come with a list of names.”

And then we take that list and start talking to publishers and we ask, “Does this creator have any work coming from you in spring of next year, when TCAf is?” Because we’ve found that when we bring an international creator who doesn’t have a new work out in English, the attendance for their participation in the festival is low. Lower than we would like. When a creator does have a new work out, in English, their participation is much, much higher.

And ultimately, we have passed on certain guests because they don’t have a new work in English. And they’re superstar cartoonists and we feel bad about it. But the only thing worse than feeling bad about missing out on an opportunity to bring a good cartoonist to Toronto, for me, is bringing a great cartoonist to Toronto and having no one fucking show up. That has happened a couple of times in the past, both for TCAF and Beguiling events. It is gut-wrenching. It feels terrible.

We also work with a lot of international funders, consulates and cultural agencies from countries. They love comics. If you’re working in the book or the arts department of a cultural agency, you like comics. Everywhere else in the world but North America. People who work for the French book office are huge BD fans. The people who work in the Spain arts and culture understand comics. They maybe don’t dig super deep into the history of comics, but they have five or six favorite comics. People who work at consulates always try to get their favorites in the city that they work in.

And a lot of it is who’s available, and we’re trying to plan further and further in advance. It’s always tough. But we have actually, successfully, had a couple of books come out in English because we were willing to bring the creators over. Or had those books come out around TCAF because we were willing to bring a creator over.

That makes me feel really good, it’s getting more works from translation into print.

Translated works are rare in English.

Yeah. North Americans don’t like to read works in translation.

I was surprised to see the “Image 25 Years” event in this year’s TCAF. It’s super-mainstream, even compared to First Second. Last year there was Brian K. Vaughan. But there has been no Marvel or DC at TCAF. How do you decide that boundary?

There’s actually Marvel and DC work at TCAF every year.

I didn’t see them!

It just doesn’t get the same spotlight. TCAF has a politics to it, and that politics is … so irrelevant outside of the comic book industry, but it is creator ownership. If you make the work and then you own the work after you make it, then we will support you. Again, as long as the work’s any good. We don’t work with a couple of smaller publishers that don’t have good creator ownership contracts. Image isn’t like that, and we’ve always been welcoming to Image creators. I think a thing about Image in general, Brian K. Vaughan specifically, is that they’ve been very vocal and very critical of Marvel and DC and the practices of Marvel and DC owning all of your work after you do them.

If I can take a bunch of people that would never come to TCAF and get them to come to TCAF and to see the message that creators who make a book should own that book entirely, then I’m winning hearts and minds. That means that we’re creating more freedom for people to create the work they want to create.

More importantly, Image is a model that has real financial success attached to it. I don’t believe that comics necessarily have to be a thing that you create and never make any money from. I think that’s a broken idea. It plays into the fantasy of the poor artist starving for their artwork. Life doesn’t have to be like that. It is, for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Image is one of the many models where if you’ve got a good idea that will resonate with people and you’re willing to put the work in, you can win the lion’s share of the rewards from the sales of that work.

Now, a lot of the work ends up looking like Marvel and DC work, but a lot of it doesn’t. I think that the fact that Image can publish something like Sex Criminals—which is legitimately a good comic book, but more importantly has ideas in it that are about sex and relationships and just existing in the world as a human being—is important, and I think the fact that it’s wrapped up in something that looks more commercial and less what we think of as artistic, is not a fault of the work at all. I think it’s absolutely a strength.

I knew Image would be a weird thing for a lot of people to accept, but for me it’s always been, even Image didn’t realize it, but more in our family than they have been in the mainstream comics family. Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? I think the deal they’re giving people is good. I think the production quality is above average, but obviously not as nice as a really nice Fantagraphics book.

I think that the more people that are making work at Image, the more people will eventually go on and make work elsewhere too, because there are things that you can’t do at Image, stories that you can’t tell there. They’re a publisher with an identity and an ideology, and not every work fits there, but the fact that they were able to relax things up to the point to have Island come out with Brandon Graham and Emma Rios editing it, that included, Michael DeForge doing what Michael DeForge does, is incredible. I think that they put 15 issues of that out, is also incredible. I think that there’s more space for that at Image than maybe even Image realizes. So, I’m hoping they have a good year. I’m hoping they see what the rest of the industry could look like at something like TCAF, and I hope that changes things for the better.

What do you think about other shows that follow TCAF’s lead?

Ultimately, as long as they’re free to the public to attend, we’re strongly in favor. We really want the model of comics show that we’ve come up with that, through trial and error, through finding the best way to serve the public, to serve the creators, and to serve the medium to become the dominant model.

The Comic-Con model of $40, $50 admission is bullshit. It has to stop. It won’t stop, there’s too much money in it, but if I can work with the team to present a different model and then that model is adopted and then spread far and wide, then Comic-Con model starts to look stupider and stupider to people. And that’s a win.

Americans say that one thing that makes it harder for them to start a comic show is the lack of government funding.

Yeah. That’s real. That’s one of the discussions that’s happening online right now, about how it’s easier to make comics in Canada, because you can devote more time to it because you don’t have to work another job to get health insurance. That’s a really basic thing. I am not working 40 hours a week to provide healthcare before I can start working on my comics. That is totally legitimate.

When you get beyond that, when you get to, “Oh, I can get grants for my work, I can get touring money for my work. My publisher can get grants for my work.” That’s a whole different model. I think by and large we are tremendously lucky to live in Canada and to make comics in Canada. TCAF is tremendously lucky to be a festival in Canada. It does make it hard for shows that want to follow in our footsteps. No lie. It absolutely does.

But we didn’t get government funding I think until 2012 or 2013, for the festival itself. It was privately funded by The Beguiling, and we were still able to offer a free show.

But as soon as the government funding came in, we were able to offer a better program, and have more exhibitors and more international guests. I think all of the things that I said stick, but there’s a scale that you can operate a show that we do with private funding that does sustain itself, and I hope people find that. I hope people in the States find that. It means you’ve got to find as many like-minded people as you can, and some of them have to have some money to start.

I also want to talk about Page & Panel, because it’s the TCAF shop. Why is it different from The Beguiling? Page & Panel even has food and drinks!

\Page & Panel was conceived as halfway between a comic book store and the official library gift shop. Basically TCAF doesn’t look like The Beguiling. A lot of the stuff that you find at TCAF you’ll find at The Beguiling, but things like prints or enamel pens aren’t at The Beguiling every year. Page & Panel hopefully represents a fuller idea of what TCAF actually brings to the library year-round, whereas The Beguiling keeps its focus very firmly on comics.

Every store does react and adapt to its neighborhood. Having a drink fridge is because 4,000 people walk through the library everyday, some of them are thirsty and it earns at its space, having little snacks.

The product mix is always evolving too, we want to stay fresh and we want to do different stuff, so we’ll bring in new lines, some of them work, some of them don’t. We want to have it be a cool retail shop that’s curated and that doesn’t always easily exist anymore, because online shopping has made it easier to hunt, pick, and find the thing for the cheapest discount. It’s working great. I think it’s because it has the TCAF name behind it, that lets people expect a little bit when they walk through the door. The store is contributing to the overall bottom line of TCAF, which is really amazing.

Would you recommend others to do the job you have: starting comics show or comics retailing?

It’s hard to build anything. Starting from scratch is the hardest thing. It’s not impossible, but it takes much more work and effort. I have a very firm belief that putting something into the world that is not well thought out can hurt the chances for the people that follow.

When you say, “Should people start a comic book store?” I don’t know that they should, unless they’ve got a strong brand, unless they’ve got a lot of experience already working in comic book stores, unless they’ve already got a lot of experience working in real retail stores, because fully half of comic book store ordering now should be through real book store channels. Ordering through Diamond is done, like you still have to order through Diamond to get certain things, but not everything, and anything you cannot get through Diamond is usually better to get it from a different distributor. Finding the kind of person who has all of those abilities or finding the team that has all of those abilities is tough, so to the average person if they were like, “Should I start a comic book store?” I’d say, “No, unless you have all of these things. You can still try, and I’m not going to stop you, but I’m going to be aware that if you fuck this up.”

Every time a comic book store closes, if they’ve got 100 customers, it’s not like those 100 customers go to the next store up the street. Half of them have stopped collecting comics. We don’t want comic book stores to close, unless they’re bad, unless they’re toxic, because you lose comic book readers, and every comic book reader is a possible customer for your store, and a possible occasional customer once a year, once every couple of years, but everything helps. When that comic book store closes you lose those readers, and that doesn’t help us. I would rather have a successful competitor than a competitor who aren’t in business.

Running a comic book show doesn’t require as much specialized knowledge as running a bookstore does. It does require very specialized knowledge in smaller doses, things like how to deal with hotels and if you fuck that up your show is over. If you forgot to order a book or you didn’t set up an account up, your store doesn’t close, you just like don’t get that book. If you don’t understand how hotel bookings work and guaranteed room rates and having that money and things like that, then they just cancel your hotel on Friday night and none of your guests have anywhere to stay and all of your room bookings are blocked and everyone’s pissed at you and the show stops. I’ve seen that happen literally three times. Once in Toronto.

If people want to approach me about starting anything, I just say, “Start small and within your means. Find somebody who’s got money, or if you’re the person who has money, find somebody that’s going to put the work in. Split everything fairly with them and just do your best. Start small and grow.” A couple of people that have actually approached us before starting shows and they’ve had great shows and they’ve continued to grow and that’s awesome. Some people try to start with the biggest show in the world and either end up catastrophically failing or just wasting like a $100,000 on nothing.

I think there’s lots of space for people to create things, and I think that people are finding new ways to create more space for other people everyday. I would never say don’t do a thing that you want to do. I would say, “Really think it through and try to do the best job that you can, and find the people that are doing the work and ask them the questions, and ask them for things that they might even not know to ask as well.”

Should someone start a comic book show? Well, like I said, it’s very hard. You will work a crazy amount of hours, and you will definitely trade parts of your health, because we’re all sitting in a chair 16 to 18 hours a day. Think about what you want to do it and what you’re willing to give up for it, because there’s always a trade. If you can do something cool and you know you can do a good job of it and you can put good work into the world, then that’s like the best thing. You should totally do it.

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Another Toilet Cover http://www.tcj.com/another-toilet-cover/ http://www.tcj.com/another-toilet-cover/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100685 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Kim Jooha talks to TCAF director Chris Butcher ahead of this weekend’s festival.

Before 2010, it was only you working on TCAF?

Yeah, no, we had a lot of people that stepped up for specific roles. We’re very fortunate.

So you came to The Beguiling in 2002?

I was a customer at the store for a few years before that and I just became friends with Peter. I didn’t work at The Beguiling at the beginning, and one of the employees got a job. I was there a lot, setting up TCAF stuff —

When you started working with TCAF, you didn’t work at The Beguiling?

I was just like, “I’m just a guy who’s got this crazy idea, and I just need a computer to work on it with you.” Peter’s like, “Fine,” so I stole one of the computers upstairs to work on. I got to know all the staff, because I was in there all the time, and they asked me to like, “Can you cover the register?” “Can you cover a day?” “I got another job, can you work five days a week?” I was like, “Great.” I didn’t like the job I had at the time and I wasn’t great at it, so it worked out. I started working at The Beguiling in June or something like that, of 2003, but for the first seven or eight months I was just working on TCAF.

Was TCAF the first comic show that didn’t ask public to pay?

We did ask people to pay in the first year. It was five dollars, or pay what you can, because everything in Toronto for the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s was five dollars/pay-what-you-can. And we made probably a thousand dollars or something like that at the door. Almost nothing. Because it was dumb. A lot of people were like, “Oh, I’m going to check this out, I’m not going to pay.” Or like, “I would have given you a hundred dollars.” Well, spend that money with the creators.

We decided in 2005, because it was going to be tents and it was going to be outside, to make it free and to attract as many people as we can. Treat it like everything else that happened behind Honest Ed’s.

And that became the philosophy for the festival. It was determined by where we chose the venue one year, and we just went from there. And we went from 600 people in the first year to 6000. We were taking photographs of the area and counting people. As soon as there’s no barriers to entry, people who were on the fence will be like “Oh, I’ll go check it out then.”

Elsewhere:

My pro tip for TCAF: First thing you do, buy Gary Panter’s Songy in Paradise. It’s an accessible, profound meditation on resilience and human vulnerability. The Doug Wright Awards is having a fundraising auction with art referencing Archie on that comic’s 75th anniversary. Check out the remarkable Chester Brown page!

Here’s a nice review on Hyperallergic of Mirror Mirror II, the horror comics anthology edited by Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer.

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Yours http://www.tcj.com/reviews/yours/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/yours/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100623 Continue reading ]]> Years ago, my primary hobby of choice was looking through old photos. Photos of a group of people mid-laugh at a restaurant’s outdoor patio, clutching Coca Cola branded paper cups that I admired for their antiquated design. Photos of men in a makeshift home–were they soldiers? Miners? I wasn’t quite sure. Women dressed in outdated styles posed with their homemade holiday tinsel. It was irrelevant whether I knew a subject of the photos, or even knew someone who knew someone–it was mostly an exercise taken up because I was bored with the outcome of my own social life. The inherent glossiness in a movie’s presentation of social life bored me–I wanted to observe the glee found in the opposite outcome without it being orchestrated, and that’s what the photos showed me. What was most exciting about these photos was when a photo was graced–months, years, decades ago–with a tiny inscription on the back, some textual clue of how the person behind the camera felt about its subject. The words left behind placed me in the original viewer’s feelings, making the experience all the more emotional.

Reading Sarah Ferrick’s Yours, I’m reminded of the warming sensation of flipping through old photos at this point in my life. While her drawings aren’t inherently social and don’t give me a glimpse into a communal experience, her spare, crushingly meaningful choice of text is similar to the words left behind on the back of a photograph. Her pages are distinctive for their lack of characters; when a figure appears, it’s actually a jolt–breaking with the text-only mode means stumbling to making sense of a character’s appearance. In place of figures, Ferrick morphs her letters to the point where they become more interesting than any standard character. She elevates and surrounds them, giving words far more meaning than available in a dictionary, saturating them with more personality than a simple italic possibly could.

The book has four different stories, one of them being Sec, a zine that was released by 2dcloud last spring. While they explore different experiences, each story approaches an event or relationship in a markedly Ferrick way–not by setting us up within a context, or telling a typical story revolving around places or people. If one were to lazily appraise Ferrick’s work as diaristic, it would be a meticulously kept journal — one that gets straight to what’s important: the emotions of the event. Ferrick’s narrators toss and turn with their feelings, and are noticeably aware of their viewers, “I almost wrote sex instead of sec–well this is embarrassing,” she writes at the beginning of Sec. Ferrick zeroes in on these emotions not only with the meaning of the words that occupy the text, but with the physicality of the words themselves, as they grow large enough to eat up an entire page and become nearly illegible in the process.

The book seems concerned with yearning, mostly. The narrator admits, “this is my 2nd letter to you,” shortly after explaining that they wish they had kissed “or asked to kiss” their subject, and is mostly concerned with the past–“God I laughed, Dear God I laughed,” they reflect as an August night turns to September. Ferrick’s choice of words is precise not in its complexity but in its candidness. Ferrick elects for words like “OH” or “AH,” even a “HEY” to appear repeatedly in the book, illustrating her narrator’s desperation. Reading Sarah Ferrick’s Yours and thinking back to my depressing old hobby helps me get to the heart of this past time–the incomparable sensation of yearning.

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Uh Oh http://www.tcj.com/uh-oh/ http://www.tcj.com/uh-oh/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 12:00:50 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100660 Continue reading ]]> Today, Greg Hunter returns with the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast. This time, he talks to Ben Sears.

Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas!

Also, Robert Boyd reviews Crawl Space, by Jesse Jacobs.

Crawl Space’s cover is a rainbow-color explosion—a geometric face on the cover with a screaming mouth and an eye in its forehead. Filled with colorful detail, it looks like the cover of some forgotten psychedelic record album.

It doesn’t let up inside. The inside cover pages feature grids of 71 grinning, wide-eyed faces, all drawing with multicolor lines. They appear manic and alarmed. The title page is basically similar—a single somewhat sinister grinning creature staring at the reader, portrayed in intense rainbow colors. Then the first page brings it down to earth—a washer and dryer portrayed in stark black and white, floating in a page of full-bleed black. Then there are several more pages of psychedelic color as two characters start interacting in a densely-drawn environment of pure color. One of the characters, Daisy, seems to be guiding the other, Jeanne-Claude, who is experiencing anxiety. Daisy is guiding Jeanne-Claude on her first trip down the rabbit hole. They drink tea from a little tea-pot-shaped creature (that changes color in each subsequent panel), which causes the hallucinations to intensify.

Then the two rainbow colored people climb out of the washer and dryer back into the ordinary world. Daisy quickly reverts to a black and white being while Jeanne-Claude takes longer. Black and white in Crawl Space symbolizes ordinary reality. Daisy asks Jeanne-Claude not to tell other people about the washer and dryer experience. She is “still trying to fit in. I don’t want to be known as the girl with the magical appliances. I just don’t want that stuff defining me.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes writes about cartoons and freedom of the press.

It was 1903 and Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker had had enough. After a year of being depicted as a parrot by the cartoonist Charles Nelan of the North American newspaper, the governor wanted the satirical drawings stopped. The reason for Pennypacker’s frustration was that the cartoonist was using this visual metaphor to portray him as a mouthpiece for special interests. The governor did not take kindly to that and had an anti-cartoon bill introduced into the state legislature in order to silence his detractor. The bill proposed a ban on “any cartoon or caricature or picture portraying, describing or representing any person, either by distortion, innuendo or otherwise, in the form or likeness of beast, bird, fish, insect, or other unhuman animal, thereby tending to expose such person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Pennypacker’s attempt to silence his critic backfired, though, when another cartoonist proceeded to draw the governor as a tree, a beer mug and a turnip.

—Gabrielle Bellot writes about Moebius, focusing particularly on Edena and gender.

Despite his fame in France and with renowned directors like Miyazaki, however, Moebius still, arguably, remains too-little-known in America. “You see it everywhere,” Ridley Scott said in 2010 of the French artist’s influence, adding that “it runs through so much you can’t get away from it,” but this is precisely where Moebius unfortunately lies for all too many people: beneath the surface. This is partly cultural; in France and Belgium, comics, or bandes dessinées (literally, drawn strips), tend to be held to a much higher esteem, even being classified as “the ninth art” alongside cinema, photography, and many others, and the Western stigma that labels cartoons as a form for children holds less true in Japan. Moebius’ relative obscurity in America is partly because comics, themselves, have only recently begun to attract the wider critical attention they deserve. And this is truer, still, of one of his most underrated, yet most ambitious, solo works: the lush, extraordinary cycle of stories, The Gardens of Edena, which freely blends fantasy and sci-fi, and which was released as a whole in a gorgeous new edition last December. Reading the stories for me was a revelation: here was a luxuriant grand narrative that, like an operatic Midsummer Night’s Dream on the starry deck of a spaceship, asked where the nebulous road of dreams ends and the road of non-dreams begins, all while telling a byzantine tale of love, politics, the body, and evil. To me, Moebius’ Edena cycle may well be his masterpiece—and one I find even more interesting due to its intriguing explorations of gender.

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Episode 19: Ben Sears http://www.tcj.com/episode-19-ben-sears/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-19-ben-sears/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 12:00:08 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100367 Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Continue reading ]]>

 

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

 

Previous Episodes

Episode 18: Maggie Umber

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by Freesound.org user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
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http://www.tcj.com/episode-19-ben-sears/feed/ 0 0:31:48 Ben Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Ben Sears (Night Air, Volcano Trash) talks John Romita Jr. and Jacques Tati. Plus, the ultimate gag-strip faux pas! Mike Dawson no no
Crawl Space http://www.tcj.com/reviews/crawl-space/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/crawl-space/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 12:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100223 Continue reading ]]> Crawl Space’s cover is a rainbow-color explosion—a geometric face on the cover with a screaming mouth and an eye in its forehead. Filled with colorful detail, it looks like the cover of some forgotten psychedelic record album.

It doesn’t let up inside. The inside cover pages feature grids of 71 grinning, wide-eyed faces, all drawing with multicolor lines. They appear manic and alarmed. The title page is basically similar—a single somewhat sinister grinning creature staring at the reader, portrayed in intense rainbow colors. Then the first page brings it down to earth—a washer and dryer portrayed in stark black and white, floating in a page of full-bleed black. Then there are several more pages of psychedelic color as two characters start interacting in a densely-drawn environment of pure color. One of the characters, Daisy, seems to be guiding the other, Jeanne-Claude, who is experiencing anxiety. Daisy is guiding Jeanne-Claude on her first trip down the rabbit hole. They drink tea from a little tea-pot-shaped creature (that changes color in each subsequent panel), which causes the hallucinations to intensify.

Then the two rainbow colored people climb out of the washer and dryer back into the ordinary world. Daisy quickly reverts to a black and white being while Jeanne-Claude takes longer. Black and white in Crawl Space symbolizes ordinary reality. Daisy asks Jeanne-Claude not to tell other people about the washer and dryer experience. She is “still trying to fit in. I don’t want to be known as the girl with the magical appliances. I just don’t want that stuff defining me.”

This defines the drama. It has all the earmarks of a cautionary drug story—one teen gets into some heavy duty psychedelic drug, tells a friend about it, and it snowballs from there. It is also like a horror story—teenagers discover something that they shouldn’t. The genre of something strange inside the house is a venerable one: The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, House of Leaves, The Amityville Horror, etc. But the difference between Crawl Space and these stories is that as disturbing as the experience of going into the washer and dryer, it’s ultimately pleasurable. Indeed, the problem seems to be that it is addictive.

Needless to say, Jeanne-Claude is unable to keep it secret. Soon Daisy is taking other friends into the washer and dryer. Daisy takes one of the little critters from the washer-dryer world to school. Lots of kids end up going to the washer-dryer world and start vandalizing the environment. Daisy tries to remind visitors to “remain calm and focused” and “behave with positive intentions.” But these are teenagers. Eventually there is a big party at Daisy’s house when her parents are out of town. The house is trashed as is the washer-dryer environment. One kid remarks to Jeanne-Claude, “I wouldn’t go inside if I were you. Some of the older kids had sex in there!” The dryer is laying on its side and Jeanne-Claude observes, “Sick! Somebody threw up in here!” The creatures there have been abused—a gremlin has his neck caught in plastic six pack rings and one of the teapot creatures has been shattered. Many of the creatures become hostile and defensive. Jeanne-Claude finds Daisy, whose identity has almost completely melded with the environment. (I’m writing out something that is portrayed visually in the book.)

The party is busted by the cops. The house has to be cleared by a pest-control firm (which captures all the psychedelic critters) and Daisy is to be sent off to boarding school. But just before the end, Daisy wanders into a culvert and seemingly discovers a new weak spot between planes of existence.

There are interstitial chapters that discuss how these psychedelic planes of existence are normally reserved “highly enlightened beings” but that some of planes are accessible through “weak areas of the was the cosmic fabric was slightly torn.” The washer-dryer world appears to be one of these places.

Crawl Space ends up being a bizarre combination of genres. It has the elements of a teen comedy movie (complete with the party that gets out of hand), but also a teen cautionary tale (the kind that used to be the popular YA books before post-apocalyptic adventures became the default YA genre). It has elements of drug narratives like The Doors of Perception and  Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and the failed enlightenment story (think Weathercraft by Jim Woodring). And let’s not forget the narratives of houses as portals to strange worlds mentioned above. The washer and dryer are analogous to the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This bizarre mash-up of genres is enough to mark Crawl Space as unique, but I think what readers will remember most about it are the unrelentingly psychedelic graphics. Jacobs’ visual imagination has been the cornerstone of all his books, By This You Shall Know Him and Safari Honeymoon, but it really takes over Crawl Space. It is a metaphor for a kind of heightened consciousness. For an art lover like myself, it is a metaphor that rings very true. Visual pleasure from viewing art is both satisfying and dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that it appeals solely to the eye—it is what Marcel Duchamp called “retinal art” when he rejected in favor of art that is philosophical, religious, moral. Jesse Jacobs wants his readers to have it both ways—he supplies the reader with eyeball kicks while warning against their easy pleasures.

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“Supreme Optimism in the Face of Actual Reality”: An Interview with Sammy Harkham (Part II) http://www.tcj.com/supreme-optimism-in-the-face-of-actual-reality-an-interview-with-sammy-harkham-part-ii/ http://www.tcj.com/supreme-optimism-in-the-face-of-actual-reality-an-interview-with-sammy-harkham-part-ii/#comments Wed, 10 May 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100548 Continue reading ]]> (Continued from Part One)

INFLUENCES

Blood of the Virgin feels like a very unusual comic in some ways, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how. Maybe it’s partly the way you use a lot of classic comics symbols and body language and apply them to a serious realistic story.

Dave McKean wasn’t available to draw it for me.

The Hernandez brothers do something similar, especially Jaime, and I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of…

Chester Brown.

Oh yeah, of course he does that.

I was reading Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, and I was struck all over again by his drawing. He has this cartoon style that’s like Frank King silhouettes, very nice, billowy, simple silhouettes, and then he goes in with that didactic shading. There’s are a couple people whose work is cartoony but grounded, but also the stories have very complex characters and relationships. Those are people I look up to and aspire to.

Mostly though, it is still looking at old comics. There’s two big oversized Tintin volumes that came out when the movie came out. I’ve never really read Tintin, I can’t really read it, but at that size I can really look at it. That, looking at Gasoline Alley, and looking at Roy Crane. I don’t hold the books open to study when I work, but it stays with me, it’s a guiding principle. To this day, that is still the biggest inspiration. If I look at a Frank King Sunday page, I am floored by the tone of it, the language of the lines. You can’t put it into words with great comics like that. There’s something that’s undefinable, but in my mind, and I think other people feel this, it feels humble, it feels modest. The lines are very thin and uniform, so it feels almost casual and considered all at once. He’s putting all this detail and care into how someone’s coat will flap open when they’re walking and it’s just right.

It makes you really think of those details about lived experience. I think Chris Ware is really interested in that, and he’s really good at that. He’ll play with scale to make you realize how really weird something is. Frank King is doing the same thing by just drawing a fence being smashed and having each fencepost spread a certain way. It’s very deeply felt. These characters, the emotion of it is so strong, you just think, god, he has mastered this and it’s 1919. There are pages in Gasoline Alley where he’s drawing water and the way he’s mastered the spray of water … That’s something artists today haven’t figured out, how to draw water [laughs] spraying outwards or how to draw a beach. It’s so hard, and he figured it out a hundred years ago and so if I could just harness that and take some of that energy and bring that into another kind of story, I feel that would be cool. Obviously, of course, there’s something very disturbing about being so enamored by something that almost nobody cares about.

How so? Why is that disturbing?

Because who wants that? [Hodler laughs] Besides you, who wants that? How many people know about that stuff? I guess Russ Cochran and people on his mailing list, but they’re not going to read Blood of the Virgin. I’m not even as good as Frank King [laughs] so there is no point. and so this is just how deep you can go into this well of thinking, where you go, this is a bad idea! What is this impulse to spend years and years on something like this?


Well, there’s the commercial element, but artistically, if it works it works, whether or not people know who Frank King is. If you’re able to tap into what he’s doing on any level, then people will respond to that when they read it, whether they know Gasoline Alley or not.

Right. Fair enough. Hopefully, you end up with a good comic. In 2014, I started realizing that drawing is not so much about drawing realistically or right, it’s just design. It’s purely this shape which is conveyed as a hand and this shape which is conveyed as a head. Just make it look nice, so when something is not working in a drawing, it’s not because it’s not “right,” it’s just that the design is wrong. The line needs to be thicker or thinner or whatever it is. I started looking at a lot of Gil Kane in that way and it was very inspiring. The guy who drew Hägar the Horrible, I forget his name. Dik—

Dik Browne.

Dik Browne! I got some issues of Nemo in Australia. There was some article in Nemo about early Dik Browne stuff, and I thought it was similar to Gahan Wilson. It kind of opened my eyes a little bit to drawing as form, as shape. All that sort of stuff. When you don’t have any distractions, you can just think about drawing, like what is it that you’re doing? I’d never really thought about it. You’re just intuitively working when you’re younger, you’re intuitively just trying to figure it out, and you just know when it’s right. You don’t know whats causing it to be right, but when something’s wrong, you don’t know what’s making it wrong, you just know it’s not right. With writing, I started being able to see what was wrong, and i would know how to fix it, and it would just be a matter of finding the solution. I would just need to go for a walk and I’ll solve it. Drawing was more difficult. It is only in the last two years that I started realizing what drawing is, and it’s become easier.

 


KRAMERS 9


I should ask about Kramers 9 because I’m taking up so much of your time. Is this the first issue that doesn’t include any of your own drawings?

I think so. Yes. I’m not in it at all, which is great.

Does it feel as personal a book to you despite that, or does it feel different?

I don’t even think about it. This is the first issue I’m really proud of.

Really?

I had done two issues in a row where the format was decided beforehand, where I had a thematic idea and i wanted stuff to fit within that. With the big book, it’s large, things have to work at this size, but what happens is that as you work on it the book evolves inevitably, and you can either roll with that and course correct or you can be stubborn and you end up with a book that isn’t what you wanted. Kramers 8 was small, and I wanted a certain kind of tone and certain kinds of stories so that was difficult, too. I like the book. I like them all fine, but with 9 I didn’t set the dimensions from the outset, I didn’t decide if it would be a hardcover or a softcover. I let the work dictate everything. I would tell artists to submit but I don’t know the exact size. I wanted it to be a size where I can look at the art as artwork, where you can study it as drawings, but I also want it to be a good reading size. If it’s only 90 pages, then 11 by 15 is fine. That’s a nice size, because it’s thin, but if it ends up being a big book, then you’ll have to shrink it down because it would be too heavy to read in bed or on the bathroom toilet. So I basically slowly just started asking people to send me stuff with little info. “I’m not sure about the size but it’s going to roughly be somewhere between here and here.”

The other thing was I decided I would tell people if I wanted changes to their strip. I learned from previous issues where I thought, “I don’t love this thing, but it will be fine when the book comes out. I will forget about my problems with it and it will be fine.” But it never is. [Hodler laughs] Five years, ten years go by, you look through the book and go why the fuck is that in there? So I told people to submit, I’m not sure what the format is, and also there’s no guarantee of inclusion. I think that’s good because i think it puts a bit of a fire in people, it puts a bit of a competitive spirit in people. And it gave me the opportunity to take more chances on asking people. There are artists in Kramers 9 who I maybe wouldn’t ask if I was definitely giving them a spot, because I’d only want stuff to be great. With this I could take more chances. And some people were rejected and they would submit again or other people would submit and I’d say I really like it, but the ending doesn’t feel like an ending, so that conversation might lead to me thumbnailing something for them, and then them either feeling it or not. With other people, it was just talking to them about the story itself, if they wanted to. Some people like sending you stuff as they’re working on it and getting feedback and some people want to send you finished stuff. Regardless I tried to treat it like it was my own work, which I think is a good way of treating stuff when you are an editor. You want to run stuff that you can stand behind like it’s your own. I think they know that I respect them, so it was all good.

Did anyone turn in a story that needed nothing? That was just perfect?

Yes, of course. Kim Deitch. Noel Freibert’s one-pagers. There were a bunch of stuff that came in and didn’t need anything from me. Most of my input was small stuff: a story not having a title and sending a list of potential titles to the artist, or suggesting a story that was sent to me in color story run in black and white. In the past I would not even suggest that to an artist. This time I did and it went fine. It was a fun project because I started working on it in 2013, and I made sure to only work on it at home. I had rented a room in an apartment to draw comics and there was no computer there, so I couldn’t work on Kramers during the day. I wouldn’t even work at it much at all on the weekend when I was at home. I would flip through the layout when stuff arrived and I would email people when an idea struck, but it was more like a nice hobby. Like tending a garden. It kept me really engaged with comics in a nice way while working on Blood of the Virgin. And then when it was due, I took the InDesign doc of the whole book that I had been building piece by piece and I opened up a completely new document and only put my favorites in there first, thinking I’ll add my second favorites after. But with only my favorites included, we were at 290 pages, and I was like, that’s it. That’s the book.

How many pages were in the other folder?

Maybe another forty? Fifty?

That’s a pretty good percentage.

Yeah, and it’s not like those stories wouldn’t appear elsewhere. What happens is it’s not that the material is bad, because like I said I was involved in all of it. I told people upfront if I could include it or not, but what happens is at some point you start getting a sense of what the tone of the book is and that idea of course-correcting was very much a part of this, not having a preconceived notion of what it should be, and from there you start seeing that some stories don’t fit. There was one story—I won’t say who the artist was but this poor person had sent me a story and I loved it. I told him it would go in Kramers 8. I took it out of Kramers 8 because tonally it didn’t fit. Kramers 9 comes around, and I ask if I can use the story. Okay, great, it’s still available. Doesn’t get included. So maybe it will be in volume 10. Sometimes stories just don’t fit. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of the book itself.

You said this particular story didn’t fit and you probably can’t go into specifics about why, but is it something that you can articulate to yourself, or is it all intuitive?

At the end of the day, it’s intuitive. Because it’s not like there’s a theme. It’s intuitively going I like this and it fits well next to this thing, if you go in order. They’re designed to be read in order. Obviously most people don’t read it in order, but you’re just going this fits here, this fits here. And then I’m getting into this habit, I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but there are older comics that I like that I feel like nobody knows about, that I just want to include because no one seems to knows about it. You know Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s graffiti comic? Did you read that?

I read it in the book. I hadn’t read it before this.

Right. I read that comic while on tour with Kramer’s 4 in 2003. It was in a little art book zine with Andrew, Barry McGee, Ara Peterson, and Leif Goldberg. It was the only comic included and I loved it. It’s been a favorite comic of mine for ten years, and I’m wondering if I can include it in Kramers. I figure I can, because for the majority of people reading it, it’s going to be new, but that opens up your mind and possibilities and there’s other stuff like that.

That Trevor Alixopulos strip, that’s an old comic too, right? I felt like I read that somewhere before.

It ran on his website. Kevin Huizenga sent me a link and said you should read this. I was really taken with it. I didn’t mind that it ran online. i just want the book to exist on its own terms. I think nowadays a lot of the stuff you’re going to get, cartoonists are going to put in minicomics, they’re going to put online. You can’t control that too much unless you can offer them a really good page rate. So I have to be flexible when it comes to that and just think of the overall book.

Trevor Alixopulos’s strip from Kramers 9.

I don’t think it matters very much anyway, at least to a reader. So many things don’t last online. They disappear.

And there’s so much good material out there. Mack White is one of those guys I’ve been thinking a lot about. He’s done such weird great comics. That reminds me of something Tom Devlin said to me many years ago, that if cartoonists don’t release something on a regular basis, they kind of get forgotten. Comics readers are kind of fickle that way. Mack White is one of those guys.

Does White still draw or is he retired?

He does. He has a website that’s really weird, that doesn’t look like it’s been redesigned since 1997. There’s comics on there that are really really small, hard to read. I would absolutely run one of those comics.

Yeah, I’ve been to that site. There was a lot of conspiracy theory stuff when I went there.

It’s true that he got more interested in prose and then the comics got very bogged down in text, but then I think of all these great stories he did that were just weird and really idiosyncratic. He would do these other comics besides the conspiracy theory stuff. Remember the homunculus comics with the little guy with the huge dick? Those were so funny. And there’s other stuff. I was thinking about trying to run an entire issue of Dirty Plotte, from the cover to the back cover, running it with the cover on a cover stock, and with the insides on a regular stock, and just run it in Kramers. Maybe I’m entering into Russ Cochran territory, I don’t know, but in my mind, she’s one of the best cartoonists ever and that stuff doesn’t exist in that form.

Does Drawn & Quarterly not keep those in print? Probably not…

I think they want to do it. I think they probably saw The Complete Eightball and were like, what the fuck? We should do that! Certainly the series is good enough for that kind of treatment.

They did Optic Nerve in that box set.

Yeah, they did that with the minis. I don’t think she has good memories of working in comics. I think the comics world was very different then. And there could be a bunch of things involved in a project like that, having to scan and put together this book. It’s a lot of work, and not a lot of pay.

Most cartoonists don’t have a sense of people’s interest in their work or even what makes their work good. She may not think that’s the best way of reading My New York Diary or her dream comics. I’m always blown away by how cartoonists—not Julie—organize their work in collections. everything is so compartmentalized. Like the dream comics are in one section, the autobio is one section, the sketchbook is in one section, it kills me. It’s like The Art of Tim Sale by TwoMorrows or something. It’s these weird ways of putting together a book that often has none of the enthusiasm or problem-solving of their individual comics.

Sometimes it seems like there not a lot of thought put into it. It’s just this is the way it’s done. I think that something people respond to in Kramers is that it’s clear you’re thinking about every aspect of it.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Chris Ware. Chris Ware’s work has evolved a lot. His work is constantly changing. and your feelings toward his work can change, and my friend made the point that Ware gets a free pass because literally every single comic that’s released by an alternative publisher looks the way it looks because of Chris Ware. When Chris Ware started publishing, it made everyone rethink the spine, the endpapers, the indicia. With that in mind, I think it’s crazy for an artist not to think about all that stuff when they’re working on a book. Once that door opened, it changed everyone’s perception of the mass produced book. Highwater played into that as well, the comic as an object, and D&Q is also a part of that too, but really it’s Chris Ware. every aspect of the product can be an aspect of the art itself. It can further your ideas. I think thats even true of good fiction books. I’ve been reading these two Stephen Millhauser collections, these short stories, and they’re so beautiful just as objects.

Have you ever read Alasdair Gray?

No.

He’s this great Scottish writer, and he’s also an artist. He does all his own covers and does all kinds of typography and design in the books too.

Is it successful?

He’s a cult figure, but he’s a major cult figure.

I mean visually, as an artwork? Do the covers look good, or do they look self-published?

He’s weird. It’s hard for me to say if it is successful or not. I don’t exactly like his drawing style but I kind of love the overall vibe at the same time.

Yeah, I know what you mean. Hugh Nissenson’s a really good novelist and in one of his books, the main characters is a sculptor. So he taught himself to sculpt. [laughs] He included the sculptures in the book and you’re like, i don’t know if this is working as sculpture, but it definitely adds something to have it included in the book.

Also, with what you were talking about, if you go back far enough, Harvey Kurtzman was thinking about a lot of that stuff. In The Jungle Book, he was hand-lettering all the indicia…

Yeah. I can do it with an anthology, no problem, but doing it with my own work is trickier. because when you’ve worked on a project for so long you don’t understand how to create a context for it. You don’t know how to pigeonhole it as a thing, what the tone of it is. There’s a couple people who can do it, but one weird thing that’s happened over the last twenty years is that artists feel like they have to be their own designer for their own books, and i think it’s led to a lot of terrible-looking books. But the guys who do it well, certainly do it really well.

Are there any books you’re willing to call out?

No, are you crazy? [Hodler laughs] All these guys are struggling, they just want to sell books. but all these publishers have designers on staff. use them. Or force your publisher to hire a designer that you like. Grab a book that you like, find out who designed it and hire them! Designers are working artists. They’ll work on your book.

I had to ask.

No. Poor guys. Come on. I feel so bad for them.

Let me ask you about a couple stories in the new Kramers. You talked a little bit before about how you put a lot of thought into the sequencing. What made you decide to start with the Weissmann story “Silver Medicine Horse”?

Because I think in many ways it has all the elements of a great story. The pathos of the story is built in to the plot itself, so that nothing needs to be explicitly said. The forward momentum of the story has all these themes and ideas and elements that are very strong. It’s also visually dynamic. I like that Weissman is an artist who has been drawing and publishing comics for over twenty years, but it feels almost like seeing him for the first time at that size. It feels new. It’s got a little bit of a genre thing running through it. It’s fun. I love that story.

Dan suggested one other question for you. I don’t really agree with him on this, but I’m curious to see what you’ll think. He wanted me to ask you why in this issue there’s such an emphasis on black humor, and particularly black humor pieces with punchlines?

Oh, that’s funny. I didn’t realize that. You start seeing themes arise naturally. Stories start coming in, and you start seeing there’s something in the air. There’s a weird military vibe throughout the book. it’s very violent, but there’s a certain irreverence as well. I think the Noel Freibert stuff, when he sent me a handful of those strips, I thought these are kind of like the Greek chorus that you could scatter throughout the book. They’re really dark, but they’re visually playful, they’re verbally playful, they’re light on their feet, they’re sophisticated. His drawing is very, very rich, and that was kind of a rallying cry in my mind of tone. Because it’s not guided. I don’t think gave people a theme. Often I’ll give people little signifiers. I’ll go, “Do something scary.” Obviously if you’re a good cartoonist, you’re not going to do a stupid Creepy comic. By scary, i mean something deeply felt. That’s not really a question for me, but for the artists. That’s the material they gave me. But you’ve got to embrace that element once the tone of it is felt. That’s going to decide the cover image, that’s going to describe the paper stock and the format.

I thought the segues between the stories for the most part worked really well, but one that threw me—and maybe it was intentionally jarring—was the segue between the Julia Gfrörer story, “Four Thieves”, which is really dark, and then you go to “A New Cruel World”, where the guy commits suicide by jumping off a cliff, and these goofy birds fly out and grab his feet… [laughter]

Probably what I’m bringing to it as an editor is foregrounding the innate irreverence of the form itself. There’s a bit of a playfulness and that’s just a good example of that idea maybe. Sequencing is also all about what you have to work with. You just go, this here, this here… You want the story to end on a spread, or you want the story end on the left or the right. All these things come into play.

It’s a very varied book. There are so many different kinds of stories, and some you might not think at first would work well together.

The story that I keep going back to and every time I read it, I read it differently, is the Dash Shaw excerpt.

Yeah! I was going to mention that.

From Dash Shaw’s story in Kramers 9.

That’s an amazing comic. The narration I assume is from a letter that he found, because he’s doing all this research for a larger Civil War book. You can read it and reread it and really think about what he’s talking about.

Yeah, he’s gotten so much better as he’s gone on. Lately, he just kind of astounds me every time I read him.

His interests lie all over the place. His interests lie in formal things, but then at the sam time, when he wants to just focus on telling straightforward narrative, he’s really, really good at it. I was totally blown away by Cosplay 1 and 2, especially the second one. Issue 2 is such an amazing melding of form and content. I don’t read all his work, because he does so many different types of things—I don’t know if he’s even interested in having readers necessarily follow him everywhere. When he sent that I think the only suggestion I gave him was to add his name, to sign it at the end, so it feels like an ending. [Hodler laughs] It’s just so good. His drawing looks great at that size. I don’t know if his final book will be that size. It probably won’t be, but it scaled well.

Another one I was really impressed by was Gabrielle Bell’s.

Beautiful story. That’s an excerpt as well. So for the table of contents I suggested giving it a title of some kind. The title that we went with was “Windows”. That’s the one she wanted to go with, but I gave her all these other suggestions, and all of them were much more on the nose, trying to take something out of the dialogue that I felt if you separate this phrase out of the dialogue and you made it the title, it gives it this rich context to understand the story. She went with the most simple one, “Windows”, and I thought, wow, she’s got confidence. She’s a confident artist, where she can tell a story where the emotional high point of the story is someone talking about light coming in through a window, or the potential opportunity of her daughter being able to drive her pickup around the back, and it’s so emotionally felt when her mother says that. To be able to work within that subtle range and to have confidence in that is incredible.

She does so much with so little.

She really does. And she has such faith in the material and the reader. I think that’s incredible. It’s interesting because, with a story like that I get nervous that it’s going to get lost in a book that’s loud and goofy, with the layout all over the place and the sequencing all over the place, but at the end of the day, it’s strong. Kevin Huizenga colored that story. It’s so impressionistic, that color, but it’s a nice touch.

There was one story that baffled me to the point where I just didn’t understand [Harkham laughs] what happened in it.

Which one?

The Adam Buttrick one.

I don’t think we’ll be hurting his feelings to say it’s initially confusing. When he sent me that story, I thought it might be out order. [Hodler laughs] Is this all of it? I was unsure, but the thing is that you read it once—and i may have hurt it because the green might be a little too dark, if you’re not reading it under a bright light, but hopefully it’s okay. Anyway, I find that when you read it once, you’re like oh what the fuck? Then you go back and it’s what we were talking about earlier, about not connecting all the dots for the reader, and being a little bit opaque in a good way, and then you read it again and you start finding these visual connections and you go, okay, I’m following this character, in like your third reading, just this guy. [Hodler laughs] Okay, he’s in jail, he comes out of jail, there’s this guy selling pencils, he gets to the dock, this thing happens. You go back. You read it again from another character’s perspective. There are repeating phrases.

Yes, “Can I kiss your mother?” Variations on that, kissing mothers.

Yeah, what a phrase. and you start thinking about the form itself, which to me reminds me of Mel Lazarus.

Yeah, sure.

I keep thinking of Mel Lazarus. I keep thinking of these very innocent easy forms, and his compositions are very complex. Any single panel is a very interesting complex image. He’s doing great stuff compositionally. Like I was saying earlier, I wouldn’t have run it if I didn’t like it, and the more I read it, the more I felt like it was speaking to me in a very deep way, in a very emotional way. But you know, I think, what’s an anthology if there aren’t one or two stories that you literally wish weren’t in the book and you want to cut out with an Xacto knife? [laughter] That’s kind of a given.

A story that I really liked but that I can easily imagine other people not liking is somewhat similar, “All Our Fucking Dead”.

Oh, that’s so good, though. I feel like that one gives you all the things you think you want when you go to comic shop and then totally explodes them. They’re talking in these weird cliches. The way it’s typeset, it feels like it’s very naive. You don’t know the context it’s created in, if it’s ironic, if it’s not. You can see it’s very smart in how he chooses his buddy-cop-movie cliches, and the drawing is gorgeous, how he he goes all the way with it. I feel like he’s turning that whole indie genre stuff inside out. I like it a lot.

Do you have any strategies for finding artists to include, or does it just happen organically?

No, it’s just the usual thing, just reading comics and looking around. all the usual things you do in your daily life as a comics fan. The only other thing is driving down the street and getting an fan boy sort of idea, like I would love to see a full-color Tim Hensley sex comic, you know? Can I make that happen? Is that possible?

Can you make that happen?

No, I cannot make that happen. [Hodler laughs] But these are the things that get you thinking. They get your mind going. I’ve been trying to get Shary Flenniken. The idea of running a Trots and Bonnie section in an issue of Kramers is still an idea that motivates every new issue. but things always fall through.

Have you spoken to her about it? Has it gotten that far?

Yes, she’s great. She’s really nice. I think she rather wait till she gets an offer for a proper collection, because it’s a lot of work getting that material back in print. I read her strip thanks to Dan. He told me about this complete National Lampoon CD-Rom set. I’ve never bought a CD-Rom in my life, but I bought this set, and I went through every single issue and read every single Trots and Bonnie, and I made a list of all my favorites. [laughs] I got her email from someone, and I got her phone number and we talked a lot. She’s really nice, but she’s got like a whole other career after cartooning. I think she became a nurse, and then made comics having to do with the health industry. I think her life is just so different that it’s … it’s tricky. But you know i think that stuff is so necessary. I think it’s great, and it hits that sweet spot for me of that classic cartooning style where it’s really weirdly personal inappropriate material. It’s so good but I’m still working on it. Debbie Dreschler is another one.

Have you spoken to her? Do you know why she stopped cartooning, or has she stopped?

I think if you read the interview in The Comics Journal you get the sense that she got everything that she wanted out of her system and now she really enjoys nature drawing and doing drawings for illustration for pay. And maybe her relationship with comics was purely exorcising her demons. That stuff is so dark. I think Nowhere is one of the best teenage strips ever. it’s right up there with I Never Liked You, it’s so good … and it’s rough, man.

Yeah, I couldn’t imagine making something like her comics. It would be very hard.

It’s heartbreaking stuff. And I think in Nowhere, there’s no sexual abuse, but just the way the teenagers treat each other, it’s rough. Tough stuff. I don’t know how got on this tangent, how did we start talking about this?

I was asking about how you find artists for Kramers.

Oh yeah. A lot of it is getting excited about an idea. That goes all over the place and some of that may not fit. I’d love to get Sergio Aragones to do something. He lived in Spain in a very interesting time. He’s been involved in comics for so long in the American market and he’s a very gregarious guy, I feel he would be down to do something for a small anthology where he has free rein.

I really loved that you ended on that Tux Dog strip, actually that spread of the Johnny Negron and the Tux Dog. [Harkham laughs] That was a funny way to end an anthology.

Well, you know the funny thing is I kind of put that in the back because after going to shows for years you realize that when people pick up a book on the table and flip through it they go from the back.

Ben Jones

Oh.

I realized that will be the first thing people will see. But it’s not as aggressive as it would be if it literally was the first thing people would see across from the title page. The Ben Jones comic is so nice because Ben has such a crazy career and he’s a good friend of mine so I forget that he even draws. I forget that he’s good at that. That comic was in a pile in his office, drawn with a Uniball on shitty paper and it was a goof. He just does it. He’s got those natural skills. He’s very good at comics. Johnny Ryan’s another one. They’re just naturally so built for comics, and yet they have no nostalgic affinity. They don’t care. If they never drew another comic in their life ever again, they’re kind of okay with that. [laughs]

Oh wait, I thought that was the last story, but there’s actually a Sof’ Boy story right after that. Is that a new Archer Prewitt?

Yeah, it’s new. I was putting the finishing touches on the book, and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Sof’ Boy comic that ends this book. Because it’s such a dark, nutty book, and Sof’ Boy is the epitome of that. Every single Sof’ Boy story runs that line. I hadn’t emailed Archer in many, many years, but I found his email and I asked him, do you want to do a Sof’ Boy comic? He said, “Yeah, sure, great!” Wow, that was easy. For some people, that’s all it takes. Just ask and they’ll do it. Because these guys aren’t lifers for comics, but it’s fun for them every once in a while. Ben, Johnny, Archer—and he’s so good. You look at his skill set and it’s just super impressive. He’s one of those guys who sends you the file, and it’s perfect. You don’t need to nudge it. It literally sits on the page perfectly. a lot of the younger artists are the opposite-they send you 200 dpi art, and the line art and the color are in one file. They have no idea how to prep their work for print. I sent Jordan Crane’s reproduction guide from 2001 to a bunch of the contributors. Have you ever seen that guide?

No.

This is in the Highwater days, and they were all living in Massachusetts. They released a pdf on Xeroxing written by Ron Regé, how to make a minicomic and steal your copies from Kinko’s. Brian Ralph did a chapter on silkscreening, and Jordan did this guide to offset printing. I send that guide to so many people. Because so so many people are just used to printing online.

Archer Prewitt is an interesting artist to me, because he kind of hits the same note all of the time, or a lot of the time, but it always works somehow.

It’s just so charming. It’s like the Ramones. You know what you’re going to get, but it’s good.

 


THE BLOOD OF THE VIRGIN

So let’s talk some more about Crickets 5. One thing I noticed in the three installments so far is that the first two each start with one of two different members of the marriage masturbating, and in this issue, near the end, they have sex, though they seem to be mostly asleep, if I’m reading that right.

Yeah, you’re reading that right. I hadn’t noticed it was a triptych of sexual experience.

It felt very intentionally structured that way to me. Earlier you talked about how you didn’t want to story to be cinematic, and I know what you mean, but at the same time when I read the initial two-page spread in this issue, it reminds me of a movie.

One of the things I’m always struggling with is, I don’t use narration, and my stories are very much like people in a room talking, so you can end up falling back on cinematic qualities. I don’t necessarily think that they’re exclusively cinematic. Cinema doesn’t have to own them. Then there’s cartooning techniques that you can sort of play with subtly that are distinctly cartoony. I don’t actively try to make it cinematic, a lot of that to me is more rhythmic.

It reminds me a little of Eric Rohmer. I’m not even talking about their cinematic qualities. Some people don’t even consider his movies to be cinematic, because so much of them is just people talking, but in a way, by keeping things that ostensibly simple, he’s spotlighting what cinema does at its essence in ways that other people aren’t.

Absolutely. It makes me think of Powr Mastrs and how CF will go from the most elaborate beautiful drawing to a panel of two crude heads in profile talking. It’s a beautiful use of the form. That’s always the challenge. If you do a comic where 99% of it is people talking, it’s a matter of coming up with visual ways of making that dynamic and play to the form’s strengths. So for me, it’s pleasurable to watch a character light a cigar off a candle in the center of a table, and watch him smoke the entire thing, and ash it. I figure that’s a pleasurable thing to read. Those are the things that are nice in a comic, that you can break down a sequence. I think in Jimmy Corrigan, you have that great sequence of the dad playing with a lid of a can of soda. That’s a really nice sort of move. Just things like that. I remember as a teenager reading Yummy Fur, where there would be whole issues of Chester waking up, putting on the radio, picking his nose and eating it. [laughs] These are the simple pleasures of the form to me.

It also puts an emphasis on things you might not notice—like the character flipping down the mirror above the dashboard—in a way that’s kind of subtle and doesn’t draw attention to itself.

It’s up to you where you put the emphasis. It’s a nice thing, because you make everything sort of meaningful in some sort of way, just by the act of drawing someone opening up a mirror in a car, checking their eyes, closing it, opening a window, her hair moving. You’re calling attention to all these small minor details that hopefully creates something that feels alive. but hopefully you are not honing in on those sort of emotional details, they are just happening peripherally.

How do you approach composition? Is it intuitive or is there more of a considered method?

It starts for me with the tone of a scene and trying to find the right composition that conveys that tone. I don’t think of my art as being very expressive, so if I want something that feels oppressive or sympathetic, it’s all about where we’re seeing it from, and the number of panels, how large the image is. I have a lot of pages where if you flip the originals over, it’s the exact same page penciled a little differently, where it wasn’t feeling right. One that comes to mind is in issue 4, after the whole Palm Springs sequence. Seymour goes to his boss’s house and his boss is by the pool. It was such a subtle thing in my mind of wanting Seymour to feel like he’s not really welcome in this situation. Where he’s slightly not at ease, and it’s almost by design of his boss. His boss is trying to put him in the position of insecurity. So besides dialogue and story, you try to do that literally in the framing. I’m not going to do anything dramatic like put a spotlight on him or have like giant letters over his head. I’m not going to do anything formal, because I don’t want to get in the way of the storytelling. But it should just read a certain way.

It’s funny that you don’t think of yourself as an expressive artist, because that’s not what I would have said about your work. I mean, this is the most reductive level, but your characters often have very intense facial expressions.

They do, but how they communicate, their body language, all that stuff, I try to suggest things their body language or words are betraying. It’s that Bressonian method of casting. [Robert] Bresson never called his actors actors; he called them models. The idea being that the way someone looks and the way they deliver a line, that’s what they are, and you’re not trying to bend them into something else. and that becomes the springboard for anything else that character does. I don’t know how much this comes through, but there’s an element of trying to play with this idea of typecasting, where a certain kind of disposition and manner will imbue everything with a subtext. So even if they’re saying stuff thats totally in opposition to how they look or how they honestly feel, it creates a nice sort of tension.

Are there any panels or pages you can think of that do that?

Well, I’m thinking of the scene where they’re at the hot dog stand and Seymour’s with his wife and then Joy shows up. Bresson never wanted his actors even to emote, just say the line and the emotion of it will create a good tension with the acting style so its not overblown. So with character acting in comics, so much of it is literally if they’re saying their lines in their natural way, one of those girls is more happy-go-lucky and easy-going, so even if she’s being threatened, you don’t have her show that on her face or start clenching her fists… It’s basically like life. When I’m lying to you, I’m not making all these grimaces on the side. I’m keeping things completely straight and lying to you. That’s how it is. Somebody like Seymour is always frowning, his natural face is always frowning, so even if he’s saying to his wife, “I love you, I’m going to miss you,” his expression is the same if he tells someone he hates them or that he’s upset. To me, that was kind of a breakthrough in how characters work. That’s how cinema is useful, because you see how someone like Stanley Kubrick was totally committed to that in regards to character, even if all his characters are over the top in other ways. He liked the James Cagney school of acting. Think of Jack Torrance in The Shining. You can just sort of stay there physically, and emotionally play with it in the content. Does that make sense?

Yeah, totally.

The other big influence on this is Gabrielle Bell.

I was just thinking of her work.

Gabrielle has totally mastered that. She doesn’t need her characters to flail their arms around. Blood of the Virgin has a lot of slapstick, and a lot of falling and silly stuff, but usually it’s never emotional histrionics, unless it calls for that level of exposed, embarrassing naked emotion. I feel like everyone is always holding their cards close to their chest most of the time.

A couple of days ago—I can’t remember who it was but I read an interview with a filmmaker, and they were discussing screenwriting, and he said that one of the ways to build an emotional response in an audience is to have something really devastating happen to a character, but have the character not cry when they should be crying.

Yes. That was written about by Alexander MacKendrick. The cartoonist turned filmmaker. I was reading a good interview with Bertrand Tavernier and he was talking about the first screenwriter he worked with, a screenwriter who worked on all these great classic french films, and he said, if you want to show a lonely person, show him in the middle of a party—and he’s the most gregarious person, and counterpoint that with him at home. What happens with comics is that you think to make something emotionally complex it has to be conveyed in the face, but the language of cartooning, it’s like two dots for eyes, a mouth, maybe the eyebrows, and certain codified things that we all understand. And when you’re younger, you try to break that, because you’re trying to do something complex without any understanding of the medium, because really the best thing you can do is keep it simple, and the complexity comes in the accumulation of simple easy-to-read images in relation to each other. I think any great comics show that, if you really study them. It’s not any one panel that shows an emotional complexity. This goes back to Kubrick and Bresson; it’s very simple, clear, easy-to-read actions but they’re placed in an order that fucks with your mind. The complexity comes with the accumulation of the images.

Another thing struck me about The Blood of the Virgin so far, and this may be related to what you said earlier about how you don’t plan too much. There are a lot of gaps that the reader has to fill in, about who people are talking about, why things happened, etc. I think that works really well in involving the reader.

I know what you mean. I basically realized while working on the first part of the story that regardless of what I felt the story needed in regards to exposition, I couldn’t draw a scene if I wasn’t invested in it. So I would fold the exposition in to the scenes I was interested in. I don’t want any scene to feel better than any other. Ideally it’s all good. I don’t want the reader to think I drew a whole chapter because there was only one scene I really wanted to do. I think it’s more fun for the reader because they can sense you’re into it and its all working equally well.

I think by leaving things out, it sort of expands the story in a way, too.

Yeah for sure. It’s like that classic Charles Schulz thing. Everyone sees themselves in Charlie Brown. Characters need to be specific enough and they need to be opaque enough. I think from the writer’s perspective, they always feel too opaque. It’s very gratifying if somebody says “I really felt that” or “I really understood that character, that was a really good detail,” because those are the things where you always feel you are being too subtle. The whole nature of doing creative work is that you’re doing something that no one has done. There’s an element of not knowing if something is going to work, because you’ve never seen it. [laughs] I don’t know if this is going to work. It’s a constant thing. It’s like fuck—is this readable? Literally, can you read it?

There are moments in the story — and this might be leading to something later so it’s possible this is actually not a good example– like when Joy has that scar that she doesn’t want to talk about it. So much is implied by that, or could be implied by that.

Yeah, thanks. And no, it’s not a plot point. I’ve actually forgotten to draw her scar. I don’t know if i’ve even drawn her wrist again. I’ve completely forgotten about that.

Well, I reminded you.

Hopefully, you’re working on a story and it just comes alive. It starts breathing. I think in the first chapter when she’s doing cartwheels and she says, “Go Reds!” or something. I cant remember where she’s from, but I knew she was from a certain place, and I looked up all the local high school teams. The characters start becoming very real. Once that happens, it starts informing itself. You’re on a roll and the characters just start breathing and hopefully the scar thing doesn’t feel fake, it feels real.

Jaime Hernandez does something similar often, too. He’ll start a story and even though I’ll have read every previous issue, I’ll feel like I’ve missed an issue, because he won’t have said how something happened, and there’s some new lead character in the middle of some situation.

It’s amazing. He’s so good. I did a pinup for the Love and Rockets Free Comic Book Day comic, so i was looking at how to draw the characters and really looking at it. This guy, he’ll do a scene where it’s a bunch of characters in a car just driving together and the dynamics between all these people are so well worked out, it’s incredible. That guy just really knows how to tap into it. That stuff you’re talking about kept me away from reading his work for so long, because i would try to pick something up and I would go fuck, I don’t know what’s going on. Eventually you realize that’s part of the pleasure. Every time you’re going to be dropped in and wonder who’s that guy? What’s their relationship? And then realize it doesn’t really matter. It’s nice if you can piece out this person slept with this person, that one is this guy’s cousin, but it’s not necessary because you kind of get swept up in it.

I don’t know if Jaime is trying to replicate this experience, but it’s somewhat like if you read Spider-Man #232, and you’ve never read any other Spider-Mans. There are all these things and past events that are referenced, and they have these little editorial notes that say see issue #131. Just take those boxes out and it makes you feel like there’s this whole world that you don’t know about. A whole universe.

Yeah, and he doesn’t even have to make that joke, because he’s now living it. He’s now done enough Love and Rockets that you’re always going to feel like there’s some sort of gap. He’s really incredible. I’m so thankful that I didn’t read his work so much in my twenties, because now when I read his stories i think this is exactly the sort of thing i want to do. There are so many great stories of his that work as standalone short stories, where there’s such a great balance of cartooniness and specific detail. It’s very offhand the way he gives information and the way the emotion is felt. He never hits you over the head with anything. I still don’t know if anybody ever has made a comic as emotionally satisfying as the end of Love Bunglers. Literally that comic made me tear up, and that had never happened to me before while reading a comic. it was like a new high-it felt like everybody was talking about it.

That is not the first Jaime comic that my wife had read, but it was close to it, and it had that effect on her too.

It’s incredible. And then there’s other stuff in the issue. There’s that great story where all the narration is letters from Maggie’s friend and then it ends with her getting into a car crash. It’s so deeply felt. It doesn’t feel manipulative at all. Thats where years and years of drawing comics can make you so good. It’s the equivalent in my mind of like how Schulz doing Peanuts every day, and they’re all good and then every once in an while he comes out with such a whopper. You only get there by doing it so much.

Have you ever been tempted to do something like that, where you just keep the same characters going for the rest of your career?

Well, it looks like Blood of the Virgin is never going to fucking end. [laughter] Without realizing it, I am just going to draw this one book. No, usually the thing that excites me about a story is the setting. I get excited about a time and place, like doing a World War I comic or drawing a Western, because it’s exciting to learn to draw that stuff and do the research and study it. What’s nice in comics is there’s all this untaped material in terms of genres, and I say genres not in terms of story structures, because I don’t really care about that but just settings. I don’t know if I’ve read a great comic book Western.

I don’t know if they’re great, but the Blueberry—

I can’t even read those. I love Moebius, but for one, his art style is a little bit hacky when he’s Jean Girard. Occasionally he’ll draw a great panel, but it’s so dense and wordy. I want twenty pages of a showdown and a chase. Why can’t it be that?

I love the way Jack Davis draws Western comics, but most of those stories aren’t really that great.

There’s a lot of great stuff to look at visually. There’s Tex. Tex is drawn by Joe Kubert or a guy who draws like Kubert, I can’t remember. There’s a lot of the EC stuff. There’s Jack Jackson.

Oh yeah, that’s good.

That stuff’s really interesting, but I feel like there’s space there to explore.

You could always have the characters from Blood of the Virgin pull a Dick Tracy and go to the moon. [Harkham laughs] They could get a time machine and go to the Wild West. There’s all kinds of things.

Well, I’ve had them act in movies that I wanted to draw. I’ve gotten to put a lot of melting heads in Blood of the Virgin. So that itch always gets scratched. But in Blood of the Virgin so far there aren’t many instances of violence, and comics are fun for violence. It’s very pleasurable.

Oh yeah, I was going to mention this earlier. A friend of ours came over earlier. She’s a poet and she’s very literarily sophisticated, but she doesn’t know much about comics. And she picked up Kramers 9 and [Harkham laughs] and I was curious about what her reaction would be. She said, “There’s a lot of gore and sex in this. I guess more people are interested in this kind of comic than I realized.” [Harkham laughs]

That’s disheartening on a certain level because the work I am most attracted to are comics that feel like they are using the medium in way distinct to the medium. It’s not illustration or animation, it feels like comics. The language of it, the vernacular of the cartooning feels like the medium is being used to get a mainline connection to the inside of a cartoonist’s brain. That’s something comics can do better than any medium. That’s what attracted me to alternative comics. You get a very intense vision. And those are the best comics. And so while Kramers may be full of work that doesn’t have the veneer of sophistication, I think the work is incredibly sophisticated-they use the medium like masters. If people can’t get past the cartoony vulgar veneer, it’s on them, and in fact it’s something to embrace, as its something that creates a context connecting new work to the history of the medium. I think Clowes has talked about this, how he’s always loved the idea of making a comic that he’d put all his heart and soul into it and he liked that it was embarrassing to read on the bus. I absolutely relate to that idea.

Do you read comics on the bus?

Yeah, always. I always have, but I’m not trying to get laid on the bus. I’m not trying to make friends on the bus.

I know this comic is not really autobiographical, but there’s the part where they have movie night and Seymour projects all the movies.

Oh yeah.

For some reason, that seemed to me like something you might have experienced.

Are you insane? [Hodler laughs] Like 8mm twenty-minute versions of Bride of Frankenstein? No! Again, you’re trying to know what a scene needs. What’s what is in 1971.

I don’t believe you. I still think that’s something you do.

[Harkham laughs] The equivalent is me putting on TCM and just not turning it off as much as my wife wants to watch something else-no, we’re finishing this terrible Jimmy Durante movie.

At the end of the issue, Seymour goes to a strip club. Is that —

That was real place called the Onyx Club. In the ’70s they didn’t have what we’d consider today strip clubs. What was cool about the Onyx Club, and I couldn’t convey this, because my original pages aren’t big enough for these details, but you could see in reference pictures that there’s a lot of framed artwork on the walls. All the art is reproductions of famous erotic art. It’s like a classy place exotic club. I think I showed one painting behind Carl Barks’s head—

[Hodler laughs] Is that Carl Barks? I didn’t realize that.

Carl Barks is in the comic. Seymour gets dissed by the stripper because she’s hanging out with Carl Barks and Gil Kane.

Whoa! I did not make that connection, but now it’s unmistakable.

Are you looking at it right now? Doesn’t it look like Carl Barks?

Carl Barks and Gil Kane make cameo appearances in Crickets 5.


Nice amulet, too.

They’re in town for a comic book convention. They had a meeting at Ruby-Spears earlier in the day. Some of the best things for research in the early ’70s are French filmmakers making movies in Los Angeles. Just unbelievable, because these guys would come to L.A. to make a movie, and they would get into making everything geographical correct. Like someone gets in a car on Wilshire, they’re going to turn right on La Cienaga, they’re gonna hit Sunset. There’s this really good Roy Scheider movie called Straight Man.

I haven’t heard of that.

I couldn’t even find a copy of it in English. It’s about a French hitman who goes to LA. It’s amazing, because of all these real unadorned locations shot in 1971. Beautiful. There’s a movie called Model Shop by Jacques Demy, and in this movie the character is driving his car, and I recognized the street. He turns on another street and he pulls up in front of this house and I liked the house. That would make a great house for Val, the boss, because it was in the neo-French retro style, it’s a very specific style of Napoleonic and Modern that exists in LA at that time. I thought it was perfect. And I watched the movie and I drove around and I found the house.

Wow.

I followed the directions in the movie and I found the house and I used it for the house in the comic. Luckily so many old movies are made in Los Angeles, and shows like Adam-12 are really good. Columbo is really good. There’s all this stuff to pull from. I would say 99% of the time every background in the comic, every setting is a real setting. That makes it more fun to work on. We were talking earlier about the talking heads. One of the ways to make it dynamic, part of that is going like, oh, there’s dinner. Well, where? And what is something that will infuse it with history or connect to the theme, something real.

Do you ever do it the other way around, where there’s a setting you want to use so much that you think of an excuse to have the story go there?

There’s stuff I want to use, and I just have it in the back of my mind, waiting for the right scene for that location. The story takes place in 1971. America was in a very interesting spot in 1971. In many ways I think that our decline as a country started at the end of the ’60s. I like that Seymour is trying to make his way in a world that in my mind has already passed. Everything that he wants is already over. Trying to find locations and spaces that can play that up in subtle ways is ideal.

 

 

That was the end of the 2016 interview. A few weeks ago, Sammy and I updated our conversation with a brief question-and-answer session via email.

Obviously, a lot of things have changed in the year since we last spoke, not least the political situation. I don’t know what your politics are, or even if you’re a political person, but I was wondering what it is like to be in the middle of such a long-term artistic project during a time like this. You said you don’t want to make any other comics until you’ve finished Blood of the Virgin. Is it a comfort or a burden or something else to be working on a major project unrelated to the Trump era right now? (Obviously there are a few political signs in the comic: the illustration on the letters page, the upside down flag on the back cover.)

Blood of the Virgin takes place in a very tumultuous time in America, so if I want to talk politics in the strip I have the thematic room to do so. Nixon getting elected after the liberal gains made by Johnson was a huge blow to the left, and reading about that time in America has been useful for the comic and a kind of salve for dealing with today. I hate art that pats its readers on the back, that serves to soothe and confirm their most generic self satisfied opinions about themselves-I genuinely don’t see the point-so while I don’t ignore politics creeping into the work, if they do, my aim is to dig deeper into the issues, making whatever I have to say maybe less topical, but still relevant.

As to my politics, as I get older and get to know more and more successful and rich people, I believe less and less in free market capitalism. I believe less and less in the nobility of humanity-people will demand blood and destruction and strive for power despite their liberal educations or religion, or desire for social justice. everything can be bent to suit whatever feeling is in the air. Since the election, I am trying to focus my attention on the local, the community around me. Fifty states, if you really think about it, is too many for a country. America, since its founding, has always been in a state of violent tension between multiple interests. The last eight years made a lot of people feel like things were turning, evolving to a new normal, which made the Trump victory so much more painful, but I think if we think about america with any honesty, it’s always been a well-intentioned, at one point necessary, democratic idea that has never sailed smoothly (and in fact, has likely done more harm than good to the world). Again, reading more and more american history after the election was and is a great way for me to wrap my head around today.

In our previous interview, you mentioned never using narration in your comics. Why not?

I don’t have a stance against narration, it simply hasn’t organically jumped up at me as an element to incorporate.

You have some personal experience with filmmaking (“Hang Loose” is available for viewing online). How, if at all, did those experiences influence Blood of the Virgin?

The short film was made while working on Blood of the Virgin and no matter what regrets I have with the film I can always look at it as, at the very least, useful research for the comic. It gave me insight and help with every single element of the comic strip.

You said you wished there was more room for violence in Blood of the Virgin because comics are so good a medium for depicting it. In this issue, we get a real fight scene, but it’s short, quick, and, uh, unspectacular. Any reason for that besides realism?

I should clarify that it is not that I want more violence in the strip-the strip is what it is and I am committed to seeing it through on its own terms. I meant merely that violence plays well in comics, generally. The fight scene in the comic, if it is a fight scene, is what it is for that specific context.

Action scene from Crickets 6


Sex, too, continues to be a joyless affair in this story, as does alcohol and debauchery in general, almost a reversal of the way such things (including violence, of course) are typically depicted in ’70s genre films. Are you pushing conservative family values? Ha ha.

I disagree. I think there are numerous instances of people enjoying fucking and drinking and having a good time. Maybe on the periphery, but it’s there.

You open this issue with a dream sequence, notoriously tricky material to handle convincingly. Do you have any particular philosophy regarding dreams in art?

Dreams in stories feel incredibly wrong to me until you are literally working on a story and you realize a dream is exactly right. The reason they feel wrong conceptually, just from the stance of armchair pontification, is because a story already works like a dream, both in its emotional structure and the willful ignorance a reader brings when they open a book up. They know the whole thing is a construct, a space to temporarily live in another person’s shoes, so a dream sequence can feel doubly redundant-until it actually makes sense to do it!

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Name Game! http://www.tcj.com/name-game/ http://www.tcj.com/name-game/#respond Wed, 10 May 2017 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100664 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Tim closes out his wide-ranging chat with Sammy Harkham. Part 1 is here. Here’s a bit of part 2:

How do you approach composition? Is it intuitive or is there more of a considered method?

It starts for me with the tone of a scene and trying to find the right composition that conveys that tone. I don’t think of my art as being very expressive, so if I want something that feels oppressive or sympathetic, it’s all about where we’re seeing it from, and the number of panels, how large the image is. I have a lot of pages where if you flip the originals over, it’s the exact same page penciled a little differently, where it wasn’t feeling right. One that comes to mind is in issue 4, after the whole Palm Springs sequence. Seymour goes to his boss’s house and his boss is by the pool. It was such a subtle thing in my mind of wanting Seymour to feel like he’s not really welcome in this situation. Where he’s slightly not at ease, and it’s almost by design of his boss. His boss is trying to put him in the position of insecurity. So besides dialogue and story, you try to do that literally in the framing. I’m not going to do anything dramatic like put a spotlight on him or have like giant letters over his head. I’m not going to do anything formal, because I don’t want to get in the way of the storytelling. But it should just read a certain way.

It’s funny that you don’t think of yourself as an expressive artist, because that’s not what I would have said about your work. I mean, this is the most reductive level, but your characters often have very intense facial expressions.

They do, but how they communicate, their body language, all that stuff, I try to suggest things their body language or words are betraying. It’s that Bressonian method of casting. [Robert] Bresson never called his actors actors; he called them models. The idea being that the way someone looks and the way they deliver a line, that’s what they are, and you’re not trying to bend them into something else. and that becomes the springboard for anything else that character does. I don’t know how much this comes through, but there’s an element of trying to play with this idea of typecasting, where a certain kind of disposition and manner will imbue everything with a subtext. So even if they’re saying stuff thats totally in opposition to how they look or how they honestly feel, it creates a nice sort of tension.

Elsewhere:

If you’re looking for a little desert after your Harkham dinner, here’s Brian Nicholson on Crickets 6.

Also, Tim mentioned Alasdair Gray in the interview, and here’s a vintage Paris Review conversation with the great author.

Finally, today, the moment you’ve been waiting for: Let’s pause and appreciate this magnificently strange page of comic book art by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia from Sub-Mariner #3 P, 1968. There’s so much happening in this page. There is a seaweed monster made out of repeating thin pen scribbles enclosed by thick black fills. Next to that is an oddly carefully rendered fish swimming in the foreground. Why? Why not. Ambiance. Then on the bottom left of this page is some prime Kirby-tech seen as though through the eyes of Milton Caniff. And over on your right are three generic sea fellers and one of them is coming right at you, just like Buscema teaches in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Some days I like comics.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/10/17 — Father Stretch My Hands) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-51017-father-stretch-my-hands/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-51017-father-stretch-my-hands/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100646 Continue reading ]]> “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week, and I still haven’t been up to see it. A stalwart of avant-garde fashion, Kawakubo’s designs tend to extend or distort the human form with unnatural volume and raw, unfinished materials and rejection of demure feminine beauty. A Kawakubo dress both protects and alienates the wearer; for example, a CDG puffer coat broke my fall a few years ago when I got hit by a tow truck, but no one could squeeze next to me on a subway bench.

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

Tina from Walter Scott’s Wendy

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


Lisa from Peter Bagge’s Hate

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


Momongo from Junko Mizuno’s Life of Momonogo

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


That dog thing from Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

No orifices.

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


SPOTLIGHT PICK!

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


PLUS!


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


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

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


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

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Death Comes to Us All http://www.tcj.com/death-comes-to-us-all/ http://www.tcj.com/death-comes-to-us-all/#respond Tue, 09 May 2017 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100642 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is taking a much-deserved vacation this week, so we’ve brought in a ringer to fill in for his usual guide to the Week in Comics: Katie Skelly. She highlights the most interesting-looking new releases to comics stores, and her spotlight pick is Sasaki Maki’s Ding Dong Circus. She also talks a little bit about a topic usually underrepresented on this site: fashion.

“Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week, and I still haven’t been up to see it. A stalwart of avant-garde fashion, Kawakubo’s designs tend to extend or distort the human form with unnatural volume and raw, unfinished materials and rejection of demure feminine beauty. A Kawakubo dress both protects and alienates the wearer; for example, a CDG puffer coat broke my fall a few years ago when I got hit by a tow truck, but no one could squeeze next to me on a subway bench.

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


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire talks to publisher Annie Koyama.

I started Koyama to do art books the same year [local bookstores] David Mirvish Books and Pages Books & Magazines closed. Where else do you sell art books in Toronto? In the ’80s all the big gallery shows had catalogues, but pretty much no one makes gallery catalogues anymore. So the art books stopped.

I met Chris Hutsul at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. One day he put this hilarious comic online about a little kid hanging out with Kraftwerk. I convinced him to make that into a chapbook and I published it. It’s long out of print now but it was pretty fantastic.

The most recent guests on Process Party are Bill Kartalopoulos and Austin English.


—Commentary.
Friends and colleagues (including many writers on comics who readers of this site will be familiar with) remember the recently departed comics blogger Tim O’Shea. Here’s an excerpt from Brigid Alverson’s remembrance:

Tim faced the trials, the indignities, and the uncertainties of brain cancer with incredible grace. He found humor in the most unlikely places, often cracking up his doctors and the other medical staff who cared for him. (In this we are kindred spirits—I laughed my way through my cancer treatment, not because I wasn’t scared but because it made me feel better.) Comics fan that he was, he wore a carefully selected comics-themed T-shirt to each one of his radiation treatments. In between treatments, he enjoyed life, taking a trip to Nashville and going out for karaoke with friends.Even after he went into hospice, he remained gregarious, and his Facebook page was a parade of well wishes and photos of visitors.

The horrifyingly titled website Nerdophiles features a guest post from Hope Nicholson on five prominent female comics publishers.

A product of the traditional model of work (that has now since faded!) Helen Honig Meyer worked her way up from a clerk in Dell Publishing to vice-president, to president. A practical and strong-willed woman, Helen is best known for the way she cut through the bullshit at the hearings for comic book delinquency hearings in the 1950s. Rightly pointing out, with some beautifully arranged data, that her books were few in number but accounted for most of the comic industry sales, without any horror at all, she clearly saw no need for the assumption that comics in of themselves were detrimental. Sniffing at the rest of the comics industry that decided to enforce a code of conduct, Helen kept her company doing what it did best – selling good comics. Negotiating deals with top licenses (yes, movie and tv show tie-ins were essential to comics even at the very beginning!) Helen was responsible for one of the most significant and powerful publishers in comic book history – and one that was notable for marketing directly to the all-ages market.

—News. As has been widely noted, in the Fantagraphics comic released for last weekend’s Free Comic Book Day, Matt Furie portrayed the funeral of his now infamous character Pepe the Frog.

“A lot of the Pepe controversy has really troubled him,” [Eric] Reynolds said of Mr. Furie, who did not reply to requests for comment on Monday. “I think the strip was less about saying Pepe the Frog is dead — because Pepe is a fictional cartoon character — and more about him just sort of processing everything that’s going on.”

You can see the strip in question at The Nib (which is I believe the only site publishing the strip to have paid for the privilege.)

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“Supreme Optimism in the Face of Actual Reality”: An Interview with Sammy Harkham http://www.tcj.com/the-sammy-harkham-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-sammy-harkham-interview/#comments Mon, 08 May 2017 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100394 Continue reading ]]> Sammy Harkham is one of the most vital and influential figures in comics of the last fifteen years. When the fourth issue of his anthology, Kramer’s Ergot, came out in 2003, it introduced the wider world of unsuspecting readers to a burgeoning quasi-underground scene of exciting young artists (Mat Brinkman, C.F., Geneviève Castrée, Leif Goldberg, Anders Nilsen, Harkham himself, etc.) and seemed to herald a new era in comics, one entirely free from previous models of serious comics, which had always seemed in one way or another shackled to the medium’s long and tacky past. Succeeding issues of Kramers maintained and strengthened the anthology’s reputation, and turned the title into the most editorially consistent and consequential ongoing comics anthology since Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Raw. A new issue of Kramers may no longer deliver the shock of the new, but to readers who have come to trust Harkham’s editorial intelligence, integrity, and restlessness, it is still an event.

Even without Kramer’s, Harkham’s work as a cartoonist would mark him as a major talent. From The Poor Sailor (published in KE4) on, his stories have combined carefully observed moments of subtle realism and an almost classical sense of comics language, all set against an overriding atmosphere of hostility and horror. To indulge in reviewer’s reductionism, it’s as if Roy Crane were illustrating a story by Raymond Carver, in a project overseen by David Lynch in a darker mood. Most of Harkham’s work has been gathered in the no-longer-appropriately titled Everything Together, and much of the rest appears in his ongoing solo anthology, Crickets. For the last four issues, Crickets has been the home of Harkham’s most ambitious and accomplished story to day, The Blood of the Virgin, a bitingly funny yet melancholy serialized portrait of Los Angeles in the early 1970s, told from the viewpoint of an aspiring movie director (and failing father and husband) working for a Roger Corman-esque film company. The story is an ideal outlet for Harkham’s strengths and interests: the depiction of setting, artistic struggle, and the human capacity for self-deception.

Most of this interview took place via Skype around a year ago, revolving around the then-impending release of Crickets 5 and Kramer’s Ergot 9 (a sixth issue of Crickets is newly available), with a short update via email. The conversation has been condensed and slightly revised.

 

GETTING STARTED

Sammy Harkham: How does this work? You’re calling me through Skype?

Tim Hodler: Yeah.

That’s cool.

That way I can just record it.

That’s amazing.

Yeah, I guess so.

I guess so. [laughs] Right. I remember having the zine back in the ’90s and tape recorders and transcribing and turning over the tape and forgetting to turn over the tape. All that stuff.

I forgot that you did that. How long did you do that zine?

We—me and my friend David Kramer—worked on one for like three years. We were accruing all this material, but you’re stoned all the time and you’re dumb. You know, you’re young and you don’t know how to do anything. I interviewed Will Oldham. That’s how I met him, when I was fifteen. And when I sent him the finished zine, he asked me to do art for the first Bonnie Prince Billy record. I don’t know if you know his work or his music?

Yeah, yeah.

I’m trying to think who else? A lot of local Australian bands. How many were there? I think like two or three issues.

This was when you were in high school.

This was when I was in high school, yeah.

Do you still have any copies?

No. When I think back on that I forget that there was a whole part of my life when I was in high school and I was really serious about trying to make fanzines. I was getting work drawing posters for all-ages shows. I think back on it with awe a little bit. I got stuff done and it was good for me to have to turn in artwork and have people criticize it. And do everything wrong. You know, all the things that you do when you’re starting out.

That’s kind of a traditional underground cartoonist thing to do when you’re starting out, too.

You’re right. I think it’s just that people want to draw. It’s not necessarily that they feel an affinity to a scene but it can be where you discover comics. I think the first Clowes thing I probably ever saw was the cover to a record, Las Vegas Grind?

Sure.

Great cover. And you know, when you would see copies of Hate being sold at a record store, it put it in a context that made it feel relevant. Which if you’re me, you’re fading out of superheroes in ’93, ’94, and there was this whole world of comics that were cool. I think Fantagraphics was publishing Your Flesh. Do you remember Your Flesh?

I read a few issues, but not many. It was like a rock magazine or their version of it.

Right. And there’d be articles on William Burroughs and Harry Crews.

Very ’90s.

[Laughs] It’s true. What from that period has aged really well? I mean, we know which comics have. Any magazines of the ’90s?

I don’t know. There’s some stuff I liked back then that I’m sure I’d think was terrible if I revisited it now, like Film Threat? I loved Film Threat.

I’ve been meaning to pull out Film Threat.

I thought it was great then. I don’t think I would think so now.`

It’s interesting. It makes you realize that things that are necessary while they’re there, and it’s kind of like that’s it. And it’s fine. It doesn’t negate the worth of Film Threat, in my mind, if it is absolutely terrible, because it was exciting at that time. Gosh.

 

THE KRAMER’S ERA


That’s funny. Since you and Dan are good friends, I asked him if there were any questions he thought I should ask you.

Oh, Dan. [laughs]

The cover of Kramer’s Ergot 4.

He wanted me to ask you: Is Kramers still relevant? Does it still matter, or was it just a mid-2000s thing? Is it like Film Threat, or does it still matter? I mean, obviously you still think it matters—

I don’t think it matters! I never thought in terms of it mattering. so it has never mattered in a large sense. It’s only in hindsight that I get a sense that it had any sort of impact, and I can’t do anything with that knowledge. It mattering to people isn’t a reason to do something or not do something. Continuing with Kramers is solely based on my enthusiasm, not others’. If it means something to some people, that’s cool but that’s outside my experience. Sometimes I think people got excited about Kramers because there was, and remains, so little to get excited about. You should answer this question, not me. You could tell me what you think.

What do I think? I think it matters, but I’m one person who has my tastes. I don’t know if it’s relevant. I hardly ever even talk to people about comics anymore. Besides…

Yeah, I never get the sense that anybody reads anything, or that anything that’s in the past is ever re-read. The truth is that when I read a comic and I love it, I think, did anyone read this? I hope so. I get hung up on that-I hate the idea of good work being ignored. You and I are connected in that we work in the industry, but we’re not on Facebook discussing new work.

No, I don’t discuss anything on Facebook. I have a page that I never go on. But the thing I was saying before was that…

[laughs] We can keep talking about Facebook pages if you want, that’s okay.

I really have exhausted my opinions about them. [Harkham laughs] But you are saying there’s nothing around to get excited about in comics…

There’s not a lot of great books, so we get excited about interesting books. By the time Kramer’s 4 came out [2003], Mat Brinkman had a solo book, Marc Bell had a solo book, C.F. had been doing minis. To me, it didn’t feel like I was showing anything new. I think the only thing it had going for it was that it was in color. A lot of those artists had not been published in offset and so that was the edge the book had. I did think that the majority of people who were going to buy it were familiar with those artists. I don’t know if Teratoid Heights was out, but it was definitely around that year. And when you look at it now, you can see it’s a very Highwater-inspired book, you know, so it felt very different. Think about that time. You had done The Ganzfeld and you were familiar with all those artists. I’m sure Dan was. I think I heard from Renée French at the time that he was talking shit about it. I know what that is, because I’m very ambitious, and Dan’s very ambitious, and it’s a little bit like jealousy and it’s a little bit threatening, and it’s a little close. It’s what Kevin [Huizenga] calls a near-enemy. I mean the Venn diagram of Dan’s interests and mine are very deep. He’s just got a little more Alex Raymond in him. [Hodler laughs]

It wouldn’t shock me if that is true, but I don’t remember.

No, it’s fine, because I understand it. It’s so close. Same thing with [Tom] Devlin. Devlin saw Kramer’s 4—and he was such a snide prick to me all through my teen years, just as a customer at shows, and he’s such a prick in general—but he wrote me a nice email after that book came out saying this really nicely encapsulates what’s happening. But to go back to the main point it felt like all those people were out there doing their thing.

I think that if you were really in the know, you would know some or most of those artists, but Kramer’s gathered all of them together for maximum impact. So that if someone picked it up who was just curious, a whole new world would be open to them that they hadn’t seen before. I think that’s why it made such a big impact.

There’s also the accumulative effect. The lesser strips fall away and individual pieces fall away because it becomes this whole thing. Everyone picks everyone else up with a book like that.

You said that was a good issue. Were there any issues of Kramer’s that in hindsight you aren’t as happy about?

Just this last summer I was in Minneapolis for this French/American drawing club thing. and in the work room there was a table of everyone’s books so we could get familiar with each other and a copy of Kramers 7, the big one, was there. I don’t think I’d looked at that book since I sent in the files. Looking at that again was interesting because of how fucking dumb some of my decisions were. Some of it worked very well. When I picked that up, I thought, ah, if I’d cut twenty pages, and I was a much more hands-on editor, I think it would have made it a better book.

Are there any bad decisions you feel okay sharing?

What comes to mind are simple things, like artists not using the dimensions of the book properly, and I should have just asked them to re-letter their titles to fill the empty space better. Little things like that would have helped a lot, since each page really mattered.

Was that because that was an issue where you were working with a lot of very established artists?

Not at all. I think it’s feeling timid. Asking people to make changes or being anything more than a cheerleader is difficult, or was for me at the time. After Kramers 7, I realized that I wanted to spend most of my time doing my own work. I enjoy doing Kramers but if I’m going to do it, I should make the stories as good as possible. And then I realized that there’s a certain amount of mutual respect between me and the contributors. I’m not asking them to contribute if I don’t already think they’re great, so surely I can tell them, thanks for the story but I think you should tweak this. I think most artists are open to that and so the new issue has a lot of editorial input.

The cover to the oversized Kramer’s Ergot 7.


Is that just revision or are you requesting the actual themes of the stories?

Mostly revisions. Some artists if they ask about a theme or a direction and I would talk generally about what I am looking for. I have certain things I’m interested in reading. I always tell everybody [I’m looking for] a strong narrative. Of course, that means different things to different people. Also, treat the visuals seriously. Because the page is fairly large. It’s almost 9 by 12, so it’s a good size for reading as well as looking. You want the pages to be very visually dynamic. It doesn’t have to be showy, but you want it to be strong, so that when you flip through the pages, it’s really something. And then narratively that conversation is a little different. I will tell some people, you know, why don’t you do a wordless story? Especially when I’ve been working on the book for a while, and I can see what the book needs and there are artist friends of mine who I can push around [Hodler laughs] and say, I need this kind of story right here. And often, they come through. But when I look through previous issues, that’s something that pops out at me, that I could have brought a more critical eye to the work and the artists would have been receptive to more editorial input. There was no need to keep my concerns to myself.

How old were you when you did Kramer’s Ergot 1?

I was 18.

Was that the first time your comics were published?

Yeah. I think I’ve told this story before, but there were those ads in the Journal for co-op publishing. You could print 500 copies, or a thousand copies, and they would tell you you have this option for paper stock, you have this option for interior, two options for covers, and it was really cheap. It was like 500 bucks, 700. So I did it that way. And that was a good experience, because the book comes out and it was mortifying. It’s so bad. Like paralyzingly bad. I mean everything is kind of like this, you finish a project and you think, I have to make something now to make up for this. [Hodler laughs] That’s what every project often is. You’re trying to course correct from the last thing.

What made you want to edit an anthology, rather than just publishing your own comics, or submitting to other publishers?

Well at the time, it felt impossible to get published and I didn’t have the patience to wait for that to happen. And I felt by including other people it could only be stronger, a power in numbers sort of thing. I was going to end the anthology after issue 3 but it was right around that time that I started discovering so much great self published stuff, probably because I was now going to conventions to sell Kramer’s and meeting more and more people. And with the exception of Highwater, most of them were not being published. It felt like a gap there. And around the same time, Paul Hornschemeier was working for a printer in Canada and he really sold me on the idea of doing a color book, that that was a possible thing. All of that accumulated into issue 4.

 


FAMILY LIFE

I was looking through old interviews with you about your background and I found the basic outline of your career, but it was kind of surprising how little is actually out there, at least that I could find quickly, about your personal life. I know you moved to Australia when you were a teenager—

Uh-huh.

But that’s about it! [Harkham laughs] And that you live in Los Angeles.

What else is needed?

I don’t know.

He moved to Australia. That’s it. That’s the bio.

I don’t know. I know that Dan Clowes used to march around to John Philip Sousa records and his mother was a mechanic, and Chris Ware was extremely close to his grandparents…

Right.

And Robert Crumb, we know everything there is to know about him. Do you have siblings?

I have five siblings. I have four brothers and a sister and I’m in the middle. I have two older brothers, but the next one above me is five years apart, so I’m the oldest of the four that came after the initial two. So it’s kind of like the weird thing of being the middle child but there are elements of being the oldest, too. Because until you’re about 25, that five years is a huge gap. I got a lot from my older brothers, but they didn’t feel like my peers in any way. My brother just below me felt like a peer.

Because they were never in the same school, probably.

One was, but he was always way above, where it didn’t matter. And all his friends scared me, and I was picked on [laughs] because I was so stupid. I still think I am very slow to learn anything. Once I learn something, I’m okay, but it takes me so long to learn anything. I think of how my brother would— I was such a dumb— My memory is that every day my brother would take off his sneakers, after having them on for fifteen hours, and he would say, “My socks smell like strawberries.” And every day, I would sniff them. Every day. [Hodler laughs] Isn’t that crazy? That is mean. I never did that to my siblings. And my older brothers told me that the world could end at any moment—that there was a button on the presidents desk that would launch an atomic bomb. So I lay in bed each night thanking God for not destroying the world yet. But yeah, there were six of us in the house. My oldest brother was into comics, and really into music and underground movies. Both of my brothers were really into movies, and that was the mid to late ’80s, so that was the age when everyone was recording every movie that they would rent for some reason.

VCRs.

Yeah, when I think of that time, VCRs are a huge part of my childhood. But I got exposed to a lot of good stuff because of my two brothers.

 

HORROR


What was the first horror movie that made a big impression on you?

Probably Toxic Avenger or The Omen. I was watching the The Omen with my brothers and they made me turn my head at a certain grisly part. It was Omen II. I haven’t seen the movie since, but I know there was something with an elevator or an elevator shaft and somebody gets stuck. And they forced me to look away. And then you hear the sound of something happening, and even at that age, whatever you visualize will be worse than what’s on screen. Have you seen The Toxic Avenger?


Close your eyes to replicate a young Sammy Harkham’s experience with this scene from Damien: Omen II.

Yeah. It’s been probably 15 years, but I’ve seen it.

I saw it as a kid, and it traumatized me. Years later at CalArts they were playing it in the lunchroom and at first I was appalled, like, how can they play it in the lunchroom? This is fucked up! But then you watch it, and it is so obviously just ridiculous. It’s a parody of a horror movie. There’s a scene where he runs over a kid with a bike and then reverses and runs over the kid’s head [Hodler laughs] — do you remember that scene?

No. It’s been a while.

A group of teenage maniacs are driving around and they see a kid. It’s night time, it’s pitch black, and the kid’s out for a bike ride. his sister has just told him to wear his helmet, its all very sweet. Then they cut to these evil teenagers maniacally laughing drinking beer and making out cruising around. They see this kid, they hit him with their car, and they’re laughing hysterically. And then they reverse and run over his head as he’s crawling to the sidewalk, and then they stamp their car with another kill logo like they’ve hit a person. I think the other logo is an old lady with a walker. Another one’s a baby carriage, and the new one is like a little icon of a guy on a bike. As a kid I just thought that was real.

My mom grew up on a farm in New Zealand. My dad was born in Baghdad, moved to Israel as a refugee, and ended up in Australia as a teenager. He didn’t finish elementary school. They’re just working people. They weren’t keeping track of any of this stuff. They don’t know what’s going on downstairs in the basement. I think that stuff definitely affected me. When people say, oh, horror movies, they don’t really affect people … [laughs] they totally do. I don’t believe in censorship obviously, but gosh. Aiyiyi.



Well, it’s like you read those Grimm Brothers stories. They are incredibly gory sometimes. I read them to my daughter, and sometimes I feel like, why did I just read that? I should not have read that.

Oh my god. Do you change the words? Sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of reading to my daughter—my daughter’s four—I’ll be in the middle of the story and I’ll just change it as I’m reading it.

Oh, totally.

Because I can see it’s just too fucking dark. Especially if you’re reading an original or where they’re trying to adhere to the original version of Little Red Riding Hood.

There’s a lot of anti-Semitism that I have to gloss over.

Are you serious?

Oh yeah, in the woods, there’s often an evil Jew…

Which ones are you reading with the anti-Semitism?

I’m not thinking of the Grimm Brothers now, but the ones from Andrew Lang, like The Red Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, etc.

I haven’t seen those.

They’re good! But you have to be careful.

Oh my god.

There’s other stuff in those fairy tales, too, where, you know, parents agree for their kids to be slaughtered in exchange for some kind of magic reward [Harkham laughs] and things like that.

Yeah, and a lot of the happy endings are like, Hansel and Gretel got back to the house. Their evil stepmother had died. [Hodler laughs] Not that she was forced to leave. She just died.

And their dad loved them. He didn’t want to go along with the whole leaving them in the woods thing. He loved them for real.

I know. Just trying to explain that concept. Not even explaining, because you’re kind of just going with the story. Because there’s no food in the house, they decided it would be better to get rid of the kids so that there was food for the adults. It’s like they never even thought of this idea. They don’t live in a world where there isn’t enough food for everyone and decisions have to be made like that.

I think that might be one of the things those stories are for, like horror movies. They’re a way to safely introduce you to —

To experience trauma.

And to learn about some of the less pleasant realities of the world.

I mean, Little Red Riding Hood. For a year, I was telling my daughter that story every night. She loved it. She liked how scary it got, and I think it’s really cathartic in that way, but I don’t think watching Toxic Avenger at 6 years old— [Hodler laughs] That’s bad. That’s so bad.

You might be right.

It’s not the same. So there’s a lot of that stuff, and I did discover a lot of comics at that age. My oldest brother, he’s a guy who draws and paints, so there was all kinds of alternative comics lying around his room. Now he doesn’t really read them, but it was amazing to just to look at issues of Zap or stare at those comic book covers like Cheech Wizard and try to understand them.

I don’t understand it now.

[Laughs] Yeah, it’s so weird, but you know when you’re little, you’re like, where are his eyes? Where are his hands? [Hodler laughs] How does he walk? Because it looks like Disney. The culture always has nostalgia for twenty years before so in the ’80s there was nostalgia for ’60s stuff, in the ’60s there was nostalgia for pre-WWII stuff. So there was all that in early underground comics. All the stuff looked really polished. Theres this issue of Zap with this really goofy-looking guy on the cover. It looks like a Disney comic. When you’re young, you don’t understand the context. I remember reading that comic and I think “Joe Blow” is in there and I thought it was so evil. So my whole perception of alternative comics is that they were sick and confusing. Looking at a Jim Woodring cover at 12 years old is just confusing in a great way. And I related them to punk rock because my brother would have Reagan Youth and Agnostic Front records side by side with the comics, and all those images were just confusing to me. I would stare at them and just try to make sense of them. Comics were just folded into that for me.

What did your parents do when you were a kid?

My mom was taking care of all of us, and my dad was in garment manufacturing from the age of 13. That whole industry has completely changed. He was working for a dressmaker as a kid at 13. I think the revolution in Baghdad happened in the early ’50s and there was a lot of antisemitism when that happened. This was after the formation of Israel. This is stuff I only learned while researching stuff for Blood of the Virgin. In the last issue, I had some Sephardic Jews talking, so I actually went and researched this. My dad’s not a great communicator, so I couldn’t get facts out him. Basically in the early ’50s, after Israel is formed and Zionism is kind of a popular thing, any time there’s hardship in any of these Arab countries, they blame it on Jews. And then there were people trying to overthrow the government, and they blame that on Jews. Both factions who were trying to get control of Iraq at that time would blame the problems on Jews. There was a lot of stuff like that. And so a coup happens in the early ’50s, and Jews basically get kicked out of the country. It became very unsafe for Jews to live there. My dad’s family—he’s about three or four—they all move to Israel but Israel isn’t really prepared to accept refugees properly-these people all had to leave everything in Baghdad, so they came with nothing.

If you talk to Sephardic Jews, you hear these stories, it’s like a regular thing, and it’s still raw for them. They got put in refugee camps. So my dad lived in a refugee camp for a couple years. He had seven siblings and his parents in a tent. I think that’s all the drive you need to try and get something going. And then some family member lived in Australia and so they saved money and they sent him. He’s 14, they sew $4000 into his pants so he won’t lose it, they put him on an airplane—never been on a fucking airplane—he goes to Australia where even today it’s a pretty racist country. There’s definitely a sense he’s the Other. I think he tried to go to school but I don’t think he ever really went to school. He doesn’t like to say it because I think his goal in life was to be like a normal white person. So he married a white girl from New Zealand who had never met a Jew until she met my dad.



Did your mother convert?

She converted because he wanted her to, and she didn’t know what that was at all. … my dad doesn’t know this story but he’s not going to read this interview, and this is funny. He asked the local rabbi in Sydney, Australia: “My girlfriend’s going to convert. How do you do it?” “Well, she should live with a Jewish family for six months, and she should learn all the customs and the lifestyle and the ways it’s done.” And she’s like, okay, and moves in with this family. and right away when I hear this, I’m like what’s the story there? that doesn’t sound right to me. and she at the time would have no idea what was normal or not, and neither would my father. She was very young, she was 17 years old. So she moves in with this family that had other girls going through the conversion process as well also living there, and she said the rabbi who lived in the house tried to get into bed with her.

Whoa.

At like eleven o’clock at night. And she yells, “Get the fuck out of my bed!” And I asked her, did you really say that to him? Did you really? And she was like, yes, what are you crazy? [Hodler laughs] So I’m like okay, fine. Did you tell dad? No, I did not tell your father because he probably would’ve driven his car through the front of this guy’s house.

Yeah.

He would have been super upset. And the guy had been helping convert non-Jewish people into the religion for the last ten years. he eventually got caught doing something and they kicked him out of the community. but that was her first experience in a Jewish community.


Was she Christian before that or something else?

Not really. They would go to church for the social aspect in the tiny town she lived in. My mom grew up on a dairy farm, where her mother was the housekeeper of a farmer who was a widower with a bunch of his own kids. So he let this divorced woman, my grandmother, live there with her kids, and they all worked and live on the farm as a form of payment. They weren’t really religious, but in a small town in New Zealand, Christian values would have been the norm, it would have permeated everything. The Mormons were nice to them. They would come to the farm and give them chocolate and would try to take them to church and stuff like that but there wasn’t a big religious culture for them— or my dad. On my father’s side it was just traditional, so they were about equal.

So then they moved to California before you were born?

They were living in Australia. They had one kid in the mid ’70s and then they moved to L.A. because he thought he could get some work there. They had been to L.A. briefly the year before and that led him to believe he could find work if they moved there. He thought they’d go to L.A. and get something going. His brother owed him some money so he arrived with nothing and kept expecting some money to be wired to him, but his brother never sent him the money. He was totally broke. Someone from the synagogue lent him $200. To this day he’s still friends with that guy.

It’s a good reason.

Yeah, right. And then me and then the others … everyone just starts coming out.

Is your dad still working in L.A.?

Yeah, he is.

What do your older brothers do?

They work with my father. Nothing exciting.

And your younger brothers and sister?

One works in education. Another in real estate. That’s basically it.

Are you guys close?

Yeah. I suppose. We’re all pretty much in Los Angeles. With Jewish holidays as you know you alway have an excuse to see each other all the time. If anything you have to make excuses to not go to things.

It sounds like your older brother was into art when he was younger, but otherwise you are kind of unusual in your family in that regard. Is that right?

Well my older brother is a painter. He doesn’t have a fine arts career, but he’s serious about painting, and when I was younger that was a big influence on me. Because my dad was working all the time and I didn’t see him very much, my oldest brother, who is eight years older than me, was very much the father figure. So in that regard I must have realized that it’s a natural thing. I’m seeing comics, I’m seeing art, I’m seeing all kinds of cultural stuff. His room was a kind of guiding light. I put importance on that because he was important to me. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. That’s probably a big part of it.

When you go home and you’re visiting with your family do you talk about Kramers 9 coming out or the new Crickets or whatever? Do they understand it?

I don’t think my parents have read it. Any of my work.

Really?

Yeah, my identity is not formed by my work in their eyes. They just go, oh, he draws, he makes stuff. [Hodler laughs] Why doesn’t he make more money? Can you sell comics? There was a New York Times review of Kramers at one point. They pay attention to that. There was an L.A. Times article, they pay attention to that. They don’t really read the work. But I don’t send them links, I don’t give them copies. I try to sort of keep my parents in the loop, but it’s more self-serving than having a desire for them to read my work. There’s that element in myself that I’m trying to kill that needs to be validated by my parents. I really hate that part of me. You can’t really impress your parents that much with this stuff because all they want to know is, did you get a good advance? [Hodler laughs] I’ve been saying about Blood of the Virgin for eight years, that when the book’s done, it will come out, it will be a book, but my dad just thinks I must be doing something wrong. Because he’s like, you should get an agent and you should sell someone this as an idea. He looks at The Simpsons and he’s like, “Just do that. Can’t you do that?” And I’m like, well, it doesn’t really work that way [laughter] and also I have no inclination to do that. But you know, it’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. I talk to other cartoonists and I am always surprised to learn they are holding something back, or even the idea that they are encouraged by their parents.

You said you had no interest in doing The Simpsons, but you went to CalArts to study animation, right?

I did, but you know, it’s logical when you’re in high school, you’re making zines, you’re drawing comics, you apply to art school. And I was somebody who was interested in so much when i was a teenager. I was dabbling in every form except for music. I was trying to do everything. I was doing school plays and I was doing gig posters like I said before. I was interested in so many different fields. And the experimental animation department wasn’t just filmmaking, it wasn’t just animation, it wasn’t just drawing, it was everything. They didn’t have a comics program but they had all these different things I could explore. But I very quickly realized that everyone who made these beautiful short animated films could only really show them at festivals and then use their film as a business card to get jobs applying their style to doing insurance commercials or Red Bull commercials, and that was really unappealing to me. I really didn’t want to do that and I naturally doubled down on comics. I think at one point I was working on Poor Sailor and I showed it to my mentor, the person they put in charge of you, and she thought the strip was really nice and that I should animate it and that’s when I realized this isn’t a good fit any more. But it was a good school. It was useful, I guess.

 


AUSTRALIA

So when you were 14 you moved to Australia… Was there a reason for that? [laughs] I mean, obviously there was a reason…

No, you know, I never understood it, because when you’re young you just do what your parents tell you to do. Supposedly, and this may not be true, my dad was really keen to move back to Australia so he asked my mother—who he’d already been divorced for five years from at that point—to move the family back to Australia. And she said, “Okay.” [laughs] Very weird. And then he didn’t go. She had somehow organized a house to rent and he said, “I’ll be there. You set it up. I’ll be there in the middle of the school year.” And then basically we didn’t see him for two years. He visited every five or six months and was completely freaked out by his kids going through puberty. My two older brothers didn’t go. They stayed in the U.S. After two years, I think, he came to visit. I think he caught my younger bother smoking pot. I was sixteen, my brother was 14 and my dad was like, all right, this is done. Forget this. But it was very good for me.

In what way?

Because in Los Angeles I was very much alone, socially. I had my older brothers, and I could go through their tape collections and I could go through my brother’s comics and there was a lot stuff in the house, but I never had friends who who dug any deeper than the most generic pop culture. At that time I was reading Image comics and segueing out. So going to Australia … I remember being shown to my locker and the guy with the locker above mine had a picture of Jimi Hendrix in his locker, and that would have blown my mind a little bit. he became one of my best friends. And through him I met other people my age who read books and were interested in Monty Python and reading books.

It’s funny you had to go to Australia to find kids who shared your interests.

Yes. But it was less shared interests and more that they pushed me intellectually, they were into unpopular stuff for weird reasons… What’s the name of the Peter Sellers radio show?

The Goon Show?

Yeah, The Goon Show. Fourteen-year-olds listening to The Goon Show and talking about post-War English humor. Or to learn about Carlos Castaneda. That was the right age for the next level of that. And we all did it together. We were trying to reach beyond our intellectual means. half the music we listened to was jazz, and the books were old Mervyn Peake hardcovers and Dylan Thomas poetry books, and that’s good at that age, to be pushed to that kind of level. So Australia was great for me at the moment. Because if one of your friends is really smart, it ups everyone’s mental game. Did you see that amazing Noah Van Sciver comic? About when he’s a teenager? My Hot Date?

Not yet.

The comic is great, but one thing I really took away from it, he’s trying to fit in with his friends. They are all listening to Korn and Limp Bizkit [Hodler laughs], wannabe white skater kids trying to get dreads and silver beaded necklaces. This whole scene that I would see peripherally as a teenager and was happening concurrently but I never had to ever try and be a part of, thank god. I mean literally the most embarrassing thing I was probably into at that age was really loving Bukowski.

Right.

Like really loving Bukowski. [laughs]

You know, it’s a phase to go through.

Yeah, it’s a phase. I was in eighth grade reading Ham on Rye. I mean think about what that looks like. That is ridiculous. I was saying to my mom the other day the only book in our house and in every other house I ever walked into growing up was Leon Uris.

[Hodler laughs] I had a feeling you were going to say that!

Remember that book with the dagger on the cover? That book was in everybody’s house. Every Jew had that book in their house. Just that one. I don’t know why. That guy Leon Uris had the market cornered for people who don’t read but need one book to place on a side table. Anyway, the Bukowski stuff was ridiculous, because it’s all very romantic at 14.

Yeah, but if you see a kid who’s 14 years old reading Ham on Rye, you know that kid is probably going to turn out to be at least … engaged with things.

Yeah. And I had good friends, and for the most part I think it was pretty good. The only stuff I look back on with horror is the LSD.

What do you mean?

Taking LSD at 16, wandering around downtown at 3 in the morning without any shoes on—that’s fucking crazy. But besides that it was all pretty wholesome, because me and my friends, we wanted to have moral fortitude. We didn’t want to be creeps. Like if anyone talked about masturbation, we were like, oh my god! [Hodler laughs] We weren’t gross. We wanted to be upstanding people. Which is funny at 15 to want to be an upstanding person, whatever that means. I think we all hated school and getting on a school bus and kids yelling at us and grabbing our books and knocking them out of our hands [laughs] or ripping up our comics. But it was good. It is funny, a lot of cartoonists I talk to have had very similar circumstances. I was talking to Kevin Huizenga and I just assumed Kevin was surrounded by weird Dutch Christians [Hodler laughs] his whole life until like 2008. I swear to you I always assumed that until he met Ted May and Dan Zettwoch in Saint Louis that he was just surrounded by Christians. But then he was telling me recently that in high school he had six people, and they had their own newspaper. I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of people. Australia was good in that regard.


Do you miss Australia at all? Do you go back?

We go back a lot because my wife’s from there and I have a couple friends there. I like it fine. I can see moving back there. It’s nice and quiet.

 

FATHERHOOD


You got married pretty young, is that right?

I did. I was religious at the time. My wife wasn’t [laughs] but I convinced her to marry me. It’s insane. I think it’s connected to being a cartoonist: supreme optimism in the face of actual reality. You just think everything will be fine, I can do it all. Being married at 24 was very much like that, and also it felt like the real thing to do. Because it was uncool. Who gets married at 24? It’s fucking stupid. I do that. I don’t need other things, I know what I’m doing, and now in hindsight, I literally can’t think of my twenties without cringing.

But it worked out, right? I mean, I don’t know… [laughs nervously] I assume?

My marriage is doing good and I love my kids and everything is cool, but at the same time I look back and I see a lot of lost opportunity. Because you get married that young and you have kids that young and it puts a financial burden on you when really, if I didn’t have children, especially in my mid-twenties, I could’ve just been drawing comics.

Did you read Joe Ollmann’s Mid-Life?

No. Is that the one were the guy gets picked up by the UFO?

No, this one is semi-autobiographical, I think. It’s funny. The main character had a kid when he was really young, like 19 or something.

Right. He’s got a full-grown daughter.

Yeah, and then he got divorced and remarried, and then in his early forties right after his kid finally left home to go to college, he had a new kid and started all over again.

Oh my god. That’s like my nightmare. [Hodler laughs] I mean, the thing I pine for is emptiness. I pine for no phone calls, no one asking for me, no one needing me. Because I locked myself in. And obviously you have … two kids?

Just one. [Two now.]

Just one. But you know, you’re locked in. People rely on you and it’s very difficult. they need you. which is vaguely heartbreaking to me. Raymond Carver was tasked to write an essay about what inspired his work and he remembers being 33 on a Sunday at 2 pm in a laundromat watching his clothes go round and round, and having one kid at a party and another kid who had to get picked up from somewhere else and thinking what the fuck has happened? [Hodler laughs] I’m stuck and I can’t get out and he said he’d never felt more defeated in his life. He also had kids very young, and he and his wife yearned to be free from the life that they lived. They moved every six months to a year for twenty years, he was just all over the place, trying to keep his head above water, and he talks about how because of the kids, short stories were the only form that made sense. Because of kids he had all these pent-up emotions, either feeling resentful or lost opportunity or ambitions, basically all these things. So his kids were his inspiration. Not in a cheesy way but in a real way. And I thought that was amazing. I think it’s really true for most people with kids who are trying to make work.

How did having kids affect your work, do you think?

I think I’m always like ten years behind whats actually happening to me, as far as it coming into my work. When I started doing Blood of the Virgin, my oldest son was ten months old, so I made the baby ten months old. And now he’s ten, and the baby in the comic is still ten months [laughter] and so enough time has passed where I can sort of look at that relationship in the comic with distance. Those scenes are a little different now, the scenes at home.

You might have heard this before but Peter Bagge (I think) once said that his Buddy Bradley stories were usually about things that had happened ten years earlier. He had to wait a decade before he could write about them.

Yeah, because you don’t really know it when you’re in it. How can you? You’re just following impulses. I guess Crumb was always good about writing about his life as it was happening. Maybe that’s not true, maybe he was always writing about the past too? Now that I think about it.

It depends on the story.

It makes sense. How can you write about the present moment with any distance when you’re having kids, living your life? It’s such a whirlwind. With a long-form story you start working on something because you have these impulses towards things, and then as time passes you start seeing with a little more clarity whats behind those impulses and how to further those ideas, hopefully without killing it by knowing exactly what it is. You start seeing these connections that you didn’t notice initially and your own life plays a big part in that.

Are there any connections you could think of off the top of your head like that? That you noticed later?

[Pause] I can’t go into it.

That’s fair.

All I can say is that Blood of the Virgin is not written out as a script. It’s worked on scene by scene, so it can stay fresh. Old ideas can be tossed for new ideas. For whatever reason, the broad strokes of what constitutes the plot came easy so I have a framework with which I can follow my interests without losing sight of the whole, but without limiting it or knowing what the book is in total. At some point I realized the story should diverge a little and go in this other direction for a little bit and for the longest time, I didn’t know what the connection was between the two strands. I don’t know and it might ruin the book. [Hodler laughs] As time passes you start thinking about your own life in relation to the strip and you can see what’s working under the hood about these ideas, whereas before it was all just following what felt right. I try not to know too much. I think it’s bad to know too much, because then you sort of just end up slotting in ideas. For example you could be working on a scene, not sure what the specifics of the dialogue should be, and if you know the major theme of your book is “fatherhood,” you logically think, “They should talk about fatherhood.” In a bad book, you finish it and it’s like a perfect train track with no gaps, and it’s just perfectly filled in, and ideally you want to have some element of tension and mystery from which you can’t piece it all together so neatly. So when you’re making something, you can’t know all of it. You can’t because then you’re just answering questions.

Do you know how long it’s going to be?

I’m in the second half.

Do you have a vague idea of where it might end or not even that?

I know the overall plot and thats been there from the beginning. I could tell you over dinner the entire story in broad strokes, but the meat and potatoes of each of those ideas can end up being anywhere from a panel to twenty pages. Elaborate scenes I hold in my head for five years can end up not working once I finally get to them, and they end up being one panel. And on the flip side, something I think will be a page can grow and grow into its own chapter. Blood of the Virgin was originally conceived as a short story. Then I thought it would be three chapters total. What is currently issues 4 to 6 of Crickets was thought of initially as one 24-page chapter. And I still feel like I am doing it as economically as possible-I try not to waste space. So while it’s taken many years to get the first half done, I am hopeful I can finish it soon. What it all comes down to is turning off all the noise and having the financial stability for a couple months to just think straight for a minute and get into a rhythm. I’ve gotten into a pretty good system where a page that used to take twenty hours to do can be done in less than half that without cutting corners. Going to Australia for 2014 and only working on this comic was such a good thing because it made me really break through my own process. I had nowhere else to go, I had no distractions, I couldn’t do anything. I had to just buckle down and do it. So now when I sit down, I know how to do it. 2014 was all about learning how to draw comics. Most of that material is in Crickets 4 and part of Crickets 5 because it’s drawn out of order. I talk to Kevin Huizenga fairly regularly. We’ve been talking for over ten years, and the issues we had when we were in our mid twenties were literally the mechanics of cartooning were impossible to figure out. And then what happens is if you keep doing it you develop what Kevin calls “systems.” You start understanding how it works, how to do it, and your struggles aren’t “I don’t know how to draw a page of comics.” You can do that. The writing remains the difficult part, and is the thing that holds everything else up. It’s a matter of doing a page that’s deeply felt, so it’s not just tossing off material. That’s a long answer to say that I think I want to get the strip done in the next two years.

Oh, I didn’t realize. That’s pretty fast!

Ideally what I would like to do is two more issues. There isn’t that much left, but they’re big chapters, so each one ends up being about fifty pages.

Yeah, you could do it!

Yeah, you could do it. [laughter] It’s almost over, you could do it. Ten hours a page means that if there is nothing else that you have to deal with, you can do two to three pages a week, and the thing is that when you’re working on comics, that part of your brain gets strong, so it becomes easier the more you do. I never think of the whole book beyond its most basic shape, because if I think of the whole, I get overwhelmed and i start questioning the scene at hand. It got difficult in the middle of Crickets 5. I started thinking, shit, we’re in the middle of this now—I have to start connecting the dots. And you know, the first half of the story is all expanding—in dramatic storytelling, not necessarily in literature. A lot of dramatic storytelling is building, and you’re sort of expanding out, and the second half you’re mirroring or going back in on what you’ve already established. Blood of the Virgin is designed more like prose fiction—it’s not a movie in comics form—but still you do start thinking, what does the book look like?

What I learned was that while it’s good to know where I’m heading on the macro level, and to have those anxiety attacks every once in awhile, it’s best to focus on whatever single page is in front of me and nothing else. And put all my attention on to that single page like my life depends on it. Not in the Wally Wood or Jack Kirby way of the splashiest page, but just the best version of that page. So if you need a scene of somebody waking up and going to the bathroom and brushing their teeth, you try to give it everything. And then it starts helping the overall rhythm. There’s the internal rhythm of reading, of writing a story, of working on a story in order, so when you have a slow silent sequence that goes for five pages of him driving his friend home at dawn, you know what needs to come right after that tonally and rhythmically. You go, oh we’ve just done this whole thing over months and months, I want to have a vulgar joke right after. I don’t know what it’ll be, and I don’t know who will say it, but I want the word “butthole.”

How is serialization affecting all this? Are the chapters that have already been published—the ones from Crickets 3, 4, and 5—locked in? Do you plan to go back and change them when you put together the book?

I may add standalone things between chapters. as to whats already been published, I’m not going to change them drastically. I will try to just fix the things that are too terrible to ignore-some lettering for instance, a terribly drawn car or an expression on someones face. I had to look at Crickets 3 while working on Crickets 6 to see how certain characters and rooms looked and it was physically painful to look at. As to serialization, I initially wasn’t going to serialize Blood of the Virgin. After issue 3, the plan was to finish it and release it as a book. But it just kept growing and it kept getting longer and I felt like I couldn’t not exist as a cartoonist for the next however long i need to release this. I had to release it in some way as it might take years. And so then you realize that there’s two paths for what you can do. You can make a great overall packaged thing where it’s like Rubber Blanket or Eightball, where the chapter is perfect, there’s a short story, there’s a gag, the letters page is solid. Dirty Plotte was always that. Doucet serialized My New York Diary; there’d be a dream comic, a one-pager.

I think New York Diary works better serialized.

Well, there you go. Jim Woodring, obviously. Frank. There’s that model. If you haven’t released anything in two or three years, you want the next comic to be really good. you figure, it’s been a long time, but l will try to make it great. And it’s also expensive, they aren’t cheap. It’s going to be 7 or 8 dollars. That’s one way. But then on the other side of it, there’s the Underwater/Yummy Fur model, the Louis Riel model, like, okay, we’ve hit 22 pages, I don’t care if we’re in the middle of a fucking scene, the issue’s done. Which is great too, but what you’re saying is this issue may not stand on its own but hopefully you’ll be doing it every three or four months.

I’m trying to do something between those two models. I don’t want to draw any other comics till this strip is done, certainly nothing substantial, so I can’t make what I think is the ideal comics package. the best thing about serialization, is that it puts your feet to the fire with every single chapter. I feel like I have to make each issue as good as I possibly can, because its being judged on its own merits and not as a whole. I don’t know if the chapters would be the same if they only came out as one larger book. Plus, and this is a big one for me, I love single-issue comics because comics are quick to read so you can really absorb and cherish a chapter while waiting for the next one to come out. David Boring chapters 1 and 2 immediately spring to mind, but there are a lot of comics like that for me, strips that benefitted from a lot of re-reading. I really love the format.


The story is set set in the ’70s in a kind kind of Roger Corman-esque filmmaking milieu, but it seems like it mixes stuff about your family transmogrified into other characters. Is that right?

Yeah, thats true. I’m trying to just bring my interests into this thing and that’s why it keeps growing. The strip was initially inspired by my parents and their lives in very sort of hollow way. A lot of that’s evolved, but that was the initial spark. This strip was meant to be short but the framework of the plot kind of invites all this other stuff to glom onto it.

I mean, basically one of the things that sparked the story — I’m a little hesitant to talk about it, because it’s a work in progress, but my dad would talk about coming to L.A. with his wife and young son, and just struggling to get something going. he would tell me these stories about going to a meeting and pretending he had a driver to make it sound like he had a successful business—when he really he had taken the bus. And they would walk him out of the building after the meeting, and there was no car waiting for him, and he’d bluff, “Oh, my driver must gone around the block. I’ll wait.” Stuff like that, which I thought was so funny, and then at the same time my mother would tell me, “Yeah, I tried to leave your dad. I tried to escape.” [laughs]

So it’s an interesting thing—the guy’s professional life was expanding out, but his personal life was so bad, and I thought that was really funny, and I thought there was enough tension there that I could really dig into this. I’d never done a story set in Los Angeles so that become another interesting element, visually and narratively. The only thing that didn’t make sense to me is what the character did, because my dad didn’t work in film, and I didn’t want to make it the clothing industry because I couldn’t get a sense of what it would add. Movies is such an LA thing, and it sucks how much Los Angeles culture lives in the shadow of movies, but that setting worked for this. I know there’s a lot of fiction and a lot of movies about making movies, but—I know you and I both read Video Watchdog

Sure.

I was discovering Video Watchdog around this time. They would run these old bulletin reviews for a regional exhibitors newsletter written by Joe Dante before he was a filmmaker. First of all, I’d never heard of almost any of these movies. And I thought what a weird subculture, where all these movies and all this stuff is happening in the fringes of this industry. It’s charming for all the obvious reasons. You watch a movie like Eegah! You know Eegah!?

Sure.

With Jaws [Richard Kiel]. You look at that movie, the guy who made it put his son in it because he wanted him to be the next Ricky Nelson, and it’s about a cave man in Palm Springs. It’s great on many levels. You read these stories of these people and I can’t get enough of it. The strip is not love letter to that stuff. I’m not trying to make something that’s reverential. I just think it’s a really good setting. Probably this is where it gets a little tricky for me to think about. I come from a big family. I’ve been locked in a family world my whole life. And movies are very much about families, these big networks of people that you cant escape from. So it just seemed like a natural thing, and it didn’t feel like I was stepping on well-worn territory.

Right.

Now I do, because I didn’t even know how much fucking stuff is out there.

Did you ever see The Stunt Man?

No.

The Richard Rush movie? You should watch that, it’s good. He worked with Roger Corman.

Oh yeah, I know of it. It played last week at the New Beverly but I missed it. I need to see it.

Something occurred to me which might not be what you were thinking at all: during that Roger Corman era, all these people like Joe Dante and Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Ford Coppola were doing these schlocky things with him, but they had the ambition to be great artists and make personal movies …

Absolutely. The rise of the monster kids. They call them monster kids. It’s a whole culture of people who grew up watching these movies late at night on tv, because the monster movies were packaged and sold by Universal and whoever owned RKO, pre-sold as packages. They would have a local host, and all those kids who grew up loving that stuff in late ’50s, early ’60s, in the ’70s they grow up to be the first filmmakers who don’t feel like they’re slumming it making a horror movie. When Joe Dante makes Piranha, he’s excited to make Piranha. Whereas you look at Byron Haskin, the guy who made Robinson Crusoe on Mars, that’s like the end of your career. In the ’50s and ’60s, if you’re making a horror movie or a science fiction movie, unless it’s the occasional marquee movie A-list movie like Forbidden Planet, you’re slumming it. You’re at the end of your career. that’s a little simplistic, but you know what I mean. Their goals were to make “respectable” Hollywood movies. But these guys in the ’70s, they were all into it. I think that’s interesting. They’re like a generation of people who don’t see this as trash. And there was another idea, these people, what are they escaping from anyway, where they have to stay locked into their childhood. What is that? Where they’re constantly trying to escape into the past.

Do you think that’s true of just those kinds of artists, or all artists?

Well, I don’t think it’s true of filmmakers for the most part. but with those filmmakers, you have guys who are unabashedly into genre movies. Really, that’s a first, so that’s interesting to me. Beyond that, we now have a culture where superhero movies, Star Wars, fan fic, it’s all taken over. I mean, Game of Thrones gets recapped in the New York Times. A show about a fucking dragon. [Hodler laughs] A bad show about a dragon. It’s so stupid, the culture. I was reading Cannery Row and at the end of Cannery Row, a hobo recites a poem to a room full of hoboes, and they all know the words to the poem. That is so far-fetched in today’s world …

They’d do the Green Lantern oath and they would all know it.

Exactly right! And it’s not that I am disgusted by mainstream culture. I genuinely haven’t cared about popular culture since I was probably 13. But look at what these guys have wrought upon the world. People are just so obsessed with their own monuments to, like, He-Man. [Hodler laughs] It’s insane. Modern man is a boob. So in that regard that’s another reason why Blood of the Virgin is not a love letter. As to the idea of specifically artists trying to escape into their work, well, I think I started Blood of a Virgin interestingly enough when the first Walt and Skeezix book came out. Jeet Heer has an essay in that book where he talks about Frank King’s life while doing the strip. His son at the time had been sent to a boarding school, he didn’t get on well with his wife, and you can just see this guy used his strip to live in an alternate universe. Certainly a thing that happens with cartoonists. I have experienced it myself. So that’s an element in the strip. Every Kim Deitch book ends with the main character realizing that this whole world that they’re obsessed with can’t go on existing any more, that the pygmy village has to be destroyed. This is a thing for cartoonists, and I think it’s likely true for novelists. I don’t think it’s true for filmmakers and musicians because their work is so much more collaborative.

I think too for a cartoonist, it takes so much time, and if you’re going to spend years with the same characters in the same place, especially if you’re doing a strip that lasts for decades, at some level it’s going to either start to be appealing to you or it will change to become a setting that’s appealing to visit for you.

For sure. I always want to ask Jaime Hernandez, does it bum you out that Maggie’s not real? Does that freak you out that she’s not here?

[Continued here.]

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Starting Place http://www.tcj.com/starting-place/ http://www.tcj.com/starting-place/#respond Mon, 08 May 2017 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100577 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Tim Hodler brings us part one of a two-part life and career spanning interview with Sammy Harkham, whose latest comic, Crickets 6, is out now.

Were there any issues of Kramer’s that in hindsight you aren’t as happy about?

Just this last summer I was in Minneapolis for this French/American drawing club thing. and in the work room there was a table of everyone’s books so we could get familiar with each other and a copy of Kramers 7, the big one, was there. I don’t think I’d looked at that book since I sent in the files. Looking at that again was interesting because of how fucking dumb some of my decisions were. Some of it worked very well. When I picked that up, I thought, ah, if I’d cut twenty pages, and I was a much more hands-on editor, I think it would have made it a better book.

Are there any bad decisions you feel okay sharing?

What comes to mind are simple things, like artists not using the dimensions of the book properly, and I should have just asked them to re-letter their titles to fill the empty space better. Little things like that would have helped a lot, since each page really mattered.

Was that because that was an issue where you were working with a lot of very established artists?

Not at all. I think it’s feeling timid. Asking people to make changes or being anything more than a cheerleader is difficult, or was for me at the time. After Kramers 7, I realized that I wanted to spend most of my time doing my own work. I enjoy doing Kramers but if I’m going to do it, I should make the stories as good as possible. And then I realized that there’s a certain amount of mutual respect between me and the contributors. I’m not asking them to contribute if I don’t already think they’re great, so surely I can tell them, thanks for the story but I think you should tweak this. I think most artists are open to that and so the new issue has a lot of editorial input.

Is that just revision or are you requesting the actual themes of the stories?

Mostly revisions. Some artists if they ask about a theme or a direction and I would talk generally about what I am looking for. I have certain things I’m interested in reading. I always tell everybody [I’m looking for] a strong narrative. Of course, that means different things to different people. Also, treat the visuals seriously. Because the page is fairly large. It’s almost 9 by 12, so it’s a good size for reading as well as looking. You want the pages to be very visually dynamic. It doesn’t have to be showy, but you want it to be strong, so that when you flip through the pages, it’s really something. And then narratively that conversation is a little different. I will tell some people, you know, why don’t you do a wordless story? Especially when I’ve been working on the book for a while, and I can see what the book needs and there are artist friends of mine who I can push around [Hodler laughs] and say, I need this kind of story right here. And often, they come through. But when I look through previous issues, that’s something that pops out at me, that I could have brought a more critical eye to the work and the artists would have been receptive to more editorial input. There was no need to keep my concerns to myself.

How old were you when you did Kramer’s Ergot 1?

I was 18.

Elsewhere:

The very first comic book artist published by Fantagraphics, Jay Disbrow (Flames of Gyro), has passed way at age 91. Joe McCulloch reflected on that first comic a few years back.  Disbrow was an excellent horror, adventure and SF comic book artist the 1950s and after a hiatus, was published by Fantagraphics (the circumstances of which are recounted in We Told You So…, did a computer instruction comic, and eventually serialized his own series online. 

 

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Grime http://www.tcj.com/grime/ http://www.tcj.com/grime/#comments Fri, 05 May 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100528 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Kirby interviews the newly Eisner-nominated artist Eric Kostiuk Williams.

Rob Kirby: I wanted to give readers the full Eric Kostiuk Williams experience, so would you kindly give us a brief summary of Hungry Bottom Comics? You know, your impetus in starting it, the autobiographical aspects, etc. 

Eric Kostiuk Williams: Hungry Bottom Comics was my means of processing the experience of coming into my own as a young gay guy in Toronto. The prospect of moving to a big city with a vibrant gay community felt like some utopian happy-place I’d been working towards — a place I deserved, having put up with so much shit as a fey, sissy kid.

I quickly realized, however, that the sissy disposition didn’t fare much better in the gay world than in the straight world — especially in the late 2000s, when hookup apps were on the rise, along with their encouragement of a straight-acting “masc4masc” criteria. I was briefly dating a guy, and when we were getting ready to go out somewhere, he noticed I was applying eyeliner. He said, in the most derogatory tone, “Wow…you are a hungry bottom.” The cumulative impact of internally-homophobic, body-fascist dudes made me want to take a big step back, reflect, vent, and figure out why we were in this place as a culture… and comics presented themselves as the perfect means for that.

I’d made a ton of comics growing up (mostly weird superhero stories, cribbing off X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a means of escape. So it felt very intense and potent coming back to comics, but for kind of the opposite purpose. I thought about the “hungry bottom” jibe and seized on the power of reclaiming it for my own purposes. There’s a real magic in taking something hurtful, and twisting it into something subversive, funny, and without shame. You take away its power… you invert it for yourself.

As I got going, a few comic strips turned into a few pages, which eventually turned into three whole issues. While the series was technically autobio, each issue also incorporated elements of fantasy and cultural criticism. Man, they were hella fun, and healing, to work on. And as I self-published each issue and they made their way around Toronto, I was really happy to hear that the comics were healing for other folks, and that they could see themselves in the stories — even if they were straight, or not male-identifying.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. For the SF Weeky, Jonathan Curiel profiles Roz Chast.

“For some people, their cartoons come out of a completely closed cartoon universe, and that works for them and that’s all they really want to do,” she says. “For me, the boundary between my life and the cartoon universe is a lot more porous. I do things from the cartoon universe. I love the end-of-the-world guys, with sticks, but they flow into one another more.”

As she talks, Chast sits in the middle of the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s second-floor exhibit space — on a bright red couch that’s a fill-in for the kind of furniture Chast would sit on with her parents in their longtime Brooklyn apartment. Nearby, under glass, are decades-old mementos from her parents’ home — some of the scores of books, photos, and memorabilia that her parents hoarded away and that Chast documents so funnily in her memoir.

The paranormal-focused website Daily Grail talks to Alan Moore.

Jerusalem wasn’t a call to somehow reinstate the past, or a suggestion that the past should have remained static, but rather was merely pointing out what an enormous fuckup we’ve made of the future: a future geared towards seemingly endless novelty and change for its own sake, where even the basic principles of progress and moving forward seem to have been completely abandoned and forgotten. There is absolutely no reason why things couldn’t genuinely progress while still respecting and retaining everything that was good and valuable about the situation they were progressing from.

As for the currently highly visible racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class prejudice and general anti-intellectualism that pervades what’s left of our culture, I can’t help noting that it’s usually when people are being trampled financially that they seem most prone to seeking some other, weaker social group to blame for their government-generated problems, and seem most prone to ugly but thoroughly predictable outbursts of fascism. Perhaps if society was in any way endeavouring to treat people fairly, then they might be more inclined to treat each other in a similar fashion. After all, if society was at all serious about wanting to get rid of these bigotries, then with more rigorous press control and more authentic understanding in the way we run our education system, it doesn’t seem impossible that they could be eliminated within a generation. We somehow never get around to doing that however, perhaps because under our current system it will always be expedient to have some demonised minority to act as a buffer between an electorate that feel victimised and the people in office who are actually responsible for that victimisation.

On The Treatment, Elvis Mitchell talks to George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand.
The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Thi Bui.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sam Ombiri writes about Sammy Harkham’s Crickets 6.

Harkham said in the past that he doesn’t want things to be expressive and moments to hold value over others. I think Harkham must see something similar in Brian Chippendale’s Ninja, where every panel has the same intensity. Or it’s like how Robert Bresson says he wants his actors to be like a virtuoso in portraying their afflictions. Of course other directors do this too – I only bring up Bresson because for me he has exhibited the most success with this mode of approaching expressiveness – in the way that I think Harkham is talking about.

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“A Shared Universe, with the Camera Slowly Panning Outwards”: An Interview with Eric Kostiuk Williams http://www.tcj.com/a-shared-universe-with-the-camera-slowly-panning-outwards-an-interview-with-eric-kostiuk-williams/ http://www.tcj.com/a-shared-universe-with-the-camera-slowly-panning-outwards-an-interview-with-eric-kostiuk-williams/#respond Fri, 05 May 2017 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100244 Continue reading ]]>

Eric Kostiuk Williams is a 26-year-old Canadian artist, originally hailing from Ottawa, who now calls Toronto home. He has received acclaim for the three issues of his self-published Hungry Bottom Comics (2012-2014), including being nominated for the prestigious Doug Wright Spotlight Award in 2013. In recent months Eric has amped up his productivity, releasing three new titles with three different, well-regarded comics presses, including his first graphic novel, Condo Heartbreak Disco (Koyama Press). Condo is a strikingly original work examining the devastating effects of urban renewal on working class and artist neighborhoods in Toronto, as seen through the eyes of two immortal, super-fabulous entities known as Komio and the Braid. Though Condo veers wildly away from the autobiographical terrain of Hungry Bottom into all-new realms in terms of subject matter and scope, it still feels like a logical expansion of Eric’s earlier work. I’ve maintained all along that Eric is a major, visionary talent in both the queer comics scene and larger alternative comics world, and he is certainly living up to that estimation.

Full disclosure: I’ve had a friendly working relationship with Eric for several years now. He has contributed original comics to a couple of my anthologies, and I wrote the introduction to his Collected Hungry Bottom Comics (2013), and blurbed for Condo Heartbreak Disco. I’d originally planned to conduct this entire interview with Eric in person at the second Queers & Comics conference in San Francisco that just wrapped in mid-April, but we both agreed that might prove difficult and distracting to pull off (true), so a big portion was done via email.

Rob Kirby: I wanted to give readers the full Eric Kostiuk Williams experience, so would you kindly give us a brief summary of Hungry Bottom Comics? You know, your impetus in starting it, the autobiographical aspects, etc. 

Eric Kostiuk Williams: Hungry Bottom Comics was my means of processing the experience of coming into my own as a young gay guy in Toronto. The prospect of moving to a big city with a vibrant gay community felt like some utopian happy-place I’d been working towards — a place I deserved, having put up with so much shit as a fey, sissy kid.

I quickly realized, however, that the sissy disposition didn’t fare much better in the gay world than in the straight world — especially in the late 2000s, when hookup apps were on the rise, along with their encouragement of a straight-acting “masc4masc” criteria. I was briefly dating a guy, and when we were getting ready to go out somewhere, he noticed I was applying eyeliner. He said, in the most derogatory tone, “Wow…you are a hungry bottom.” The cumulative impact of internally-homophobic, body-fascist dudes made me want to take a big step back, reflect, vent, and figure out why we were in this place as a culture… and comics presented themselves as the perfect means for that.

I’d made a ton of comics growing up (mostly weird superhero stories, cribbing off X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a means of escape. So it felt very intense and potent coming back to comics, but for kind of the opposite purpose. I thought about the “hungry bottom” jibe and seized on the power of reclaiming it for my own purposes. There’s a real magic in taking something hurtful, and twisting it into something subversive, funny, and without shame. You take away its power… you invert it for yourself.

As I got going, a few comic strips turned into a few pages, which eventually turned into three whole issues. While the series was technically autobio, each issue also incorporated elements of fantasy and cultural criticism. Man, they were hella fun, and healing, to work on. And as I self-published each issue and they made their way around Toronto, I was really happy to hear that the comics were healing for other folks, and that they could see themselves in the stories — even if they were straight, or not male-identifying.

So where do you see yourself on the masculine/feminine spectrum? Do you identify any particular way?

I see myself as carrying a bit of both, and I think it’d do folks a world of good to realize most people do.

Sometimes I cringe at the prospect of identifying as male, because in our time we’re becoming subject to the most brittle, poisonous mutations of masculinity, whether it’s misogynistic “men’s rights activists” on campuses, or politicians whose tiny hands are within horrifying proximity to nuclear buttons.

I was just on a panel about masculinity at the Queers & Comics Conference in San Francisco, and when asked for my definition of masculinity, I half-joked that it’s something I’ve always failed at. But even though I’m failing at certain standards, I’m still in there, if that makes sense. Ultimately, I think it’s our responsibility to live by example, to show that being male-identified can mean so many different things.

I’m curious about the genesis of Condo Heartbreak Disco, and wondered if you might tell me how it all came about, how it evolved?

In a pivotal scene from my Hungry Bottom Comics, lil’ illustrated, autobiographical-me was visited by a mythological, curvaceous braid creature…A spirit guide, of sorts— saucy, but wise—who helped put me on a path to self-acceptance, and self-love. She didn’t solve all my problems, per se, but she did give me the right tools to start (it really happened that way! Fact!). I wrapped up that comic series a few years ago, but I felt there was more to be explored with the Braid herself. Had she helped others through their growing pains? How long had she been around? How would she fare when faced with farther-reaching problems, larger than any one person?

From there, the pieces started coming together for Condo Heartbreak Disco. I made the Braid a resident of my home turf—Toronto’s west end—along with her sardonic, vengeance-driven, andro-queer partner, Komio. I forced the two of them to contend with the struggles of living and making it in a big city, and dealt them the ultimate blow, in the form of the dreaded eviction notice, which would lead them onto something even more sinister, and apocalyptic.

It seems like all my comics exist in something like a shared universe, with the camera slowly panning outwards. My earlier stuff was concerned with gay culture at that moment, and its relationship to technology, masculinity, and shame—as well as my own coming-of-age as I was moving to Toronto. Now that I’ve been here for almost a decade, and have spent pretty much all my time here, it feels impossible not to create work engaging with the ways in which the city is changing. I see it happening monthly, even weekly: beloved businesses and venues shutting down, friends suffering insane rent-hikes and having to relocate, new condo skyscrapers mutating the city skyline at an exponential pace.

Gentrification is an issue facing most cities, but in Toronto, it has an especially unregulated, Wild West vibe. There’s a huge concentration of corporate influence here, and since Toronto doesn’t really have the same regard for its own cultural heritage as other big cities do, these corporate entities get free reign to shape the city’s landscape and identity to their own liking. It’s happened periodically over time, only now it feels especially accelerated and surreal.

When I started working on this book, my first thought was, “Yes! Fiction! My big step away from autobiographical work!” Of course, it ended up being as autobiographical as anything I’ve done, as it often goes. Komio and the Braid have the witty sensibility of the gay subcultures I’ve participated in during my twenties, fantastical abilities straight out of the superhero comics I grew up on, and the dilemmas all of us face, living through late capitalism. I kept trying to make the version of Toronto they live in extra-exaggerated and cartoonishly sinister, but in the end, it could never outdo how fucking weird real life is, at this moment.

 

Do you think of the book as mainly political in thrust then? Was that your major motivation in creating it? In some ways it seems like such a departure from Hungry Bottom Comics, but your thoughtful-yet-funky-and-fabulous vibe is still very evident. I know several cartoonists & artists who have gotten edged out of their apartments who I hope will read this book.

I definitely started with a political focus. I wanted to look more outwards, and think bigger, working through frustrations about the state of the city, and The State of Things more broadly, through the feats and struggles of these loopy, Leigh Bowery-tinted goddess-heroes.

I never fully script things out when I’m working on comics. I prefer to leave possibilities open, and to have new elements reveal themselves as I go. So, Condo Heartbreak Disco became a whole lot more intimate and multi-layered as I continued working away. While on a mission to get to the bottom of the condopocalypse conspiracy, I also had the Braid and Komio struggle with their relationship to each other, and the existential dread of being two immortals in an era where things really could come to an end.

They’re ageless and cosmic, but also kind of detached and naive about the real nature of the world, because they’ve thought of themselves as being above it all. It’s like when you’re in your early twenties, and you think you’re this invincible badass who’s got it all figured out. And then you start figuring out how the world really works, you start seeing that life trajectories aren’t linear, you stumble more, and you realize that the whole setup of things is really corrupt, merciless, and unfair (not to be too glum, or anything!). So, in a way, Condo Heartbreak Disco really is as much of a coming-of-age story as Hungry Bottom Comics was.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had a few years ago with Steve MacIsaac, where I was feeling intimidated at the prospect of writing fiction, and he basically said I shouldn’t think of things as so separate — there’s fiction in autobiographical work, and autobiography in fictional work. Seems like an obvious statement now, but at the time, it was really helpful and revelatory.

Eric (at right) with Steve MacIsaac on the Redefining Masculinity Through Queer Comics panel at the Queers & Comics conference at CCA, 4/14/17. Photo © by Rob Kirby

(The following portion was recorded during the Queers & Comics Conference at the California College of Arts on April 14th, 2017)

What hopes do you have for the book specifically in Toronto—do you think about the impact it might have with audiences there?

It’s trippy, as I finished the book a couple of years ago. I worried, as things have changed so quickly in the city, that the story would somehow be less relevant in this moment, but it seems more so than ever. Things have changed rapidly in the last few months, with Mirvish village–this historical block that had The Beguiling and Honest Ed’s and a bunch of other stores–all being shut down to be turned into condos and new housing. Everyone’s talking about it amongst themselves, the state of things. On my way to work I’ll usually hear at least a couple of conversations. It’s on everyone’s minds but nothing has crystallized yet to truly capture the moment. I don’t expect Condo Heartbreak Disco to be a definitive narrative on the subject…

Well, it is so fantastical in nature, you know: magical realism.

 

Yeah. And it’s an issue that touches people in many different ways. I wouldn’t expect anyone to see me as the authoritative voice on what’s happening.

So are these condos that are to go up going to be high rises, and be half-empty (or even worse)?

Well, it’s possible. There’s this gorgeous historic theatre down on King Street called the Princess of Wales Theater. They’re going to keep the façade but they’re going to build a 50-story building on top of it. In Mirvish Village there might be some zoning laws that’ll keep things in check but there will certainly be a different, sort of glassy vibe there. I doubt I’ll be going down there anymore: my reasons for doing so will be gone or moved.

Do you think non-Toronto residents will understand the situation described in the comic? Or do you think that it is all-too understandable?

I talked with Annie (Koyama) about this. The book is very specific to the city, with references to cherished neighborhood institutions and whatnot, but I think that it raises housing and livability issues that anyone living in a big city faces, especially in places like New York and here in San Francisco. This stuff is evident in a lot of places and to a lot of people.

Do you see Komio and the Braid having further adventures down the ride? They seem to be part of a sort of self-mythology for you.

 

I would love to do more with them, to explore their history, where they’ve been throughout time, and to get into their relationship more. With the way I work, I spend a lot of time on the technical aspects of pages, and having them be quite detailed. As a result, I compressed a lot into a 50-page narrative; if I were to do more with them I would like to pace things out a bit more, take some time to get into it. I would love to do a sequel someday that’s even further into an exaggerated future, and having them now…well, ugh, I don’t want to give away the ending! But maybe see about them repairing their relationship, if possible.

They seem sort of superhero-y to me. You said earlier on your panel that you used to read superheroes.

Yeah, they are a weird convergence of a few things that I love: like, they have the superhero spirit and the drag queen spirit and the Leigh Bowery spirit. It’s just kind of–I’ve always just been kind of obsessed with people transforming themselves or becoming something higher. I think of the transformation of scenes in Sailor Moon.

Komio & The Braid, in the flesh (so to speak). Photo © by Greg Wong, used w/ permission by Broken Pencil Magazine

To me this comic is also about transforming your own body of work into something different. It’s downright transmogrifying.

[Laughs] I could see that. I think the next thing I do will go even further along in that way: maybe even weirder, or more abstract. Yeah, I don’t know…

Do you have anything else that you are working on right now?

It’s been a bit of a marathon the past year and a half: when I finished Condo Heartbreak Disco I was so nervous about that slump, you know, that post-project ennui, so I said, “I’m going to do two more projects, right after!” [Laughs] So, I jumped right into Babybel Wax Bodysuit with Retrofit, which is a remedy from working on a longer book; it’s a collection of short comics that really jump around in terms of style and content, kind of like dessert or something; me shaking it off and trying different things.
After I finished that I did this short comic for Czap Books and Grindstone’s Ley Lines series, “How Does It Feel in My Arms?”. All my books have been fun, but this is fun in a different way. I wanted it to be purely joyful. All three books can be read as thematic sisters, and the Ley Lines book is kind of like the happy antidote to the cynicism and heartbreak throughout Condo Heartbreak Disco. It’s really dreamlike and the panel layouts are very simple, but as a result what’s in the panels is extra crazy and weird. It’s lyrical: it’s taking a lot from Kylie Minogue’s musical catalog and applying that to utopian dreams—kind of a blissful state and sensation. I applied those lyrics to this early Russian anarchist philosopher, Peter Kropotkin–a lot of his work went against ideas of selfishness as being an innate human feature. He actually believed that people are inherently altruistic and want to cooperate, much the way animals and plants do. He was saying that it is actually societal constructs that have pitted us against each other and made for the negative aspects that we see in humanity. So, I always joke with friends: “If everyone listened to five Kylie Minogue songs everyday, there would be no war.” (Laughter)

So you’re pro-humanity then?

Trying to be! I thought I should give it a shot because there are so many reasons not to be. It felt like the most radical thing for me was to make something positive. Like, I started working on it in the fall, right after the elections. I was dreading it at first: “I don’t want to want to do this, I’m fucking miserable!!” But doing it felt good in the end. The book is funny; it’s in a different tone than a lot of the things I’ve done. So I’m curious to see what people will think.

Eric Kostiuk Williams as Komio–photo © by Giles Monette

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Telling You, Man http://www.tcj.com/telling-you-man/ http://www.tcj.com/telling-you-man/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100521 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, R.C. Harvey presents a piece from his vault — his account of, and interview with, cartoon editor Michelle Urry.

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey: How about Will Elder?

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

Harvey: Too bad it’s not there anymore.

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

Elsewhere:

My Favorite Thing is Monsters reviewed at Hyperallergic.

A truly rare thing: a new comic book store is opening up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

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Magazine Gag Cartoons, Michelle Urry, and Cartooning for Playboy http://www.tcj.com/magazine-gag-cartoons-michelle-urry-and-cartooning-for-playboy/ http://www.tcj.com/magazine-gag-cartoons-michelle-urry-and-cartooning-for-playboy/#respond Thu, 04 May 2017 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100025 Continue reading ]]> Every history of cartooning —even one as abbreviated as this preamble— begins, compulsively, in a cave. It was, as is universally acknowledged, on cave walls that homo sapiens began scrawling goofy pictures on cave walls before the dawn of history as we know it.  But what we call gag cartooning probably began much later— in the 18th century with the publishing of broadsides, single-sheet publications displaying caricatures or vignettes of moral import, the work of such irrepressible British wags as William Hogarth (1697-1764), James Gillray (1756-1815), and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827).  This custom was perpetuated and refined in weekly and monthly humor magazines in the 19th century, the most conspicuous British contender being Punch (launched in 1841), which inspired many imitators on this side of the Atlantic— Wild Oats, Phunny Phellow, and others, most of which failed after a few issues or months.  Among those that lasted were Puck, Judge, and Life, all introduced in the 1880s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry: No.  Are they?

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

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

Harvey:  Well, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry:  That’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry:  — is involved and makes the final selection. 

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

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

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

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

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

Urry:  Because he’s an animator now.

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

Urry:  He’s a political cartoonist in Austria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey:  How about Will Elder?

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

Harvey:  Too bad it’s not there anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey:  Unrelated to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry:  No, he didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey:  An American cartoonist?

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

Harvey:  He must not have children.

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

Harvey:  Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry:  They did— all the time.

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

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

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

Urry:  Oh, what a wonderful compliment. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urry: That’s a very sophisticated work.

Harvey:  Very well drawn.

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

Harvey:  Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Harvey:  Do the Playboy cartoonists own their cartoons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dance Dance Dance http://www.tcj.com/dance-dance-dance/ http://www.tcj.com/dance-dance-dance/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100472 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have two reviews for you. First, Rob Clough writes about Foggy Notions, a collection of autobiographical humor comics by November Garcia.

Garcia is funny because she zeroes in on the weird, the inappropriate and the extreme–and that’s just with regard to her own behavior. There’s a hilarious sequence where she’s at a house party with her musician boyfriend, and she starts swigging whiskey like it’s beer when he starts playing. In a real-life version of The Hangover, she spends the rest of the story going through her post-bender protocol (assessing damage to herself and others as well as seeing what might be missing) and then tries to recreate the events of the evening. One of Garcia’s strengths as a storyteller is escalating the stakes of a story while maintaining an even keel as a narrator. Her increasingly poor decision-making is exacerbated by she and her future husband Roy getting spotted by the cops (who at first threatened to run in Roy and then Garcia) before finally making it home–when she drunkenly proposes to Roy, calls him chicken when he hesitates, and then does a chicken dance to drive home her point. It’s a story that’s equal parts distressing and hilarious, as even Garcia starts to think she may be drinking too much.

Then Annie Mok is here with a review of Jen Lee’s Garbage Night.

Jen Lee’s characters, like Pinocchio or a Dickensian hero, are always hungry. The title Garbage Night refers to the hallowed night that three teenage animals wait for, but never comes because all the humans in the neighborhood have moved on. It’s a dystopian, possibly post-apocalyptic cartoon setting. Soon the dog-deer-raccoon trio meet a scroungy dog named Barnaby, who promises a shortcut to a town where humans still reside. Bright colors and bouncy drawings carry this story of friendship, trust, and fear.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The nominations for this year’s Eisner Awards have been announced, and as always (for almost all awards), they’re the usual mix of solid, semi-solid, and WTF. Sonny Liew’s Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye earned six nominations, and among publishers, Fantagraphics and Image led the field, with 20 and 17 nods respectively.

Former New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff has accepted a similar position at Esquire, which is good news in terms of opening one more potential major market for cartoonists. In an interview with Michael Cavna, says that in his new job, he will completely abandon the selection process he used at The New Yorker for two decades.

“That selection process,” Mankoff tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “is delusional.”

That’s right — as much as he relied on this gags-in-hand approach, the veteran editor is convinced that it wasn’t the best system for consistently developing the best humor. Each line drawing effectively only got an instant audition, so even promising gags that didn’t quite “sing” right then and there were quickly shown the stage door.

He says that his new collaborative approach wouldn’t have made sense in the “context” of The New Yorker, but it’s not clear from this piece exactly why…

—Interviews & Profiles. Quill & Quire profiles Katherine Collins of Neil the Horse fame.

When I visited Collins in February, a pile of original art spread out on the dining-room table was the only visible evidence that this 69-year-old woman with perfect pitch once was the cartoonist Arn Saba, creator of Neil the Horse, a rubber-band-legged character drawn in a style reminiscent of early Disney cartoons and best remembered for a unique 15-issue run during the black-and-white-comics boom – and bust – of the 1980s. Saba spent more than 15 years combining his love of cartooning with his love of music to produce the adventures of Neil and his friends: Soapy, a feline grifter, and Mam’selle Poupée, a living doll in search of true love. Collins had dusted off the large boards and sheets of film in preparation for a collected Neil the Horse volume Conundrum Press will publish this spring, the first time the character will appear in print in nearly three decades.

Adolescent has a short video interview with Ginette Lapalme.
The most recent guest on Process Party is Julia Wertz.

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Garbage Night http://www.tcj.com/reviews/garbage-night/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/garbage-night/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100047 Continue reading ]]>

Jen Lee’s characters, like Pinocchio or a Dickensian hero, are always hungry. The title Garbage Night refers to the hallowed night that three teenage animals wait for, but never comes because all the humans in the neighborhood have moved on. It’s a dystopian, possibly post-apocalyptic cartoon setting. Soon the dog-deer-raccoon trio meet a scroungy dog named Barnaby, who promises a shortcut to a town where humans still reside. Bright colors and bouncy drawings carry this story of friendship, trust, and fear.

The book also includes Lee’s prequel comic Vacancy, which I recommend reading first because it sets up the story with Simon the dog meeting Cliff the raccoon and Reynard the deer. Very little happens over the course of the book—the trio encounter a gang of wolves and a scary cap-wearing bear, and squabble with each other over food and where to go. The trustworthiness of newcomer Barnaby is called into question, and the trio begin what may be a slow breakup of friendship. Lee’s work for TV animation for Nickelodeon, as well as her semi-animated webcomic Thunderpaw, seem to have prepared her well for creating animal characters who are charming and full of character. Though Garbage Night leaves the reader wanting more, it’s a bite-sized treat of a book.

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Foggy Notions http://www.tcj.com/reviews/foggy-notions/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/foggy-notions/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100485 Continue reading ]]> November Garcia represents a welcome trend in memoir comics: autobio that’s funny above all else. Garcia is a Filipina cartoonist, but Foggy Notions covers the period of time when she lived in San Francisco. In many respects, this comic is as much a history of the burgeoning gentrification of even some of the roughest spots in San Francisco as it is about her journey in the city. It’s also a departure from her first comic, Malarkey, in that this is a collection of narratives, as opposed to a collection of one-page strips. As a result, there’s a greater focus on the visual aspects of the narrative, especially in the amount of detail paid to background details like buildings, buses, parks, and streets. That said, Garcia’s pages tend to be extremely text-heavy, in part because of how large her hand lettering tends to be. That stands out in the first story, which had a lot of white background space, but Garcia manages to figure out a better overall balance in the rest of the comic.

Garcia is funny because she zeroes in on the weird, the inappropriate and the extreme–and that’s just with regard to her own behavior. There’s a hilarious sequence where she’s at a house party with her musician boyfriend, and she starts swigging whiskey like it’s beer when he starts playing. In a real-life version of The Hangover, she spends the rest of the story going through her post-bender protocol (assessing damage to herself and others as well as seeing what might be missing) and then tries to recreate the events of the evening. One of Garcia’s strengths as a storyteller is escalating the stakes of a story while maintaining an even keel as a narrator. Her increasingly-poor decision making is exacerbated by she and her future husband Roy getting spotted by the cops (who at first threatened to run in Roy and then Garcia) before finally making it home–when she drunkenly proposes to Roy, calls him chicken when he hesitates, and then does a chicken dance to drive home her point. It’s a story that’s equal parts distressing and hilarious, as even Garcia starts to think she may be drinking too much.

The rest of the comic follows Garcia from job to job, with the exception of the two pace-setting pieces that open the comic. The first sees Garcia on a bus, loaning her phone to the person next to her, who promptly tries to sprint off the bus in order to steal it. Garcia goes after it and gets a black eye for her trouble, which earns her boyfriend glares and a general sense of being tough from everyone else. When the black eye potentially has long-term repercussions, she has a crisis moment where she’s worried about losing her sight and pledges that she’ll walk the straight and narrow and draw every day. Of course, when it turns out to be fine, the last panel cuts to Garcia and Roy watching a trashy reality show on TV, late at night. In the second story, Garcia tells the tale of her perception of a homeless man they call “Everlast” because of his jacket, but it is really just an excuse to give the reader a tour of her neighborhood and the weirdness one could encounter in it. This is a story where I wish I could have seen more in terms of backgrounds, just to get a better sense of the city.

It’s easy to compare Garcia’s work to that of Julia Wertz, but it’s clear that she’s just as influenced by Peter Bagge. Mixing slice-of-life with extreme moments of absurdity or even fear (or both together) is a Bagge specialty, and so the story where Garcia is robbed during the first two weeks of getting a job in San Francisco nicely encapsulates that sense of danger, boredom, and exploitation that she felt. While she and Wertz share a similar outlook (cynicism paired with a secret delight in so much that life has to offer), their senses of humor aren’t quite the same. That’s especially true when you compare Wertz’s early strips, which are extremely silly, to her later work and to Garcia’s work here. There’s a surprising maturity to Garcia’s work that’s likely a function of her becoming a cartoonist later in life. Her narrative persona is simply more fully-formed than those of younger memoir cartoonists.

While there are a number of other amusing strips about various jobs (including a disgusting one about working at a dog kennel), the other real highlight in this comic is about her apartment building with paper-thin walls and a surprising sense of camaraderie. With a communal garden, regular cook-outs, and funny gossip, Garcia brings to life the possibility of real community while living in a city, as everyone there is their own kind of oddball, and the building also includes a number of artists. When Garcia sees the writing on the wall after the invasion of the rich started to affect their building, she and Roy decide to move to the Philippines. It’s a funny but bittersweet story capping an era of the city that no longer exists. Garcia’s skills as a storyteller are strong, and there’s never a wasted panel or sense of padding in her stories: everything serves either the story moving forward or is a funny gag–and the gags usually move the story forward as well. While Garcia is a skilled gag cartoonist, it seems clear that her greatest strengths lie in long-form narrative storytelling.

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He Never Understood Why I Was Drawing Fred Mertz http://www.tcj.com/drew-friedman-exhibit-to-open-at-soi/ http://www.tcj.com/drew-friedman-exhibit-to-open-at-soi/#respond Tue, 02 May 2017 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100438 Continue reading ]]>

The amazing Myron Fass, as captured by Drew Friedman

More than 80 of the gorgeous color portraits of the pioneers of the early days of comics, as illustrated by Drew Friedman, will be on display at the Society of Illustrators starting this month.  The portraits are the original paintings for the images that appeared in Friedman’s two volume Heroes of the Comics collections (Fantagraphics). “There are 82 original pieces, about 40 of my choice from each book,” said Friedman.  “Mainly it’s what I felt were the most essential creators and to my mind the strongest pieces.” 

Both of Friedman’s most recent books–Heroes of the Comics and More Heroes of the Comics–capture the likenesses and one-page biographies of many of the great comic book creators who entered into the comics business between its early peak years of 1935–1955.

Drew Does Ditko

Among the portraits–and biographies–in the exhibit are Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Marie Severin, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Orrin C. Evans, Harvey Kurtzman, Alvin Hollingsworth.Wally Wood, William M. Gaines, C.C. Beck, Matt Baker, Jack Cole, Steve Ditko, Al Jaffee, Patricia Highsmith, Jules Feiffer, and many more. Some of the figures are quite obscure, like the Vigoda brothers. “I knew that the actor Abe Vigoda had a brother–Bill–who drew for Archie comics for decades, but had no idea until I began working on More Heroes that he also had another brother–Hy– who also wrote for comic books,” said Friedman. “Some guys were so obscure I had no idea what they even looked like. Gus Ricca was one. My pal John Wendler found a 1940s local newspaper diaper ad he posed for as a sheik, which is what I based his face on.”  

To create the portraits, Friedman first does a rough drawing, then a tight pencil, and then finishes the work by painting directly onto the Strathmore 500 series paper–usually 8″ x 11″ in size–using “various inks, watercolors, Dr. Marten, Pelikan, Higgins, etc, I’m open to whatever works.” Each piece takes about 3-5 days to complete. “I get photo references of faces from various sources, sometimes the internet, books–I own a lot of comic history books–sometimes from friends who send me rare images,” he said.  “And occasionally I get stuff from the subject’s family members…Abe Vigoda’s daughter and Hy Vigoda’s granddaughter gave me photos.”

Friedman captures his former teacher, Will Eisner

Interestingly–and perhaps a bit ironically–Heroes of the Comics is running concurrently with the SOI’s massive Will Eisner 100th birthday retrospective, Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017.  In addition, Friedman, who studied under (and goofed-on) Eisner while at New York’s School of Visual Arts, is a 2017 Eisner Award-nominee for the “Best Comics-Related Book” for More Heroes of the Comics.  

Friedman said the timing of the two events–and his Eisner Award nomination announcement–was a bit amusing as “years ago, when Will was my teacher, he never understood why I was drawing Fred Mertz.”

Friedman’s Muddy Waters on the cover of his forthcoming book Drew Friedman’s Chosen People

Friedman’s Elaine May from Chosen People

Friedman said there is no planned third volume in the Heroes series, “but I never say never. It could possibly happen. My next book coming out in the fall is called Drew Friedman’s Chosen People.  It’s a book of recent portraits, with a foreword by Merrill Markoe.”  The opening reception for Drew Friedman’s Heroes of the Comics is set for Thursday, May 4th at 6 pm at the Society of Illustrators, located at 128 E 63rd St, New York, NY 10065.  The exhibit runs from May 2nd until June 3rd, 2017. 

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Broadcasting Humor http://www.tcj.com/broadcasting-humor/ http://www.tcj.com/broadcasting-humor/#respond Tue, 02 May 2017 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100461 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us the first new comics list of May. It’s a new month! And John Kelly previews Drew Friedman’s new exhibition, which opens Thursday here in NYC.

Elsewhere:

Hillary Chute has an insightful and wide-ranging review of Guy Deslisle new book, Hostage, at the NYR Daily.

Gengoroh Tagame previews his new book, My Brother’s Husband (which Joe also writes about this week), over at Vice.

I could read Todd Klein writing about logo design and lettering pretty much all day long. 

This footage of Marvel and DC in the 1970s is pretty incredible. I love that Steranko plays “Steranko”. I love how casually original art is handled. I love it all.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/3/17 – Gesticulating Toward Authority) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-5317-gesticulating-toward-authority/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-5317-gesticulating-toward-authority/#comments Tue, 02 May 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100467 Continue reading ]]>

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chimney Climb http://www.tcj.com/chimney-climb/ http://www.tcj.com/chimney-climb/#comments Mon, 01 May 2017 12:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100454 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Alex Dueben talks to David Wiesner.

Of all your picture books I really love The Three Pigs. Could you just explain what you did with the story?

There are all these different threads that have been floating in and out of my work since I was a kid. The idea of alternate realities, the multiverse, is one of those motifs. The first place I encountered this idea was in a Droopy Dog cartoon – for the longest time I thought it was a Bugs Bunny cartoon – where the character is running running running and then skids right out of the film. You see the sprockets on the edge of the film frames and the white space behind it. The character then runs back into the cartoon and keeps running. I loved that there was a world, a seemingly blank world, outside the reality of the cartoon. Duck Amuck is another classic where the hand of the animator comes in and is messing with the actual cartoon. There are of this idea examples in MC Escher and Magritte. I was always drawn to that visual representation of looking behind what seems to be reality.

I thought about how I could do that in a book form. I had all these cool ideas about things that could happen visually, but I needed a story. I began thinking that I’d have the characters come out of the story. I began by trying to write that story, but that didn’t work, because no one – including myself – would know what that story was and who the characters were. It was very confusing. At some point when I was drawing in my sketchbook I drew a few well known characters, and I thought, what if I start with a story that as many people as possible would know. That way you can just forget about it because you already know the characters and what happens.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Jia Tolentino has written a very fine profile of G. Willow Wilson for The New Yorker.

Wilson’s introduction to comics came in the fifth grade, when she was given an anti-smoking pamphlet featuring the X-Men. Later in the school year, she asked to join a group of boys who were playing mutants on the playground during recess—the “X-Men” cartoon on Fox had become her favorite show. They didn’t want a girl in their group, but she told them she could play the glamorous mutant Storm, who, in the comics, is the daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American photojournalist, and can control the weather. “It speaks to the power of women done well in this kind of role,” she said. “Those boys didn’t care much for girls but they really cared for Storm.”

Two years later, Wilson’s family moved to Boulder, Colorado. She was a goth teen—“black eyeliner, corsets, magenta hair, the whole thing,” she said. “There was lots of going to concerts and sitting in the under-twenty-one balcony, lots of tabletop role-playing.” She continued to devour comics, tracking down issues of “Shade, the Changing Man” at a local shop called Time Warp. Wilson’s parents were secular liberals who had left Protestant churches during the sixties. To them, God was a “bigoted, vengeful white man,” she writes in “The Butterfly Mosque,” and atheism was “not just scientifically correct, it was morally imperative.” Wilson had other instincts. When she was a sophomore in college, she started suffering severe adrenal problems, which helped spark a search for God—an experience she recounts in the memoir using language that wouldn’t be out of place in a superhero’s origin story…

The RiYL podcast’s most recent guest is R. Sikoryak, and the CBLDF podcast returns from a long hiatus with guest Katie Skelly.

—Commentary. The cartoonist Steve Bell has written The Guardian’s obituary for Leo Baxendale.

The cartoonist Leo Baxendale, who has died aged 86, created many of the characters that form the backbone of the Beano comic. He introduced Little Plum – Your Redskin Chum in April 1953, followed by Minnie the Minx (a female version of Dennis the Menace) that September, and the Bash Street Kids, the strip that began life as When the Bell Rings, in October. Their success was spectacular and Leo began working for DC Thomson, the Dundee-based publishers of the Beano, full-time in November 1953. He and his young family lived for the next 10 years in Dundee, where he produced work of such detail, such comic intensity and such concentrated anarchy that it will surely live on for ever.

For the Times Literary Supplement, Nicola Streeten writes about comics and history.

Maus had even earlier forebears, as becomes clear from a new exhibition at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, Shoah et bande dessinée, in which we see that Spiegelman was not the first person to use cartoon animals to convey the inhumane treatment of Jews. The comics on display here, from 1940 onwards, often draw on animal motifs to depict the Jewish genocide. The result is a powerful, moving and sometimes difficult experience.

The curators have set out to showcase the representation of Jews in the Holocaust. While their aim is to demonstrate how the comics form can successfully depict serious subject matter, it is also to highlight how comics functioned to silence the Jewish voice for a thirty-year period, from 1945 to the late 1970s, through a lack of Jewish representation. The exhibition is, in effect, divided into before and after Maus. A large room following on from the display of Spiegelman’s own artwork pays homage to the influence he had on the development of comics, displaying a vast and diverse array of artworks. But the exhibition opens with direct visual testimonies from witnesses of the Shoah, underlining the strength of the comics form in providing a narrative for the Holocaust right from the beginning. The first item on display is a tiny illustrated booklet of fifteen watercolour-and-line drawings dated 1942, entitled: “Mickey AU CAMP DE GURS”. Produced by Horst Rosenthal, a Jewish prisoner at Gurs internment camp in southwest France, this booklet may not strictly be a comic, but it is certainly a version of the form, combining text and image. One page shows a drawing of Mickey Mouse, hands outstretched, with an expression of incomprehension, standing before a French camp officer. Rosenthal, narrating as Mickey Mouse, is able to relate the unfathomable stupidity of camp life through his depiction of everyday detail. (The guard asks Mickey for papers that do not exist.) Gurs was not a concentration camp, which perhaps explains how Rosenthal was able to access drawing materials, though the dimensions of the booklet suggest it was something he had to keep hidden. The booklet’s cover reads: “PUBLIÉ SANS AUTORISATION DE WALT DISNEY” – a joke thrown into sharp relief when we learn that Rosenthal was, in that same year, transferred to Auschwitz and killed on his arrival.

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An Interview with David Wiesner http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-david-wiesner/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-david-wiesner/#respond Mon, 01 May 2017 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100059 Continue reading ]]> Fish Girl, which has just been released by Clarion Books, but writer/artist David Wiesner is not just any debut graphic novelist. He comes to comics as one of the most acclaimed storytellers of his generation. Wiesner has been awarded the Caldecott Medal three times – one of only two artists to ever do so – for his books Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam. He has also received three Caldecott Honors among his mnay other awards. Earlier in his career he illustrated books by Avi, Jane Yolen, Laurence Yep, Allan W. Eckert and others. Wiesner even created an app called Spot which was an interactive exploration of worlds within worlds.

Over the course of his career, Wiesner has cited and paid tribute to comics and many of the artists who influenced him. Jack Kirby was one of the people that Wiesner thanked when he accepted his second Caldecott. The exhibition David Wiesner & The Art of Wordless Storytelling is currently at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art through May and then opens at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in June. The exhibition catalog has just been published by Yale University Press.

Throughout his career Wiesner has been interested in wordless storytelling and so it seems natural in some way that he would eventually create a graphic novel with a character who almost never speaks. He was kind enough to talk about how making a graphic novel was different from making a picture book, the way he works, and how he’s already thinking about making another.

I know that you attended art school. What were you reading and what interested you and inspired you when you were starting out?

Every time I saw an example of wordless storytelling, I had a very strong reaction. The first place I encountered a wordless sequence was in Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury comics. Later I saw the wordless Azrach comics by Moebius. Once I found Lynd Ward’s wordless woodcut novels from the 1930’s, I knew this was a direction I wanted to explore. I did this in my student assignments whenever I got the chance.

By my senior year I knew I wanted to continue with sequential work when I graduated. I didn’t want to go into comics. I didn’t want to be a superhero person and comics weren’t what they later became. While I was there I studied with David Macaulay quite a bit and he introduced me to the world of picture books, which quite honestly I wasn’t all that familiar with. I didn’t grow up reading a lot of the classic stuff, but once I started to see what Leo and Diane Dillon and others were doing this incredible range of stuff stylistically and the stories they were doing, it kind of felt like it might be a place where the things I was thinking about might fit. It turned out it was. [laughs] That’s where I started and never looked back. Along the way I clearly wanted to bring other influences to the work I was doing in picture books, specifically comics storytelling techniques.

Of all your picture books I really love The Three Pigs. Could you just explain what you did with the story?

There are all these different threads that have been floating in and out of my work since I was a kid. The idea of alternate realities, the multiverse, is one of those motifs. The first place I encountered this idea was in a Droopy Dog cartoon – for the longest time I thought it was a Bugs Bunny cartoon – where the character is running running running and then skids right out of the film. You see the sprockets on the edge of the film frames and the white space behind it. The character then runs back into the cartoon and keeps running. I loved that there was a world, a seemingly blank world, outside the reality of the cartoon. Duck Amuck is another classic where the hand of the animator comes in and is messing with the actual cartoon. There are of this idea examples in MC Escher and Magritte. I was always drawn to that visual representation of looking behind what seems to be reality.

I thought about how I could do that in a book form. I had all these cool ideas about things that could happen visually, but I needed a story. I began thinking that I’d have the characters come out of the story. I began by trying to write that story, but that didn’t work, because no one – including myself – would know what that story was and who the characters were. It was very confusing. At some point when I was drawing in my sketchbook I drew a few well known characters, and I thought, what if I start with a story that as many people as possible would know. That way you can just forget about it because you already know the characters and what happens.

Pigs have been a recurring image in my drawings ever since I was in high school. I just love drawing them. They’ve turned up in smaller roles in some of my other books. I thought this is great, pigs can be my main characters. The motivation was certainly there. They’d love to get out of that story because the first two get eaten up every time the story is read.  I didn’t want it to be just a lot of winking at the adult audience and look how clever I am. It had to be a story that was understandable and accessible to an audience of kids. From a story standpoint, hopefully it was funny, but I wanted the reader to care about the characters and to have a satisfying resolution.

You needed characters who had a reason to escape their story.

Exactly. You have to legitimately create a story that kids are going to want to read. That said, all of my picture books seem to have this huge age range from the very young to practically to adult. The book absolutely has to be accessible to a young child. I’m not going to dumb it down – kids are very visually sophisticated. 

So as far as Fish Girl, had you been thinking about making a graphic novel for a while?

Yes. As with anything that I do, when I have a story, I have to find a solution to it. The app that I did – Spot – was a story idea that up to that point I hadn’t been able to make work in book form. It turned out that a tablet was a really great way to explore it. Fish Girl grew out of a long standing idea that I’d been making drawings for and tried several times, unsuccessfully, to turn into a picture book. It was centered around the image of a house full of water that fish lived in. It was just a visual image, which is how most of my books tend to start, for which I had to discover the story.

I was writing pages of notes and drawings in my sketchbook. During that time I was seeing how the graphic novel was really beginning to take off. I looked at Alison Bechdel and Chris Ware and these really beautiful visual books and I wanted to be part of that. I began to look at my story as the place where I could make my entrance into that longer form storytelling. It took a while mostly because I wasn’t sure technically how I was going to do the work. I didn’t want to spend ten years doing it. I had to work somewhat simpler than my picture books. Finally I said to myself, I have to do this now or I’ll never do it. I decided to ask an author friend, Donna Jo Napoli, if she would collaborate on the writing with me.

The first draft was about 300 pages. It was too long for the story. Also, as I was going to do it in full color, the retail price would have been too much at that length. I had to find the price point and the page count where it can work. We ended up at about 200 pages. The reality of the story that developed dictated the way that it looked. I had a whole backlog of visual ideas. I was finally doing this longer book and I’m was going to try everything I ever wanted to do – which of course was just too much. It ended up being quite simple. I didn’t get crazy with the layouts. I worked my like I do in a picture book, using double page spreads and single pages and multi panel pages and mixing them. I had drawn floor plans and diagrams of the house that I thought I could intersperse throughout the story. I had newspaper accounts that filled in backstory and a whole lot of other information. Ultimately all that material just slowed down the narrative. The drama builds and it felt extraneous –  so I just left all that stuff out.

Ultimately the story drove how I approached the art. In the end I was fighting for every page. I had to take each scene and ask what the essence of it was. How can I get all this information in and have it be readable and convey everything that it needs to. I would have loved to have gone off on wandering tangents of cool visual stuff, but ultimately I didn’t have the space to do that.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about it in that way because of course in picture books the dimensions may change but you have this page limit and here where you could do anything you needed to go, okay, what are the limitations I’m going to establish.

If I had made the choice to do the book in one color – like This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki – I could have gotten more pages. That book is 320 pages. But I need color. That’s just the way I work. I really need that complete palette. For this audience, a middle grade audience, there’s a price point where it becomes too expensive. I want it to be accessible to families who aren’t prepared to shell out fifty bucks for a book. Coming out of picture books where I’m always acutely aware of space, it wasn’t hard for me to think that way.

With the app Spot, I went into that thinking, it’s digital, so it’s limitless. I was doing all these drawings and the developer said, you know, we can’t fit all that stuff in. They said, there’s a limited amount of space for the assets before we use up the digital space. We can’t have these worlds take thirty seconds or a minute to load. A viewer would just walk away. Once I understood form and the limitations, I could design things to fit in it. Even in the digital realm, there are parameters.

For that project, all the environments were done piecemeal. Everything was a separate drawing that was digitally combined. A lot of things could be repeated. You make one piece of seaweed for example and it can be replicated any number of times without adding more space. That was great. I made to make things modularly whenever I could. Then there were the unique elements, but again, with limits. I loved doing big things, playing with scale. But one gigantic character would eat up too much space, so out went all the really large characters.

So even though you’re not printing and binding the book, you’re very conscious of the process and the technical requirements of making a book.

I’ve done all the books that I’ve written with the same publisher and the same person, Donna McCarthy, was the head of production. I’ve been on press with her with all my books. It’s great to watch the book being printed and the how the press men adjust color and all the factors that go into that and understand that. If, for example, the trim size of the book goes over a certain dimension in one direction they may have to move the book to a larger press and that alone could add a dollar to the cost of the book. At the start of a project we would sit down and talk about things like where it is going to be printed and how big the presses are. If the trim size I chose is, say, an eighth of an inch too big for the press, I’m happy to reconsider this small adjustment to help keep the price of the book down. Learning that sort of stuff was great. Understanding how a book is produced was really interesting and useful for me.

For most of Fish Girl, Mira never speaks.

Until the end when she realizes she has a voice and uses it. Visually that meant keeping her thoughts within the square thought box. When she finally speaks, that dialogue appears in a classic word balloon. It was a nice visual touch.


What’s the dramatic challenge of telling a story where the main character is silent?

It becomes about facial expressions and gestures and body language. How big she is in the frame to reflect what’s happening. To emphasize the feeling, whether it’s one of happiness or sadness or fear. Trying to use those visual elements to heighten the emotions. She is expressing them in her thoughts, to some degree, but I have to really try to visually accentuate what’s going on. In the same way in a silent film where it’s often a little more theatrically expressed because we’re getting the impact of that emotional state through the images.

Initially the character of Neptune lived in the house and it was driving me crazy because Mira comes out of the tank on a regular basis. She exercising to build up the strength in her legs and I couldn’t have her continually sneaking around so he didn’t hear. If you set that up you need to have a close call or two where he hears something and goes to see that she’s in the tank so it couldn’t have been her, but why is the floor wet? There just wasn’t room for that. I thought, what if he doesn’t live there? Get him out of the house and then it became a place where it was the only time when she had that space to herself. Otherwise she’s always on display, always this specimen. But now, at night, she is free to just swim around the house unencumbered without anyone observing her. Visually that was really nice – the night sky, the darkened rooms, her swimming around. I would have loved ten pages of nothing but that. [laughs] At the end I could only get a few pages of that in there.

In the spread on pages 108-109, you made this decision when she finally sees the ocean not to show her face, to depict this moment from behind. Why?

That came very early in my sketching. She’s always been in that house looking through the filmy windows at the ocean, but now she’s confronted with the enormity of it. The thrusting the arms out and embracing the waves, the standing back, catching the moon in that vista, was immediately what I saw. Not her face and the potential rapture on her face, but the whole body gesture of it. The arms spread, the embrace. If I was showing it from the front and if we were seeing her face, we wouldn’t be seeing the ocean. To me it needed that double page spread of the water and her in front of the water and the enormity of what that must feel like. I wanted to make the viewer feel a part of what she’s experiencing.

You mentioned that you had been kicking this idea around for a while. Was the process different from making a picture book? Or was it just longer?

In some sense it was just an expanded version of how I work. The nice thing was we didn’t sit down and write out a finished text. We had a first draft and then I drew out a complete rough version. We then modified the story based on our reaction to that. I drew it again. And again. It was a nice back and forth where the art and the text were able to inform each other throughout the process, which is something that I wanted. Eventually I had a complete rough version in pencil with all the dialogue dropped in-  not even word balloons, I just cut and pasted text – and I had pretty much defined what was happening on every page. It was pretty close to the way it ended up. Of course, then it was, oh my god I’ve got to make this thing! [laughs]

I met Chris Ware a couple of months ago for the first time and he asked, how long did it take you to do this? I said I don’t know, three years? He said, gee that’s pretty quick! [laughs] Then it was just doing it for months and months. I drew them all in pencil on vellum. I scanned those drawings and got this nice dark line.  I reduce them to print size and printed them out onto watercolor paper. Then I did the painting. The drawings took about five months. And then it was back to page one and I’ve got to paint them all! I gave myself a goal of doing at least two pages of color a day. I got close to three a day as I got into it, but it was making that choice of I’m going to paint this in a way that I can achieve that goal.

Unlike in the picture books where I work on a painting until I’m done with the painting. A double page spread might take me two weeks. I don’t use an ink line – or any line – in my picture books. But here, that black line was going to hold the shapes and the forms. I felt good about the color, but clearly it isn’t painted in the same way that I do a picture book. I’m sure anybody who does graphic novels must go through the same sort of investment in time and debate over speed and ability. It’s an enormous amount of work. I had thought about doing the color digitally because I love digital color, but while I know the process, I’m not fluent with it. I could paint faster than I could do it digitally. Plus, in the end I’m glad I painted it because it has a different look and it feels more like my work. If I were doing another one I’d love to get a colorist involved. I would be happy to be the overseer and director.

At the beginning when you were writing with Donna Jo what kind of drawing were you doing in the early stages as you were working out the story?

The first version had the most detail in it because both Donna Jo and my editor had never done graphic novels before. I had a reasonable idea of what it was going to look like, but they had to be able to get a sense of it. So the first three hundred page draft that I mentioned had a fair amount of detail in it. I didn’t labor over the drawings, but they’re refined enough that someone could fully read what’s happening. They got looser later on, because I did that first version more for their benefit than my own. The last rough version was quite loose. Then I went out and found models to use. I found a young girl on a local swim team and the coach shot footage on an underwater video camera so I could get that swimming posture correct.

You’re used to doing a few drafts of rough pencils to work out the story?

Right. The picture books have many versions, too. I still do it the old fashioned way because I like the physical materials as opposed to working on the screen.

You mentioned that you got a model for Mira. Do you use a lot of models?

It goes back and forth depending on what I’m doing. For this I wanted a more representational approach to the characters rather than something cartoony, for lack of a better word. I get enough reference for what I need. I don’t pose everything for every panel. They have to look like the same character all the time so I’m getting coverage of profiles and frontal views and from a higher angle or lower angle. For this book, Neptune was my kid’s Latin teacher. Livia is the daughter of a friend. She just had the personality of that character, she was perfect.

I also built an eighteen inch high model of the house that I could take apart to see the spaces. I didn’t use it all that much. The act of building it was kind of enough for me to mentally imprint the space in my mind. I didn’t have to go back and refer to it a whole lot, but I do that kind of thing all the time. I almost always make models of my non-human characters. Crayola makes model magic a really lightweight modeling compound. The models are fairly rudimentary, but I can draw the mass and the volume and the feel of it very quickly. I can make a rough drawing and then put away the model and refine the drawing.

Having made picture books, now having made a graphic novel, do you think there’s a big difference between the grammar of how a picture book works and how a comic works?

There’s a lot of overlap. I guess that somebody’s studied this. I don’t know where the dividing lines are at the very young ages because kids are so visually literate now, I’m wondering how complex a set of panels can be understood at what age. Maybe I’m not giving kids enough credit, but I tend to simplify it because I want to really make sure there’s no misunderstanding. The way I look at the picture books is that I’m doing a streamlined version of that language – although my kids were reading comics pretty young so maybe there’s no need to do that. That’s a good question.

It’s funny because I do know that confusion can come in at the adult level – particularly for people who don’t know comics and how to read them. Which direction am I going? Left or right or up and down? It’s usually adults who look at my picture books and say, “What is this? I don’t get it! Where are the words?”

Having made Fish Girl and I don’t know where you are with your next project or thinking about what’s next but has it changed your thinking about what you want to do?

I really enjoyed working on a longer form story. I have a couple things in mind that, now that I’ve done a graphic novel, look to possibly be in that format. I think having done one the way I did it, I would definitely be open for different approaches. Maybe working in a more line-based, looser style. Doing something different would be interesting.

It always starts with the story. I think this experience totally unlocked my ability to think in terms of a bigger canvas. I am currently finishing a picture book right now and I’m going to have another one to start when it’s over with, but I have a couple of ideas that feel to me like they would be some sort of visual novel. We’ll see what happens.

My last question for people doing this is usually, has this made you want to make another or never again?

[laughs] It has in fact whetted my appetite for it. It just takes real planning, knowing the time commitment. I’m not one who cranks out picture books. I’ve never done one that takes less than a year. I just have to factor that in. Prior to this, it’s always felt it just so daunting. And while it was a lot of work, I now know what it takes. I can now think of stories in a broader way than I might have before.

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Late late late http://www.tcj.com/late-late-late/ http://www.tcj.com/late-late-late/#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 14:26:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100411 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews Tracy Auch’s Necrophilic Landscape.

Tracy Auch’s necrophilic landscape is a combat zone, the site of a schism between adults and children. The story’s kids, dissidents behind “the blight of child crime,” have started using vessels in the shape of adult bodies to infiltrate the adult world. Lucas Barrette, an ace detective, responds in kind; he opts to be divided at the waist before he enters a child stronghold. Barrette’s body is split into autonomous halves and placed atop pairs of prosthetic legs, so that he better resembles (twice over) the vessels of the child criminal element. Barrette’s head tops one of the new entities, and his genitals top the other. This process marks the end of the comic’s prologue; it’s a memorable start to a demanding, singular story.

Tracy Auch has created work under a few different names (e.g. her contribution, as “Hennessy,” to Austin English’s Tusen Hjärtan Stark #2), though The Necrophilic Landscape may be her most visible piece of cartooning, given the growing profile of its publisher, 2DCloud. Even so, a couple of years removed from the comic’s release, there’s not much writing on Landscape, which could be a function of Auch’s opting out of typical brand-building or of Landscape as a challenging work.

Elsewhere:

Longtime cartoonist and publisher Paul Lyons could use your help getting through a medical crisis. I just donated. Please consider doing the same.

The Guardian has an obit for Leo Baxendale and here is a sampling of work by the great cartoonist.

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The Necrophilic Landscape http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-necrophilic-landscape/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-necrophilic-landscape/#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98208 Continue reading ]]> Tracy Auch’s necrophilic landscape is a combat zone, the site of a schism between adults and children. The story’s kids, dissidents behind “the blight of child crime,” have started using vessels in the shape of adult bodies to infiltrate the adult world. Lucas Barrette, an ace detective, responds in kind; he opts to be divided at the waist before he enters a child stronghold. Barrette’s body is split into autonomous halves and placed atop pairs of prosthetic legs, so that he better resembles (twice over) the vessels of the child criminal element. Barrette’s head tops one of the new entities, and his genitals top the other. This marks the end of the comic’s prologue; it’s a memorable start to a demanding, singular story.

Tracy Auch has created work under a few different names (e.g. her contribution, as “Hennessy,” to Austin English’s Tusen Hjärtan Stark #2), though The Necrophilic Landscape may be her most visible piece of cartooning, given the growing profile of its publisher, 2dcloud. Even so, a couple of years removed from the comic’s release, there’s not much writing on Landscape, which could be a function of Auch’s opting out of typical brand-building or of Landscape as a challenging work.

Both Auch’s layouts and the contents of her panels create a sense of anxiety throughout The Necrophilic Landscape. On most pages, the panels nearest each other share borders (instead of a gutter lying between them), and the effect is a squeezing out of readerly breathing room. Separating the foregrounds and backgrounds of Auch’s pages sometimes requires an atypical amount of readerly work as well. In the comic’s opening scene (wherein the detective cuts off a baby’s head and puts it on his own in order to walk among other children) and a later scene in which Barrette is trapped inside a church of the child realm, Auch depicts the wood grain on floors and ceilings with such a volume of strokes that the pages appear to shout. The effect is almost as much aural as textural. In other areas, narration or dialogue occupies about half of each panel, another overwhelming effect.

Auch’s work might be grouped first with that of English or Andrew Burkholder, but certain elements in The Necrophilic Landscape recall much older creations. By the broadest definitions of expressionism—art emphasizing subjectivity in its depiction of the world, art using visual distortions to evoke emotion—a lot of comics are expressionist, but Auch’s comic occasionally brings to mind capital-E works, the stuff of Munch and Murnau. When Barrette is in his office, settling on his disguise(s), Auch’s approach to shadow further heightens the story’s reality, with a series of thick, triangular spot blacks shifting across the top of the page. Later, in a scene depicting an organ theft, two figures’ shadows merge to create a batlike mass on a nearby wall, amplifying the menace of the moment.

Despite being, unrelentingly, an art comic, The Necrophilic Landscape isn’t shy about utilizing genre conventions. Pulpy, ironic narration describes the detective’s quest, the sort that would not have been on a ’40s radio serial: “No one would expect that these two figures are in fact a single man: the fearless detective Lucas Barrette.” (The detective, for his part, bears a sideways resemblance to McGruff the Crime Dog.) The children’s means of infiltrating the adult world echoes the comedy trope of two kids walking one atop the other in a single large coat. And the story’s dystopian trappings provide a context for Barrette’s fantastical procedure. But the most compelling generic element is one the story shares with horror: the protagonist, Barrette, stands for order and orthodoxy, with the story’s antagonists, the children, deviating from that orthodoxy—and readers are likely to empathize with the antagonists to a degree that the protagonist does not. (By the end of the comic, Barrett hasn’t assumed the role of villain, but he doesn’t have much of a defense to offer on behalf of the prevailing order.)

The slipperiness of the characters roles suits the slipperiness of The Necrophilic Landscape as an allegory. On the book’s back cover, the reader finds a passage from feminist theorist Mary Daly, the sort of thing that colors the comic’s range of interpretations:

Males do indeed deeply identify with “unwanted fetal tissue,” for they sense as their own condition the role of controller, possessor, inhabitor of women. Draining female energy, they feel fetal. Since this perpetual fetal state is fatal to the Self of the eternal mother (Hostess), males fear women’s recognition of this real condition, which would render them infinitely “unwanted.” For this attraction/need of males for female energy, seen for what it is, is necrophilia—not in the sense of love for actual corpses, but of love for those victimized into a state of living death.

The world of Auch’s story appears to be dominated by cisgender men and boys, and so it’s possible to read the comic as a story of masculinity tearing itself apart, something like the superego of Detective Barrett versus the id of the child criminals. But any allegory here is, again, a slippery thing. The comic’s children also inhabit the role of marginalized figures—they revolt against prevailing notions of wholeness, telling Barrett that, “in this world you have created, children are those who count for only half a creature—who are forced to subordinate themselves as only half a living body.” The Daly quote, rather than settling readers’ impressions of the story, may urge them right back to it, and toward further tensions, further confusion. (Or, of course, readers may opt to ignore the quote’s apparent binary thinking.)

In a dovetailing of story and circumstance, The Necrophilic Landscape is technically an unfinished work, published after its initial abandonment, and it reads, on multiple levels, like the start of an interrogation. Auch’s sense of humor resonates strongly—certain images, like Barrette-from-the-waist-up driving a motorcycle while Barrette-from-the-waist-down rides in a sidecar, are likely to stick in readers’ minds. But so does the anxiety of the story, which occupies even panels focused on comedic beats and genre riffs. And taken together, they form a bracing work, compelling both in spite of and because of its incompleteness.

 

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Of Sea and Jungle http://www.tcj.com/of-sea-and-jungle/ http://www.tcj.com/of-sea-and-jungle/#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100397 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Frank Santoro continues his series on Risograph printing in comics, interviewing the undersung John Pham.

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

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

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

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


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

I’ve been enjoying Gloria Rivera’s guest posts at Comics Workbook, including her most recent, a guide to the comics her parents read growing up in Mexico.

I’ve been meaning to write something about these comics since I found out about them a year ago. Before this I never knew my parents read comics in their youth. They both grew up in Mexico (b. 1964 and 1966) in small pueblos, and left their houses at 14 and 19 to work.

I was so curious as to what interested them enough as kids to capture their attention week after week. What captivated them had to actually interest the town as a whole in order to be read. They explained that children in the pueblos were poor and could only afford an issue here and there, and swapping comics with other kids was the only way they could finish the adventures. Even more removed – they paid to read to whichever child in the pueblo had the issue they needed to read next.

For Vice, Nick Gazin talks to Lawrence Hubbard about Real Deal.

VICE: What’s it like to have this hardcover collection of your comics after all these decades?
Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard: “What’s it like?” It’s a feeling of euphoria, of validation. Thinking of all of the hard work, hours of drawing and creating Real Deal and wondering, Does anybody give a shit about this?

All of the times me and H.P. McElwee took Real Deal directly to the people, the fans, they loved it! But at the same time when we went before the gatekeepers of the industry—publishers, distributors, shop owners—they said, “No! Why don’t you come up with a new superhero?” The best way to look at this is to never give up! If you love something and have a passion for it, stick with it! And whatever happens will happen!

Ha ha ha ha.

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Risograph Workbook 5 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-5/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-5/#respond Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100191 Continue reading ]]>

Epoxy Cartoon Magazine – John Pham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epoxy 4 – John Pham

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

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

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

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

Epoxy 5 – John Pham

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

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

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

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

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

Interior pages of Epoxy Cartoon Magazine – John Pham

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Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White http://www.tcj.com/reviews/krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white-2/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white-2/#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100227 Continue reading ]]> Comics consensus holds that George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is pretty much the acme of the art form. This is hard to argue with. Few comics appear as sui generis or possess the same pedigree of critical reception. Its motifs have a rare clarity about them, its characters are sharply drawn, its line and language unmistakable, and it is plain funny. A stumbling block, however, is the very repetitiveness on the basis of which its genius is commonly hailed. For all its vivacity and conceptual brilliance, it is difficult to remember individual strips, situations or lines – beyond a few catchphrases, themselves mutable. The strip’s oddity impedes memorization of its undeniable poetry and threatens to occlude its very real emotional core.

Krazy Kat Sunday page 15 March 1942

Michael Tisserand’s long-awaited, magisterial biography of Herriman, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, cogently points us in a compelling direction, however, by framing the art in terms of the artist’s ethnic identity. Since the discovery in 1971 of George Joseph Herriman’s 1880 birth certificate, on which he was categorized as ‘colored’, it has been well known, at least to comics cognoscenti, that the light-skinned Herriman spent his life passing as ‘white,’ kinky hair hidden under his ubiquitous Stetson. Tisserand is cognizant that his take is not new, but he digs much deeper than before attempted, taking us back to Herriman’s birthplace in the Tremé section of New Orleans in the last decades of the nineteenth century, as post-Reconstruction segregation laws were formally gutting the promise and practice of emancipation. His research here is rich in the way it conjures up a quintessentially American family history as it unfolded against the fraught and complex tapestry that was, and remains, American racial relations.

We learn that George’s great-grandfather was a white slave owner, his great-grandmother a “free woman of color”, kept in so-called plaçage as a mistress. She was mother to her patron’s two illegitimate children, one of whom, George, was our George’s grandfather. He co-founded what would become a thriving family business in tailoring, located in the city’s French Quarter. His wife Louise, our George’s grandmother, was Cuban of ‘mixed race’. George Sr., at one point acting as State Party Vice President for the Republicans, was involved in the pioneering struggle for voting rights centered on the black-owned newspaper L’Union, whose publishers’ negotiations with Abraham Lincoln showed promise until the president was assassinated in 1865. The subsequent, violent suppression of demonstrators in New Orleans left scores dead and contributed to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

Herriman’s father, also George, and his mother Clara moved the family – including Herriman’s younger brother and two sisters – to Los Angeles in 1890, where they started a new life passing as white. As Tisserand suggestively points out, Herriman’s art crystallizes his childhood experiences in ethnically diverse New Orleans, his Catholic upbringing tempered by everything from creole folktales to the multifarious, ever-present and lively musical soundtrack of the city. Chris Ware has recently added to this picture, emphasizing the African-American origins of Krazy Kat’s banjo and the longing for belonging of his oft-sung refrain “there’s a heppy heppy land fur-fur away”. Similarly, memories of the babel of Tremé must have informed Krazy’s patois, though Herriman’s linguistic genius was just as surely consolidated in the solidly middle-class, all-white grammar school he attended in Los Angeles, which helped him add Latin and German to his native French and English. He would later pick up Spanish and conversational Navajo as well.

Musical Mose, The New York World, February 23, 1902. More here

Tisserand weaves Herriman’s conflicted racial identity through the rather conventional biographical narrative that follows, letting it quietly inform our understanding of both life and art. Readers looking for a more in-depth analysis of how his art reflects it will be disappointed, as will readers expecting disquisition into Herriman’s notably subversive treatment of gender, most significantly in the fluidly gendered Krazy Kat, which he described as a ‘pixie’. Tisserand is an historian of the traditional scholarly mold, unwilling to stray too far beyond verifiable facts into speculation. This, coupled with his unadorned prose style, makes for rather dry reading, but rewarding for those who stick it out. And as is invariably the case, Tisserand of course has a narrative agenda, manifest in the choices he makes. He focuses very consistently on Herriman’s embrace, and occasional subversion, of racial stereotypes of the time, presenting them largely without interpretation.

We thus encounter Herriman’s first recurring character, the infamous Musical Mose, who debuted in the New York Press in 1901. He was a minstrel caricature, a black ‘coon’ version, it would seem, of Frederick Burr Opper’s wildly popular Irish drifter Happy Hooligan. Tisserand references W. E. B. Dubois’ notion of the ‘double consciousness’ of black Americans – the mutually dependent yet exclusive identities as black and American – to diagnose a pattern in Herriman’s work starting with Musical Mose, by which his publically suppressed ‘black’ identity surfaces more or less subliminally throughout his oeuvre.

This Stumble Inn Sunday page from 1924 presents a typical narrative of social discomfort and reversal, including along the way a conspicuous Jewish stereotype.

As one of the few who has actually read most, if not all, of Herriman’s prodigious output, the vast majority of which has never been reprinted, Tisserand appositely identifies social pretension as the source of most of his comedy. This applies in early efforts, such as the ringside conman comedy Baron Mooch (1909) and the tenement slapstick The Dingbat Family (aka. The Family Upstairs, 1910–16, the lower register of which was Krazy and Ignatz’s first stomping ground), as well as later features such as the burlesque Stumble Inn (1922–26) and the gimmick-driven panel gag Embarrassing Moments (1928–32).

Herriman’s expressive, energetically funny cartooning on display in this December 27, 1911 daily Dingbat Family Strip. Krazy and Ignatz appear, with Offisa Pupp, in the “basement”. More here.

Tisserand only dwells briefly on Herriman’s political cartoons, which he rightly implies are rather timid fare – Herriman ‘avoided politics’. He makes it clear, rather, that the artist’s most incisive, direct social commentary was in his sports cartooning, a genre to which he applied himself perhaps more assiduously than any other for a period in the first decade. Sports reporting at this time attracted some of the most innovative new voices in criticism, among them Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner, as well as Herriman’s close friends and collaborators Aloysius “Tad” Dorgan and Harry M. “Beanie” Walker. Then, as now, sports posed a challenge to American racialism, with boxing proving an especially active fault line in the segregationist landscape of the time.

LA Examiner, December 28, 1908. White heavyweight boxers Jim Barry and Al Kaufman joust for the privilege of fighting Jack Johnson. More here

We learn that Herriman consistently cast professional boxing as a minstrel show, both exhibiting and exploiting its racist power structures, but he simultaneously took a clear interest and pride in the success of black boxers. He closely followed and commented upon the ascent of heavyweight legend Jack Johnson. When Johnson took the world heavyweight championship in 1908, Herriman depicted him as a zip coon, smoking a cheap cigar while painting his crown black. During the hysteria that followed, he depicted the boxer as a plantation owner, presiding over his “pugilistic barnyard.” And poignantly, he frequently depicted Johnson as a black cat, krazy before the fact.

LA Examiner, January 5, 1909. In the “pugilistic barnyard” all the white heavyweights “have emerged from their coops and let out a loud, patriotic howl about reseizing the “title of titles” from the possession of the black man.” (Johnson). A cartoon discussed, but not illustrated by Tisserand. More here

Unfortunately – and this is a fundamental problem of Krazy – very little of this is illustrated, forcing us repeatedly to take the author’s word for it. Compounding matters, an irrelevant example of a given strip will often be shown instead of the one under discussion. This seriously undermines the book’s core narrative and its argument for Herriman’s significance as an artist. One cannot help but imagine what wonders the larger-sized, thoroughly illustrated monograph format, common in conventional art publishing, would have done for Tisserand’s text. It was used to great effect in Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell and Georgia Riley de Havenon’s pioneering, but limited 1986 monograph Krazy Kat – The Comic Art of George Herriman, but obviously that would have been a multi-volume proposition in this case. Back in the real world, we are stuck with a conventional bookstore bio, surely because that is how the publisher decided the book would be marketable at a realistic price point. Reality bites.

That being said, Tisserand’s account of Herriman’s career as a newspaperman is full of lived detail, local color and the occasional, tantalizing insight into his character. One such instance is the story of how Herriman was hired by William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner in 1906. Herriman had previously worked for a Hearst paper in 1901, but this was his definitive move to the media empire of the man who would be his employer, and the patron of Krazy Kat, for the rest of his life.

Covering local sheriff’s elections for a rival paper, Herriman and a colleague were solicited by the deputy sheriff, who did not realize they were reporters, to help commit voter registration fraud. The deputy was arrested and Herriman, who had helped report him, was called to testify at the trial. In the meantime, however, he had transitioned to the Examiner, which supported the candidacy of the incumbent sheriff. First, he ignored his summons, citing work away, and was consequently judged in contempt of court and fined. Then, during his eventual testimony, he refused to identify the defendant who was acquitted. This episode reveals an opportunism on Herriman’s part that does not surface as clearly elsewhere in Tisserand’s narrative, but may have informed his ability assimilate to new environments and successfully obscure his ethnic roots.

Drawing made as part of a gift book by the Hearst cartoonists for their employer on his 79th birthday, May 1, 1932

On matters Hearst, Tisserand notably points out that there is no evidence to back up the well-known story that the boss himself – who was known for taking a special interest in his cartoonists – loved Krazy Kat so much that he ensured its publication in his newspapers despite its increasing unpopularity with editors as well as readers. (Among other things, this decline in favor resulted in King Features carving the Sunday strip in two from 1925 onwards, so that editors could divide it across two pages. This impeded Herriman’s earlier, inspired use of the full page for laying out his strips). Unfortunately, however, Tisserand does not provides us with an explanation, or even an hypothesis really, for how the strip survived through the twenties and thirties to replace what may or may not be the myth of Hearst’s intervention.

Despite the richness of Tisserand’s account in this area and others, and despite his generally impressive contextualization and documentation, Herriman remains elusive as a person. This is probably mostly due to his intensely private and retreating character, but it also has to do with Tisserand’s disciplined approach to his material, commendable almost to a fault. This means that we rarely get the kind of glimpse behind the drawing board that David Michaelis delivered so compellingly, and arguably irresponsibly, in his gripping 2008 biography on Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts – a strip that shares deep affinities with Krazy Kat. Michaelis’s’ unapologetic linking of life and art was clearly tendentious, and drew fierce criticism from Schulz’s family, but a lot of it rang true – Schulz’s life was obviously in his strip, just as is clearly the case with Herriman.

Tisserand avoids direct psychoanalysis. Even his central thesis concerning Herriman’s ethnic identity is presented in a rather hands-off manner, leaving the reader to draw her or his own conclusions on the basis of the evidence as selected and laid out by the author. We get the occasional revelatory insight into how particular events may have informed certain strips. Tisserand for instance locates the death of Herriman’s daughter Bobbie, or Barbara, around the time when he drew that melancholy Sunday Krazy Kat (December 10, 1939) in which Krazy catches a falling star – ‘un estrellita caida’ – attaches it to a pillowcase, and uses a campfire to give it hot-aired flight. The pillowcase later falls to the ground next to Krazy with a note inside: “I’m back home and happy, thanks – Twinkie”.

Krazy Kat Sunday 10 December 1939. See original artwork here

There is something almost animistic about the return to a greater continuum promised in that strip. Like Moebius after him, Herriman was an artist who drew his protean creative powers from the unsparing, uncaring and unfathomable vastness of nature, most significantly the desert. Tisserand catalogues his life-long love affair with the Southwestern landscape, particularly the Navajo country around Kayenta, Arizona, where he and his family spent many a vacation.

Krazy Kat Sunday page July 14, 1918

Which brings us to Herriman’s magnum opus, which he drew until his death in 1944. This is the work in which he reaches his most stirringly poetic and humanly engaged, and where we sense his own life of assimilation and alienation is most richly embedded. In Krazy Kat he returns again and again to issues of social identity, whether founded it ethnicity, class or gender. A significant number of strips for instance revolve around black Krazy Kat having his fur blanched or being soaked in white paint and thereby confounding Ignatz Mouse who, failing to recognize the object of his obsessive animosity, falls in love with Krazy. More fundamentally, and especially in the early, more ensemble-oriented years, Krazy is cast as an outsider in his community, a simple soul marching to a different drum – tolerated, even liked by some, but never regarded as an equal. Krazy’s flights of imagination, musical mind and lyrical patois are rarely appreciated or understood – in fact the difficulty, if not outright failure, of communication is the conflict at the heart of the strip. (Its direct descendant in more ways than one, Walt Kelly’s always elegant but less poetic Pogo, took this conceit to a repetitive extreme with its imaginative but also somewhat patronizing appropriations of southern black dialect).

From the April 21 1918 Krazy Kat Sunday

The triangular dynamic between Krazy, Ignatz and Offisa Pupp is one of fundamental misunderstandings and unrequited feelings. The fact that Krazy’s love for Ignatz, and Pupp’s for Krazy, never waver has made the strip’s more optimistic readers, notably R. C. Harvey, see it as a paean to the triumph of love. This would apply to Herriman’s avowed idol, Charles Chaplin’s work, but I am less sure how well it fits his own. The sticking point for me is the fundamental injustice of the oblivious Krazy being beaned with a brick week after week after week after week. It is relentlessly painful, and Krazy’s indomitable love makes it all the more so.

The sparky scratch of Herriman’s line that so animates his characters testifies to the power of life, but he does not judge; the modernist wisp and warp of the landscape backdrops, condensed into increasingly abstract form in the later strips, affirms the ever-changing, glorious flux of nature, yes, but crucially also its existence beyond any moral impulse or emotional allegiance. Love is bound up with this natural energy – clearly a powerful force, but not one that promises salvation.

From the May 15 1938 Sunday Krazy Kat

Read also Paul Tumey’s interview with Tisserand right here at TCJ.

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Support People http://www.tcj.com/support-people/ http://www.tcj.com/support-people/#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 12:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100379 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Matthias Wivel joins us for a thorough critical discussion of last year’s George Herriman biography, Krazy. This is our final piece on the book. Read other takes here and here

 

Michael Tisserand’s long-awaited, magisterial biography of Herriman, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, cogently points us in a compelling direction, however, by framing the art in terms of the artist’s ethnic identity. Since the discovery in 1971 of George Joseph Herriman’s 1880 birth certificate, on which he was categorized as ‘colored’, it has been well known, at least to comics cognoscenti, that the light-skinned Herriman spent his life passing as ‘white,’ kinky hair hidden under his ubiquitous Stetson. Tisserand is cognizant that his take is not new, but he digs much deeper than before attempted, taking us back to Herriman’s birthplace in the Tremé section of New Orleans in the last decades of the nineteenth century, as post-Reconstruction segregation laws were formally gutting the promise and practice of emancipation. His research here is rich in the way it conjures up a quintessentially American family history as it unfolded against the fraught and complex tapestry that was, and remains, American racial relations.

Elsewhere:

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger as she prepares to embark on a new line of comics.

John Porcellino is raising money to publish The Complete Strange Growths, 1991-1997, by Jenny Zervakis. A very very worthy cause for an excellent and little-seen comic.

And finally, Edward Gorey’s collections, examined.

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Smaller Size http://www.tcj.com/smaller-size/ http://www.tcj.com/smaller-size/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100359 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, pointing out the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include two must-read titles: Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #6 and Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. Joe also talks a little about Frédéric Coché.

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AIGA profiles Eleanor Davis.

Sketchiness, though, is integral to the impact of the work. The loose hand echoes the movement of Davis on her bike: her outlines are like that of a cyclist passing you by—fast, evocative, and a quick impression of shape and energy. As Davis’ recent comics deal with themes of sadness and mental health—her lauded 2014 How To Be Happy is an abstract collection of short stories that explore depression’s many forms—there is also something freeing in the looseness of the sketches in You & A Bike & A Road. In the story, Davis addresses the fact that the journey is, in part, a way to keep depression at bay. “I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling,” she writes on one page. The form of her drawing, its lightness, seems to reject the weight of crippling sadness, just as the process of cycling does for Davis.

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo/new Dark Horse editor Karen Berger.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Josh Bayer, and the latest on Process Party is Keith Knight.

—Reviews & Commentary. Bob Temuka writes about the latest Love & Rockets.

The smaller format means there is a smaller chunk of story, and Love and Rockets Magazine #2 features bite-sized slices of both brothers’ ongoing sagas, taking a few steps forward and underlying the slightness of the plotting with a couple of devastating emotional truths. So, same as it ever was, then.

Attempted Bloggery has posted a New York Times article first published twenty years ago, when Bob Mankoff first took over as the magazine’s cartoons editor.

At the same time, the definition of a New Yorker cartoon has changed over the last decade. Its principle characteristic, what has been called a kind of “wink-slash-smirk” humor tailored to Manhattan sensibilities, has been transformed into something a little more generally accessible.

And, some critics say, while New Yorker cartoons of past decades can still elicit grins, many recent ones are so dependent on the moment that they may not last.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/26/17 – Here be lions.) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-42617-here-be-lions/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-42617-here-be-lions/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100337 Continue reading ]]>

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

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interesting Nonetheless http://www.tcj.com/interesting-nonetheless/ http://www.tcj.com/interesting-nonetheless/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100327 Continue reading ]]> Our friend Ken Parille has joined us again with a fascinating column that begins with lettering and winds its way into Roy Lichtenstein. 

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

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

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

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

Kind of a slow comics news weekend as near as I can tell, so I’ll just leave you with this Tom Spurgeon interview with cartoonist Joe Decie.

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