The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:29:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.2 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 André Franquin: Great or…The Greatest? http://www.tcj.com/andre-franquin-great-orthe-greatest/ http://www.tcj.com/andre-franquin-great-orthe-greatest/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98618 Continue reading ]]>

André Franquin in the 1950s © Gaston Servais; Franquin/Dargaud-Lombard, 2016

Was Belgian Andre Franquin (1924-1997) comics’ greatest draftsman? One colleague who certainly thought so was Hergé. “Franquin”, he declared, “is a great artist. Next to him, I’m only a mediocre pen-pusher.” Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson agreed with Tintin’s creator. “In terms of ultra-classic greatness,” he once wrote me, “Hergé has that abstract line but Franquin has something else. He created the most complete, the most alive, the most absolute cartooniness in comics history.”

A current Paris retrospective, Gaston, shares their views. It also honours a landmark birthday – the sixtieth year of Gaston Lagaffe, Franquin’s most well-known character. Gaston, whose last name means “the blunder”, is an dedicated idler in jeans and espadrilles. While hardly the first antihero of European comics, Gaston was one of their first post-adolescents. Franquin made him into a prototype of subversion.

Over three decades the artist honed Gaston’s interests, showing him to be an inventor, a music fan, a DIY fanatic and an amateur chef. But, if his character exudes a Sixties effervescence it also has the era’s disillusions. As Renaud Defiebre-Muller notes in the show, “Gaston pits personal autonomy against social control: against manners, against respect, against everyday decorum”. Elevated to stardom by Franquin’s graphic brilliance, this rebellion-by-default changed the rules of the bande dessinée.

Gaston at the Pompidou Bpi © Hervé Vérnonèse

Yet, at the start, Gaston was just an in-joke. Franquin and his editor, Yvan Delporte, had envisioned not a strip but a running gag. Their youth weekly Spirou was a Catholic children’s journal which, like its competitor Tintin, stuck to Boy Scout values. Spirou, a red-clad bellboy, wasn’t even its featured star. That role belonged to a daring insurance adjuster, Jean Valhardi.

The magazine published both a Belgian and a French edition so, between them, advertising volumes differed. The pagination problems were solved by using a centerfold but unexpected gaps still cropped up. Franquin proposed filling these with a character, “a BD hero too stupid to fit the mold”. From the start, his concept was a swipe at the magazine’s rectitude.

In Yvan Delporte, he found a receptive ear. Publisher Charles Dupuis had hired Delporte to make Spirou funnier. A comics scenariste with a beard the size of a copse, the editor was a character. He loved jazz, ran a private club and read comics in English. It’s still funny to think about some of his initiatives, like a “spring issue” with violet-scented ink which caused the whole print works to vomit. Franquin’s pitch for a house “blunderer” tickled Delporte’s fancy. He threw himself into it, even naming the character after a shambolic pal.[1]

On 28 February 1957, Gaston appeared with no explanation; he was simply shown opening the door to Spirou. From then on, every week, he appeared to instigate problems. A page might be obscured when Gaston poked his face in the camera or an article lost under ink he had spilled. When an irate Spirou eventually tried to question him, a dialogue worthy of Samuel Beckett ensued. Why was Gaston in the office? Who had actually hired him? The character shrugged; he didn’t know, couldn’t recall and didn’t care. Once in place, Gaston never left.

Gaston La Gaffe, catalogue, Gaston, Bpi © Franquin/Dargaud-Lombard, 2016

If the concept behind Gaston Lagaffe was simple, his actual character constituted an aberration. In that era, kiddie mags starred exemplary heroes like cowboys, aviators and private eyes. Each of them had a “job” which could further improving narratives. Despite his hopeless behavior, Lagaffe likes people. But, from the start, he was indifferent to all the problems he caused them.

At the moment he got the idea for Gaston, Franquin was overworked. Over a decade, as well as the magazine’s cover, he had been producing Spirou and Fantasio weekly. Now he was starting a supplement called Spirou Poche and had just become a first-time father. If that wasn’t enough, there was more one thing. Franquin also worked for the competition, Le Journal de Tintin.

This was a situation just as odd as it sounds. In 1955, miffed by a contract, Franquin had stormed over to his rivals. Once “at” Tintin, he created a new strip called Modeste and Pompon and agreed a five-year contract. Back at Spirou, the boss Charles Dupuis panicked. It took him ten days of pleading and conceding to win back his star. When Franquin returned, he was still stuck with Modeste and Pompon. Deliverance only arrived as it often would for him – via close friends who pitched in to help.

With stories from René Goscinny, Greg, Roba and Peyo (not to mention those of his own mother-in-law), Franquin added Modeste and Pompon to his weekly regimen. If it’s seen as a bit of a relic today, the strip still personifies what was a heady moment. Its slick, hyperactive graphics – later dubbed le style atome – were an aesthetic powered by Franquin’s love of design.

With the exception of one book (Augustin David’s 2014 Franquin et le design), there’s not a lot about the artist’s crush on mid-century style. Yet it informs the whole of his graphic universe. From Spirou and Fantasio’s pad to the Spirou “office” in Gaston, Franquin is always precise about décor. His armchairs, sofas and lights comprise exact homages to names such as the Eames brothers, Pierre Paulin and Eero Aarnio. They were of course reflections of Franquin’s own taste and home. But, in Modeste and Pompon, the style atome marks something else. It stands as a groundbreaking generation’s final nod to America.

3 – Gaston blocks a page of Spirou in the ’50s © Franquin/Dargaud-Lombard, 2016

Franquin had joined Spirou just after the Liberation. The job followed his brief stint as an animator, at a company shuttered when its owner was tried for collaboration. The change to Spirou brought the 22 year-old a lifelong mentor in the person of artist Joseph “Jijé” Gillain. Also a serious painter and a father of three, Jijé was easy-going yet enormously energetic. Working with Spirou’s then-editor, the communist Jean Doisy, he fused his post-War hires into a singular team. Together, they built what became the “Marcinelle school” of comics.

This was a term defined partly in opposition – to the qualities upheld in Tintin by Studio Hergé. While that team stylized reality, Spirou artists spent their youthful energies milking it. Laughter was their chief priority and every path they took to it (slapstick, word games, big noses and funny animals) exuded breeziness and a contemporary air.

At the root of their success was a talented trio: Morris, Franquin and the nineteen year-old “Will” Maltaite. Initially, Gillain lodged and coached all three artists in his home. For Franquin, the only child of older Catholic parents, that arrangement filled “a desperate need to laugh”. He valued it for the whole of his life and it spurred an introvert to explore the joys of collective industry.

In 1948, when Jijé went to America, both Franquin and Morris tagged along for the ride. During their trip, incredibly, Franquin kept up his weekly work for Spirou. Within five years, at the age of 27, he was a pillar at the busy publication. Thanks to his refinements, redirections and additions, Spirou’s character got a much-needed update. What had once been bland adventures now received complex plots, offbeat geographies and an array of fanciful characters. (Franquin also added outlandish animals, from dinosaurs to the invented, monkey-like “Marsupilami”).

When Jijé decided to linger in America, Franquin also inherited his role at the journal. As well as handling much of the magazine’s most critical work, he helped recruit and integrate new artists. One of these, Jidéhem,[2] became his assistant. From 1957 through 1968, he would – fully co-credited – create much of Gaston, working off Franquin’s sketches.

In Spirou and Fantasio, Franquin resuscitated family-friendly values from before the War. But, with Gaston, he exploded them. The key to both accomplishments was Franquin’s way of seeing. Not only did he come at storytelling from offbeat angles; the graphic skills with which he managed it were astonishing. In a golden age famous for its many celebrities – Hergé and Macherot, E.P. Jacobs and Tillieux –  André Franquin was an undisputed star.

One bit of film in the exhibit demonstrates why. It comes from a French television show, Tac au Tac, which was broadcast from 1969 to 1975. Tac au Tac filmed live, improvised cartooning duels. The Beaubourg clip features Franquin, Morris, Peyo and Roba. While music plays, these four artists silently extemporise: taking turns to create a wordless, communal cadavre exquis.  Everyone is quick and funny and every addition beautifully drawn.

Franquin starts it off with a terrified, scrambling rat. Then, everyone chips in: a cat giving chase, a cop madly cycling, a tax collector, a gangster, a cowboy, an angry wife, etc. But, where others use comic tropes, Franquin’s additions are always unexpected. When Peyo inserts a chicken in the chase, Morris follows with a cook waving a cleaver. Without a beat, Franquin adds a sweaty fat man running desperately. He’s just been decapitated and cradles his head in an arm.

There’s always a crowd around this film — watching Franquin at his work is really mesmerizing. The artist, who crams his frames so full of detail you lose your bearings, is a virtuoso when it comes to motion. No one ever rendered it with more advanced or effortless physics. Franquin’s world just won’t wait, won’t sit still and never listens. His characters keep ahead because they keep on going.

There’s another bit of film towards the end of the show. Made in 1994, it features famous cartoonists talking about how Franquin is different. Says Charles Berberian, “Franquin is a great draftsman but he is much, much more. He’s a guy who can capture all the anguish of his character by completely integrating it into the action.” Morris, by then a global star from his Lucky Luke, agrees. “He was always the revolutionary. All of us make bandes dessinées. But Franquin, he’s doing something else entirely.”

It’s a special position the artist holds even today. Marcel Gotlib, who passed away last December, was once asked why no-one has a bad word for Franquin. Gotlib shot back, “A bad word about what? Franquin’s life? His work? There’s nothing to reproach! …Across the whole profession, it’s a total consensus: Franquin is the greatest. In terms of the bande dessinée, in terms of drawing, in terms of ideas.”

In 1962, Franquin had a depressive crisis which was an omen of difficulties to come. In the midst of a story that was already running, he dropped Spirou and Fantasio for more than year. But he continued to work on Gaston. “I think in life,” he said, “there comes an important moment. One when you discover that none of this is a game. That it’s something serious, something where nothing is free, where pleasures are rare and finding satisfaction is difficult. It’s that moment Gaston always helps postpone.”

But even Gaston couldn’t postpone the turbulent ’60s. The riots and strikes that traumatised France in 1968 brought profound changes to all of Francophone culture. Franquin’s was a generation that fell in love with American culture and worshiped postwar design for its optimism. Suddenly they were drowning ina scorn for consumerism.

In Franquin’s case, these critiques were just the tip of an iceberg. Always a serious pacifist who opposed the death penalty, he became more and more disturbed by the state of the world. In Gaston, he mocked hunters, cops, generals – even those model Messerschmitts Spirou sold in the small ads. But his humor grew more and more corrosive.

In 1974, Angouleme held its founding festival. It awarded Franquin awarded the Grand Prize for lifetime achievement. But that comics world he had once shaken up was different now. It had produced names like Marcel Gottlieb (Gotlib), Philippe Druillet, Nikita Mandryka, Claire Bretécher and Moebius. All through the ’60s and ’70s, publishing and art were changed by new publications: Pilote, Hara-Kiri, L’Echo de savannes, Métal hurlant, Fluide Glaciale, Charlie Hebdo. The real action had moved to France ­– and it catered not to kids but adults. In sharp contrast, Spirou still had its “religious counselor”.

Despite his growing sense of isolation, Franquin stayed with Dupuis. He turned down several offers, including one from Charlie Hebdo. Then, in 1975, he suffered a heart attack.

Although it shook him profoundly, Franquin didn’t fall behind. In 1977, he and Yvan Delporte took another new idea to Charles Dupuis. It was a “pirate” publication, one that would appear inside Spirou every week. Delporte would edit and Franquin would manage the art. But they had one condition: total editorial freedom. Somewhat surprisingly, Dupuis agreed. He gave the pair an office for their project, “Le Trombone Illustré“.

Franquin’s cover for Le Trombone illustré on Delporte’s 50th birthday © Franquin/Dargaud-Lombard, 2016

The Trombone roster mixed old friends like Peyo and Jijé with new pioneers such as Jacques Tardi, Enki Bilal and Claire Bretécher. Printed on paper slightly bigger than that of Spirou, what was meant as a centerfold risked dwarfing its host. This soon led to tensions back at the Spirou office. According to Franquin, “We were viciously attacked. Most of the editors really hated us.” Not only were his colleagues furious with their star; many disagreed with the Trombone‘s brand of humor.

One of their main targets was a strip called Idées noires (“Dark Thoughts”). This, along with the supplement’s covers, was Franquin’s contribution. It was a series of one-page gags whose humor was utterly dark, concentrating on death, disasters and despair.

Over the years of drawing Gaston, Franquin had perfected his style. By ’77 he commanded it with a highly cinematic control. But nothing had prepared either the staff or his fans for Idées noires. It looked like, in his own words, “Gaston plunged into soot”. Everything in its drawings was creepily alive; even the outbursts and onomatopoeias writhed. Its landscape was baroque – yet chilling in its prevailing black and furious clouds of crosshatching.

Aside from monsters and aliens, Idées noires has two kinds of protagonist: humans who suffer and humans who relish inflicting hurt. Their figures are either utterly dark or a stark, trembling white. All are feeling their way in a universe deprived of light.

Le Trombone illustré lasted less than a year. But when the exasperated Dupuis finally ended it, Marcel Gottlieb rescued Idées noires. Gotlib gave them a home at Fluide glaciale, the all-adult comics journal he co-founded. There, until 1983, Franquin continued the strip. If he had only drawn Gaston, Franquin would be a legend. But his Ideés noires are a spookily prescient landmark. These grim gags are part Goya, part Edward Gorey. But there’s no disputing the fact they remain almost shockingly relevant.

Would the strip have been born without Franquin’s personal gloom? The artist himself claimed that Ideés noires was just a progression, the logical development of his earlier work. He liked to cite a Spirou sequence from 1966, in which his villain ruins a fingernail while torturing Fantasio. The higher ups, he told a fanzine in 1988, went ballistic over that. “Clearly, I had touched a nerve and that amazed me. I think that stayed in my head and Ideés noires developed from it.”

But the graphics were something he had always wanted to try. “There was one Saturday Evening Post I had seen as a kid which had a strip done entirely with black silhouettes. I always wanted to use that for some sort of dark comedy. Maybe it’s all gallows humor, but it’s humor nevertheless.” Frank knew his new look was unnervingly strong. In 1977, he used it on a poster for Amnesty International.

Detail from Franquin’s 1977 Amnesty International poster © Franquin/Dargaud-Lombard, 2016

Mostly stark black against a bright scarlet, this appears at the very end of the show. It’s a vivid and harrowing piece in which Gaston fantasizes scenes of his own torture. Says Xavier Zeeger, who worked for Amnesty at the time, “Many people were surprised by the strength of feeling in that but it shows how bleak Franquin’s vision had gotten.”

Fluid glaciale has just re-issued Idées noires. To mark the event, they’ve also published a “Golden Edition” replete with extras and graphic homages. Yet Franquin’s own work that still seems by far most modern.

The cover of Fluide Glaciale’s special edition, 2017

Editor Gerard Viry-Babel isn’t surprised. “When these strips were first published back in 1977, Franquin couldn’t have known that forty years on they would still be newsworthy.”

“But it’s exactly like Gotlib wrote when he first published them, ‘From his very first dark thought, it always seemed Franquin was saying, ‘Watch out; this is no longer any laughing matter…”

 

  • The exposition Gaston, Au-delà de Lagaffe (“Gaston, beyond the blunder”) runs through 10 April 2017 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in the Bibliothèque publique d’information Gallery. Admission is free.
  • Il était une fois Idées noires (“Once there were Dark Thoughts“), the commemorative volume, is out now, published by Fluide Glaciale.

[1] Bohemian poet and painter Gaston Mostraet

[2] “As with ‘Hergé’, ‘Jidéhem’ stands for the French pronunciation of the artist’s initials: ‘J.D.M’. They belong to Jean de Maesmeker. Franquin named his Gaston character “Aimé De Mesmaeker”, a boss eternally after contracts, after his colleague’s father.

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/andre-franquin-great-orthe-greatest/feed/ 4
The Emil Ferris Interview: Monsters, Art and Stories (Part 1) http://www.tcj.com/the-emil-ferris-interview-monsters-stories-and-art-part-1/ http://www.tcj.com/the-emil-ferris-interview-monsters-stories-and-art-part-1/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98616 Continue reading ]]> EMIL FERRIS - MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS“Emil Ferris is one of the most important comics artists of our time.”
– Art Spiegelman, quoted in The New York Times (“First, Emil Ferris Was Paralyzed. Then Her Book Got Lost at Sea.” by  Dana Jennings)

A reclusive person, Emil Ferris, author of the just-released breakthrough graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Fantagraphics, 2017), has not allowed much personal information out in the world. This is her first long form interview.

In my earlier review of Monsters, I wrote: “The author, one Emil Ferris, seemingly arrives from nowhere to join the ranks of graphic storytellers of the first order.” A single mother who has supported herself for many years as an artist-for-hire, including designing McDonald’s toys and working in animated films, Ferris has developed a complex visual-verbal style that is at once extremely refined and highly personal and used it to create her first published work., thrilling in its artistry.

In this interview, conducted February 7-10 2017 in several Internet chat sessions and additional rounds in email, Ferris challenges a lot of labels, putting them in quotation marks. This is a telling detail about the outsider stance of this author-artist. My Favorite Thing is Monsters similarly challenges commonly held preconceptions, including how a graphic novel should look and work. In conversation with her it becomes clear Monsters is new and different because Ferris, a gifted artist, is approaching comics and graphic novels from an offbeat, hard-fought viewpoint.

Part one of this two-part interview covers Ferris’ background, her life as an artist and her love of monsters.

Emil Ferris, author of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Emil Ferris, author of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Paul Tumey: First off, let me thank you for this interview, Emil. After I read My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Book One, I was intensely curious about you and your novel.

Emil Ferris: I’m glad to be talking with you, Paul.

Paul Tumey: You’ve had quite a journey with this book and, as I understand it, your life to date. Why don’t we start with you and your early years? My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is set in 1960s Chicago. Is that autobiographical?

Emil Ferris: Yes, I was born in Chicago but my parents left here when I was around a year old and, when I was five or so, after living in Albuquerque New Mexico and Santa Fe my father―a dyed in the wool Chicagoan – moved us back here to a low income building in Uptown.

Paul Tumey: Were your parents artists?

Emil Ferris: My parents met as two hippie art students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My mother described offering to “Clean his brushes, if he would stretch her canvas…”

Paul Tumey: Have you always been a visual artist? Did it begin for you as a child?

Emil Ferris: It began with Lil’ Abner actually!

Paul Tumey: A Tribune comic from 1964 to 1977, when you were growing up in Chicago. Of course, it got started before that, in 1934 I think. Tell me about that, please.

L’IL ABNER original comic strip art by Al Capp, 1964

Emil Ferris: My mother, an artist herself, kept me busy by giving me the strip cut out from the paper when I was about two years old. I could not walk until I was closer to three years old, due to having scoliosis, but I began to draw very early. She said at two I began very carefully copying the characters from the strip and she said my drawing at two surprised her because it was so exacting.

Paul Tumey: So you were drawing before you were walking. And it seems comics got into your blood at an early age. Did you read much comics growing up?

Emil Ferris: Mad was my oasis. It was so defiant and contentious and it demanded that the social structure be questioned and that it explain itself!

Paul Tumey: Li’l Abner had a lot of satire in it, too.

Emil Ferris: Looking back, I realize that it did. At the time, I was just enamored by the concise drawing style and by emotions caught in a few scritch-scratches made by a quill pen.

Paul Tumey: Were the adults in your childhood years questioning social structure? What were your parents like when you were a child?

Emil Ferris: My father was the child of an immigrant who became the tailor, dressmaker and furrier for a lot of wealthy famous people. My grandfather had a furrier shop only blocks away from the “murder castle” of H.H. Holmes and was here through the “Devil in the White City” period. My grandfather paid his (required) protection money to Al Capone – and I understand he liked him – calling the young Capone, “a nice young man.” Apparently, he preferred to pay protection money to Capone than the Chicago Police. So in this story I’m telling you that my father―who loved history and was something of a philosopher―understood that the world was not a place of blacks and whites but a much more inscrutable and complex place.

Paul Tumey: Can you share a little about your background?

Emil Ferris: My mother is descended from indigenous Mexican people, German, French and Irish emigres and the Sephardic Crypto Jews of New Mexico, who fled the Spanish Inquisition and ended up there in the early 1600s.

Paul Tumey: What a rich heritage. I was in a thrift store yesterday, and I found this collection of poems and prose by Robert Frost. I opened the book at random and read this passage of words spoken by Frost in a 1923 interview:

“America means certain things to people who come here. It means the Declaration of Independence, it means Washington, it means Lincoln, it means Emerson―never forget Emerson―it means the English language, which is not the language that is spoken in England or her provinces. Just as soon as the alien gets all that―and it may take two or three generations―he is as much an American as the man who can boast of nine generations of American forebears. He gets the tone of America, and as soon as there is tone there is poetry.”

I think this helps me get at why your book is so rich and works on so many levels. In part it may be the immigrant experiences that happened close enough to our own time they still swirl around and influence us. The courage and desire to make something of one’s life with hard work is an inspiring example.

Spread from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Spread from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Emil Ferris: My maternal grandparents were both very invested in what they world have described as the American ideal of service―a life as a service. My grandfather, who became the Chief Justice of the Appellate Court of New Mexico, was a Spanish-speaking man who attended the University of Chicago and was proud of his Mexican heritage. He worked tirelessly on behalf of the less fortunate. Currently, these disparaging, fallacious things―that some people feel “empowered” to spout off about regarding people of color―really piss me off.  When this country is beautiful and strong, it is so because of the genius and nobility of people from many and varied places. That should be celebrated. It should be something of which we’re all proud.

We should be in the service of protecting freedom. People are not our enemies. Fear and ignorance are our enemies. While I was making the book, I thought a lot about how works like Maus, Fun Home, Jimmy Corrigan and others, really set me free. There are so many great books within the graphic “canon” that are situated firmly in that ideology of service. I drew and drew and truly hoped that what I did would inspire others to tell their stories, to really believe in them and honor them.

Paul Tumey: I would be surprised if Monsters doesn’t inspire others to tell their own stories. I know it’s inspired me. I have admired Spiegelman, Bechdel and Ware for having the courage to tackle the Important Stuff, perhaps out of a sense of service. There’s a photo of Art Spiegelman during the time he was working on Maus and his shape had temporarily shifted — he looks very dark and full of shadows — and no wonder, considering the history of vileness and suffering he was processing to make Maus. Perhaps he went back in time and deep inside, to a dark place.

Emil Ferris: That’s interesting to me. The way we manifest these emotional storms that are inside of us. I worked myself into some dark places as I wrote the story and then very pointedly I drew while in that state, as an experiment, and hoping that the lines would congeal into a torrid emotional sub-statement. Something perceivable to one’s base or core, reaching the viewer on a subliminal level.

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Page from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Paul Tumey: Is that when you developed the graphic style using layers of thin lines to define forms and space and to also create emotional tone? It works on a subliminal level, directing both the eye and the emotional response.

Emil Ferris: I’d been using that technique when working with pen and ink and I knew that Deeze taught Karen these techniques and she was willingly bastardizing them by drawing in Bic pen. But in terms of actually being sad, angry and afraid when I drew: that was the experiment.

Paul Tumey: How long have you had that remarkable graphic style — how far back does it go?

Emil Ferris: I think I really started developing that style when I was about eight.

Paul Tumey: And I agree―a flashy style with substance isn’t worth much, I think―facing off with the difficult feelings is what gives the whole enterprise depth. I feel that when I read Monsters. That pulled me through the narrative as much as plot. You can see artists getting into that space and producing work of remarkable depth and complexity, and then backing off from it, perhaps out of survival. It seems very intense and consuming … although the work that can come from that state can bring rewards.

Emil Ferris: I agree. I think that’s the sacred geometry, if you will, that makes theater cathartic. The capacity we have to feel an emotional state and move through it towards empathy and understanding and yet have it all be ‘fictional’ ‘play-acting’ and thereby safe. The artist is a willing servant to those altered states and a shamanic being taking us down a dark path, meanwhile punching holes into the tunnel to allow us light and hope and a view as we travel that dark passage. That view is sometimes a page, a scene, a moment of film or a painting, poetry, music, dance, vision.

Paul Tumey: That shamanic journey, the transformation of one’s self and life, is captured with sensitivity and vision at several key points in Book One of Monsters. I’m thinking of Karen’s shift into werewolf mode and later, her psychedelic trip in the graveyard at night.

Emil Ferris: As unlikely as it is, there is some truth to that graveyard tripping scene. When I was a kid I belonged to the Marble Cake Kids, a little theatrical troupe of children of many different races run by two counterculture mavens called Leo and Mila. The troupe had their base at Hull House on Beacon Street, only a stone’s throw from Chicago’s infamous Graceland Cemetery. So necessarily as a kid obsessed with monsters, I decided I needed to sneak into Graceland and wait for wonders. When I was finally able to get into the cemetery, the actual wonders were the graves of famous Chicagoans whose stories I researched as I got older. There was also a ghost child rumored to live in the cemetery who I desperately wanted (and still want) to appear to me and befriend me. As for the marijuana connection, that occurred after I was a bit older, when imbibing of the weed and going into cemeteries became a pastime of mine.

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Page from the graveyard scene in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Paul Tumey: I see you put the iconic “Eternal Silence” monument that is at the Graceland Cemetery into that scene in Monsters.

Emil Ferris: Yes, and there will be others in Book Two.

Paul Tumey: So you were, like your character of Karen Reyes, a young girl obsessed with monsters?

Emil Ferris: Very much so. Monsters consumed all my thinking. Monsters, art. Dickens and the questions I had about my sexual identity.

Paul Tumey: Your novel makes me want to go watch old B-movie horror films, especially The Wolf Man, which I’ve never seen. The 1941 one, with Lon Chaney, Jr.

Emil Ferris: I find it interesting that the U.S. release date of the movie, December 9th, 1941, is bracketed between the first executions at Chelmno (December 8th 1941) and the German Declaration of war on the United States (December 11th 1941)

Paul Tumey: Really? Another case of highly symbolic timing.

Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS
(copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Emil Ferris: The screenwriter is Curt Siodmak, a Jew who fled the Nazis. Pay close attention to the pentagram scenes, those were Siodmak’s. They work within the plot very much like the labeling with the Star of David foreshadowed doom in Nazi Germany.

Paul Tumey: I just read an interview with Siodmak. I’m very interested in his work.

Emil Ferris: Me, too. I did a whole teeny graphic novelized bio of him as part of the sales package for the book – to contextualize the book.

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Images of pentagrams from THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Paul Tumey: Siodmak wrote I Walked With A Zombie, one of my favorite films.

Emil Ferris: No, I know! I loved that movie. I have it.

Paul Tumey: I have it, too. I have the whole Val Lewton set!

Emil Ferris: Me too! Val was tops.

Paul Tumey: How did you get into monsters as a kid? Did you read Creepy and Eerie?

Emil Ferris: I did. But I discovered them later. When we moved to Chicago I began watching Creature Features which was a show that aired B-movie horror at 10pm on Saturday nights. That became the central focus of my life. But, I will say I was primed to love monsters via an early childhood in New Mexico.

Paul Tumey: Why is that? Are there monsters in New Mexico? I’ve never been.

Emil Ferris: The Penitente art of New Mexico, featuring Death Carts and the traditional Retablos. I remember my grandmother taking me to Sanctuario de Chimayo and I remember passing a cemetery built and decorated by local people. The saints -guardians at the gates – were very menacing. Their bodies were those of manikins, their haloes were bicycle wheels, the sun was setting – it was that beautiful glowing radioactive type that was due to the nuclear testing – gorgeous New Mexican sunset and I knew these saints, these badass guardians were the “Golems” of the town and that they meant business.

Nasario López, Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta), ca. 1860

One of the monsters that inspired Ferris as a young child. Nasario López, Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta), ca. 1860 [Courtesy of Yale University’s Center for the Study of Material & Visual Cultures of Religion)

Paul Tumey: Holy Shit! Nice monster!

Emil Ferris: Terror is beautiful in New Mexico. It is very beautiful.

Paul Tumey: Why do you think you resonated so much with the B-movie monsters? What was it about them that captivated and consumed?

Emil Ferris: When I was suddenly exposed to the Wolf Man, Dracula (and his gorgeous Brides) and Frankenstein, I would weep for them. Their lives were so tortured and yet they were so forlorn and beautiful like New Mexico, like outsiders, like the people I loved most.

Paul Tumey: So you see the monster-figure as an outcast?

Emil Ferris: Well usually that is what the monster is. Although I make a distinction between good monsters―those that can’t help being different―and rotten monsters (not sure they even deserve to be called the sacred “m” word, truly) those people whose behavior is designed around objectives of control and subjugation. I don’t really think they deserve the title of monster. In my mind that’s an honorable title. It represents struggle and wisdom bought at a high, painful price.

Paul Tumey: It seems to me both categories of people are represented in your novel.

Emil Ferris: I remember a woman calling a Vietnam Vet a “monster.” And I remember thinking―because I had a friend whose brother came back utterly transformed by the experience of his service―that if he was a monster it was because he’d been broken and reformed in new and terrible ways and why would that be laid at his doorstep? Could it be laid at Larry Talbot’s doorstep? We are the receivers throughout a lot of life. We receive so much from the larger world and what light we are shown is all we have to make more light within. It’s understandable to me, this tremendous rate of suicide, homelessness and addiction among the returning vets of our most recent wars. The book was crafted with them in mind, too.

Paul Tumey: In your novel, you mix it all up. No one is all good or all bad. Schutz, for example, seems to be, well, pretty evil. He’s a Nazi collaborator and does S&M scenes with child prostitutes. However, he is generous and helpful to Anka when he doesn’t need to be. He’s sort of her “Schindler.” The “scenes” they play out are very complex; they are not black and white at all.

Emil Ferris: Yes, so many times we look at a life and judge it, but the good that people do is often sidelong with cruelty born out of terrible provoking need. Like monsters, we are creatures motivated by hunger. But also, like monsters, we are capable of mercy and love.

Paul Tumey: That’s a compassionate and balanced view. One thing I realize that needs to be said is that My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is not a “creature feature” in the sense that it offers horror and fear of these beings. When I look at Karen’s “copies” of the monster mag covers, I don’t feel dread or revulsion — instead I am fascinated by the beauty of the images and how you’ve drawn them. Later, when I learned about Anka used as a child prostitute, that’s when I felt revulsion and horror.

Emil Ferris: We are the monsters. Yes, I believe we are and I’m not unhappy to be aware of this fact.

Franklin, from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Franklin, from MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

Paul Tumey: It seems to me your visual treatment of Franklin, who has a horribly scarred face, and whose name and form evokes the Frankenstein monster, captures this. At one point, you drew Karen imagining him with a radiant inner light shining out through his scars, a core of goodness.

Emil Ferris: I think there are things that happen to people that ennoble them – should their choice be for that. That does make one see tragedy as being a kind of honor.

Paul Tumey: Do you think the ennobling comes from victims choosing not to pass on the suffering to others in an attempt to help themselves feel better?

Emil Ferris: I think that would be part of it, sure. That there is something ennobling, empathic about choosing not to pass cruelty on but there is this other thing, too. I’m thinking of people whom I’ve known who were broken by life and then engaged to re-form themselves (and this is the heart of the monster ideology to me) in order to be more extraordinary and more powerful within themselves.

Paul Tumey: A transformation, or a transmuting.

Emil Ferris: The old saying goes something like, “there are no brave people, only people willing to carry their fear into battle.” I think this is true also for suffering, mental illness, emotional scarring and profound catastrophes of the soul.

Paul Tumey: I am thinking of alchemy. Joseph Campbell said the true meaning of alchemy and the philosopher’s stone was not to turn objects into gold to increase material wealth, but to turn suffering and pain into love and joy to increase spiritual wealth.

Emil Ferris: I like that. I like that a lot. And although I never said those exact words as I wrote the book I’d say you put your finger on what my mantra, if you will, was throughout the process. If you’ve ever refined gold, it’s a rather brutal process. You heat the gold almost to the point you’ll destroy it and then a gray tear of dross weeps out. Immediately the heat must be turned off. The dross is the impurity. Weeping and extreme pain are required to remove it.

Paul Tumey: I’m guessing you’ve refined gold, perhaps as part of your art training?

Emil Ferris: Yes. A ferris is an ironworker and I suspect that is what my family was way back when. I took to metalwork immediately.

Paul Tumey: That’s cool. “Ferris” probably comes from “ferrous,” which is a word used in connection with iron compounds. The gold refining process you describe leads to a thought I have that Art is the process of transmuting one thing into another. It’s kind of an arcane, secret knowledge of how that is actually done, the methods. Sometimes art contains within itself a record of various “monstrous” experiments that contains clues for others who might want to travel the same path. Such is the deep thinking your novel elicits!

Emil Ferris: I like that. I think it’s true. I’m thinking about the question in regards to myself. Making art was such a given in the home in which I grew up that there was never any intentionality about it. So, for me to separate it out and consider how it works in the book, is to consider how it works for me, since Karen’s mindset was very much mine as a child.

Ferris views her novel as a monster form itself. Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

Ferris shows how her novel’s form mirrors its content. Unpublished art from the original submission package for MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS (copyright 2017 Emil Ferris, used with permission)

This interview will be concluded in part two.

Note: To raise funds needed to complete Book Two, Emil Ferris is running a crowdfunding campaign. Among the different levels of support, for  $108 (the Chicago Cubs waited 108 years to win a World Series), Ferris will put a contributor into Book Two of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. See YOU CAN BE IN MY GRAPHIC NOVEL, here.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/the-emil-ferris-interview-monsters-stories-and-art-part-1/feed/ 3
Summer House http://www.tcj.com/98766-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98766-2/#respond Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98766 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Paul Tumey is here with part one of a two-part interview with Emil Ferris, author of the much-anticipated and well-reviewed new graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Paul Tumey: How long have you had that remarkable graphic style — how far back does it go?

Emil Ferris: I think I really started developing that style when I was about eight.

Paul Tumey: And I agree―a flashy style with substance isn’t worth much, I think―facing off with the difficult feelings is what gives the whole enterprise depth. I feel that when I read Monsters. That pulled me through the narrative as much as plot.

Paul Tumey: You can see artists getting into that space and producing work of remarkable depth and complexity, and then backing off from it, perhaps out of survival. It seems very intense and consuming … although the work that can come from that state can bring rewards.

Emil Ferris: I agree. I think that’s the sacred geometry, if you will, that makes theater cathartic. The capacity we have to feel an emotional state and move through it towards empathy and understanding and yet have it all be ‘fictional’ ‘play-acting’ and thereby safe. The artist is a willing servant to those altered states and a shamanic being taking us down a dark path, meanwhile punching holes into the tunnel to allow us light and hope and a view as we travel that dark passage. That view is sometimes a page, a scene, a moment of film or a painting, poetry, music, dance, vision.

Paul Tumey: That shamanic journey, the transformation of one’s self and life, is captured with sensitivity and vision at several key points in Book One of Monsters. I’m thinking of Karen’s shift into werewolf mode and later, her psychedelic trip in the graveyard at night.

Emil Ferris: As unlikely as it is, there is some truth to that graveyard tripping scene. When I was a kid I belonged to the Marble Cake Kids, a little theatrical troupe of children of many different races run by two counterculture mavens called Leo and Mila. The troupe had their base at Hull House on Beacon Street, only a stone’s throw from Chicago’s infamous Graceland Cemetery. So necessarily as a kid obsessed with monsters, I decided I needed to sneak into Graceland and wait for wonders. When I was finally able to get into the cemetery, the actual wonders were the graves of famous Chicagoans whose stories I researched as I got older. There was also a ghost child rumored to live in the cemetery who I desperately wanted (and still want) to appear to me and befriend me. As for the marijuana connection, that occurred after I was a bit older, when imbibing of the weed and going into cemeteries became a pastime of mine.

Elsewhere… a rogue’s gallery of links.

TCJ-contributor Frank Young has some newly uncovered 1944 John Stanley material.

Michael Dooley pays tribute to Bernie Wrightson, who was probably the very first artist I was completely obsessed with. True story.

And here’s a podcast with Benjamin Marra.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/98766-2/feed/ 0
Jiro Taniguchi 1947 – 2017 http://www.tcj.com/jiro-taniguchi-1947-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/jiro-taniguchi-1947-2017/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98716 Continue reading ]]> First off, I’m going to give him his proper titles—Chevalier Jiro Taniguchi, de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Maestro del Fumetto. Because when you are paying tribute to a comic book artist who has been knighted by the French government and titled in Italy, you do him full honors. Of course, those are not Taniguchi’s only awards—he had the usual collection befitting a manga genius, including receiving the Osamu Tezuka Culture Award and the Shogakukan prize—but being named Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters and Master of Comics is something special.

You’ve never heard of the esteemed Chevalier Taniguchi? Don’t feel too bad. I had never heard of him either, until several years back when I was still doing manga reviews and hunting around for a publisher willing to take a chance on Shigeru Mizuki. I crossed paths with Stephen Robson at Fanfare / Ponent Mon, who basically said “Have you heard of Jiro Taniguchi?” and sent me a care package full of books. It was one of the loveliest boxes I have ever received. The first one I read was The times of Botchan, followed by The Quest for the Missing Girl. I was instantly hooked.

And slightly surprised that I had never heard of him. Although respected and admired in his native Japan, Taniguchi was not exactly a household name. His quiet, introspective brilliance was not the sort of thing that splashed out from the cover of magazines, or got molded into plastic figures. His voice was much more appreciated in Europe. A Belgian film company produced a live action adaptation of his comic A Distant Neighborhood, changing the setting to Paris. He collaborated with legendary artist Moebius. His work inspired an art movement in France called Nouvelle Manga, led by Frederic Boilet and Benoit Peeters, with whom Taniguchi worked on the comic Tokyo is My Garden.

In recent years, Taniguchi started getting wider recognition in his home country. His work Solitary Gourmet had been adapted into a television series in 2012-2015, and his comic The Summit of the Gods that he did with writer Baku Yumemakura was adapted into a live-action film in 2016. It is some comfort to know that he survived long enough to see this appreciation of this work—for at only 69 years old he died far too young.

Taniguchi was born in Tottori prefecture. That particular slice of Japan seems to produce more than its fair share of giants of manga—both Shigeru Mizuki (Kitaro) and Gosho Aoyama (Detective Conan) hail from Tottori. (A fact not lost on its tourist board, which bills themselves as Manga Paradise. Although while Mizuki and Aoyama have dedicated sites, Taniguchi is largely unrecognized). After graduating from Tottori Commercial High School, Taniguchi moved to Kyoto in 1966 to start working at a textile company. But he had no intention of remaining in that occupation.

In the late 1960s, he met manga artist Kyota Ishikawa and began his training as an assistant. In 1971, he made his debut with The Damned Room in Weekly Young Comic. He continued his training as an assistant to Kazuo Kamimura (Lady Snowblood), before breaking out for a solo career. Taniguchi partnered with writer Natsuo Sekigawa to produce some brilliant hard-boiled crime fiction. While Taniguchi would later be known for his gentle slice-of-life fiction, stories like Hotel Harbor View and Trouble is My Business showed he knew how to draw a man getting a bullet in the face.

In 1987, Sekigawa and Taniguchi launched into what is one of my personal favorites, the 10-volume The Times of Botchan. What began as a simple two-volume exploration of the life of writer Natsume Soseki, blossomed into an exploration of literature in the ever-changing Meiji period. Sekigawa and Taniguchi populated their story with luminaries such as Ogai Mori (Vita Sexualis) and Lafcadio Hearn (Kwaidan).

Taniguchi’s art—his use of simple lines and his ability to capture expression—pushes the work beyond a simple academic exercise. There is a scene where Hideki Tojo appears as a young child that is absolutely chilling, an effect Taniguchi pulls off with minimal distraction and pure clarity of intent.

Over the following years Taniguchi worked with other writers as well on his own. He produced comics in almost every genre imaginable, including crime fiction and funny animals, adventure and fighting, science fiction and young adult. In 1986, he did the comic K with writer Shiro Yosaki, in a genre that Taniguchi would become the undisputed master of—mountain climbing. The story follows a mysterious Japanese man living at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, making his living as a guide to climbers.

Through Taniguchi’s stunning nature scenes, he captured the splendor and terror of climbing these mighty peaks. He followed K with comics like the 5-volume The Summit of the Gods, a work that follows the real-life mystery of George Mallory, who went missing on Mt. Everest. The Summit of the Gods is intense—there is no other word I can think of to describe it. There is no better comic about Mt. Everest.

Taniguchi further combined mystery procedural with mountain climbing in the emotional The Quest for the Missing Girl, which is another one of my favorites. This look into teenage prostitution and corporate cover-ups remains a chilling examination of one of the darkest sides of modern Japan. His research and commitment to portraying realistic climbing is incredible, as well as his ability to portray sweeping mountains scenes. Taniguchi makes you feel the bitter cold and intensity of clinging to a sheer face with only your own strength and equipment to keep you alive.

In 1990, Taniguchi turned his eye away from gangsters and mountain climbers to look inside at his own life with The Walking Man. Here another Taniguchi hero emerged: the middle-class, middle-aged man becoming aware of his own surroundings. This Zen-like, introspective hero would appear again and again, in semi-autobiographical comics like A Zoo in Winter, the fantasy-tinged A Distant Neighborhood, and the foodie comic The Solitary Gourmet.

It is this aspect of Taniguchi that appealed to French readers. His simple, reflective storylines touched a deep cord in France, who resonated with the comics’ appreciation for nature and daily life that are not quagmired in nostalgia.  From 2007-2008 French jeweler and luxury brand Cartier used Taniguchi’s art for a commercial campaign that spread his fame across the country—a bit ironically, considering Cartier is selling a lifestyle completely at odds with Taniguchi’s portrayal of middle-class life. France also loved Taniguchi enough to commission Guardians of the Louvre, a fanciful story about a lone Japanese man wandering through the ancient art gallery, conversing with famous paintings in a mad fever dream. And lest you should think of Taniguchi as only a wise prophet of the nobility of a peaceful life, while he creating these idyllic portraits of modernity he was also drawing Fatal Wolf, an ultra-violent wrestling comic. Taniguchi was a multi-faceted jewel. One of those facets was huge, rippling muscled men attempting to tear each other apart. The guy could draw an exquisite blood stream.

I never met Jiro Taniguchi, but from all accounts he was very much like that person you see in his introspective comics. The word “gentle” is what you most hear in association with him, and that makes perfect sense. Gentleness exudes from his work, although it is gentleness bulwarked by intense resolve and strength. I imagine he was much the same. An artist as driven as he was, and as dedicated to his craft, much of his own character must have seeped into his work. When my hero Shigeru Mizuki died, it was accompanied by the bittersweet knowledge that his death thrust him into the spotlight. Many discovered his works only because of his death. I hope the same thing for Jiro Taniguchi. 

Thanks to Fanfare / Ponent Mon, there is a wealth of Taniguchi works available in English now. I often recommend people start with The Quest for the Missing Girl, which is a good blend of Taniguchi’s humanism combined with the intensity of his climbing scenes. It’s also a single volume story, so not as much of a commitment as The Summit of the Gods—although you will eventually want to tackle that particular mountain. Another book to try is The Walking Man, probably Taniguchi’s most popular work in English.  One description it doesn’t seem so interesting—a man walking around, discovering his own neighborhood—but Taniguchi transforms it into something sublime. Just try not to go on your own walk through your own neighborhood after reading it. Just try. And then see how much your sense of the world has been changed.

After I heard of his death, I pulled my Taniguchi books off the shelf and have been re-reading them, one-by-one. Damn, they are so very, very good. Goodnight Chevalier Jiro Taniguchi, de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Maestro del Fumetto, Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters and Master of Comics.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/jiro-taniguchi-1947-2017/feed/ 2
Challenger http://www.tcj.com/challenger/ http://www.tcj.com/challenger/#respond Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98653 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Zach Davisson has written our obituary of manga master Jiro Taniguchi.

In 1990, Taniguchi turned his eye away from gangsters and mountain climbers to look inside at his own life with The Walking Man. Here another Taniguchi hero emerged: the middle-class, middle-aged man becoming aware of his own surroundings. This Zen-like, introspective hero would appear again and again, in semi-autobiographical comics like A Zoo in Winter, the fantasy-tinged A Distant Neighborhood, and the foodie comic The Solitary Gourmet.

It is this aspect of Taniguchi that appealed to French readers. His simple, reflective storylines touched a deep cord in France, who resonated with the comics’ appreciation for nature and daily life that are not quagmired in nostalgia. From 2007-2008 French jeweler and luxury brand Cartier used Taniguchi’s art for a commercial campaign that spread his fame across the country—a bit ironically, considering Cartier is selling a lifestyle completely at odds with Taniguchi’s portrayal of middle-class life. France also loved Taniguchi enough to commission Guardians of the Louvre, a fanciful story about a lone Japanese man wandering through the ancient art gallery, conversing with famous paintings in a mad fever dream. And lest you should think of Taniguchi as only a wise prophet of the nobility of a peaceful life, while he creating these idyllic portraits of modernity he was also drawing Fatal Wolf, an ultra-violent wrestling comic. Taniguchi was a multi-faceted jewel. One of those facets was huge, rippling muscled men attempting to tear each other apart. The guy could draw an exquisite blood stream.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation has announced a challenge grant to raise money for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library’s Lucy Shelton Caswell Research Award.

The endowment will provide funding for scholars to travel to Columbus and use the BICLM collections for research and publishing. A committee will be appointed by the BICLM curator to review applications and select award recipients. The Foundation will also contribute a stipend for the award each year until the BICLM can raise the matching funds to establish the endowment.

—Interviews & Profiles. Priscilla Frank talks to Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

[My comics persona] is made up of exaggerated parts of me that I blow up and push to the maximum. I drew the most sordid, unacceptable parts of myself. I’m not as ugly as I draw myself. But when I was younger, that’s how I felt, so that’s what I drew.

In retrospect, I thought I’d bring out the worst part of myself and see if people still loved me. I didn’t do it on purpose ― to shock ― but it was shocking to people. I did it because I needed the ultimate approval.

For EW, Anthony Breznican talks to the novelist Victor LaValle, who is launching a new comics series riffing off of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There are two different versions of the ending [to the novel]. The one we know is Percy Shelley’s ending. Mary Shelley actually had an ending where he pushes away from the shift, but Percy didn’t want that because he didn’t like that the monster was rejecting civilization. He thought civilization should reject the monster. It’s a tiny change, but it makes so much difference.

For HiLobrow, Adam McGovern speaks to the artist John Jennings about his work on the comics adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

When we first approached the adaptation, one of the things that was in the front of our minds was to try to make an adaptation that utilized the best aspects of the comics medium. You don’t want to make something where the first thing people say is, “this could have not happened.” We wanted to make something that had the underlying themes of the book, and was the story, but also did something with the medium of comics that the prose novel couldn’t do. The initial script was a lot more meta; it was almost like you had to read the original story to get the whole thing, but then our editor Sheila Keenan, in her infinite wisdom, was like, “No — you don’t wanna create a book that makes people have to go out and get another book.” [laughs] In the rewriting process we came up with something that was a lot more streamlined, and is an homage to the original story but also reified aspects of the emotional content of the work in a way that comics can do.

The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Rich Tommaso.

—Reviews & Commentary. Books blogger Levi Stahl writes about his reading experiences with Marvel crossover events past and present.

Month to month, reading superhero comics as an adult can be frustrating. No other medium with which I’m involved is as clearly deformed by the needs of the marketplace (like in its endless crossovers, to take but one example). So often it fails to realize its potential, brought down by simplicity, pathology, or the low and narrow expectations of its fan base. But every once in a while you get a comic like these two, and you remember why you’re drawn to this medium, the connection it makes between your long-gone childhood self and the adult you who knows better but still looks to stories of people and events that are larger than ourselves but nonetheless, time and again, resolve to the human.

At The Millions, Mary Capello writes about Margaret Wise Brown.

It was interesting at the outset to think about the vast mood influence the magic of one of Brown’s books had cast into the nighttime wells of millions of children over a period of several decades and still to this day. Then, to pause to consider how little any reader, be they parent or child, knew about the particular geometry of her life, to say nothing of the scores of books she wrote that haven’t yet enjoyed the same ascendency as Goodnight Moon including her Noisy Book series, or those she wrote under a handful of pseudonyms. Could it matter to our experience of the book to know that Brown didn’t live to see Goodnight Moon thrive, that she died young, at 42 in 1952, exiting life with the kind of boisterous exuberance she was known for: cause of death was a cancan-type kick of her leg into the air following a minor surgery. She died instantly of an embolism. In an equally strange twist of fate, in her will, Brown had named the child of a friend the right to all monies earned by her books should he survive her, but the boy, who never completed high school and who gained a reputation for destroying public property and beating people up, grew up to squander the millions.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/challenger/feed/ 0
Won’t Go Back There http://www.tcj.com/98611-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98611-2/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 13:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98611 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site Joe McCulloch brings the new comics.

Elsewhere:

Tucker Stone has reported that Dahlov Ipcar, who wrote and illustrated childrens books, has passed away. Via Facebook: 

A few years ago, pretty soon after I started at Nobrow, my friend Jason and I drove to Georgetown Maine and interviewed Dahlov Ipcar, who was 96 at the time, about her children’s books that we were getting ready to re-issue via Flying Eye. She was electric: 96 years old, living alone (it was her elderly son’s job to supply her with groceries), very direct, funny and acerbic as hell. I loved her. I wrote her letters afterwards (that was her preferred method of contact with me) whenever I had something of note to tell her about my work on her books, and I spoke to her a few times on the phone to set up some interviews and assist her with supplying books for events she would do at a local children’s hospital. She was always on top of it, and funny in a crusty, tough way that belied decades of commitment to craft and hardcore farmhouse living.

She just passed away, which was expected. I am sorry to her family for that, but I know how incredibly proud her sons were to work with her, and how much she loved and missed her husband, who passed away himself decades ago. Her life was lived as fully as one could dream of –a family she loved, and an art she devoted herself too. One of the first things that she told Jason and I when we arrived to make the attached video was that she had no interest in living to be 100 years old–as she put it, she was tired of spending so much of her morning going to the bathroom–and that was only the first of many things that made us laugh.

I just checked. Her 100th birthday would have been this November. Nice work, Dahlov.

Trevor Alixopolus makes a comic about the mysteries of East Los Angeles. 

And the great Ivan Brunetti wrote in to call our attention to an auction of his own artwork to benefit Linework No. 7, an excellent (I saw the first couple issues) student-edited comics anthology featuring the work of Columbia College Chicago students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Ivan teaches comics and illustration at Columbia College, and there is a lack of funding for Linework. In 2014 he sold a page of original art on ebay to fund the Linework project, and those funds helped sustain us through 3 issues, 2 exhibits, and some individual student projects. Here is a link to the auction. Go get some good art for a good cause.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/98611-2/feed/ 1
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/15/17 – Quartier voisin) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-21517-quartier-voisin/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-21517-quartier-voisin/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98679 Continue reading ]]> As you have probably heard, the manga artist Jirō Taniguchi died this past Saturday. I’ll leave the summation of his life and work in more capable hands, as my own familiarity is strictly limited to those works we’ve seen translated to English – not an inconsiderable amount, but far less than the total output of an artist who’d been publishing professionally since the early 1970s.

Still, I did notice a few interesting things in the reportage surrounding his departure. For example, The Magic Mountain — a mid-’00s serial which, to my knowledge, was never even collected in Japanese, let alone translated to English — has unexpectedly been cited several times among a very small handful of his notable works. I suspect this is because the Belgian publisher Casterman, which disseminated word of Taniguchi’s death in the west, released a French-language edition back in ’07, and presumably made note of that in a press release; venues then repeated the information in English environs, a veritable dye pack bursting against their unfamiliarity with the artist’s oeuvre. It’s okay: that’s how these things are reported in the generalist press, and it speaks well of Taniguchi’s renown that such irregularities are even visible.

But that raises another question – what kind of renown are we talking about? The BBC prominently observed that Taniguchi’s works were “widely praised for the gentle manner in which he approached subjects that were often unique for Japan’s manga consumers,” and “stood apart in a genre sometimes seen as rooted in extreme violence and pornography.” Far be it from me to downplay the storied legacy of smut in Japanese comics, but framing Taniguchi as Manga’s Good Boy does a disservice to both the breadth of his career and the facts of his publication history in English.

From “Hotel Harbour View”, written by Natsuo Sekikawa (VIZ, 1990).

Indeed, extreme violence is where it all began, though the extremity was of an unexpected type. In 1990, VIZ debuted its “Spectrum” line of bookshelf-ready paperback originals, their dimensions matching those of popular softcover collected editions of American comic books. All of the works included in that line featured conspicuously detailed, laborious art (one supposes to flatter the tastes of local comic shop denizens, as was often the strategy in 20th century manga localization), but not all of them enjoyed the same success; nobody without a PhD in bullshit or the word “VIZ” on a tax return remembers Yu Kinutani’s Shion: Blade of the Minstrel, but Hotel Harbour View, drawn by Taniguchi and written by Natsuo Sekikawa, became something of a cult favorite. I first heard about it on one of the British genre comic writer Warren Ellis’ various message boards, deep in the midst of the ‘decompression’ trend in early-to-mid-’00s superhero comic books, but even those space-y, wide-paneled movies-on-paper had nothing on the climax to Taniguchi’s & Sekikawa’s title story, in which a fatal bullet is fired from a gun, only arriving at its target an extravagant thirteen panels later.

Even at *that* time such excess was startling; in 1990, it must have seemed nearly obscene, though the authors carefully contextualize their flamboyance as the event horizon of an anti-hero’s worldview – he is a normal, cancer-stricken man who has hired an assassin to attack him while he engages in a private fantasy of life as a gangster; if he kills her, he will prove himself the idol he has dreamed of being, but even if he fails, a dramatic gunshot death will provide the perfect transubstantiation of noir role-playing into reality, blessing his otherwise unremarkable life with the only meaning he values: that of splashy, violent media.

From “Benkei in New York”, written by Jinpachi Mōri (VIZ, 2001).

Taniguchi had done quite a few comics of the full-contact type, including the long-running crime series Trouble Is My Business (also with Sekikawa, begun in 1979) and several gritty sports manga with future Old Boy writer Garon Tsuchiya, though the full scope of his career had already grown to include the dense, demanding historical-literary serial The Times of Botchan (once more with Sekikawa, begun in 1987). Nonetheless, Taniguchi’s next appearance in English came via VIZ’s Pulp, an anthology magazine aimed at mature readers, brimming with the sort of violent, sexy and somewhat art-damaged works that could only be enhanced by the addition of somebody who came up professionally around the same time as Katsuhiro Ōtomo and worked in a similar cartoon-realist meter. Benkei in New York may have come from a different writer (Jinpachi Mori), but its brooding and bloody assassination action was not wholly unlike that of Hotel Harbour View. A collected edition arrived in 2001, as the face of manga in English gradually began to change into something more youth-oriented and demographically egalitarian. Subsequent Taniguchi releases came from other publishers, and proved aberrational: Samurai Legend (CPM Manga, 2003), a minor historical adventure drama written by Kan Furuyama, and Icaro (iBooks, 2003-04), an allegorical SF collaboration severely distilled from a scenario by Jean “Moebius” Giraud & Jean Annestay that at least offered Taniguchi an opportunity to indulge his career-spanning affection for bandes dessinées.

French-language publishing loved him back. He’d been introduced to that audience in 1995, through a work far removed from bullet holes and sword fights – his masterpiece, The Walking Man.

From “The Walking Man” (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004).

Introduced to English-dominant audiences in 2004 by the UK-Spanish publishing association Fanfare/Ponent Mon, The Walking Man marked the beginning of what is meant when Taniguchi-in-translation is described as “gentle” and “unique”. There is really no ‘plot’ at all to the book, presenting instead a series of quiet vignettes in which a nameless man strolls around outdoors, taking in the sights. In truth, this stuff is not totally without peer in Japanese comics – not long afterward, there was a series that became very popular among aficionados of unofficially translated manga scans online: Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (1994-2006), a soothing slice-of-life feature set in a fantastic world. A similar project, Kozue Amano’s Aria, saw legit translation from ADV Manga the same year as The Walking Man.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to downplay the novel characteristics of Taniguchi’s approach. This is not a science fantasy work, there are no impressive vistas of the speculative imagination to be found, and the protagonist is not an endearing young woman of the readily marketable type. Instead, it’s a study of movement, place and gesture, wholly removed from ostensibly similar works of North American art comics at that time – the spare lyricism of John Porcellino, or the slashing marks of the Fort Thunder residents. This is an ‘art’ comic drawn with a crystalline certitude of realist space beyond that of even the most ‘realism’-obsessed pop comic books in English; the result is something distinctly observational, as if you are literally standing next to the lead character and literally experiencing the outdoors alongside him, but only in the terrain of a dream, your POV shifting up close and away from his body, time dilating – the toolkit is the same used in that long gunshot from years ago, put to less bombastic but still formally perverse ends… at least by local standards. It is also like cinema, in the way Hotel Harbour View is ‘like’ the films of Melville, or the early Nouvelle Vague, though I have always found comics, by their unity of drawing, to be a more readily absorbing ‘reality’ than film, which sculpts time from the stuff of mechanical capture, and is thus endlessly discursive from the continuum of seeing. But maybe that’s just me.

From “The Walking Man” (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004).

Of course, Taniguchi eventually enjoyed a movie version of his work in the west: Quartier lointain (2010), from Belgian director Sam Garbarski, adapting Taniguchi’s series A Distant Neighborhood, released in French by Casterman, 2002-03 (Best Scenario winner at Angoulême 2003), and later in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2009. As luck would have it, by the time The Walking Man hit the market for bookshelf-ready comics had matured to the point where Taniguchi could become a viable brand, associated very closely with Fanfare/Ponent Mon, which would release fifteen books of his comics (not counting assorted reissues, a short story in the Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators anthology, or his grey tones on Frédéric Boilet’s & Benoît Peeters’ Tokyo is My Garden), ranging from the sensitive-macho silliness of The Quest for the Missing Girl (2010) to The Summit of the Gods (2009-15), a five-volume adaptation of a mountain climbing adventure novel by Baku Yumemakura. Nonetheless, it seems to be The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood that have controlled the tone of remembrances focused on Taniguchi the introspective dramatist.

I am actually not so keen on his personal dramas; if made to choose, I would recommend A Zoo in Winter, a 2005-07 serial from the Japanese magazine Big Comic Original collected in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon (at this point Taniguchi arch-specialists) in 2011. This at least, is set in the world of late-’60s popular manga, with Taniguchi drawing on his own apprenticeship to shōnen artist Kyūta Ishikawa for some keen observations as to the dynamics of a manga studio; there’s also a great bit with the Taniguchi stand-in protagonist getting cornered at a bar by a revolutionary folk singer who won’t shut the fuck up about the Marxist ninja cartoonist Sanpei Shirato that’s far too keenly felt to not be a real incident.

From “A Zoo in Winter”, translation by Kumar Sivasubramanian (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2011).

It is grossly dewy and sentimental fare, though – packed with decent boys, roguish men with decent sides, decent men with roguish sides, and women who are alternately inscrutable and passionately dedicated, when not inspiring the protective impulse. Virtually every chapter involves a moment of empathetic realization worthy of a feel-good television movie, culminating in the full-throttle melodrama of a creativity-stoking gravely ill girl, and while I understand this is of great appeal to some (and perhaps of personal import to Taniguchi), I find it all awfully sodden and pat in execution. And even then, it is conceptually not so far removed from the prolific and studio-powered works of a veteran commercial mangaka like Kenshi Hirokane, specialist in salaryman soap opera and easily digestible human interest fare.

I only say this to offer a more rounded perspective on Taniguchi’s career; he is in no way sui generis, though he is often superior. Always, his draftsmanship is very accomplished, and his visual narration as clean as can be. The Walking Man is undeniable, recommended with no hesitation, while Hotel Harbour View I consider a classic of its kind; maybe someday it’ll come back in print, ideally with the 100 or so additional pages of stories from the Japanese edition. Hell, maybe Fanfare/Ponent Mon will finish releasing The Times of Botchan, which it began publishing in 2005, only to trail off following the fourth of ten volumes; I suspect there are deeper layers of Taniguchi’s talent hidden within this collaboration, just as there are surely surprises scattered throughout the untranslated regions of his library, a far greater thing than we’ve had occasion to witness during his life.

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol. 1: I can only assume you’ve heard of this one, as Fantagraphics has been giving it a damned hard push. And why not? This 386-page debut graphic novel by Emil Ferris blends autobiography, murder mystery, wartime drama and classic monster movie tropes, all of it presented in the form of a young girl’s notebook from the 1960s, its pulsing, bravura ultra-hatched color drawings created with ballpoint and felt-tipped pens. Adding to the book’s mystique, its initial 2016 print run then found itself stranded on a cargo ship in the Panama Canal after the freight company fell into financial calamity – only now can this work be released for wide sales. Paul Tumey reviewed it in advance last year, and the author herself has recently put together a new introductory comic; $39.99.

Lovers in the Garden: Being the new comic from Anya Davidson, a 1970s-set urban drama in full color. That’s really all I know about this 64-page Retrofit/Big Planet release, but Davidson is one of the most restless talents around today, and anything she releases is immediately of interest; $10.00.

PLUS!

Fires & Murmur (&) The Excavation: A pair of artistically-inclined comics from European-born artists, in a pretty packed week for foreign stuff. Fires & Murmur is a Dover hardcover compilation (or, rather, what appears to be an English-language adaptation of a 2010 Casterman compilation) of two albums by the great Lorenzo Mattotti: 1986’s Fires and 1989’s Murmur, the former a self-reflexive colonialist allegory swirling with incendiary color (first published in English by Catalan Communication in ’87), the latter a dreamy amnesiac wander written by Jerry Kramsky (first published in English by Penguin in ’93). This edition is 8.25″ x 11″, at 112 pages. The Excavation is the new one from Swedish artist Max Andersson, a longtime presence on the American alt-comics scene – indeed, portions of the book were originally presented in his millennial Death & Candy solo series. Weighing in at 382 pages(!), this 6.25″ x 8.25″ Fantagraphics hardcover promises nightmarish and surreal family drama 18 years in the making; $34.95 (Fires), $29.99 (Excavation).

Flight of the Raven (&) Snow Day: In contrast, here are two works of tony genre fiction from the French market. Flight of the Raven is the latest from IDW’s Eurocomics line, a 2002-05 WWII adventure series from artist Jean-Pierre Gibrat, depicting a determined woman’s participation in the French Resistance with extremely handsome realist gloss – the type of refined genre art that captured a lot of eyes in the ’70s and ’80s, when translations were less common and the grass often seemed greener. An 8.5″ x 11″ color softcover, 144 pages. Snow Day is a Humanoids release of a 2004 book from writer Pierre Wazem and artist Antoine Aubin, a low-key b&w crime drama set in a snowy locale. A 7.6″ x 10.2″, 112-page softcover; $29.99 (Raven), $14.95 (Snow Day).

Forever War #1 (of 6): Some of you might remember this one – not just the 1974 Joe Haldeman novel (depicting a man’s travels through vast space and, as a result, time, all in the service of a massive, dubiously-premised war, Vietnam parallels not to be missed), but the 1988-89 comics adaptation drawn by Belgian artist Mark “Marvano” Van Oppem, released in English across the first half of the 1990s by NBM. Now Titan re-releases the project as a series of comic books, variant covers and all, in case you’ve missed it; $3.99.

The Can Opener’s Daughter (&) Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie: And here’s a duo from SelfMadeHero, the UK publisher distributed in North America by Abrams. The Can Opener’s Daughter is a sequel to The Motherless Oven, a well-received 2014 book by artist Rob Davis. It’s a dark fantasy of teen life and weird machines. Haddon Hall is a 2012 biographical album by Néjib, a Tunisian-born artist based in Paris. Doodled drawings and lysergic colors represent the early years of David Bowie, now available in English; $19.95 (Daughter), $22.95 (Haddon).

Starseeds: Can’t say I’m familiar with the work of Mexico-based multimedia artist Charles Glaubitz, save for the fact that he’s been exhibited by Monte Beauchamp of BLAB!, and he does seem to have the sort of molten pop-psychedelic style typified by works of that long-lived forum. Anyway, this 240-page, 7.5″ x 10″ color Fantagraphics hardcover is his first graphic novel, “a work of mythical, pictorial, illustrative, and cosmological components, while combining elements of myth, religion, and spirituality with comics, hermetic ideas, alchemy and science.” Or, so says the publisher; $29.99.

Reich #1 (&) #3 (of 12) (&) Cerebus in Hell? #1 (of 4): A pair of possible-confusing indie comic book projects, each stemming from earlier work. Reich is a biographical project the artist Elijah Brubaker published through Sparkplug Comic Books starting in 2007; now Alternative Comics returns the series to comic book stores, in a somewhat mixed manner… issue #2 seems to have arrived last week, per Diamond’s release list. Cerebus in Hell? is a jokey series Dave Sim has spun off from his long-lived self-publishing project in commemoration of its 40th anniversary, put together from clip art with latter-day production collaborator Sandeep Atwal as a set of gag strips. Still from Aardvark-Vanaheim, itself approaching its 40th birthday; $3.00 (Reich, per issue); $4.00 (Cerebus).

Umbra: Another one from Dover, this time collecting a 2006 miniseries from artist Mike Hawthorne and writer Stephen Murphy, the latter making a rare non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-related appearance in comics subsequent to the stoppage of his signature series, The Puma Blues. I recall enjoying this in comic book form – a delve into secret global histories with action-adventure and bizarre science elements. Concise too at 144 pages, some of them devoted here to a newly expanded ending; $16.95.

The Wild Storm #1: Since I’ve mentioned Warren Ellis above (he was also involved with VIZ’s Pulp magazine, albeit as a columnist), I should note that he remains active in comics, here as the frontman for the sort of thing you used to see more of in cape comics back in the ’00s – full-blown revisions of certain superhero franchises, built around strong writerly perspectives. The subject matter here is the WildStorm line of comics founded by Jim Lee at the birth of Image and acquired by DC toward the end of the ’90s; I believe the brand has been dormant for the better part of a decade now, so — coupled with Ellis’ own history with some of these characters, including Stormwatch and its megahit successor, The Authority — there may be some pent-up demand. The art on this debut issue is by Jon Davis-Hunt (I’ve liked his muscular and bloody art on the 2000 AD werewolf fantasy serial “Age of the Wolf”), with Ivan Plascencia; $3.99.

100 Manga Artists: Finally, we return to Japan-by-way-of-Europe for your book-on-comics of the week. Originally released in 2004, the enormous Taschen art book Manga Design proved itself a genuine oddity – over 500 pages of seemingly random profiles of manga artists from across the post-war history of the form, many of them otherwise totally unfamiliar to western publication, accompanied by unusual and often rather obscure sample images. There was also a DVD of artist interviews, including a bit with Naoki Urasawa from well before more than a few hundred English readers knew who he was. Anyway, this is a smaller (5.7″ x 7.9″), fatter (672-page), ‘revised’ edition of the original, apparently whittling down the profiles to only 100 and losing the DVD entirely. I’ve gotten lost in the original many times. Edited by Julius Wiedemann, with text in English, French and German; $19.99.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-21517-quartier-voisin/feed/ 2
Risograph Workbook 1 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-1/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-1/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98456 Continue reading ]]>

Venom #2 – Mickey Z

==============================================

Risograph. What is it? Where did it come from? Most of us comics makers never really even heard of risograph until 2009 or so. Recently, I was noting to a friend how much better looking most risograph printed comics look than most “print on demand” or even most offset printed comics—and how prevalent the use of risograph has become. We tried to think about the first risograph printed comic we saw–what it was and when it appeared. It was then that Providence-based comics maker Mickey Zacchilli’s name kept popping up. Many of the people I interviewed for this series mentioned Mickey’s comics printed with a risograph as an inspiration, and then they all seemed to have gone on their own risograph research and development program. So I decided to go to the source and asked the great Mickey Z to fill us in… what really happened? Read on below.

This series is going to be an  attempt to document the loose use of risograph in comics in the last few years, 2009 to the present. I’ve interviewed Mickey Z, Jesjit Gill, and Ryan Cecil Smith so far. They all have fascinating stories about how this technology has upended small press publishing in a positive way and allowed a middle ground between cheap digital on-demand printing and expensive offset printing. Check out the homepage of Issue Press–a great resource website–where I learned a lot about what risograph is and risograph is not.

Here is my interview with Mickey Z. (Buy Mickey’s book here at Youth in Decline):

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

Zacchilli: I think maybe I was one of the first people to be at small press comic shows with riso-printed comics. I don’t remember what year that was, maybe 2009-2010? I feel like I was either at MOCCA with James Kuo, or at SPX with Jacob [Khepler] of Mothers News and James Kuo, when I first had riso-printed stuff for sale. Everyone kept asking me how I’d printed the comics. I kept telling them the honest truth but nobody actually registered what I was saying until a few shows later. I remember Ryan Sands either emailing me or asking me in person, “Wait, how did you say you were printing these again?” He got [a risograph] soon after that. I remember Chuck [Forsman] or Melissa [Mendes] (they lived in Providence for a second) emailing me to ask if they could hire me to print comics for them, and I wrote back saying sure, but it would probably be more affordable if they bought their own machine. Which they did!

The only reason I had access to a risograph in the beginning was because I was living at the Dirt Palace at the time, and Xander Marro (who had gotten a GR1770 because she had learned about riso printing at an artist residency in Belgium) was really nice and let me use hers (provided I didn’t break it… which, I didn’t!). Eventually I got my own (a RN2235ui).

Just for some more history, Travis Fristoe was printing up zines on a risograph well before me or Xander! He was a sweet and cool guy I met a handful of times. He passed away a few years ago.

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

I use an RN2235ui. It wouldn’t have been my ideal choice if I had a choice, but it was affordable and well maintained and nearby! Like I said, it’s a very reliable machine but the drums break very easily. I haven’t figured out how to fix the drums yet, although I’ve been meaning to figure it out for a long time! They used to be very easy to get for cheap because nobody had this machine. Not so much anymore!

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

I did go to school for printmaking. You are correct in that assumption.

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

I don’t really know, I’ve never “met up” with risograph printers besides the ones I am already friends with. I’ve never gone deep with anyone in terms of the machine itself. Once I was on a panel with Ryan Sands and Ryan Cecil Smith at CALA 2015 about riso printing, but I am kind of the most boring riso printer out there, to be honest. I like the riso because it is a fast, easy way to add a little bit of literal color to a zine that might otherwise just be black and white. I like to do the most amount of work using the least amount of time and effort. This is true of all my work, so it makes sense it would extend to the actual fabrication of things. Before the risograph, I used to just photocopy zines and screenprint the covers, and I liked that people really liked the screenprinted covers. The risograph is basically a faster, easier screenprinting tool. It’s less special than actual screenprinting but still kind of extra fun. I don’t really use it for any reason besides that reason (fast + easy + extra fun). I don’t really consider it a “special” or “fancy” method of printing. Some people do, and I guess I can get that (especially in terms of RCS’s work), but I don’t feel that way and I don’t want to feel that way about the stuff I print.

The stuff Ryan Cecil Smith does with the riso is really incredible and completely bananas, and I hope you interview him, haha.

Honestly I think every riso-printer is as different from another riso-printer as they are from every other self-publisher – like rocks on the beach. The difference between my approach and RCS’s approach to the riso is a testament to that!!!!

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

Yeah, I think that riso printing really has opened up a lot of options for people in a lot of ways! Especially in terms of self publishing! I really prefer being able to do something myself if I can, when I can. I think it’s important to keep the overhead low, because I think that books and zines are really important to offer to people at a price that is reasonable, that they can afford. I guess that’s why I don’t really like the “art chic” end of riso-printing, because it really is an affordable way to make a book or zine extra fun, and playing like it’s “high end” or “high art” is unfair and also just not true. But who am I?

Anyway, I don’t know how expensive a risograph is these days, and I also don’t know if they are even that accessible or affordable anymore since they are in such high demand!

Can you talk about how you choose to print projects. I’ve heard about the ebbs and flows around TCAF or NYartbookfair – how regularly are you printing stuff…?

I just like to print stuff I think is fun. I used to print all the RAV comics on riso, a couple times a year. Youth in Decline has since collected all those comics, and I think Ryan (of Youth in Decline) will be publishing the subsequent issues too, since they are getting too long for me to easily self publish (I had to buy a super stapler to staple RAV #10, it was too many pages). I printed a couple comics I drew in a day (What Does the Garbage Man Say? & Haunted Forest) because it was fun to just draw straight onto a page and then just print them straight away, no funny business on the computer. Since then, I had been publishing the #1 comics Michael Deforge, Patrick Kyle and I were making. Those were just for fun though, too. I just like to have fun on the risograph I guess! Which is what I liked to do with screenprinting (one layer at a time).

Every time I go to a show I like to have a new thing, but I haven’t made much stuff lately because I’ve been in school. I pay no mind to the NY Art Book Fair. I’ve been doing some online comics (I used to be a dedicated print-only person, since I went to school for printmaking, but since lately I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility and affordability, online comics make a lot of sense). I’m no Michael DeForge but I try my best.

From Cell Phone Comic #1 – 2016

Next week: Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing!

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-1/feed/ 2
Favor http://www.tcj.com/favor/ http://www.tcj.com/favor/#respond Mon, 13 Feb 2017 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98597 Continue reading ]]> Frank Santoro is back and inaugurating a new series of columns on Risograph printing. He begins by interviewing the artist many credit with getting the recent trend started, Mickey Z:

Risograph. What is it? Where did it come from? Most of us comics makers never really even heard of risograph until 2009 or so. Recently, I was noting to a friend how much better looking most risograph printed comics look than most “print on demand” or even most offset printed comics—and how prevalent the use of risograph has become. We tried to think about the first risograph printed comic we saw–what it was and when it appeared. It was then that Providence-based comics maker Mickey Zacchilli’s name kept popping up. Many of the people I interviewed for this series mentioned Mickey’s comics printed with a risograph as an inspiration, and then they all seemed to have gone on their own risograph research and development program. So I decided to go to the source and asked the great Mickey Z to fill us in… what really happened? Read on below.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
At Slate, Isaac Butler reviews Joe Ollmann’s Abominable Mr. Seabrook.

Every nonfiction comic must find a way to tackle this tension between the need to tell a true story and render a personal work of art in both image and text. Art Spiegelman’s Maus and David B’s Epileptic do this through using frequent symbolism to make it clear we are not reading literal truth. Journalist Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza becomes an investigation into whether or not the truth of historical events is even knowable. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is organized as a series of chronologically scrambled, thematically linked episodes, as if the page is mimicking both obsessive research (which she draws herself doing) and the searching qualities of memory at the same time.

For The New York Times, Janine di Giovanni reviews three recent comics set in the Middle East, from Sarah Glidden, Riad Sattouf, and Loïc Dauvillier & Glen Chapron.

“If I locked you up, it was so you could taste hate,” Dr. Amin Jaafari’s captor says in the extraordinary graphic novel version of Yasmina Kadra’s “The Attack.” “Anything can happen if you scratch at someone’s self-esteem. Especially if they are feeling powerless.”

This is not just a simplified explanation of the complex motivations of a suicide bomber. These words, in a sense, exemplify the brutal cycle of the Middle East tragedy: Injustice leads to powerlessness, to frustration to rage, and finally to acts of violence that undercut any attempts at peace or reconciliation.

Ken Parille remembers Alvin Buenaventura.

When I’m reading a comic — especially some weak 1970s’ DC or Marvel book — I’ll often imagine Alvin watching over my shoulder, not at all happy with what he’s seeing. In a soft monotone voice he condemns me for wasting time on crap when there’s genuinely engaging, idiosyncratic work out there, waiting.

—Interviews & Profiles. Emil Ferris has drawn a short comics memoir for the Chicago Reader.

Ferris uses those early experiences as a loose backdrop in her stunning debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Set in 1960s Uptown, Monsters is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old’s diary as she attempts to solve the murder of her mysterious upstairs neighbor. The book, which is haunting, ambitious, and altogether remarkable, took Ferris more than a decade to complete. The story behind its creation is as astounding as the book itself.

A very brief excerpt of the book can be found at The New Yorker’s website, along with a quick introduction by Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes.

On the eve of the publication of a work about the past, Ferris is surprised by its relevance to the present: “When I started on this—years and years ago—we were living in a different time,” she said. “I was wondering, Why am I doing this? I’m talking about the rise of fascism. I’m talking about racial inequality. I’m talking about the lack of representation for children who are lesbian and gay and trans.” She would ask herself, back then, “Is this just a history lesson that I’m making? I thought it’s good to be reminded that these are important topics.”

“Now, though, I’m a little astonished,” she said. “It has all come back.”

The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Patrick McDonnell.

A new interview with Daniel Clowes:

—News. The artist Kurt Holley, known for comics he published under the name Kurt Wolfgang, was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in Gainesville, Florida.

—Crowdfunding Requests. The family of artist Jeremy Treece is asking for help after a devastating series of health, employment, and housing issues.

Our hope is that this campaign will help our family move into a new home by February 28th, and help us find a decent used vehicle for getting the children to and from school and running errands, but also for helping Lisa (me) get to and from doctor appointments and making sure that I have the availability to accept interviews and possible job offers.
Why do we need help? Jeremy’s freelance income varies month to month and it had been my income that stablilized us- up until the point I lost my job. Our car had been a wreck from the beginning and is now being torn apart for scrap by a local salvage yard. The community we are living in has issued us an unexpected notice that they will “not be renewing” our lease, which is up as of February 28th; if we are not out by that date, legal action will be taken.

Ink Brick, the journal of comics poetry, has launched a Kickstarter.

In 2017, everyone knows that comics are a powerful medium for storytelling and beautiful artwork. But what other expressive possibilities are hidden in the form? What new things can we say with all the elements of the comics page—the panel arrangements, cartooning, word balloons and captions, lettering styles, and on and on? In short, what else can comics do?

We started Ink Brick to answer that question. We started it to create a home for this exciting form that most people still don’t know about, to create a community. We’ve now published six issues featuring over 100 creators from across the world. We’re getting more work than we know what to do with, and we need your help to expand our reach and embark on exciting new projects.

The great Sam Henderson has started a Patreon account.

I’ve been around professionally for about 25 years. I edit a comic called MAGIC WHISTLE. I had a regular comic for NICKELODEON magazine from 1993 to 2009. I’ve done work for NEW YORK PRESS, OBSERVER, COMICS JOURNAL, DC COMICS, CARTOON NETWORK, MEDIUM, DISNEY, AOL, was nominated for an Emmy for my writing on SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS in 2001, still write for the comic, have had several book collections, a development deal, yet despite all this I’m always broke. Last year I made, uh, let’s just say… less than you. Hoping this will be one of the things to change that.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/favor/feed/ 0
Sarah Glidden in Conversation with Julia Wertz http://www.tcj.com/sarah-glidden-in-conversation-with-julia-wertz/ http://www.tcj.com/sarah-glidden-in-conversation-with-julia-wertz/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98491 Continue reading ]]> [Editor’s note: We asked Julia Wertz to interview her friend and colleague Sarah Glidden on the occasion of the latter’s recent book, Rolling Blackouts. They caught up during a car trip a few months back] 

JULIA WERTZ: Sarah, would you summarize the book real quick for us?

SARAH GLIDDEN: Rolling Blackouts is a book about journalism, comics journalism. The idea came when I was working on my first book. Some friends of mine were in the midst of starting a non-profit multimedia journalism collective. They did most of the reporting in Seattle for different journalism organizations—NPR, Seattle Times, stuff like that. They’d get funding mostly from grants about once a year to do a bigger international reporting projects. So, when I’d go out and visit them, they would always have these great stories about all the reporting they’ve done and all the places they’ve been. It got me really interested in finding out more about how journalism worked. It also sounded really fun. I always wished that I could go with them on one of their reporting trips. I asked them if I could go with them on their next trip and shadow them while they worked and do a book about how journalism works. About how they find their stories and their sources and how they find a translator and things like that. That’s the book.

You were following Sarah and Alex—they were the journalists. Then Dan, who is the Iraq vet, came with you guys. The Globalist was there?

They were first called the Common Language Project, but they rebranded as the Seattle Globalist.

The whole book keeps asking, “What is journalism? What is the point of it?” Do you think their intentions in going to Iraq and Syria … were they naive? Were they well informed? Or maybe too optimistic in getting a story?

I don’t think they were naive. Their idea for this reporting trip was to do some stories about displacement after the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Their audience is a younger audience, and they thought they wanted to look into young Iraqis and Iraqi refugees. What is the fallout from these wars? Who are these people who have been affected by the Iraq war? I don’t think there was anything naive about that. I think they did a good job.

Sarah said that she didn’t know what type of a journalist she was. What are the different types? 

I think she meant more in the abstract sense. Like what is she trying to achieve with her work.

What’s her narrative?

Sure. What kind of journalist do you want to be? Focusing on more newsy things? Clearly, they are a freelance collective, so they aren’t the type of journalists who are backed by Frontline or the New York Times. So, what does that mean? I think that all of us, cartoonists included—what kind of cartoonist are you? What kind of work are you focusing on? 

Yeah, like the different genres of it. How did you friends and family feel when you told them that you’d be taking this trip?

My mom thought it was great. I think everybody was into the idea. I have some Israeli friends who thought that going to Syria would be dangerous and a big mistake. Everyone was supportive.

As your friend, I was nervous. [Laughter.] I think it’s important to point out for the readers, that this was before the …

This was in late 2010.

Before everything went to shit.

It was a very different Syria at that time. It was even a very different northern Iraq. Now there is a lot of tension. ISIS is encroaching on that territory and the Kurdish peshmerga are on the front lines with ISIS. But when were there, we’d see these peshmerga checkpoints. And we’d see military training locations, and say, “What are the peshmerga training for? There’s nothing going on right now.” We felt the same way when we were in Syria. That was very naive. Just to assume that you’re in a place and politically no conflict seems to be going it, that means it’s going to stay that way.

How did you get interested in journalism the comics way? I think we were both kind of late to comics. How old were you when you started?

I was 26, so yeah, pretty late.

Were you interested in journalism before that? How did that even come about?

I think I moved sideways into journalism from autobiography and memoir because that’s how I started. We got to know each other because we were both doing autobio comics …

Bad autobio comics. [Laughs.]

… and posting them on Flickr. I knew you through your Flickr avatar before anything else. You make autobio work about what interests you and what’s happening to you. My first book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, was an extension of the autobio stuff I was doing. I thought I’ll go on this trip. It was a free trip, paid for in part by the state of Israel, so I thought it would be a real interesting and weird trip. Then I would just make comics as if I were doing my normal work. Comics about my experiences and what I was thinking and feeling. Lots of feelings. But that also entailed doing a lot of research into the places I was going and that’s just what I’m interested in—trying to figure out why the world is so … interesting. 

You also talk about marketing stories. Her article got dropped by—who was going to do it? They said it was too dark.

Sarah had pitched a story about displaced people living in abandoned [Saddam Hussein?] barracks and prisons in northern Iraq. She pitched it to the World. I think Alex wrote the pitch, and they wrote back saying that it was too dark.

Is that a thing journalists face a lot? Having to pep up sad stories?

I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what that email was. Sarah was paraphrasing and it would have been a creative paraphrasing. But I think that when you’re pitching a story and every part of the journalism process—the reporter and the editor—it’s the reporter’s job to try to find what they think is an interesting story, but then it’s the editor’s job … Let me put it this way: a journalist is closer to their subject and the editor is closer to their audience. Between the two of them, they are compromising on how to give the audience a story that is interesting and important.

Sure. That’s why editors always pick titles for the article.

Right. A lot of times the editor will write the headline, not the journalist, so a lot of times you end up with headlines that make journalist really upset.

You guys talk about the guy who was going to buy a heater and that brought up how journalists have the responsibility to not intervene in their subject’s life. Is that difficult? What is the downside of intervening in an interviewee’s life?

You’re talking about the scene where Sarah was interviewing a guy who was living in a displaced peoples camp and he was complaining about the cold. A friend of ours, another journalist named Kamaran who is Iraqi-Kurdish, was interpreting for us during that interview. The guy was talking about how cold it is and how it family gets so cold and all he really wants is a heater. Kamaran said he would try to get the guy some help. As American journalists, that’s kind of one of the ethical guidelines—you don’t give gifts to the people that you are interviewing because if that was something journalists did, your subjects would be influenced by the promise of gifts. You don’t pay people for interviews. That’s what that was about. But I think for Kamaran, it was like, I’m going to do whatever I can to help this guy.

Is that hard, not to help people?

Sure. Journalists have an impulse …

Especially when the intention is already there to help, to get eyes on the story.

The intention of journalism is not always going out there because you want to help that person. You’re hoping that person’s story that you’re putting out there in the world will help people understand a bigger issue. That story can stand in for something bigger than just one person, and can help them understand a phenomena like displacement or war. Sarah was always talking about making it very clear to the people she was interviewing that she doesn’t believe that this story would necessarily help them directly. That comes from an exchange. A person wants to tell their story because they want their story to be told. That’s all the journalist can offer. You can’t even promise that the story will be told because you do have to deal with the editors and you can publish something and that doesn’t mean people will read it. In the end, you have to have the faith that it’s important to put these stories out there and it’s important for people across the world to understand what people are going through somewhere.

What are the challenges between a freelance journalist doing what you guys did versus someone from the New York Times doing what you guys did?

New York Times and other papers like that used to have foreign bureaus all over the place, but those have been shutting down a lot more. It is a lot harder for someone who’s posted overseas to make the connections and understand the region a little bit better. You end up having freelance reporters going and dropping into places that are new to them. Obviously having that kind of institutional support and the money to send reporters to these places and keep them there for a long time is better. What also happens when you have someone abroad like that is that they might end up going to the same people all the time. They might end up having sources that are closer to the government and that are going to give a certain point of view that a freelance reporter, just by not having those connections, might have to talk to people who are closer to the “everyman.” The people who are actually living in these places and not in control of it. I think both are necessary, but it’s distressing how there’s less and less institutional support for international journalism now at a time we really need to understand the rest of the world a whole lot more than we actually do.

One of my favorite parts of the book is seeing behind the scenes of journalism. When Sam, the guy who was being interviewed, pretended to wake up and go about his routine. You just don’t see that. And also, I liked the part where the little Turkish kids run up and you think they’re asking you for money, but they give you guys candy. Were there any other misconceptions that you or other people had about the people there? Things that turned out different?

Sure. I think you go into a story or a place or a person with some idea of what you think you’re going to get. Finding something different makes it more interesting, but you have to have a baseline to evaluate things off of. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was surprised by how much anger the older Iraqi refugees had.

Directed at you guys. It was harsh at times.

It shouldn’t have been surprising, but it’s not something you get to see very much with the journalism coming out of the Middle East. You hear about Iraqis being angry, but those are militant taking up weapons against American soldiers. But these are average people. Not particularly political. A lot of anger. You would be angry if some foreign government came in and turned your world upside down. I think it was good for us. I really wanted to include that in the book because I think it’s not a side of things we usually get to see. Often, when someone’s a refugee, it’s tempting to just view them as a victim. Someone who has been wronged. But people who’ve been wronged are allowed to have feelings about it and be angry. And to ask questions back to the journalists like, “Why did your government do this?” It shouldn’t have been surprising, and it really wasn’t, but it’s something we hadn’t been able to hear before.

Yeah, most reporters don’t include that. I thought it was interesting because it made me feel like Americans are so narcissistic. Personally, I didn’t think about that aspect or that the average citizen over there being really mad about Americans coming in. But, of course, they are. Later when you guys are at [The Refugee Processing Center] when she yells at you. I feel like most journalists would cut that. But you actually see the dialogue. When you have them speaking in their native language and then you have the translation of it, how did you decide to do that visually? Their word bubble is behind the translators. How did you decide to do it that way? There are other options.

All the other options seemed to be bad. I thought of putting what the person is saying in Arabic or in Kurdish and then doing what the interpreter in the same panel, but my panels are already pretty text heavy as it is.

That would be laborious.

I stole the idea from documentaries and from radio pieces where somebody is speaking in their original language and it’s overdubbed by the translator or interpreter’s speech. It’s their world balloon and you can kind of see some of the letters of what they’re saying in their original language, then the interpreter’s balloon is on top of it to show that they are translating. There are some moments that aren’t translated because the interpreter wasn’t translating what they were saying, so I just kept everything there.

Walk me through a day of making the book.

For a long time, I was just writing it. I had to transcribe everything. So, all of the dialogue is actual dialogue. I had this digital recorder that was on almost all the time—in the interviews, but also when we were in between the interviews, walking through these towns we were in, having breakfast. And so, I had to transcribe all of that. Probably, I didn’t have to transcribe all of it, but I wanted to. I just wanted to have everything in front of me so I could see what I had to work with.

How long did it take to transcribe everything?

It was about a year of transcribing but I was working on other things. I was working on some short projects, and things like that—and traveling a lot. Writing is the thing that takes longest for me: just deciding what scenes I want to use, and how to edit down a three-hour long conversation to something that won’t last more than five or six pages of people sitting around and talking.

When you got to the drawing part—

Oh, that was the easy part. Once everything was written, then I usually work two pages at a time. I pencil and ink two pages one day, and then watercolor the two pages the next day.

What watercolors did you use?

Winsor Newton.

You only use five colors, right?

Oh, well, like five, six, seven, like…I started adding some new colors as the book went on. But yeah, I use a limited palette. I’m not doing anything colorful and exciting like Lisa [Hanawalt]. [Laughs.]

But it matches the tone. It would be weird if you had a lot of hot pink panels. [Laughs.]

That’s probably true. I studied oil painting in school, so I learned how to paint by mixing my own colors out of very few tubes. So, that’s how I approach watercolor.

It looked like you had a much more complex palette of paint. You must be good at mixing it up. What’s the hardest part about painting?

Night scenes. The darker the scene is, the more paint you use, and the longer it takes. It’s really hard to put down large areas of paint and make it look good. Watercolor is better for lighter colors and for giving more air to things. Any of those night scenes, where there are a whole bunch of layers of really dark blue—and then, if you wait too long and let and edge dry, and then you need to go back into it, it will create these colors butting up against each other, and it doesn’t look very nice. Night scenes are the hardest. They’re also cool lighting challenges. I guess that’s a fun part of doing a night scene, just having to think about, what does it look like when there’s a bunch of buildings at night, and the lights are on, and the TV’s on in one window? They were the most difficult but I also had a lot of fun.

Comics journalism is kind of new, at least to the general public. What do you think of the state of it now, and who’s doing good stuff? Or stuff you like?

I think it’s great! With places like The Nib, which are devoted exclusively to comics journalism. Other websites—or even magazines—which aren’t traditionally into comics, but adding comics journalism. I think there’s a lot of people doing a lot of really good work, like Joe Sacco, who’s been doing this for so long. He’s great. And he’s done work for Harper’s, publications that aren’t prone to using comics. But there’s a lot of great new people too. I really like Sam Wallman’s work. He’s an Australian cartoonist. A lot of the stuff on The Nib I think is really interesting.

Is it still a small field? A couple of you working, or do you think it’s a lot bigger than people assume? I assume it’s small.

It’s pretty small, but comics journalism—there’s a range of stuff. Lisa does comics journalism: her restaurant reviews and her movie reviews. She’s done things like the visit to the toy show. That’s comics journalism, also. I actually use her work when I do classes. I use her work as an example of comics journalism too, because I want people to know it’s not just stories about refugees. The things that you traditionally think about are Joe Sacco-style comics journalism.

Right. Very political.

I mean, you do comics journalism. I think that, in that way, sometimes people forget that there’s more to comics journalism than The Nib. Anyone working in nonfiction—basically, the lines can blur between memoir and journalism. I think that’s where New Journalism that started in the 1970s and ’60s comes in. I think that’ lots of things can be comics journalism. I’d be interested to see more movie reviews in comics form, or just like, “Here I am, dropping in to the swap meet for a day, in a new place. What is it like?”

You think it’s more palatable, especially for younger people, to see a comic, versus seeing a textbook or an article?

I don’t know about palatable, but I think that maybe comics can make people take a second look at something. At the moment, we’re bombarded by text and photos all the time. So, drawing and images that are hand drawn are more rare. When you see a comic, maybe you’ll take notice and want to read it, just because it’s different. What will happen when there’s as many comics journalists out there as there are prose journalists, maybe then people won’t really be into it anymore. At the moment, it’s an exciting time, because it is still fairly new. I think people can pay attention.

It’s entertaining, too. I think, for kids, it’s hard to read a textbook of information, but when they can see it, it’s much more entertaining. So, a lot of the content of the book is really difficult and dark. How does that affect your daily life while reporting on it?

While reporting on it, or while writing about it?

Just dealing with the material.

That was hard. While you’re in an interview, you have to hold it together. Especially for me, I wasn’t even interviewing, I was just there, watching. So, I need to just not be intrusive at all. And that meant keeping it together when people are talking about really sad things. But writing about it is tough, and drawing it can be really difficult. That’s when you start to really internalize a lot of the things that people were telling you. Sometimes, when you’re drawing someone making a funny face, you realize that you’re making that face. So, you’ll be drawing someone smiling like a grimace-y smile, and then you realize that you’re smiling that way. So, that works for sad moments, too. If you’re drawing someone telling a sad story, and you’re trying to— it’s a little bit “acting,” like you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes, and trying to get the facial expression right, or the emotion of the scene right. In a way, you’re inhabiting that person. That’s when it can be really tough.

It’s also something like, well, boo hoo, I felt sad when I was working on a comic about something that actually happened to someone. You feel like you’re not even allowed to have those feelings. But it is hard. For some of the people I was drawing, by the time I was drawing them, the war in Syria had broken out, and I didn’t know where everybody was. I’d kept up with a lot of the people we had met there. And, some of them are safe. Like Momo and Odessa, the Iraqi refugee couple, those younger artists, they resettled in Vancouver. I see them update their Facebook almost every day, and I know that they’re fine. But some people you’ve lost track of, or there’s just no way to know where everyone is. So, that’s tough. You’re drawing someone, and you don’t know if they’re OK.

If they’re dead or alive.

Yeah. So, it can be really hard. You feel really powerless. You wish you could just do something, and then this thing, where you’re just drawing them, is the best thing I can do. And, that feels really futile sometimes.

Speaking of helping, though. What would the average person, like me, how can we help the refugee situation?

I think just listening to refugees’ stories. And not trying to hide from the reality of the situation, especially for all refugees, not just Iraqis, and not just Syrians. There are millions of refugees from Somalia, still. It something that I think we don’t really want to look at. There’s a lot of misinformation here.

Like Trump saying the refugees coming in are causing crime.

Right.

Jesus.

He says things like, “We need to vet them properly, we don’t know who they are.” You saw me getting really upset when he said that during the debates, and then, right after that, Hillary said, “Well, we will be vetting these people.” And I’m like, “No. These people are already vetted as much as you can vet someone.” We can’t look into people’s hearts, and know what their intentions are.

That’s why it’s insane when he said, “We can’t be certain of their love for our country.”

You can’t be certain of anyone’s—

Yeah, that’s a ridiculous thing to say.

But, it’s a really stringent process that all refugees go through, especially refugees from Syria. We let in the most vulnerable people first, women and families. It’s not like we’re letting in hordes of single, young men, which are the ones that these people are the most afraid of. I think those guys deserve a chance too, but really, the reality is, only one percent of registered refugees ever get settled. It’s a very, very small number. I think that the average person can educated themselves about that stuff, and demand that their politicians do better, because we could let more people in. We have a fine history, in the U.S., of helping a lot of refugees. We let in many, many Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War, for just one example. We could do better with Iraqis and Syrians.

Do you think people are just afraid, because “terrorism” is such a hot word right now?

Yes. I think people are afraid because people purposely try to make them afraid. People believe when people tell them things [laughs]. I think that journalists, we need to do a better job giving people the real information.

The correct information, too. Trump has incorrect numbers.

Yes. [Laughs.] Just being curious and being informed. I understand that there are a million issues out there. There’s racism, and the treatment of Native Americans. There’s environmental destruction. When you think about all of the stuff that we need to pay attention to, I can understand people being overwhelmed. So, actually, yeah, I don’t know what people can do.

Is there a charity you would recommend, for refugees? A specific one, are all of them all right in general?

I think that everyone needs to do their own research with Charity Navigator, and things like that. I think the UNHCR does good work, but there are some who say that the UN is making a lot of mistakes with refugees. I’m not going to get into that. But, Mercy Corps is an NGO that we talked to a lot when we were over there, I think they have a pretty good record of helping refugees But I think that people can look into that on their own. Charity is always a good thing. It never hurts. But I think really listening, and not just taking the information that you get for granted is a good first step.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/sarah-glidden-in-conversation-with-julia-wertz/feed/ 4
All Inside http://www.tcj.com/all-inside/ http://www.tcj.com/all-inside/#respond Fri, 10 Feb 2017 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98564 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have cartoonist Julia Wertz interviewing her friend and peer Sarah Glidden about Glidden’s recent book, Rolling Blackouts. 

Comics journalism is kind of new, at least to the general public. What do you think of the state of it now, and who’s doing good stuff? Or stuff you like?

I think it’s great! With places like The Nib, which are devoted exclusively to comics journalism. Other websites—or even magazines—which aren’t traditionally into comics, but adding comics journalism. I think there’s a lot of people doing a lot of really good work, like Joe Sacco, who’s been doing this for so long. He’s great. And he’s done work for Harper’s, publications that aren’t prone to using comics. But there’s a lot of great new people too. I really like Sam Wallman’s work. He’s an Australian cartoonist. A lot of the stuff on The Nib I think is really interesting.

Is it still a small field? A couple of you working, or do you think it’s a lot bigger than people assume? I assume it’s small.

It’s pretty small, but comics journalism—there’s a range of stuff. Lisa does comics journalism: her restaurant reviews and her movie reviews. She’s done things like the visit to the toy show. That’s comics journalism, also. I actually use her work when I do classes. I use her work as an example of comics journalism too, because I want people to know it’s not just stories about refugees. The things that you traditionally think about are Joe Sacco-style comics journalism.

Right. Very political.

I mean, you do comics journalism. I think that, in that way, sometimes people forget that there’s more to comics journalism than The Nib. Anyone working in nonfiction—basically, the lines can blur between memoir and journalism. I think that’s where New Journalism that started in the 1970s and ’60s comes in. I think that’ lots of things can be comics journalism. I’d be interested to see more movie reviews in comics form, or just like, “Here I am, dropping in to the swap meet for a day, in a new place. What is it like?”

You think it’s more palatable, especially for younger people, to see a comic, versus seeing a textbook or an article?

I don’t know about palatable, but I think that maybe comics can make people take a second look at something. At the moment, we’re bombarded by text and photos all the time. So, drawing and images that are hand drawn are more rare. When you see a comic, maybe you’ll take notice and want to read it, just because it’s different. What will happen when there’s as many comics journalists out there as there are prose journalists, maybe then people won’t really be into it anymore. At the moment, it’s an exciting time, because it is still fairly new. I think people can pay attention.

Elsewhere:

Our own Chris Mautner writes about Gerald Jablonski’s new book.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/all-inside/feed/ 0
Seeking Salivation! Food in Early Comics http://www.tcj.com/seeking-salivation-food-in-early-comics/ http://www.tcj.com/seeking-salivation-food-in-early-comics/#respond Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:00:52 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98501 Continue reading ]]> Introduction

University of Washington professor José Alaniz invited me to prepare and deliver a guest lecture on early comics for his class on food-themed comics. I hoped the project would turn out to be something I could really sink my teeth into. I was not disappointed.

Eventually, over half of this material developed for this lecture was cut, in order to fit the 45-minute allotment of time. I’ve restored the presentation and offer here a “director’s cut” with my own audio narration, packaged into a video that runs for about an hour and half. I hope you find this to be a tasty and nurturing repast.

The Lecture

 

Additional Notes

When you think about it, food is a pretty ingenious topic for studying a popular art form. Eating is something we all do; it’s woven throughout cultures and histories. Viewing comics through the lens of something so ubiquitous and essential reveals a “living art” aspect to the medium. For example, an E.C. Segar 1933 Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye comic strip in which Wimpy salivates copiously over a juicy hamburger is something a reader in 2017 America can directly relate to because that food is still a part of our culture today. Wimpy would not be amusing today if his ardent passion for a hamburger with “pickles, lettuce and onions both” were instead, say, dancing the Lindy Hop. Because of its universality and direct route to our brains, hardwired to crave and consume edibles every day, food as a theme can help make a comic strip relevant to succeeding generations.

Aside from the timeless aspect, broadly surveying food themes in comics from 1865 to 1954 reveals a fascinating correlation with social movements, trends and history itself. For example, comics in the mid-1940s depicted wartime food shortages and ten years later, they skewered excessive consumerism, mirroring America’s own changes through World War Two and into the prosperous 1950s. Comics, it seems, have often reflected the times in which they were made. The great comics both reflect and comment upon the times, all the while entertaining us.

José Alaniz (Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond), who develops and teaches a comics studies curriculum at the University of Washington in Seattle, has prepared an entire course on food in comics. The introduction to the course reads, in part: “We will sample classic and recent comics works from around the world devoted to food: growing it, making it, slaughtering it, preparing it, dressing it, serving it, obsessing over it, and, of course, eating it. Discussions and lecture will cover such related matters and economics, agriculture, service work, food disorders and cross-cultural cuisine …”

The texts for this course include Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine: A la Carte by Tetsu Kariya (2009, VIZ Media LLC), New York Times bestseller Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (2013, First Second), and Over Easy by Mimi Pond (2014, Drawn and Quarterly). The course looks at a number of comics from Winsor McCay to E.C. Comics and beyond.

Chronomethodology

At first, the concern about developing my guest lecture was whether enough examples of food in comics could be found to fill the allotted 45 minutes. After a few days of work, the problem shifted to culling out the best of the many, many comics that either were food-centric in concept, or had notable “food moments.” A search on the Grand Comics Database for the keyword “food” alone yields 2,762 results―and this database does not include newspaper comic strips, only comic book stories. Holy Moley!―as the Big Red, um, Cheese might say.

In refining the selection to be presented, the obvious first picks would include iconic examples of food in American newspaper comic strips that were created prior to 1950, and which influenced American appetites and businesses. These include Jiggs’ obsession with corned beef and cabbage in Bringing Up Father, Dagwood’s vertiginous everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwiches in Blondie, and in Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye there is Wimpy’s hamburger obsession and Popeye’s spinach (mostly a byproduct of the Fleischer Brothers Studio animated cartoons). Interestingly, as I researched Blondie, I learned about Dagwood’s four week hunger strike to be allowed to marry Blondie, and decided to include that, as well, for contrast.

Beyond the obvious choices listed above, my final selection included comics from the 1865 Wilhelm Busch classic, Max and Moritz, linked to the The Katzenjammer Kids by Rudolph Dirks. Next comes Richard Outcault, who began his career in comics with sad, quasi-journalistic cartoons of hungry New York back alley kids and quickly shifted, with fame and widespread acceptance, to the joyful screwball chaos of the goofy Yellow Kid comics. I also gravitated toward the master stylist, Lyonel Feininger, who brilliantly created the artful Kin-der-Kids, a “kid” comic page featuring the nightmarish obsessive eater, Pie-Mouth (a forerunner of Augustus Gloop in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory). Themes that emerged from the presentation of these classic comics through this lens included depictions of the disenfranchised and the dangers of rampant consumerism, driven home with the bloody four-color newsprint slaughter of a whale, who asks with his dying breath, “Who would have think it?”

I was fortunate enough to stumble on Hungry Henrietta, a little-known 1904 series by Winsor McCay, most famous for Little Nemo In Slumberland. This is a highly innovative series for several aspects, not the least of which is the strip’s step-by-step depiction of the emotional origins of an eating disorder. Probably the best slide I made in this presentation shows 21 images of Henrietta, one from each episode. The chronological sequence reveals her weight gain, subtly handled in stark contrast to the dramatic verve with which McCay depicted physical transformations in Rarebit and Nemo. Look closely, and Henrietta’s heartbreaking disaffection with the world is also charted in this display.

Since the American comic book got rolling in the late 1930s, I had the first years of that medium to explore, as well. I decided to show a story from an obscure early 1940s series, The Face – in which the hero has no superpower and simply dons a Halloween mask to fight crime. In the story shown, he is morally outraged when a crooked businessman sells spoiled meat to an orphanage. Ultimately, the food becomes a symbol for what’s wrong with society. Oddly, I looked, but didn’t find any notable examples of food themes in Superman or Batman stories from the 1940s. Surely, there are some out there. I did find some examples of comics dealing with wartime food shortages, including a lovely Simon and Kirby Sandman story.

Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s classic Mad story, “Restaurant!” addresses the shift from wartime shortages to overabundance and mad consumption. The more sophisticated themes and treatments reflect the maturing of the form, as well as the genius of Harvey Kurtzman. The story shows us the reality in the kitchen of our favorite restaurant, and it’s not pretty. Also from the publishers of Mad, E.C. Comics, there is the classic horror story – also drawn by Jack Davis – Tain’t the Meat, It’s the Humanity in which a hacked up human carcass is sold as meat in a butcher’s shop. We’re a long way from the gentle melancholy of Outcault’s kids.

Reed Crandall and Mike Peppe’s “Corpse That Came to Dinner” seemed ideal for the lecture, as well. It’s a vicious skewering of idealized coupling in 1950s middle class America. Wholesome comics also carried hidden social commentaries, especially when they were about food. John Stanley and Irving Tripp’s “Frog Legs” from a 1950 issue of Little Lulu again deals with issues of society and class and, surprisingly, the larger dilemma of sorting out when a creature is a cute animal, and when it is a “delicacy.”

The presentation ends with a look at the 1949 Donald Duck adventure, “Lost in the Andes,” by Carl Barks. Some, myself included, regard this to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. This is the famous square egg story and it prefigures the desires of capitalists to remake nature for a profit, foreshadowing today’s genetically modified food products.

Stepping back to examine this flow, it became clear the selections, when considered in the order on which they were created, presents a poor man’s history of comics, showing the development of the form from Wilhelm Busch’s 1865 sequential images through the development of the American newspaper comic strip and to the first decade or so of the American comic book .

Selected Outtakes

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

KIN-DER-KIDS by Lyonel Feininger, 1906

George Herriman's short run ZOO ZOO strip featured a pre-cursor to Krazy Kat (1906, scan courtesy Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

George Herriman’s short run ZOO ZOO strip featured a pre-cursor to Krazy Kat (1906, scan courtesy Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

Hy Gage (Oct 14, 1910 - scan courtesy of Peter Maresca and Sunday Press)

Hy Gage (Oct 14, 1910 – scan courtesy of Peter Maresca and Sunday Press). There is a whole sub-genre of hungry hobos in early newspaper comics.

John Stanley and Irving Tripp (from LITTLE LULU #5 Sept-Oct 1948)

John Stanley and Irving Tripp (from LITTLE LULU #5 Sept-Oct 1948).

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

NANCY by Ernie Bushmiller, 1943

Alternate Structure

Instead of a chronology, a thematic structure was briefly considered. Since the lecture was to be given to college students who probably lacked an overall understanding of comics history and who might become confused with a non-linear approach, this structure was discarded.

The Hungry, Homeless and Disenfranchised

Max and Moritz

Katzenjammer Kids

Outcault

The Face

Simon and Kirby Sandman story

 

Voracious Appettites

Feininger’s Pie-Mouth

Segar’s Wimpy

Jiggs – Irish foods

Dagwood sandwich

Lulu/Frog’s Legs

 

Food Dreams and Nightmares

McCay’s Dreams and Henrietta

Mad: Restaurant!/ Supermarket!

Tain’t the Meat

Corpse that Came to Dinner

Lost in the Andes (nightmare of altering food source)

+++++++

Paul Tumey is a writer, artist, and designer who lives in Seattle, Washington. He is available for projects, lectures, classes, and curating and would love to hear from anyone interested. He has run his own presentation design business, Presentation Tree, since 1999. His comics history work appears in THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG (Abrams ComicArts, 2013), THE BUNGLE FAMILY 1930 (IDW, 2014), SOCIETY IS NIX (Sunday Press, 2013), KING OF THE COMICS: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF KING FEATURES SYNDICATE (IDW 2015). Most recently, Tumey has written for the Sunday Press DICK TRACY collection as well as the forthcoming book on Rube Goldberg, due out in May 2017. He is currently at work writing a book about the great American screwball cartoonists.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/seeking-salivation-food-in-early-comics/feed/ 0
Get Your Shovels http://www.tcj.com/get-your-shovels/ http://www.tcj.com/get-your-shovels/#respond Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98556 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Paul Tumey shares a lecture on early food-themed comics.

When you think about it, food is a pretty ingenious topic for studying a popular art form. Eating is something we all do; it’s woven throughout cultures and histories. Viewing comics through the lens of something so ubiquitous and essential reveals a “living art” aspect to the medium. For example, an E.C. Segar 1933 Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye comic strip in which Wimpy salivates copiously over a juicy hamburger is something a reader in 2017 America can directly relate to because that food is still a part of our culture today. Wimpy would not be amusing today if his ardent passion for a hamburger with “pickles, lettuce and onions both” were instead, say, dancing the Lindy Hop. Because of its universality and direct route to our brains, hardwired to crave and consume edibles every day, food as a theme can help make a comic strip relevant to succeeding generations.

Aside from the timeless aspect, broadly surveying food themes in comics from 1865 to 1954 reveals a fascinating correlation with social movements, trends and history itself. For example, comics in the mid-1940s depicted wartime food shortages and ten years later, they skewered excessive consumerism, mirroring America’s own changes through World War Two and into the prosperous 1950s. Comics, it seems, have often reflected the times in which they were made. The great comics both reflect and comment upon the times, all the while entertaining us.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Juan Fernández reports from Angoulême.

Before we get into all dissecting and reflecting on this latest edition of the heavy weight championship of comics expos, Angoulême, let’s go for a stroll, take it easy and soak it all in. What do you say?

—Liam Otten talks to comics scholar Liam Otten.

Many comics scholars arrive through fandom. Does a more traditional academic background provide greater critical distance?

I don’t think so. There are debates about fan studies and whether fans can be rigorous scholars. But people who study high texts — Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Toni Morrison — also have deep attachments.

I do think scholars of popular culture have a heightened sense of the need to defend their subjects. In some ways, it’s similar to black studies — which is why I’m interested in the nexus between African-American studies and fan studies. Certain kinds of fandom are like political commitments.

—At The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes about the art of Raymond Pettibon.

In his art, Pettibon only sometimes addresses topical politics, or topical anything, but he knows his archetypes, and it’s nice to have eschatological expertise on current events. How seriously to take it is an uncertainty that haunts all of Pettibon’s art, which is surveyed in “A Pen of All Work,” a retrospective at the New Museum of some seven hundred creations, mostly drawings with text. He has intrigued and befuddled a growing audience since the late nineteen-seventies, when he emerged, in Hermosa Beach, California, as a bookish surfer who made flyers and album covers for the punk band Black Flag (his older brother Greg Ginn was the founder and guitarist) and a flurry of zines. His fame took hold slowly, and it remains confined largely to fine-art circles. Seeing the show is like being lost in a foreign but strangely familiar city, where polyphonic disembodied voices whisper, yell, or sputter wit and wisdom that you’re rarely sure that you heard quite right.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/get-your-shovels/feed/ 0
Soft City http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city-2/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city-2/#respond Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98161 Continue reading ]]> Pushwagner, born Terje Brofe, had an irregular life, preoccupied with bohemianism, we are told in the afterword of the book. Upon first reading Pushwagner’s Soft City, originally drawn between 1969 and 1975,  I am struck by the boundlessness of its illustration. When something is represented, like a man waving goodbye to his children, or driving to work, it is represented 1000 times. What Soft City seems to stress the most is this mass sameness—go-to-school-get-a-job-start-a-family—that society is preoccupied by. At first I am surprised by Pushwagner’s lack of color in the volume—How can something be both boundless and lacking color? Shouldn’t we expect a little more pizazz from something that was drawn on LSD trips?—but I come to the conclusion that a monochrome palette is best for representing this monotony.

The first person represented in Soft City is a baby, wide eyes and all. The book begins with the baby trying to figure out “what’s happening” as it gazes out a window surrounded by hundreds of windows just like the family’s own. While we eventually lose the outline of the baby, and their overarching thoughts strung across the page, the outlandish grandiose of adult life seems as if its been processed and regurgitated by an infant. As the parents climb out of bed, they’re already occupying their simplistic roles within the binary—the mother thinks “I must look for the baby,” while the father insists simply, “I must shave.” Soft City presents a dizzying, infant-POV understanding of our places in the world that is at once intriguing, and rather depressing. Every family in their apartment complex has one wife and one child, supporting their family by occupying the same job at the same corporation, Soft Corp. It seems that the only person who has somewhat escaped this cycle is their boss, who works in a private office, phoning in to his wife and kid who are somewhere on a beach, as well as the family’s child, who seems hesitant about this lifestyle.

When the men go to work, they control weapons of mass destruction behind a giant screen using video game like controls. Aside from a depiction of mass sameness, the book’s other main commentary seems to be on war and weaponry. At one point a figure on a TV screen declares, “Heil Hilton” which seems ominous in the stretch of time leading to the presidency of a different hotel mogul. While the language used while the men are at work is more mature with its authoritarian tone, the words remains simple and garbled like that of a child. The sentences are repetitive coos, at times the words’ meanings are more important for their emotional value rather than the way they function within each sentence fragment.

While Pushwagner’s Soft City is aged, released long after its completion, it seems just as striking as ever. Beginning with the sunrise and ending with the rise of the moon, the book proves that even in organized chaos, our cycles continue to repeat. “How strange the world seems,” the unnamed baby reflects.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city-2/feed/ 0
Hey Eveybody… http://www.tcj.com/hey-eveybody/ http://www.tcj.com/hey-eveybody/#respond Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98481 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rachel Davies brings us our second review of the great Soft City. 

The first person represented in Soft City is a baby, wide eyes and all. The book begins with the baby trying to figure out “what’s happening” as it gazes out a window surrounded by hundreds of windows just like the family’s own. While we eventually lose the outline of the baby, and their overarching thoughts strung across the page, the outlandish grandiose of adult life seems as if its been processed and regurgitated by an infant. As the parents climb out of bed, they’re already occupying their simplistic roles within the binary—the mother thinks “I must look for the baby,” while the father insists simply, “I must shave.” Soft City presents a dizzying, infant-POV understanding of our places in the world that is at once intriguing, and rather depressing. Every family in their apartment complex has one wife and one child, supporting their family by occupying the same job at the same corporation, Soft Corp. It seems that the only person who has somewhat escaped this cycle is their boss, who works in a private office, phoning in to his wife and kid who are somewhere on a beach, as well as the family’s child, who seems hesitant about this lifestyle.

Elsewhere:

Here’s a very long history of Image Comics. 

Hey, it’s Dan Clowes on French radio. 

And it’s Noah Van Sciver on internet radio!

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/hey-eveybody/feed/ 0
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/8/17 – Astonished At My Doctrine) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2817-astonished-at-my-doctrine/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2817-astonished-at-my-doctrine/#respond Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:09:16 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98459 Continue reading ]]>

Art is everywhere.

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Pretending Is Lying: The already-redoubtable New York Review Comics here offers a 2007 book from Belgian artist Dominique Goblet, a key player with the fiercely experimental comics publisher Frémok. Note, however, that Pretending Is Lying came out of the French alt-comics publisher L’Association; Goblet had been chipping away at it since the mid-1990s, just a few years after the eventual institution’s foundation, at times blending the yellowing of pages in with her color scheme “to defy time, the true first subject of the book,” per editor Jean-Christophe Menu. The result is a hugely well-regarded work of memoir, albeit one that flatly rejects all expectations of autobio narrative formulae – instead, we get a series of extensive, time-broken vignettes, thematically linked by Goblet’s relationships with her father, her partner, and her daughter, with forays into pure visual sensation and deliberate fractures of the authorial point-of-view; Goblet neither narrates nor appears on-panel for the last twenty of these 160 pages, instead contemplating the effect of her absence. Both demanding and approachable; very much worth a look. Introduction by Menu, afterword by co-writer/fellow character Guy Marc Hinant (who gleefully prods at the fictive nature of autobiography), translation by Sophie Yanow with Goblet, and original English lettering by the artist herself; $24.95.

Black History In Its Own Words: And here is a new book from Ronald Wimberly, of the much-liked Shakespearean rearrangement Prince of Cats. I believe this is his first bookshelf-ready original since then, an 88-page, 8.3″ x 8.3″ hardcover color collection of illustrations created around quotes by black artists and historical figures. Image continues to handle Wimberly various print works; $16.99.

PLUS!

NewsPrints: Your overall print-format debut of the week, however — in terms of young artists, in terms of baseline visibility — would have to be this 208-page color release from the YA specialists at Scholastic and artist Ru Xu, a webcomics creator who has been working on the concept since her student days at SCAD. It’s about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to deliver the last truth-telling newspaper around, with some SF elements broiling around as well. Looks to be in the adventuresome mold of Bone and Amulet and other popular works with the publisher. Preview; $12.99 ($24.99 in hardcover).

Scotland Yardie: Being an import item from Knockabout, the long-lived UK publisher with an ‘underground’ slant. I am not familiar with the works of writer Bobby Joseph, but he has been active in comics since the early 1990s through magazines like Skank and Black Eye, which married the raucous humor of Viz to the unique perspective of contributors from Britain’s Caribbean community. Indeed, this culture-clash comedy — concerning a Jamaican cop recruited by the Metropolitan Police to offset massive institutional racism, to farcical results — originated in the pages of Skank, though I believe all of these 104 pages are new. The artist is Joseph Samuels, a longtime collaborator; $14.95.

Magical Character Rabbit: I am similarly unfamiliar with Kinoko Evans, an Oregon-based teacher and illustrator who’s posted a good number of comics to the Study Group website. Among them is this, a very cute story about spells and friendship and hanging around, now available in a 48-page print edition distributed by Alternative Comics; $5.95.

A Land Called Tarot: You may recall a number of wordless stories running in the Image anthology Island from the French-born artist Gael Bertrand, pressing some rather old-fashioned manga-like character designs through heavily-detailed environments inspired by the tarot. This 112-page hardcover presumably collects those stories, although the solicitation is a bit cagey as to what’s actually included; $19.99.

Demon Vol. 2 (of 4) (&) Blubber #4: Continuing affronts from very prolific artists. Demon is the blood-drenched SF action/suspense plot machine from Jason Shiga, now reaching the midpoint of its manga-sized third incarnation (following Risograph self-printed chapbooks and webcomic postings) courtesy of the usually more all-ages prone First Second. Four volumes is probably the ideal length for something like this. Blubber is the current whatever-I-want-to-do showcase for Gilbert Hernandez, usually with a special emphasis on gross sex, remorseless violence, and weird creatures. Fantagraphics publishes at 24 big pages; $19.99 (Demon), $3.99 (Blubber).

Moby Dick (&) Whispers in the Walls: Two more Eurocomics selections, both in perhaps a more familiar mold than the book up top. Moby Dick is a 2014 release from artist Christophe Chabouté, rendering the Herman Melville novel in harsh b&w across 256 pages. Dark Horse publishes the English edition as an 8″ x 11″ hardcover. Whispers in the Walls is a Humanoids release of a series they’ve published in English before, a 2007-11 horror series from writer David Muñoz (a filmmaker and Guillermo Del Toro collaborator on The Devil’s Backbone) and artist Tirso Cons (colored by Javi Montes). Now a 180-page, 8.5″ x 11.1″ hardcover; $24.99 (Moby Dick), $29.95 (Walls).

Poorcraft Vol. 2: Wish You Were Here: I mentioned the first volume of this Iron Circus guide to living high and lean last week, so hell – why not the second? Artist Diana Nock returns, now joined by writer Ryan Estrada for 136 pages of tips on thrifty travel across the globe; $10.00.

Thrill-Power Overload Redux: 2000 AD – The First Forty Years: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week is actually an expansion – in 2007, former 2000 AD editor David Bishop released the original Thrill-Power Overload, a breezy and accessible history of the magazine (the account of a well-positioned insider, mind) that nonetheless didn’t shy away from the various difficulties and controversies accrued over what was then a three-decade history. Now it’s ten years later, and Rebellion publishes the same title at 400 pages (opposed to 260), adding a co-writer (one Karl Stock) and presumably covering many of the ensuing events. Some nice descriptions of marginal and short-lived serials in the earlier edition, I’ve found it very useful; $45.00.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2817-astonished-at-my-doctrine/feed/ 0
Kaboom http://www.tcj.com/kaboom/ http://www.tcj.com/kaboom/#respond Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98421 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here as usual with his guide to the Week in Comics! Spotlight picks this week include new books by Dominique Goblet and Ronald Wimberly.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. J. Hoberman writes about the cartoons of Gerhard Richter.

Before the blurry “photo paintings”—large images based on family snapshots or magazine ads—that would establish his preeminence, Gerhard Richter experimented with another form of Pop: cartoon drawings.

Shortly after the Berlin Wall went up and the painter defected, or as he would say “relocated,” from Dresden to the West, Richter drew a series of images featuring a single protagonist going through an abstract landscape. Recently discovered in a 1962 notebook, these have been published by his archives in a facsimile edition titled Comic Strip—a sparely beautiful book-object that, like Krazy Kat or Little Orphan Annie, has a central character or rather an expressive motif.

At Atlas Obscura, Lauren Young writes about the 19th century cartoonist Marie Duval.

In the late 1800s, London was swept up in the new craze of visual, satirical journalism. When Judy magazine, a twopenny serio-comic, debuted a red-nosed, lanky schemer named Ally Sloper who represented the poor working class of 19th-century England, it was one of the first recurring characters in comic history.

But credit for that character has long gone to the wrong person. Two people were responsible for Ally Sloper—and one of the creators has only recently been rediscovered by academics and comic fans.

New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress writes about maintaining sanity as an artist in the Trump era.

My own mental health has definitely taken a hit. From late last summer through early December, I drew a topical cartoon (the Daily Cartoon) five days a week for newyorker.com. I was forced to stay extremely well-informed in order to make jokes about the very stuff that was turning my head into a dark, scary place, and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. (It’s my habit to read or watch news during meals.) At night, I lay in bed, sleepless for hours, replaying the day’s events.

For The New Republic, Josephine Livingstone writes about a New York exhibition of the comics of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Best of all, perhaps, this exhibition lets the viewer see out of the eyes of one of Crumb’s women. The Crumb woman, maybe. Crumb’s comics are, to be frank, kind of sexist. He has also at times used racist imagery in his comics, to satirical but nonetheless unpleasant effect. The goddesses he manufactures are powerful but they’re not human. They’re iron buttocks, straining shirts. But Kominsky-Crumb is a person, and she draws through the experience of being desired by and desiring Robert Crumb. In this sense, the show is engaging and delightful but also, in a mutual kind of way, redemptive.

Bob Heer writes about some samples of the work of Dan Spiegle.

Frank Santoro is launching a video series of comics commentary:

Frank's Comics Corner #1 from Frank Santoro on Vimeo.

—Interviews & Profiles. Rivka Galchen profiles Mo Willems.

Last September, when I first met Willems, I had my three-year-old daughter with me. Willems, who is forty-eight, was wearing orange combat boots, black jeans, a black button-up shirt, and a dark floral blazer. He appeared to be about seven feet tall (though emotionless measurement says he is six feet two). My daughter has memorized much of Willems’s œuvre, an achievement that doesn’t greatly distinguish her from her peers. When Willems waved at her, she began to cry. “I understand,” he said. “It’s a big disappointment. The first of many.”

To promote the above-mentioned show, Paul Laster interviews Crumb and Kominsky-Crumb for Time Out New York.

When did you start working together?
RC: In 1972 we were living in the sticks. She had a little trailer and I lived in a cabin next door. She was laid up with a broken foot and was pissed at me because this other girlfriend had come to see me. So to placate her I said ,“Let’s draw a comic together.”

What was the reaction when you starting publishing them?
AKC: I’ve memorized some of the reader responses: “Maybe she’s a good lay, but keep her off the fucking page” and “Let her do the cooking; you do the cartooning.” It was a real boys’ club.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Joey Alison Sanders.

The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Karl Stevens.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/kaboom/feed/ 0
Turn on this Screen http://www.tcj.com/turn-on-this-screen/ http://www.tcj.com/turn-on-this-screen/#respond Mon, 06 Feb 2017 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98447 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, the great Bob Levin delves into the history and legalities around Mike Diana’s career

Diana liked The Three Stooges.  He liked Tales from the Crypt, “old, bloody, gory, religious art,” and the underground comics of S. Clay Wilson, Greg Irons, Rory Hayes. He had few friends. His only pet was a tarantula, to which he fed lizards and crickets. When it died, he cried for days. His father had taken over a fruit and vegetable store, which sold beer and cigarettes, cheap. Diana worked the register, drinking himself to better engage the customers.

He received “A”s in art and failed or barely passed everything else.  Creating art, he felt, gave him the chance to be who he was meant to be.  As part of this art, he made videos featuring himself as a slasher film-like killer.  His mask was a money bag, which he had found in a dumpster and cut eye holes into.  The “blood” he splattered came from corn syrup and food dye.  Once he performed, masked, wearing all black, at a “night happening,” while a duo played electric guitar and bass.  On his belt was an 18-inch dildo, which penetrated a baby doll, from which he had removed the stuffing, and whose head he had filled with heavy cream, which spurted from the eyes and mouth at each dildo thrust.

The crowd was “indifferent.” And his car was towed, costing him $300.

Diana created his first comic at 13.  The cover depicted an eyeball dangling from a skull.  On the second, a creature munched on a baby’s skull. In 1988, with a friend, he created his first zine, meaninglessly entitled HVUYIM.  In 1989, he launched Angelfuck. Then came Boiled Angel.

It ran from 30 to 86 black-and-white pages, duplicated it on the photocopying machine of the high school at which he was a janitor. He wanted Angel “as shocking as possible.” He wanted it “more extreme” than the UG cartoonists he admired. When #6 was found in the possession of a fellow busted for marijuana in San Francisco, the police sent it to law enforcement authorities in Florida, and Diana was asked to give a DNA sample to prove himself not the person who had killed five college coeds in Gainesville.

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/turn-on-this-screen/feed/ 0
Something of Value http://www.tcj.com/something-of-value/ http://www.tcj.com/something-of-value/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98243 Continue reading ]]> On March 26, 1994, after four days of trial and a deliberation of forty, ninety, or 120 minutes, depending on what you read, a St. Petersburg, Florida, jury of three men and three women, each older than the defendant by at least a decade, declared Mike Diana to be the first American cartoonist officially guilty of obscenity.

The judge, an ex-naval officer, ex-prosecutor, and Rotarian, ordered Diana jailed. Diana’s girlfriend, Suzy Smith, wept.[1]  Diana’s lawyer asked for his jewelry so it would not be stolen by his guards.  Diana spent four days in maximum security while the judge pondered his sentence.  The noise was unrelenting.  The lights were on constantly.  His cell had a metal bed with one blanket.  Sleep was impossible.  His company included murderers and rapists.

Because of pictures he had drawn. 

When Diana returned before him, the judge asked what he had learned.

“I learned I don’t want to be in jail.”

“Is that all?”

“I learned what I did was wrong.” Diana didn’t believe that.  But he sensed the judge wanted more than his previous answer.

The prosecutor demanded that Diana be imprisoned for three years, arguing, falsely, that he had made thousands from his art because the trial had made him famous.                   

The judge placed Diana on three years’ probation.  He fined him $3000, which he was to pay in $100 monthly installments, and ordered him to perform eight hours of public service for 156 consecutive weeks while working full-time.  He was to be psychiatrically evaluated and have up to ten months’ therapy at his own cost.  He was to submit to urine, breath, or blood tests upon demand.  (This requirement was stricken on appeal.)  His residence could be searched at any time without a warrant.  He was ordered to complete a course in journalistic ethics.  He was forbidden contact with anyone under 18.  He could not possess or create – even for his own pleasure – drawings that were “obscene.”[2]

Following his sentencing, Diana, his mother, and Smith went to a seafood restaurant.  The tablecloths were sheets of white paper, and crayons were available for children to draw upon them.  Diana drew fish defecating, then added breasts and penises to them. At his first meeting with his probation officer, he asked if he should give the police a key to his apartment or let them kick in his door?  His P.O.’s attitude seemed, “Let’s just get through it as smoothly as possible.” Still, Diana kept his art in his car’s trunk and worked on it only at night.

                                                                             I

Michael Christopher Diana had been born in New York City, June 9, 1969.  At the time of his trial, he was five-foot-two and fit from running, calisthenics, and weightlifting.  He had light brown, shoulder-length hair, which he had refused to cut despite his lawyer’s recommendation, because he felt it important to his identity as an artist.

His father taught junior high school science.  He gave his son animal skulls and tapeworms preserved in formaldehyde and entertained him by attaching electrodes to a frog and making its legs jump.  Diana’s mother kept house.  He had a younger brother, now married with two children, and a younger sister, who, upon graduating high school, joined the Marines.

The children were raised Catholic, in Geneva, a city of 15,000 on Seneca Lake.  (Scott LaFaro[3] was born there.)  In nursery school and kindergarten, Diana wet himself during naps.  He was tested and hospitalized and prescribed pills. Surgery on his urinary tract was considered.

Once, assigned to draw his family, Diana portrayed them nude, with genitals.  Once, when his class collected material on the beach for art projects, he brought back a dead fish.  By 2nd grade, his interest in art was so strong, his mother enrolled him in an after-school program. 

When Diana was in fourth grade, his family moved to Largo, Florida, a city of 50,000.  (D’Quell Jackson [4] was born there.)  Diana hated the heat.  He hated church.  (He attended mass and Bible  class until he was 15.) He hated the conformity and culture of a community, primarily elderly and retired, with lawn statues of  flamingos.[5] He hated the schools, where teachers  disciplined students with paddles.  When he was 12, his parents divorced, and he stayed with his father.

Diana liked the Three Stooges.  He liked Tales from the Crypt, “old, bloody, gory, religious art,” and the underground comics of S. Clay Wilson, Greg Irons, Rory Hayes. He had few friends. His only pet was a tarantula, to which he fed lizards and crickets. When it died, he cried for days. His father had taken over a fruit and vegetable store, which sold beer and cigarettes, cheap. Diana worked the register, drinking himself to better engage the customers.

He received A’s in art and failed or barely passed everything else.  Creating art, he felt, gave him the chance to be who he was meant to be.  As part of this art, he made videos featuring himself as a slasher film-like killer.  His mask was a money bag, which he had found in a dumpster and cut eye holes into.  The “blood” he splattered came from corn syrup and food dye.  Once he performed, masked, wearing all black, at a “night happening,” while a duo played electric guitar and bass.  On his belt was an 18-inch dildo, which penetrated a baby doll, from which he had removed the stuffing, and whose head he had filled with heavy cream, which spurted from the eyes and mouth at each dildo thrust.

The crowd was “indifferent.” And his car was towed, costing him $300.

Diana created his first comic at 13.  The cover depicted an eyeball dangling from a skull.  On the second, a creature munched on a baby’s skull. In 1988, with a friend, he created his first zine, meaninglessly entitled HVUYIM.  In 1989, he launched Angelfuck. Then came Boiled Angel.

It ran from 30 to 86 black-and-white pages, and was duplicated on the photocopying machine of the high school at which he was a janitor. He wanted Angel to be “as shocking as possible.” He wanted it to be “more extreme” than the UG cartoonists he admired. When #6 was found in the possession of a fellow busted for marijuana in San Francisco, the police sent it to law enforcement authorities in Florida, and Diana was asked to give a DNA sample to prove himself not the person who had killed five college coeds in Gainesville.

Angel’s circulation never exceeded 300.  Its only sale inside Pinellas County, where St.  Petersburg was located, was to an undercover police officer who wrote Diana claiming to be a fan.  (“Far fucking out,” he called it.  “Tasty.”) Diana sent him issues #7 and #8 (aka “Ate”).

The cover of  #7 depicted a child with one leg amputated and one eye gouged out.  Issue #8 displayed four naked women clutching a decapitated man. Inside, knives and dollar sign-decorated crosses penetrated people’s bodies.  A penis entered a beheaded neck’s stump.  A severed head fellated a cross-wearing monster.  A huge penis entered a child so tiny that it exploded. A chalice cup is labeled “AIDS-infected Blood of Christ.”

Fourteen months after mailing #8 to the undercover officer, Diana was arrested.

Once courts decided that the First Amendment did not mean “no law” when it said “no law”and that some expressions were too sexually dangerous – or “obscene” – to be  disseminated, issuers of these expressions became subject to criminal prosecution. Phrases defining limits were planted like stakes in the ground, and beyond them “speech” could not go. As time passed, courts moved these stakes and expanded this ground, and the public became able  to read Ulysses and watch Carnal Knowledge.  But markers remained.

In 1994, in Florida, a work was obscene if an average person, applying contemporary community standards, found it lacked serous artistic, literary, political, or scientific value, while appealing to prurient interests by depicting patently offensive sexual conduct.  This definition  said nothing about “disgusting” or “sick,” but it is difficult to believe that the jurors who convicted Diana did not feel these thumbs pressing heavily on justice’s scales.

On appeal, Diana’s attorneys argued lack of notice, entrapment, prosecutorial misconduct, that “community” should have been defined to encompass the entire state, and that a jury judging a work four years after its creation could not apply “contemporary” standards to it. I doubt any of these arguments gained traction with the appellate court. I think the guts of the case were “prurient interests,” “patently offensive,” and “serious.” And as with the jury,  I suspect the calculated vileness of the work overwhelmed the court’s sensitivity to jurisprudence.[6] 

Not that it would have had difficulty upholding the verdict.

Take “prurience.” Anyone who has seen the opening credits of Masters of Sex knows proving that is easy.  Mushrooms and champagne bottles, railroad tunnels and crevices in geological formations can appear sexually suggestive.[7] While most people would seem more likely to snap Boiled Angel shut and abandon its vicinity than hunker down beside it with lubricant and tissue, once the state had Sidney Merin, PhD, a neuropsychologist known in local legal circles as “Sid the Squid” for his ability to cloud waters, testify that Angel’s depiction of “pain, mutilation and torture” would sexually arouse members of a “bizarrely unstable” deviant group, that hurdle was cleared.

And “patently offensive” was no barrier either.  Remember the old joke? “Well, Mr.  Jones,” the psychiatrist says, “the test results show you prone to bestiality.”  “What’s ‘bestiality’?” says Jones.  “Intercourse with sheep, cows, pigs, chickens…” “Chickens!  UGH!” says Jones.  If chickens can freak out Jones, what chance did exploding babies have with six average Floridians? No, once “obscene” words and pictures warrant time in the slammer, you can forget “prurience” and “offensive.” You better have “serious value” going for you.

Diana spent much of his five hours on the stand, trying to convey the worth of his work.  He cited the influence on him of Salvador Dalí and Diane Arbus.  He itemized the hours he put into each book.  He explained that the nightly news’s reporting of serial killers and pedophiles, “each channel battling for the bloodiest stories,” had left him feeling people had become numb to murder and sexual abuse and wishing to shatter their indifference.  (His approach, it strikes me, was similar to Pop Artists like Andy Warhol, whose soup cans and Elvises were said to document America’s consumer culture and celebrity worship.  Only Diana was making it confront its lust for blood and perversion.)

But his testimony alone would not do.

In any case where attorneys fear how jurors’ pre-existing inclinations will define the phrases that are key to their verdict, they will provide  “experts” to influence the jurors in the direction the attorneys desire. And since in a country as diverse as ours it is hard to find an issue about which experts will not disagree, jurors of almost any inclination will have an credentialed peg on which to hang it.[8]

During the second half of the 20th century, “obscenity” experts regularly trooped into court rooms to debate the existence of “value.” They included nationally known literary critics (Malcolm Cowley, Alfred Kazin), poets (John Hollander), novelists (Leon Uris), academics (Harry Levin, Mark Schorer), book review editors (Barbara Epstein, Eliot Fremont-Smith), newspaper columnists (Nat Hentoff, Dorothy Kilgallen), as well as eminent priests, ministers, rabbis, sociologists, and a co-author of the Kinsey Report.[9]  

Diana’s prosecutor cleverly cut against this grain.  Both his hardly-household-name experts  came from the Presbyterian Church-affiliated Eckerd College, located in St.  Pete.[10] One, James Crane (Art) testified that magazines “aren’t usually considered as art” since they were often thrown out.[11]  (He also said that, he considered Diana’s work inferior to Prince Valiant and Peanuts.[12]) He conceded Angel might compare to “shock” art, like that of the Dadaists, but noted that once this had shock worn off, their work “didn’t last”; and work must endure in order to be art.[13]                                             

Crane’s colleague, Victor Sterling Watson (Literature) testified that, for a creative work to have value, it must make “sense,”[14] must offer a creator’s “interpretation” of experience, not simply reflect it,[15] and must be “life-affirming… I mean, does it give certain values such as courage, fidelity, beauty, honor, love, friendship, community?” Boiled Angel, he felt, lacked “any context of interpretation.” Nor did it contain an “affirmation of anything that I would consider a positive value…”[16]

A basic rule of obscenity defense, as promulgated by Charles Rembar, who successfully represented Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Fanny Hill, and Tropic of Cancer, is: The less defensible the work, the more “impressive” its defenders must be.  (They might not register with jurors as much as a couple fellows from the local Presbyterian college, but they could disincline appellate judges from linking themselves with the Philistines in bound volumes on law library shelves for future generations to scoff at.)  No disrespect intended, but Diana’s experts did not meet this standard.

One, Seth Friedman, published the San Francisco-based Factsheet Five, a magazine devoted to—and little-known outside of—the world of ‘zines.  The other, Peter Kuper, a cartoonist from New York City, edited the leftist anthology World War 3 Illustrated, whose circulation never exceeded 3000.  Moreover, neither emphasized Boiled Angel’s value as much as they argued that it wasn’t about sex but “victimization.” But it didn’t matter what Angel was about, so long as it prurient appealed to one of Dr.  Merin’s deviants. That could only be offset by social contribution.

Friedman’s and Kuper’s lack of renown and misdirected focus were not their only problems.  Their cities of origin allowed the prosecutor to inflame his closing argument by charging the jurors to protect Pinellas County from what might be “acceptable in the bath houses of San Francisco… (or) crack alleys in New York.” That was a cheap shot, but it made me wonder why the defense hadn’t had a Floridian, past or present, testify.  Had they approached, for instance, Dave Barry, Judy Blume, Edna Buchanan, Michael Connelly, Harry Crews, Carl Hiassen, Duane Hansen, Peter Matthiessen, Tom McGuane, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Joy Williams?  Had they all declined?  Was their price too high?[17]

It also did not help that, at the time of Diana’s trial, the killer of those coeds, Danny (“The Gainesville Ripper”) Rolling was in the news, awaiting sentencing.  This encouraged the prosecutor to call Boiled Angel “the sort of stuff that stirred up… somebody like Danny Rolling…. Step number one [is]… the drawings.  [Then]… you’re into the pictures… [Then] you’re into the movies… [Then] you’re creating these scenes in reality.” In other words, he was arguing that drawing comix was the first step in a march to the turning the imagined scenes into actuality, so that Diana had to be stopped now before he began snuffing women, children, and babies.[18]

After three months, Diana’s lawyers had his probation stayed, pending the outcome of his appeal.  In June 1996, without telling anyone but his parents, Diana moved to New York City.  The day he arrived, his conviction was upheld. 

New York refused to oversee Diana’s probation.  So once a month he reported by phone to Florida. Once a month he mailed his $100.  He completed a journalistic ethics course at NYU.  He delivered food to HIV patients as his community service.  And for the next two years and nine months of his probationary period, he remained forbidden to be in the presence of a 17-year-364-day-old or, I suppose, draw a murderously deployed penis.

                                                                           III.

It will surprise no one who has read my views on transgressive art[19] that I found Diana’s prosecution to have been stupid, cruel, and a waste of taxpayer money.  I am aware of no evidence that any kind of art causes people to act criminally, and even if there was, I do not believe the rest of us should be denied access to material simply because it might detonate our most marginal neighbor.  And I think it beneficial for people to see what words-and/or-pictures disturb them, so they can search themselves to see why that is

To me, Diana’s prosecution seems more like bullying than justice.  He was a single guy, without corporate backing, publishing a barely read comic.  His drawings were crude and off-putting, not seducing or rousing one to action.  His stories were hardly commanding enough to seize control of one’s unconscious. He did not, in detailed prose, describe the nailing to the floor and dismemberment of a woman, like Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho. He did not salaciously link sexuality and automobile accidents – “the erotic delirium,” the semen spilled,  and pubes lacerated – like J.G. Ballard in Crash.[20]  Diana’s aesthetic seems like The Three Stooges Meet Freddy, or Rory Hayes guest-artists Little Orphan Annie, the oddity of the juxtaposition making one chuckle, if ruefully, at the carnage, the continually building how-can-he-top-this bank of outrages fascinating like a playing card tower.  It does not, I say without hesitation, make one think, “Gee, that sounds good.  Where’s my chainsaw?” and head for the local preschool.  Diana was a lone weirdo (in the best sense), a zine-making guy seeking footing in the world, not an author of lit-ra-choor, anchored to important friends in important places.  He was an easy target to beat on.

If the State of Florida was engaged in something beyond a sadistic exercise in PR, a good faith effort, say, in deterrence or rehabilitation, I have some seat-of-my-pants-researched  news for it. In 2012, to accompany a European tour of Diana’s art, Divus published a two-volume slipcased compilation of his work, America.  One volume, Live (400 pp.), was entirely black and white and the other, Die, (128 pp.)  mostly color.  By my calculation, Diana would have been on probation from approximately March 28 through June 28, 1994, and from June 8, 1997, through March 8, 2000. These compilations only give the year of completion of each work,  so I have confined my study to 1998 and 1999.

Live has nine works from this period. In them, a child stabs to death his parents and three siblings, machine guns hundreds of school children, and kills himself.  A teenager blows up a school with 3427 students and teenagers inside and urinates on their graves. Aliens invade Florida and behead and eviscerate naked citizens.  A naked woodsman ejaculates while felling a phallus-resembling tree.  A fellow fearing he has been invaded by insects slices off his own nipple. A skull drips semen after sex with a giant cock.

When Diana’s probation officer would remind him that he could violate his probation by drawing, he would reassure her, “Of course, I’m not drawing.”

But of course he was. 

                                                                            IV

Becoming America’s most shocking cartoonist is a bit like becoming its fastest runner, except that instead of pushing one’s body, one pushes one’s mind.  Both feats test courage and commitment.  To both, upbringing and obsession contribute.

Diana had to identify where our society’s nerves were rawest and squeeze that spot until his knuckles whitened, despite its shouts and screams. This act set him apart at the same time it elevated him. While his prosecution gave him name-above-the-title power in some circles, it also cost him.  People feared that if they asked for his art, it would make their doors a target for the jackboots. So while the tag “Only Cartoonist Ever Convicted…” may ring Diana’s neck like Olympic gold, a Wheaties box was never in his future.

Mike Diana in 2015, via Divus.

At present Diana shares a three-room apartment with two other artists in what had been a party house for Argentine skateboarders in the Fort Washington section of Manhattan.  He scrapes by, supporting himself primarily through his art. His website sells his drawings, paintings, comix, t-shirts, patches.  He contributes work to others’ comix and zines.  He designs the occasional album cover.  He has graphic novels in progress. Manhattan’s galleries elude him, but he has exhibited at them in London, Prague, and Berlin – and at squats in abandoned factories in France. He will have a joint show in Paris with Stu Mead, an American ex-pat painter of sexually explicit works, often involving juveniles.  A documentary about Diana’s trial, to which he is contributing animated clips, is being made by Frank (“The Godfather of Gore”) Henenlotter and Mike Hunchback, the punk guitarist/song-writer.

While writing this article, I had one phone interview with Mike Diana and several email exchanges with him.  At the end, I asked him, “Was it worth it?  If you had it to do over again, would you?”

“Since I was little,” he said, “I wanted to draw things I liked… I wanted to share my drawings with others. When I was in Florida, in my teenage years, I wanted to make shocking art.  The oppression is so heavy there, it makes you want to rebel.  The religious folks there cause this to happen.  I wanted to offend those that needed to be offended, and Largo, where I was living, is overrun with those kinds of people. I never had a feeling that I did anything wrong, I was just using my freedom of speech.  It’s not my fault nobody else in that part of the United States wanted to exercise this freedom.  Yes, I would do it again and again.”

I mentioned that, at artwhore.com, he had advised others to “Draw as sick as you can.” Why, I put to him.  Who or what was being served?

“I was trying to say, if you want to make art that is risqué or that most [people] don’t like or feel is unsavory, just do it, Draw what you want.  Don’t let the bastards that are always grumpy get you down, discouraging you from what you create.  It is important to the artist and this free society we live in.”

I thought about that.

It was, of course, by no means certain that permitting Mike Diana to keep drawing children being fucked to death would have led him to personal growth, or to work that museums would hang, or which would lift civilization further from the mud. It did seem, though, that his continued application of ink to paper had not resulted in any of the state-warned-against conduct on his part or, as far as I knew, triggered anyone else’s felonies.

Mike Diana, 1997

Beyond that, I only found myself thinking thoughts I had already thought and writing words I had previously written. (It was so wearyingly discouraging to think that in the late 20th century we had not progressed beyond the nonsense of State v. Diana. Of course, we are now well into the 21st and look at the megalomaniacal, malicious death cap we have elected president.)

So, seeking freshness, I asked a few people whose work and opinions I respect what they thought about Diana.  Here are their responses.

One thing I hated about the way Mike Diana gets processed by most people is that his comics are awful, that they are beyond-the-pale offensive, and that we defend him anyway because of principle.

I think all this is wrong.

I think Mike’s comics are funny.  I think they’re pretty clearly “white trash shenanigans” stuff more than comics exploring the real terrors of the soul, like Simmons or Columbia do, and I think a lot of his comics art is attractive. –Tom Spurgeon.  Editor of The Comics Reporter

I was inspired (by) his surrealist visuals… (and) unfurled psychedelic id.  Simpler minds may only want to feel appalled by the vileness of his subjects but there is great, eye-popping beauty to his images… He has an innate sense of layout and optical play.  His imagination and attention to absurdity are more commanding of my attention than any institutional artist. -Jon F.  Allen.  Writer, cartoonist and co-editor of Pop Wasteland.

                                                                                  

I see interesting parallels in Mike Diana’s case with the start of the first Gulf War.  Police action against him started the same time [as] the cycle of war and violence conducted by [the] American elite.  And you take draconian measures against the guy who never did any actual harm to anyone and who was only drawing comics and you don’t have any call for legal responsibility for people who were involved in premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people at the same time.  And you have official psychiatric evaluation of “criminal” Mike Diana who was only in charge of his own comics zine but you don’t have any psychiatric evaluation of Madeleine Albright for an example who was in charge of heavily armed superpower… Mike Diana was the victim of the same school of thinking which finds suspect and guilt everywhere but never in themselves.[21] – Wostock.  Filmmaker and cartoonist

One of these people, J.T. Dockery, author/artist of Despair, responded at such length and in such depth that I felt he deserved stand-alone recognition. So here’s…

                             Satan, Mike Diana, At Least One or Two Other Things & Me:

                                                                                          An Appendix by J.T. Dockery

With Mike Diana’s work, I can feel the imagery moving along ley lines of artists before him who charted geography in lands that made the squares twitch and recoil but also sparked an audience–however limited– alternately hungry for subversion and wills to be weird such as: Rory Hayes, S. Clay Wilson, Joe Coleman, along with a soundtrack of lyrics by The Misfits and artist Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag album covers, I can observe Diana surfing the waves of punk and heavy metal, its subcultural imagery.

It’s not for nothing that the same Florida that begat Diana’s comics also begat the death-metal genre of bands like Obituary, Deicide, and Morbid Angel–with their reveling in blasphemy, Satanism, and at least one or two other things–concurrent with the late ’80s/early ’90s/Diana’s pressure cooker of Boiled Angel that got him in such community-standard-hot-water in the “Sunshine State.” I’m aware that the court would not allow any evidence of context or tradition, so no entering into evidence any previous underground comix, etc. to establish a heritage for the kind of “folk art” that cuts the guts right out of the American apple pie. I would argue that tradition–and Diana’s place in it–is one of the nobler emanations of American arts and letters/(sub)culture.

I also can’t imagine his work being made and distributed outside the context of the ’80s/’90s zine scene, with Factsheet Five serving as central hub for distribution of weirdo print matter traveling across state lines before the rise of the internet, giving Diana an underground/alternative audience outside of his immediate community. And I can’t imagine his prosecutors having any sense of the zine scene, punk rock, heavy metal, or underground comix (even in their own backyards), actively dismissing any context as nothing but degeneracy. (What did one of the Florida prosecutors say about New York crack alleys and San Francisco bathhouses again?)

I would say Diana’s work is evidence that he’s processing the hypocrisy of avowed American normalcy and, furthermore, if he was capable of doing any “actions” delineated in his work, he WOULD NOT be MAKING that work. It’s the repressed and those who fear the shadows full of their own darkness who are the real scary beasts, crouching low and breathing heavy, preying on society/individuals; the old fallacy of failed thinking that if someone makes transgressive art, he or she is, it follows, either capable of performing transgressive acts and/or inspiring the transgressive acts depicted. (Not to mention the reactionary fear that comes from observing an artist drawing the spears that poke the sacred cows of the status quo/decency/the current community standards of any given neighborhood conservative Christian church). It reminds me of the scenario of the elected conservative politician who endorses the most foul homophobic legislation, harping on enforcing his morality crusade, who often seems to be the most likely to end up caught with his pants down engaged in illicit acts with other men. I find myself thinking also of serial killer John Gacy. (Did he ever paint BEFORE he was in prison?) Certainly one can almost regard his strange paintings as the result of an incarcerated killer who is restrained from the option of further murder, with killer coming first, artist second by a wide margin. If Gacy had it within himself to put his murderous impulses into paint, he wouldn’t be a killer. Speaking of Joe Coleman, he’s often said that if not for discovering the outlet/s of art, he thinks he would have become a killer and/or some kind of criminal.

But maybe talking to/about Mike Diana right now is perfect timing, when, somehow, a “reality television” celebrity/smoke-and-mirror-millionaire has been elected (is that vomit I taste in my mouth?) to the highest office of the land. Whether he’s getting caught on a hot mic endorsing sexual assault or generally spouting fragmented ill-formed hate speech, Donald Trump seems like a Diana character to me. Which is to say, a vile/violent walking, talking caricature of himself (either not self-aware, or so deeply cynical that he IS aware, that he’s playing a character for an intended audience). And yet he was recently tossing around, on the bathroom stall of Twitter, that threadbare notion (what year is this again?) of prosecuting citizens for burning the American flag. Which reveals, at best an ignorance and at worst a denial, of what the law of the land protects as freedom of speech.

I think of William S. Burroughs’s “Roosevelt After the Inauguration”. Burroughs had the experience of being prosecuted on charges of obscenity–and it seems to me that casting Trump in the Roosevelt role and adapting/updating Burroughs into a comic, as delineated by Mike Diana, would be–as I imagine the result in my mind’s eye–a perfect summation of the current situation. (I’m not exactly sure why Donald Dump can’t be deemed legally obscene, ha/ugh.)

Of course, invoking Burroughs as positive to the negative example of Gacy, one could argue, subverts my analogy – being that, indeed, Burroughs did accidentally – as the official story goes – shoot and kill his wife. Unlike Gacy though, Burroughs was not a serial killer, and  himself viewed the act, however unintentional, to be the central motivating fact of his career as a scribe, and the corpus of his work as something of an atonement, or rectifying/attempt at redemption for having been an instrument in the bodily death of Joan Vollmer. No matter where one lands on the Burroughs question, I’d venture to say there is no meaning/understanding/criticism of art without including context (and then there’s the issue of not separating the artist from the art, which is to say: seeing value in failed/flawed human beings capable of producing interesting work despite their inherent flaws, as transcendence of flaws and failures, not because of the same).

What’s interesting to me is that 1. Diana was legally prohibited from making art, period (not merely a judgement of specific works in print, but a judgement/censure of any future works) and 2. what that fact means to an artist, how it changes him. On the back end of that, I’m aware that the actions of the prosecuting authorities in Florida ultimately negated their own goals, meaning that as the events were happening other artists and writers and institutions stepped forward to make statements in his defense – (it’s difficult to imagine Neil Gaiman discussing Mike Diana’s work if not for the situation of his prosecution) – and generally making an obscure artist more well-known by the very processes of censuring/censoring him.)

Like anything else, if one can’t take one’s faith being satirized, or one’s country/its leaders being satirized, then what occurs to me is that it is more pudding-proof that one’s religion/government – and humorless faith in such institutions/individuals within those institutions – can’t,  in actuality, BE all that powerful. Not if any reaction to any skewing of the supposed power of faith/government in the form/s of art/the arts is perceived as an attack, a threat, which must be eliminated. As I would say of a government so afraid of its own citizens that it spies on them, that’s playing from a weak position.

 There seems to be a moral/lesson in this story for those in power willing to pursue censorship, for the short term silencing/derailing of careers of artists. History reveals that censoring artists/their works seems to never accomplish much more than making the artist/their works censored/censured more famous and studied than if the authorities had just let them work/satirize/poke the sacred cows in the warm amniotic fluid/peace of freedom of expression.

I think of William Tyndale, put to death in England for illegally translating biblical scripture into the English language, and yet, within a generation, his work was put into the language of the King James translation, the official version, sanctioned by the throne which killed him, ultimately making him as important an architect of the language as William Shakespeare. The Tyndale name is not well known outside of the circles of biblical scholars, yet every time we say a word such as “atonement” or utter a phrase such as “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” that’s all Tyndale/14th century words and phrases from his translation. And they strangled/burned him for his efforts.

That’s a major-league digression. But, hell, Diana is more like Tyndale than his church-going, painfully middlebrow, corn-pone persecutors. At least we don’t torture or kill our artists, writers, philosophers, scientists, etc. simply for doing what they do, and exploring ideas/expressions that run contrary to the status quo and legally protect their freedom of speech. I mean, at least…for now.


Endnotes:

[1].Smith (aka “Suzy Morbid”) had been drawn to support Diana because she had been fired from her job as the hostess of a public access cable TV show after showing a tape of the singer GG Allen urinating and defecating on stage.  She found Diana “nice,” “shy,” “lonely,” and “depressed.”  “He needed somebody,” she concluded.       

[2].Since, arguably, nothing is “obscene” until a judge or jury rules it so, and since the jury had not identified what part of Diana’s work it found criminal, this placed a burden on Diana’s judgment.  It would have also seemed counter-productive to those who believe that if one is possessed by inner demons, which some in the courtroom seemingly believed Diana to be, it lessens the chance of their acting anti-socially if they can release through art the pressure these demons generate.

[3]. Look him up.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. . Largo  recently made national news when its City Commission voted 5-2 to remove its City Manager because she was transitioning from male-to-female.

[6].The only part of the court record I was able to review was Diana’s opening appeal brief, so my understanding of the case may be incomplete.  But since this brief is likely to have recited the facts in the light most favorable to Diana, and since my analysis will focus on his defense’s shortcomings, what I have to say may not be terribly undercut.

[7]. If Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree is to be believed, some men may even find watermelons sexually irresistible.  And at least one serial rapist/murderer is said to have been inspired by Cecil B.  DeMille’s Ten Commandments.  See: Murphy. “The Value of Pornography.” 10 Wayne L.Rev.  668 (1966). 

[8]. Speaking of “experts,” journalists ring them in too when purposes require, and, coincidentally, I have just heard from the always-fascinating Ruth Delhi, PhD, who has been on a lengthy, silent meditation in the mountains of Peru, but read the first part of this article and passed along a hand-written note, via a touring charango player. “What an unusual child!” she said of Diana. “And his parents were amazing. They recognized his interests and encouraged them. They didn’t confuse their son’s playfulness and imagination with pathology, even though his behavior was extreme, but accepted it, removing its negativity, and helped him function.”

[9]. Even cartoonists were not unworthy of such defenders. When the owner of an Oakland gallery was prosecuted in 1970 for displaying the art of UG comix Snatch and Cunt, the Founding Director of the UC Berkeley Art Museum testified on his behalf.

[10].U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it 127th out of 180 liberal arts college in the country.

[11]. So much for newspaper comic strips, comic books, political broadsheets and pamphlets, rock show posters.

[12]. S.  Clay Wilson was not discussed.

[13].This assessment would startle Yale University, which recently celebrated Dada’s centennial with a five-month long exhibition.

[14]. One might cite Pablo Picasso to the contrary: “The world doesn’t make sense.  So why should I paint pictures that do.”

[15]. Or one might cite Andy Warhol’s films, William Burroughs’s tapes, or Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to the contrary.

[16]. Watson was not asked about the “courage, fidelity, beauty, etc.” within, say, Louis Ferdinand Celine or Nathanael West, Otto Dix or George Grosz.

[17]. Diana’s attorneys had intended to call a third expert, Shane Bugbee.  After Diana had been charged, Bugbeen had reprinted Boiled Angel #7-8, published a new comic by him, Superfly (a bat-winged skull devours a corpse on the cover), and arranged a gallery show of his work in Chicago.  But Bugbee’s nom de publication was “Mike Hunt” (get it?), and since this was how he was identified on the defense’s witness list, his testimony was excluded due to his identity not having been properly disclosed.

            Not that he would have solved the impressiveness problem, I daresay.

[18]. According to Diana, the alternate (non-voting) juror told him he had been done in by “the serial killer slant.”

[19]. If you haven’t, I refer you to my essay collection, Outlaws, Rebels, Pirates, Free-Thinkers, & Pornographers, Fantagraphics.  2005. 

[20]. I did not watch “slasher” films, so I can’t pull comparisons from them.  I’m sure there are many.

[21]. Wostock’s dating of the war and identity of the Secretary of State responsible are off, but his point is well-taken.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/something-of-value/feed/ 6
Webcomics Binge Read: Homestuck Part 2 http://www.tcj.com/webcomics-binge-read-homestuck-part-2/ http://www.tcj.com/webcomics-binge-read-homestuck-part-2/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98270 Homestuck. Continue reading ]]> Mea culpa. I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, it’s been too long since Part 1 of my binge-read through Andrew Hussie’s juggernaut webcomic-cum-multimedia-phenomenon Homestuck.  My early cockiness was ill-founded. This is a long-ass webcomic that demands enormous dedication, which may explain why it attracts hardcore fans: cosplayers, shippers, epic fanfic authors and fanartists, and probably otherkin. There have to be people who believe they’re literally Homestuck characters, right? I’m disappointed with the Internet if this isn’t a thing.

This installment covers Act Five, which is at least as long as Acts One-Four put together and is in turn dwarfed by the even more massive Act Six. This is Zeno’s Webcomic: I’ve reached the halfway point several times now, only to find just as long a stretch still looming before me.  It defies Aristotelian logic, but so do most webcomics.

Let us continue the ascent:

 

ACT FIVE, PART ONE

Sometimes characters die, and I don’t know if I should feel sad or if it’s part of an alternate future, or a dream, or if they have extra lives, or what. I’m not sure what emotions to be having, is all.

 

Another wall-of-text plot recap, which is good because I’ve lost the thread again.      

Actual paragraph: “Harley was locked onto by the frog temple’s equipment. DD activated the device, and produced a paradox clone of Harley combined with the controversial MEOW code to create puppy Bec. The spectacle terrified AR?, leaving a major impression on him. He would recognize Bec’s silhouette carved on WV’s pumpkin years later. The pumpkin commanded his fear, and caused him to surrender.” Shit, this makes less sense than manga.

——

The question mark after the “AR” in the above is the shorthand Hussie uses to indicate we’re dealing with the character in a different time period. I don’t remember if this was ever explained, or if I had to learn it off a wiki. That’s how you get diseases.

 

Act Five gives us the backstory of the trolls, who, we learn, destroyed their planet playing Sburb. “Their adventures are going to be quite extensive and convoluted,” says the narration, “to an even greater degree than one perhaps may be accustomed.” Don’t even joke about that, Homestuck.

 

Trolls have demonic versions of human pop culture, and Troll Will Smith got his start on The Thresh Prince of Bel Air. That’s pretty good.

 

Troll computers are made from beehives and run on beenary code. It probably doesn’t speak well of me that what I enjoy most in Homestuck are the puns.

——

The introduction of the trolls deliberately mirrors the introduction of the human protagonists back at the very beginning, except that there are twelve trolls so it will be three times as long. Also all their interests are weird slimy evil versions of human interests, like jousting.

 

When Homestuck was serializing, it went through several major hiatuses. Hiati? Presumably fans pounced on each long-awaited installment and read all the new character chatlogs, no matter how long, instead of chuckling at a couple of lines before impatiently scrolling down as I’m doing now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to read 700 words of alien trolls dissing each other in L33Tspeak. That such a frame exists is faintly shocking.

 

The trolls are developing into fun characters; it feels like Hussie is rewriting the early chapters of Homestuck to incorporate everything he’s learned about characterization and storytelling since then. That said, the fact that there are twelve of them, all similar-looking due to the limitations of the simple sprite art, makes their adventures hard to follow even when the comic isn’t being deliberately obtuse.

——

In an essay for the manga Kingyo Used Books, manga store owner Hiroshi Hashimoto speculated that the massive success of Sailor Moon was due to its large central cast.      

“Up until then,” he wrote, “it was customary to have no more than five main characters in an action manga, as seen in the Super Sentai series Goranger. By increasing that number to ten, (Naoko) Takeuchi gave every reader at least one character with whom to closely identify.” Homestuck is building on the same strategy. Between four humans, twelve trolls, and miscellaneous side characters, you’ve got to identify with somebody.

 

I was the English-language editor for Kingyo Used Books, in case you’re wondering how anyone remembers the bonus essays in an out-of-print manga about book collecting.

 

The trolls have intense friendships and frenmities. I can see why this fandom gets into industrial-grade shipping.

 

Hussie must be chafing at the limitations of always drawing his characters as super-deformed sprite figures, like Link in The Legend of Zelda.       From time to time he now draws them lanky and adult-proportioned, like Link in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I just learned from the Internet that I’m the only person who liked that game.

 

Oh my god, the trolls are so shippy they even ship each other. In fan comics. That they draw themselves.

 

Now there’s a chart to explain the cultural and evolutionary theories behind troll shipping.

 

There’s a lot of engaging character writing and relationship drama, but I’m having so much trouble keeping twelve friggin’ trolls straight. Which is the one who allied himself with Jack Noir? Who ate the mind honey? Which ones are dead right now? I can consistently recognize the two aquatic ones, the catgirl, and the one in the wheelchair with the Peter Pan fixation, and then I start getting confused. And this comic is walking on thin ice by introducing a catgirl.

 

I spent several pages trying to figure out which troll I was looking at this time before realizing it was supposed to be cartoon Andrew Hussie in a troll costume. Dammit, Homestuck.

 

Cartoon Hussie is leveling dark threats: “I could snap my gray smudgy fingers RIGHT NOW, and make you read all the troll romance exposition segments all over again, BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK.” This is terrorism.

 

The Land of Little Cubes and Tea is my favorite land name.

 

We haven’t had a big animated cutscene in a while, and now we get an epic one, full of battles and badassery.      

Unfortunately, I’ve lost the plot thread again and have no idea why anyone is doing anything.

 

ACT FIVE, PART TWO

Exposition! We learn that our universe was created by the trolls during their playthrough of Sburb. They were supposed to rule like gods, but luckily they screwed up in some unclear way, probably while they were all bickering and cutting each others’ arms off. Stupid pissy trolls.

 

Hey, the human kids are back! And they all took a level up in badass!      
Everybody has variant outfits like Star Wars action figures.

 

The comic suddenly remembers that John used to be followed around by a sprite in the shape of his grandma’s ghost.      

Now she’s back after about ten thousand pages.

 

Hussie is switching up the art like a madman. In addition to the two previously established modes, characters sometimes appear in semi-realistic hand-drawn art, and as tiny super-pixilated figures in the style of the original Final Fantasy.      

There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes you get trying of drawing a way, I guess.

 

I’m flying past a lot of material here because there isn’t much going on, story-wise. The humans and trolls stop being deliberately obnoxious to each other and start getting real, which means now they spend most of their time either making maddeningly oblique comments or kinda sorta flirting. OMG the shipping.

 

Jade calls the trolls on their distracting l33tspeek: “sorry but could you please not use all those stupid parentheses????? i can hardly read what you type and its giving me a migraine.” Even though her texting style is only marginally more tolerable, she speaks for me.

 

This is the kind of comic where characters react to being killed by posting this emoticon: XC

 

XC: The emoticon of being sad that you died.

 

Jade is kind of the greatest character, if only because of the decreasing patience she has for her universe and fellow characters and all the other bullshit of Homestuck.

 

It’s unfortunate that Hussie chose Bill Cosby as one of the ironic celebrity images to copy and paste into the comic, Bloom County-style, over and over. But in 2010, who knew that was going to be an issue?

 

Holy shit, am I still in 2010?

 

Aw, there’s a minigame where you walk John around a salamander village while a soundtrack that sounds like a Donkey Kong Country water level plays. It’s soothing.

 

Update: Some people have died, sort of.      

It’s treated as tragic even though everybody has various types of backup lives, which mitigates the impact significantly in my mind.

 

After all this time, I still haven’t been able to work up much interest in the post-apocalyptic characters and their queen and the whole parallel adventure they have going on.       When the action switches to them I tend to space out, and as a result I have even less idea what’s going on with them than with the other two casts of characters.

 

There are a lot of characters, is what I’m saying.

 

Now the trolls are going crazy and spree-murdering each other, and it’s very exciting but I’m not sure why it’s happening. I’d go on a murder spree if I was stuck in an asteroid having endless IRC conversations with these characters, so it makes sense to me on an emotional level, but I missed the story reason.

 

I really like the old-timey phonograph soundtrack embedded in one installment, especially the peppy song “I’m a Member of the Midnight Crew.”

 

On the other hand, while I was clicking through one of the convoluted multi-stage battle scenes, my husband happened to turn on 1960s Batman fight music, which worked even better.

 

If you can figure out the passwords, you have the option of diverting from the main storyline at several points to see how things work out in alternate timelines. I did this once or twice and now I can’t remember what the status quo is in any version of Homestuck reality, so I’ve kind of given up on that.

 

I’m going through a series of pages with multiple clickable embedded images, each leading to a different set of characters so we can see what everyone is up to right now. Or in the past. Or the future. Or the afterlife, or alternate universes. Or screw this story, let’s go learn about some troll ancestors from the distant past and their heretical religion that hasn’t been mentioned before but is possibly important, or not. It’s like Homestuck itself no longer exists and I’m just getting piles of overly invested Homestuck fanfiction.

 

Big animated sequence, like ten minutes long. The kids scratch a giant record to alter reality. Some of the characters get resurrected to godhood, which mostly means wearing a hoodie and being able to fly. Fights happen. Noir kills a bunch of dudes. Everybody gets to be drawn as lanky anime-style characters with heretofore unseen detail. END OF ACT FIVE.

 

(Hussie is getting really good at this type of limited animation, BTW.)

 

Holy crap, is it really the end of Act Fice? This may not be clear because I’ve been skipping over a lot, but Act Five is roughly three billion pages long and I’ve been reading it since the dawn of time.      
I can no longer remember an existence in which I was not reading Homestuck.

Onward to Act Six…

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/webcomics-binge-read-homestuck-part-2/feed/ 1
It Still Knows How to Pound http://www.tcj.com/it-still-knows-how-to-pound/ http://www.tcj.com/it-still-knows-how-to-pound/#respond Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98398 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, webcomics columnist Shaenon Garrity returns with the long-awaited second part of her Homestruck binge-read.

Mea culpa. I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, it’s been too long since Part 1 of my binge-read through Andrew Hussie’s juggernaut webcomic-cum-multimedia-phenomenon Homestuck.  My early cockiness was ill-founded. This is a long-ass webcomic that demands enormous dedication, which may explain why it attracts hardcore fans: cosplayers, shippers, epic fanfic authors and fanartists, and probably otherkin. There have to be people who believe they’re literally Homestuck characters, right? I’m disappointed with the Internet if this isn’t a thing.

This installment covers Act Five, which is at least as long as Acts One-Four put together and is in turn dwarfed by the even more massive Act Six. This is Zeno’s Webcomic: I’ve reached the halfway point several times now, only to find just as long a stretch still looming before me.  It defies Aristotelian logic, but so do most webcomics.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Interviews & Profiles.
For the Irish Times, Una Mullally profiles Ralph Steadman.

One day in 1970 Ralph Steadman was out on a boat, covering the America’s Cup yacht race and feeling seasick. The illustrator’s companion on the waters off Rhode Island was the journalist Hunter S Thompson.

“Hunter was popping pills the whole time, and he was perfectly all right. I’d never had anything before. I said, ‘What are those things you keep eating?’ He said, ‘Well, they’re pills, Ralph.’ ‘What sort of pills?’ ‘Well, they’re psilocybin.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘It just helps me through the day.’ ‘Would it be any good for seasickness?’ I said.

“This is where the phrase ‘Pay the ticket, take the ride’ comes from, because I took one. And, God, I’d never done drugs before or since. I don’t like them. I like wine, but not until seven o’clock at night. It’s all right as long as you know when to stop, like everything. The unfortunate thing with drugs is that once it’s in you it’s in you. Ain’t much you can do about it.”

For Rookie, Rachel Davies talks to Vanessa Davis.

I have this fine art background, and I’ve been inspired by a lot of design things. I love pattern making and beautiful images. When I was a younger artist, I wanted to master that. Before I wanted to be a cartoonist I wanted to be a textile designer, or a painter, or I wanted to be one of those people who mastered the way things looked. I figured I could because I was good at drawing, and I loved things that looked good. But I found that when I’m drawing comics, I’m working through a story. That’s something I fought against in my artwork for a long time because I didn’t realize I could combine those things. I didn’t realize I could combine my natural conversational storytelling, autobiographical instincts–which are probably stronger in me than my aesthetic ones. When I tried to be a designer or I tried to do beautiful things, just as beautiful things, they would fall short. They wouldn’t really do it, that isn’t where my skills lie. A lot of the stuff that you’ve seen that hasn’t been in books are things where I’m trying to work things out, [whether it’s] jokes, images, or how I draw. When I’m in the zone, I’m drawing from life, and I’m expressing a story. All the rest of the time I’m just grasping.

At the same site, Minna Gilligan talks to Hellen Jo.

As a medium, I adore comics because you, the artist and writer, are the master of the story, and because you have an intimate relationship with the reader. Comics are also so full of possibility—in terms of art, in terms of story—precisely because so much is up to you. There are no real rules, and if you are a DIY zinester, there are no bosses or editors or directors. You determine the outcome of your work. I also love that comics and zines are cheap and accessible, to both readers and creators. You want to make a zine? Sit down, draw it, print it out and staple it, and bam: You’re a cartoonist. The zine and comics communities are full of people who understand these facts, and it’s wonderful to meet and commiserate with other people who understand that holing yourself up in a dark room hunched over a desk like a dirty beast troll throughout the day and nighttime is a worthwhile and sometimes important pursuit.

—Misc. At the Paris Review, Joe Ollmann has posted the third and final installment of his comic explaining how he created his latest book.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/it-still-knows-how-to-pound/feed/ 0
http://www.tcj.com/98400-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98400-2/#respond Thu, 02 Feb 2017 13:10:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98400 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Robert Kirby reviews the recent Spanish comics anthology Spanish Fever:

The talent roster in Spanish Fever ranges from well-known pros like Miguel Gallardo and Max, to newer artists like Ana Galvañ and Clara-Tanit Arqué. There’s a wide variety of narrative and visual styles, ranging from traditional underground comix to the ubiquitous European “big nose” style to work that would look at home in an American minicomic. In subject matter, the stories range from autobiographical, political, and quotidian to surreal and just flat-out weird. It’s an eclectic stew that comes together agreeably, making a good case for the vibrancy of the Spanish comics scene, though a few weaknesses keep it from being a truly top-notch compendium.

In his introduction, Eddie Campbell notes that the new Spanish comics all share the importance of authorial voice, i.e., that they feature characters that are pure expressions of the authors, beholden to no meddling publishers or corporations. Garcia’s forward to the collection extrapolates on this theme, offering a mini-history of Spain’s comics leading to its current artistic renaissance amid the country’s current economic crisis.

Elsewhere:

Lauren Weinstein’s wonderful strip, Normel Person, has a new installment — one of her best.

NPR reviews Mr. Seabrook. 

Daniel Clowes is having a rare solo show in Paris. Here’s the artwork on view. I love seeing Dan’s preliminaries, as nerdy as that is.

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/98400-2/feed/ 0
Spanish Fever http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spanish-fever/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spanish-fever/#respond Thu, 02 Feb 2017 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97320 Continue reading ]]> In 2011, Fantagraphics published editor Matthias Wievel’s Kolor Klimax, a very good anthology that introduced American audiences to Nordic comics artists. In that same vein, the company now offers up Spanish Fever, a Whitman’s Sampler of (you guessed it) Spanish comics edited by Santiago Garcia, with an introduction by Eddie Campbell.

The talent roster in Spanish Fever ranges from well-known pros like Miguel Gallardo and Max, to newer artists like Ana Galvañ and Clara-Tanit Arqué. There’s a wide variety of narrative and visual styles, ranging from traditional underground comix to the ubiquitous European “big nose” style to work that would look at home in an American minicomic. In subject matter, the stories range from autobiographical, political, and quotidian to surreal and just flat-out weird. It’s an eclectic stew that comes together agreeably, making a good case for the vibrancy of the Spanish comics scene, though a few weaknesses keep it from being a truly top-notch compendium.

In his introduction, Eddie Campbell notes that the new Spanish comics all share the importance of authorial voice, i.e., that they feature characters that are pure expressions of the authors, beholden to no meddling publishers or corporations. Garcia’s forward to the collection extrapolates on this theme, offering a mini-history of Spain’s comics leading to its current artistic renaissance amid the country’s current economic crisis.

Spanish Fever kicks off with Juano Sáez’s two-page “Adult Comics: The Graphic Novel”, which acts as the book’s manifesto. In this simply drawn prelude, Sáez speaks collectively of the artists featured, declaring, “We’ve read comics forever. We grew up and didn’t leave them behind […] And now we make the comics we want to read. Adult comics because we’re adults.” Apropos of that, we then segue into a collaboration between writer Antonio Altarriba and artist Kim called “The House of the Rising Sun”, a lushly illustrated, mildly erotic story of an innocent nubile who runs afoul of a love ‘em and leave ‘em cad, and ends up pregnant. In contrast to much of the rest of the book’s kaleidoscopic range of visuals, Kim’s artwork for this piece is rather traditional and realistic.

Some of the best pieces left me wanting more. Rayco Pulido’s “Great Grandparents” delivers a scant seven pages of what is apparently a series “dedicated to the imaginary Fundador family,” but Pulido’s scintillatingly geometric patterns and angular characters are a delight to the eye, and I would most definitely like to see more from this artist. A comic rendered with a similar sense of rhythmic, exacting linework is José Domingos’ “Number 2 Has Been Murdered”—also one of the funniest stories in the book. In it, a businessman reveals to his partners—comically, through charades—how another partner has met his demise. Domingo’s line is full of energy and I’m betting he had a lot of fun drawing this little confection.

Rayco Pulido

Meanwhile, on the political side of the spectrum, the best entry is Paco Roca’s “Chronicle of a Crisis Foretold”, which dissects the disastrous results of unregulated capitalist greed upon the economies of Spain and the EU. Like Darryl Cunningham’s fact-based 2014 graphic nonfiction book, The Age of Selfishness (Abrams, 2015), Roca’s piece successfully conveys outrage and issues a plea (likely futile) for the sensible management of future financial markets.

In the “weird” storytelling vein there’s “Melted” by Álvaro Ortiz, which sets up an intriguing Twilight Zone-style scenario of a man who steals the wallet of another man who has mysteriously met his demise by literally melting away in public “like a fucking pistachio ice cream cone!” The story boasts a mounting sense of unease: we wonder when or if, due to his thievery, the protagonist will meet the same fate as his inadvertent benefactor. But the narrative veers from its initial origins into a realm that seems to have little to do with what came before. Ortiz may have been trying to establish a metaphor about disintegration and regeneration, but the two halves of the story didn’t quite connect satisfyingly.

There are some good autobiographical pieces. They range from the charmingly Feifferesque line scrawlings of Fermín Solís, starring his “Little Martín” alter ego, to Miguel Gallardo’s “Christmas at Home,” a brief but moving meditation on family ties that endure despite the inevitable conflicts and tragedies of life. Meanwhile, in “Writers Never Score”, Ramón Boldú relates an amusing tale of trying to make time with a gorgeous model who posed for photographers at a “nudie mag” where he worked in the ’70s—the title telegraphs the reward for his efforts.

Two other standout entries are “Arrabiata” by Sergi Puyol and “Horse Meat” by Ana Galvañ. Puyol’s faux naive drawings remind me of Lille Carré’s, but Puyol demonstrates a much sparer narrative approach in this pleasingly ambiguous tale of a troubled man who never speaks, much to the consternation of his wife. Ana Galvañ’s story is a sort of existential satire of My Little Pony, featuring teen girl ponies navigating boys, girls, their relationships to one another, as well as drugs and subsequently, alternate realities. It’s a weird, whimsical brew that works. The former is printed in a three-color scheme on yellow paper and the latter features dark blue ink on pink paper; lending each of them the appealing look/feel of high-end risographed minicomics.

Sergi Puyol

Ana Galvañ

Another especially notable piece is “Let’s Move to the Country! You Said to Me” by Clara-Tanit Arqué, in which a young mother goes through her exhausting day caring for home and hearth, her young child, and her bed-ridden mother. The whimsy of Arque’s wonderful drawings is ironically counterbalanced by her protagonist’s underlying sense of desperation.

Clara-Tanit Arqué

The book has some shortcomings. Though the quality of art and writing remains generally solid throughout, with no outright stinkers and several excellent stories, Spanish Fever would have benefited from a couple of what critic Rob Clough calls “tentpole pieces”–generally longer, major works around which the rest of the collection is shaped (Kolor Klimax boasted stories such as Johan F. Krarup’s heartbreaking “Nostalgia”, which added some real gravitas to the collection). Most of the stories in Spanish Fever are quite brief and even some of the longer stories are mere trifles (however professionally rendered), giving the book a piecemeal feel (perhaps inevitable in a collection with more of a comprehensive rather than curatorial mission). And if Spanish Fever is meant to showcase the country’s diversity of independent comics creators, rather than having a specific theme, it falls particularly short in one area: with 28 contributors, the fact that only three are women is glaring. That each of these three female-created comics are excellent only accentuates this imbalance. Some outright LGBTQ representation would have been nice as well. For example, Nazario, who is based in Barcelona, has some beautiful work featured in Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics (Fantagraphics, 2012), and the artist’s bio in the book notes that he is “generally considered the godfather of Underground Comix.”

Despite these few misgivings, I find Spanish Fever an overall laudable effort to introduce North American readers to another world of comics creators from across the ocean. Given the current, alarming increase in xenophobia, isolation and bigotry here in the USA (and globally), here’s hoping that Fantagraphics continues publishing comics collections such as this–from Spain and other countries–that promote and celebrate comics as a shared, international language.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spanish-fever/feed/ 0
Renowned Creatures http://www.tcj.com/renowned-creatures/ http://www.tcj.com/renowned-creatures/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98346 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we have a preview excerpt from the upcoming US edition of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending is Lying, which includes a short afterword by the book’s original editor, Jean-Christophe Menu.



Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. At Forbes, Rob Salkowitz profiles Emil Ferris, creator of the upcoming My Favorite Thing About Monsters, which looks to be a major book.

“I spent the last 20 years or so being a single mom, raising my daughter in Chicago,” said Ferris when we spoke by phone. The daughter of free-spirited artistic parents, Ferris grew up telling stories and drawing in her notebooks, much as her young protagonist Karen does in the book.

Fourteen years ago, her life took an unexpected turn. “I was bit by a mosquito, and a few weeks later, woke up paralyzed from the waist down, unable to speak and had lost the use of my right hand.” Ferris had contracted West Nile virus, and her sudden disability derailed her career doing commercial art and industrial design.

She spent her days at the Art Institute of Chicago, determined to power through her disability using the power of art. “I became so invigorated that I began to heal,” she said. “I got some facility in right hand and started to draw more, first digitally and then with pen and paper.”

For LARB, Leah Mirakhor talks to Riad Sattouf.

Is it true that you decided to begin your memoir after the Syrian uprising?

Yes, exactly. Because I had to help a part of my family still living in Homs. They wanted to come to France and were denied visas. So I had to go to the French administration and meet with people, incredible people, and I wanted to show how stupid they could be. But to be interesting, I decided I should tell the story from the beginning.

So there was almost a practical reason?

Yes, exactly. And also, because I’ve made two movies. My first movie in France was a huge success — French Kissers. And after this movie, I made another movie, Jacky in the Kingdom of Women. It was a complete failure. And after that, I had no more friends. My phone was no longer ringing. [Laughs.] It was incredible. So I told myself, “Okay, I have no more friends, my life is over, maybe everything is over for me.” And I asked myself, “What would you do before dying?” And I said I would write this story about my family and my childhood, and I started to make this book. So thanks, Jacky! [Laughs.]

As part of Black History Month, Allstate Insurance has produced a short video biography of Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics in Philadelphia.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Sacha Mardou.

—News.
Adrian Tomine is offering a custom portrait to the person who offers the largest single donation to the ACLU by Friday. This follows similar offers by cartoonists such as Sarah Glidden, Emily Flake, Box Brown, Julia Wertz, and others. I believe those other offers were for last weekend only, but if anyone knows of similar charity drawing offers that are still available, please let me know via email or in the comments and we’ll pass them along.

After health issues and repeated brain surgeries, Bernie Wrightson and his wife has announced his retirement.

We have had to come to the sad conclusion that he is now effectively retired: he will produce no new art, and he is unable to attend conventions. Should this situation change I will happily announce it here.

He can still sign his name (in fact he was signing Kickstarter prints in the hospital!), and is otherwise pretty healthy and has good cognition. We expect to continue releasing signed prints, and offering occasional pieces of art for sale from the collection that remains. We both thank all of you for your continuing support and good wishes!

—Misc. At the Nib, Sarah Glidden has a comic about the vetting process for Syrian refugees.

In an interview about his reading habits at the New York Times, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks repeatedly about his love of comics, namechecking the Hernandez brothers, Alan Moore, Rumiko Takahashi, Osamu Tezuka, Adrian Tomine, and Gene Luen Yang, among others.

Comic books long ago predicted presidents like Donald Trump, in series like Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’s “Give Me Liberty.”

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/renowned-creatures/feed/ 0
Preview: Pretending Is Lying http://www.tcj.com/pretending-is-lying/ http://www.tcj.com/pretending-is-lying/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97587 Pretending Is Lying, along with a short afterword by its original editor, Jean-Christophe Menu. Continue reading ]]>

On February 7th, our friends at New York Review Comics are publishing Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet. We are pleased to present an excerpt from chapter 1. Following the pages is a text  by Jean-Christophe Menu about the book. 

goblet-1 goblet-2 goblet-3 goblet-4 goblet-5 goblet-6 goblet-7 goblet-8

 

TWELVE YEARS OF CORRECTIONS

The Goblette told me about the famous day: the drunk reunion with the “fireman,” the colored pencils that Nikita already had, “Bleeding,” the chest “from when I brought back from when I was with the pirates,” which collapsed, the Turbo injection … “Roger Out!” The whole thing, you know? The perfect scene to begin the necessary autobiography, and to attempt to arrive at, of course, the top floor.

It was 1995. The first pages of the first chapter were as impressive as they were pungent. Each time I saw them, there was oil paint modifying the pages. This troubled me a little, because I saw that black and white wouldn’t suffice for rendering such nuance.  Events transpired which resulted in the autobiography being put on hold on multiple occasions. There were other books, expositions, trips; the autobiography returned, left again, returned.

The method had changed: grey pencils now steadily rendered Brussels and Charleroi, but it was the same story from the pages of 1995, which, for their part, had continued to yellow. Reintegrating their sepia tone and their now-old style with the new-present was a way for Dom to defy time, the true first subject of the book, completed twelve years after it was started. This book smells of oil, grease pencil, humid wood, the disorder of the street market; it exhales twelve years of well-tempered promises, carefully untied and resolutely wrapped up. Pretending Is Lying breathes like no other book — Jean-Christophe Menu, editor of original L’Association edition

 

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/pretending-is-lying/feed/ 0
More Shmoos http://www.tcj.com/more-shmoos/ http://www.tcj.com/more-shmoos/#respond Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98340 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, it’s Joe McCulloch’s weekly update, featuring Gerald Jablonski.

And elsewhere:

Longtime cartoonist Dan Spiegle has passed away at the age of 96. He was the artist of innumerable Dell comic books and later Blackhawk and Crossfire.

The great Vanessa Davis is interviewed over at Paste.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/more-shmoos/feed/ 0
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (2/1/17 – A Comedy for the People of the World) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2117-a-comedy-for-the-people-of-the-world/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2117-a-comedy-for-the-people-of-the-world/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98355 Continue reading ]]>

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn: I can’t be sober about this; Gerald Jablonski’s are comics I’ve often treated like activism, physically putting them into people’s hands. He’s been around since the 1970s, but it was 2002’s Cryptic Wit #1 — a self-published item I bought via mail order from an ad in the Journal — which I count as one of the three crucial comics that challenged my preconceptions about the form. The first was Phoebe Gloeckner’s “Minnie’s 3rd Love”, from the 1994 anthology Twisted Sisters II; I read it as a teenager, and it challenged my preconceptions as to content, i.e. what was ‘allowable’ in a comic. The second was Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #4 (also 1994), the second “Quimby the Mouse” issue, which challenged my preconceptions as to form, which is to say how a comic should read. And then, years later, Cryptic Wit #1 challenged my preconceptions as to what was ‘good’ – because it was a comic that did absolutely everything wrong, though I found it unassailable.

I’m not going to stand here like a jackass and claim that Jablonski is sitting on a hidden vein of mass appeal; this is very particular stuff, even though the artist does exploit the most fundamental, populist stuff of comics: formulaic gag strips. Every page in the Cryptic Wit series is a self-contained story, consisting of maybe 28-30 panels, with each panel typically filled halfway with voluminous dialogue. There are only ever three types of stories: (1) the schematic adventures of Howdy and Dee Dee, an uncle and nephew comedy pair who somehow always drift onto the topic of Dee Dee’s teacher at school, who is an ant; (2) the Farmer Ned tales, in which the title character often spends an enormous amount of time winding you up as to the story he is planning to tell, only gradually yielding to fables about talking animals getting into trouble; (3) wordless, psychedelic barrages, depicting the eternal struggle between an angelic boy and a mutant counterpart, frequently to obscure ends.

The result is something extraordinarily bizarre – even more so for putting to use devices that are otherwise aggressively normal; it is impossible to read more than a few of these stories/pages in one sitting, and I recommend you treat them like scripture, as much for reflection as immediate edification. And yet, they are *incredibly* transfixing, often hugely funny comics, and this 9.5″ x 13.5″ Fantagraphics compilation promises to display Cryptic Wit at more engaging (or, readable) dimensions than ever before. A 100-page softcover, with an introduction by Jim Woodring and a new interview with the artist; $30.00.

Dissolving Classroom: Veering away from VIZ’s recent release of Junji Itō’s Tomie stories — works that date back to the very beginning of the horror manga icon’s career in the late 1980s — here we have Vertical with a translation of a much newer Itō release, hailing from 2013. As you might guess from the title, this finds the artist working more in the gross-out humor vein of his idol, the great Kazuo Umezu, though I’ve always found Itō to lack the rip-the-pages urgency of Umezu at his furious best; he’s a more studied, cerebral artist, gifted at concocting small and sneaky shockers. Like Tomie, this 178-page book collects short stories linked by the presence of supernatural characters; there’s some emphasis on social satire, like the tendency to remain polite amidst even the worst circumstances. Personally, I feel Itō’s latter-day emphasis on tones in place of hatching has robbed his art of a not-inconsiderable amount of its scary impact, but drawing a huge number of bodies melting into goop, as is his passion here, perhaps flatters that smoother textural approach; $12.95.

PLUS!

Little Tulip: Your Eurocomic of the week is another release from Dover, continuing to explore the sort of books that Catalan Communcations might have put out decades ago. This 2014 album (8.25″ x 11″, 96 pages) reunites writer Jerome Charyn and artist François Boucq — previously of The Magician’s Wife (1986) and Billy Budd, KGB (1990) — for an expansive-sounding story of tattoo art, life in the gulag, and murder on the streets of NYC in the 1970s. A very adept pair… Boucq in particular is the kind of full-bore craftsman who can credibly draw anything with weight and conviction; $14.95.

Lighthouse: Being the new translation of work by Spanish cartoonist Paco Roca, an artist “at the crest of a true-to-life wave in contemporary Spanish comics,” per Morten Harper, who profiled Roca for the Journal a few years back. This is an early work, from 2004, concerning a teen combatant in the Spanish Civil War holed up in the titular structure with an older man prone to spinning tales. A 6″ x 9″, 64-page hardcover from NBM, probably being advertised somewhere off to one side of this page right now. Preview; $15.99.

Poorcraft: Speaking of valuable information, this 168-page Iron Circus release from writer/publisher C. Spike Trotman and artist Diana Nock vows to aid you with “everything from finding a home to finding a hobby, dinner to debt relief, education to entertainment,” all on an extremely tight budget – certainly a skill set indie cartoonists build over the years, along with more and more of this country; $10.00.

Not Waving But Drawing: Another new Fantagraphics release, this time a deluxe softcover (10″ x 11″, 64-page) collection of sketchbook gag cartoons (“dark thoughts, lightly rendered” purrs the subtitle) by the noted illustrator John Cuneo. Full-frontal nudity on the cover, gang, you know he’s going for it; $25.00.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Brendan McCarthy: Not a Rebellion release or a North American repackaging of such, but one of IDW‘s irregular 9.25″ x 12″ hardcover tomes where they collect everything an artist has done on the long-running Judge Dredd SF/action strip without concern for storytelling flow – if an artist only drew three of eight chapters of a storyline, you get those three chapters only. Weighing in at 200 pages, this one is dedicated to Brendan McCarthy, whose work on the strip dates back to 1978, nearly its beginning; $49.99.

Lightrunner (&) Seekers Into the Mystery: Two more from Dover, this time delving into the publisher’s unofficial mission to disinter odd artifacts from the history of the American Direct Market. Lightrunner is a real obscurity, a 1983 space opera from writer Lamar Waldron and penciller Rod Whigham, the latter a well-traveled commercial comics artist (he now draws the Gil Thorpe newspaper strip) and assistant to Bob Burden, whose earliest Flaming Carrot stories I believe Waldron published in his capacity as an organizer of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair and an editor of its official magazine, Visions. Anyway, Lightrunner was first published as a book in 1983 by Starblaze Graphics, which is probably better known today (if at all) for the legal troubles it got into with various artists; now it is available again in a 128-page edition. Seekers Into the Mystery was a 1996-97 Vertigo series from writer J.M. Dematteis and a rotating crew of artists, among them Glenn L. Barr, Jon J. Muth, Michael Zulli and Jill Thompson. The plot looks to have something to do with astral projection, repressed memories of abuse, celestial beings – honestly, I’d completely forgotten it was ever published, but all 400 pages of it are now available again; $19.95 (Lightrunner), $34.95 (Mystery).

Chester 5000 Vol. 2: Isabelle And George (&) You Might Be an Artist If…: And here’s two from Top Shelf, operating under the IDW umbrella but still releasing books that feel very much like ‘Top Shelf’ works. Chester 5000 is the popular erotic webcomic SF romance series from Jess Fink, here coming off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign to put together a hardcover edition for a prequel storyline. You Might Be an Artist If… is a 144-page collection of comics by Lauren Purje about life in the ‘fine’ arts world, rendered in a very smooth-lined style a bit reminiscent of Megan Kelso; $14.95 (Chester), $19.99 (Artist).

America’s Best Comics – Artist’s Edition: Finally, we return to IDW proper and their popular line of gigantic original art reproductions, here organized not around a single vision, but a whole line of comics. Ironically, what unified the America’s Best Comics line (a subsidiary of Wildstorm, as acquired by DC) since its 1999 debut was the presence of writer Alan Moore, whose contributions can’t help but be downplayed a bit with so much emphasis on drawing. Expect a potpourri of stories by the many attractive artists retained for those titles, including full issues of Promethea (#10, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray) and Top Ten (#7, Gene Ha & Zander Cannon), along with short stories drawn by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Rick Veitch, Kevin Nowlan and Hilary Barta. A 12″ x 17″, 216-page production; $146.99 (or so).

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-2117-a-comedy-for-the-people-of-the-world/feed/ 8
Unless the Paper Sows the Seed http://www.tcj.com/unless-the-paper-sows-the-seed/ http://www.tcj.com/unless-the-paper-sows-the-seed/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98301 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, our minicomics columnist Rob Clough lists his favorite shortform comics of 2016.

The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang’s instructive slogan (“Mini-Comics: You Know ‘Em When You See ‘Em”) and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I’ve not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Miriam Libicki.

—Reviews & Commentary.
The New York Review of Books runs a lengthy excerpt from a Chris Ware essay on George Herriman and Michael Tisserand’s new biography of the artist.

Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem, unfolding over years and years. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip. Like the America it portrays, Herriman’s identity has been poised for a revision for many decades now. Michael Tisserand’s new biography Krazy does just that, clearing the shifting sands and shadows of Herriman’s ancestry, the discovery in the early 1970s of a birth certificate which described Herriman as “colored” sending up a flag among comics researchers and aficionados. Tisserand confirms what for years was hiding in plain sight in the tangled brush of Coconino County, Arizona, where Krazy Kat is supposedly set: Herriman, of mixed African-American ancestry, spent his entire adult life passing as white. He had been born in the African-American neighborhood of racially mixed, culturally polyglot 1880s New Orleans, but within a decade Herriman’s parents moved George and his three siblings to the small but growing town of Los Angeles to escape the increasing bigotry and racial animosity of postbellum Louisiana. The Herrimans melted into California life, and it was there that George, with brief professional spates in New York, would remain for the rest of his life.

—Misc. Hyperallergic has images of many of the pages and spreads from Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman’s Resist! anthology.

Inspired by recent political events, Bully has discontinued his currently running feature chronicling celebrity appearances in comics, and rebooted the year with a new series: defiance in comics.

—News. The New York Times announced that they will be discontinuing several of their bestseller lists, including the one dedicated to comics and graphic novels. Michael Cavna of the Washington Post (which doesn’t publish a comics bestseller list) writes about the decision and some of the reaction here. Abraham Riesman writes about the development for Vulture, getting quotes from Fantagraphics’s Eric Reynolds and Drawn & Quarterly publisher Peggy Burns — and bizarrely using a spread of 1970s Marvel covers as the story’s lead image.

Obviously the Times list provided a welcome marketing tool for smaller comics publishers, and in that sense, in which it becomes a bit harder to sell good comics, this is an indirect setback for the artform. But some online response from readers has seemed oddly personal and angry, as if the Times owes fans this validation. I think that anger is misplaced; the Times’ inept regular coverage of comics is far more offensive than the discontinuation of this list. (By the way, the open dirty secret of newspaper bestseller lists is that they aren’t exactly based on hard numbers. A great deal of what you could politely call “curation” goes on. So the list was never a reliable source of sales data in the first place.) The list’s cancellation is certainly not a positive development, but a sense of perspective is always useful.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/unless-the-paper-sows-the-seed/feed/ 1
The Best Short-Form Comics of 2016 http://www.tcj.com/the-best-short-form-comics-of-2016/ http://www.tcj.com/the-best-short-form-comics-of-2016/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97773 Continue reading ]]> The more I read, the less clear I am about the difference between mini-comics and other comics. Consider the output from Retrofit, for example: are these mini-comics, standard comics, or something else? How much does the length of a mini-comic impact this classification? I will use Kurt Wolfgang’s instructive slogan (“Mini-Comics: You Know ‘Em When You See ‘Em”) and present my top short-form comics of the year, be they self-published, published by someone else, or (in a few cases) appearing on the web. The usual caveats apply here, as I’ve not read a bunch of key short-form comics from 2016 yet (Ganges 5, the latest Uptight, King Cat 76, Frontier #12 and #13, , Your Black Friend, and minis from Simon Moreton, for example.)

1. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver. A perfect blend of autobio, semi-autobio played for comedic effect, and darkly humorous fiction from an artist making the leap from good to great.

2. The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy. A comic about the difficulty of adapting a novel light on action to the stage, with incredibly clever formal techniques and heartbreaking but humane story and character beats.

3. Our Mother, by Luke Howard. A series of comics metaphors about the experience of growing up with a mother with crippling depression and anxiety, mixing in equal parts despair, matter-of-factness and a pitch-black sense of humor.

4. The angriest saddest black girl in town, by Robyn Smith. Delicate and expressive pencils are used to subtle effect in this autobiographical howl against forces external (racism) and internal (anxiety) alike.

5. House of Women #3, by Sophie Goldstein. The conclusion of Goldstein’s sci-fi/religion story; its most dramatic sequences are staged with dazzling decorative qualities that often serve as a sort of visual Greek chorus in the way they provide information and judgment.

6. The Nincompoop #1, by Christoph Mueller. This is a hilarious and beautifully drawn collection of surreal autobio, fiction and existential stories by an emerging talent.

7. How To Make Comics, by Caitlin Skaalrud. A poetic, bleakly humorous and smartly written examination of the heartbreak and stress of creation and its context within the struggles of everyday life.

8. Frontier #11 (“BDSM”), by Eleanor Davis. The angular lines used in the character designs outline the sharpness of the nature of power in the context of relationships, as both an on-screen porn relationship and a real-life relationship feature BDSM not so much as a mere fetish, but more of a way of exploring power relationships.

9. Libby’s Dad, by Eleanor Davis. Davis uses a completely different visual approach with colored pencils in a story about another kind of power relationship and about how abuse in relationships filters down to children in unexpected and damaging ways.

10. This One Is Mine, by Laura Park. This is from Park’s Flickr account and it’s a sobering parody of the US Marine Corps’ famous Rifleman’s Creed, recontextualized to reflect her ongoing health struggles in a powerful but restrained manner, with her precise but wildly expressive line.

11. I Feel Weird #1, by Haleigh Buck. This rambling, expressively scrawled, and frequently hilarious & entertaining comic is Buck’s attempt to process a severe mental & emotional breakdown that led to a near-suicide attempt.

12. Jetty #4, by Rio Aubry Taylor. This story about a cyborg cursed to constantly change form features dense & intense linework as it acts as a metaphor for being trans and desperately seeking companionship and stability.

13. Pregs Again, by Lauren Weinstein. Featured in her Normel Person strip in the Village Voice, Weinstein both hilariously chides herself for getting pregnant again as well as other dumb decisions surrounding it while accepting the many ways it’s a gift in her inimitable, bluntly funny manner.

14. The Bridge, by Leslie Stein. From Stein’s Vice column, this is a typically gorgeous, autobiographical bit of self-reflection that goes to some very dark places and finds laughter there.

15. Silver Wire, by Jordan Shiveley. In the many darkly humorous comics I’ve included on this list, the story about a mouse trying to save his partner from self-annihilation drawn in a simple line is certainly the darkest.

16. Magic Whistle #3.2, by Sam Henderson. One of comics’ greatest humorists returns in full force with single-panel gags, extended shaggy dog stories and a variety of other humorists as this comic has become an excellent humor anthology.

17. Fool’s Errand, by Vanessa Davis. This is one of many excellent comics from Davis’ run in The Paris Review, and it takes a meandering path from time spent in Guatemala to the soul-crushing experience of managing an apartment building.

18. Hellbound Lifestyle, by Kaeleigh Forsythe & Alabaster Pizzo. Pizzo’s beautifully expressive and simple line is a perfect match for Forsythe’s amusingly self-deprecating journey through constant and sometimes manic self-reflection.

19. Pale, Sick and Magic, by Audra Stang. Stang’s loose and energetic line and sharp dialogue fuel this high school story of a bully and the bullied from the bully’s point of view a few years later, as she is unwittingly contacted from beyond the grave by a mutual acquaintance.

20. Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. This is part of Czap Books’ Ley Lines series, wherein Cockle ponders the relationship between creation and destruction, and how both war and time conspire against creating a cultural sense of continuity over time.

21. If Only Once, If Only For A Little While, by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. This is an exquisitely rendered and staged story about learning how to live in the real world and let go of the past by a cartoonist with total command over her line.

22. Malarkey, by November Garcia. These are funny, plainly-drawn accounts of the Filipina cartoonist’s daily life, adventures while drinking, and the frequently bizarre conversations she has with her mother.

23. Sex Fantasy #7, by Sophia Foster-Dimino. This is a heart-breaking, fascinating account of a relationship falling apart during a vacation to Hawai’i, rendered in her usual clear but cartoony style.

24. The Experts, by Sophie Franz. This is a vividly drawn horror-mystery story about a group of scientists isolated in an ocean facility. No explanations, no solutions, and no happy ending.

25. Wallpaper, by Whit Taylor. This mix of illustrated patterns and designs cleverly reflects the emotional states and events of the characters on each page.

26. Faded Frankenstein, by E.A. Bethea. Bethea’s scratchy, scrawled line is a perfect complement for her poetic and heartfelt prose about missing friends, fading memories, and the images of jobs past.

27. Zebidiah Part 3, by Asher Z. Craw. Part autobio story about embracing one’s identity as a trans person, and part magical realist adventure, the genius of the story is the way Craw wrapped both up together in telling the tale of Zebediah and Eula-Lee, who were pursued by the forces of evil into their modern-day incarnations as Asher and Lillie (Craw’s actual wife) Craw.

28. Paper Pencil Life #4, by Summer Pierre. This is a clearly written and cartooned collection of diary strips about life as an artist, a mother and sharp observer of the world around her.

29. Sorgin, by Amelia Onorato. This is an immaculately constructed and heartbreaking story about genocide and resistance, told with a humane and restrained touch.

30. Self, by Meghan Turbitt. This is a  warped, hilarious deconstruction of trashy women’s magazines reorganized around Tubitt’s own personal obsessions.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/the-best-short-form-comics-of-2016/feed/ 0
Mores the Worse http://www.tcj.com/mores-the-worse/ http://www.tcj.com/mores-the-worse/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2017 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98273 Continue reading ]]> Jack Mendelsohn, the cartoonist of the great and short-lived comic strip Jacky’s Diary, has passed away. Mendelsohn had a varied and well-traveled career. I’ve amended my Art Out of Time biography of him. It’s here. 

Growing up in Brooklyn, Mendelsohn’s ambition was always to be a cartoonist. His father, Irving, was Winsor McCay’s film agent, and the young Mendelsohn visited McCay numerous times. Mendelsohn also visited his favorite local cartoonist, Stan Mac Govern, and received an original Silly Milly comic strip for his trouble. A high school dropout and Navy enlistee, Mendelsohn began his comics career after World War II as a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, and a script writer for dozens of funny animal, humor, and fantasy comic books, including Felix the Cat. Later, he wrote for MAD Magazine and its sister humor comic Panic. A restless, energetic young man, Mendelsohn moved to Mexico in 1951 and stayed for the better part of the decade, hatching Jacky’s Diary there as well.

Jack is remembered by Mark Evanier here and there are Facebook remembrances here.

That’s it, folks. See you next week.

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/mores-the-worse/feed/ 0
Jack Mendelsohn, 1926-2017 http://www.tcj.com/jack-mendelsohn-1926-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/jack-mendelsohn-1926-2017/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98287 Continue reading ]]> Jack Mendelsohn passed on Wednesday from lung cancer. A cartoonist Zelig, Mendelsohn seems to have touched down at nearly every comics and animation hotspot in the second half of the twentieth century. But his greatest achievement was a quirky comic strip called Jacky’s Diary that ran from 1959 to 1961. The fictional drawn diary of “Jacky Mendelsohn, age 32 1/2,” the strip is told entirely in a faux-children’s prose and picture style, to brilliant effect.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Mendelsohn’s ambition was always to be a cartoonist. His father, Irving, was Winsor McCay’s film agent, and the young Mendelsohn visited McCay numerous times. Mendelsohn also visited his favorite local cartoonist, Stan Mac Govern, and received an original Silly Milly comic strip for his trouble. A high school dropout and Navy enlistee, Mendelsohn began his comics career after World War II as a freelance gag cartoonist for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, and a script writer for dozens of funny animal, humor, and fantasy comic books, including Felix the Cat. Later, he wrote for MAD Magazine and its sister humor comic Panic. A restless, energetic young man, Mendelsohn moved to Mexico in 1951 and stayed for the better part of the decade, hatching Jacky’s Diary there as well. Mendelsohn was—and still is—a writer by trade. In 1959 he knew he couldn’t sell a comic strip based on his limited abilities as a draftsman, so “I thought if I could do a comic strip as seen through the eyes of a child and drawn in that crude style, I could use my writing to do an ‘endaround,’ bypassing the skills I lacked as an artist.”

The humor in Jacky’s Diary depends on the dissonance between “young” Jacky’s perception and adult reality. Therefore, in Mendelsohn’s masterful comic book version of his strip (only one issue of which was produced), Jacky writes in “A Visit to the Circus” that “The reason lions raw so much is on a count of they feed them raw meat.” And, writing about a tightrope walker: “A man came out & walked on a clothes-line. He must of been real poor, on a count of he didn’t own any clothes. So he did it in his under-where.” The prose is closely observed and often very funny, right down to the comical misspellings and malapropisms. “I made the most use of every panel,” Mendelsohn said. “ I always saw every inch as precious—every inch had to be justified.” Jacky’s Diary was also clearly meant for adults. Mendelsohn noted that he “never at any time considered Jacky a children’s strip. On the contrary, I considered it very adult with the use of wordplay, puns, and satirical observations . . . I don’t think the average child would have fully appreciated what I was doing.” Mendelsohn’s lone solo comic book enabled him to expand his stories across multiple pages, allowing the writing and art to assume a leisurely pace, making this 1960 gem his finest moment.

Mendelsohn’s drawing, despite his supposed limitations, is very effective. He studied books of children’s art in order to channel the look and feel of the work. In a recent interview Mendelsohn described his drawing process as “like a zen state, I would follow the pencil wherever it moved. I made very few changes from the pencils.” It is funny and gracious work, lying somewhere between Henri Matisse and Jean Dubuffet, in its faux-naïvité and straightforward beauty. Mendelsohn’s characters are both expressive and iconic—his reduced graphic language makes them stand out even more, perfectly communicating with just a couple of circles and a line. It is also a surprisingly prescient style—its pared down, whimsical look is now shared by many contemporary underground cartoonists. Check out some originals over the Billy Ireland site and the strip itself at The Fabulous Fifties.

But despite a lot of promotion, a one-shot comic book version, and even two animated shorts, Jacky’s Diary was cancelled in 1961—A Sunday-only comic strip at its level of popularity was simply too expensive for the syndicate to continue. in 2014 the strip was collected in its entirety.

From there Mendelsohn moved into television, writing for Jay Ward’s studio, as well as for animated versions of Beetle Bailey and Krazy Kat, as well as Scooby Doo. In 1968 he was one of writers for the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. At the end of the decade Mendelsohn began writing for live-action television with Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and then became the head writer of Three’s Company and The Carol Burnett Show. In later years he found success once again in animation, as story editor for The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Jack Mendelsohn received the Writers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing in 2014. At the time of his passing he’d completed a new Jacky’s Diary book-length story, though I don’t know if publication had been confirmed. 

I met Jack Mendelsohn first via phone back in 2004 when I was researching Art Out of Time (from which the above it taken), in which I reprinted the wonderful Jacky’s Diary comic book, and then later near his Los Angeles home. He was, until then, a cartoonist’s favorite (Mark Newgarden turned me on to the work, as he did so many great comics), and was happy to be rediscovered. I found him to be a wonderful and engaging man, generous with his stories and praise, but as any reader of Jacky’s Diary would know, also a man touched by melancholy and loss. A great, sui generis talent is gone. 

Here’s a great 1965 cartoon from Paramount, which reunited Jack with Howie Post.

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/jack-mendelsohn-1926-2017/feed/ 3
How to Survive in the North http://www.tcj.com/reviews/how-to-survive-in-the-north/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/how-to-survive-in-the-north/#respond Thu, 26 Jan 2017 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97324 Continue reading ]]> In his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan née Zimmerman writes about visiting the New York Public Library as a recent émigré to that city. While there he receives a vision: “the full complexity of human nature … the godawful truth,” which becomes the “template behind everything I would write.” He says what he learned he locked away so he “could send a truck back for it later.” Of course it’s not what he finds that makes Dylan Dylan it’s what he does with it, the fiction he creates from fact.

Luke Healy must have hired the same moving company as Dylan for How to Survive in the North. Healy uses a similar technique of looking ahead while being informed by the past. Instead of a descent into the antebellum South, Healy heads north to Alaska with a stopover in the colder climes of Hanover, New Hampshire. Healy tells two true tales of arctic adventurers and another story, a made up one, about a morally indolent academic. Like the folksinger from Duluth by way of Hibbing, Healy pursues the complexity of human nature. Yes, yes, truth is and always will be stranger and more shocking and surprising than fiction, but fiction leavens (real) life, makes it livable. Recovering history requires a translator, a go-between to show how fact—especially the little known and under-reported kind—earns its distinction over fiction. It takes a Dylan-type like Healy, a storyteller, to remind us of our complexity and how the human capacity to inspire and endure runs counter to our need to destroy and to fuck up everyone and everything. It’s a wonder we survive at all.

In the hands of a lesser humanist than Healy such a Baedeker to how humans overcome stupidity, greed, and pride could come off as barrel-aged bile soaked in cynicism, or worse, given that it’s a retelling of historical events, as dry as dust. Dragging discarded historical tidbits into the light requires nimbleness and ruthlessness, too much of one or not enough of the other and either the point is lost or it drowns in detail. Healy’s stories work because he keeps his storytelling simple even though the subject is far from it. The simplest words, chord progressions, and images are often the most effective in conveying complex ideas. See Chuck Berry, Etta James, Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, or the paleo-cartoonists who drew on the cave walls of Lascaux. Sometimes all it takes to get the point across, or better, to make the audience feel something is a few well-placed notes or lines. How to Survive in the North is the harshest trip the Peanuts gang never took.

Healy deals in emotions. He understands the reader’s knowledge or interest in early twentieth century arctic exploration runs a distant second or third to developing characters and creating empathy. In the parlance of our times, ‘the feels.’ Healy is ‘feels’ all over. Which is where the writing and the cartooning conflict. With its slight lines, clean page and panel layouts, and uncluttered backgrounds, the preciousness of Healy’s art can overwhelm the story’s richness and what’s at stake—ragged emotion sacrificed for visual efficiency. Such a charge sounds like complaining to the chef with a mouthful of food. It is. It’s also wanting a mouth to look like more than a dash and an eye to not be confused with a dot. Healy has a style, a look, for you more academic types, a gestalt. And, yes, it works (to a degree). It’s too bad it’s all so dear. Unless that’s the point?

The first historical account Healy recalls focuses on an arctic expedition led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1913. To say Stefansson ‘led’ the expedition is a kindness Healy barely cops to, ‘financed’ and then ‘abandoned’ halfway in comes closer to the telling. The hero of the 1913 narrative is Captain Robert Bartlett a/k/a ‘The Ice Master,’ if, as Healy points out, you trust Newfoundlanders. As stolid and deep as the wilderness around him, Bartlett is what’s expected in a story about old-timey explorers and the insurmountable odds they face.

Counter to Bartlett’s alpha male is Ada Blackjack, the hero of the second historical narrative. A native Alaskan woman, Blackjack signs on as a seamstress to a 1921 expedition to claim, as the leader of the expedition tells her, “a little spit called Wrangel Island” for Canada. Blackjack plays POSSLQ in this all-male expedition which includes (spoiler) a member of Stefansson’s 1913 expedition and a perpetual grump, Lorne Knight.

Healy’s introductions to Bartlett and Blackjack show an economy in storytelling to match his drawing. Within a couple of pages and a handful of panels, Healy demonstrates how these characters will use opposing strategies to survive. Bartlett commands. Blackjack demurs. Neither strategy is better or worse. Survival results from endurance, and the method means nothing. Nature endures; humans, most of the time, do not. The arctic doesn’t care for theories, thoughts, or emotions, only practicalities. The survival of these characters depends on their natures, what they bring with them. What they pack. By setting his comic in a harsh climate, Healy plays with ideas of nature vs. nurture or determinism vs. free will, God or nothing. Blackjack plays timid, but that’s her nurture not her nature. When it comes to these historical figures, Healy sides with fate. The how these people survived or died was on them. The cold (nature) of the arctic brings out something in a person, sharpens them, but it can’t hone what isn’t there. Nature needs an edge in want of a good grinding.

If the nonfiction of How to Survive in the North is a harsh schoolmaster than its fiction is lunch, less rugged for sure, but in Healy’s estimation twice as cruel and more vicious by half. This third story takes place in 2013 and centers on sad sack academic, Sullivan Barnaby, a professor at Dartmouth College who’s in the midst of a pseudo-sabbatical due to an investigation into if he’s done something untoward with one of his students, Kevin. He has/is. To make matters worse only one of them is in love and it ain’t the Dartmouth frat boy. The stakes are always higher when pathetic is added to tragic.

Turns out a previous occupant of Sully’s Dartmouth office was one V. Stefansson (see above). Which sends Sully to the library (nerd!) to get in out of the cold and let the balm of research distract him from his troubles. Sully’s investigation provides a gloss that tethers the reader to the book’s overarching themes of reluctance, loneliness—especially in company of others—and self-destruction. It’s also a too convenient way to tie the real-world events of the other two narratives together. In a book that’s as sophisticated and rigorous as this, such a ham-handed technique sticks out like whatever is the opposite of a polar bear in a snowstorm. Unless … like the art, Healy hides his purpose in plain sight.

Sully is an alloy of modern ennui. Over-educated, overweight, and mentally and physically unable to connect with others in the meatspace of real life. He’s loathsome and loveable all at once. He lies to his friends, to himself, and he’s allowed to go on, to survive, in spite of his actions. Why? Well, it’s probably got something to do with the fact Sully is fiction and it’s his story that keeps How to Survive in the North from becoming a charming tale of people and places you never knew existed. Healy uses fiction as the control to demonstrate what survival, real survival, truly is. History is fixed, static, whereas fiction is elastic, changeable. Healy sees fiction as a chance to change the story instead of being a (real life) victim of chance, fate. Fiction isn’t life or death, its make-believe, a soft landing in a real world of hard surfaces. For Sully the struggle is real. No, it’s not what Bartlett and Blackjack faced, but Sully’s predicament is more relatable (somewhat) to the reader than what it must really be like standing up to a polar bear or trekking across a frozen wasteland. Sing it, write it, draw it, however it happens, that’s the fact of fiction and the best way humans have to survive those ‘godawful truths.’

O.K., the art, which I’m as reluctant to write about as Blackjack is to go on the expedition to Wrangel Island. Like her I need the money so … Healy’s art pairs with his simplified-approach-to-complex-ideas aesthetic like sealskin mukluks and a trimmed parka. Panel to panel he’s perfect and there’s never any confusion as to who’s who and what’s happening as he weaves between stories. But that’s the standard, right? The “do-your-job” part of the equation. What tempers my enthusiasm for How to Survive in the North has less to do with how well Healy does his job. If it’s possible to see the craft, the degree of meticulous care to which an artist brings to the subject and how everything fits it all together and still want the art to be … I dunno? … different that’s where this book leaves me, not cold or lukewarm (too cute, I know), but conflicted, even if mildly so.

I wish I could put my coolness down to personal preference, but it’s not as simple as that, it’s more systemic. When a similar-looking squiggle stands for a cloud, a snow drift, wrinkles in fabric, and waves and every edge, every line looks imperfectly perfect—and don’t get me started about how Healy renders wooden surfaces like they’re long stretches of Morse code—something gets lost. On an intellectual level, Healy’s art is spot on, yet it misses in connecting at the emotional level. Which is conflicting and frustrating because the writing succeeds in both aspects. I recognize how the lines vibrate with the punishing monotony of the arctic and the routine of modern life. Healy has so thought out his diabolical device of same sameness that the panels and page layouts echo with the same repetition. Each panel is as evenly structured with the likewise hard-edged symmetry of its neighbor, a complement to the squiggles, round-edged figures and coded woodwork therein. Step back and observe how methodically Healy lays out each page and you see how the intervening row of panels is slightly offset to the row above and below which perfectly fall in line with one another, a planned development of a page. Brilliant. And yet in each instance when Healy raises his gestalt to near golden ratio-like levels, I check.

When Healy art isn’t doubling as an endurance test, there are brief moments when he lets the page breathe. There’s an image early on when Bartlett is rowed out to the ship for the first time that’s breath-taking in its scope and captures the feeling at the outset of the adventure. And it fills the top half of an entire page! Healy doesn’t change his style per se, more like he diversifies, clouds become puffy instead of looking similar or exactly like the waves. He draws the wake of the rowboat as it splits the water and Healy’s signature wood grain is confined to the rowboat while the planking of the off-in-the-distance ship is left plain. Later Healy composes a panel with the ship and her crew that’s as close as he gets to a God’s eye view. It devastates in how perfectly chosen it is to impart the scale of nature and the fragility of humans. It’s these moments of release amongst the tension that makes How to Survive in the North so tough to quit and gives it something of an explorer’s valor in spite of the odds.

If the cartooning is a test of will there’s also the coloring. Again, Healy’s use of color attains the cerebral rigor and merciless efficiency. Stark. Beautiful. Distant. It’s a limited color palette—because of course it is—of mint greens, lemon yellows and salmon pinks, soothing and the appropriate cheery charm of waiting rooms or hospital hallways. The coloring acts as the shuttle in the loom as Healy weaves together the three narratives. Practical and efficient. With the exception of the inking and the pleasing blobs that pass as hair Healy mutes the use of black especially when it comes to the sky. The exception is an illustration of the Aurora Borealis (which is appropriated for the book’s cover as well) that breaks up a prologue showing each of the main characters at their narrative nadir. This illustration of green and yellow ribbons rippling across a star-pocked sky speaks to the poetry of How to Survive in the North. Perhaps the reason Healy chooses to drape the sky in shades of salmon and mint instead of black is the same reason the lived-in clean lines of his cartooning captivates more than it curdles. To do so is too much, inefficient, a flaw in the flawlessness. To hang all that black in the sky—with all that snow on the ground, think the contrasts, children, the contrasts!—would crush these poor souls and don’t they have enough to put with?

History engenders grace. Real life accounts of exploration include indescribable instances when some outside influence, some cosmic tumbler, turns: water is found or a fever miraculously breaks. Is it by chance or providence? The most tangible examples of grace in How to Survive in the North come from supporting characters (somewhere a more able critic will give these sidekicks a better vetting than my poor powers can muster). Without their intervention each story ends up as a solipsistic slog and we’ve enough of those. I bring this up so late to ask the question I’ve wrestled with as I’ve been writing this review: Does Luke Healy believe in God? The work provides proof Healy believes in grace. But what does he consider its source? The power of How to Survive in the North rests on such a question. It’s why I started with the story about Dylan. If there’s ever been an explorer, an artist, who’s tried to find the source of grace, it’s Dylan. Healy’s cut from similar storyteller’s cloth. There’s a lot to pack (and unpack) in order to make such a journey. Simple, no?

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/reviews/how-to-survive-in-the-north/feed/ 0
Dragged in the Dust http://www.tcj.com/dragged-in-the-dust/ http://www.tcj.com/dragged-in-the-dust/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98245 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Keith Silva is back with a review of Luke Healy’s How to Survive in the North.

The first historical account Healy recalls focuses on an arctic expedition led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1913. To say Stefansson ‘led’ the expedition is a kindness Healy barely cops to, ‘financed’ and then ‘abandoned’ halfway in comes closer to the telling. The hero of the 1913 narrative is Captain Robert Bartlett a/k/a ‘The Ice Master,’ if, as Healy points out, you trust Newfoundlanders. As stolid and deep as the wilderness around him, Bartlett is what’s expected in a story about old-timey explorers and the insurmountable odds they face.

Counter to Bartlett’s alpha male is Ada Blackjack, the hero of the second historical narrative. A native Alaskan woman, Blackjack signs on as a seamstress to a 1921 expedition to claim, as the leader of the expedition tells her, “a little spit called Wrangel Island” for Canada. Blackjack plays POSSLQ in this all-male expedition which includes (spoiler) a member of Stefansson’s 1913 expedition and a perpetual grump, Lorne Knight.

Healy’s introductions to Bartlett and Blackjack show an economy in storytelling to match his drawing. Within a couple of pages and a handful of panels, Healy demonstrates how these characters will use opposing strategies to survive. Bartlett commands. Blackjack demurs. Neither strategy is better or worse. Survival results from endurance, and the method means nothing. Nature endures; humans, most of the time, do not. The arctic doesn’t care for theories, thoughts, or emotions, only practicalities. The survival of these characters depends on their natures, what they bring with them. What they pack. By setting his comic in a harsh climate, Healy plays with ideas of nature vs. nurture or determinism vs. free will, God or nothing. Blackjack plays timid, but that’s her nurture not her nature. When it comes to these historical figures, Healy sides with fate. The how these people survived or died was on them. The cold (nature) of the arctic brings out something in a person, sharpens them, but it can’t hone what isn’t there. Nature needs an edge in want of a good grinding.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Angouleme’s Grand Prix has been awarded to Cosey.

—Reviews & Commentary. At the SAW blog, Josh Santospirito, who runs a comics convention in Tasmania, writes about what happened when he decided to entirely ignore men while planning the programming at this year’s show.

So – for 2016’s festival I chose to attempt to make up for the previous two festivals with a new tactic. I simply decided to ignore men. Suddenly – the process seemed far less stressful; with this simple but strict parameter I could just look at all the great female artists (and there are squillions in the comics/illustration world) and organise the events around each of their skills and strengths. Simply by choosing to focus on one gender, I suddenly seemed to have no problem whatsoever in programming. I applied this philosophy to the visual artists, but I still attempted to get 50:50 with the bands/musicians on stage during the festival.

Then – later on in the piece once I had the shape of a pretty good festival and some of the programming gaps became a bit obvious – I placed a couple of token males (including myself) into the program to make it “appear” more rounded.

For Vice, Andrew W.K. writes a likable but mostly substance-free celebration of comics.

What was most striking about it all was the unique mode of delivery and process. The comics told stories, but they weren’t exactly literature. It was definitely art, but it proudly defied classical artistic restrictions. The work was funny, but also dark, scary, unnerving, enlightened. These “adult comics” could do anything they wanted. It was all the best things combined, and yet entirely their own thing.

And the popular mythbusting site Snopes sifts the evidence regarding the most recent internet comics kerfuffle: whether or not Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby would personally punch a Nazi.

[A biography] also recounted Kirby’s response to a violent threat against him at his workplace:

On occasion the Timely office would get phone calls and letters from Nazi sympathizers threatening the creators of Captain America. Once, while Jack was in the Timely office, a call came from someone in the lobby. When Kirby answered, the caller threatened Jack with bodily harm if he showed his face. Kirby told the caller he would be right down, but by the time Jack reached street level, there was no one to be found.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/dragged-in-the-dust/feed/ 1
It Keeps Going http://www.tcj.com/98225-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98225-2/#respond Wed, 25 Jan 2017 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98225 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have Matthias Wivel on the recent reissue of Pushwagner’s Soft City.

Soft City thus is a natural extension of the portrait of the individual as a depersonalized unit in society as machine that has been a central narrative in critical discourse in the modern era. Walter Benjamin’s characterization of the person as an automaton, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Aldous Huxley’s clinical dystopia, the assembly lines and buzzing wheels and cogs of Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times, and of course George Orwell’s Big Brother, form the basis of Pushwagner’s vision, while his formal presentation is in the tradition of the socially engaged modernist woodcut novels of Frans Masereel, Otto Nückel and others, as well as the disillusioned counter-culture of the 70s, notably its compromised pop art.

It would all be smotheringly rote if it were not staged with such conviction. Symmetry and synchronicity are the guiding principles. The books many panoramic spreads are ordered symmetrically, with the straight lines and angles of oppression subversively rendered in the artist’s imprecise and unruled, shaky hand. Synchronicity provides the structure of the narrative – the actions we witness are repeated ad infinitum by countless families across the at times almost diagrammatic compositions. Guided by their mothers, the children wave like machines to their fathers. But here and there, subtly, small human deviations are suggested between individual figures.

Elsewhere:

The publishing event of this young and terrible year so far is The Lowbrow Reader issue 10. That’s right. This long-running zine, edited by TCJ-contributor Jay Ruttenberg, featuring illustrations by TCJ designer and secret weapon Mike Reddy has been examining the past and present of comedy since long before anyone thought it was cool. More importantly, it has published the great drawings of Gilbert Gottfried. Even more importantly, this latest issue if fantastic, and has Jay’s brilliant discursive essay on the unlikely connection between The Velvet Underground and Family Matters. Go forth and get it.

Over at the Village Voice the great Lauren Weinstein drew an account of Saturday’s march in Washington DC. 

An interview over here with Jim Woodring and his giant pen.

“As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.” –Philip Roth.

 

 

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/98225-2/feed/ 0
Soft City http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city/#respond Wed, 25 Jan 2017 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98231 Continue reading ]]>

In 1973, Terje Brofors, alias Hariton Pushwagner (b. 1940) sat in a window in Chelsea, London, drawing as if possessed. After several years living on the street, drawing for food and haunted by thoughts of suicide, he had found a home with the woman who would become his first wife. Perhaps it a feeling of living on borrowed time, now that he had a newborn daughter and a possible future, that motivated him finally to realize a project he that had first come to him in an LSD-induced haze some years earlier – in 1969 – in Frederiksstad in his native Norway.

Present at that moment of inception had been the Norwegian “beat”/SF writer Axel Jensen, with whom Pushwagner was collaborating at the time on stories and experiments in psychedelia, and instrumental in its formulation, title, and cut-up language was William S. Borroughs, of The Soft Machine, whom incidentally he had met in Tangiers a decade or so earlier.

Three years later, he bound together the finished work, consisting of 158 large pages, in a book. It circulated on the London club scene where it was appreciated by Pete Townsend and Steve Winwood, among others. In 1979, he returned to Norway and the book disappeared under circumstances that have yet to be explained. It resurfaced in 2002 only to be claimed by Pushwagner’s former assistant to whom he had signed away the rights to all existing work sometime during his years of living on the edge in the late 1990s. The artist won back ownership after a court case in 2008 and exhibited the originals to Soft City at the Berlin and Sydney Biennials, and they were published in book form in Norway. This helped him emerge from years of obscurity onto the international art scene and he has exhibited widely and to great acclaim since.

Pushwagner himself has stated that everything he has done since springs from Soft City. This is clear. It presents us with the kaleidoscopic view of modern society that has always characterized his art. It is the blueprint for his almost maniacally fastidious, densely packed visions of society as a machine that have made him famous. It is furthermore the direct model – in terms both of individual motifs and narrative – for what was previously his best-known work, En dag I familien Manns liv (‘A Day in the Life of the Mann Family’), which was published as a series of silkscreen prints in 1980 and developed further in a number of paintings after 1988.

In Soft City we witness a day in the life of an average family in a metropolis populated by average families. George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” is the co-opted counter-culture overture; the sun gazes at us with the eye of the New World Order – the one we know from the pyramid on 1$ bill.

The couple start their day medicating their dreams away with “Soft” ‘life pills’; we see the endless lines of office drones in their cars, their vast parking towers and panoramic office landscapes; we see women dropping off their children at vertiginous day care farms to spend their day shopping in the city’s “Soft” megaplexes. Everything is overseen electronically by the ruling class, which itself seems just as susceptible as its subjects. All while the gears of war churn beyond the horizon.

Soft City thus is a natural extension of the portrait of the individual as a depersonalized unit in society as machine that has been a central narrative in critical discourse in the modern era. Walter Benjamin’s characterization of the person as an automaton, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Aldous Huxley’s clinical dystopia, the assembly lines and buzzing wheels and cogs of Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times, and of course George Orwell’s Big Brother, form the basis of Pushwagner’s vision, while his formal presentation is in the tradition of the socially engaged modernist woodcut novels of Frans Masereel, Otto Nückel and others, as well as the disillusioned counter-culture of the 70s, notably its compromised pop art.

It would all be smotheringly rote if it were not staged with such conviction. Symmetry and synchronicity are the guiding principles. The books many panoramic spreads are ordered symmetrically, with the straight lines and angles of oppression subversively rendered in the artist’s imprecise and unruled, shaky hand. Synchronicity provides the structure of the narrative – the actions we witness are repeated ad infinitum by countless families across the at times almost diagrammatic compositions. Guided by their mothers, the children wave like machines to their fathers. But here and there, subtly, small human deviations are suggested between individual figures.

Accentuating its quiet insistence on individual humanity, but in a particularly bleak manner, is the fact that we experience the story’s opening and closing through the eyes of a child. It is named Bingo – suggesting stunted imagination on the part of its parents, a banalization of the gift of childbirth that we know motivated the artist. It is caged in its crib most of the time, but at the beginning, at dawn, before the parents awaken and the Machine activates, it is shown capable of climbing out and exploring the environment on its own.

Its consciousness is presented ambiguously. Although only a toddler, it thinks in full, multisyllabic sentences, declaring its status in the “soft” system: “I am a baby. Time to get up, move around and find out what’s happening.” On the one hand it indicates awareness beyond the boundaries set by the system, but on the other it reads almost like programming – these are the things a child is built to do – suggesting that automation is inborn, that the Machine is us. But at the end, as night has fallen, the child does not shut down, and that may Pushwagner’s slim assertion of hope. However, he simultaneously, and almost apocalyptically, indicates that it may be too late.

Soft City represents an artistic vision in its embryonic form, but its precocity makes it more compelling that much of what the artist has produced since. Its critique is heavy-handed, almost didactic, and the drawing uncertain and unclear in places, but it is crafted with genuine nerve. One senses acutely the urgency the artist must have felt back then, sitting in that window.

The book is beautifully designed by Chris Ware, who also provides an introduction. An informative afterword by Martin Herbert rounds off the package.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/reviews/soft-city/feed/ 0
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/25/17 – Chin-Stroking Consortium) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-12517-chin-stroking-consortium/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-12517-chin-stroking-consortium/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98201 Continue reading ]]>

“A tremendous and truly awful spectacle; and the more fully it is understood the more terrible it appears.” So remarks the Theosophical writer Charles Webster Leadbeater in his 1903 book Man Visible and Invisible, a guide to understanding the nature of man through the means of clairvoyance. What we are seeing here is the astral body of a man consumed by “Intense Anger” – the colors and patterns are divined from Leadbeater’s system of using hue as a means of cataloguing the passions. A fascinating, quite modern drawing, though, included as a plate with the edition published by The Bodley Head, which I downloaded from Google. Apparently, the original art was by one Count Maurycy Prozor, a Lithuanian-born diplomat and translator who assembled the book’s illustrations “from the life” (I presume rightly through the practice of clairvoyance); the illustrations were then copied via airbrush by Gertrude Spink, another Theosophic colleague, “in order that they might be more successfully reproduced by the photographic process,” per Leadbeater. A most literal swarm of fury, this, almost visible overhead to even those neglected by evolution’s aetheric gifts…

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook: Fun-looking stuff here from alt-comics veteran Joe Ollmann and publisher Drawn and Quarterly – it’s a 316-page two-color hardcover comics biography of the American author, adventurer and occultist William Seabrook, promising to deliver multifaceted account of a man both empathetic to and exploitative of foreign cultures, in the grip of physical vices and mystic fascinations; $22.95.

Disney Great Parodies Vol. 1: Mickey’s Inferno: An unusual and problematic release, this; I’ve seen pages floating around the internet several times in the last few weeks, accompanied by some measure of genuine befuddlement. It’s an NBM/Papercutz release of a 1949-50 Italian serial — indeed, an officially licensed Disney story — in which Mickey Mouse journeys through Hell, as rendered in a very tight, lunchbox-ready Disney House Style by artist Angelo Bioletto. The Dante-riffing writer is one Guido Martina, working in a good deal of legitimate verse. However, it appears the English script adds a number of new, ‘modern’ references to the original comic, I guess so the book can more efficiently be sold to kids. Ugh! Technically your Eurocomic of the week, 88 color pages, available in two goddamned formats; $8.99 (softcover), $13.99 (hardcover).

PLUS!

Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four – Artist’s Edition: This one’s gotta be an easy layup for the IDW line of big books of original comic book art shot in color without colorization – Jack Kirby, on what’s arguably his signature ’60s series. Specifically, this 144-page, 12″ x 16″ package features some later stuff: Annual #6 (1968) and issues #82 & #83 of the original series (1969), with inks by Joe Sinnott and dialogue by Stan Lee, plus other pages and pieces; $115.99 (or so).

Arclight #4 (of 4) (&) Island #14: Two from Image and the editor/artist/writer Brandon Graham. Arclight is a miniseries he’s been working on with the formidable artist Marian Churchland – it now reaches its conclusion for the moment. Island is the anthology Graham runs with Emma Ríos, reaching an increasingly impressive issue count, and this month featuring a cover by Graham himself; $3.99 (Arclight), $7.99 (Island).

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1: Your manga pick of the week in an unusual one from Seven Seas – a fairly new ongoing series from the anime-affiliated publisher Mag Garden, but drawn by the artist “Nagabe” in a style halfway between Victorian illustration and stripped-down, almost 4-koma-ready moe cuteness; very unusual blend. The plot seems to be of an allegorical type, concerning a curious little girl and her tall, monstrous-seeming guardian in a world of dichotomous realms. Or something; $12.99.

Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days: Not a new book, sure, but this 2009 Al Columbia concoction — an elusive and distressing 240-page jumble of comics, illustrations, unfinished pursuits and broken-down narratives, nonetheless eerily evocative of some kind of narrative momentum, something awful, bidden from beyond — is a top-notch experience for every girl and boy. Plus, now that the Walt Disney Company hoards an even more elephantine ration of the global popular discourse, Columbia’s conception of the Fleischer Studios as a sort of pre-moral psychic terrain of naive longings and daemon appetites seems especially on-point. From Fantagraphics; $29.99.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 1 (&) Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super-Sons: A double-dose of writer Bob Haney this week, if you’re so inclined, starting with a 904-page Batman release stretching all the way back to late 1969, which has to be the earliest conception of the ‘Bronze Age’ allowable by federal law. Issues #87-122 of what had become a Batman team-up forum are included, more than half of them featuring art by the enduringly popular Jim Aparo. The slimmer (256-page) Batman/Superman item also covers a swathe of the ’70s, this time from World’s Finest Comics, focusing on tales of spandex progeny. Haney did not write *every* comic here, mind, though the compilation jumps ahead to one of his final stories, a Kieron Dwyer collaboration in 1999’s Elseworlds 80-Page Giant, so it’s sort of a de facto tribute; $125.00 (Brave), $16.99 (Super-Sons).

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 1: Marvel is not the first (or even the tenth) publisher I’d pick to handle newspaper strip reprints, but they are fellow vassals in the Magic Kingdom now with Luke Skywalker and the beeping can, so what we have here is a 464-page graphic-novel format reprint of Dark Horse’s 1990s color comic book calibrations of the 1979-84 Star Wars strip, initially written and drawn by Russ Manning (with added contributions by Russ Helm and Steve Gerber), then later written by Archie Goodwin with art by Al Williamson and Alfredo Alcala at different times. PLEASE NOTE that IDW, in conjunction with Marvel, will *also* be reprinting the newspaper strips in their original format later this year; $39.99.

Comic Book Creator #14: Being the newest 84-page issue of the artist-focused all-color miscellany mag from TwoMorrows. This one is notable for containing coverage of Raina Telgemeier “and her magnificent army of devotees,” a phenomenon readily observable at any convention where the artist happens to be in attendance. Also, a long interview with Kelley Jones, among the defining 1990s Batman artists, among other pursuits; $8.95.

The 10¢ War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II: Finally, your book on comics for the week is a 240-page University Press of Mississippi hardcover anthology, priced for the classroom, on the topic of “how different types of comic books and comic book characters supplied reasons and means to support the war effort.” Edited by Trischa Goodnow and James J. Kimble; $65.00.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-12517-chin-stroking-consortium/feed/ 1
2100 http://www.tcj.com/2100-2/ http://www.tcj.com/2100-2/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2017 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98170 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, highlighting the most interesting-sounding releases new to comics stores. This week’s spotlight picks include new books by Joe Ollmann and Angelo Bioletto.

It’s an NBM/Papercutz release of a 1949-50 Italian serial — indeed, an officially licensed Disney story — in which Mickey Mouse journeys through Hell, as rendered in a very tight, lunchbox-ready Disney House Style by artist Angelo Bioletto. The Dante-riffing writer is one Guido Martina, working in a good deal of legitimate verse. However, it appears the English script adds a number of new, ‘modern’ references to the original comic, I guess so the book can more efficiently be sold to kids. Ugh!


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon has posted the final two of his holiday interviews, with First Second editorial director Mark Siegel:

I think I’ve found my legs somewhat as an editor. I’ve always known there are certain stages of a book. When you have a conversation over thumbnails, I feel I’m looking at the acting, and looking at the staging and even in a cinematic way I’m paying attention to clarity in terms of the action and the staging the angles… it’s not to try to make an homogenous style of art by any mean. I really do believe that it should read not just for the cognoscenti. It should be widely accessible. That’s part of the broadening of audiences. That’s one piece of it.

And writer Joe Casey:

It feels like it’s been a long time since I gave a shit about anyone “getting it.” [Spurgeon laughs] So long, in fact, that it’s tough to remember when I actually did. And, by having that attitude, I know I run the risk of missing out on certain connections that I’m sure other creators make with their readers. Anything that operates on a purely subtextual level in my work wouldn’t be something that I would ever expect a reader to get. Again, those things are in there mainly for my own amusement. Even when the commentary runs deep, it’s still personal to me and I have no expectations that anyone else is onboard. So, in terms of “fine lines…” there are none. Not for me, anyway.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Noah Van Sciver.

The most recent guest on RiYL is Ted Stearn.

The most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Joe Ollmann.

Tom Heintjes has reposted an interview with Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell about his work with children’s books.

Koom Kankesan talks to Seth.

I’m not actually one of those “nostalgia guys” who romanticize the past. I have no illusions about the past (well, not too many). I do not wish to live in 1920 or 1930 or any earlier time. I am repulsed by much of today’s culture but I don’t kid myself that things were any better in the past. Every era is fraught with problems and injustice and vulgarity.

So, yes, what I am interested in doing is constructing my own inner worlds. Sometimes, they are direct wish fulfillment (like my city of Dominion) and sometimes they are more fanciful (like the fake Canadiana of GNBCC). You nailed it with your understanding of my relationship to Canada. I wish to reinvent it for my own needs. I pick and chose what appeals to me and construct my own narrow picture. My Canada is pretty much a Canada that never existed. It’s a jigsaw puzzle in which I have left out a lot of pieces.

—Misc. And I’m pretty sure we haven’t yet noted that Gabrielle Bell has started a Patreon for her diary comics.

For as little as two dollars a month, you can read a wealth of my personal comics and keep tabs on my life, forever. Or until this free world collapses some time this year.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/2100-2/feed/ 0
Spaniel Rage http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spaniel-rage/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spaniel-rage/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98188 Continue reading ]]> Originally published in 2005, Spaniel Rage presents the first collected cartooning efforts by Vanessa Davis, a Florida-born and LA-based cartoonist. The book contains diary comics 2003-04 from Davis’ life in NYC, a few anthology stories, and a new watercolored introduction by Davis. The pages feature a free-form panel layout that mirrors a scattered approach to narrative, in contrast to the more structured autobiographical stories in Davis’ later book for Drawn & Quarterly, Make Me a Woman. Often funny, often tinged with loss, Davis chronicles a life page by page. It’s a flawed book: some bits fall flat due to awkward drafting skills, and some don’t work because the jokes don’t connect. However, the charm of Davis’s project, one that seems to be one of teaching or re-teaching herself to draw, overrides any shortcomings this collection faces. “I didn’t know how to make comics,” she says in the introduction, “But I could draw one thing a day in my sketchbook.”

Various stories explore issues around fashion and self-image. “It’s because Vanessa’s got a booty!” a friend says to her, and she says, “No, it’s big but it’s totally flat!” In another entry, a young girl passing by sticks her tongue out at Davis, and Davis notes, “Too bad when girls grow up they don’t greet each other with a big smile and stickin’ their tongue out. It’s different,” and she shows a bitchy modern greeting. Cultural signifiers of the mid-2000s abound; Davis uses a boxy iMac at work, and Friendster at home instead of Facebook. Like her contemporary Gabrielle Bell, Davis touches on the anxieties of the internet age.

This book was a big influence for this reviewer, and the pencil style and breezy quality of the drawings and the narratives helped breathe new life into autobiographical comics. Pencil comics by Sam Alden, myself, and others proliferated in the years following this release. I miss the old cover (of a scene of dancers in a club), but this book has lost none of its subtle and funny charisma in the ten plus years since its release.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/reviews/spaniel-rage/feed/ 0
Dump http://www.tcj.com/dump/ http://www.tcj.com/dump/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98178 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Annie Mok reviews the new edition of Vanessa Davis’ contemporary classic, Spaniel Rage.

Originally published in 2005, Spaniel Rage presents the first collected cartooning efforts by Vanessa Davis, a Florida-born and LA-based cartoonist. The book contains diary comics 2003-04 from Davis’ life in NYC, a few anthology stories, and a new watercolored introduction by Davis. The pages feature a free-form panel layout that mirrors a scattered approach to narrative, in contrast to the more structured autobiographical stories in Davis’ later book for Drawn & Quarterly, Make Me a Woman. Often funny, often tinged with loss, Davis chronicles a life page by page. It’s a flawed book: some bits fall flat due to awkward drafting skills, and some don’t work because the jokes don’t connect. However, the charm of Davis’s project, one that seems to be one of teaching or re-teaching herself to draw, overrides any shortcomings this collection faces. “I didn’t know how to make comics,” she says in the introduction, “But I could draw one thing a day in my sketchbook.”

What a weekend we’ve had. 

Francoise Mouly’s Facebook page has a good round-up of Resist!-related photos. New York Magazine has a good roundup of all the amazing signs from Saturday’s global protests. 

Garry Trudeau appears to have predicted some of it!

Over in Canada, The Beguiling’s new location is profiled. 

And Ryan Holmberg has a symposium coming up that will explore nuclear-related manga and other issues. Here’s the info:

 

On February 10-11, Duke University will be hosting a two-day symposium titled “The Nuclear Imaginary in Transnational Perspective.”

An abstract and skeleton schedule can be found below. Further details, including location, time, and paper abstracts, can be found on the symposium’s facebook page. A low-res version of the poster can found here. If you plan on attending, please RSVP here.

For further information, please email jieun.cho@duke.edu or ryan.holmberg@duke.edu

While all of the papers will be presenting fairly unknown and important material in the history of pro- and anti-nuclear visual culture, we are truly lucky to have Leonard Rifas, an underground comix author turned activist cartoonist who published one of the first anti-nuclear power comics works in 1976 (All-Atomic Comics) and as a publisher issued one of the first English translations of manga in the form of Nakazawa Keiji’s Gen of Hiroshima (1980-81).

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/dump/feed/ 0
Strange Days http://www.tcj.com/strange-days/ http://www.tcj.com/strange-days/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98148 Continue reading ]]> R.C. Harvey writes about George Herriman, and Michael Tisserand’s widely acclaimed biography of the artist, Krazy.

We don’t have to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch into Michael Tisserand’s inch-and-a-half thick, three-pound 545-page biography of Krazy Kat’s kreator to realize that it is a stupendous triumph of exhaustive research and organizational skill. I’ve read only the first two chapters of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, and I already know more about this shy genius than I ever expected to know. But we don’t have to read even that much to realize that this volume is a biography of the cartoonist, not a critique of his work.

Just riffling the pages of the book reveals that not much of Herriman’s comic strip art is on display, and without visual evidence, we can’t examine or much appreciate his cartooning achievement. And besides, Tisserand himself tells us in an author’s introductory note that “the dimensions of this book do not allow for a full presentation of Herriman’s grand comics.”

In fact, there are no complete comic strips on display. This book is deliberately not about comic strip artistry. And he tells us exactly that right at the beginning: none of Herriman’s “grand comics.”

Just biography then? No, there’s a little more.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—News.
Tisserand’s book was already nominated for an NBCC award, and it is now also officially a nominee for a PEN award.

—Interviews & Profiles. AJ Frost talks to Françoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman, and Gabe Fowler about their Resist! anthology, just released.

In all my professional life, forty years in comics, I realized printing something—an artifact—is something I understand. It’s a way for me to remember my past. I can remember when my children were born… I can remember which book I printed/published when. I have a way of mapping out my history through publication. And that felt right to have such a publication as my way out of some insurmountable moment. For me in a way, it was a little bit of a replay of September 11th when I couldn’t figure what to do and I eventually came up with this New Yorker cover of black-on-black from [Art Spiegelman’s] suggestion that this was a way to show that there was no solution. Similarly, Gabe’s offer felt like this would be a printed artifact that will catalyze and focus a complex and inarticulate response.

Rob Vollmar talks to Alan Moore.

My friend Adam Curtis, who is an excellent documentary filmmaker, did a wonderful film called The Power of Nightmares, which suggested that previously our political leaders sold us dreams. They would promise us, if we were to elect them, that they would give us this, this, and this. We believed them and we elected them. Then they would say, “Yeah, actually, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to follow our own agendas but thanks for electing us.” They kept doing that until, even as stupid and often subservient as we are, we eventually saw through that. We started saying, “No, you’re not actually going to do the things you said you were going to do, are you? These were just dreams you were selling us. So we are going to stay away from the polling booth in our thousands, in our millions, because we feel disenfranchised from this political system.” Of course, that’s a problem. What kind of mandate have you got if 90 percent of your population are not turning up at the polling booth?

So, if dreams aren’t working anymore, let’s sell them nightmares. This is particularly applicable to the world post-2001 with the spectre of the jihadist, which is our new cultural bogeyman. It was the slack-jawed Russian back when I was a boy and presumably the square-headed German shortly before that.

Alex Wood talks to Robert Crumb.

All I can do is just pile onto what everyone else says [about Donald Trump], you know? It’s all people talk about. It’s an endless subject of conversation and has been since he started running for president. The media of course loved him — loved him! They couldn’t get enough of Trump. He really shot their ratings up. People were either morbidly curious, or outraged, or they supported him–all of ’em. All the people I know that despised him, they just couldn’t help but watch him and gasp in indignation at his latest outrageous statement. “Did you hear what Trump said yesterday?” [laughing] That sort of thing. And of course his supporters just lapped it up. The more outrageous the better, as far as they were concerned.

—Reviews & Commentary. For The New Yorker, Gabrielle Bellot writes about gender fluidity in the work of George Herriman.

In the years following [Arthur Asa] Berger’s initial reporting, a number of writers have grappled with [the racial] aspect of Herriman’s work. “In the comics page no less than in social life, the opposition between black and white can be redefined but not abolished,” the journalist and comics scholar Jeet Heer has written. As Michael Tisserand points out in his new biography, “Krazy,” Herriman might have lost his job as a cartoonist had he been outed as black. When Herriman worked at the Los Angeles Examiner, as a staff artist, the paper published multiple articles about light-skinned African-Americans who had tried to pass as white and were subsequently “exposed.” But “Krazy” also helps to expand the meaning of the comic’s subversive play with identity beyond race. In an era when books depicting homosexuality and gender nonconformity could lead to charges of obscenity, “Krazy Kat,” Tisserand notes, featured a gender-shifting protagonist who was in love with a male character.

At Print, Michael Dooley presents art from Ho Che Anderson’s King.

The incoming U.S. President was responsible for skyrocketing sales of March, the graphic novelization of the life of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. Inadvertently responsible, to be sure. Nevertheless, it gained an incredible bump of more than one hundred thousand percent. And any escalation in literacy is cause for celebration these days. Especially when it encompasses visual literacy. And even more particularly so when the book pays tribute to someone who continues stand up against racism more than 50 years after having been beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting. So it seems time to revisit a related graphic novel bio, groundbreaking and critically acclaimed when first released, on the life of Lewis’s mentor and marching buddy. I’m referring here to King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/strange-days/feed/ 0
Krazy Love http://www.tcj.com/krazy-love/ http://www.tcj.com/krazy-love/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97693 Continue reading ]]> We don’t have to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch into Michael Tisserand’s inch-and-a-half thick, three-pound 545-page biography of Krazy Kat’s kreator to realize that it is a stupendous triumph of exhaustive research and organizational skill. I’ve read only the first two chapters of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, and I already know more about this shy genius than I ever expected to know. But we don’t have to read even that much to realize that this volume is a biography of the cartoonist, not a critique of his work.

Just riffling the pages of the book reveals that not much of Herriman’s comic strip art is on display, and without visual evidence, we can’t examine or much appreciate his cartooning achievement. And besides, Tisserand himself tells us in an author’s introductory note that “the dimensions of this book do not allow for a full presentation of Herriman’s grand comics.” In fact, there are no complete comic strips on display This book is deliberately not about comic strip artistry. And he tells us exactly that right at the beginning: none of Herriman’s “grand comics.”

Just biography then? No, there’s a little more. “I have included panels from his works to illustrate certain ideas and to give at least a hint of their splendors.”

And so on page 24, we have a panel in which Ignatz, sending a brick to Krazy’s head, exclaims: “You’re now a member of the fraternal brickhood of noble dornicks.” This alludes to Herriman’s father’s involvement with the Masons.

Other individual panels illustrate Herriman’s sensitivity about race and identity and racial identity—Krazy looking at himself in the mirror, making black coffee (“look unda the milk”), going to a beauty parlor and coming out blonde. krazyblackcoffee

Frustrating as it is to see so little Herriman, master of his medium and pace-setting pioneer, the book is still a monument to Tisserand’s thoroughness in research and his dexterity in weaving so much of what he found into a fascinating tapestry of Herriman’s life.

I look forward to finding more gems like this one: “Herriman began adding more decorations to his comics—especially the sun cross or wheel cross, a design common in southwestern Indian art. The symbol—a cross or X inside a circle—had special appeal to Herriman, for it also resembled the hobo symbol for a friendly household. …”

As for Herriman’s artistry, we can begin with a 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts, in which art critic Gilbert Seldes famously called Herriman’s comic strip about an allegedly lunatic cat “the most amusing and fantastic and satisfying work of art produced in America today.”  This accolade and the accompanying lengthy analysis of the strip by one of the foremost critics of the day gave social and artistic respectability for the first time to the erstwhile “despised medium” of cartooning.  It was Seldes who first analyzed the strip’s plot and articulated Herriman’s theme. (And he did it without including in his discussion any examples of the comic strip; we’ll do a little better here.)

Like any great work of art, Krazy Kat’s thematic complexity is masked by its seeming simplicity.  After a couple of formative years, the plot that emerged involved only three characters— a cat (Krazy), a mouse (Ignatz), and a dog (Offissa Pupp)— but each is doing something profoundly contrary to its nature.  Instead of stalking the mouse, Krazy loves him and waits for him to assault her; instead of fearing the Kat, Ignatz scorns her (or him— Krazy is without sex, Herriman explained, like a sprite or elf) and attacks him/her repeatedly; instead of chasing the Kat, the dog protects her/him out of love for him/her.  This is Herriman’s eternal triangle; and each of its participants is ignorant of the others’ passions.

Into this equation, Herriman introduced a symbol:  a brick.  Ignatz despises Krazy and expresses his cynical disdain by throwing a brick at the androgynous Kat’s head.  Krazy, blind with love, awaits the arrival of the brick (indeed, pines for its advent) with joy because he/she considers the brick “a missil of affection.”  Meanwhile, the dog, motivated by inclination (his love for Krazy) as well as occupation (he’s an enforcer of law and order) tries to prevent the disorders that Ignatz attempts to perpetrate on Krazy’s bean. 

Ironically, in seeking to protect the object of his affection from the assaults of the mouse, Offissa Pupp succeeds in making his beloved Krazy happy only when he fails to frustrate Ignatz’s attack.  Luckily, Offissa Pupp frequently fails in his mission.  And Ignatz, perforce, succeeds.  But it is Krazy who triumphs.  As Seldes said:  “The incurable romanticist, Krazy faints daily in full possession of his illusion, and Ignatz, stupidly hurling his brick, thinking to injure, fosters the illusion and keeps Krazy `heppy’.”

Hence, Herriman’s theme:  love always triumphs.  And most of the time, it does so in the strip more by accident than by design.  Over the years, Herriman played out his theme in hundreds of variations, but there was always the Kat, the Mouse, and the brick.  And the brick usually found its way to Krazy’s skull— much to the Kat’s content (and often to Offissa Pupp’s chagrin).  The acclaimed lyricism of Herriman’s strip arises partly from the seemingly endless reprise of this theme as Seldes first outlined it.  But it arises, too, from the theme itself and Herriman’s unique treatment of it.

For we are all of us lovers, seeking someone to love and to love us back— and fearing an unrequited outcome.  That we should find humor in a comic strip about love that is requited more by accident than by intention is something of a wonder.  True, there is some reassurance in the endless victories of love in Krazy Kat.  But the accidental nature of so many of those triumphs cannot but undermine a little an over-all impulse towards confidence.  And hope.  And yet we laugh.  Perhaps because we are all of us lovers, and just a little krazy in konsequence.  And so like Herriman’s sprite, we persist in seeing only what we want to see.

By this circuitous route, Seldes’ interpretation of Herriman’s theme is embellished.  Krazy Kat is not so much about the triumph of love as it is about the unquenchable will to love and to be loved.  Love may not, in fact, always triumph; but we will always wish it would.  krazy1

Herriman’s paean to love began as a simple cat-and-mouse game in the basement of a strip called The Family Upstairs, which first appeared August 1, 1910. The strip had debuted under the title The Dingbat Family on June 20, 1910, but when the apartment-dwelling Dingbats developed an obsession about the disruptive doings of their upstairs neighbors, the strip was re-titled accordingly.  Krazy first appeared (unnamed) as the Dingbat’s cat in the first week of strips.  The spacious panels in which Herriman recorded the daily trials of the Dingbats in their feud with their neighbors always had some vacant space at the bottom, and Herriman developed the practice of filling that space with drawings of the antics of the cat (not yet Kat).  On July 26, a mouse appears and throws what might be a piece of brick at the cat.  Thereafter, the drama that unfolds at the feet of the Dingbats focuses on the aggressive mouse’s campaign against the cat.

By mid-August, Herriman had drawn a line completely across the lower portion of his strip, separating the cat and mouse game into a miniature strip of its own, a footnote feud paralleling the combat going on above.  This tiny strip Herriman introduced with the prophetic caption:  “And this,” with an arrow pointing to the strip at the right, “another romance tells.”  And the mouse ends that day’s antics by christening his nemesis:  “Krazy Kat,” he growls, somewhat disgustedly.  This exasperated utterance would become the strip’s concluding refrain and, eventually, its title.  But for the next two-and-a-half years, the Kat and the mouse carried on in their minuscule sub-strip without a title, and the mouse didn’t acquire his name until the first days of 1911.  On rare occasions, Ignatz and Krazy invaded the Dingbats’ premises, taking over the more commodious panels upstairs for their daily turn while the baffled Dingbats looked in from below.  krazy2But it wasn’t until October 28, 1913, that they had a strip of their own.

Krazy’s relationship to Ignatz was initially that of the persecuted and abused. The Kat’s infatuation with the mouse did not become evident until the spring of 1911, and even then, it was only occasionally alluded to. It did not become an obsession until later that year. In the copiously annotated Gallery at the end of this essay is a selection of strips from the first couple years, showing the evolution of the krazy love affair.  krazy3

The machinations of his eternal triangle (and the brick) preoccupied Herriman throughout Krazy Kat’s run.  And most of the strips, whether daily or weekend editions, are stand-alone, gag-a-day productions.  But on occasion, Herriman told continuing stories.  Once Krazy was captivated by a visiting French poodle named Kisidee Kuku.  And in 1936, Herriman conducted one of his longest continuities— a narrative opus chronicling the havoc wreaked by Krazy’s involvement with the world’s most powerful katnip, “Tiger Tea.”  Mostly, however, the strip was a daily dose of Herriman’s lyric comedy about love. 

Herriman’s graphic style— homely, scratchy penwork— remained unchanged through Krazy Kat’s run, but the cartoonist explored and exploited the format of his medium, exercising to its fullest his increasingly fanciful sense of design— particularly when drawing the Sunday Krazy

The first “Sunday page” didn’t appear on a Sunday: it showed up on Saturday, April 23, 1916, running in black and white in the weekend arts and drama section of Hearst’s New York Journal; the full-page Krazy would not be printed in color until June 1, 1935.  But with or without color, the full-page format stimulated Herriman’s imagination, and for it, he produced his most inventive strips— in both layout and theme, the latter often playfully determined by the former, as we shall see anon.

While the brick is the pivot in most of Herriman’s strips, the daily strips also reveal him playing with language and being self-conscious about the nature of his medium.  When Ignatz casually observes that “the bird is on the wing,” Krazy investigates and reports (in characteristic patois):  “From rissint obserwation, I should say that the wing is on the bird.”  Another time, he is astonished at bird seed— having believed all along that birds came from eggs. 

In Krazy’s literal interpretation of language there is an innocence at one with his romantic illusion.  When Ignatz is impressed by a falling star, Krazy allows that “them that don’t fall” are more miraculous.  Krazy’s puns and wordplay were the initial excuse for Ignatz’s assault by brick:  the mouse stoned the Kat to punish him/her for what he considered a bad joke.  From this simple daily ritual, Herriman vaulted his strip into metaphysical realms and immortality.

Appropriately enough, illusion and reality meet in a dreamscape where the distinction between them becomes forever lost, the perfect denouement for the topsy-turvy relationship among Herriman’s trio of protagonists.  Seldes drew attention to the “shifting backgrounds” in Krazy Kat— to scenery that changes from mountain to forest to sea at will, to suit Herriman’s whim for varying his designs.  Very early, in both daily and weekend installments, Herriman invested his strip with a dream-like ambiance:  evoking his favorite retreat, Monument Valley in the desert of southeastern Utah, he created a Surreal landscape of whimsical buttes and cavorting cactuses that changed their shapes and moved around from panel to panel as his characters capered before it, entirely oblivious to the metamorphosis of their background.  In the radiant absurdity of this symbolic site, the Herriman’s lyricism was complete:  setting and content were a seamless whole, locale and refrain united in thematic reprise.  Here, Herriman’s dream becomes an amiable reality.

In addition to being a conglomeration of geological oddities, Monument Valley is a desert.  Its landscape is parched and vast; its human population, sparse.  Here, dwarfed by craggy monuments and isolated from the normal bustle of social enterprise, the solitude and insignificance of individual existence becomes a palpable thing.  Baking in the desert sun, soaking up the peace and majesty of the place and finding withal a kind of serenity, one can come to a great appreciation of the fellowship of humankind— perhaps to an understanding of the role of love in that fellowship. 

Whether Herriman experienced precisely these feelings we cannot say, but he was clearly moved by the beauty of the area:  “Those mesas and sunsets out in that ole pais pintado,” he once wrote, “a taste of that stuff sinks you … deep too….”  For twenty years, he made an annual pilgrimage every summer to Monument Valley, where he stayed in Kayenta with John and Louisa Wetherill, who had started a Navajo trading post there in 1910.  Cartoonists James Swinnerton and Rudolph Dirks sometimes accompanied him.  And they all painted landscapes a little (Herriman less than the other two).

Herriman is the first person of color to achieve prominence in cartooning.  Although recognized for his talent by his peers and by the press and the public in a general way, his stature is largely a posthumous distinction.  During his lifetime, Herriman’s work was esteemed by intellectuals, but their high opinion of Krazy Kat did not translate into circulation:  Krazy Kat appeared in very few newspapers, relatively speaking.  Ron Goulart, in his Encyclopedia of Comics, says the strip never ran in more than forty-eight papers in this country.  Half of them were doubtless in the Hearst chain, which numbered about two dozen at its peak.  Hearst loved the strip and insisted that he would keep running it as long as Herriman wanted to do it, circulation notwithstanding. 

Herriman is reported to have said he was Creole but of mixed blood.  Thanks to Tisserand, we know now, without quibble or question (of which there was a good deal when this ancestral fact first surfaced years ago), that Herriman was one of the “colored” Creoles who lived in New Orleans at the end of the nineteenth century— descendants of “free persons of color” who had intermarried with French, Spanish, and West Indian stock.

Herriman was clearly sensitive about his racial origins.  He was passing for white, and he had kinky black hair and so almost always wore a hat— indoors and out— probably to conceal his hair. By all accounts, he was self-effacing, shy, and extremely private. 

Herriman’s race would be of no particular interest were it not for the unique manifestation he created for love in his strip:  Krazy chooses to take an injury (a brick to the head) as symbolic of Ignatz’s love for him/her, and Krazy is a black cat.  While I would hate to see Krazy Kat converted by well-meaning critics and scholars into an allegory about racial relations (it would then seem somehow less universal in its message, and we all need its reassurances, regardless of race), Herriman’s sensitivity on the matter suggests an unconscious emotional source for his inspiration. 

He may not have been fully conscious of the kind of self-hatred that racial prejudice induces in persecuted minorities, but his subconscious knew.  And on the murkier levels of the subconscious, self-hatred is associated with guilt, and guilt requires punishment.  And thus the brick, erstwhile emblem of love, becomes the instrument of punishment.  But not altogether:  perhaps to Ralph Ellison’s invisible man, even abuse is a form of acknowledgment and is therefore to be desired if all other forms fail to materialize.

African American scholars see other artifacts of life in black America in the strip.  William W. Cook, a Dartmouth scholar of African-Americana, told me about the comedy of reversal that Krazy Kat seems to embody.  Among the characters that populated the vaudeville stage in the early years of the twentieth century were comic racial stereotypes left over from the days of minstrelsy.  A large imposing black woman and her diminutive no-good lazy husband comprised a traditional stage pair.  The comedy arose from the woman’s endless beratings of her husband and his ingenuity in evading the obligations she urged upon him.  Noting Krazy’s color and size relative to Ignatz, Cook sees the large black woman of the vaudeville stage in the Kat; and in the mouse, the wizened husband.  In Herriman’s vision, however, their vaudeville roles have been reversed:  with every brick that reaches Krazy’s skull, the browbeaten “husband” avenges himself for the years of abuse he suffered on stage.  And Offissa Pupp is another vestige of the same vaudeville act:  driven to distraction by her husband’s derelictions, the scolding stage wife often concluded her rantings with the threat:  “I’m gonna get the law on you.”

But the strip’s central ritual has a more obvious origin in another more familiar vaudeville routine.  We see it first in Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff.  The pie-in-the-face punchline. Mutt habitually hits Jeff after Jeff makes a particular stupid remark, an echo of comedy on the vaudeville stage. Ignatz’s brick-throwing belongs in the same tradition.  Krazy would say or do something silly or idiotically insightful, and Ignatz would react by braining him with a brick.  It was a commonplace of comedy in those years (and to some extent, it still is).  But Herriman, as we’ve seen, gave the slapstick routine a metaphysical significance it never had on stage.  And the lyric lesson came about, I believe, through the cartoonist’s impulse for visual comedy.

The Sunday or weekend full-page Krazy Kat is the fly wheel of the strip’s lyric dynamic.  And it was on these pages that Herriman developed and embroidered the strip’s over-arching theme.  By the time the weekend strip was launched, Krazy was five years old.  In its daily version, the strip reprised its familiar vaudeville routine with an almost endless variety of nuance.  The love that this routine obscurely symbolized was only hinted at in the daily strips.  But when Herriman gained the expanded vistas of a full page upon which to work his magic, his grand but simple theme began to emerge in full flower.  And before too long, the weekend strip was a page-long paean to love—to its power, to our passionate and unwavering desire for its power to triumph over all.

I suspect that the gentle theme of love emerged on the weekend pages almost accidentally.  Judging from the earliest pages themselves, Herriman’s driving preoccupation was a playful desire to fill the space by humorously re-designing it— and while he was about it, he re-designed the form and function of comic strip art as well.  Beginning with the first weekend page in 1916, we can watch Herriman as he started to experiment with the form of the medium.  Antic layouts were not long in surfacing. 

On the very first weekend page, April 23, 1916, he used irregular-shaped panels, and by June, some panels were page-wide.  In July, he sometimes dropped panel borders and sometimes used circular panels instead of rectangles; by August, he was mixing all these devices.  And by the end of October, his graphic imagination was shaping the gags:  layout sometimes determined punchline or vice-versa as page design became functional as well as fanciful.

On the page for July 9, 1916, page-wide panels emphasize the vastness of the desert setting. krazy4The opening panel the next week is likewise a whole page wide by way of dramatizing a gag:  a fatuous ostrich performer on stage addresses his “vast and intelligent audience,” which consists solely of Krazy, whose solitude and inconsequence, in comic contrast to the ostrich’s remarks, is made hilariously plain by the emptiness around him that stretches all across the page. 

On September 3, Herriman sets the scene for an adventure at sea with a page-wide panel suggesting the vast and vacant reaches of an ocean.  Panel borders disappear for much of the page in order to give emphasis to the unruly waves that toss Krazy and Ignatz about.  Then, for the conclusion, panel borders frame a scene when the sea has grown calm. krazy5 krazy6 On October 15, the entire page consists of page-wide panels. The maneuver permits Herriman to tell one story about Krazy at the far left of each panel while unfolding an ironic comedy in counterpoint at the far right.  The humor arises from the simultaneity of the actions. 

On May 6, 1917, a top-to-bottom vertical panel on the right-hand side of the page gives the comic explanation for the “mystery” outlined in the panels on the left:  how could a single brick from Ignatz bean a katbird, Krazy, and a katfish?  The vertical panel allows Herriman to explain. krazy7He shows Ignatz in a balloon over Krazy’s head and traces the path of the brick he drops from the balloon:  it hits a passing katbird first, then Krazy, then falls into the water where it hits the katfish. 

The next week, layout also contributes to the comedy.  The bottom third of the page is a series of drawings large enough to show Krazy bemoaning his banishment from Ignatz at the bottom of the drawings while, simultaneously at the top of each drawing, the usual missive of the mouse’s regard is being launched in the Kat’s direction by forces over which neither Kat nor mouse has any control.  krazy8

That the stories Herriman told on the weekend Krazy Kat focussed on love is largely incidental.  Love is any storyteller’s stock-in-trade.  Love insinuates itself into most human dramas.  In many ways, all stories can be love stories—as soon as the opposite sex appears or children enter a family milieu.  Love stories find their way into virtually every other kind of tale.  They fit readily into any narrative setting.  War stories have love stories as subplots; so do Westerns and whodunits and every other kind of narrative.  The theme of love is thus universal enough to furnish a focus for any story.   Herriman’s sense of graphic play needed a narrative focal point.  Love was the most easily understood and adaptable organizing device at hand.  Herriman seized it, and, by making it central to an endless comic refrain, he made poetry.

On the weekend pages, Herriman found room to indulge and develop his fantasy— his visual playfulness, his inventiveness.  His poetry.  Here, then, the quintessential Krazy blossomed.  And then the daily strips took up the chorus too, more focussed than they had been before Herriman had the weekend page to play with.  The lyricism of the theme soon permeated Herriman’s week and gave us one of the masterworks of the medium.

But these are the meanderings of the critical faculty.  For the readers (and lovers) we all are, it is probably enough to know that regardless of the source of Herriman’s inspiration, his Kat, the embodiment of love willed into being, is a comfort to us all— a balm of wisdom wrapped in laughter.  Herriman was not only shy:  he was, according to those who knew him, also saintly.  And so was his strip. krazy9

Herriman died April 25, 1944, and his strip, too idiosyncratic for another to continue, ceased with the Sunday page for June 25.  But in soaring into metaphysical realms, Krazy Kat had long since achieved immortality.

And now, in our annotated Krazy Gallery assembled from the Hyperion Press reprint tome, The Family Upstairs: Introducing Krazy Kat, we show the evolution of Herriman’s most celebrated characters with sundry hints of their situation during the first months of the strip, 1910-1912. These excerpts appear here in the same order in which they were initially published, and they show Herriman becoming increasingly playful in the deployment of his medium’s visual resources—a broad hint about things to come in the “weekend” Krazy of later years. 

krazy21 krazy20 krazy19 krazy18 krazy17 krazy16 krazy15 krazy14 krazy13 krazy12 krazy11 krazy10

krazydailies4 krazydailies3 krazydailies2 krazydailies1

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/krazy-love/feed/ 0
The Comics Nurturer: Kevin Czap & Czap Books http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-nurturer-kevin-czap-czap-books/ http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-nurturer-kevin-czap-czap-books/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96406 Continue reading ]]> Kevin Czap was recently awarded the Emerging Talent award at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) festival, a fitting honor for a cartoonist and publisher who is starting to publish on a more aggressive basis. A self-proclaimed “Comics Mom,” Czap’s goal as a publisher is to nurture and encourage the artists that they publish (Czap’s preferred pronouns are they/them) to be their best and most fully-formed artistic selves, no matter their style or method. Their forward-thinking and nurturing presence as a publisher is most closely aligned with how Annie Koyama works with her artists, but Czap’s dedication to the crew of artists they’ve been publishing for years as well as their eye for challenging, weird, and poetic work reminds me most of Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books. Like Williams, Czap is 100% invested in their artists. Also like Williams, Czap is very much hands-off in terms of content; the only real “editing” is the selection of the artist for publication. The result is a surprisingly wide array of genres and approaches, united only by the humane themes in their art. Czap is also publishing some of the most challenging, cutting-edge comics available now, like Czap Books’ flagship anthology title, Ley Lines, one that focuses on relationship between art and artists. Let’s take a look at some recent and older work published by Czap, including their own comics.

Futchi Perf and other Czap Books By Czap

Turning first to Czap’s own work, the centerpiece of that is the enigmatic and blissfully beautiful Futchi Perf (a linguistic variation on “perfect future,” I’d guess). Prior to the full publication of that comic, they published some precursors in anthologies and minis, like Lyric Sheet and a split mini with cartoonist John G. In the latter comic, both artists explored an alternative version of Cleveland, with John G.’s delving into loneliness and isolation as earnestly as Czap searches for connection and meaning. I think describing Czap’s work as utopian doesn’t quite hit the mark. A utopia implies a perfect working system where everyone is happy. It has an almost mechanistic connotation.

davis-futchi-perf-review-image-1-650x995

What Czap instead posits is a city where all basic needs are met, and which is devoted to free self-expression, connection and understanding. It’s a sloppy and beautifully human city, subject to human frailties and limitations but also buffered by the possibilities of kindness and empathy. The introduction, appropriately titled “Theme”, is a best-case scenario extrapolation, where “all the right things are winning!” and “this neighborhood is swarming with all your closest friends!” The dense and shadowy but still cartoony line reminds me a bit of Kyle Baker’s old work. A more contemporary mutual influence, I believe, is the cartoonist Jeremy Sorese. Czap’s character design, world-building, and unspoken but obvious focus on a society that is clearly gender-fluid, racially mixed, and diverse in every way imaginable (including but not limited to sexual preference), creates an environment where there is at last an even playing field. That fascinating exploration of a world where being genderqueer is the norm instead of the exception reminds me of Sorese, only Czap is more interested in how that plays out across a wide swath of society rather than with a small set of characters.

Czap is also interested in exploring what kinds of conflicts still exist in a society where basic needs are accounted for. The story “Seventh Energy” provides fascinating, cut-away diagrams of how Cleveland is powered by an energy-harvesting source that comes from Lake Erie. While life may be a best-case scenario  in this version of Cleveland, Czap notes that as long as human beings have emotions, desires, and interact with one another, there will still be the possibility of conflict, unhappiness, insecurity, and confusion about one’s path.

That idea is tracked throughout the comic, as the lack of self-actualization is explored in conjunction with a society that emphasizes inclusiveness and innovation. Czap’s Cleveland is strongly influenced by the Kid Mind, a sort of living-cloud think tank that influences culture and trends. Young people, with their fashion, sociopolitical consciousness, and dialect informed and informing the Kid Mind in near real-time, use devices to find house parties and other ways to connect. Their appearance in the story “Lyric Sheet” is connected to the story’s protagonist and a famous singer-poet named Graces. Czap delves deep into mythology, as the Graces were the patrons of the pleasurable things in life, including play, rest, and happiness. The protagonist’s connection to Graces (at first unspoken and later explicit) goes beyond even the influence of the Kid Mind.

Czap’s dense but cartoony line creates a more pleasant version of the sort of future worlds that another potential inspiration, Brandon Graham, conjures, complete with bushy eyebrows, highly expressive lettering, and noodly figures. It’s a world that’s every bit as crowded as Graham’s, only far less grimy. The real key to the comic’s visual success is the deft and clever use of color via the Risograph. The light from devices is a swirling pink, color contrasts offer a quick key to foreground and background figures, and key panels switch from dark blues to pinks to emphasize the emotional importance of that component. The final comparison I’d make is the Zak Sally story “The Great Healing”, in which a narrator reveals a world where every desired miracle has taken place, where “tears crawled back into wet eyes.” What makes Czap’s version unique is less of a focus on a single moment than an exploration of this premise, simultaneously world-building and character-building. Of all Czap’s comics, Futchi Perf comes closest to recapitulating Czap’s entire project as a publisher.

A Lesson In Survival, on the other hand, is very much an OuBaPo kind of experiment, matching Joni Mitchell lyrics to swirling black cityscapes and figures. While many of them border on the abstract, the reader is made to juxtapose them against the lyrics, which have their own meaning when separated from the original songs. It’s not an entirely successful experiment, as the repetition and lack of variation on themes drags the mini down, and there’s not quite enough to connect the images and lyrics to make it all click.

“He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap” is a collaboration with Cathy G. Johnson, another long-time presence at Czap Books. This is a short, black & white broadsheet that in many ways is the quintessential Czap publication. It’s scratchy, expressive, slightly oblique but also emotionally open. Featuring the narratives of several characters in what appears to be a small Southern town, it’s about identity, gender, and the sense of being trapped or locked into one’s life with no recourse for some, and the infinite possibilities available to the imagination of children. The loopy lines converge into figures beautiful in their grotesqueness, drawn with their hearts on their sleeves. I’m not quite sure how the division of labor was split between the two artists, but there’s a remarkable degree of storytelling fluidity, and the reader is left wanting so much more.

Czap Books

Eat That Toast is a collection of full-color gag strips by Czap’s brother Matt. He’s an animator and improv comedian associated with the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and it’s clear that a lot of lessons from the world of improv are reflected in his sense of humor. Czap’s art is functional, relying heavily on exaggeration and color in support of his gags, which are mostly conceptual. The drawings are clear and don’t detract from the jokes, but they aren’t usually funny as drawings; if anything, they feel a bit web-comic generic. That said, the conceptual nature of his gags is killer, and it’s clear that he’s a skilled comedic writer. What I like best about this collection is the way he sets up a group of recurring characters that create a certain set of expectations as to the eventual punchline, yet Czap is repeatedly able to find a fresh way either to tell the joke or else cleverly subvert expectations. The best is the recurring saga of a family of anthropomorphic toast and the ravenous bird that stalks them. What’s great about it is that in many of these strips, Czap will go to great lengths to discuss the most intimate details of the toast family’s life and then spring the bird on them in horrifying fashion.

Other highlights include the vegan who’s against food consumption of all kinds, the bird who works in a pizza joint (including a truly unsettling strip where being told to pour soda on a pizza he’s delivered turns out to be some kind of fetish), the contagiousness of pick-up-artist syndrome, the archeologist-adventurer whose dreams of treasure never quite materialize in the ways she expect, and all kinds of ridiculous puns and wordplay. My favorite strip of all is one about a dad who’s just explained “the birds and bees” to his son, and when the kid gets with his girlfriend and is being pecked by birds and stung by bees, he triumphantly thinks, “I’m doing it!” Another great one takes the concept behind “hugs, not drugs” to its logical and dark conclusion. I actually would have preferred to have seen the jokes without the use of color, because it didn’t really add much and was actually distracting at times. The core ideas are so solid that going simpler might have been preferable, but there’s no doubt that Matt Czap is as funny as any humorist out there. Fans of Joey Alison Sayers would especially enjoy his work.

Ulcera is by young Brazilian artists (Paula) Puiupo and Adonis Pantazopoulos. What it shares with other Czap books is an interest in futurism, utopianism, and a radical rethinking of personal identity within the context of interpersonal connections. Considering the ages of the artists (20 and 19, respectively), it’s remarkable to see how thoroughly manga has become the international comics lingua franca. The influence is so deep and pervasive that it can’t be ascribed to a particular artist or artists. That’s because such a wide variety of styles has been available to younger readers for nearly two decades now, and that influence has spawned a generation of cartoonists who sprang off from manga and developed their own ideas and visual approaches.

The plot involves a young woman named Ulcera who infiltrates an organization (and structure) called The Tower, a cultish influence-peddling group. There are echoes of Catholicism, future tech, bionics and other human-machine mash-ups, sex, body horror and transformation, BDSM, and magic. The plot is non-linear and frankly difficult to follow at times, but there’s an essential wit at the center of the whole production that embraces the madness of the story while poking fun of it. The thin line of the artists is set off by the dense use of blacks. The characters are angular and expressive, bordering on the grotesque. Multiple readings don’t necessarily make it any more coherent; instead, the book becomes easier to apprehend by approaching it as a series of slips in time and space that are connected but not in ways that are always obvious. The Puiupo/Pantazopoulos created their own storytelling language in the course of making this comic, one that intersperses stretched-out silent moments with new and sudden interjections by heretofore unseen characters. The experience is one of being kept constantly off-balanced and surprised.

bugboys_digital-1-1

Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys began like many of the best comics do: as a series of sketches that took on a life of their own, until stories and ideas started forming around them. I’m most familiar with Knetzger as an all-ages cartoonist, though her autobio comic Sea Urchin was a bold and creative attempt at confronting her depression and social anxiety. Some of her other comics are more clever than heartfelt, and it’s obvious that Bug Boys is Knetzger’s comics lab for working through problems, both as a creator trying to find her way and on a personal level. There is no cute high concept to Bug Boys, nor is there a deliberate sense of world-building at the expense of character. Everything in the book is built around the friendship of beetles Stag-B and Rhino-B, two insects who are trying to find their way in the world.

This volume collects individual issues of the Bug Boys minicomic, and the story of this book is as much Knetzger’s evolution as an artist as it is her own characters starting to grow up. Knetzger leans heavily on manga for her style, though there’s certainly a touch of James Kochalka to be found here as well. The comic never reaches Kochalka’s level of twee in part because the comic is about the characters working through their negative emotions in what feels like a genuine manner. It’s obvious that Knetzger has invested much time and energy into the characters. Another influence is Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Knetzger takes from that comic the depiction of a restless thirst for adventure. The boys love exploring treasure maps and going on little quests as much as they do cooking or camping.

enhanced-buzz-8380-1386620358-0

The beetles also often face existential crises, wondering about their role in a world where they are so small and have to co-exist with so many bigger, frightening species. The boys learn to cope with diverging interests, as Stag-B starts to help Dome Spider catalog bug knowledge in a library (which includes comics), while Rhino-B starts to become a better outdoorsman. They act as village representatives and help prevent a massive war from breaking out between the bees and the termites. They survive a hallucinatory and truly harrowing journey through a cave with their friend Dragonfly. Much of the book is told in the language of meditation and therapy, as the boys learn again and again that they have to find ways to accept themselves and live in each moment without looking too far ahead. There’s a genuine warmth and a humane quality to this book that still embraces but is not consumed by a loosely told overarching history of the Bug Village. Any details the reader is given only serve to enrich and deepen the relationships that are at the forefront of the story. The impeccably clean and cute line of Knetzger is versatile enough to embrace the lighter and more fun aspects of the story as well as darker or more interior scenes as well. It’s a work where each chapter serves not only as its own enjoyable, self-contained piece, but also to add another building block in the beetles’ friendship and the world they live in.

Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight is Czap Books’ most recent publication, and it’s an all-ages fantasy/adventure/romance with queer overtones. It’s impeccably plotted down to the last detail and Zabarsky’s world-building is vivid without overwhelming the story or the characters. It’s the story of Lelek, a young witch, and Sanja, the daughter of a local trader who happens to be handy with a sword. Lelek has robbed several customers and Sanja gets roped into training Lelek how to fight while insisting that she stop stealing. Lelek’s initial distrust slowly turns to friendship, warmth, and then love, and the plot revolves around Lelek’s tragic and mysterious past as she slowly comes to terms with it. The McGuffin of the story is the essence of Lelek’s magic, part of which was taken away from her for safekeeping when she was a child, leaving her only a potion skill that involved a complex set of spitting actions.

The narrative moves forward around Lelek’s search for that part of her, with the other part of her essence is contained in a lit candle that always floats above her head. A tragedy at the end triggers the book’s climax, tying up all the plot threads with remarkable tidiness. One subtext of the book is the toxicity of patriarchal customs and beliefs, as they push Lelek into crime and cause the tragedy at the end of the book, as Sanja’s younger brother feels forced to do something horrible to prove his masculinity to his demanding father. The book’s focus on cooperation, openness, friendship, and generosity gives it a remarkable sense of warmth, but the characters are far from perfect. They make mistakes. They are insensitive at times. They lose their tempers. The characters are so fully-formed that I sense that this book could be a big deal for its rightful YA demographic. The rubbery and cartoony quality of Zabarsky’s line for her character designs is contrasted with the wonderfully detailed nature of her drawings of nature and the villages the characters explore, and Zabarsky’s use of spotting blacks and negative space in composing each panel is ideal. Another important aspect of the work is Zabarsky’s ability to clearly render dynamic action sequences, which is a key element of the first half of the book. It’s perfect YA storytelling: easy to follow but lovely to look at.

Czap Distribution

As part of his publishing concern, Czap has long championed and sold the work of others whose work he hasn’t directly published. That’s happening less now that a real body of publishing work has started to coalesce, but those comics are at the root of their operation and represent the way that they’ve supported a small group of like-minded cartoonists.

Cyanide Milkshake #5, by Liz Suburbia. Suburbia’s minis have been distributed by Czap for years, long preceding her breakthrough first book with Fantagraphics, Sacred Heart. This zine is a good old-fashioned, one-woman anthology. It’s chock full of gags, a continuing adventure storyline, autobio, stories about her dogs and much more. It’s the most no-frills, back-to-basics mini possible, printed on copy paper and drawn with Sharpies. It’s a testament to her skill and style that it looks so good. It’s punk in the best sense of the term: do-it-yourself, thoughtful, questioning of authority, and entirely personal. It’s fun because Suburbia is good at so many things; her fake ads (like for something called Spermicidal Tendencies–“when you need hardcore protection”) are hilarious, her lettering is eye-catching without being distracting and has some genuinely beautiful decorative qualities on some pages, and her genre parodies are true to the characters while still earning laughs. Her recollection of her sister helping Suburbia manage her anxiety and OCD is genuinely touching, and she’s one of the rare cartoonists who really knows how to draw children. Even her continuing zombie-apocalypse adventure is more notable for the way she depicts relationships than it is for the flesh-eating action. Distributing Suburbia’s work illustrates one of Czap’s crucial qualities as a publisher: an eye for developing talent.

Ojitos Borrosos (“Blurry Eyes”), by Ines Estrada. Estrada is an emerging artist and Czap handed me a copy of her book a couple of years back. Estrada has published comics in her native Spanish as well as in English, and this is a cleverly edited collection of her short works. They’re subdivided into several categories, including autobio, love stories, science fiction, and “instructive” comics. Estrada is the rare cartoonist whose use of greyscale doesn’t detract from the clarity of her storytelling, in part because she’s so direct, funny and gross. It’s clear that Julie Doucet was a big influence on her character design and scatological bluntness, but Estrada’s sense of humor and narrative interests are all her own. If there’s an American comparison I might make, it would be Eleanor Davis. Take “The Next Thing: Nesting”, for example. It starts off with a bird looking to nest in a tree, only to be slowly pinned and trapped by its branches. Like Davis, Estrada can employ a cute, cartoony style for horrific effect. “Plastico”, in its own strange way, is a statement about the ways in which men objectify women. In this case, a woman trapped in a department store meets a number of women covered in plastic who are being used as sex toys, but they protect her by covering her up and then melting, frustrating the men who are watching them, hoping to watch them have sex.

Estrada’s sense of humor is at the core of all her stories, and that sense of humor ranges from silly & whimsical to nihilistic. A talking head lectures the reader about how the end of the world is an anthropocentric idea, since insects will take control. The narrator chides the reader for wanting to take the easy way out but then informs them that she’s just a comic character whose end will come soon. “Girls Also Pee Standing” is a step-by-step instruction manual to encourage women to urinate standing up, and in many ways it’s the quintessential Estrada story in its scatological qualities, cute drawings and powerful sense of personal identity. “Mitocondria” is the show-stopper in the collection, as it tells a story of a woman’s boyfriend who has his personality switched with the dog. The resulting story (where the two appear to switch heads as a symbol of the switch but appear normal to everyone else) features the man (now a dog) getting progressively more agitated at his fate and the dog (now a man) at first enjoying eating and having animalistic sex. The ending, when the dog sniffs out the source of the change is incredibly dark, as the couple is eventually reduced to maggot-ridden protoplasm. Her diary comics are every bit as scatological as her other comics, but there’s a surprising level of sweetness to them as well when she talks about her boyfriend. There’s a rawness to Estrada’s comics and a sense of immediacy that energizes her work, but it’s also obvious that her imagination, storytelling ability, and assured craftsmanship go hand-in-hand with that expressiveness.

Ley Lines

This is a series of minis that all have the same logo and trade dress, but each issue is by a different artist. In many ways, this series, co-published by L. Nichols and Grindstone Press, is Czap’s greatest achievement. It purports to be “dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us.” Each cartoonist’s interpretation of what this means is different, and while many select fine artists, there are also poets and performance artists as well. Here’s a rundown, issue by issue:

#1 (November 2014): Unholy Shapes, by Annie Mok. The deceptively flip cover copy aside, this is a remarkably studied, thoughtful, and frank self-examination by an artist and her relationship with the art and artists that have shaped her, for good and ill. Mok uses a smudged, inky approach to her art here as she both does her own cartooning as well as copying in her own hand a number of key works by the Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele. This comic is both biography and autobiography, weaving the two together in clever ways. It must be said that despite the many interesting formal decisions Mok makes in this comic, it is by no means formal experimentation for its own sake. Every panel and every line has an emotional resonance to it, as though solving the problem of making this comic was a way of resolving other personal and aesthetic issues. Mok is frank and forthright with her own sexual and drug-related escapades; not to make the story more sensational, but rather to echo Schiele’s own iconoclastic and sexually blunt life.

Mok’s evaluation of the plastic qualities of Schiele’s work is fascinating. The title of the mini refers to the monstrous and vampiric qualities of Schiele’s highly angular figures, especially his frequently tortured self-portraits. Mok relates Schiele to a childhood fear of seeing Nosferatu on a TV show as well as to certain toxic individuals in her life. Mok’s rundown of that angular, somewhat androgynous figure in today’s culture is spot-on, and the comic concludes with an understanding of the ways that Schiele’s work has become an unconscious part of Mok’s own work as an artist and performer. Mok’s raw honesty is balanced by her sense of restraint, and the fact that she used a 2×4 grid on almost every page points to how the tight compositional structure of the comic was key to that restraint. Most every moment, regardless of its emotional significance, is given the same amount of room and has the same visual impact, as Mok does not vary her style much in the comic.

#2 (February 2015): Golden Smoke, by Warren Craghead. One gets the sense that Craghead would have had no less meaningful an aesthetic experience on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as he did at Art Basel Miami, noted as “the largest art fair in the U.S.” It is fitting that the festival is held in Miami Beach, the part of Miami where the conspicuous display of wealth is a spectator sport and where appearance is more important than substance. I like to refer to Craghead as the Godfather of Comics-As-Poetry, and his distinctive merging of word and text gets at the raw, naked commodification of the festival and its utter disconnect from the aesthetic experience.

The commodification of art is not exactly a new phenomenon, but Craghead doesn’t purport to making a startling discovery with regard to how the rich treat art as a status object that’s one of many excuses to throw exclusive parties. Instead, Craghead simply draws what he sees in the moment, using a style that blends the signifier with the signified as words fill up images and create forms, all while informing the image with things that he overhears and events that he sees. My favorite page involves a gallery where works by Rothko and Calder are given Pinterest “pins” by Craghead, as paintings are reduced to the banal level of recipes or macrame projects.

#3 (May 2015): Thank God, I Am In Love, by Cathy G. Johnson. Johnson’s comic is the thematic opposite of Craghead’s, as she expresses her unabashed love for Vincent van Gogh. Johnson makes it clear that it’s not the mythology of Van Gogh that enraptures her; to paraphrase Heidegger, the true biography of Van Gogh might be: “He was born. He painted. He died. The rest is anecdote.” This is not to be dismissive of his life or struggles, but Johnson makes clear that what connects her to him, what brings her so much aesthetic bliss, are the actual paintings. The actual strokes and stabs and whorls, the creation of color and light that we can see and know that were made by his hand. That in many respects, we have the privilege of knowing him as well as anyone because we have his work to experience. To be sure, what Johnson is describing is the aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense: the “sublime,” that almost transcendental experience that is separate from the descriptions and even the emotions that surround it. That Van Gogh’s paintings bring her this on a regular basis, as she notes, is a constant source of happiness.

#4 (August 2015): For Lives, by Andrew White. White delves into the creative process of Pablo Picasso vis-a-vis his portrait of Gertrude Stein. If the other pieces followed a personal, aesthetic or emotional connection to art and artists, White’s focus is analytical. His approach is certainly immersive, as he overlays text over image, most of which are drawings and paintings from Picasso. Much of the text is from Stein herself, as she discusses her reaction to the work and her understanding of Picasso’s process. Like Johnson and Van Gogh, there’s an understanding that the only way Picasso truly expressed himself was through his work. It was his language, but there is also a sense of frustration that he could never quite match up with the ideal, transcendent image in his head on canvas. His paintings are ugly because he felt ugliness matched the intensity of that very struggle. The struggle represented his honest attempt at communication, capturing and wrestling with a single image in a single moment. White’s use of the 2×2 grid throughout creates a rhythm not unlike Mok’s comic, only his light, sketchy line and prominent use of negative space gives the comic a more languid pace.

#5 (November 2015): Poems to the Sea, by Erin Curry. Artist Cy Twombly’s work has always seemed grossly out of place in a gallery. Though he worked big, his scribbly poetry should have been a minicomic, and cartoonist/sculptor Erin Curry saw it that way as well, creating a sequel to Twombly’s 4×6 grid Poems to the Sea. Curry’s comic is yet another approach in trying to understand and express the sublime, this time through abstract figures, erasure, and the grid. It’s an attempt, at the most basic level, of trying to communicate and capture the feeling  of that moment of connection to the transcendent, with the most immediate and rudimentary of markings. If the sea is a metaphor for consciousness, this is Curry’s attempt to plumb those depths and show the reader what she sees.

ll6_3188_400w

#6 (February 2016): Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. I’ve long enjoyed Cockle’s elliptical storytelling, use of erasure, conceptual humor, and fascination with conspiracies. This comic full of visual fragments talks about the relationship between art and destruction, opening with German painter Werner Heldt’s paintings of devastated, post-World War II Berlin. With a sense of coldness, Cockle notes that Germany had inflicted the same kind of long-distance destruction as its foes did to it. His rattling off the specific technical specs of his page is meant to reflect the “just the facts” nature of long-distance warfare. A strip about the loss of so much of Sappho’s ancient work thanks to vases cracking and papyrus crumbling over time notes how so much of the totality of cultural antiquity is elided into a single entity, comprised of love poems and war maps alike. The title of the mini refers to the Edgar Degas painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, an ahistorical painting where soldiers kill nine nude women, and follows up the other two stories by noting how maps reduce war zones to distant dots and dehumanizes groups of people.

#7 (May 2016): Made with Love in Hell, by Mimi Chrzanowski. Chrzanowski’s approach is to take a particular piece of art (in this case, Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights) and riff on it. This is a mother-daughter story where Bosch’s alien architecture (which looks like it might have also inspired Jim Woodring) is very much left intact, only in a form that is at once more hellish and monstrous but also cute. The mechanics of navigating hell are simultaneously disgusting and adorable, like climbing up the anus of a giant witch and being spat out when one reaches their destination. There are “Demonmon” (i.e., Pokemon) cards, where the monsters involved perform mundane activities, fruit platters are eaten constantly and also provide shelter, and Mother is a robe-wearing, terrifying mass of swirls with teeth above a furnace who works out at Curves. It’s a charming and bizarre comic that’s not just a reinterpretation of Bosch’s imagery. It feels like Chrzanowski took the time to imagine what it would be like to inhabit and grow up in such an environment, down to good old-fashioned maternal guilt. Her character design is inspired and both drives the narrative and is secondary to it in many ways. The tension between the horrible and the cute informs every page, especially when Chrzanowski really zooms in for a close-up. While bizarre background details pop up without comment, we are occasionally reminded that despite the conventional nature of the mother-daughter conflict at the story’s center, every detail that we see would be terrifying to the point of utter madness in any other setting.

ll8_3278_w_400w

#8 (August 2016): The Letting Go, by Kevin Czap. Czap’s contribution to this series fits in with the others in that it’s very much about the sublime. The way they get there, however, is quite different, as the story builds on Dutch conceptual/performance artist Bas Jan Ader’s last work, In Search of the Miraculous. That work was a trip via boat across the Atlantic Ocean, and the artist did not survive the trip. Interestingly, the work was a reference to a book of the same title by P.D. Ouspensky, based on the teachings of the thinker George Gurdjieff and a system that came to be known as the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way essentially synthesized different forms of Eastern thought and practice in a way that was deliberately non-dogmatic. All of this is relevant because Czap’s unnamed narrator (depicted as a woman whose face we never see) begins the story discussing the things they need to let go. In particular, fear and control are named.

Czap connects these two feelings to desire, which of course is at the heart of Buddhism as the cause of all suffering. This comic is a snug fit with Futchi Perf because of the way Czap describes a kind of dynamic, propulsive and positive growth as fear and control give way to trust. The drawings are beautiful and elegant, incorporating a number of intricate decorative elements while still remaining entirely clear as individual compositions. Czap makes a lot of allusions to the ocean, of discarding things in it, as well as storms at sea that are barely survived. After the gentle quality of the first several pages, the end is a harrowing journey, with the text blowing up in size and dominating the page and the images carved up by the small grid that’s appeared on each page. Unlike Ader, Czap’s character makes it to shore, thanks to unyielding support.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-nurturer-kevin-czap-czap-books/feed/ 2
Coming In http://www.tcj.com/98146-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98146-2/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98146 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Clough looks at Kevin Czap and Czap Books.

Kevin Czap was recently awarded the Emerging Talent award at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) festival, a fitting honor for a cartoonist and publisher who is starting to publish on a more aggressive basis. A self-proclaimed “Comics Mom,” Czap’s goal as a publisher is to nurture and encourage the artists that they publish (Czap’s preferred pronouns are they/them) to be their best and most fully-formed artistic selves, no matter their style or method. Their forward-thinking and nurturing presence as a publisher is most closely aligned with how Annie Koyama works with her artists, but Czap’s dedication to the crew of artists they’ve been publishing for years as well as their eye for challenging, weird, and poetic work reminds me most of Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books. Like Williams, Czap is 100% invested in their artists. Also like Williams, Czap is very much hands-off in terms of content; the only real “editing” is the selection of the artist for publication. The result is a surprisingly wide array of genres and approaches, united only by the humane themes in their art. Czap is also publishing some of the most challenging, cutting-edge comics available now, like Czap Books’ flagship anthology title, Ley Lines, one that focuses on relationship between art and artists. Let’s take a look at some recent and older work published by Czap, including their own comics.

Elsewhere:

The newly enduring longevity of Fletcher Hanks is some kind of testament to the what a nerve the work strikes. And also Paul Karasik’s ongoing promotional efforts. Here’s one.

And at The Paris Review, Joe Ollmann takes us behind the scenes of his new book on William Seabrook.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/98146-2/feed/ 0
Tired of Winning http://www.tcj.com/tired-of-winning/ http://www.tcj.com/tired-of-winning/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98035 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we have a special treat for you: an interview with the great Ted Stearn of Fuzz n’ Pluck fame conducted by the also great David Mazzucchelli.

AN IMAGINATION ARCHIVE

DM: (Sifting through books and papers) I’m sitting here going through, like, thirty years of your stuff, and it’s really interesting to see the connections between drawings and paintings you were doing about thirty years ago—

TS: (laughing) Thirty years! That’s crazy.

DM: Well, that’s the late eighties, right?

TS: Eighties, yeah.

DM: It’s interesting, ’cause I remember a lot of those paintings very distinctly—

TS: Really?

DM: Yes, very clearly. Well, pretty clearly—

TS: You know, Richmond [Lewis] was an inspiration for me. She really was.

DM: Oh, yeah?

TS: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t want to paint like Richmond, but I remember I would go in your apartment and you would have all the Daredevil stuff out, and I was like “Okay, looks good! I want to see Richmond’s paintings, though!” (laughs)

DM: Her stuff was out too, as I recall.

TS: Yeah, well I kinda went “Oh, David, that’s really cool, you’re an incredible draftsman—let’s go see the paintings, now.”

(laughter)

DM: Smart move. Some of the imagery in the paintings you were doing back then found its way into the first comics you were making.  The “Beach Boy” comic for example [published in Rubber Blanket No. 1]—there was a lot of Coney Island imagery and boardwalk scenes in your paintings before that.

Painting by Ted Stearn, late 1980s.

TS: Right. Well, that was the first comic I did for you, and that was definitely pulling from my obsession with the Jersey Shore (laughs)—before it was a TV show!

DM: And where did that come from—that obsession?

TS: Um, I don’t know. I think I saw a lot of aesthetic stuff that I was really excited about, and so I wanted to reinterpret it as, not a cacophony, but a whole orchestration of shapes and colors and busyness and—

DM: You mean the combination of signs and different typography and different-shaped buildings and things all crammed together, that kind of accumulation?

TS: Yeah, I think it reflects in the comic maybe a little bit? Just how disorienting, if you walk through a boardwalk area? I was very intrigued by that, and I was also intrigued because it’s right next to nature—beach, ocean, complete nature—and then you’ve got this, you know, orgy of the follies of civilization or something. Also, I grew up in that kind of environment—we would always go to the beach in the summer, and as a kid I loved the boardwalk, the ocean, the whole scene. So it had a lot of personal resonance with me in hindsight, and the whole craziness of the boardwalk made me think about that contrast.

DM: There was another painting of the huge orange with human legs—

TS: (Laughs, shakes head)

DM: —that became Sourpuss in the Fuzz and Pluck comics.

TS: Yeah. (Shakes head) I don’t know why, I really don’t. I think it’s best not to analyze too much….

Also, Sara Lautman is back with one more bonus strip to follow up on her week creating our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The National Book Critics Circle has announced the nominees for this year’s awards, and one of the nominated titles is Michael Tisserand’s George Herriman biography, Krazy.

Fortune magazine takes a look at Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter’s possible role within the Trump administration.

While announcing the news that he has picked David Shulkin (a previous appointee of President Barack Obama) to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump also mentioned that Perlmutter has been “very, very involved” in advising Trump’s team on veterans affairs issues. Trump also called Perlmutter—the Israeli-American executive who became Marvel’s CEO in 2005—”one of the great men of business” in the Wednesday press conference, Trump’s first as president-elect.

—Interviews. Betsy Gomez interviews Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman about their Resist! anthology.

FM: We first did it to address our own need, and our need was to do something. Not just sit around being stunned and depressed — we wanted to do something affirmative. That’s when we succeeded, because the outpouring of responses, and even seeing all those images, I think that getting a copy — that’s obviously a reward that it gets into so many people’s hands.

We were also going to do a slideshow of all the submissions that we got. We want people to go “Ohhhh, wow!” There is an absolute force out there. We want them to be as aware as we are of the positive or the constructive force. It’s not a denunciation. It’s not an attack on Donald Trump. It’s a celebration of everything that we have in common, of not just women, but men also, and people for whom gender is fluid, as well as young, as well as old, as well as professional artists, as well as doctors and lawyers and grandmothers, as well as everyone who feels that they lost something on November 8th — they should be able to find something here that is at least as sustaining as what was taken away that day.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Leela Corman.

—Reviews & Commentary. Dash Shaw’s Cosplayers Christmas.

The release of A Cosplayers Christmas as a standalone comic immediately draws attention to itself as an item of commercial production due to its ties to a season that has become increasingly associated with rampant consumerism and due to the way it invalidates the “perfectness” of the existing collection by implying that what has been produced to date is incomplete, thus requiring the production of a more “perfect” collection at a future date. This commercial aspect of the comic is countered on the comic’s cover by Shaw’s dedication of the item as a gift from him to you, the reader. To further emphasise the conflation of commercial and gift-giving principles, Shaw includes, on the comic’s cover, a depiction of the icon of the festive season, Santa, on the side of a Coca Cola bottle (Coke being the infamous creators of the popular image of Santa via the advertising campaigns they first began in the 1920s). This blurring of the lines between gift and product (you have to exchange money to receive the “gift” and are thus made fully aware of its ascribed monetary value) also alludes to the inseparability of art and commerce, with Shaw purposefully attaching his work to a consumer-centric holiday in order to comment from within its systemic order. In the same way as the designs of previous iterations of Cosplayers reflected the themes that were to be explored within their pages, the market positioning and cover construction of A Cosplayers Christmas summarises the dominant theme of the comic itself.

—Misc. Lee Moran writes about R. Sikoryaks’s recent Trump comics.

“The idea occurred to me right before the election,” the New York City-based artist told The Huffington Post on Saturday. “Trump had said so many outrageous things during his campaign that I wanted to catalogue them.”

“It was important to me to only use Trump’s actual quotes, I didn’t want to put any words in his mouth,” he added. “Once Trump became the president-elect, I felt I had to do it.”

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/tired-of-winning/feed/ 0
The Ted Stearn Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-ted-stearn-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-ted-stearn-interview/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98037 Continue reading ]]> I’ve known Ted Stearn for about thirty-five years.  He was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design when my future wife Richmond Lewis and I were also there, and we all became good friends in the years thereafter.  I was so intrigued with the paintings, drawings, and sculptures he made over the years—particularly a series of “automatic drawings” that were devised from random mark-making—that I suggested he make a comic for Rubber Blanket, the magazine I was publishing in the early 1990s.  Ted took the challenge so seriously that he is still making comics today—damn good ones, too.

Ted Stearn and David Mazzucchelli. Photo by Richmond Lewis.

His latest book, The Moolah Tree, is the third installment in a saga that began in Fuzz and Pluck (1999) and continued in Splitsville (2008).  Fuzz, a rejected, perennially abused teddy bear with no self-confidence, and Pluck, a poultry-slaughterhouse escapee with self-confidence in (over)abundance, are unlikely companions trying to survive in a world of users, losers, and desperate seekers (not unlike our own).

In this conversation we talk about many of the ideas that power his work, and also touch on his careers as a teacher and storyboard artist.  I encourage you to visit tedstearn.com to see more of his work than can be shown here.  He remains one of my favorite people and one of my favorite artists.

— David Mazzucchelli

THE SMELL OF PAINT

DM: You and I had similar trajectories in art school. We both started off majoring in illustration and then switched into painting. Knowing your work over all these years since that time, and thinking about the things that you wanted to make when you came out of school, I’m curious why you went into Illustration in the first place.

TS: I was paranoid about work and how I was going to get it, and I thought that fine art was too…fluffy. And I remember I called up my parents—I’m sure a lot of readers can relate to this—I called up my parents, it was three months after being in Illustration, and I said “I don’t know what to do”—I was, like, crying—“I don’t know what to do, I—I can’t do this, I don’t like it, I hate the teachers, and stuff’s stupid, uhh….” And I actually said “I wanna go into Painting, but I don’t know,” you know, it’s just too—you just don’t do that, it’s too…impractical. So, they were so sweet, they said “Do what makes you happy. Just go ahead and do it.” And I remember my first tour of the Painting Department and I just felt like “Oh, I belong here. This is great. I like this.” Because everyone was just really into it. I liked the smell, and the freedom… and the Illustration Department, I think you would agree, had serious problems back then.

DM: Well, regardless of problems it may or may not have had, it didn’t turn out to be the place for me either.

TS: What was the reason for that, for you?

DM: I think I didn’t know what illustration was, and I was trying to make what I thought art was, even though in the back of my mind I think I always knew I wanted to make comics. But I was trying to make drawings and paintings, and when I switched out of that department, it became immediately clear to me what illustration was—you’re given a problem and you solve it.

TS: I feel like something can be compartmentalized as illustration and not art when the subject is more important than the actual work. You know what I mean? That’s its job. If it goes beyond that, and it becomes a world within itself, and it becomes this really interesting, complex, other thing, then…you can call it “art,” I guess.

Painting by Ted Stearn, 1988.

DM: With a capital A. What occurred to me was, I embraced ambiguity. In art ambiguity is a good thing, in illustration it’s not necessarily a good thing.

TS: I remember something you said in the studio. You said “You know, now I get it! It’s like the Talking Heads—stop making sense!”

(Both laugh)

TS: You remember saying that?

DM: I do.

TS: Well, it stuck with me, I was like, “Yeah, sure, definitely.” I mean, one of my favorite things about art-making is you have to break rules. I never liked sense too much.

Ted Stearn, self-portrait drawn with “wrong” hand.

AN IMAGINATION ARCHIVE

DM: (Sifting through books and papers) I’m sitting here going through, like, thirty years of your stuff, and it’s really interesting to see the connections between drawings and paintings you were doing about thirty years ago—

TS: (laughing) Thirty years! That’s crazy.

DM: Well, that’s the late eighties, right?

TS: Eighties, yeah.

DM: It’s interesting, ’cause I remember a lot of those paintings very distinctly—

TS: Really?

DM: Yes, very clearly. Well, pretty clearly—

TS: You know, Richmond was an inspiration for me. She really was.

DM: Oh, yeah?

TS: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t want to paint like Richmond, but I remember I would go in your apartment and you would have all the Daredevil stuff out, and I was like “Okay, looks good! I want to see Richmond’s paintings, though!” (laughs)

DM: Her stuff was out too, as I recall.

TS: Yeah, well I kinda went “Oh, David, that’s really cool, you’re an incredible draftsman—let’s go see the paintings, now.”

(laughter)

DM: Smart move. Some of the imagery in the paintings you were doing back then found its way into the first comics you were making.  The “Beach Boy” comic for example [published in Rubber Blanket No. 1]—there was a lot of Coney Island imagery and boardwalk scenes in your paintings before that.

Painting by Ted Stearn, late 1980s.

TS: Right. Well, that was the first comic I did for you, and that was definitely pulling from my obsession with the Jersey Shore (laughs)—before it was a TV show!

DM: And where did that come from—that obsession?

TS: Um, I don’t know. I think I saw a lot of aesthetic stuff that I was really excited about, and so I wanted to reinterpret it as, not a cacophony, but a whole orchestration of shapes and colors and busyness and—

DM: You mean the combination of signs and different typography and different-shaped buildings and things all crammed together, that kind of accumulation?

TS: Yeah, I think it reflects in the comic maybe a little bit? Just how disorienting, if you walk through a boardwalk area? I was very intrigued by that, and I was also intrigued because it’s right next to nature—beach, ocean, complete nature—and then you’ve got this, you know, orgy of the follies of civilization or something. Also, I grew up in that kind of environment—we would always go to the beach in the summer, and as a kid I loved the boardwalk, the ocean, the whole scene. So it had a lot of personal resonance with me in hindsight, and the whole craziness of the boardwalk made me think about that contrast.

DM: There was another painting of the huge orange with human legs—

TS: (Laughs, shakes head)

DM: —that became Sourpuss in the Fuzz and Pluck comics.

TS: Yeah. (Shakes head) I don’t know why, I really don’t. I think it’s best not to analyze too much….

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

DM: The reason I’m bringing it up is that in the drawings that came a little bit later, the ones you call “automatic drawings,” there’s also an animated quality to shapes, so that seemingly random or casual marks get turned into living creatures by the addition of arms or legs or something like that.

TS: All those images that I was creating was kind of like building…an imagination archive that I could pull from.

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

DM: Those automatic drawings are what made me ask you to make comics for Rubber Blanket. Those and the paintings. There were characters and a sense of place and a sense of “something’s going on”—I thought “this guy can make interesting comics.”

TS: I just couldn’t believe how hard creating a comic was.

DM: (Laughs)

TS: So hard. And yet I really wanted it. It took me years and years and years. And some kids just have it and they go ahead and do it. But if you hadn’t asked me…I don’t think I would have done it.

DM: Sorry about that.

SCULPTURE TAKES UP SPACE

DM: Do you see a connection between the work you’ve ended up doing in animation as a storyboard artist and the way you were thinking when you were making kinetic sculptures? 

TS: Uh…. (Pause) No.

DM: (Laughs) Okay.

Kinetic sculpture by Ted Stearn.

A sketch for a kinetic sculpture.

TS: Well, they require different approaches, to me. But I will say, one reason I got into comics, one reason I was making those sculptures, one reason that I’m pretty natural at storyboarding is I have this fourth dimension of time. I mean, all works of art technically would have the dimension of time, but this is like really kind of exploding it in a past and future direction. So, the sculpture is less about movement and more about introducing the element of time. That became very interesting to me, and that’s why I enjoyed all that more than, say, just doing a painting, an image—that became really limiting to me, even though I loved it and I would go back to it easily, but…I felt like I was in a box. I didn’t want to be in that box, I wanted to create worlds and places that kind of just expand as much as I can. There are a lot of influences—music is a big influence on me. In the early nineties I was doing paintings and drawings, but I felt stuck, so I started making drawings that were all over the wall, and then I started building things, making three-dimensional drawings, as it were, and it kind of took off from there.

Sculpture by Ted Stearn.

DM: Right.

TS: You know, Jonathan Borofsky was a big influence on me. I remember seeing his work in 1982, we did a field trip to New York from RISD, and he just blew me away. I was just like, “This is just play, this is just so much fun.” And he had some kinetic sculptures in there.

DM: I remember the “Chattering Men.”

TS: Yeah…(makes hammering motion) the “Hammering Man.”

(Note: there were both.)

TS: But it was the overall-ness of it, it was just like…this huge sculpture here, this painting of a dream leaning against the wall over here—I loved that freedom, the turning yourself inside out. I loved just being able to, uh, not be disciplined about what you’re going to make and just sit down and start making something and see what you come up with. So this was a frontier for me, to build things and construct things, as opposed to sitting and drawing on paper. It was a very different experience. So I’m a really big believer in getting outside of your medium.

A video of Stearn’s 1992 installations. 

DM: Interestingly, after that expansion of grad school, by going into comics you did end up drawing on paper.

TS: I know, can you believe it?? Yeah.

Ted Stearn in his studio, 1990. Photo by Sharon Jandik.

DM: But long before you were making comics you were thinking about characters and settings and worlds and creating these environments and I think it really shows right from the first comics you made that there was this sense of world-building, or atmosphere—

TS: (Nods vigorously) That’s really good, I hadn’t really thought about that a lot, but I think that’s true, and I think the artists and the authors who I admire the most are able to do that. They did reflect on the real world, but they created their own—like, Basquiat did that, and, I don’t know, Goya did that, Charles Burchfield, and a lot of other artists that I admire. They weren’t married to “reality”—you know, so many artists recreating the world in their own vision. That’s what I appreciate about a lot of artists and I guess that’s what I was trying to do, though I don’t think I thought about it consciously, whether it was the sculpture or the paintings or the automatic drawings or the comics…

DM: And Halloween costumes.

TS: Which one was that?

DM: You were always coming up with interesting Halloween costumes.

TS: (Laughing) I don’t remem—

DM: I remember one in particular that cracked me up, it was a shirt with like twenty-foot-long sleeves and your hands were just dragging behind you—

TS: (Laughs) I had rubber gloves at the end. And one was the seven plagues of Egypt— (touching his chest in different places) I just stuck things on me.

Halloween costume, c. 1996.

DM: Richmond remembers you did (miming a large shape around his head) a big head, a big bear head or something—

TS: I did. I did a Fuzz head, yeah.

DM: That was after you had made Fuzz and Pluck?

TS: Of course, yeah. What happened to those days? We used to construct things.

DM: Now we don’t have room to keep them.

TS: (Laughs) That’s true. That was a big element in why I gave up doing sculpture—even though they were meant to be disassembled, I still didn’t have space to put it anywhere.

PARADOX

DM: When you were in grad school, you read the book Gödel, Escher, Bach, and I think that had an influence on some of your thinking in terms of connecting dots between different things…

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

TS: Actually I couldn’t get through it all, but the concepts were fascinating, linking music, math, and art. If you look at my background, my father was a chess player, he played chess almost every night, with himself or with a computer. And he was a big influence on my thinking. He was a computer programmer, and he was also always debating with us. He would take a devil’s advocate view of something and he would argue with us about, for example, whether the moon landing ever took place. Anyway, he had that book, and when I was about twenty-one I was like, “Oh, what the hell is this? Who cares?” And then later I picked it up again—but it wasn’t just that book, he also had The Annotated Alice, which is about the things that are really going on in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, as well as Gödel, Escher, Bach. I was also tying in Zen Buddhism, which was about similar either/or conundrums. A lot of it had to do with math and a lot of it had to do with logic and a lot of it had to do with paradox, and how a paradox is almost impossible and yet it is possible—(laughs) there’s a paradox in itself. So, that really fascinated me because I really wanted to investigate just how elusive truth is. That was definitely injected into all my work. Like if you think about the automatic drawings—that’s when I just sat there and drew whatever came into my head—to me that’s the nonsense, the non-sense, it’s anti-sense.

DM: Lewis Carroll is sort of the intersection of logic and nonsense.

TS: Well, that’s what I realized. Alice is not a real girl, she has nothing to do with being a little girl, really. She’s logic. She’s reason in a world that is nonsense and she’s trying to make sense out of nonsense, and the nonsense is telling her, “No, you’re the one who’s nonsense. This is sense.” So everything is turned on its head. So I’m always thinking about, in terms of stories and characters, how can we turn things on their head and make the reader go “Oh, I thought this was gonna be an easy answer, and it’s not.” I have fun playing with that idea—where we think that the right answer or the moral issue or the character’s correct motivation is all based on this very clear line, and I really want to throw a wrench into it as much as possible.


DM: In the new book, The Moolah Tree, at one point the vagabond character makes a comment on what’s going on around him—he says “Boy, everybody is looking for something.” And everybody is looking for something, and practically all the characters find something but it isn’t the thing they were looking for.

TS: (laughs) Yeah, I think one reviewer put it pretty well how I was thinking, he said, “He’s teasing with the idea of ‘money doesn’t buy happiness,’ but he never pulls it out completely in this grand cliché,” and I’m like, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying! I’m saying, I don’t know, maybe we do need it. Maybe we don’t—I don’t know.” But this is how people are dealing with it, and that’s the fun part.

As soon as something becomes a pat answer—and this is in life, too—I have big problems with it, because it never is. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of issues, I’ve changed my perspective on love and life and family and all these things, and so if it’s written in stone, I’m there with my sandblaster. Because our perception of the past is always changing, people are incredibly fickle…. I think there are certain universal truths, but I’m sure not going to tell the reader what they are. To me it’s a conversation. The reader is putting their thoughts in my work and I am throwing out ideas, and I’m saying how about this? So, the reader has to do a little reflection…the reader has to come to a conclusion—which people love, you know, they like that closure. I try to add closure but…with a question mark.

SIDEWAYS INTO COMICS

DM: You came to comics kind of sideways, but you weren’t unaware of comics—you were not a comic book reader the way a lot of people who get into comics are, but certainly you had an affinity for the form. If I’m not mistaken you had a cat named after Ernie Bushmiller—

TS: (Laughs)

DM: —before you were making comics yourself.

TS: I was always interested in comics. My grandfather was a dentist, so we would go to his waiting room and he would have all these Richie Rich and Little Dot comics—I really liked those kind of things—and Donald Duck…I liked the funny ones. Superheroes, I read them but they weren’t a big influence on me.

DM: They weren’t funny.

TS: Yes, you’re right! After I grew out of that, I was like, “I’m a peinteur, I don’t look at comics”—(quickly smiling) no, I’m kidding, I wasn’t like that. I kind of rediscovered them later. I especially liked—now it’s almost cliché—I looked at RAW, and RAW was a big influence in my understanding what comics could be. I also discovered “Little Nemo.” That was really gorgeous stuff—I’d never seen it before, until like 1988 or something.

DM: Eye-opening.

TS: Yes. It was when you asked me to draw a comic, and I thought, “Well I definitely have to give this a try, ’cause I’ve been looking at all this stuff and I find it very interesting.”

DM: But there was also an interest in cartoons, you know, Betty Boop…

TS: Yeah…I guess I always had an interest in comics and animation, and if you look at the paintings, they’re pretty cartoony in a way—when I say cartoony, I mean, I feel like I had an attraction to bold images, something that’s almost iconic, bright colors…I guess we have to define “cartoony!”

DM: That’s why I was talking about these shapes in your drawings with an animating quality to them—these invented characters.

TS: It’s the old trope of marrying popular culture and art, I guess. But it’s so common now. I see it everywhere, I see it in art, I see it in…what do you call it, anthropomorphizing…all these animated cartoons on TV—cartoons just seem so much more pervasive now. Back then, I wanted to really marry cartooniness with  traditional art forms, and today we would say “big deal, what’s new about that?” But back then, back in the early eighties, I thought it was kind of an intriguing idea. I wanted to not be precious and artsy, I really dislike that. That’s one reason I got into comics, I guess. I felt like the art world that I had come to understand was this whole game, and there was a lot of money in it and that kind of tainted it, and the thing I liked about comics was: one, there’s no money in it—

(Both laugh)

TS: —and two, it felt like a frontier, I felt like, “Oh, look at the possibilities!” Now it’s totally different.

DM: Sure. Things have really changed.

TS: When I came up with Fuzz and Pluck, I was thinking of an anti-hero, a paradoxical hero, or something that kind of answers the cutesiness of Disney in the seventies and eighties, and that’s what I was used to. But now I feel like the meaning is kind of lost because [cutesy Disney animals] isn’t really the culture right now. I wanted to do something that was anti-mainstream culture and now I feel like a conservative in some ways—which is scary enough for me—but I don’t feel like I’m on the frontier of anything right now. That makes me confused as an artist. I’m not sure what my next step is.

FEAR = HUMOR

DM: Before you were making comics did you have an interest in telling stories?

TS: No! I’m a terrible storyteller.

DM: I’ll disagree with that.

TS: Well, it’s a lot of work for me. It’s not something that comes naturally. The way I construct a story is just taking different elements and putting them together. I want to keep playing with the reader’s expectations, not just of the plot but of the actual storytelling—and that’s really tricky (laughs). Because a story is built on certain clichés that we’ve built up over the ages—

DM: Let’s call them “conventions.”

TS: Yeah, that’s better—and I became especially exposed to these because I was working in animation where we come up with certain conventions to explain quickly—as in, “Okay, we’re gonna have a scary shot! Okay, we’re gonna look up at the door, annnd the character’s gonna come in and open the door and it’s gonna be a low angle shot and the lighting’s going to be behind him…” These kind of shots that we had to come up with, and they still come up with over and over again, they just got me thinking a lot about how much I despise (laughs), how much I despise clichés because they don’t really come from a genuine place anymore. They’re xeroxes of xeroxes. We don’t realize how conditioned we are to act and react, like, “Okay, this is gonna happen next…” So I see it a lot. “Go close up to show them looking. Don’t show what they’re looking at yet.” And then my favorite is “waking up from a bad dream.” (Leaning back in his chair) There they are in bed having a bad dream, they wake up, (jolts forward) they do a sit-up! Like who ever does a sit-up waking up?

DM: People do it all the time—I’ve seen it in the movies!

TS: Exactly! So, this kind of lack of originality, um, it’s partially laziness, partially habit, because it “works.” And I think that’s based on fear, we’re afraid to go outside of a certain convention, because we don’t really know, it’s uncharted territory. So, when I’m thinking of a story, usually the first idea is gonna be pretty cliché, so I have to go beyond that and that’s the scary part, because it’s like, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen if I try this. Will it work?” Whereas, as you know, the cliché will “work” in the conventional sense.

You know the farting donkey [in The Moolah Tree]—

DM: The flonkey.

TS: —the flonkey—I had a dream. I kept picturing Fuzz and Pluck on a Pegasus, like a flying horse. And I was thinking, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna do a flying horse, Pegasus, no way, I can’t do it.” So I tried to think of things that will serve the same purpose but will be a surprise, will be funny, will be more interesting than the same old thing. That’s what I do with almost all my characters, like the pirates—they’re never called pirates, they’re not dressed like seventeenth-century swashbucklers or something, that’s, aaugh, I could never do that. Anyway, I had a dream about riding a horse with flowers all over it. And I thought, this is really interesting, and so I built the backstory about the flonkey based on that dream and the idea that I wanted a flying horse. Of course, I didn’t want her to just fly—

DM: She had to be propelled somehow.

TS: Yes, we don’t give that away! So that’s how I’m constructing these things, I’m trying to do something that’s never been seen before.

DM: It’s interesting that that’s something you dreamed, because some of the most harrowing moments in the Fuzz and Pluck stories are dream sequences, or hallucinations, and they really take the reader into a much darker place. You also made a few short comics called “The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef,” and the logic in those comics is definitely a kind of dream logic.

TS: Well, usually I don’t remember my dreams. I would stress this to anyone who’s an artist out there: stop thinking about the subject, and think about the feeling you want the reader to get. Many dreams happen to have that dimension. The fact that it’s a dream or not a dream doesn’t matter, but the effect that I wanted in those cases—I was expressing something and I wanted a certain emotional quality. That was my aim, it wasn’t so much what it’s “about,” that was all secondary. There’s fear and uncertainty in them, but to me… I know what you mean about the dark side and stuff like that, but to me it has to be funny as well.

DM: Absolutely—and they are.

TS: Well, I don’t know. But to me, the absurdism of whatever I’m doing and the feeling that I want to get, it kind of reflects how I see the world, ’cause I think everything in this world is weird and funny.

DM: Sure.

TS: I don’t understand books and stories that don’t have any funny in them, I mean… the world is so absurd and funny to me! I can’t take those comics to an even darker place and have something truly horrible happen, ’cause I see it as the intersection of funny and scary. In 1991, I guess, when I was in my studio, I put a sign up that said “Fear and Humor are Synonyms.” I want it to be creepy and I want it to be funny and I think that’s a paradox within itself. Because if you just go creepy it’s just sad and you wanna take an antidepressant, and that’s not really my point. And if it’s just funny then it’s goofy, silly, weird for the sake of weird—that’s not where I want to go either. I like a little bit of both, I think it makes a nice balance.

DM: The first “Melancholy Chef” comic, which is one of my favorites, where the chef is cold and hungry—even though there’s food right in front of him—and this woman comes out of the sky and says “I’ll take care of you,” and then on the second page there’s this boxer defending him, saying “I’ve handled worse than this” as we see that woman leading a giant toward him—that is the perfect combination of fearful, funny, absurd. But the dream in Splitsville that Fuzz has of sawing up the ferryman—that one is a little less funny.

TS: (Laughing) Yeah. Actually I did think it ended up funny, the way he ends up all cut up, his legs are sticking up…

DM: You’re right, the drawings are painfully funny.

TS: I guess I mean more subtle, coming up with images that are for whatever reason humorous or odd and not dark and heavy. I’m not into dark and heavy. One reason that I started doing comics in the first place is I really couldn’t find what I liked, I couldn’t find that unique feeling that I want the reader to get.

FUZZ & PLUCK

DM: In Splitsville it’s explained that Fuzz and Pluck have ended up together by an accident of circumstance, but then you separate them.

TS: Because you can find out who a character is. A character is primarily a character when they are interacting with another character.

DM: They are of course brought back together by the end of that story, and that tells us why they’re together at the start of The Moolah Tree. But, Fuzz and Pluck are together pretty much because they’re together, right? They don’t have any necessary reason to be together…

TS: Yes. I love it when I read a review and it says, “These two friends, they’re best friends,” and they’re not friends. They’re not. For Fuzz it’s kind of a parental thing: he needs Pluck because he can’t see what to do. He’s not sure, he’s very fuzzy about a lot of things. And Pluck needs Fuzz…as a moral compass, in a way. Well, not so much a moral compass, but to balance his selfishness and “I’m number one” kind of survival mode. But they definitely are the crux of all the ideas I was talking about before. They kind of need each other, but not just because they’re nice. To me that doesn’t work, I think we all kind of use each other. If you read all three books, Pluck is always trying to get away from Fuzz.

DM: He is, and yet he somehow can’t.

TS: Exactly.

DM: And yet he seems to in a certain sense accept his role—

TS: Yeah…

DM: —a little bit—

TS: Yeah, he needs someone to boss around. Fuzz is perfect for that. I mean, it’s not a new formula. It’s Gilligan and the Skipper…

DM: They’re co-dependent!

TS: …it’s Laurel and Hardy, especially. And I wasn’t even really thinking about them, but…the only difference I would say really is that Laurel and Hardy actually call themselves friends. I haven’t gotten that far yet. I feel like it would just ruin everything if I did that, it’s just not working for me.

DM: No, there has to be this strange…

TS: Tension.

THE WORLD OF FUZZ AND PLUCK

DM: There are a lot of what looks like hand-made vehicles and machinery in Fuzz and Pluck’s world. There’s a low-tech quality—I don’t think there’s any technology after like 1970—

TS: (Laughs) Well, I would say that after 1970, many people didn’t understand technology—I mean, they knew what it was, but they didn’t know exactly how it worked.

DM: From your drawings, it looks like you can really understand the technology, and how to fix the thing (both laugh), just from being the reader of the comic.

TS: Part of the influence was making those sculptures. I’m thinking, okay, so-and-so needs this kind of instrument—it’s almost like I’m in my studio building that instrument for them. And it also reflects on my conscious idea of not referencing the outside world as much as possible. It’s almost like they’re in this place that has certain things that work certain ways, no computers, nothing too complicated, because I think the reader actually can relate to it better. I don’t want to reference any company or current event or anything that would make it part of our world.

DM: Also [in Fuzz and Pluck’s world], animals and toys can speak and move as humans do, until the most recent book. Fuzz and Pluck are the only characters who are not human who act like humans. In the previous one, Splitsville, there’s a cast of animal characters, and toy characters, who interact with each other and with humans, and in more cases than not, seem to be in service roles…

TS: Well, I think that’s consistent—animals and whoever’s not human are subservient to humans, and so I kept that. As for the flonkey—she just doesn’t speak English.

DM: (Laughs) But there’s another dog in the comic that just acts like a dog. He’s only in a couple of panels. Was that a conscious decision?

TS: No, I remember putting that in and I thought, “Oh, this kind of breaks my whole—“ Which dog is this?

DM: Just in the background of a scene—

TS: He’s pooping on one of the bills and then walking around. I saw that and I thought this doesn’t really break the rule because…he could talk—

DM: (Laughs) He could, he has nothing to say.

TS: Right! He’s just walking on all fours. No problem there. But that’s very much a part of the world, there’s a subservience going on. I think we feel that way as children, so I’m kind of relating to the child in me. You don’t have your freedom, you have to work for it (laughs) and you have to answer to other people, (shrugs) stuff like that.

DM: In Splitsville you’re very explicit about that with the whole gladiatorial combat thing, which I’m tempted to read as a metaphor for the freelancer’s life.

TS: It’s definitely a metaphor, but I don’t want people to get the idea that I’m telling them this is what it’s about—

DM: Certainly, it could be read as more than just that.

TS: —but basically it’s from working in an animation studio. We all had to work together as a group, and yet we were all competing for the next job. There’s a paradox. So, that’s one issue from my life that I brought in. It has to do with being a freelancer—you’re constantly looking for the next job and you have to be nice and you have to jockey up…uuughh. I’m still doing it. And also, I wanted to show some gladiators, I liked that with some cute little animals.

DM: Well, you draw good animal violence. And when you think about the history of comics—

TS: Well, you did a lot of violence.

DM: I did lots of violence, but the violence I drew was more…bare-knuckled.

TS: Very elegant.

DM: (Wincing) Well…it started off being a kind of…abstracted sense of violence that is more like showing bodies moving at angles across panels, and it turned into more of—

TS: I think of it almost as looking at a choreography of dancing.

DM: But the later stuff that I did turned into drawings of people really slamming their knuckles into other people’s bones. What I’m talking about in yours is a kind of history in comics of people bonking each other over the head with big mallets, that kind of—

TS: It’s called slapstick.

DM: —slapstick, exactly. It’s hilarious.

THE MOOLAH TREE

DM: When you came up with this story, were you thinking more about what you wanted the characters to go through or where you wanted to send them, or were you thinking about what kinds of events would be interesting, or were you thinking about “what kind of things do I want to draw?” Or all of the above?

TS: In all the stories I think about what would be fun to draw, and what—nobody else, just me—what would really be fun to sit and look at and read. So, I think of certain scenarios, really generally, and I came up with this one because I was having a lot of trouble getting work, and I was bleeding money, and, uh, I was kind of scared and nervous, like the characters are. And there was the whole housing crisis—I was actually looking for a house just while the whole thing was crashing (laughs). So I think I wanted to take the idea of economic insecurity and have a fresh take on it. I didn’t want to do something that was too “real” or too dark and sad, I just wanted to play with that desperation that I felt at the time…and I still do, now and then, when I’m unemployed.

Pencils for The Moolah Tree.

Other things like “why pirates?” I think because I really like that lawless adventurer aspect, so I wanted to take that and make that something we’d never seen before. One of my favorite characters that I’ve created is the captain, Dunderhead. He’s pretty complex, he’s not simple. He’s not evil but he’s presented as a “bad guy,” but he’s not, really. He’s just desperate.

DM: He also has a bit of a sad story with a dog who doesn’t speak in this comic, but perhaps can. (Both laugh) You actually do talk about the housing collapse by having the three bankers who show up on Segways. That becomes one of the main lines of the story, that [the character] Despera is losing her house.

TS: Right. Well, it has to do with the theme of money. But every issue or storyline or plotline, they’re kind of McGuffins. What concerns me is how the characters react to issues, not so much what the issue is. And that’s really what’s fascinating to me about people, and how people are so blinded by their beliefs, and they feel strongly about certain things that aren’t true—which, you know, I’m number one guilty of that, but anyway the politics of how people relate to each other and how they relate to issues and problems and making decisions and figuring out who they are—that’s more interesting to me than the housing market. The housing thing is a McGuffin, it’s something they can dance around. The same thing with the money tree, the money tree is of course a symbol. But it’s how they react that I’m interested in, not so much “the issue of greed,” it’s how they deal with greed and selfishness and are they doing the right thing, are they doing the wrong thing? How are they acting? If I can have a very real character—and I don’t mean realistic, I mean a very well-rounded character—then we’re more invested in how they’re gonna act, we empathize with them more.

I was just thinking, one of my favorite comics of the nineties was Hate. I liked what Peter Bagge did. He always had really interesting, complex characters for comics, and it was funny, too. It’s kind of the same thing. I’ve become very interested in the personal politics. In fact my next book, it’s going to be more…it’s gonna have a lot of…personal politics in it (laughs).

DRAWING

DM: Your drawing is beautiful. How do you feel about the drawing and what you’re trying to do with it and what you’re trying to say with the way you depict the world that you’ve created?

TS: Well, I think there are some obvious influences. I like a lot of older comics, like from the turn of the [previous] century, and how they use pen and ink, that kind of thing. The drawing is really fun, because it’s like making music to me. It’s very important for every panel and every page and everything to balance and relate to each other.

A lot of people say “Why do you work in black and white?” I like the electric energy I get from the vibration. I remember I did one comic with some gray backgrounds. But for me, I don’t know, I wanted that vibration for my stories. I missed all the lines (laughs).

DM: All the lines come to the surface more equally in black and white.

TS: I don’t know why I prefer this way I’m drawing, ’cause it’s kind of time consuming, and I could do it much simpler, I could draw little lollypop trees in the background and—

DM: No no no.

TS: Okay, I won’t do that! I could simplify it drastically, but then the world that I’m creating becomes a little bit of a cardboard cutout. And what I love, always loved, is being able to enter into a place, like what you touched on earlier. “Krazy Kat” does that, you know, Herriman does it with…much more economy than I do. I’m like nnnhhh (knocking on his head), how does he do that?

DM: Me too.

TS: I remember reading Stendhal’s The Red and the Black…there are all these people pursuing things. That was an influence on [The Moolah Tree]. They were all in this beautiful Swiss landscape and it was described by the author, but they were oblivious to it. So that’s kind of what I was thinking: nature is beautiful to me, so I’m going to make just a gorgeous place, it’s beautiful and it’s complete but…everyone’s blind to it. For one panel Captain Dunderhead reflects on it, but then he’s back to his own selfish thing. So that is one aspect of how I approached drawing this particular comic. I really enjoyed drawing this comic, I hope it shows.

DM: Absolutely. It’s a real pleasure to go through page-by-page. You flip through this book and you want to read it.

TS: My mom started halfway and read it to the end, she said “I just kept turning the pages!” Well, she doesn’t read comics! (Imitating his mom) “I kept turning the pages, I wanted to get to the end.” I said, “That’s good but start at the beginning, not in the middle.”

HOW TO LOOK AT THINGS

Pencil drawing for The Moolah Tree.

TS: I want to contest one of these ideas that a comic panel should be drawn as fast as it’s looked at. There’s this other idea that you go to a museum and on average one artwork is only looked at for thirteen seconds, which implies we’re not looking long enough. That may be true, but I’m putting it in my memories. I walk away from it, I can remember it for years afterward.

DM: (In “teacher” mode) What you’re talking about is the idea that a comic is not an accumulation of single images that should be looked at equally; it is a flow of images, and so you don’t want the reader to slow down by stopping at each one, or stopping at an inappropriate one; so the drawings have to have a degree of—

TS: Yes, you’re right…

DM: I’m saying, this is the theory: that information has to be taken in quickly enough that you can go to the next panel, except where you want the reader to stop and stay for a while. Of course, no one complains that it takes a year to make a movie that you only watch for ninety minutes.

A sketch for The Moolah Tree.

TS: Yeah, and I think that’s where the actual drawing becomes very much integral with the comic, you have to have it working as a read, and as a flow, definitely. Who did that, um, Laurence Sterne, I think—he just sticks this marbled page, or a squiggly line, and a few others, in the middle of the novel, for sometimes clear reasons, sometimes for mysterious reasons. So I want to put up a couple of dams and say, “Stop and look at this, then keep going.” I also like going back and contemplating, almost like a “Where’s Waldo” thing where you’re just looking at this whole world.

DM: You and I would probably agree that even something that looks simple is much more effective and much more beautiful when you can sense there’s an underlying structural thought given to it in order to place that thing right there.

TS: I try to do that. It’s all planned. Like your Asterios book—every time I go back and look at it I find something different or there’s something that I missed or, I know there are layers in there…so that’s what I’m interested in storywise and visually, and marrying it all together. When it’s successful all the aspects should be inseparable.

DM: How did teaching comics affect the way you thought about making comics? Or the way you thought about teaching?

TS: I taught comics and storyboarding from 2001 to 2004 at Savannah College of Art and Design. I enjoyed teaching immensely, it was never boring. I don’t think it affected my comics much, as I was pretty set on who I was as an artist and what I wanted. One thing I learned from teaching is I shouldn’t get specific about “good” quality and “bad” quality. For example, I don’t care for standard Manga style, but I never let that on, because, as in any style, there is really no applicable criteria to approach why it is or is not “good” quality. So one student was a fantastic Manga artist, not because she drew Manga or not, but because she had a great sense of design and following a narrative. Was it original? Not really, but that’s not really what she wanted. So I tried to develop a criticism technique that applied certain conditions to any style, such as composition, narrative flow, strong drawing, stuff like that. This allowed the student to improve, but kept the elusive “style” issue out of it. I also tried to stay neutral about general impressions of quality, like, “it works,” or “it’s beautiful,” or “it’s weak.” I insisted the students had to articulate why. Sometimes I forgot this myself and didn’t do this! But usually I did try to guide the students to think for themselves.

TENSION

DM: Working as a storyboard artist, you get a script and some notes, and you have to follow that exactly. When you’re making your own comic, (shaking his head) you don’t write a script and then draw it?

TS: I do [write a script], I actually do. But I’m thinking about it, so I’ve kinda got the movie in my head. I do write it all out, and it’s almost backwards though, because I see the characters and what they’re doing and I know visually what’s going on, but I’ll just write it out ’cause—

DM: It’s quicker. Sometimes.

TS: Yeah, it’s quicker, I guess. I want that rhythm of words­—that’s important. But storyboarding has helped me communicate visually more effectively. When I started doing storyboards I was unsure of how to communicate, how to express something—I think that’s just natural—but it was my job to communicate. We had to communicate something really succinctly and quickly and easily in a way that was really readable. At the same time, though, I definitely don’t want to be didactic at all [in my stories]. And I want to ask questions, I don’t want to give answers, I hate stories that give answers (laughs).

DM: They’re the worst. But you’re very conscious of  “I’m gonna set it up so that when the readers get to this panel or this page or this sequence, they understand it in the way I want them to understand it.”

TS: Well, the way I want them to understand it is not one way. It’s kind of like you’re holding the reader’s hand and you’re taking them through a house and you walk into a room and I might see a lamp and a table and ten books, and they might see the dresser and the rug or something. When I’m taking them through, I definitely want them to come into that room but I don’t want to put blinders on them and say “You can only see it this way.” I guess that’s a kind of weak metaphor, but that’s what I’m trying to do, so there’s a balance between giving too much information, being too didactic, and then there’s the opposite problem, which is also common, where the reader really doesn’t know where we’re going. The reader at least needs to believe they’re going in a certain direction, or have some general idea, and when it’s just, you know, one sequence after another—it has to have tension. And I bring that up because I’m a big believer in visual tension, too. It’s Hans Hofmann’s favorite subject. He talks about how all great art must have tension, so I expand that in different directions: everything, even the compositions have to have tension, the character interactions have to have tension. And tension is opposites pulling at each other, or pushing at each other.

That’s just one aspect of what I want in a comic, or almost anything else in art. You have to be really honest with yourself and say “What do I really want to look at? What would really be fun to look at?”—not just draw, but to look at, and read. When I was teaching I always used to think about that. I’d say, in so many words, “We don’t even know it, but we’re so scared to find out who we really are and what we really want.” Because it’s reflected in the work. If the work is completely safe and it’s conventional and it’s got all the bells and whistles of convention, then you’re afraid of something, you’re not really facing who you are. So whenever I see myself going in that direction, going in this kind of safe place, I challenge myself, I think, “Sorry. Come up with something better.”

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/the-ted-stearn-interview/feed/ 3
THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/18/17 – The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States of America) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11817-the-inauguration-of-donald-j-trump-as-45th-president-of-the-united-states-of-america/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11817-the-inauguration-of-donald-j-trump-as-45th-president-of-the-united-states-of-america/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98107 Continue reading ]]> Recently, I’ve been looking at a lot of pornography.

I was asked to appear on a podcast to discuss the re-release of a 1980s pornographic manga, Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend; it’s an adjacently notorious work, the inspiration for a similarly explicit anime which, through the caprice of cultural moment and accessibility, became emblematic for a time of anime as a whole. I know you’ve heard of “tentacle sex.” Legend of the Overfiend is the anime that seared the idea onto the minds of westerners, eager to draw exotic conclusions about deliciously inscrutable and dangerous foreigners.

The thing is, the “tentacle sex” idea was only one manifestation of a very specific, pragmatic idea: that you could both circumvent the censorious regulations on image-making in Japan and add a great deal of visual novelty via phallic substitution. Penises, engorged and unobscured, are obscene; tentacles, arguably less so. I found a great resource in an unusual 2016 publication: The Hentai Manga Scene: Pirate Edition, a 90-page zine by one Kimi Rito (translated by Makoto Schroeder), consisting of interviews with various ero manga personalities, Legend of the Overfiend creator Toshio Maeda among them. There is even a sidebar on the history of ‘tentacle’ sex in comics, from the suggestive ’70s works of smut pioneer Hideo Azuma to variant manifestations of living wires and metal tendrils, concluding with the recent ‘monster girl’ trend in nerd-focused media.

But that’s important: tentacles are not a mainstream taste. They were never even a dominant favorite, and the fortunes of the fetish declined as its moment passed in the Japanese ’90s, only resurfacing periodically in specialist venues. You still hear jokes about it in the west, though. Some promotional efforts are just too effective, and what starts as a titillating joke becomes an undulating live illusion. It’s not too far removed from how the early days of manga in English nurtured this idea that ‘manga’ was something not totally removed from the dense, detailed work in favor among comic book aficionados. The salad days of Masamune Shirow, creator of the endlessly adaptive likes of Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, and, more recently, a terrific amount of porn.

Here is some tentacle sex as assembled by Masamune Shirow in 2013.

If you decide to click that link — and, in recognition of the fact that some people probably want to read about upcoming comics without having hardcore porn shoved in their collective face, I will be securing all of this week’s images behind optional links — you will notice a few unusual traits of Shirow’s latter-day work. First and most obviously, the humanoid female character looks like she’s been sent careening down a slip ‘n slide coated with baby oil, a tendency of Shirow’s color work so evident that the artist and his publisher gleefully promote it: the work I am excerpting is from a series known as “Galgrease”, specifically from the W・Tails Cat line of books in the “Galhound” subgroup of SF-themed works. God, this is already convoluted; just know that while much of Shirow’s erotic works fall under the penumbra of pin-ups or illustration, the W・Tails Cat books blur the line between illustration collections a la Shirow’s Intron Depot and ‘full’ SF comics such as Ghost in the Shell.

Another illustration will help, published this time in 2016.

What’s evident from the W・Tails Cat line is that Shirow is pursuing a type of collage, albeit of a very different sort than your Jess Collins or Julie Doucet. Where in Intron Depot Shirow might display all of the color variations he made for a particular drawing of a tank, in W・Tails Cat he offers bodies in differing states of dress, limbs manipulated, cut and pasted and pasted and pasted to create a mass of gleaming flesh, often in outright defiance of narrative eye-guiding; this is not a march, it is a wallow in glistening, taut goo. An artist of my acquaintance once referred to this stuff as the visual equivalent of a urinary tract infection, and indeed while these images give the signal of indulgence in luscious blossom, there is something almost viscerally unhygienic about them, like a thick bacterial heat rising and tickling your face.

You might ask yourself “why?” Then, you might stop yourself, because the foremost answer with erotica is always “because the author finds it sexy.” Yet as I read further into The Hentai Manga Scene, I was startled to find an interview with “K-iwa” and “O-gawa”, editors at the publisher GOTcorporation, and purportedly the very people who introduced Masamune Shirow to pornographic illustration. Their objective was to find a well-known artist who was unfamiliar to readers of ero manga as a ‘hook’ for launching a new magazine, Comic Canopri; Shirow had already done some sexy pin-up works in mainline venues at Kodansha, so they were able to pique his interest. GOT remains the publisher of books in the W・Tails Cat series today, along with porn manga periodicals like Comic Anthurium, and digital magazines such as Comic Grape, a portmanteau of “Good rape,” as K-iwa cheerily informs us: these are comics about rape, intended for sexual gratification. Indeed, much of the ‘sexual’ content in Legend of the Overfiend is really sexualized depictions of rape, as is, we might guess, a great many works of the tentacle ‘sex’ type.

The GOT editors laugh freely throughout their interview; I think their attitudes are not atypical. Throughout The Hentai Manga Scene — which also features a long interview with a younger ero artist, “Yamatogawa”, and a very brief comic by “Kamitani”, the only woman included among the artists — the predominant impression is one of craftsmen plying their trade. Perhaps you went into porn manga because the bar for entry is lower, and you can make money faster. Perhaps you started drawing long tongues and tangly tails and tentacles because it allowed you to depict women suspended in mid-air, giving your work a needed novelty. Perhaps you set Masamune Shirow down the shiny path because you were tasked with launching a new magazine. Fantasy is fantasy: entertainment, product, consumption.

We can read Shirow by these terms too.

When you’ve read a few of these books, you quickly pick up on the fact that the women always have a much lighter complexion than the men; further, while the women are of Shirow’s usual ostensibly international type, their facial features and body shapes hew to the ‘classic’ style of Shirow’s manner of drawing cute girls. The men, meanwhile, have wildly differing body types and facial features, often with readily apparent ethnic characteristics. I wonder if Shirow thinks about the racial dimension of these works. I wonder, because I think what actually interests him is the play of color and texture. Oh lord the textures. The surface – the play of light on water and oil. In his mainline SF works, Shirow often suggests that bodies can be augmented or totally replaced, that bodies are but vehicles for the self. In his porn SF, the vehicles are washed and waxed, and arranged across the showroom floor.

It reminds me a little of death. In 1971, the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage assembled one of his greatest masterpieces, The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes – for half an hour, we are witness to soundless footage of forensic pathologists at work in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania morgue, with special emphasis given to the state of cadavers. In the absence of consciousness, this is what all of us are: meat and bone. What Brackhage does is not totally unlike what Shirow does: he considers the play of illumination of skin. He delves into textures: ashy burns, the rubbery quality of entrails, the ripple of blood in wounds. It is of no bother to the dead; now, their bodies are only materials, silently contemplated as if hovering just above, painless and newly free. Brackhage depicts the surface of corporeality; the viewer assumes the depth of sentience. It is a supremely calm film.

What is different about Masamune Shirow’s work is that his curation of surfaces is meant to excite. Look again at the links above. Look closely. If you squint, you’ll notice that in every one of the pages I’ve shown from W・Tails Cat, some of the bodies are accompanied by date stamps. Shirow is not an arbitrary collagist; some figures may date from 2003 on one side of the page, while others originate in 2008. Turn to the back of these books, and you find out that some of the images have been snipped from other Shirow publications. The dating scheme is identical to that used in Shirow’s recent Intron Depot art books, where the notional purpose is to catalog variant forms of images on their way to completion; in W・Tails Cat, different variants are jammed together to form the illusion of life at its most flush.

Because the illusion is often too transparent, what we get is the eros of accrual. To be an otaku is to be obsessed with specialized information; with these works, Shirow imbues the organization of his own product with an unusual passion, as if the pleasure of knowing the erotic potential of all these collected digital files is a necessary patch to the bluntness of mere sexual release. Gaudy and awash in promises, these surroundings revel in horded treasure, a livid hell of luxury spit.

And is this not the sex we are ready for today?

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Zonzo: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #1 – the bleak and violet comedy of Spanish artist Joan Cornellà, in which grinning characters suffer and enact hateful ironies in a universe devoid of compassion. No words, all color, the 56-page second in a line of hardcover Fantagraphics releases; $14.99.

Officer Downe: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #2 – buoyant, boyish ultraviolence with a wink and a grin, courtesy of writer Joe Casey and artist Chris Burnham. Originally from 2010, this supernatural lawman one-shot is now a feature film from director and Slipknot co-founder Shawn Crahan, which makes Image’s new 192-page edition a veritable celebration of itself – the comic is paired with Casey’s complete screenplay for the movie, along with “hundreds” of production photos; $19.99.

PLUS!

Last Sons of America (&) Wires and Nerve: Two bookshelf-ready releases about which I know absolutely nothing, though they may be interesting to flip through. Last Sons of America was a 2015-16 series from writer Philip Kennedy Johnson and artist Matthew Dow Smith (colored by Doug Garbark), a speculative thriller about adoption agents sweating through a world where Americans have been made infertile and business is cutthroat. BOOM! publishes the collected edition. Wires and Nerve is the comics debut of YA fantasy writer Marissa Meyer, working with artist Doug Holgate on a 240-page piece about a lady android battling wolf-people in space, a scenario apparently in conjunction with Meyer’s prose works. Macmillan publishes; $19.99 (Sons), $21.99 (Wires).

Dorohedoro Vol. 20: Your manga pick of the week is an increasingly common sight – a long series nearly caught up with the Japanese editions. Specifically, this popular Q Hayashida grimy fantasy opus releases collected editions on a more-or-less annual basis in Japan, with its 21st number arriving last September. So, try and savor it while VIZ has it here; $12.99.

The Complete Scarlet Traces Vol. 1: Interesting history behind this longstanding collaboration between writer Ian Edginton and artist Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker – an original sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the Scarlet Traces serial began as a feature on the short-lived UK web entertainment portal Cool Beans World, eventually finishing its first series in Judge Dredd Megazine in 2002. A creator-owned work, the pair then brought the project to Dark Horse, which published (among other things) a formal adaptation of the Wells novel, again first as a webcomic, then in a print edition. Later, Rebellion purchased the rights to the property from the creators, who just last year created new stories for 2000 AD. This 144 page Rebellion paperback should collect the earliest (2002) work, along with the Dark Horse Welles adaptation, but *not* the other Dark Horse material or the more recent 2000 AD stuff, presumably saved for later volumes. D’Israeli puts together some nice-looking comics; $19.99.

The Kamandi Challenge Special: Due to begin later this month, DC’s Kamandi Challenge is an exquisite corpse-type experiment where various creative teams will create a serial featuring Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic cult favorite, each team supplying a cliffhanger the subsequent team must somehow resolve. This comic, however, is a 64-page reprint of 1975’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth! #32, written and drawn by Kirby, with inks by D. Bruce Berry, with some other vintage materials relating to the upcoming project. It’ll probably be fun to pick up a big, fat Kirby Kamandi comic book; $7.99.

The Complete Chester Gould Dick Tracy Vol. 21: 1962-1964: Finally — and no, there’s not a lot that caught my eye this week, thank heavens for porn — please enjoy the uneasy advance of Chester Gould’s hard-nosed detective into the era of new freedoms, by which I mean he totally visits the Moon and meets the Moon Maid, a lady from the Moon. Still against crime, tho. As always, an 11″ x 8.5″ landscape hardcover from IDW, 272 pages; $44.99.

The front page image this week is from the hand-scratched title cards to Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, the perfect accompaniment to any existential crisis or uncomfortable gathering that warrants dispersal.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11817-the-inauguration-of-donald-j-trump-as-45th-president-of-the-united-states-of-america/feed/ 6
Sara Lautman: Bonus Day http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-bonus-day/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-bonus-day/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98136 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-bonus-day/feed/ 0
Football or Single http://www.tcj.com/football-or-single/ http://www.tcj.com/football-or-single/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98111 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site: Joe McCulloch bring us some on-topic comics. 

Elsewhere:

The only upside of the President-elect’s recent behavior is that March sold yet more books. 

Here’s a review of the new Alan Moore collection/critical text published by Uncivilized Books.

Comic art auctions are increasingly frequent and with an increasingly far ranging selection of material. So, setting aside the commercial aspect for a second, check out this Sotheby’s auction of mostly European comic art. The Chaland, Doury, and Kiki Picasso pieces alone are such unusual things. Chaland because he’s so loose while still working within that Atomic style. Doury because graphic reproduction can’t do justice to the physicality of rendering; Picasso because, again, the technique itself is beautiful, image aside.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/football-or-single/feed/ 0
Sara Lautman: Day Five http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-five-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-five-2/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97956 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-five-2/feed/ 1
Gosh Goodniss http://www.tcj.com/gosh-goodniss/ http://www.tcj.com/gosh-goodniss/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98003 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Sara Lautman brings us the final installment of her tenure creating our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The e-book subscription service Scribd is no longer offering access to comics, apparently due to lack of reader interest.

In a statement to PW, Scribd confirmed that the comics subscription access has ended:

“We launched comics in 2015, and while we were excited to bring new content to our readers, few actively took advantage of them. We will be focusing our efforts on enhancing the experience surrounding our other great content types including books, audiobooks, magazines, and documents.”

[…]

Initially Scribd called the launch of the comics subscription category “explosive for us, with the biggest response and fastest adoption we’ve ever seen.”

This year’s nominees for inclusion in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame have been announced. The four judges’ choices, who are automatically inducted, include Milt Gross, H.G. Peter, Antonio Prohías, and Dori Seda.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the New York Times, Nelson George offers a positive but measured notice to Michael Tisserand’s Krazy.

Though Tisserand does a truly exhaustive job detailing Herriman’s private and public lives, the promised analysis of race in his vast catalog of “Krazy Kat” cartoons is more fleeting than intricate. It feels scattershot even when he identifies potentially relevant material, as with a cartoon published on April 18, 1937, in which Krazy Kat encounters a “pale, even unearthly white” baby bear. “Krazy and the bear talk,” Tisserand writes, “and Krazy grows confused as to the bear’s identity.” Krazy discovers the “equatorial bear” has a mother from the South Pole and a father from the North Pole, and that his parents met halfway at the equator. Krazy’s parting line is “Happy mittin’ on the equator — is all I can say.”

For LARB, Daniel Worden reviews a new collection of stories and comics by Nick Francis Potter.

Many of the most exciting and prominent comics creators today have used Tumblr or other digital tools. Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant; Eleanor Davis’s How To Be Happy; Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree; and Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente’s The Private Eye are just a handful of the most notable works in recent years to have originated entirely or in part on the internet. This digital renaissance of self-published, independent comics and zines has no doubt contributed to the increasing visibility of comics as an aesthetic form. In Potter’s New Animals, one sees the influence of comics artists like Lynda Barry, Sammy Harkham, Jason, Gary Panter, Johnny Ryan, and Dash Shaw, to name just a few. It is where the influence of these creators mixes with prose fiction that the collection has its most impressive effect, blending the intimacy of hand-drawn lines with the cool detachment of minimalist prose.

For Comics Workbook, Juan Fernandez profiles Rachel Masilamani.

An accomplished story teller, Masilamani is hard pressed to categorize her work. Endlessly fascinated with people, Masilamani draws inspiration from her own life and the behaviors of those around her to create stories that burrow themselves deep into the minds of her readers. Her stories elegantly blend naturalistic storytelling with expressionistic visual representation.

In much of her work, Masilamani explores notions of local and universal truth by blurring the line between fact and fiction. In so doing, she makes her inner life palpable. She walks this tightrope in ways similar to the memoir work of Carol Tyler, Mardou and Gabrielle Bell.

—Misc. PEN America has published a post-election feature called “State of Emergency”, curated by Meg Lemke, Rob Kirby, and MariNaomi, which includes comics by TCJ contributors Kirby, Whit Taylor, and others.

]]>
http://www.tcj.com/gosh-goodniss/feed/ 0