The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) 1440 http://images.tcj.com/2011/04/tcj_talkies.jpg The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com 144 144 http://www.tcj.com/feed/podcast/ The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson editorial@tcj.com no no Recent Reading http://www.tcj.com/recent-reading-3/ http://www.tcj.com/recent-reading-3/#respond Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97423 Continue reading ]]> No links today. Instead, here are some scattered thoughts on comics I’ve been reading. I suppose it’s a somewhat conservative list, but it’s what is at hand at the moment, and what I felt like writing about. There are lots of things missing but, y’know, I only get this energy going every so often,  so here goes…

Charles Burns: Last Look

last-look-burns

What a thing. I know this was completed two years ago, but reading the three books in a single volume is an entirely different (and recommended) experience. It does not let the protagonist, Doug, off the hook for his recklessness. His culpability in the emotional devastation he has caused is not excused. It is explored, relentlessly, in the only terms available to him — comics, a la Herge and Romita. And Burns’ empathy allows the sub-narrative, which tracks Nitnit (a Doug dream figure) in a beige-hued nightmare world, to flourish. Formally,  there is so much about comics in there, in the sense of image repetition and immersion/escapism.It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. And the larger project around the book (Johnny 23, the Nit Nit portfolio, the current books from Cornelius, Vortex and Love Nest) make this a territory richer than any Burns has explored. It’s like he just keeps going, and makes us realize how an artist can blend aesthetic and procedural obsessions (here I think of Burns’ Marvel Try-Out Comic as key to Last Look) with an emotional core that clearly keeps this moving forward. The images in these other projects continue the world of Doug’s obsessions, but blend them with the author’s creating a kind of meta-fictional art that thrums with authenticity and urgency. 

Vanessa Davis: Summer / Autumn Hours (online only)

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-4-33-30-pmThese are among the most naturally funny and heartbreaking comics being published today. What strikes me the most is Vanessa’s natural line and sense of space and color. It’s a kind of calligraphic approach that seems informal, but could come with years of practice. She’s able to condense so much emotion and wisdom into a few pages. With the basic backdrop of the summer season as her narrative thread, Davis takes us through memories, physical transitions, and geographic relocations, all in an even tone, from  comedy (the peculiar problem of sweater weather and the definitions of fancy) to  real sadness (an elderly parent, a dead one; intense anger). In Davis’s work, an umbrella base becomes totemic in a tough, and not at all romantic way, and the habits of beavers provide some comfort in dealing with humanity’s foibles. I love these comics. Also remarkable is that the Paris Review is regularly running comics on its web site. And phenomenal comics, too.

Steven Weissman: Looking for America’s Dog

lookingforamericasdog

Looking for the perfect cure to post-election blues? This is it. Weissman delivers his best book yet, in this odd, entrancing collection of linked short comics on the theme of Bo, the presidential dog. I’m still trying to figure out how to explain this thing. It’s like a series of campfire stories, almost, sweet at first, but often acidic — there is darkness here, as symbols of hope get lost, mutate and become sometimes sinister. Great, textured cartooning with the best use of zipatone this side of Wally Wood.

 

Ted Stearn: Fuzz and Pluck: The Moolah Tree

moolah_treeI have loved Ted Stearn’s work since his Rubber Blanket days, and this is a wonderful book. I would even go so far as to say it’s practically the best book you could give to someone you love, simply because it’s so full of kindness, beauty, and incredibly funny, brilliant cartooning. It’s a yarn, a la Carl Barks and Charles Portis, in which Stearn’s longtime protagonists, Fuzz (a bear) and Pluck (a chicken) embark on an epic quest a “moolah tree” that,  of course dispenses cash. The foolishness of such a task, and the many people they encounter along the way (including two of my favorites kinds of characters: hippies and pirates) each present their own difficulties and pleasures. I liked spending time with everyone and everything in this book, and that is partly due to the incredible artwork. It seems like Stearn has set the whole thing in a 17th century Flemish landscape, its terrain meticulously detailed, and every structure perfectly rendered. But it never feels like “background” material — it’s fully integrated as cartoon drawing, so you can fully immerse yourself in his world.

Lynda Barry: Greatest of Marlys

stl012230-thumb-250x294-497282The single best case for Lynda Barry’s important and greatness as a cartoonist. It gathers such versatile material all performed in a similar format, and with such verve. You don’t need me to tell you to get this book. Just get it. Your life will be better.

Chester Gould: Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s

dicktracyIs this how it’s done? Damn near perfect. Great scholarship, perfect selections. I just want more writing about the visuals. I can never have too much. It’s actually thrilling to watch Gould’s cartoon language develop in a single book — you watch him grow into a masterful stylist and you see the Tracy world coalesce. This one is absolutely essential. 

Lauren Weinstein: Normel Person Comics (online and in The Village Voice — click through online)

screen_shot_2016-11-08_at_5-39-16_pmI, like Lauren and her husband, my pal and co-editor, Tim Hodler, am a “normal” person in the sense that we just can’t fucking believe what is happening around us but we are self-aware enough to understand the absurdity of that luxury. I think.  Normal here opens up to move away from the old “white straight guy” meaning and into a whole mindset of viewing the world and asking simple, structural questions and funny, moving observations. Halloween costumes, babies, food. The basics of our particular little kind of life. All done in Lauren’s detailed line work and lush watercolors. A master at work.

Jonathan Chandler: You Are Crumbling All My Jonathans

A great pamphlet from Jonathan Chandler, who depicts a monologue directed at the reader. It’s genuinely frightening, in a Kubrickian way. We are confronted with an aggressive, angry man who taunts us and another being, and preys on the our inaction. Really good work, as usual. 

Jonathan Barli: The Gaze of Drifting Skies: A Treasury of Bird’s Eye Cartoon Viewsdriftingskies

This book contains early-to-mid 20th century illustrations that seem to fall under the header of “single image narrative”. Barli seeks to establish these cartoons as a genre, but offers no proof other than, um, saying they’re a genre and citing Breugel. Does Eric Fischl count? What about Chris Ware? I dunno. Some are, indeed, a bird’s eye view (i.e. seen from above). Others are from the ground, others are underneath the ground. Others are on a staircase. Barli pulls together some very rare images by rarely reproduced artists and then, um, doesn’t offer any biographical or bibliographical information. Like, none. He managed to over-design the shit out of the book, complete with a pointless die-cut and odd references to Jules Verne, but no actual information on the art he’s collecting. I get that it’s a nice gift book and quite a difficult thing to even find all the material, but smart merchandizing and rudimentary scholarship needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Stef Sadler: The Kimberly Toilet Files

I couldn’t find an image of this cover online, or anyplace to buy it, but hopefully one of those Sadlers will tell me. This is a change of pace for Stef, chronicling the daily life of Kimberly Toilet, who works at a “Sports, Spa, Soap” store. Kimberly is monitored, tormented, bothered, and altogether frustrated by post-Internet society. Told in a crisp, digital style — very funny and sweet and altogether a descended of some 2000 AD backup feature that was too good to be published. 

Jessica Campbell: Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists.

61zkd2rypcl-_sx311_bo1204203200_l love this little book that does exactly as the title suggests: breaks down male artists into the ol’ “hot or not” categories usually reserved for women, even, or even especially in the art world. Campbell nails the silly “objective” tone of it all, digs deep in her choices, and is very, very funny. Also, her unfussy, to-the-point cartooning removes any sense of artifice. The book moves along easily and you barely stop to realize how funny, weird, and uncomfortably natural it all feels.

Wally Wood Department:

Bhob Stewart and J. Michael Catron, editors: The Life and Legend of Wally Wood

lifeandlegend-wallacewoodWhat is this book? Nothing in or on it gives any clue. It is the latest in what is arguably a glut of Wally Wood publishing activity. This one is based on Bhob Stewart’s wonderfully eccentric volume from a decade back. That one, a shabbily printed paperback apparently divested of swear words and nudity by its publisher, was a shambling compendium of essays, interviews, memories, and biographical anecdotes. It was no more and no less than an old school fan’s memory book. It worked, and was a great resource for further writing on Wood. This one, somehow based on Stewart’s (though there’s no indication of that previous book outside of a one-line mention in the colophon) and with an additional editor, J. Michael Catron, but with no indication of Catron’s relative contributions. The cover boasts of introductions by Howard Chaykin and Maria Reidelbeck, which is practically a distress signal. This is clearly for comics nerds of a certain age. And that’s a shame, because Wally Wood, inarguably one of the greatest, strangest and most interesting comic book artists of the 20th century, has influenced a tremendous amount of visual culture, from superhero and SF comics to Robert Crumb to Kerry James Marshall to Elizabeth Murray to Gladys Nilsson to Mike Kelley to Dan Clowes to George Lucas to Sue Williams. Let’s pretend you’re a historian and you’ve noticed how a few cartoonists keep popping up whenever contemporary painters discuss their influences — Crumb, Wood, Wolverton, Kirby. Let’s take the next step and see if you can find anything of worth written about them. Wolverton you have, thankfully, Greg Sadowski’s Creeping Death. With Crumb you have a ton of interviews. The other two, you’re shit outta luck.

Anyhow, back to this thing. It seems to be chronological, but there’s no narrative through-line and no hierarchy of content. For example, four pages are given over to unpublished very rough sketches for an-unpublished edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the accompanying text by Stewart includes a complete account of that books’ hollywood fates. Diane Dillon’s moving account of her friendship with Wood is only 3 paragraphs and yet given an entire spread. We get four pages from Rick Keene ostensibly about trading cards Wood did for Topps, but it’s mostly about Keene’s own childhood. Six pages are devoted to TwoMorrows’ removal of some nudity in the first edition. There are interviews with John Severin and Al Williamson that provide little insight. You see where I’m going here. This thing is just a mess. There’s no sense that one piece of text (and corresponding work) is more important than another. There are multiple overlapping essays on Mad and EC, with little attempt to differentiate them. The best essays are those that attempt to understand Wood as a working artist and a human being, like Russ Jones’ moving memoir, West 74th St., and Ralph Reese’s account of his life as an assistant to Wood, “When in Doubt, Black it Out”

Then there is the bizarre art direction: Some images are printed as line art, some as objects, with no apparent guiding principle. Catron takes pains to tell us that Wood developed the visual look of Daredevils’ sensory powers, but offers no visual examples. Numerous spreads are taken up with black and white reproductions of comic book pages printed too small (four to a page) to actually get anything from. Most of the color EC work is shown in contemporary digitally colored form, which is especially odd since that mode is particularly unkind to Wood’s linework. If you picked up this book hoping to see good examples of Wood’s art, you’d be sadly mistaken.

What you never get is any kind of evaluation of Wood’s talents. What made him unique? What was he best at doing? What this book needed was someone to look at it and say, “what are we trying to do here, and what’s the best way to accomplish this”? If the goal was to show Wood’s progress, it fails. And there’s no hint of what Volume 2 contains.

shattuck-cover_finalWorse yet is the collection of Wood’s western strip, Shattuck, which was completed for a military newspaper in 1971. It’s unclear, and editor David Spurlock never says, what exactly Wood contributed to this strip aside from an idea. The aforementioned Howard Chaykin, as well as Dave Cockrum, did a lot of the art. Chaykin tells the story of this strip better in his own introduction to The Life and Legend than David Spurlock does in his.  This is miserable, poorly drawn, and charmless work (even by my very forgiving standards), replete with pointless violence, rape fantasies and the like. Wood did a lot of dreck, but it was almost always beautifully finished. For unexplained reasons the art is reproduced from the original boards, like an “artist’s edition” which makes it look even worse. So why even publish this thing? There’s nothing to be learned about his work here — no entertainment value. There’s so much great work of his to be published nicely — the only thing Shattuck shows is how low Wood (and, I would guess his estate manager) could go. A sad affair all around.
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Better, however, is Roger Hill’s Galaxy Art and Beyond. Hill contributed two excellent essays to the Life and Legend book, and here we get all of Wood’s astonishingly beautiful SF illustrations produced between 1956 and 1962. Hill wrote a detailed introduction that goes into the publishing history of Galaxy and other SF magazines, Wood’s relationship to them, and even Wood’s drawing techniques, this last bit being particularly invaluable. Like many other authors coming out of Boomer fandom, Hill doesn’t do much aesthetic evaluation, preferring a “just the facts” approach, but the facts here are deeply researched and well organized. The book itself is a tad crowded — with sometimes a half dozen drawings on a spread, but I’ll take what I can get. When the layout opens up and we get a full page or full spread illustration, it sings. This work was Wood right between his ultra-detailed EC period and his streamlined 1960s work. He’s at his peak in terms of design, brushwork, and spatial rendering. When we think of what SF looked like in the middle of the 20th century, this is it. Grab this one for a real masterclass in what Wood could do.

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Don’t Interfere http://www.tcj.com/dont-interfere/ http://www.tcj.com/dont-interfere/#respond Thu, 08 Dec 2016 13:00:50 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97390 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we present an excerpt from the long-awaited We Told You So: Comics as Art, an oral history of Fantagraphics put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. This particular chapter covers the years from 1978 to 1984, when the company was headquartered in a three-story house in Connecticut, and began publishing comics as well as criticism. Watch out for appearances by Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, the Hernandez brothers, Peter Bagge, Jack Jackson, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Heidi MacDonald, R. Fiore, Bud Plant, R.C. Harvey, and Carter Scholz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The University of Guelph profiles Wendy creator Walter Scott.

“A lot of the first Wendy comics were inspired by the punk scene,” says Scott, whose artistic influences include Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Matt Groening and Tanya Linklater.

They also drew on his experience of what he calls loss and yearning, as well as issues of identity that stemmed from the push and pull of hiding and exposing his aboriginal roots.

“I wanted to create a character enough like me but different enough — to talk about my experiences but not have to be me. That difference allowed me to open to other people,” he says.

Ben Navotny profiles Laurenn McCubbin.


How do fine art and comics compare as industries in which to work? How do the opportunities compare, and how do the chances of getting exploited compare?

There are a lot of similarities, in that they are both very white, and in both there is a stratification of worth. The people whose work is perceived to be worth more in comics and in fine art — there’s that five percent in either that people are going to pay attention to. It’s hard to get attention. It’s hard to do something new because, again, in both fields there are standards that we already think of that people need to reach before we will actually consider them artists. There are weird cliques in the working world of both. The indie kids of comics and the warehouse gallery kids are very similar. The superhero kids and the blue chip artists are very similar. And then the people who consume these arts, they like the things that maybe are not the great art. They’re not getting the good stuff because it’s not part of our common parlance. But, boy oh boy, do they love it when somebody draws photorealistically at a really large scale. That’s the thing in fine art that drives the fine art people crazy. “Why do you guys keep liking this stuff?” And in comics it’s, “Why do you guys keep liking Jim Lee?” No one makes money in either field. It’s hard to make money in comics; it’s hard to make money in fine art. Very few people do it. It is a very rarified group of people who actually can make a living at this. And the people who do work their asses off. Which is not to say that the people who don’t don’t also work their asses off!

Steven Cuevas profiles Steven Weissman.

“[Trump]’s more like a professional wrestler character,” explains Weissman.

“When I drew comics about President Obama or Hillary, they seem like real grown-ups with real grown-up problems,” he says. “You can relate to someone who seems to have some real (inner) conflict. I don’t see conflict in Donald Trump. You just sort of see this ego.”


—Reviews & Commentary.
Chris Mautner writes about Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara.

Barbara is dense with ideas as well. Influenced by Noam Chomsky, Ray Bradbury, Carl Jung, genetics, neuroscience, and more (there’s even a joke reference to Last Year at Marienbad), Hagio explores identity, aging, and our flawed perception of reality. But the high-minded philosophical explorations are grounded by the fraught emotional landscape of the characters. As mentioned before, broken or dysfunctional families are familiar territory for Hagio (she has spoken publicly about her own issues with her parents), as are characters who are so emotionally reserved they could fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Here, though, the anger over neglect from parental figures (and adult authority in general) constantly threatens to spill over into violence — it is frequently suggested that the withdrawn Kiriya could do Tokio real harm — as though despite the relative lack of blood on the page everything is building inexorably toward a tragic climax.

Brian Nicholson writes about Ron Wimberly’s Prince of Cats.

It’s a take on Romeo and Juliet, told from Tybalt’s perspective, with a primarily black cast, built around the author’s realization that the way the characters in the play act violently, indifferent to death, never seemed surprising or weird to him, presumably because growing up in New York City, he witnessed people who lived the same way. Some of them are white, but race doesn’t factor into their interactions: They are all living inside this milieu, sharing the same assumptions about codes of behavior.

In order to tell this story, Wimberly works out an elaborate system of cultural reference. The language is a mixture of iambic pentameter and Notorious B.I.G. allusions, but with the opening scene-setting text ending on a Langston Hughes reference. It takes place in the 1980s. 1980s New York, in comics, is also partially defined by the work of Frank Miller in Daredevil, which he filled up with ninja. The swordfighting is played up in a way that recalls the Wu-Tang Clan’s love of kung fu movies, but also present in the mix is Walter Hill’s The Warriors, which itself had a structure partially modeled on The Odyssey. This, then, creates a good deal of artifice, despite the fact that it is talking about some of the realest stuff there is: Both in terms of hip-hop’s insistence on “the real,” or notions of “real shit” meaning the threat of a body count, and the archetypal story we are all supposed to relate to.

Magdalene Vissagio promotes a movement in comics she calls “The New Sincerity.”

For a crop of comic creators who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, every genre convention was questioned and every piety challenged, where the snarling, gun-toting heroes of Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld formed the gold standard of the medium. Today, there’s a growing emphasis on comics simply being…fun. My own miniseries Kim & Kim aside, it’s not hard to point to the books joyfully pushing forward without a hint of ironic distance: Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes, Jonesy, Jem and the Holograms, the aforementioned Teen Dog, The Backstagers, and to a lesser extent, Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberly’s run on She-Hulk.

Stylized, youthful, increasingly female and often queer, these books are almost (read: explicitly) a deliberate slap in the face to a toxic fandom culture and a broken business model that has focused exclusively on 45-year-old white dudes. And I find it interesting how much these books joyfully and deliberately dance right past everything we’ve always been told American comics are supposed to be—serious literature—while wearing a Walkman and a high-top fade.

—Misc. For The Paris Review, Kevin Huizenga adapts an excerpt from the new translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s novel The Return of Münchausen.

Though Krzhizhanovsky wrote for some twenty years, Soviet censorship and World War II conspired against him, and none of his fiction was published in his lifetime (he died in 1950). “A fantastical plot is my method,” he once wrote. “First you borrow from reality, you ask reality for permission to use your imagination, to deviate from actual fact; later you repay your debt to your creditor with nature, with a profoundly realistic investigation of the facts and an exact logic of conclusions.” In Münchausen, Krzhizhanovsky borrows from the life—both real and legendary—of Baron Münchausen to spin his own absurd tale involving the baron’s post–World War I perambulations in Berlin, London, and Moscow on a diplomatic mission. Bizarre and fantastic, Münchausen (or is it Krzhizhanovky?) defends imagination above all else.

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

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

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

NEW DIGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE FIRST EMPLOYEE: PRESTON “PEPPY” WHITE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GIL KANE’S FRIENDSHIP


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

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

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

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

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

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

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

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

Gil Kane, circa 1971

Gil Kane, circa 1971

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

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

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

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

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


CLICKING WITH ART SPIEGELMAN AND FRANÇOISE MOULY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PUBLISHING COMICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad copy for The Flames of Gryo, 1979:

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

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

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

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

(continued on next page)

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Sneaking to Bronx http://www.tcj.com/sneaking-to-bronx/ http://www.tcj.com/sneaking-to-bronx/#respond Wed, 07 Dec 2016 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97399 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews Drew Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics.

In many respects, More Heroes Of The Comics is more in line with Friedman’s traditional interest in b-grade, obscure, and discarded American culture than the first volume. That first book, which had 83 illustration plates, included Friedman’s heroes from EC Comics and a number of obvious choices like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Bob Kane, etc. He threw in a few more obscure choices in an effort to make the book more than a line-up of dead white men, but the history lessons came more from Friedman’s visual interpretation of each artist through his portrait/caricature than via the accompanying text, even if Friedman took great pains to have his biographical copy reflect the controversies that might have surround each subject, especially with regard to issues like exploitation. In this new book, Friedman tackles one hundred subjects, and has the luxury to go in some offbeat directions.

For example, the Three Stooges-obsessed Friedman includes Norman Maurer, a cartoonist who happened to marry Joan Howard, the daughter of Moe. A couple of years later, he wrote and drew the first Three Stooges comic book (featuring Friedman favorite Shemp) and later worked on early 3D comics, including the Three Stooges in 3D. Maurer’s portrait is a profile shot at his drawing desk of an unassuming young man with the typically slicked-back hair of the era. Also featured in the book are Hy and Bill Vigoda, brothers of the well-known actor (and another Friedman favorite) Abe. They are featured not just because of Friedman’s fan interests, but rather because they represent something that Friedman repeatedly makes a point of emphasizing: people who worked in the industry for a long time, on comics that aren’t lionized today in the same way that popular culture has seized upon superheroes. The Vigodas, for example, after working in some of the early comics sweatshops, went on to long careers working in Archie comics.

I loved this book. It’s so much fun, and like Rob notes, full of oddities and never-beens. The true heroes.

Some links:

Glen David Gold reviews Michael Tisserand’s Krazy.

Leslie Stein perfectly sums up the holiday spirit right here.

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More Heroes Of The Comics http://www.tcj.com/reviews/more-heroes-of-the-comics/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/more-heroes-of-the-comics/#respond Wed, 07 Dec 2016 13:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97206 Continue reading ]]> 51ud5ssmm0l-_sx371_bo1204203200_The way Drew Friedman bridges the gap between portraiture and caricature is not unlike a skilled cartoonist working in a naturalistic style who draws a car that bends when going around a turn. It’s not “realistic” in the strictest sense of the term, but it feels more real in the context of the page. As Karen Green notes in her introduction to Friedman’s new book More Heroes Of The Comics, Friedman’s drawings of people imbue them with soul instead of simply laying there on the page. Tiny flourishes, visual in-jokes, and a painstaking attention to the right details give each portrait of a figure from comics history a visceral, almost animated quality. With supporting biographical text on the page opposite each portrait, Friedman’s mission in this book is to deepen and broaden the reader’s understanding of comics history, highlighting obscure figures as well as more familiar ones.

The title of this two-book series is more than a little tongue-in-cheek, as is the book’s logo with a lightning bolt under the word “heroes.” Friedman contrasts the fantastic qualities of the comics with the mundane images of the men (mostly) who created them. At the same time, that gesture is not so much one of gentle mockery but rather of deep respect from one craftsman to another. Friedman sought out photographs of the artists and writers at their desks and drawing tables whenever possible, because he wanted to record and celebrate the hard work that the artists performed to create the comics that he loved so much as a child and continues to love now as an artist. It’s also why Friedman tried to capture the artists in their later years when he couldn’t get them at their drawing tables, because in a culture that obsesses over youth and the new big thing, he wanted to honor those artists who continued to ply their craft well into old age. The wrinkles and liver spots that he used here and in his Old Jewish Comedians series of books aren’t meant to demean the artists, but rather celebrate their reality.

In many respects, More Heroes Of The Comics is more in line with Friedman’s traditional interest in b-grade, obscure, and discarded American culture than the first volume. That first book, which had 83 illustration plates, included Friedman’s heroes from EC Comics and a number of obvious choices like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Bob Kane, etc. He threw in a few more obscure choices in an effort to make the book more than a line-up of dead white men, but the history lessons came more from Friedman’s visual interpretation of each artist through his portrait/caricature than via the accompanying text, even if Friedman took great pains to have his biographical copy reflect the controversies that might have surround each subject, especially with regard to issues like exploitation. In this new book, Friedman tackles one hundred subjects, and has the luxury to go in some offbeat directions.

For example, the Three Stooges-obsessed Friedman includes Norman Maurer, a cartoonist who happened to marry Joan Howard, the daughter of Moe. A couple of years later, he wrote and drew the first Three Stooges comic book (featuring Friedman favorite Shemp) and later worked on early 3D comics, including the Three Stooges in 3D. Maurer’s portrait is a profile shot at his drawing desk of an unassuming young man with the typically slicked-back hair of the era. Also featured in the book are Hy and Bill Vigoda, brothers of the well-known actor (and another Friedman favorite) Abe. They are featured not just because of Friedman’s fan interests, but rather because they represent something that Friedman repeatedly makes a point of emphasizing: people who worked in the industry for a long time, on comics that aren’t lionized today in the same way that popular culture has seized upon superheroes. The Vigodas, for example, after working in some of the early comics sweatshops, went on to long careers working in Archie comics.

His portrait of Bob Oksner is another good example of this. He worked at DC Comics for years, on the celebrity-themed comics they used to pulbish, like The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis and Sgt. Bilko. Dell and Gold Key churned out thousands of comics thanks to the likes of Chase Craig, Gaylord Dubois (a charming portrait of the writer grinning on his couch), Al McWilliams, Paul Norris, Dan Spiegle, and editor Oskar LeBeck. They all get their due from Friedman here, as well as Dell’s long-running anthology Four Color. While many of these comics are forgettable, they were published for decades and certainly had their audience, much like the romance comics of the forties through sixties did. Friedman also draws portraits of Archie stalwarts like Dan DeCarlo (from a robust youthful photo where he looks filled with spirit and vigor), Bob Bolling, and Stan Goldberg.

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Friedman devotes room to devote to a number of comics dabblers, which allows him to tell the stories of a number of women. They include Olive Bailey, who did a comics version of a childrens’ book series called Land of the Lost; Audrey Blum, who worked in the early sweatshops; and Patricia Highsmith, who worked briefly in comics before she became famous for writing novels such as Strangers On a Train. One of Friedman’s specialties is capturing the wrinkles and folds in clothing, and he’s especially spot-on in that regard with women’s clothing. Blum is stylish in her pose, though her side-eye expression perhaps indicates a certain mischievous quality. Highsmith’s pose is sort of casually butch, with her sleeves rolled up and a tight-lipped, enigmatic smile on her face.

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Other dabblers include Ray Bradbury, many of whose stories were adapted by EC Comics writers (at first without his permission), Mickey Spillane (who wrote scripts at rapid speed before tiring of superheroes), Harry Harrison (another scripter turned science fiction writer) and Doug Wildey (who started at Dell and later created Jonny Quest). The most fascinating is Orrin C. Evans, a journalist who published All-Negro Comics #1 in 1947, all of whose contributors were African-American. A second issue wasn’t published because vendors refused to sell it. Jules Feiffer has a similarly enigmatic half-grin on his face, and Friedman went to town in drawing both the design and the folds on his black-and-gray checked shirt.

Friedman pays tribute to the craftsmen behind the scenes, like Ben Oda (one of two Asian-American cartoonists depicted in the book) and his iconic lettering and logo designs for EC Comics; Jack Adler, who did the color separations for Action Comics #1 and created countless beautiful-looking covers because of his painstaking techniques; and Ira Schnapp, who created a number of DC’s logos. Friedman’s portrait of Curt Swan is remarkable because of the sheer joy on Swan’s face as he draws his long-running assignment in Superman. Bob Kane’s Batman ghost artists Win Mortimer, Jack Burnley, and Shelly Moldoff are also featured as part of Friedman’s interest in making sure the record in his books reflects their achievements.

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In some respects, the publishers are the most larger-than-life figures in the book. DC/National publisher Jack Liebowitz wears a fedora and a shit-eating grin at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with a Superman float going by. Considering the way he and fellow publisher Harry Donenfeld exploited Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, it’s no wonder that he looks like he got away with a crime. Then there’s Victor Fox, who got sued by DC after publishing the adventures of Wonder Man in Wonder Comics. The self-proclaimed “king of comics” is here captured in his office as a rotund man with a fedora, glasses, an ill-fitting suit, and a cigar that seemed to be useful for gestrual emphasis as it is for smoking. Ian Ballantine is another subject here; his ballsy career moves almost single-handedly created the paperback market, which was crucial in keeping Mad‘s influence going beyond just its magazine form.

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The best Friedman portraits are the ones that lean on caricature just a little, as he subtly draws connections between artist and subject matter. For example, the portrait of a beefy John Buscema with a scowl on his face and his arms folded is not unlike a pose that Buscema no doubt drew countless times on his favorite character, Conan the Barbarian. Russ Manning’s slender but muscular frame echoes that of Tarzan, whom he drew for years. Gladys Parker’s portrait shows her drawing the character created in her own likeness, Mopsy. It is hilarious because she’s wearing a cowboy hat (as is her character), but her expression seems to betray that this was a staged photo that she was not especially thrilled to participate in. Pin-up king Bill Ward is depicted at his table with a shaggy beard and a spiked leather wristband, drawing one of his typically leggy models. Finally, there’s Bob Wood, whose own shady life paralleled the series he helped to create, Crime Does Not Pay, with a rap sheet including manslaughter (that could have been decreed a murder), gambling, and out-of-control drinking. His battered visage is depicted by Friedman as one of the subjects of Wood’s own comic. It’s emblematic of a book that takes the reader down comics history’s back rooms, side alleys and forgotten paths, giving each subject the same amount of respect and attention and asking the reader to do the same.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (12/7/16 – Real Potential Energy) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-12716-real-potential-energy/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-12716-real-potential-energy/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97356 Continue reading ]]> lewis10001

I try not to fuck up too often with this column, but last week a book just totally slipped by me. It’s a new IDW release of work by the L’Association co-founder and all-around contemporary French comics icon Lewis Trondheim, collaborating with artist Nicolas Keramidas and colorist Brigitte Findakly (whose collaboration with Trondheim, her spouse, goes back to the Lapinot series in the 1990s) on an unusual Disney comic. The original French edition was released by Glénat earlier this year under the same English-language title as IDW’s translated edition: Mickey’s Craziest Adventures. The album is technically part of a line of artist-driven Mouse comics at Glénat, with additional contributions by Régis Loisel (who’s done work for Disney’s animated films) and “Tébo” (also the writer of Keramidas’ Alice au pays des singes series with Glénat) — along with a book by Bernard “Cosey” Cosendey that IDW also plans to release — but really it’s part of Trondheim’s continuing project of summoning works and traditions from comics’ past and making them his own.

However, I am at a disadvantage. For one, I’ve not read what I suspect is this book’s closest relation, the 2010 Spirou et Fantasio sub-series album Panique en Atlantique, which Trondheim wrote for artist Fabrice Parme with purportedly similar throwback flair. Moreover, I *have* read this very good review of the Mickey book by Jonathan Bogart, whom I fear has plumbed all the depth this piece has to offer. Of particular note, Bogart reads the book’s central conceit — that the comic we’re seeing was not really created by Trondheim & co., but found by them in a hidden stash of regional European Disney comics from the ’60s, serialized at only one page per issue by anonymous talents — as a means of re-framing Mickey Mouse and all his baggage as something suddenly native to the small-format serialization of Franco-Belgian children’s comics: a truly BD Disney at last.

There are instances of things like this happening in the real world: during the occupation of Belgium in WWII, American comic strips like Superman and Flash Gordon were taken over for varying periods of time by the nearby likes of Joseph “Jijé” Gillain and Edgar P. Jacobs. And, indeed, in ‘reprinting’ only selected chapters from his fantasy Mickey, Trondheim nods to his own history with the Dungeon series he co-created with Joann Sfar, which only manifested itself as a few selected albums from a prospective series of hundreds of books – an impossible-to-realize ambition, transparently facetious, and reflective of a very modern attitude to ‘mainstream’ BD: the reader is duly invited to imagine the work Trondheim and his cohorts cannot hope to complete. Keramidas, incidentally, drew the 2008 final installment of the Dungeon Monstres sub-series, and Mickey’s Craziest Adventures operates in much the same way as that far grander project.

The results, though, are not really so thought-provoking. English dialogue writer David Gerstein (working from a translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger) affords the thing an appropriate Disney-like flair, but pretty much all the emphasis is on how many stock cliffhanger situations Trondheim can throw Mickey and Donald into, with Keramidas drawing their frantic escapes and Findakly (I presume) adding meticulous digital aging and simulated water and tear damage. There’s multiple underground civilizations, jungle perils, dinosaurs, mermen, aliens, bugs, etc., though because every page ends in a little closing gag — and because even the ‘sequential’ installments adopt a notably modular narrative format — there isn’t actually a lot of room for the reader to apply their own speculation to the gaps; it’s a bit aloof, to the point where you start to wonder if the conceit isn’t also to relieve Trondheim the burden of coming up with a fixed plot or a regulated pace, instead allowing him to do rising, rising, rising, rising action until the book collapses exhausted after 44 pages.

Nonetheless, it is also undeniably enjoyable as a lark, in which a number of very experienced and skilled people are observed fucking around handsomely for a brief while. Shame I missed it!

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White: You know what? Despite the vigorous coverage already afforded by this site, I am still gonna put this pretty kitty right up top, because everything I have seen (very partial) and heard (wholly anecdotal) suggests that this is legitimately a major work in terms of examining one of the paramount talents of early American comics, whose century-old magnum opus still feels it’s yet to surrender its mysteries. Michael Tisserand is the author, George Herriman is the subject, and for 560 pages you will dive deep into the man’s heritage, life and work. CONSIDER: a book without pictures. HarperCollins publishes in hardcover; $35.00.

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By the Numbers: Eager to avoid another 1990s French alt-comics-related mishap, I will here spotlight another release from a L’Association co-founder – Stanislas Barthélémy, who draws this high-toned white adventurism project. Created with journalist Laurent Rullier, the “Victor Levallois” series released irregularly with Alpen Publishers and Les Humanoïdes Associés from 1990 to 2004, forming something of a ‘mainstream’ parallel track for the artist, albeit one fascinated by ligne claire classicism. The first two books even saw English translation in ’04, though nothing followed. Now Humanoids collects the entire series in a single 208-page, 7.6″ x 10.2″ softcover – basically, the project matches up throwback Tintin magazine aesthetics with the seriousness of international political conflicts in the mid-20th century, as an unworldly accountant finds himself caught up in big, dirty money, and not exactly immune to its pleasures; $24.95.

PLUS!

Shadoweyes Vol. 1: Being a Kickstarter-funded 384-page(!) Iron Circus print edition for a superhero webcomic by Sophie Campbell, popular creator of the Wet Moon series and artist on various prominent superhero/licensed projects like Glory and Jem and the Holograms. It’s a shape-shifting concept, with a vigilante teen stuck inside an alien body. Colors by Erin Watson, with some art and dialogue refinements from the online iteration; $30.00.

Our Mother: Your Retrofit/Big Planet release of short(-ish) format work from a young talent arrives this week via Luke Howard, a Center for Cartoon Studies grad whose graphic novel Talk Dirty to Me was just released by AdHouse earlier this year. “[A] comedy about growing up with a parent who has an anxiety disorder,” this 40-page color work looks to toss various fantastic genres around to arrive at some autobiographical insight; $9.00.

Motor Crush #1 (&) Arclight #3: Two prominent arrivals from Image, generally a friendly venue for creators coming off high-profile mainstream superhero work. That’s the potential for Motor Crush, a SF motorcycle combat serial from the same core group that revived DC’s Batgirl to much attention a while back: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. Arclight is a whispery, glammed-out high fantasy series from writer Brandon Graham and artist Marian Churchland that released two issues in the middle of 2015 and subsequently vanished – now it is back, and know that an upcoming fourth issue is scheduled to close out the storyline; $3.99 (each).

Providence #11 (of 12) (&) Über: Invasion #1: A double-dose of ‘prestige’ titles from Avatar Press (not in terms of format, but “as opposed to Jungle Fantasy: Ivory“). Providence is the big H.P. Lovecraft series from Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows, which definitely seemed to reach a climax last issue, stoking speculation that the two concluding numbers will involve a timeskip or a big shift in location or something. At the very least there’s a rumor that the text-based backmatter is done, meaning 40 pages of cover-to-cover comics, though I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Über: Invasion is the Kickstarter-bolstered continuation of a well-regarded (and notably unfinished) alternate history WWII supersoldier series from writer Kieron Gillen, which adopts the format of a docudrama that’s also a gore-laden Avatar comic. Daniel Gete is now what I presume to be the series’ primary artist, rather than originating artist Caanan White; $4.99 (Providence), $3.99 (Über).

The Complete Frank Miller Robocop Omnibus: But if it’s *vintage* Avatar you’re after, you can’t do better than the notoriously breakneck 2003-06 Steven Grant/Juan José Ryp adaptation of Frank Miller’s original script for Robocop 2, a 200+ page avalanche of blood-drenched chromium excess hammering ceaselessly amid roiling gold flames from one set piece to another, Hard Boiled (a better comic, mind) the most relevant waypoint in the Miller catalog. Amusingly, BOOM! is now the publisher, here pairing the series with a 2013-14 adaptation of Miller’s Robocop 3 script from Grant and artist Korkut Öztekin, the whole softcover package weighing in at 400 pages; $39.99.

Barbarella (&) Weapons of the Metabaron: More Eurocomics possibilities from Humanoids. Barbarella has been out a few times now, but it’s generally nice to see this trend-setting work from Jean-Claude Forest; the present 7.9″ x 10.8″ hardcover collects the 1964 original album and its 1974 follow-up, as localized by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Weapons of the Metabarons is an abbreviated 2008 showcase for the artist Travis Charest, who completed only a certain number of pages over a wide span of years before the project was finished by Zoran Janjetov, a frequent collaborator of writer and space mercenary concept co-creator Alejandro Jodorowsky, dutifully scripting around the visual shifts; $24.95 (Barbarella), $19.95 (Metabarons).

Ditko Unleashed! (&) Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks: IDW’s got country and western this week with two titans of superheroes and greater American action comics. Ditko Unleashed! is a 9.6″ x 12.7″, 368-page catalog for an exhibition curated by Florentino Flórez & Frédéric Manzano, still running in Palma de Mallorca. Lots of printed pages and scans of original art spanning the breadth of his career are promised. Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks is an 8″ x 12″, 160-page variation on IDW’s Artisan Editions (which themselves are variations on the publisher’s well-known Artist’s Editions), “showcasing” three comic books — The Demon #1 (1972), Kamandi #1 (1972) and OMAC #1 (1974) — in both of the form of photocopies from Kirby’s pencils, as well as with Mike Royer’s finished inks. Other selected pages will be included; $59.99 (Ditko), $49.99 (Kirby).

R. Crumb Sketchbook Vol. 1: June 1964 – Sept. 1968: Taschen has previously released Crumb’s sketchbooks in a pair of thousanddollar boxed sets, but — no doubt aware of the precarious global economic situation and the sacrifices we the public make every day — the publisher now assents to 8.1″ x 10.6″ individual hardcover releases. I presume Crumb requires no introduction? Enjoy 440 pages of drawings reproduced straight from the original art, covering a period of early output through the release of the first few issues of Zap – evolutionary prime time, in other words; $39.99.

The 1964 New York Comicon: The True Story Behind the World’s First Comic Convention: Finally, though I know absolutely nothing about author J. Ballmann and publisher Totalmojo Productions, I do think a close examination of a single comics convention — from the exhibitors to the guests to the attendees — is a pretty terrific idea for a book, and there are few more attractive cons to choose from than this: Steve Ditko made a never-to-be-repeated public appearance, a teenage George R.R. Martin was among the crowd, and questions were raised as to the direction of this nascent form of social gathering. There is allegedly a huge stack of period materials reproduced in here, from the entirety of the official con booklet to dealer price lists, along with contemporaneous interviews with various guests and “over 300 photographs.” I dunno! I’d flip through it, sure; $29.95.

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I Drink Your Milkshake http://www.tcj.com/i-drink-your-milkshake/ http://www.tcj.com/i-drink-your-milkshake/#respond Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97315 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch is here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the best-sounding books new to stores. Spotlight picks this time include Michael Tisserand’s much-anticipated George Herriman biography and a new collaborative effort from Stanislas Barthélémy and journalist Laurent Rullier. Joe also writes about a Disney comic by Lewis Trondheim, Nicolas Keramidas, and Brigitte Findakly.

The album is technically part of a line of artist-driven Mouse comics at Glénat, with additional contributions by Régis Loisel (who’s done work for Disney’s animated films) and “Tébo” (also the writer of Keramidas’ Alice au pays des singes series with Glénat) — along with a book by Bernard “Cosey” Cosendey that IDW also plans to release — but really it’s part of Trondheim’s continuing project of summoning works and traditions from comics’ past and making them his own.

However, I am at a disadvantage. For one, I’ve not read what I suspect is this book’s closest relation, the 2010 Spirou et Fantasio sub-series album Panique en Atlantique, which Trondheim wrote for artist Fabrice Parme with purportedly similar throwback flair. Moreover, I *have* read this very good review of the Mickey book by Jonathan Bogart, whom I fear has plumbed all the depth this piece has to offer. Of particular note, Bogart reads the book’s central conceit — that the comic we’re seeing was not really created by Trondheim & co., but found by them in a hidden stash of regional European Disney comics from the ’60s, serialized at only one page per issue by anonymous talents — as a means of re-framing Mickey Mouse and all his baggage as something suddenly native to the small-format serialization of Franco-Belgian children’s comics: a truly BD Disney at last.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. James Yeh reviews Richard McGuire’s new book of New Yorker spot drawings/comics for the Times.

As in his loudly (and deservedly) praised 2014 graphic novel “Here,” McGuire’s singular, virtuoso approach to storytelling is again the star. Whereas “Here,” with its static living room scene and bold leaps forward and backward in time, explores a simultaneous vision of space and history, “Sequential Drawings” takes a more playful, spare and gag-like approach, wordlessly shuffling between imaginings of the secret lives of diner condiments (“Scenes From a Table”) and stylish insects (“Insect Fashion”), inventories of funny hats (“Hats”), obstructed faces on the subway (“Subway”) and ice (“Ice”).

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Newman profiles Drew Friedman.

Years ago it could be a little nerve-racking if the phone wasn’t ringing with work as much as I’d like, but now I basically decide what I want to create. I make my own hours and for the most part decide what I want to work on. The solitude isn’t a problem because my MacBook is right by me at the desk, so I’m never really alone for too long—I’m always connected with my fellow travelers, that is, if I wanna be.

The New York Times interviews Zunar.

I’m facing so many laws three laws have been used against me so far. But one thing I keep in my mind — one very, very important thing — is that the biggest enemy for anyone in the world is self-censorship. For me, talent is not a gift but a responsibility. People ask, do I have fear? Yes, I have fear, I’m human. But responsibility is bigger than fear. So I don’t want to really think what the government will do next to me. I just concentrate on what I’m supposed to do. That can help me continue and draw more cartoons. If I start to think about law, I start to think about prison, I start to think about government action, I will definitely start to practice self-censorship — and this is no good. So I will draw as usual.

The most recent guest of the Process Party podcast is Rina Ayuyang.

—Misc. 2dcloud has launched a Kickstarter to fund their fall 2016 lineup, including new books from Sab Meynert, Tommi Parrish, and Jake Terrell.

We’ve been using Kickstarter as a mechanism for pre-orders and curated book bundles since 2010. This is our 8th Kickstarter. It’s been a powerful tool allowing for discovery, discussion and distribution.

Our Kickstarters are simply put, how we keep the lights on for our company. Think of them as NPR style fundraisers operating as a way to sell small curated book bundles.

This is the final week of the Kickstarter to fund a new documentary about the aforementioned Drew Friedman.

For years, artist Drew Friedman has chronicled a strange, alternate universe populated by forgotten Hollywood stars, old Jewish comedians and liver-spotted elevator operators.

Vermeer of the Borscht Belt is an in-depth documentary tracing Friedman’s evolution from underground comics to the cover of the New Yorker.

Friedman grew up in the New York literary scene of his father, writer Bruce Jay Friedman, but he was more at home with the Three Stooges, Car 54 and MAD magazine. Vermeer of the Borscht Belt traces fifty years of American popular culture through the unique lens of Drew Friedman.

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Model Building http://www.tcj.com/model-building/ http://www.tcj.com/model-building/#respond Mon, 05 Dec 2016 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97345 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we revisit Dana Gabbard’s 1989 interview with Don Rosa, whose Disney Duck work is presently being reprinted by Fantagraphics.

GABBARD: There’s a lot of pacing, suspense and detailing. Very vivid and very immediate is how I would describe your work.

ROSA: One problem I’ve always had is when somebody has invited me to speak at some school about creative writing or to give a lecture on this or that, I’ve always refused because I don’t consider myself an expert on this stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing — I just do it! I’ve never tried to figure out what my style is. I just sit down and do it. My training came from not trying to please anybody — just to do it for the fun of it. I made comic books for myself when I was little. And I just did it the way it seemed it should be done. I’m not saying this is the right way to do it. I just never thought about it and just sat down and started doing it.

And I never concentrated on developing any particular art style, since I wasn’t planning on doing it for a living. If I had, I’d have tried to learn how to draw a bit more in a Disney style rather than something that comes out looking like Robert Crumb. But I know where that comes from. Once I started doing stories for Gladstone, people said “they look like a cross between Carl Barks and Will Elder.” And there’s a lot to that. Because when I was little with all those Dell Comics my sister had, the only ones I really liked were Barks’ ducks and the Little Lulus. It’s much more difficult to explain to somebody what’s good about Little Lulu. I mean, what’s good about Carl Barks’ ducks is pretty evident. It stares you right in the face. The artwork is good, the stories are complex. More than anything else, I liked Barks’ style. But Little Lulu is a bit more elusive to explain … Anyway, after that I moved right into Mad Magazine (1957-1958) because my sister was in high school in those days and that’s probably what she started bringing home instead of Dell comics. So I was just a Mad Magazine fanatic for the next seven or eight years. I went right from Carl Barks to Will Elder and Basil Wolverton. I am a Robert Crumb fan. Of the so-called “underground” artists, he’s one of the only ones I really liked. But I never tried to imitate his art. I’m sure whatever drawing style I had must have developed by the time I first saw Crumb’s comics. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Sometimes I try to explain it to myself, that neither I nor Robert Crumb took the stuff seriously. So we didn’t try to make it look pretty — we just started putting all that noodling little cross-hatching in there. From what I’m learning in the Robert Crumb sketchbooks and Complete Robert Crumb stuff from Fantagraphics, he used to make all these comic books for himself, too, just like I used to do. All sons of silly stories.

(Ooops, that wasn’t quite ready yet).

At the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Boxer reviews Krazy.

Great interview with cartoonist Laurenn McCubbin over at the LARB.

The great French cartoonist Gotlib has passed away.

 

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No That Doesn’t Work http://www.tcj.com/no-that-doesnt-work/ http://www.tcj.com/no-that-doesnt-work/#respond Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97302 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site Alex Dueben brings us an interview with creative duo Kerascoët.

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

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

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

So you had Paul and then gave him a sister.

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

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

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

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

Marie:  Thank you.

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

Elsewhere:

I am an enormous Mark Alan Stamaty fan, and here’s an all-too-rare interview with great (Who Needs Donuts?) cartoonist and illustrator.

My pal Anya Davidson gets the Inkstuds treatment. 

And here’s a solid profile of cartoonist and educator Tom Hart. 

Trina Robbins resumes blogging with a post about Wonder Woman and pantsuits. 

 

Finally, I enjoyed this look at the making of a local bookstore in Brooklyn — another branch of Greenlight, one of the best stores around.

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

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

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

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

When did the two of you start working together?

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

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

Marie:  Yes.

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

Marie:  We don’t have the same style.

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

Marie:  And we change our process.

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

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

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

How do you decide what projects to do?

Marie:  It’s hard to agree.

Sébastien:  It’s harder and harder

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

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

Marie:  As a team

You enjoy complicated narratives.

M&S:  [laughs]

Sébastien:  Not so complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sébastien:  It was our strange sense of humor.

Where did the idea start originally?

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

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

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

Sébastien:  There was a lot of research.

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

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

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

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

So you had Paul and then gave him a sister.

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

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

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

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

Marie:  Thank you.

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

Strong characters and complicated characters.

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

beauty-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Sébastien:  With Fabien Vehlmann.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Katana http://www.tcj.com/katana/ http://www.tcj.com/katana/#respond Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97288 Continue reading ]]> RJ Casey is back to day with a review of Tommi Parrish’s Perfect Hair.

You’re at a party and someone is telling you all about their new job, new significant other, new something. You’re trying to listen, but all you can concentrate on is making eye contact, like you’ve been taught. Don’t look over their shoulder or at their moist mouth. You try staring at the left eye. Then the right. It’s not possible to split focus on both eyes, is it? You start fixating more on the performative act of communication than the actual practice. That zone right there — where you’re half-listening and fraught and floating with self-consciousness — that’s the feeling Tommi Parrish explores in Perfect Hair: a book that may not make you happy to be alive, but sure will make you glad you’re a comic reader.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Brian Nicholson has a couple of interesting reviews up, of Tristan Wright’s Low Light and Mark Wheatley & Rick Burchett’s 1991 Black Hood.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was a kid, not being a sociopath, while the image of a man with a gun might have been compelling, I felt no desire to project myself into it, as a fantasy, the way I felt with the idea of flight. That image, though, was everywhere. I was a child during a time when there were four ongoing Punisher comics, and Robocop and The Terminator, despite their origins in rated-R movies, were common sights in toy stores.

Reading comics from fifty-cent bins, where a comic shop’s cast-offs from the year or two before went, I encountered the early issue of the Impact Comics line. I didn’t realize until much later that this line of comics was designed specifically for children, that the teenager protagonists were meant to be relatable or aspirational. At least, I didn’t think of them as being intended for children any more than the other comics I read were. The Black Hood was the line’s take on the simplistic stripped-down concept, of a vigilante with firearms. He was introduced initially as a guest star in the line’s first four books, before being given his own title, the fifth to debut. Reading that series now, what’s striking about them is how focused they are on the dismantling of a dangerous notion. It seems like it’s taking the responsibility of a young audience seriously, to parody ideas too many people a few years older were taking completely seriously.

—At the Criterion blog, Eric Skillman writes about Paul Pope and Ron Wimberly’s work on the packaging for the new Lone Wolf and Cub box set.

The Lone Wolf and Cub film series has its roots in the Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s seminal manga of the same name, which was itself a major influence on western cartooning and illustration in the 1980s. It felt only natural to pay homage to that connection in our design. We brought in Paul Pope, an American artist whose work is heavily influenced by Japanese brushwork and manga styles.

—The latest Comics Workbook roundup post has a lot of good stuff in it.

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Perfect Hair http://www.tcj.com/reviews/perfect-hair/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/perfect-hair/#respond Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97292 Continue reading ]]> coverYou’re at a party and someone is telling you all about their new job, new significant other, new something. You’re trying to listen, but all you can concentrate on is making eye contact, like you’ve been taught. Don’t look over their shoulder or at their moist mouth. You try staring at the left eye. Then the right. It’s not possible to split focus on both eyes, is it? You start fixating more on the performative act of communication than the actual practice. That zone right there — where you’re half-listening and fraught and floating with self-consciousness — that’s the feeling Tommi Parrish explores in Perfect Hair: a book that may not make you happy to be alive, but sure will make you glad you’re a comic reader.

Perfect Hair is a collection of water-colored short stories full of anxious, marble-headed people trying to take one day, and one breath, at a time. The attention paid to characters’ uneasy inner lives make me think of another 2016 stand-out, Beverly by Nick Drnaso, but Perfect Hair is devoid of all of Beverly’s Midwestern hush-hush “aw shucks” niceties. Parrish transitions from someone crying in the bathroom of a sex club to someone else arguing about identity with their dying, hallucinating grandmother. The exaggerated barrel bodies of all these longing humans are also highlighted by Parrish’s page structures. At one point, Parrish depicts a character stripping off their skin and then slowly strolling into the white abyss of an empty page and disappearing. Parrish also deploys inset panels, which is always a risky move, especially in a young artist’s first book. But here, they are utilized to shake free minute expressions from the larger panel it sits atop of. When used commandingly and sparingly, like Parrish does here, those inset panels really have an effect not only on the pacing, but also the subtle details that make these stories so haunting. As a reader, you never quite get settled in, even when Parrish’s artwork does.

sample-1

There is a superb 4-pager in the middle of the book called “Generic Love Story”. We learn about “Figure #1” and “Figure #2” — their fears, their odd habits, their favorite bands — as they get closer to having sex. Parrish draws each figure with one black pupil and an indistinct long nose. When they kiss, a transparent blue tube connects one orbed head to the other. They are bald, naked, and genderless, which prevents you from relating to them, even as you learn more and more intimate details from the narrator. You don’t know if they are long-time lovers, or they just met a minute before Parrish opened the door to you. This all makes it pretty exhilarating and voyeuristic. The fact that it’s augmented by literally looking down on these two people from above makes the reader, along with the narrator, treat them like an impartial commonplace case study. I’ve never felt so connected to detachment.

sample-2

Lonesomeness, dread, selfhood — these are some of the main themes touched upon in the 72 pages of Perfect Hair. These topics are never easy to talk about or even comprehend, but Parrish fully realizes them and with surefooted confidence, doesn’t shy away from anything, delving deeper and deeper into distressing psyches. Pefect Hair, like many 2dcloud books, made me feel supremely uncomfortable, and that I’m grateful for.

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

hal-roach-cartoon-600-dpi-copy-2

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

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

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

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

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

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More Less http://www.tcj.com/more-less/ http://www.tcj.com/more-less/#respond Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97277 Continue reading ]]> Today we have George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand with an exclusive image feature about Herriman and Hal Roach. Here’s a bit:

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

It’s likely, but not certain, that George Herriman was among those in attendance.

Elsewhere:

A short interview with Zunar in the NY Times.

Sammy Harkham has made an enormous print of one of Chester Brown’s finest sequences. 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/30/16 – A Haunting and Eloquent Line) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-113016-a-haunting-and-eloquent-line/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-113016-a-haunting-and-eloquent-line/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:02:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97252 Continue reading ]]> img_29931

I love walking to the comics store in the place where I grew up.

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

theorysandcover

The Theory of the Grain of Sand: While I can’t say these English editions of comics by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters have been frequent, they are always welcome – a sizable body of this highly distinctive output still awaits translation. Actually, just the other day I ran across some manga by Yukinobu Hoshino (longtime seinen artist, quite western-informed, creator of 2001 Nights and the Professor Munakata series) that seemed to draw some visual influence from early Schuiten/Peeters works such as The Great Walls of Samaris (1983) and Fever in Urbicand (1985), which were translated to Japanese beginning in 2011:

rain10001

Images from "Rain Man" ch. 34, as published in the 11.10 issue of Shogakukan's Big Comic magazine.

Images from “Rain Man” ch. 34, as published in the 11.10 issue of Shogakukan’s Big Comic magazine.

Anyway, The Theory of the Grain of Sand is one of the most recent Schuiten/Peeters collaborations — expect fanciful architecture charged with the allegorical flair of a morality play — originally serialized across two French albums in 2007 and 2008. This 9.375″ x 11″ softcover collects the whole story into a single 128-page package. Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger for Alaxis Press and published via IDW; $19.99.

legendcover

The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood Vol. 1: Your book-on-comics of the week goes up here, as it looks especially large and loaded with stuff necessary to address the many aspects of the beloved Wood: influential draftsman and independent comics maverick. Moreover, the book itself is something of a historical item, with origins in the 1980s, several portions pre-published in The Comics Journal in the 1990s, and a somewhat different iteration of itself released by TwoMorrows as Against The Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood in 2003. Described by publisher Fantagraphics as a “collective biographical and critical portrait,” this 304-page, 10″ x 12″ package promises contributions by peers, collaborators, assistants and admirers such as Bill Gaines, Al Williamson, Paul Kirchner, Trina Robbins and Larry Hama, along with many photos and illustrations. Edited by the late Bhob Stewart (himself a former Wood assistant), with an introduction by Howard Chaykin & Maria Reidelbach; $39.99.

PLUS!

Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal: Another Fantagraphics item, this time a second collection of work from Ed Luce, following up 2015’s Wuvable Oaf. Very strong cartoon look to this stuff – fantasy-kissed gay relationship drama, its emphasis on nerdy-aggressive pursuits like metal and wrestling, with a flair for the grotesque. The first one had enough in the way of oozing fluids and textured bodies I didn’t realize until my second look that the sex isn’t actually very explicit, it’s just got a lot of swagger. A 100-page, 7.25″ x 10″ hardcover; $19.99.

Lake Jehovah (&) Titan #4: Two more from the wider world of new small-press comics. Lake Jehovah is a 216-page color release from artist Jillian Fleck and Conundrum Press, blending cataclysmic prophesy with Alberta local legend and queer relationship angst. Titan is a Study Group comic book distributed via Alternative, continuing the outer space labor/romantic relations web serial by François Vigneault; $20.00 (Jehovah), $4.95 (Titan).

Squalor (&) Pandora’s Eyes: Two from the wide world of reprints. Squalor has been a personal interest of mine for a little while; it’s a 1989-90 First Comics miniseries from writer Stefan Petrucha (a prolific novelist who’s also worked extensively in licensed and all-ages comics) and artist Tom Sutton, the latter collaborating with colorist Paul Mounts for some of his most distinctive latter-period work. Lots of metaphysical themes swirling around in this one, a post-everything SF burnout through unstuck parallel times. Recommended! The collected edition comes from Caliber. Pandora’s Eyes finds artist Milo Manara at his most mainstream, collaborating with the screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami (an Oscar nominee for the 1997 film Life is Beautiful) on an international suspense drama about a lovely woman with a dangerous lineage. Sort of a EuropaCorp movie in 64-page comics form – released in French in 2007, first translated to English in 2011, and now available again with new colors by Francesco Gaston in a 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover via Humanoids; $19.99 (Squalor), $24.95 (Pandora’s).

Empire of Blood: Another odd one I happen to like, but much newer; a 2015-16 miniseries from Graphic India (which I believe was split up from an original graphic novel published in India itself), pairing writer Arjun Raj Gaind with the veteran artist Enrique Alcatena for a sprawling class metaphor in a fantastical British empire powered by vampiric fuel of blood. Jangly and weird, flip through it; $14.95.

Scumbag Loser Omnibus (&) Happiness Vol. 2: Licentious horror manga, like your unusually hip mother nonetheless warned you about. There is no way I was ever not going to list a comic with a title like Scumbag Loser Omnibus, but instead of being a 1990s autobiographical indie comics compilation, it actually collects a complete Mikoto Yamaguchi serial about a nerd with a perverted sense of smell who concocts a long-distance relationship lie to impress the kids at school, appropriating the name of a dead girl he used to know. Then the dead girl shows up for class. A 592-page Yen Press release. Speaking of shitbugs, Happiness continues the new project from Shūzō Oshimi of The Flowers of Evil, in which a lonely boy is bitten by a girl vampire, compounding all of his awful issues. Kodansha publishes; $30.00 (SCUMBAG LOSER OMNIBUS, gang), $12.99 (Happiness).

Turn Loose Our Death Rays and Kill Them All: The Compete Works of Fletcher Hanks (&) Buz Sawyer Vol. 4: Zazarof’s Revenge: Vintage comics from Fantagraphics, continuing down certain known paths. Turn Loose Our Death Rays combines the publisher’s two prior Fletcher Hanks collections with a scattering of otherwise unaccounted-for shorts for a 376-page comprehensive edition of what at this point may be the non-corporate-superhero-related Golden Age comics that truly require no introduction. Edited, as ever, by Paul Karasik. Buz Sawyer, of course, is the adventuresome newspaper strip creation of Roy Crane, collecting ten storylines from the ’40s into the ’50s; $49.99 (Death), $39.99 (Buz).

Copra: Round Four: Finally – this goes at the bottom because it’s drawn by a friend and published by a frequent collaborator of my own (who, moreover, is a former columnist for this site), but I would nonetheless be remiss to neglect this latest collected edition for the now-long-running small-press superhero series by Michel Fiffe, as much a venue for exploring his various generic and cartooning fascinations as the steady-building action/suspense narrative is also happens to be. From Bergen Street Press, containing issues #19-24; $19.95.

The front page image this week is detailed from the October 30, 1898 installment of Richard F. Outcault’s Kelly’s Kindergarten, as captured from the superb 2013 Sunday Press Books collection Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip, 1895-15.

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Getting Through http://www.tcj.com/getting-through/ http://www.tcj.com/getting-through/#respond Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97247 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here as always on Tuesdays with his usual guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the most interesting-sounding books new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include a new volume of Schuiten & Peeters, and a tribute to Wally Wood.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. NOLA.com talks to Michael Tisserand about his George Herriman biography, which is looking likely to be the book-on-comics of the year.

After 10 years of scouring microfilm archives, yellowed newspapers and public records, Tisserand has pieced together Herriman’s journey from his humble birth in the Treme neighborhood to heights of fame in Jazz-era New York and Los Angeles. It wasn’t easy.

“I had to teach myself to be an historian,” Tisserand said. “I didn’t anticipate the amount of difficulty it would be finding Herriman’s work.”

Dylan Horrocks is a guest on the Radio New Zealand program Nine to Noon.

The latest episode of Process Party features Tom Kaczynski.
—Reviews & Commentary. Douglas Fratz reviews a newly revised biography of EC Comics (and science fiction) writer Otto Binder by Bill Schelly.

Binder’s story provides many insights into the history of science fiction and comics as well as his own work. His greatest strength as a writer was the ability to channel his inner youth, writing in a mode that communicated a wide-eyed innocence that resonates with the 8-year-old in all of us. This was best exemplified in his Captain Marvel family comics in the 1940s through the early 1950s but can also be seen in his pulp science fiction stories. The most poignant moments of the Adam Link series are established by Binder’s ability to characterize the robot as a brilliant but innocent youth who must survive in an adult world he has difficulty understanding.

—News. The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar was arrested on another sedition charge.

It’s been an eventful weekend for Zunar, the Malaysian political cartoonist facing nine separate charges of sedition which could net him up to 43 years in prison. First, on Friday his new cartoon exhibit was stormed by an angry mob of government supporters displeased by his frequent criticism of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd, but yesterday representatives of the ruling party UMNO lodged a formal complaint against Zunar, who was then arrested on yet another sedition charge as well as a charge of “intentionally humiliating a person.” He has now been released after posting bail.

Uncivilized Books has launched a Kickstarter to fund a new imprint of children’s comics, including work by Kickliy, Marzena Sowa and Berenika Kołomycka, and others.

We need your help! We’ve just worked with French publisher Dargaud to bring the beautiful children’s comic Musnet to American kids. Working with Dargaud is an exciting opportunity that lowers our overall production costs. However, it also brings some hurdles: to co-print the books, we need to work according to their release schedule, which is faster than ours. That means our books will need to wait for a few months before they can be released through our American distributor. It will be difficult for us the absorb the printings costs on books that can’t be sold until much later. Without co-printing, we will need to find another printer, at much higher printing prices.

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A “Konversation” with George Herriman’s Biographer, Michael Tisserand (Part Two) http://www.tcj.com/a-konversation-with-george-herrimans-biographer-michael-tisserand-part-two/ http://www.tcj.com/a-konversation-with-george-herrimans-biographer-michael-tisserand-part-two/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97149 Continue reading ]]> krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white“If one is going to spend ten years on a single subject, George Herriman is a good one.” – Michael Tisserand

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Michael Tisserand, author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, which is the first full-length biography of George Herriman. Part one explores the genesis and methodology of Tisserand’s book, his background, and George Herriman’s early years. The present section begins with a discussion of George Herriman’s life as a newspaper cartoonist, thoroughly documented in Krazy.

Paul Tumey: Did you find conclusive proof to the oft-cited statement that Herriman’s publisher, William Randolph Hearst, subsidized Krazy Kat, insisting it run in his papers when the public didn’t understand it, and didn’t want it. Is there truth in that storyline?

Michael Tisserand: I didn’t set out to be a Bubblespiker and disprove any of these long-held beliefs, but in this case, I found no direct evidence that Hearst specifically protected Krazy Kat from editors wishing to drop it. I did learn that the story of a lifetime contract is a myth, because Herriman repeatedly expresses concern in letters that his contract won’t be renewed, and he’s not joking. At the same time, it makes sense that Hearst would want someone who was so critically adored in his papers. I did find a letter from Hearst’s editor, Arthur Brisbane, stating that Brisbane thought everything in the newspaper should appeal to all readers, but Hearst liked keeping some highbrow material in there, including the City Life page. And Krazy Kat was running on the City Life page. So, on the Herriman Truth-O-Meter, I guess I’d have to give that a “half true.”

Paul Tumey: That’s interesting. So, if one were to read a scholarly account of George Herriman’s life in, say 1975, we would be told he was a Greek, the son of a baker, and that he had a guaranteed job with Hearst… none of which seems to be true! Brian Walker once said to me, “all history is revisionism.”

by cartoonists Tom McNamara George Herriman generations earlier.

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon, Cecilia and Michael Tisserand duplicate the poses made by cartoonists Tom McNamara and George Herriman. (Photo credit: Marilyn Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: Yes, and I’m sure that once all of Hearst’s papers are digitized, and one doesn’t have to spool through microfilm to read all of Herriman’s work, there will be more necessary revisions. In this case, of course, it didn’t help that Herriman told many of these stories himself! Also, early suspicions concerning the validity of Herriman’s birth certificate were absolutely grounded in history — many New Orleans birth certificates should not be believed when it comes to racial classifications.

Before 1935, Krazy Kat Sundays were black and white and often ran in the "City Life" section of the newspaper. The above example, featuring one of the classics of the series, is from the City Life section f the Washington Times, May 28, 1922.

Before 1935, Krazy Kat Sundays were black and white and often ran in the “City Life” section of the newspaper. The above example, featuring one of the classics of the series, is from the City Life section f the Washington Times, May 28, 1922.

Paul Tumey: Speaking of Krazy Kat running on the City Life page. I’ve seen that with other strips in other papers. E.C. Segar’s Looping the Loop, for example in the Chicago American. I’ve sometimes wondered if it just wasn’t a way to kind of use cartoonists in the daily paper somewhere other than the sports section. Another area cartoonists got some good space was in children’s sections. Walt McDougall, C.W. Kahles and Frank King published top-drawer work in kid’s sections. But it certainly did showcase Krazy Kat to have it smack dab in the middle of the Saturday City Life page — there’s no arguing that!

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s years with the Los Angeles Examiner – much of which you can see in the Herriman Saturdays feature on Allan Holtz’s blog Stripper’s Guide – is a great example of this. Herriman is everywhere on those pages.

By the way, I also spent a lot of time trying to determine if it was true that Picasso professed a particular love of Krazy Kat. Every essay about Herriman seems to include that information. I found nothing. It actually might have come from an account of Picasso loving The Katzenjammer Kids.

Paul Tumey: That’s funny to me because Art Spiegelman actually wrote a short essay I love that ran in the Sunday Press Krazy Kat book about the Cubist aspects of the strip. Not because supposedly Picasso loved the strip, but on its own formal merits. But it is funny to learn the strip the great painter loved was not the Kat but the Katzies!

In your book, there’s some great stories about Herriman’s first years working in newspapers in California and New York. He connected with several other cartoonists and writers, like Thomas A. “Tad” Dorgan and Jimmy Swinnerton — and their work seemed to center around sports reporting. They lived large and had many adventures. You call them “Sports.” Did you coin that term yourself?

The cartoon staff at the New York Evening Journal (January 3, 1911) Top, from left: Gus Mager, Charles Wellington, Herriman Bottom, from left: Harry Hershfield, Ike Anderson, Tad Dorgan

The cartoon staff at the New York Evening Journal (January 3, 1911)
Top, from left: Gus Mager, Charles Wellington, Herriman
Bottom, from left: unknown, Ike Anderson, Harold McGill

Michael Tisserand: Sort of. There is talk about the “sports” in the papers, and what constitutes a sport. But I admit to capitalizing the “S” to elevate it to being a literary movement. People usually call that slangy style of writing about lowlife urban characters “Runyonesque” but I’d argue gives short shrift to the other Sports, especially the illustrious Tad.

Paul Tumey: I agree. Relegating that group to a fictional world seems too limited.

Michael Tisserand: One of the primary edits I had to make on my original manuscript was to take out a series of old newspaperman tales that didn’t really involve Herriman. A number of the early newspaper writers penned memoirs and they are wonderful. I left as many in as I could get away with!

Paul Tumey: I could see another comics-realted book from you: The Sports. It could be about those wild times Herriman and the other guys had. I’ve read some fun accounts. Did you know that Rube Goldberg was once arrested in 1908? He was a timekeeper for an illegal fight match and got rounded up with the fighters!

Michael Tisserand: They arrested Goldberg but he invented an elaborate escape machine?

Paul Tumey: No, they let him go because he invented a simple twenty-six step device to turn on the light switch in the police station.

Author Michael Tisserand on the New Orleans street where George Herriman was born

Author Michael Tisserand on the New Orleans street where George Herriman was born

Michael Tisserand: I spent quite a bit of time trying to learn more about a Prohibition-related arrest of George Herriman. Paid a couple hundred dollars for some trial transcripts to be copied. Then I found out there was another George Herriman living in southern California at the time.

Paul Tumey: Ah — a blind alley! I’ve gone down a few of those.

Michael Tisserand: Can you imagine how excited I was when the package of trial transcripts arrived in the mail?

That was actually my second longest blind alley. The most time consuming one of all was the silent movie that Herriman appeared in, How to Handle Women. I had a legion of friends trying to help me locate a copy, but it does appear to be missing, at least for now.

Paul Tumey: Man I would love to see that movie! You know it has to be sitting around in a dusty archive, somewhere. Do we know how big a part Herriman had in How to Handle Women?

Michael Tisserand: There are stills that show him with the actor Glenn Tryon and it appears that there scenes of him working as a cartoonist. The movie had series of titles and was poorly reviewed. It featured an early appearance by Bela Lugosi but the Bela Lugosi fan clubs couldn’t help me, either.

George Herriman appears with Glenn Tyron in a still from the lost film, How to Handle Women (1928)

George Herriman appears with Glenn Tryon in a still from the lost film, How to Handle Women (1928)

Paul Tumey: There’s a similar film by Rube Goldberg I would love to find,  and also have had no success after much searching. It’s a 1914 Vitagraph two-reel silent comedy he wrote and starred in called He Danced Himself to Death. Someday…

Michael Tisserand: Oh no. I also came across news of a very early film about comics production that included a lot of pioneering cartoonists. It’s also missing. Now we’re just torturing each other.

Paul Tumey: I loved reading about how, after he settled in Los Angeles, Herriman worked in the middle of the studio where the Our Gang, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy comedies were made. In both Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White and in your introduction to the recently released Library of American Comics Krazy Kat 1934 you really fill that out and show the intermingling of the comic strip and great 1930s comedy films that occurred with this happy juxtaposition of humorous brilliance.

garge-image

Michael Tisserand: Remember the scenes of Herriman working in the New York Evening Journal art room. You know that Tad Dorgan comic where they’re boxing, and all the cartoonists are gathered round making jokes?

Paul Tumey: Yeah – it’s unforgettable. Those broad, hunched-up shoulders on Herriman!

Michael Tisserand: I like to think of Herriman moving back to California and managing to find the one place that was as rollicking and joyful as that art room — the Hal Roach studio. Beanie Walker — said by Rudolph Dirks to be Herriman’s best friend — made the introductions. Herriman became a regular fishing partner of Hal Roach, and a close friend to Hal’s brother, Jack Roach. Supposedly Herriman stood in as an extra when needed, but I never could find him a crowd shot. I’m still looking!

Paul Tumey: I’ve been looking too, since you first told me that. It would be incredible to spot Herriman as an extra in a Laurel and Hardy comedy.

George Herriman is seen at his Hal Roach studio with Beanie Walker in this 1930s SCREENLAND article

George Herriman is seen at his Hal Roach studio with Beanie Walker in this 1930s SCREENLAND article

Michael Tisserand: I still think we’re going to find a scene with Herriman in some Hal Roach comedy. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I fire up the Laurel and Hardy movies instead of working.

Speaking of working, did you see that the New York Public Library announced today that it is digitizing its city directories? That’s amazing news for this kind of research.

Paul Tumey: Yes! I saw that — the first free chunk of time I have I will be looking up several names. The availability of research tools online just gets better and better.

Michael Tisserand: It’s tragic that the Smithsonian’s Chronicling America project appears to be stalled. The digitization of the Hearst newspapers will be such a boon to research.

Paul Tumey: I know — in the debates tonight I want the moderator to ask “If elected what will you do to get Chronicling America working again?” However, despite the run of cinema bupkus with the Herriman movie appearances, you DID find home movies of Herriman! That’s a real score. There’s a few bits in your four-minute promotional book video.

George Herriman with granddaughter Dee Cox -- still from home movie (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

George Herriman with granddaughter Dee Cox — still from home movie (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s granddaughter was very generous to let me use that film. There aren’t a lot of scenes with George, but each one is precious. There is one beautiful scene in which Bobbie Herriman is changing baby Dinah’s diaper, and Herriman is shielding their eyes from the sun. When he realizes that he’s in the way of the camera, he quickly steps aside. You can actually witness the shy, humble, even self-effacing character that his friends always talk about.

Paul Tumey: I was struck by how slight and skinny he was. And how his shoulders really do resemble his portrayal in that Tad boxing-in-the-office cartoon, large and rounded.

Michael Tisserand: And how big his hands appear to be!

Paul Tumey: Yes, those hands of Herriman’s look magical. So that’s a good segue into Herriman’s later years. It seems, after all those years of hanging out with fellow artists and colleagues, maybe dating a hootchie kootchie dancer at Coney Island, and travelling all the southwest, Herriman became somewhat reclusive in his later years. Is that right — and if so, why?

Michael Tisserand: He did. Undeniably. His granddaughter commented on it. So did Boyden Sparkes and Segar. There were bouts of reclusiveness before those final years too. His friend Harry Carr wrote to the Wetherills about how he couldn’t get George to go to Arizona, and how much it would help if George would go.

Shortly after Herriman’s wife died, an artist arrived to paint Bobbie’s picture. In her memoir, she said that it was the car crash that killed Herriman’s wife that had made Herriman so isolated and depressed. She actually wrote that Herriman was consumed with guilt because he was driving the car, but this is contradicted by family stories and all the news accounts of the accident, and so it doesn’t ring true to me.

He also suffered from bad health, including debilitating migraines. Remember that he was making cartoons about suffering rheumatism when he was barely thirty years old.

Paul Tumey: I know that in some cases arthritis can lead to depression, which can certainly cause one to become isolated.

Michael Tisserand: I never want to diagnose Herriman. When I read a modern diagnosis in a biography of a historical figure, I start to think more about the biographer and less about the subject. But certainly it seems he was depressed in some fashion. And his contemporaries specifically talked about Herriman having an inferiority complex. In letter after letter, he disparages his work, or at least its lack of popularity. And yet, the work itself is uncompromising, and so confident in its own beauty.

Paul Tumey: I agree – it is dangerous ground to psychoanalyze a person from the past. But in those letters and accounts, if nothing else, Herriman seems to have been very self-effacing. That aspect of his personality comes through in your book.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, and racial passing actually means to literally self-efface. To remove a face. Again, I try very hard to not try to say what is going on inside Herriman’s head. My goal really was just to tell his story as accurately as possible.

Paul Tumey: In my work on Jack Cole, by the way, I’ve had to resist the temptation to guess at his mental state. As with Herriman, themes of identity are a major part of Jack Cole’s work. He has Plastic Man constantly rearranging his facial features in a blur. It’s a striking visualization of self-effacing. Before Plastic Man, Cole had other characters make this peculiar move, too. It’s fascinating. I think you can suggest a few directions from a careful study of the artist’s work … but it’s treacherous territory. Cole committed suicide, for reasons that almost no one knows — and his comics are filled with shockingly dark material.

And yet, I respect his work too much to try to pin labels on him or depict him as something different than what he actually may have been. One person who know Cole said he was always jovial and happy, like Willard Scott the TV weatherman. The truth is, us hoomins can be pretty danged complex.

Michael Tisserand: For me, I just kept asking myself, “What do I know for sure?”

Paul Tumey: And you wrote 500 pages! So there’s clearly a lot we CAN say about the life of George Herriman and be within the realm of “truth.”

Michael Tisserand: Herriman, like Whitman, contained multitudes. In fact, even at his most reclusive, he’s involved with a Hollywood society group called The Uplifters, he’s welcoming McManus and Swinnerton to his house, and he’s making elaborate gifts for everyone right down to his butcher. He’s also meeting with fans and young cartoonists such as Jack Kent. I should be so reclusive.

Paul Tumey: That’s a good point about the Uplifters. There was a strong artist’s community in Los Angeles at the time that included cartoonists. I have a great photo of a Los Angeles book club that includes, among many actors and celebrities, Gene Ahern, Claire Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins and Walt Disney! Herriman may have lived a quite life in his later years, perhaps limited by some form of arthritis, as you discuss in Krazy, but I suspect he was likely drawn out into the world from time to time. You also found some great information about visitors to his home. I loved the story you found about the boy who wound up at Herriman’s door and he wrote that the “blew” him to a new suit, as he put it in a letter.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, that was one of the Wetherills. I have letters from Herriman about him, and I was actually able to interview him before he died. I love that story about Herriman’s generosity and his closeness to his Arizona family. Everyone I interviewed just loved him.

Paul Tumey: I like that you refrained from imposing too much of your opinions in Krazy. Of course, there’s some measure of one’s bias in a biography, just from the artistic decisions made — but overall the book seems to me to be a great balance between providing some insight into Herriman and “just the facts, ma’am.”

Michael Tisserand: I have my personal preferences about his work. I am excessively fond of “Baron Mooch” and not so much of “Us Husbands.” But I’ve learned that such opinions might change next week or next year, and I want Krazy to last longer than that.

STUMBLE INN by George Herriman (January 7, 1923).

STUMBLE INN by George Herriman (January 7, 1923).

Paul Tumey: How do you find Herriman’s later effort, the baroquely styled color Sunday page, Stumble Inn?

Michael Tisserand: How can one not enjoy Stumble Inn? The whole thing is such a pleasure to look at and read. Every panel looks like a joke.

I love the story that Bud Sagendorf tells of working at King Features and needing a laugh, so going down to the files and reading old Stumble Inn strips. It’s like the quote from Segar that’s in the Boyden interview, in which he says that a scene of Baron Bean turning the corner is worth more than most other comics combined. There was such great appreciation for the visual humor – the sight gags.

Paul Tumey: I see that, too. Stumble Inn is one of my favorites.

Michael Tisserand: King Features’ promotions for Stumble Inn and these other strips seem to acknowledge that Krazy Kat wasn’t a commercial success. I’m not sure why Stumble Inn wasn’t a bigger success. It seems pretty accessible to me, while clearly being a work of Herriman.

Paul Tumey: That bears some more research and thought. It did run for four years — which is a pretty good run for strips of that period — and maybe — because of the workload — it came down to either Krazy Kat or Stumble Inn, in which case, I’m sure Herriman would pick Krazy Kat!

Michael Tisserand: I did find one letter from that time when Herriman was grumbling about his workload, so you might be right.

Paul Tumey: This is an abrupt change in topic, but I wanted to ask if you think Herriman was close to his wife? I remember reading in Krazy that he traveled a lot without her. It made me wonder a few times about their marriage.

Michael Tisserand: George and Mabel’s marriage remains perhaps the biggest mystery. There is much more documentation about his later romance with Louise Scher Swinnerton. The sole letter I found was written by George to the Wetherills after Mabel died. He was planning a surprise party for his daughter, and he wrote that the idea for the party was Mabel’s. He then then added she tells him things sometime. In that line, you can feel his sadness.

Paul Tumey: It seems he as such a private person it’s difficult to know for sure how he felt about his marriage.

Michael Tisserand: But his feelings about Louise Scher Swinnerton were pretty transparent. You can imagine how my heart sank when her grandson told me she had him burn a stack of love letters. But a few wonderful letters did happily survive, and it’s clear he was smitten. If his health had been better, it seems likely they’d have married.

Paul Tumey: From what I know of her, which is very little, that seems like a good match… her bright energy, sense of humor and it seems she really cared for George. Did you get any sense of how Jimmy Swinnerton felt about the mutual interest between his ex-wife and his good friend and colleague?

Michael Tisserand: He seemed fine with it. He joined a gathering at Herriman’s house with McManus, Carl Anderson and Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins. I believe that I heard that Swinnerton was in favor of anything that meant he didn’t have to pay any more alimony. But that qualifies as cartoonist gossip.

I have a copy of a little map that Herriman drew for Louise, of the interior of his house. A “rough idea of the dump,” he said. He drew a bathtub, which he said was unused, and a wash basin, which he said was occasionally used, and a toilet, for which he noted “Wanted: someone to warm it — cold evenings.” Now, that’s romantic.

George Herriman's own sketch of the floor plan of his home. (Courtesy Michael Tisserand)

George Herriman’s own sketch of the floor plan of his home. (Courtesy Michael Tisserand)

Detail from George Herriman's sketch of his home's floor plan in a to Louise Swinnerton.

Detail from George Herriman’s sketch of his home’s floor plan in a letter to Louise Swinnerton. “Can – sometimes occupied — wanted — some one to warm it cold mornings”

Paul Tumey: I noticed that! It was very sweet and really made me feel an emotional connection with Herriman. I know that sounds weird, but it was such an intimate detail.

Do you have other promotional plans for the book? Any readings or lectures scheduled?

Michael Tisserand: I have a presentation titled “Birth of the Krazy” that that uses everything from comics to boxing footage to show how Herriman created Krazy Kat. I’m very excited to debut it in December at Ben Katchor’s Comics and Picture-Story Symposium, and currently scheduling it for colleges and other sites. All book events will be listed on my web site, and there’s also a mailing list, and I’ll send out updates on Krazy-related events and news.

Paul Tumey: Thank you for doing this interview.

Michael Tisserand: Yes. Way better than obsessing over the election.

Paul Tumey: Haha! I need to see a Tad cartoon on the debates for my mental health!

Michael Tisserand: OK but leave time to listen to Chuck Berry today!

Paul Tumey: Spoken like a true historian – I just realized today was Berry’s birthday! George Herriman was one of the best and brightest of his time. I think of George Herriman not just as a great cartoonist, but as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. It’s terrific to have a book like this on him.

Michael Tisserand: If one is going to spend ten years on a single subject, George Herriman is a good one. Letter after letter revealed how much people loved him. How much they were in awe of him. What a deep connection they felt to his work. That shone through my interviews with people who knew him. And that’s how I still feel, too.

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Oinks http://www.tcj.com/oinks/ http://www.tcj.com/oinks/#respond Mon, 28 Nov 2016 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97224 Continue reading ]]> Hi there, 

Today on the site we have the second part of Paul Tumey’s enormously interesting chat with George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand. Michael’s book, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, is coming out December 6th. Here’s the first part of the chat if you want to catch up. And here’s some from today:

Paul Tumey: I was struck by how slight and skinny he was. And how his shoulders really do look his portrayal in that Tad boxing-in-the-office cartoon, large and rounded.

Michael Tisserand: And how big his hands appear to be!

Paul Tumey: Yes, those hands of Herriman’s look magical. So that’s a good segue into Herriman’s later years. It seems, after all those years of hanging out with fellow artists and colleagues, maybe dating a hootchie kootchie dancer at Coney Island, and travelling all the southwest, Herriman became somewhat reclusive in his later years. Is that right — and if so, why?

Michael Tisserand: He did. Undeniably. His granddaughter commented on it. So did Boyden Sparkes and Segar. There were bouts of reclusiveness before those final years too. His friend Harry Carr wrote to the Wetherills about how he couldn’t get George to go to Arizona, and how much it would help if George would go.

Shortly after Herriman’s wife died, an artist arrived to paint Bobbie’s picture. In her memoir, she said that it was the car crash that killed Herriman’s wife that had made Herriman so isolated and depressed. She actually wrote that Herriman was consumed with guilt because he was driving the car, but this is contradicted by family stories and all the news accounts of the accident, and so it doesn’t ring true to me.

He also suffered from bad health, including debilitating migraines. Remember that he was making cartoons about suffering rheumatism when he was barely thirty years old.

Paul Tumey: I know that in some cases arthritis can lead to depression, which can certainly cause one to become isolated.

Michael Tisserand: I never want to diagnose Herriman. When I read a modern diagnosis in a biography of a historical figure, I start to think more about the biographer and less about the subject. But certainly it seems he was depressed in some fashion. And his contemporaries specifically talked about Herriman having an inferiority complex. In letter after letter, he disparages his work, or at least its lack of popularity. And yet, the work itself is uncompromising, and so confident in its own beauty.

Paul Tumey: I agree – it is dangerous ground to psychoanalyze a person from the past. But in those letters and accounts, if nothing else, Herriman seems to have been very self-effacing. That aspect of his personality comes through in your book.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, and racial passing actually means to literally self-efface. To remove a face. Again, I try very hard to not try to say what is going on inside Herriman’s head. My goal really was just to tell his story as accurately as possible.

Slow links weekend. The most relevant one is info on Resist, a free cartoon newspaper being put together by Francoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman and Gabe Fowler.

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Thanks for Nothing http://www.tcj.com/thanks-for-nothing/ http://www.tcj.com/thanks-for-nothing/#respond Wed, 23 Nov 2016 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97188 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, stranger to controversy Johnny Ryan talks to Real Deal co-creator Lawrence Hubbard.

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

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


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Alex Dueben talks to Daniel Alarcón.

Dueben: I know that you were born in Peru but grew up in the states. Did you read comics growing up?

Alarcón: Not at all. I read Asterix and I read Condorito, which is a Chilean comic book for kids. That’s it. I never read any of the superhero stuff or the comics that kids read here in the states. I’m not sure why. It just never appealed to me. I think coming to it with a fairly blank slate was not a bad thing. Maybe comics people would disagree with me but it certainly felt like I had a fair amount of freedom to try things out because I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what comics had to be.

Dueben: You were not playing with the conventions of comics because you just didn’t know them.

Alarcón: I also wasn’t necessarily thinking of the work in the long tradition of comics books. I was thinking of it more as a visual adaptation of a short story that already existed. I learned a great deal about comics reading The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the Michael Chabon novel, and then I came across Joe Sacco and I found his work to be tremendous. Those were my reference points more than Superman or Batman or those kinds of things.

—Good news on the Mike Diana documentary Kickstarter, which has surpassed its fundraising goal, and raised enough money to clear Diana’s arrest warrant.

A Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary about the US comic artist Mike Diana – the first person to receive a criminal conviction in the US for “artistic obscenity” – has surpassed its $40,000 (£32,000) goal, with enough extra money to clear the outstanding warrant for his arrest in the state of Florida.

Diana was living in Largo, Florida, when he became the first person to be convicted and jailed on obscenity charges in 1994, for his self-published comic book Boiled Angel. A jury took just 40 minutes to convict him following a sting in which an undercover police officer procured copies of Diana’s underground comic.

—Kim Jooha names and catalogues a new genre: European Abstract Formalist Comics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That One http://www.tcj.com/that-one/ http://www.tcj.com/that-one/#respond Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:33:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97094 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, one last Joe McCulloch update before Turkey.

I went to the Comic Arts Brooklyn show a few weeks back — recorded a podcast about it and everything — and one of the things I bought in the surrounding area, while I was in town, was this: the tinsel-strewn Winter Holiday issue of Mebae, a Shogakukan magazine aimed at little, little kids. Ages 2-4. I’m 35. I swear, I had a plan.

The New York Times has a good look at the complete March.

If you happen to be in New York over the holiday and the coming weeks, there are three art exhibitions that might offer insight, comfort, rage, or really whatever you need for the present situation. First among them is Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, at The Met. It should be of particular interest to comics readers, not just because the artist is drawing a comic book, and not just but because his monumental paintings are feats of narrative ingenuity, but because they are audaciously, unrelentingly acts of artistic and social revolution executed with an encyclopedic knowledge of cartooning and painting. Go see this. Next is Max Beckmann in  New York, also the Met, which offers some of Beckmann’s most complex allegorical paintings — visions of a civilization eating itself. And finally, over at Hauser and Wirth, there’s a show of every one of Philip Guston’s Nixon drawings. 170 of them. Channeling a half century of his own work, and the cartooning traditions of Bud Fisher, George Herriman and E.C. Segar, Guston made dozens of drawings, and one brutal painting, of the President. These are strange drawings – they are not message driven (i.e. nothing like political cartooning), but rather visual meditations, using objects and figures, on Nixon’s life. Miraculous drawing here.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/23/16 – Exactly What We Had Feared Would Happen Since Day 1) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-112316-exactly-what-we-had-feared-would-happen-since-day-1/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-112316-exactly-what-we-had-feared-would-happen-since-day-1/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97109 Continue reading ]]> mebae0001

Above we see one of the most challenging works of radical literature available in no, fuck it, I’m sorry – this is just sheer self-indulgence leading into the U.S. holiday weekend. It’s a magazine for, like, babies. I went to the Comic Arts Brooklyn show a few weeks back — recorded a podcast about it and everything — and one of the things I bought in the surrounding area, while I was in town, was this: the tinsel-strewn Winter Holiday issue of Mebae, a Shogakukan magazine aimed at little, little kids. Ages 2-4. I’m 35.

I swear, I had a plan.

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Mebae is not a manga magazine; it’s a general purpose children’s grab bag, albeit with some occasionally nice art. This, for instance: a story about a misunderstood crocodile illustrated by one Yoko Ozaki with maximum levels of high-def paint texture observable on the page. From the enormous block of text we can quickly ascertain that this is not a magazine to be read by children, but one to be read with them. Unfortunately, I had assumed I would be getting a *very* easy-reading package, rather than something pitched down to toddlers from an (admittedly none-too-strenuous) level of competency.

Basically, I had wanted to read the magazine for babies, as a baby, and thus convince myself that reading was within my skill set.

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Oh sure, there’s still some things I can do. Real brain-teaser here. Swear to god, I didn’t peek at the answer!

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Here’s Doraemon laying down some natural facts. Lots of valuable characters are present in this package, to prepare your child early for a system of navigating life through the intermediary lens of commercial properties. Crayon Shin-chan is in here. Yo-Kai Watch.

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Thomas the Tank Engine, looking gritty as fuck IRL. This is an advertisement for a “Day Out With Thomas” event with the Ōigawa Railway; one of those things where they slap the train characters’ faces on vehicles and haul families around on a journey of wonder. There’s a Thomas and Friends picture story in here too, where you get stickers from a sheet in the front of the magazine and paste them down in the story, but I think an advert will prove the most relevant image. Useful engine he is, Thomas is actually taking us toward the true objective of Mebae.

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BUYING SHIT! BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY SOME SHIT, MOM! DAD! Setting aside all the ‘normal’ ads in this magazine — to say nothing of the ubiquity of marketable characters, which in effect transforms everything except the crocodile story into a tacit ad — there is also a 16-page insert toy catalog. I like this spread the best, because the little girl holding the toy frying pan looks completely pissed off and the art department wasn’t going to fuck around with re-shoots, hell no. There’s too much money on the line, too many brands to service.

And I haven’t even gotten to the star of the show.

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Anpanman is a pastry-headed sweet red bean superhero created in 1973 for children’s picture books by artist Takashi Yanase. The character has handily outlived its creator, and continues to enjoy high visibility in Japanese media. I bought Mebae for Anpanman. Specifically, for the magazine’s furoku – its special gift. A genuine, fully operational, build-it-yourself Anpanman papercraft gatcha machine. A ‘gumball’ machine in the American parlance. If you glance back up at the cover, it’s right there in the center of the image. Just turn the smiling knob and the whole Anpan crew tumbles out in plastic ball form, one by one.

I think Chris Ware built one of those. I don’t have my ACME Novelty Library back issues in front of me, but I remember reading somewhere that he once built his own gumball machine, and that it ejected little comics for visitors to his home. I’ve never done any of the craft projects that used to occupy so much aesthetic space in ACME; they were real, all of them (I’m told), but they were also metaphors for chasing complicated obsessions in the opposite direction of emotional confrontations with loneliness and mortality. To build these toys was to specifically enter Ware’s headspace, voluntarily surrendering hours of your time inside the skin of his characters, who might season their directions with an offhanded account of the death of their beloved grandparent; to best communicate this detachment, Ware demanded genuine replicative labor of his readers. And if the reader was not adequately skilled, the narrators, “Ware,” would seem all the more purposefully solitary and aloof.

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It always asked too much of me; all of those projects were so difficult, when I encountered them as a teenager, that my access to Ware seemed partial. This feeling matched the fearsome and diagrammatic quality of his art, especially in Quimby the Mouse. But Anpanman – him I could handle. I’m 35 years old. This is a magazine for babies. I will build the gatcha machine, and in doing that I will feel I have accessed something of the Japanese information so frequently denied me by the enormity of language. With the eyes of a child, I will have Learned Something.

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The final insult came in the instructions for building the machine; not only was Mebae expectant of some learned parental eye on its glossy color pages, but the assembly guide was included not with the magazine proper, but in the pack-in parents’ guide that comes with a lot of these kiddie loot crates, usually a flimsier sub-publication inside the actual magazine through which Mom and (maybe) Dad (but really Mom; gender norms are typically in full force with these mainstream entertainment items) can learn about tasty foods and life health tips and etc. The directions are not actually that difficult to understand, but it’s a pretty complex procedure, building a cardboard operational gumball machine. There’s even a video on the magazine’s homepage if you get really lost. I haven’t yet succeeded.

But you know what? It’s all right.

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So determined is Mebae editorial to offer kids hours of occupation for their parents’ 690 yen, there are sub-crafts available that kids can actually do. Above we see a Hello Kitty jewelry box I put together. It technically opens, but the system of tabs rigged together to keep the chest from springing apart is delicate enough that I treat it as a cursed item.

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And look at this! An official, VERY BASIC Anpanman holiday diorama. God, it is the saddest fucking thing. I didn’t even learn anything; you just plug the matching bits together and POW. I feel like I’m circling something, though. That I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’m doing something nonetheless. Amassing, in the process, a simulacrum of accomplishment, a little interface with a capitalist world in which friendly marketable characters manifest to cheer me, a little bookshelf community. God, this is the illusion, isn’t it? A cardboard city… but it wasn’t Chris Ware who built that… no– it was…

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Seth’s Dominion: SETH! HOLY FUCKING SHIT I DID IT, I SEGUED THAT THING INTO COMICS, HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Whew! Anyway, yeah – this is real. The first-ever DVD release from Drawn and Quarterly (region-free, NTSC), this package not only includes the 2014 National Film Board of Canada documentary from director Luc Chamberland (with a making-of special and various bonus features), but surrounds the disc with two discreet physical supplements on opposite ends of a hardcover book-cum-case. A 40-page glossy section presents photographs from all over Seth’s life, punk period included, while another 40-page block offers samples of his work in comics, illustration, roller derby logos, etc. There’s also a new two-page stamp comic on the topic of the film – and around us, of course, is the cardboard city of Dominion. No word on whether delicious red bean paste is involved; $29.95.

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The Complete Peanuts Vol. 26: Comics & Stories: Aw, let’s make it an all-Seth spotlight; one of his signature works as a designer, after all, is the comprehensive decade-plus Fantagraphics effort at collecting the entirety of Charles M. Schulz’s revered newspaper strip… and this, dear reader, is the final volume. Actually, the strip itself ended in vol. 25, so these 344 pages will be occupied by “all of Schulz’s non-strip related Peanuts art: storybooks, comic book stories, single-panel gags, advertising art, book illustrations, photographs, and even a recipe.” Afterword by Jeannie Schulz, wife of Charles; $29.99.

PLUS!

Love in Vain: Robert Johnson, 1911-1938: Whoa, hey – remember King of the Flies, the droll and Burnsian French album series Fantagraphics released two albums from about half a decade ago? The third and concluding installment of that has not yet manifested in translation, but this is a newer (2014) work from the same artist, Pascal “Mezzo” Mesemberg. Now he’s teamed with writer Jean-Michel Dupont for a 72-page study of the titular American blues legend. A Faber & Faber hardcover release, 11.8″ x 7.6″ in landscape format. This is going to look pretty nice; $29.95.

The Palace of Champions: New from Conundrum Press is this 9″ x 14″, 64-page color hardcover from Henriette Valium, a longtime post-underground charger from Quebec, working in a wriggling fury of lines and twisted faces. Translated by Peter Dubé, this edition will also feature an interview with the artist, still elusive (I think) to many English readers; $25.00.

So Buttons: Man of, Like, a Dozen Faces: I often see issues floating around from this long-running slice-of-life autobio series fronted by Jonathan Baylis, who works with a number of notable artists. This 184-page Alternative softcover features appearances by Noah Van Sciver, Fred Hembeck, Victor Kerlow, Sam Spina and others, although from the looks of the contents at the link the most frequent collaborator here is T.J. Kirsch; $20.00.

The Realist Cartoons: Another Fantagraphics reprint project, though a bit more outré than Peanuts. Founded in 1958 by Paul Krassner, The Realist produced 146 issues of satire, criticism and provocation over nearly half a century. You will maybe best remember Wally Wood’s drawing of various copyrighted Disney characters engaging in massed sexual and scatological acts from those pages, but there were many other cartoons from the likes of Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, S. Clay Wilson, Jay Lynch, Nicole Hollander, Jay Kinney and Skip Williamson, among others. An 11″ x 12″, 320-page hardcover compiles these works; $44.99.

Centifolia Vols. 1-2: These books aren’t actually new — the originate from 2008 and 2011, respectively — but it’s been a while since they’ve been around, and I’m sure there’s lasting interest in private sketchbook and illustration work by the well-regarded Stuart Immonen, an artist who steps in and out of mainline genre comics with no small ease. AdHouse publishes both at 128 pages (32 full-color) each, 8″ x 10.75″. Some samples; $19.95 (each).

Valérian and Laureline Vol. 13: On the Frontiers (&) XIII Vol. 21: Return to Green Falls: Two continuing BD translations from Cinebook. I saw the Luc Besson Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets movie trailer the other week; it certainly looks like a whole lot of money got thrown at this thing, although I’m not crazy about either of the scowling leads – I think Cara Delevingne is frowning harder than Louise Bourgoin in Besson’s Adèle Blanc-Sec movie, where it would have been more appropriate. Anyway, On the Frontier is a 1988 album, and the first of the three previously collected in English by iBooks back in ’04, if you’re keeping track. Return to Green Falls is a 2013 installment of the long-running espionage series, created by Jean Van Hamme & William Vance, but now administered by writer Yves Sente and artist Youri Jigounov (with colorist Bérangère Marquebreucq); $15.95 (Valérian), $11.95 (XIII).

Chew #60: I tend to mention a lot of Image first issues in this column, so I feel it’s my responsibility to occasionally make note of a final issue. A high-concept crime series about an FDA agent who receives psychic information from consuming foodstuffs, this popular John Layman/Rob Guillory creation of 2009 stands in retrospect as one of the earlier signals that Image would soon occupy the askew genre comics territory once occupied by Vertigo – and 60 issues does seem like a classic ‘Vertigo’ series length. A double-sized finale; $5.99.

Peanuts Every Sunday Vol. 4: 1966-1970: Oh no no no, Fantagraphics isn’t *actually* done with Peanuts. This week alone sees the release of two gift boxes (vols. 5-6 & vols. 25-26) and a softcover edition of vol. 6 of the main series, but what I’ll highlight here is the latest in the publisher’s side-series of oversized (13.25″ x 9.5″) color hardcover collections of just the Sunday strips, here running to 288 pages; $49.99.

Watchmen Noir: Finally, in case you have some need in your life for a version of Watchmen that strips out all color, leaving only Dave Gibbons’ inks below the balloons and captions, you may now elect just such a consumer option. Probably a more interesting release than the one DC put out last week, but I like my hot yellows and Martian pinks just fine; $39.99.

The little creatures on the front page this week are from Mofy, a line of readily exploitable cross-platform characters created by Aki Kondo and Sony Creative Products Inc. for the purposes of capturing your money as cotton soaks blood. Their positioning on the front cover of Mebae is at the extreme lower left corner. Everything inside the magazine is stated through icons on the cover. As a work of design, it is chaotic, but only in terms of the disorder latent to statements of absolute totality. This is the whole universe, to which you may buy in.

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Light Day http://www.tcj.com/light-day/ http://www.tcj.com/light-day/#respond Mon, 21 Nov 2016 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97097 Continue reading ]]> Today, Rob Clough reviews Daryl Seitchik’s Exits.

There’s a telling sequence early in Daryl Seitchik’s debut long-form work, Exits, where the protagonist, Claire Kim, has to deal with being objectified by her boss, the owner of a mirror store. He’s looking at a laptop at an image of a curvaceous woman in a bikini with the head cropped. When Claire walks over, the laptop is positioned such that her head is atop the bikini model’s body. While she does not see him do this, the scene is a kind of a deadpan and shorthand manner of establishing the way she’s seen by her boss, and the effect that it has on her is explored as she washes one of the countless mirrors in his store.  Those scenes establish how desperately Claire wants to control how she is seen, and the helplessness she feels in dealing with that gaze that she’s well aware of experiencing on an everyday basis. Even worse than that blatant bit of objectification is when he tells her, apropos of nothing, that she looks depressed; rather than offering support or even asking that she get help, he tellingly says, “No one wants to see that.” It’s another deadpan moment where at first it seems like he is expressing genuine concern for a moment but then quickly reveals that her actual welfare is unimportant to him. It is another way for him to control how she is seen and what her image looks like, an attempt to mold her into something that is more pleasant for him and his customers to look at. Not only is he objectifying her, but he is also viewing her as a commodity, as a thing that would help him sell other things. Her only means of resistance at this point in the story is to not voluntarily contribute to her objectification by pretending to be happy and perky. What it means to be seen in relation to one’s identity, especially as a woman, is at the heart of this book.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Washington Post picks its favorite comics of 2016.

—One of Hergé’s Tintin drawings has sold for a record-breaking 1.55 million euros.

—Robert Boyd reports from Zinefest.

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Exits http://www.tcj.com/reviews/exits/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/exits/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=96386 Continue reading ]]> exitcoverThere’s a telling sequence early in Daryl Seitchik’s debut long-form work, Exits, where the protagonist, Claire Kim, has to deal with being objectified by her boss, the owner of a mirror store. He’s looking at a laptop at an image of a curvaceous woman in a bikini with the head cropped. When Claire walks over, the laptop is positioned such that her head is atop the bikini model’s body. While she does not see him do this, the scene is a kind of a deadpan and shorthand manner of establishing the way she’s seen by her boss, and the effect that it has on her is explored as she washes one of the countless mirrors in his store.  Those scenes establish how desperately Claire wants to control how she is seen, and the helplessness she feels in dealing with that gaze that she’s well aware of experiencing on an everyday basis. Even worse than that blatant bit of objectification is when he tells her, apropos of nothing, that she looks depressed; rather than offering support or even asking that she get help, he tellingly says, “No one wants to see that.” It’s another deadpan moment where at first it seems like he is expressing genuine concern for a moment but then quickly reveals that her actual welfare is unimportant to him. It is another way for him to control how she is seen and what her image looks like, an attempt to mold her into something that is more pleasant for him and his customers to look at. Not only is he objectifying her, but he is also viewing her as a commodity, as a thing that would help him sell other things. Her only means of resistance at this point in the story is to not voluntarily contribute to her objectification by pretending to be happy and perky. What it means to be seen in relation to one’s identity, especially as a woman, is at the heart of this book.

Seitchik’s work has always addressed isolation, alienation and the nagging sense of anxiety that comes when one doesn’t feel like they fit into society. That sense of alienation in part addresses her status as a woman and the othering that is experienced on a daily basis, but there’s a more existential level to it as well. The classic problem of existentialism as a way of understanding the world is that it has absolutely no connection to ethics, the central question of which is “What do we do about others?” I might exist, but how do I connect with others, especially in a world where so many human relationships are what the philosopher Martin Heidgegger might describe as Zuhandenheit, or “ready-to-hand”. That is, we think of others as a means to an end and not unlike other objects in the world that have a certain function. Claire is someone who has come to the end of her willingness to be that object.

tumblr_obyqd5dzsp1rwdxzqo1_540At the beginning of the story, Claire is working at a mirror store, hating her boss, the clientele and the constant reflection of images. There are telling images early in the book where she’s wiping off the surface of a mirror, at once reflecting and erasing her own existence. She fantasizes about her own funeral (a different impulse than fantasizing or ideating about her death), a hilarious sequence where she’s impressed by the turnout, weirded out that a couple of people start making out in the middle of the funeral and chastised by a friend who reminds her that she’s not dead. This fits right into the title of the book, as death would be one exit out of life. That’s followed by an absurd but terrifying sequence where she’s chased by “a giant man-baby”, kind of the essence of the male id. That causes her to suddenly turn invisible, allowing her to turn the tables on her attacker. To be sure, turning the tables on the man-baby spoke to the way in which gender was one part of her sense of alienation, but Seitchik soon strips away that layer to explore other layers of self.

csgnor9xgaec3giHaving invisibility doesn’t so much trigger a Platonic Ring of Gyges scenario (where turning invisible turns a person into a monster since they will never be caught for what they do) so much as it makes manifest a sense of being erased. She may no longer be a means to an end for the world, but the invisibility doesn’t solve her own existential crisis. She takes brief pleasure in being able to go where she wants and do what she wants, as well as watching the lives of others. A sense of loneliness and desperation drives her to actually “live” with other people, including one scene where she starts watching a couple have sex, understands the invasive quality of what she’s doing, tells herself she should leave, and stays anyway. It’s the point at which she breaks the social contract in a really egregious way, which only sends her further down the road of addiction to other people’s lives as a way of not considering her own.

tumblr_oebx1xa1ne1rwdxzqo1_1280The turning point in the book is a bit of magical realism where there’s a tree growing in her old apartment, with a big knot in the middle. When she reaches in, she pulls out the tarot card The Tower, which means sudden and often destructive change. She then suddenly becomes visible again, but it’s revealed that she’s shed her skin like a suit and has an opportunity to put it on again. Rather than really revel in this event, she is stuck in the same place she’s always been and why she didn’t quit her job: it would be the same no matter where she was. If she was a person again instead of a sort of erased being, she’d have to get a job or just hide in her apartment. Any action she might make is equally meaningless, but the offer is rescinded by a talking serpent who angrily crashes through the mirror. The serpent perhaps represented temptation that she denied, an exit she decided to close off. She had come to understand the inauthentic nature of her daily existence and couldn’t go back to it.

tumblr_ob35xx0olk1rwdxzqo1_540She tried to go back to her mother’s home, only to be threatened with a trip to the hospital. She uses her powers to help a guy out on a train, only to be told by him that his sister had turned invisible and squandered her abilities. Throughout the story, whenever there was a moment when Claire’s sanity seemed to be in doubt, Seitchik used a blurring effect. On dream and fantasy pages, Seitchik’s crisp rendering was changed to a ragged pencil line, complete with erasures and pencil tracings still evident on the page. That’s a technique that Aidan Koch uses as well, and it’s sort of a visual version of Heidegger’s sous rature: an image that is not quite up to describing the event that is crossed out but still left legible on the page. It’s an image that’s both there and not there, incapable of fully illustrating an ineffable experience but necessary to provide information and context.

A recurring image in the book is that of her phone getting cracked, a reference both to the bad luck that breaking mirrors brings as well as a way of showing a face that’s also breaking apart. There are flashbacks to her feeling like she’s falling apart from her childhood, which can be construed as a reference to this life-long existential crisis and/or a life spent dealing with mental illness. There are also flashbacks to her best friend, who was her one tether to reality and meaning. When they reconnect over the computer at the end, the fact that her friend is invisible too comes as no surprise. In many ways, the final scenes are the culmination of a giant gag: two invisible people finally finding connection and meaning by staring at each other, perceiving only the background. The existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel hurdled the ethics problem with the concept of “communion”, which (and often through eye contact and the acknowledgment of eye contact) provided the possibility of perceiving the subjective natures of others. That this moment of communion came even when the two women couldn’t see each other is simply a delicious and clever irony. In a way, it makes sense: if perceiving another person as an end unto themself, as someone who is not objectified or classified by one’s gaze, then in some ways it’s easier to do that without the burden of actual visibility creating a visual that can be objectified!

Seitchik ends the book with an epilogue that at first seems like an implausibly happy ending, creating a projection that seems absurdly happy. Then Seitchik pulls the rug out one last time, fading back into that erasure/blurring technique, noting “it’s hard to keep track of invisible people”. It’s a way of acknowledging that this book is less a narrative and more a series of meaningful episodes that culminate in a single moment of connection. Considering how difficult it is to achieve such a moment in the best of circumstances, Seitchik suggests that the reader should worry less about what might happen next and instead spend more time thinking about what just happened. That final scene finally saw Claire stop looking for exits and be in the moment with another, just for a moment. The beautiful simplicity and utility of her line provides a a crucial deadpan quality to the book, giving the more striking and experimental visual flourishes that much more power.

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Under Protest http://www.tcj.com/under-protest/ http://www.tcj.com/under-protest/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97079 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Alex Dueben speaks with the great Ed Sorel about his long career and his latest book, Mary Astor’s Secret Diary. 

Why did you chose to draw the interior illustrations that you did?

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere:

Lauren Weinstein’s new weekly comic strip is a bright spot in these times.

The New York Times interviews recent MacArthur winner Gene Luen Yang.

The Washington Post announces its list of the best graphic novels of 2016.

And here’s a lovely piece on a fine new (and previously unpublished) Hokusai book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Astor in Dodsworth.

Mary Astor in Dodsworth.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the false start? What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

page21_resized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. I thought so.

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

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

She’s just so passive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Experience http://www.tcj.com/experience/ http://www.tcj.com/experience/#respond Thu, 17 Nov 2016 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97065 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we present Rob Clough’s interview with Keiler Roberts, the creator of Powdered Milk.

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. March: Book Three, created by John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin, has become the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award.

“I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, going down to the public library, trying to get library cards, and we were told that the libraries were whites-only and not for coloreds,” Lewis said.

But Lewis, whose work in the civil rights movement is chronicled in the March trilogy of graphic memoirs, said he would not relent.

“I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school who told me, ‘Read my child, read!’ And I tried to read everything,” Lewis said.

“To come here and receive this award — it’s too much.”

—Reviews & Commentary. Kelton Sears reviews Julia Gfrörer’s Laid Waste.

The book is, unsurprisingly, incredibly bleak. Agnés’ is a quiet devastation. Her walks through town are punctuated with children burning their dead parents’ bodies, dogs gnawing on decomposing limbs, and pits of corpses, to which Agnés will add her sister’s body and the body of her neighbor Giles’ wife. Gfrörer’s masterful emotional juxtaposition reaches a crushing zenith here. In one of the most brutal sequences of her career, we watch Agnés plainly and dutifully pound dough into bread as the world around her is subsumed by the darkness, until she breaks down sobbing, begging Saint Catherine for her own death. Soon follows the most heart-rending, nihilistic sex scene you’ll probably ever read, in the midst of which Agnés quips, “Nothing matters at all.” Despite everything I’ve just written, Laid Waste is, counterintuitively, a life-affirming glimpse into the void.

Rob Clough reviews The Shirley Jackson Project.

[Editor Rob] Kirby will surely earn some degree-of-difficult points with his The Shirley Jackson Project, an anthology featuring “comics inspired by her life and work”. Jackson has been dead for nearly fifty years, but her influence on modern psychological horror remains as strong as ever. A new biography that’s just been released has also stirred up more attention to the novelist and short story writer as well. Simply put, this was a passion project for Kirby, who was delighted and surprised to find as many Jackson fans in the alt-comics world as he did who were willing to contribute to this book.

John Marsfelder tries to go deep analyzing Garfield.

The impetus for the joke’s setup comes from actual cat behaviour: Much of Garfield’s personality is derived from taking humans’ observations and interpretations of the things their housecats did and anthropomorphizing them: Cats are vain, cats are aloof, cats only care about me for what they can get from me, they claw things I don’t want them to claw, don’t listen to my commands like my dog does, and so on and so forth. So Garfield asks us to imagine how cats would display this behaviour if they could rationalize like humans do, and then, without missing a beat, turns around and points out the absurdity of its own question. Because for one thing, the joke is, of course, double-edged: Jon may mock Garfield and accuse him of having an inflated ego, but the cat is right. After all, whose name has the title of the comic been given, and who is its central character? The defense rests.

—Interviews. Rachel Gould talks to Jessica Campbell.

The art world (and the comics world) have serious gender parity issues, and talking exclusively about how a male artist looks and disregarding his accomplishments is a way of obliquely poking fun at this idea of male genius in the arts. Certainly, addressing the canon in this way is obscene, but it feels like awarding myself agency in an arena in which I often feel helpless. Plus so much of art history is men painting women they want to have sex with: Cezanne’s wife, Gauguin’s coterie of Polynesian children, Vuillard’s mom… I want to reverse that gaze.

There’s also a history in art of neglecting the work of women in favour of men’s work. Janson’s History of Art, the book used (still) as the text in many art history survey courses, including my own as an undergraduate, included no women when it was first published (1962), which H.W. Janson defended by basically saying women can’t paint. Now, of course, there are women included in that text, but there are still people (Georg Baselitz, for instance) who continue this argument. And the same is true in comics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RC: How so?

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

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

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

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Starting In Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RC: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RC: What cartoonists do you draw inspiration from now?

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dinner

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

spx

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

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

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

 

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The Fight http://www.tcj.com/the-fight/ http://www.tcj.com/the-fight/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 15:36:02 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97048 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews the Machine Man compilation.

Jack Kirby’s Machine Man belongs to multiple worlds, both on the level of plot and in the circumstances of its creation. Kirby devised Machine Man (aka X-51, aka Aaron Stack) during his return to Marvel in the late ’70s, as a character in his loose adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the company’s license to publish 2001 comics later expired, Machine Man fell under Marvel IP and fell into the Marvel universe, wrestling with rival robots, the US military, and his own existential malaise. The character’s name sums it up—he’s machine and man, an artificial intelligence that insists on its humanity. Machine Man: The Complete Collection covers the character’s brief post-2001 series, including Kirby’s issues (the first nine), a few installments of The Incredible Hulkfeaturing X-51, and issues 10 through 19, for which Steve Ditko provided art. These comics are not the best-remembered work of either artist, but the exceptional talents of Kirby and Ditko, balanced against the stories’ missteps, make the collection a fascinating, multifaceted book—no ordinary mixed bag.

Jerry Dumas, of Sam’s Strip, and a longtime Mort Walker-collaborator, has passed away.

And in more Ditko-related news, Abraham Riesman at New York magazine reports on Steve Ditko in lengthy and lazy fashion by rehashing Sean Howe’s Marvel book and Jonathan Ross’s pathetic documentary, hilariously referring to Paul Levitz and Arlen Schumer as “historians”, and managing to marginalize the last two decades of Ditko’s (frequently brilliant) output as “mail order curios.” And that’s not even the worst part. That comes when Riesman, after Ditko (of course) has declined to be interviewed, interviews the artist’s neighbors about Ditko’s mail (!), and waits in his hallway in order to ambush him, with success! He got him! He got the old codger! Scoop! Fanboy scares old man!  What, exactly was the point of stalking Steve Ditko? It was not going to result in an interview, so I guess the idea was to just fuck with an 89 year old artist who, for fifty years has asked for privacy? No point. Just fanboyish masturbatory pleasure.

In other links fun, Bob Eckstein interviewed by Gil Roth.

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Machine Man by Kirby & Ditko: The Complete Collection http://www.tcj.com/reviews/machine-man-by-kirby-ditko-the-complete-collection/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/machine-man-by-kirby-ditko-the-complete-collection/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=96197 Continue reading ]]> mmcoverJack Kirby’s Machine Man belongs to multiple worlds, both on the level of plot and in the circumstances of its creation. Kirby devised Machine Man (aka X-51, aka Aaron Stack) during his return to Marvel in the late ’70s, as a character in his loose adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the company’s license to publish 2001 comics later expired, Machine Man fell under Marvel IP and fell into the Marvel universe, wrestling with rival robots, the US military, and his own existential malaise. The character’s name sums it up—he’s machine and man, an artificial intelligence that insists on its humanity. Machine Man: The Complete Collection covers the character’s brief post-2001 series, including Kirby’s issues (the first nine), a few installments of The Incredible Hulk featuring X-51, and issues 10 through 19, for which Steve Ditko provided art. These comics are not the best-remembered work of either artist, but the exceptional talents of Kirby and Ditko, balanced against the stories’ missteps, make the collection a fascinating, multifaceted book—no ordinary mixed bag.

Kirby and Ditko were major figures in one of the most concentrated rushes of creativity in American popular culture, but by the time Marvel first published Machine Man, both of them were also men without a country inside the company. Each artist had, independently, fallen out with mutual collaborator Stan Lee; each artist had spent time away from Marvel, creating characters for the competition. And although Kirby writes his own stories throughout his Machine Man run, with Ditko illustrating the scripts of Marv Wolfman and Tom DeFalco, both the Kirby and the Dikto issues read as the work of cartoonists whose sensibilities were not of the current era.

This disconnect is clear on the covers to certain early issues, when unsympathetic inkers attempt to drag Kirby’s pencils closer toward Marvel’s late-seventies house style. (Mike Royer inks the interior pencils for Kirby’s issues, and he’s more observant of the art’s demand for large spot blacks and clean contours.) But if some readers of the time balked at these comics, they were partly justified. When drawing menswear, for instance, neither Kirby nor Ditko seems to have noticed any changes in fashion in the two decades prior to these comics’ release. (This is especially puzzling with Kirby, who created the Forever People, essentially a band of super-hippies, during his time with DC.) It’s a minor thing that nevertheless raises the question of the expected audience for Machine Man—a question that Marvel editorial may also have raised, as the series was capped during its second year.

16607-2956-18502-1-machine-manEven outside of Machine Man’s eventual cancellation, or Kirby’s departure from the book before that, The Complete Collection has the problems of any Marvel repackaging or adaptation of Kirby characters. It’s sometimes difficult to read these comics without also considering Marvel’s fraught relationship with Kirby’s estate, or without contrasting the profile of Kirby’s characters and the modest rewards he reaped in his lifetime. But a reader reckoning with the collection will at least find reminders of why Kirby’s legacy endures—and some of them may be surprising.

The cliché about Kirby’s prose is, after years of drawing tight, dynamic layouts that Stan Lee would then crowd with clumps of cheeky verbosity, Kirby’s self-scripted ’70s output was grossly overwritten in its own right. Machine Man: The Complete Collection may not convert hardened skeptics, but the book makes as strong a case as any for Kirby’s way with words. The lines throughout the page below, for instance, barely resemble real human speech, but they’re blessed with a rhythm and an internal consistency that Kirby doesn’t always get credit for. His dialogue captures a kind of pugilistic pop philosophizing that suits the superhero genre’s bleed between text and subtext.

mm19

(The scripting in the Ditko issues is less remarkable—a reader can skip the captions and miss little—though in some of the later issues, Tom DeFalco leans into the absurdity of the concept with lines like “One mashes potatoes or turnips … but not robots!” and “Wake up, fleshy! Tell me how to find your sexy superior!”)

Kirby’s nearly synonymous with action, of course, and in Machine Man, he executes it as cleanly, powerfully, and effectively as in any other stage of his career. Each conflict is rendered in a manner that gives the physiques of Machine Man and his adversaries striking presence and weight. A reader can intuit Kirby’s delight in the possibilities of a character with a changeable body. In one issue, for instance, a damaged Machine Man borrows spare parts from a mechanic and proceeds to more or less make a car out of himself.

This sense of possibility extends to breaks from the action: X-51 turns rocks into diamonds to pay the mechanic, lights a friend’s cigar with a laser beam, and so forth. Even when a dejected Machine Man considers turning his back on humankind, Kirby can’t leave his lead brooding on a rooftop for more than a panel or two—locals quickly persuade Machine Man to stop by a costume party, which Kirby draws like an especially festive corner of New Genesis.

mm328

Unfortunately, the issues of Machine Man that Ditko illustrates (he’s inking his own pencils here) don’t fit easily among Ditko’s best works. Like Kirby, Ditko gets some mileage out of Machine Man’s modular anatomy and extendable limbs, with sequences like the one above providing him with the chance to draw a series of alien contortions that even Spider-Man didn’t allow. By and large, though, a mechanical protagonist seems to restrain the possibilities of Ditko’s art more than it expands them.

mm26If there’s one thing Kirby and Ditko have in common, beyond some shared historical circumstances, it may be anguish—the gift for depicting it and an accord with characters hit by it. Even with the improvisatory whimsy in Kirby’s run, his stories can turn nightmarish at a moment’s notice.

This tonal whiplash is not unique to Machine Man, but it is a fixture of the best of Jack Kirby. One of Kirby’s neat tricks in these stories, the kind of literalizing of the thematic that superhero books can do well, is the protagonist’s detachable face (seen above). What X-51 considers his true likeness is—on a physical level—removable, with all the build-in psychological instability this creates. With respect to this imagery, Ditko does Kirby one better. His issues house a few indelible images, not the least of which is Machine Man’s detached, levitating head, emerging half-melted from a fire.

mm393This sequence takes place in the midst of a team-up with Alpha Flight (which might as well be shorthand for the dullest sort of Marvel comic), and it may have been intended to project typical misunderstood-hero pathos, but it probably gave kids nightmares instead, with the weird potential of Ditko’s cartooning intruding on an otherwise boilerplate superhero story.

(Due credit to Marv Wolfman and Tom DeFalco: There’s a surprising morbidity to the whole post-Kirby run, including the accidental death of a villain who crashes into wires in the middle of a fight and another, freak-of-science-type antagonist who flails around beginning to be killed.)

mm400The appeal of late-’70s Machine Man as a curiosity is on full display in the final installment of the series. Issue 19 features cover art not by Ditko but by Frank Miller, who draws Machine Man and a villain doing battle in the midst of, essentially, superhero cosplayers. (We learn they’re attendees of a costume party). The villain, making his debut, is Jack O’Lantern, which means Ditko himself is drawing an intra-Marvel knockoff of the Green Goblin, one of his sixties co-creations. Stranger still: for a portion of this issue, Machine Man, his human face disfigured, walks around in a trench coat, shading his robot visage with the brim of a rimmed hat. He resembles no character more than Rorschach of Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s damaged amalgam of Ditko creations the Question and Mr. A.

Together, these elements make the issue read more like a transmitter, catching signals from the past and future of superhero books, than a proper superhero comic. (One short sequence wouldn’t be out of place in The Bulletproof Coffin, as a child dressed as Superman, his costume’s mask lending him an adult-sized head, asks Machine Man, “What’s your angle, creep?)  In other words: Machine Man went out the way it went in, on the reverberations of other stories. A unified theory of this issue would probably blur or ignore some of its actual historical particulars, but if nothing else, it’s an appropriate ending for the series—an oddity with the power to surprise.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/16/16 – America Destroyed by Design) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-111616-america-destroyed-by-design/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-111616-america-destroyed-by-design/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97010 Continue reading ]]> When I was young, the first among my political assumptions was that the shift in governance from one Congress or one executive to another was in effect to glance at the obverse of a heavy and rugged coin; America, regardless of leadership, had a quality of lasting metal that would not bend in terms of what I would see if walking down the street. My life would not change. There would be school, of course, and open shops, and the closed circuit of family and community, upset only by certain death – and death, fundamentally, was an act of God.

My great mistake was in accepting this assumption as an aspect of the American character, rather than an apparition born of the particulars of my birth: class; gender; race.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Not a few months ago, at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, it was my great pleasure to meet La Morris Richmond; he was present for SÕL-CON: The Brown + Black Comix Expo, a suite of events partnered with CXC and run concurrently in the same venues. I’ve written about Richmond’s work before, specifically the 1993 Northstar horror comic Boots of the Oppressor, one of the most potent among b&w indie shock-horror specimens for its detailed attention to the systemic and linguistic dehumanization of black men and women under slavery. It is probably still Richmond’s most visible work, coming half a decade after his comics debut in NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters #4, pencilled by a young Evan Dorkin; a rather gentler style of horror.

Indeed, there were not a few black creators active in the ’90s indie horror comics scene and its adjacent ‘bad girl’ boom of sexy occult divas. The late Steven Hughes springs to mind; he was co-creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, titles most commonly associated with their writer, Brian Pulido. The artist Louis Small Jr. was also prominent, having overseen the revival of Vampirella with writer Kurt Busiek and inker Jim Balent. But Richmond’s works as a writer were much spikier, and far less common – he only published one other short story with Northstar, the almost oneirically scattershot “.12 Gauge Solution” in Splatter Annual #1 (1994, drawn by Rich Longmore), before embarking on a work ostensibly more populist yet pushed even deeper into intensity – scenes from the life of a black separatist superhero.

Barton McGee pencils.

Barton McGee pencils.

Jigaboo Devil #0 was released in 1996 by Millennium Publications, an outfit most readily associated with licensed and literary-driven titles in the pulp and horror vein (Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Doc Savage), though it would eventually release some early works by Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. The comic was advertised as a four-issue miniseries, though only the 32-page #0 seems to have been actually printed at that time; enough art was produced for at least one more issue, and today a 96-page iteration of the story is available digitally or print-on-demand. Three pencillers are present: Barton McGee, an illustrator and caricaturist who doesn’t look to have ever drawn another published comic book again; Andrew Kudelka, a Northstar veteran with some superhero credits who would later work in gaming art; and Jiba Molei Anderson, a debutante artist who, in 1999, would found Griot Enterprises, an indie genre comics outfit that currently handles the book’s publication. The inker was Seitu Heyden, artist of the long-running Peace Corps drama Tales from the Heart, and the letterer was black fanzine and underground comics pioneer Grass Green.

I have dubbed this work a superhero comic, but you could also call it proto-cape pulp hero saga. Early on, we catch a glimpse of a newsstand crammed with comic magazines; it’s 1937, the year before Action Comics #1 introduced Superman and all his accordant popular baggage. The Devil narrates, though we never catch a good look at his face; we know he studied as a young man in the Harlem of the 1920s among W. E. B. Du Bois and Timothy Thomas Fortune and Marcus Garvey, and that he mastered “a unique African fighting method” overseas and forged a mighty opposition to colonialism. But the only face we know to associate with the Devil is one he has chosen: a wax Little Black Sambo mask, paired with a working man’s suit and an enormous curved machete.

“White people look at what you are, and not who you are,” remarks a supporting character, neatly setting out the Devil’s contraction: he dresses as all the most denigrating assumptions American society might have about a black man, and then behaves in a manner demonstrably superior and utterly without mercy. He thinks to usurp, and fights to kill. In the parlance of mid-’90s spandex he would be termed an anti-hero, perhaps akin to a horror character, his blade and suit drenched in blood. But, obviously, the iconography active in his design goes far deeper into comics history, all the way back to the most ‘traditional’ depictions of black people as comedic minstrel figures, an acrid and enduring shorthand. To me, graphically, he seems like Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Ebony White combined into one damning person.

And the mystery he is out to solve is especially grand.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

Jiba Molei Anderson pencils.

A few digressions aside, Richmond’s story mostly ping-pongs back and forth in time between 1937 and 1968; between those years, Jay Bee Dee rouses a full-on popular uprising that results in the formation of the Pan African-American Coalition, an independent nation in the northwest of the United States. Revolutionaries, however, do not always make reliable leaders, so that by ’68 a certain Bill Bains — gangster and dope-dealer fortuitously turned founding father of the P.A.A.C. — is now brokering a reunification deal with President Johnson, much to the dismay of a still-living Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is right to be suspicious; Bains is in league with the FBI, which hopes to extinguish the existential threat of black radicalism. Nobody has seen the Devil for decades… and yet, his image lives on among artists, relatives and protestors, to the point where he might be seen as an open-source superhero, sans Guy Fawkes gear or the Time Warner sponsorship.

There are many, many ideas racing around in this comic; far too many for the limited space Richmond & company have at use. We don’t learn very much about the functioning or administration of the P.A.A.C., nor are its practical economic and social effects on the U.S. more than allusive. It suffers, sometimes, from the inexperience of its team; Anderson, the first-timer, has some difficulty distinguishing the ages of various characters, which creates a good deal of confusion when inter-generational revelations are introduced into Richmond’s scenario, already uneasily burdened with communicating the background of his alternate history while trying to adopt the form of a political thriller. Of course, if we’re thinking of the title character as a pulp hero, it’s fair to note that a lot of debut stories and books are uneven and misaligned like this, with future volumes adding background and ‘world-building’ and a sophistication that comes with continued practice.

I don’t need to tell any of you that the American comic book market crashed in the mid-’90s. Even in the best times, a creator-owned title from a small publisher faces all the trials of learning on the job in a crowded market. Not to diminish the skills of a Ta-Nehisi Coates, but to work with an establishment force like Marvel is to avail yourself of particular editorial guidance and the slick aesthetics of expert specialist artists; these benefits were not available here, though Richmond has a not-dissimilar fascination with national leadership and political/familial/historical maneuvering. His conclusions are unsparing.

Barton McGee pencils.

Barton McGee pencils.

To some, JBD may be a concept that is past its time in the post-Obama America…” So muses Anderson, neophyte artist turned publisher, in his introduction to the current edition. “But it is exactly because of this America, where the nomination of an African American dispelled the American lie of racism, yet pulled back the underbelly of the still-seething tension lying just below the surface, where people are being convinced to vote against their best interests in the goal of making this great nation a plutocracy, where there are a greedy few actively working to pacify the masses, to stop critical thought and social progress that we need a JBD.” He frames this in terms of “outrageous discourse” – that which stimulates thought, creativity and action.

I wonder about the fate of such images on the internet; 2016 is different from even a few years ago. In the 1990s, there was power in a black artist confronting audiences with the racist images so common to the popular culture of earlier times, pushing back against the complacency and ahistoric perspectives of the day; think Spike Lee’s millennial Bamboozled. To even state the name of this comic, to ask for it in store, might rightly cause unease among the mass of readers. I don’t know if that’s true anymore, so deeply layered in irony or confrontation the rhetoric of debate has gotten in online discourse. Sneery white boys shouting the name, memes up and down. Though I like to imagine I have put this column together in good faith, and not behaved as a tourist to racialized sensation, I am not so foolish anymore to assume that my participation does not open the door to misuse. And then you think “should I even?”, which is both a good question and also the power the motherfuckers hold over you.

But there is another power residing in this story, in its depiction of a liminal America. To give the Devil his due is to understand that to effect the spirit of justice is to prompt great shifts in social thinking. The Devil as bringing light, and offering the fruits of knowledge. Protest, to him, is destruction, but destruction is only the prelude to reconstruction. He does not mean this in terms of a shift in the Presidency, but in accosting the makeup of the U.S. self-identity to finally ascertain the humanity of persons. All of the heroes in this comic eventually abandon the United States, for new terrain within its old borders. Repressive extremism is normal, which means it can comfortably worsen, and the answer is to push harder, harder still.

***

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

sunny6cover

Sunny Vol. 6 (of 6): Being the final installment of Taiyō Matsumoto’s wistful drama set among children in an orphanage, inspired by the artist’s own experiences of living in foster group care. Not yet 50, Matsumoto is a master comics visualist, and it is highly unlikely you will encounter a *lovelier* book this week. A 216-page VIZ hardcover. Note that earlier this year Matsumoto released one of those comics French and Japanese cartoonists make in association with the Louvre, so if tradition holds we should be seeing an English publication of that in due time; $22.99.

cosplayersxcover

A Cosplayers Christmas: Following up on the Perfect Collection edition of Cosplayers from earlier this year — which isn’t a joke or a misnomer or anything, Perfect Collections are often aspirational in anticipating several volumes to come — Dash Shaw and Fantagraphics bring a new 24-page color comic book stocked with affectionate (and seasonal) comedy set among young adults who enjoy dressing up as popular or niche culture characters. Alternative comic books are like little Christmases that appear on a slightly more frequent basis; $4.99.

PLUS!

Days of Darkness: Speaking of b&w indie outlets of the 1990s, Caliber Comics is back in business with a library of new and old works, almost half a dozen of which are in stores this week. There’s a revival of the Caliber Presents anthology out there, but I’m going highlight this 184-page compilation of a 1992-93 Apple Comics series (the fruit of Fantagraphics co-founder Michael Catron) from artist Wayne Vansant (of many issues of Marvel’s The ‘Nam). It’s a dramatic look at episodes of struggle from WWII; $19.99.

Twinkle Stars Vol. 1 (&) Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Vol. 1: Two debut manga picks of very different types. Twinkle Stars is a two-in-one (i.e. 384-page) Yen Press release for a 2007-11 romantic shōjo series from Natsuki Takaya, creator of the megahit fantasy series Fruits Basket. This one is in more of a slice-of-life vein. On the other hand, Gundam Thunderbolt pretty much has to have big robots going to war or else the creators will be jailed, right? Don’t make assumptions about the demographic, though – plenty of women enjoy Gundam, this series’ serialization in the adult male environs of Big Comic Superior notwithstanding. It’s a side-story to the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, created by Yasuo Ōtagaki of the space program drama Moonlight Mile. VIZ publishes at 248 pages in hardcover; $20.00 (Twinkle), $14.99 (Gundam).

Revolution: G.I. Joe #1: Not actually Japanese here, but traveling in a very manga-informed direction due to artist Giannis Milonogiannis (recently of Image’s Prophet), working with colorist Lovern Kindzierski. The writer is Aubrey Sitterson, whose played various roles in the comics industry, though I know him mainly as the fellow who writes the English localized text for the Yo-Kai Watch manga, just to close the circle here on valuable toy-related properties. An IDW release. Preview; $3.99.

Judge Dredd: The Daily Dredds Vol. 2 (&) Mega-City Undercover Vol. 3: A pair of UK import items from Rebellion, home of 2000 AD. The Daily Dredds did not appear in that weekly forum, however, running instead in the Daily Star (here from 1986-89) for readers who needed that extra touch of authoritarianism to get through their day. Written by John Wagner & Alan Grant, with art by Ian Gibson, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson & Steve Dillon, so these had authentic thrill-merchants involved. Mega-City Undercover presents crime stories from the periphery of the Judge Dredd universe, 2011-12, written in turns by Rob Williams and Andy Diggle, with art (respectively) by D’Israeli and Ben Willsher; $38.99 (Daily), $18.99 (Undercover).

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 10: Planet of Faceless Foes (&) The Don Rosa Library Vol. 6: The Universal Solvent: Disney antics via Fantagraphics, from differing points in history. Planet of Faceless Foes is fronted as always by the great Floyd Gottfredson, taking his crew deeper into the midcentury with newspaper strips. The Universal Solvent collects Duck comics from 1995, authored by the most beloved of their latter-day talents; $35.00 (Mickey), $29.99 (Rosa).

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers Vol. 12 (&) Moomin and Family Life: Two completely different releases paired for absolutely no reason other than they are continuing projects which may interest some of you. Ôoku is the continuing Fumi Yoshinaga josei fantasy of a matriarchal feudal Japan, sitting a comfortable one volume behind the Japanese releases. From VIZ. Moomin and Family Life is a 40-page color version of a storyline from Tove Jansson’s newspaper strip of gentle satire among soft beasts. From Drawn and Quarterly;

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 1: Outrageous But Real!: This is the new Craig Yoe project from IDW, tackling the probably-fertile ground of oddball Golden Age superhero comics. I do not envy any collection going head to head with the 2009 Greg Sadowski collection Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, the absolute gold standard for this sort of thing, but there’s probably room enough for another 328 pages. A second volume is already planned for next year; $39.99.

Watchmen Collector’s Edition Box Set: Finally, in case you have some need in your life for a version of Watchmen that formats each of its 12 component issues into 7.6″ x 11.6″ hardcover books which are then put into a box, you may now elect just such a consumer option. Hey, did you know next year is the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Steve Ditko’s The Question? DC should totally celebrate by collecting all of the Charlton Hero Ditkos into accessibly-priced volumes with prudent coloring. I dunno, call it “Before Before Watchmen”, whatever you cats want; $125.00.

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A Total Mess http://www.tcj.com/a-total-mess/ http://www.tcj.com/a-total-mess/#respond Tue, 15 Nov 2016 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97042 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting all the most interesting-sounding books being released to stores. His spotlight picks this week include new titles by Taiyō Matsumoto and Dash Shaw.

He also writes at length about the work of La Morris Richmond.

Not a few months ago, at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, it was my great pleasure to meet La Morris Richmond; he was present for SÕL-CON: The Brown + Black Comix Expo, a suite of events partnered with CXC and run concurrently in the same venues. I’ve written about Richmond’s work before, specifically the 1993 Northstar horror comic Boots of the Oppressor, one of the most potent among b&w indie shock-horror specimens for its detailed attention to the systemic and linguistic dehumanization of black men and women under slavery. It is probably still Richmond’s most visible work, coming half a decade after his comics debut in NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters #4, pencilled by a young Evan Dorkin; a rather gentler style of horror.

Indeed, there were not a few black creators active in the ’90s indie horror comics scene and its adjacent ‘bad girl’ boom of sexy occult divas. The late Steven Hughes springs to mind; he was co-creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, titles most commonly associated with their writer, Brian Pulido. The artist Louis Small Jr. was also prominent, having overseen the revival of Vampirella with writer Kurt Busiek and inker Jim Balent. But Richmond’s works as a writer were much spikier, and far less common – he only published one other short story with Northstar, the almost oneirically scattershot “.12 Gauge Solution” in Splatter Annual #1 (1994, drawn by Rich Longmore), before embarking on a work ostensibly more populist yet pushed even deeper into intensity – scenes from the life of a black separatist superhero.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—In a bit of good publishing news, Fantagraphics has announced they will begin distributing the books of UK publisher Breakdown Press.

Breakdown Press was founded by Simon Hacking, Tom Oldham, Josh Palmano and Joe Kessler in 2013. Their goal was to put out the work of cutting edge cartoonists and some of the very best alternative manga. Since then, Breakdown Press has become a curatorial publishing force, releasing books by Conor Stechschulte, Lale Westvind, Seiichi Hayashi, Antoine Cossé, and many others.

“Breakdown is the UK’s most ambitious, progressive, and editorially risk-taking comics publisher, so it was logical to partner with someone we considered a kindred spirit.,” said Fantagraphics President Gary Groth. “We look forward to getting their books and authors the wider readership in the US that they deserve.”

—Sacha Mardou writes about the treatment of women in the work of Daniel Clowes, making comparisons to Updike and Nabokov.

Clowes’s most stirring heroines often get to blow the joint at the end. Naomi walks out of David Boring’s warped (after?) life. We can’t help but note how pathetic and inept David looks next to this smart, deserving woman who packs her bags, vowing to escape the coming apocalypse. Good for her! Vida leaves for Hollywood, Violet leaves her bullshit non-marriage and step-family behind, and of course Enid is going to get on that bus before the story’s done.

What is going on here? The women get more choices than Clowes’s men. From Clay Loudermilk to Daniel Pussey to David Boring the men inhabit this spectrum of sad indignities like Fate’s blind somnambulists. The women are operating on a more awakened level I think. Dan Clowes writes women so damn well that they overshadow the men they deal with on every page that they interact together. Why is this so? Is it because of feminism? Post modernism? Punk rock? What’s driving this?

—The most recent episode of Inkstuds features Seth and Noah Van Sciver.

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A “Konversation” with George Herriman’s Biographer, Michael Tisserand (Part One) http://www.tcj.com/a-konversation-with-george-herrimans-biographer-michael-tisserand-part-one/ http://www.tcj.com/a-konversation-with-george-herrimans-biographer-michael-tisserand-part-one/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2016 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96927 Continue reading ]]>  

Michael Tisserand in Krazy Kat territory

Michael Tisserand in Krazy Kat territory (Photo credit: Cecilia Tisserand)

“Herriman was talking about race and identity — as profoundly as anyone has, in my opinion — but I never see that as his big “Topic.” It was just part of his world, and the world he created, even if others were slow to recognize it.”

-Michael Tisserand

The first time I saw Michael Tisserand, he was walking up my doorstep, holding what appeared to be a red brick by his head, almost — but not quite–  in a throwing pose. Turns out the red brick was the recently released Library of American Comics collection of Krazy Kat dailies for which he wrote the introduction, and it was a gift (aren’t all bricks gifts in Herriman’s world?).

In early December 2016, HarperCollins will release Tisserand’s long-awaited book, Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. The book, over 500 pages in length, offers the first detailed biography of the man many regard as the greatest cartoonist of the twentieth century. Chris Ware has spoken highly of the book, observing: “Michael Tisserand’s Krazy draws back the curtain on the one [Herriman] who’s been with us all along.” The book has drawn an early favorable review from Kirkus which states, in part: “Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.”

One of the many pieces of presentation art George Herriman created for his friends, the Wetherills, who ran a lodge in Kayenta, Arizona that he loved to visit. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

One of the many pieces of presentation art George Herriman created for his friends, the Wetherills, who ran a lodge in Kayenta, Arizona he loved to visit. (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, Abrams ComicArts, 2011)

Michael Tisserand currently lives and works as a professional writer and amateur chess coach in New Orleans, George Herriman’s birthplace. His books include the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning The Kingdom of Zydeco, originally published in 1998 and reissued in November 2016 from Arcade and 2007’s post-Katrina story Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember (Harvest). He has also contributed an essay on George Herriman to Krazy Kat, A Celebration of Sundays (Sunday Press, 2010). He also wrote the introductory essay for LOAC Essentials Presents King Features Volume 1: Krazy Kat 1934 (IDW Library of American Comics, 2016).

Michael encouraged a peer-to-peer exchange that led us away from a question-and-answer routine into a freewheeling two-way discussion, hence the “konversation” format. I’ve had the occasion to visit and work with Michael in Seattle. In my home, he spotted a recently released biography of Warren Zevon I was reading and asked me, “You like Zevon?” When I said yes, he told me about how he and Zevon were part of the same circle of people in Louisiana. Visiting with Michael is like that. You never know where the “konversation” will go, but it’s guaranteed to be surprising and interesting. Tisserand is a man of many stories, and he gets around. Whether it’s driving across country to hand deliver an advance copy of his new book to George Herriman’s granddaughter, or jumping on a plane to capture an interview with a newly located cartoonist from long-ago (see his Comics Journal piece “Pete, the Rookie” here), Tisserand is a man on a mission.

Part one of this long interview explores the genesis and methodology of Tisserand’s book, his background, and George Herriman’s early years. Part two of this interview will traverse Herriman’s middle and later years.

This interview was conducted in a series of sessions in October, 2016. When Michael Tisserand and I first sat down to talk, the American presidential campaigns were in full swing.

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Paul Tumey: Thanks for doing this.

Michael Tisserand: Are you kidding? Been looking forward to this all week. Watching two hours of campaign news last night, all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to talking comics with Paul.

Paul Tumey: Me too, brother, me too. Okay, here we go. You are a professional writer and journalist living and working out of New Orleans, Louisiana. You’ve written acclaimed books on zydeco music and the aftermath of Katrina. You’ve told me you spent about eight years writing Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. What led you to the Enchanted Mesa and the world of George Herriman?

Michael Tisserand: I actually went back and looked at my emails and it was ten years! I was originally dating back to my first trip to Monument Valley, to the Wetherills’ gravesite in Kayenta, and to my meeting with the Wetherills’ grandson and seeing Herriman’s entries in their old lodge book. That’s when I realized my work was truly underway.

George Herriman lodge book drawing Courtesy of Michael Tisserand

Rare George Herriman drawing from the Wetherill’s lodge books. (Courtesy of Michael Tisserand)

Paul Tumey: What first put the idea in your mind to write a book on Herriman?

Michael Tisserand: I had started research when I was editor of Gambit Weekly, the alternative newsweekly in New Orleans. Although it was understood that Herriman was a New Orleans native, the details were murky. I wanted to know more. But all I’d done there was order a complete set of Inks on eBay. My last act upon leaving the office before Katrina was to move that stack to the desk, where it thankfully stayed dry.

Paul Tumey: For those that don’t know, Inks is the Journal for the Comics Studies Society, recently revived after a long hiatus.

Michael Tisserand: Yes. A great journal. I had that first set of Inks, but that was about it. The year after Katrina, I was living in Chicago, and I was able to see the Masters of American Comics exhibit when it stopped in Milwaukee. I remember was carrying my son around the Herriman room, reading the comics to him, and laughing with him at the sight of the thumb of conscience pressing down on Krazy Kat. That’s also when I realized the best way to read Krazy Kat is out loud. Anyway, I’d just finished my second book, Sugarcane Academy, and when returned home that day I told my agent I wanted to write Herriman’s biography.

Paul Tumey: I love the parts in Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White where you describe the cartoons Herriman and others drew in the Wetherhill’s lodge book. We can talk more about that later on. Was the Gambit piece on Herriman ever completed and published?

Michael Tisserand: It was not! And I made off with the Inks magazines, too!

Paul Tumey: Did you cover any other comics guys in Gambit?

Michael Tisserand: One of my favorite things about editing Gambit was being able to bring more comics into the paper. I commissioned Harvey Pekar to write musician biographies that featured art by Joe Sacco and Frank Stack, among others, and I was always shaking my head about actually getting to work with these legends. And I was able to commission work by local cartoonists whose work I loved, such as Bunny Matthews  and the late Greg Peters.

Paul Tumey: Kid Ory, Lonnie Johnson, Clifton Chenier… wonderful work by Pekar and the various artists. Pekar ran them in some of his collections. You know, I’ve read some of Pekar’s text jazz articles – they are very dense and scholarly – not at all like his comics writing, except for a sort of OCD aspect. I love “Splendiferous,” the two-page comic you wrote and Rhett Thiel drew about working with and knowing Harvey Pekar. How much did you know about comics coming into your Herriman biography?

Michael Tisserand wrote this Pekar-style two page comic, drawn by Rhett Thiel, about his Gambit Weekly experiences working with Pekar.

Michael Tisserand wrote this Pekar-style two page comic, drawn by Rhett Thiel, about his Gambit Weekly experiences working with Pekar. (Courtesy Micheal Tisserand)

krazyMichael Tisserand: Harvey liked that comic too, happily. It was and is my only attempt at writing a comic, and before starting researching Herriman, I’d never written seriously about comics, either. I’ve read and loved comics since I was a kid, however. I used to beg my mom to let me spend the day by myself at the Willard Library in downtown Evansville, Indiana. There I discovered the wonders of the 741.5 section, which I can still remember being on the bottom shelves in a back corner of the main room of this old creaky library. I would just sit on the floor there and go through all the books I could find.

Paul Tumey: 741.5 has always been a magical number for me too.

Michael Tisserand: 741.5 was amazing! I found the old comics anthologies by Bill Blackbeard and others. There was simply nothing else like old Katzenjammer Kids or Dick Tracy comics. Then when I went through all of those, a librarian showed me how to read old newspapers on microfilm, and I zoomed through the news pages to the funnies. I wasn’t, however, drawn to animal comics. I liked stories about people, and any allegories were lost on me. For the most part, I just became obsessed with Peanuts, and with Charlie Brown.

Paul Tumey: Schulz is a good place to be obsessed, I think. Peanuts can lead you to the rest, like a gateway drug. Sort of like discovering older American music forms by starting with an obsession with Bob Dylan. The great artists seem to lead one backwards in the lineage.

Michael Tisserand: Right! And as with Dylan and folk or the blues, discovering the old comics also make you appreciate all the more how Schulz was building on the tradition.

Paul Tumey: Speaking of Peanuts, I wanted to ask if David Michaelis’ lengthy 2008 biography, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, was an inspiration or model for Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White?

Michael Tisserand: I certainly hoped to make something as readable as Michaelis’ book. The masterful integration of comics in Michaelis’ narrative was definitely a model, though I quickly realized I couldn’t even run a daily strip across a page of the Herriman biography and have it be an enjoyable experience to read.

Paul Tumey: Peanuts works well reduced in size. It was part of the strip’s success, launching when newspapers were allotting less and less space for daily comic strips and still one hundred percent readable in smaller versions. In many cases, American newspaper comic strips created prior to the 1940s and 50s don’t lend themselves well to size reductions. I’d imagine shrinking Krazy Kat panels from the 1930s would turn Herriman’s sumptuous, dense pen work into black blobs.

Michael Tisserand: They do. I found that out the hard way. The major difference from Michaelis’ book, of course, is that Michaelis could base much of his work on extensive interviews that he conducted himself, which was how I was used to working, as well. I’m not a trained historian, so I had to teach myself how to construct a narrative largely based on letters, newspaper articles, and official records like census reports and city directories. The problem I didn’t have, however, was contending with personal narratives that might reflect different experiences, which as The Comics Journal covered, was a major challenge that Michaelis faced.

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Paul Tumey: That leads me to my next question. For almost a hundred years, people have been writing about the life and work of George Herriman. Gilbert Seldes sang his praises in 1924. In 1986, Patrick McDonnell and Karen O’Connell published Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. This has been regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In addition, there’s been a library’s worth of introductory essays to the various reprint volumes of Herriman’s work published over the years by Bill Blackbeard, Richard Marschall and others. One would think all the stories were told, and the subject was exhausted. And yet, in 2016, you’ve given us something new and, I think, quite magical: a 560-page, detailed biography of Herriman. Can you talk a little more about the research methods you used to deepen and broaden Herriman’s story? How did you dig all this stuff up, man?

Michael Tisserand: Patrick and Karen’s work was certainly a foundation. Their writing about Herriman is beautiful and timeless, as is Gilbert Seldes’, actually. But of course none of these writers had the Internet to make it possible to do a more exhaustive search.

But I started there. Patrick and Karen very generously shared all their original research with me, as did many others. When I started out, I was concerned that the comics scholarship community would be suspicious of an interloper, but it was just the opposite. The generosity has been overwhelming.

Paul Tumey: So you built on the work of others?

Michael Tisserand: Yes, exactly. Rick Marschall invited me to his house and beneath a painting by Rudolph Dirks, answered question after question about early newspapers and syndications. I had a most wonderful day with Bill Blackbeard. Tom Inge had once pursued a biography of Herriman and shared with me the letters and other information he’d received, which then led me to contacting Russell Myers, who shared a recorded interview he’d conducted with Bud Sagendorf that focused just on Herriman. Jeet Heer took me under his wing and provided copies of his copious files, and engaged in conversation after conversation about Krazy Kat. Same with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. Brian Walker, who co-curated the show that sparked this book, opened up his archives and even invited me to lunch with his father, Mort Walker, and Jerry Dumas. One of my happier afternoons of research!

And there were so many more. I learned the extent to which cartoonists are scholars of their art. Not only do they possess the knowledge, but in many cases, they own the historical treasures such as old letters and inscribed pieces of art that are necessary for telling the story.

Author and historian Rick Marschall was the first to reprint full color collections of Krazy Kat Sundays.

Author and historian Rick Marschall published the first American books reprinting full color collections of Krazy Kat Sundays in 1990.

Paul Tumey: All of those people are awesome to have in your corner, that’s for sure. There is such a generosity and kindness in the comics community. The Internet has been a game changer for cultural history, and certainly in comics history work – it’s brought us all closer. On the other hand, there are so many leads to follow!

Michael Tisserand: It can certainly seem endless at times. One of my writing gurus was the late alt-weekly editor and New York Times writer David Carr, and he instructed reporters to “avail themselves of all available knowledge” before writing about a topic. Which I did, to the best of my ability. Which also helps explain the ten years.

Paul Tumey: Your book reaps the benefits from that investment of time. It’s loaded with interesting details about Herriman’s work, life and times — and that really makes it all come alive for the reader. It’s very satisfying. The archives and resources now available on the Internet open up lots of unprecedented opportunities that scholars didn’t have before – but with that access comes a significant lengthening of the development cycle for these projects, I think. There’s a lot more paths to explore, and that takes time. But it can lead to some marvelous new discoveries. Can you give an example of a trail you followed that led to a cool new discovery?

Michael Tisserand: Just for one example, using the network of generous cartoonists, scholars, collectors, as well as academic and auction house archives, I made a list of all gifts of comics and comic art that Herriman had given people over the years. Then I conducted searches on the names of all the recipients. This is how I found Boyden Sparkes’ interviews with Herriman and other cartoonists, which are archived at Syracuse University, and helped me tell the story of Herriman’s early newspaper years in New York, as well as his life in the late 1930s when he was visited by Sparkes.

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, Abrams ComicArts, 2011)

Paul Tumey: The Boydon Sparkes interviews is an exciting find. But, I know you didn’t just sit at a computer. You actually traveled all around to explore obscure archives and meet various people. In the back of the book there’s a list of people you interviewed. I know you connected in particular with Herriman’s granddaughter, Dee Cox.

Dee Cox, George Herriman's granddaughter holds a hand-delivered advance review copy of Tisserand's book.

Dee Cox, George Herriman’s granddaughter holds a hand-delivered advance review copy of Tisserand’s book. (Photo by, and courtesy of, Micheal Tisserand)

Michael Tisserand: My first call was to Dee Cox, for obvious reasons. At that point I didn’t know her at all, and didn’t know how she felt about discussing her family background, and all the new information about the family’s life in Creole New Orleans that I was uncovering. I called her and asked if we could talk about her grandfather, and her immediate response was, “My favorite subject!” She’s an artist herself and — like her grandfather — a very well read individual. She’s been immeasurably helpful and getting to know her has been a real highlight.

Paul Tumey: I have to ask: did Dee Cox happen to have a cache of previously unseen material and art of her grandfather’s? I would think there could be letters or diaries, even. The mind reels!

Michael Tisserand: No, and Patrick and Karen had met her long before I did. But she shared what she had, and of course, her personal memories were most precious.

I recently attended a talk by the writer Erik Larson, in which he described his process of determining whether or not there is enough material on a topic to merit a book. It’s probably good that I didn’t attend that talk before I started this research, because I would have had to admit that the material was pretty scarce. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to find a single rich trove of material. Dee Cox wasn’t going to open a closet to reveal a stack of Herriman diaries.

Paul Tumey: Oh, well.

Michael Tisserand: That’s when I realized I would have to patch this book together from lots of little bits and pieces. Which meant travel, in addition to lots of time spooling out the microfilm. But it was George Herriman. One can’t mess around when trying to tell the story of George Herriman. I felt a deep sense of responsibility. So our family vacations centered around Arizona for a few years, and I found a way to get to New York and California to seek out City Hall records, and I had a lot of help from people willing to show me how to access these records.

Paul Tumey: Yes — I know exactly what you mean – and I appreciate the level of commitment a project like this requires. Bill Schelly, Harvey Kurtzman’s biographer, told me he stepped up his exercise and took vitamins and supplements to make sure he was as smart as he could be while he wrote Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America.

Michael Tisserand: Didn’t think of that! I just drank more coffee.

Paul Tumey: Bill Schelly clearly felt the same deep sense of responsibility as you. I’ve been working on a biography of Jack Cole now for a while. As far as I know, Cole didn’t give an interview and there really isn’t much available about him. I think, in the case of a lot of these early 20th century cartoonists, you really have to dig deep and find lots of bits and pieces and be very clever to weave together a solid narrative. What you’ve managed to do in restoring Herriman’s story is kind of like an art specialist taking a dull, darkened hundred-year old canvas and using their techniques to reveal a great painting underneath. From reading Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, I know you managed to find and speak with some people who actually knew George Herriman. I think that adds a lot to the narrative.

Michael Tisserand: Yes, Herriman died in 1944, so I was delighted – amazed, actually — to find so many people who actually spent time with him! Most of these came from Harvey Leake, who is the family historian for the Wetherills, Herriman’s friends in Arizona. For example, Herriman signed a page of the guest registry with a note about the Roach family, and he drew and named three little cockroaches.

Paul Tumey: Ha!

Michael Tisserand: I found out that two of those cockroaches were the nieces of movie producer Hal Roach, and they had traveled with their father, Jack Roach, and Herriman, to Arizona. And that both women were still alive and healthy and filled with warm memories of their time with the man they knew as “Uncle George.”

George Herriman in 1902 (from The Bookman)

George Herriman in 1902 (from The Bookman, Courtesy Robert Beerbohm)

Paul Tumey: When I was reading the first chapters of your book, I was struck by how far back in time you had to go to tell Herriman’s story. Usually, biographers start with the parents of their subject – or, in some cases, the grandparents. But, you go back to the winter of 1816 and begin with Herriman’s great-grandfather. Why was it necessary to begin the story of the cartoonist George Joseph Herriman, born in 1880, so far back in time?

Michael Tisserand: I knew I was taking a chance. Certainly few people can pull that off the way Robert Caro did, when he started his multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson with descriptions of the soil and grass of Texas. I was fascinated by Herriman’s family story, but I asked myself repeatedly if general readers would share that fascination. Then when I dug into the records and found riots and seances and Jelly Roll Morton and all the rest, I knew I had to tell it. I found that understanding that family history also helped me better understand one of the central themes of Herriman’s life: his race, what it means, what it might have meant to him, what it means to his comics, and what it means to us.

Paul Tumey: Having that perspective from reading your biography on Herriman’s life massively expanded my understanding and appreciation of his work. I have to admit, I was a bit daunted at first when I realized there was a chunk of early family history to read before our man comes onto the scene. But you know what? After a page or two of pouty grumbling, I was totally captivated – the stories are great, and you did a nice job of telling them. And later, I realized how valuable that perspective is – it’s the foundation for understanding the deepest levels of Herriman’s work.

Michael Tisserand: When I learned more about his family, I understood a bit more not just the pressures he must have felt in passing for white, but also the strange, unsettling feeling it must have been to identify with a group of people historically known as Free People of Color, or Mulatto, or Creoles … a group that constantly was seeing its very identity being changed legally and linguistically and culturally. And then for Herriman to work in a genre so deeply influenced by the masks of minstrelsy! When I read a classic Krazy Kat line such as “lenguage is that we may mis-unda-stend each udda,” it seems pretty clear that Herriman had a deep understanding of what we now consider to be modern notions of the slipperiness of language and a sort of permeability of identity.

Presentation art created for Boyden Sparkes , now in the OSU collection. (image from "Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration" by Craig Yoe -- 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Undated photo of George Herriman (from Krazy Kat and The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration” by Craig Yoe — 2011, Abrams ComicArts)

Paul Tumey: Once you become aware of this overarching theme in Herriman’s life, it seems to be the Rosetta Stone for what’s informing and driving Krazy Kat, and some of Herriman’s other work.

MUSICAL MOSE by George Herriman. Originally published February 23, 1902.

MUSICAL MOSE by George Herriman. Originally published February 23, 1902. (Courtesy of Allan Holz, Stripper’s Guide blog)

Michael Tisserand: Of all of Herriman’s short-lived early strips, Musical Mose gets the most attention, because it offers such a brutal view of race and racial passing. It’s about a black man trying to make a living as a musician by impersonating other ethnicities. Compared to Jimmy Swinnerton’s Sam comics, which I love as much as I know you do, and which also uses a black protagonist to mock hypocrisy and absurd social behavior, there’s not much laughter in Mose. It’s not hard to see how Herriman couldn’t sustain the storyline past a few episodes. Years later he’ll recast some of the Mose scenes with Krazy Kat and Ignatz.

Jimmy Swinnerton's SAM comic strip

Jimmy Swinnerton’s SAM comic strip — April 5, 1905 (courtesy Paul Tumey)

Paul Tumey: I think the identity theme particularly looms large in The Family Upstairs, later called The Dingbat Family. The main characters, and the reader by default, are always trying to learn the identity of the mysterious family that lives upstairs. It’s never revealed, which gives the whole thing an existential, Waiting For Godot aspect. I always saw The Family Upstairs as a sort of metaphor for the comedy and misadventure inherent in an obsessive search for God, although the strip itself is pure screwball, and blessedly so!

Michael Tisserand: Krazy Kat gets compared to Waiting For Godot, but I had never read The Family Upstairs that way! I think it’s a great way to approach it. Herriman would later dismiss it as just another failed strip of his, but I laugh out loud at The Family Upstairs probably more than any other Herriman strip, except maybe Baron Mooch. The parade of characters going up and down the stairs, and in out of that upstairs doorway, is endlessly entertaining. He throws so much into those scenes. It’s another example of Herriman playing variations on a theme. But you’re right, there’s a great mystery of identity at the center of it. Plus, throughout his life, Herriman was living in places where African-Americans weren’t allowed to own or rent property. Now you’re making me go back and re-read The Family Upstairs, so thank you.

Original art for THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS (courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Original art for THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS (courtesy Heritage Auctions). Note the hidden characters of the family next door, and the early use of the name “Ignatz.”

Paul Tumey: One of more poignant moments in the story you tell is when you point out that, if Herriman was legally classified as an African American, he would not have been allowed to own the homes he bought. Am I getting that right?

Michael Tisserand: Absolutely. I’ve seen the racial covenant that was attached even to his beloved home in the Hollywood Hills. It’s sobering to read.

But I don’t want to leave The Family Upstairs yet. What other comic strips had central characters who remained offstage? Miss Othmar and the Little Red Haired Girl come to mind.

Paul Tumey: There’s Monte Crews’ totally unknown 1922 screwball daily comic strip called The Mysterious Family Next Door, which I have often thought was probably inspired by Herriman’s strip. Some of the characters wear outfits that vaguely look like KKK sheets — even the dog! My favorite example of a hidden character is the series Rube Goldberg did for Collier’s Magazine from 1929-1931 called The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgazola Butts, A.K. The star of that comic series is never once shown!

THE MYSTERIOUS FAMILY by Monte Crews lasted barley a year, and had a similar approach to Herriman's THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS.

THE MYSTERIOUS FAMILY NEXT DOOR by Monte Crews lasted barely a year, and had a similar approach to Herriman’s THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS. (June 26, 1922)

Michael Tisserand: In The Family Upstairs, the invention of the upstairs neighbor brings the strip to life for me. I laugh the hardest at the Dingbats when they’re battling the family. Otherwise, the strip is pretty similar to Herriman’s other domestic strips, such as Mary’s Home From College. Which I love also, but not like when they’re battling the neighbors.

I also love how the storylines sort of ping pong back and forth between the Dingbats’ adventures and the Krazy Kat comics then running below that strip.

Paul Tumey: A bit like breaking the color line…

Michael Tisserand: Right. Or the horizon line. Or any line. And in those early Krazy Kat comics, Herriman sometimes dealt quite explicitly with racial themes, even when it was more obscured in his “human” strip.

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Paul Tumey: In your reading of Krazy Kat, did you see many examples of Herriman’s “hidden” commentaries on — what could one call it? — society’s racial intolerance? This might be a good place to ask if you might talk for a moment about the connection you make in the book between the great heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson and the evolution of Krazy Kat.

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s father and grandfather were very politically involved in New Orleans, and it seems as if Herriman’s father was at least somewhat involved in his union in Los Angeles. But Herriman actually seems disengaged politically. I don’t even see evidence of him registering to vote, as opposed to other members of his family. And in his political cartoons, while they’re wondrously drawn and filled with great little jokes, he rarely seems to sustain outrage the way that someone like Thomas Nast or Frederick Opper does. With one great exception: Herriman’s cartoons about the boxing color line.

Paul Tumey: Could it be the issue of black boxers not being allowed to fight white men was such a heated controversy at the time that it served as a sort of lightning rod for public debate, especially in newspaper sports cartoons? Perhaps it emboldened Herriman to be more forthright. Or perhaps it was even expected by his editors?

George Herriman sport cartoon depicting heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson

George Herriman sport cartoon depicting heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson — March 10, 1907

Michael Tisserand: There was such raw hatred in the press toward the notion of white boxers being challenged, and of course defeated, by blacks. Jack London’s journalism is staggeringly ugly. But the Hearst men saw it differently. Tad Dorgan was a lifelong supporter and friend of Johnson’s. Plus, they loved boxing, and they recognized that the white boxers they said formed the “Lily White Club” were hurting the sport by denying fans of the best matches. The Hearst men ruthlessly mocked these boxers.

Paul Tumey: In addition to Dorgan, Rube Goldberg came out in support of Johnson against Jeffries, and seemed to greatly admire him, even though some of his sports cartoons are jaw-droppingly racist. But how did Krazy Kat emerge from this whipped-up maelstrom of conflict and social change?

George Herriman sports cartoon -- March 19, 1910

George Herriman sports cartoon — March 19, 1910 (from Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White)

Michael Tisserand: Herriman’s sports cartoons were different than the rest. Unlike Dorgan, he rarely used his cartoons to explicate or even demonstrate much knowledge of the sport. Instead, he went for gags and grand, classical themes. He used metaphor after metaphor to illustrate the boxing color line, then finally settled on cats, starting with cartoons about the black Canadian boxer Sam Langford.

When the much-hyped “Fight of the Century” was finally getting underway in Reno on July 4, 1910, the other cartoonists were sent to Reno, and Herriman was summoned to New York to sort of report on the home front. He began drawing incredible cartoons that specifically examined the hypocrisy of white boxing fans. In one, a child that is taught that the imaginary line around the world is no longer the equator, but the race line. And in my favorite, a man sells “transformation glasses” to turn the whites to black and the blacks to white. Or, as Krazy Kat and Ignatz would later call it in that great comic in which they trade colors to try to fool a beret-topped egghead art critic, it was another study in black and white.

Detail from Herriman's July 13, 1910 sports cartoon that shows the astonishing "transformation glasses" concept that Michael Tisserand speaks and writes about. A chapter in his book, KRAZY, is entitled "Transformation Glasses"

Detail from Herriman’s July 13, 1910 sports cartoon that shows the astonishing “transformation glasses” concept that Michael Tisserand speaks and writes about. A chapter in his book, KRAZY, is entitled “Transformation Glasses”

Paul Tumey: Wow — that is a great example of how restoring cultural and historical context adds so much depth and power to a comic.

Michael Tisserand: The fight in Reno was on July 4. Twenty-two days later, on July 26, Ignatz first beaned Krazy, who was now beginning to resemble Herriman’s caricatures of black boxers. As is often the case with Herriman, I don’t see this as a direct commentary, but as another example where he’s throwing in all this material and letting us sort it out. It’s like Herriman’s finding a side door into this conversation, and inviting us in.

Paul Tumey: A side door, yes. That seems to be Herriman’s way. He was private man with a very public job.

Michael Tisserand: When I reeled through page after page of Los Angeles Examiners and New York Evening Journals, I realized how much is lost when we read these comics in anthologies. God bless the anthologies, of course, but reading the comics as they respond to the news stories and sports stories, and to each other, returns them to history yet also frees them, bringing jokes to life that had been sort of dormant.

There was, for example, a series of stories in the New York newspapers in September 1910 about wealthy people acting loony, followed by cartoons that turned on the word “loony,” including a Krazy Kat in which a white cat utters “Loony Kat” after a courtship scene.

Paul Tumey: There’s a kind of “code” aspect to Krazy Kat that I think your book helps restore. As I read the first half, I kept thinking about the Uncle Remus Br’er Rabbit stories that tell stories of oppressed black slaves in disguise, as funny animal stories.

Michael Tisserand: There are Creole French versions of those Uncle Remus tales that were collected on the Laura Plantation, outside of New Orleans, right before Herriman’s birth, and it’s certainly fun to speculate that Herriman heard some of these as a child. Plus, Herriman’s first weekday strip was the four-panel Maybe You Don’t Believe It, from 1901, in which he reworked Aesop’s fables and gave them happy endings. It only lasted for five episodes but it provides an early glimpse of the world that would become Coconino County. And he was all of 21 years old.

Paul Tumey: So maybe one way to understand Krazy Kat and some of Herriman’s other work with animal strips is to see it as a sort of comic reversal on popular folklore of his day.

Michael Tisserand: There’s an amazing conversation relayed by Robert Naylor, who helped Herriman with Embarrassing Moments. Naylor said he once asked Herriman why he “reversed natural phenomena” — put on the transformation glasses, perhaps — with a mouse attacking a cat while being thwarted by a dog. Naylor reported that Herriman said that life is so absurd, he simply draws what he sees. As Naylor tells it, Herriman considered the whole thing — and here I think he meant life itself, and this maybe gets pretty close to describing Herriman’s philosophical and spiritual conclusions — sort of a wry joke. It’s as if somewhere from his boxing cartoons to the later iterations of Krazy Kat, Herriman found a way to laugh at it all.

Paul Tumey: And to use the alchemy of comics to transform some of life’s pain into entertainment, and, I think, art.

Michael Tisserand: Yes! Stanley Crouch wrote about this eloquently in his essay “The Blues for Krazy Kat” in the Masters of American Comics catalogue. Herriman was talking about race and identity — as profoundly as anyone has, in my opinion — but I never see that as his big “Topic.” It was just part of his world, and the world he created, even if others were slow to recognize it.

Paul Tumey: There is so much in Krazy Kat — a work that, as far as I can tell, Herriman added to every single day of his life for over thirty years. It’s Shakespeare, Dickens and Schulzian in that it’s a vast universe to explore…

Michael Tisserand: And Cervantes, whom Herriman read as a schoolboy. And other writers who I didn’t know about at all until I Googled some odd phrase from Krazy Kat. Over the past ten years, I learned to accept that Herriman would always stay ahead of my research. In fact, one night I actually dreamed that I was talking to Herriman, and I told him that I had discovered his birthday, and he just laughed at me.

Paul Tumey: Yes, Cervantes! Obsessive personalities are a running theme in screwball comics of the time. It was a basic formula — a character like Ed Carey’s Professor Hypnotizer was obsessed with charming people, and of course, it always backfired. Herriman’s Major Ozone was very typical of the period, for example.

Michael Tisserand: Major Ozone also reflected news accounts of health nuts that were running around New York during this time. But there is also this lovely self-delusion in Ozone that seems to be carrying an influence from Cervantes.

George Herriman's obsessive Major Ozone

George Herriman’s obsessive Major Ozone

Tad Dorgan said that Dickens was Herriman’s favorite writer, but Don Quixote seems to me to be galloping across his work as much as anyone else — certainly with Major Ozone, but also with Baron Bean, and all the holy obsessions that fuel Krazy Kat.

End part one. The “konversation” will continue in Part Two.

A short video Michael Tisserand made about his book, featuring previously unseen home movie footage of George Herriman:

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Territory http://www.tcj.com/territory/ http://www.tcj.com/territory/#respond Mon, 14 Nov 2016 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96977 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have part one of a two-part sprawling, fascinating conversation between our own Paul Tumey and the author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White (Harper Collins, December 6), Michael Tisserand. I can’t wait to read this book, which, from what I hear, will be a landmark in the study of 20th century visual culture. Here’s a bit of their dialogue:

 

 

Paul Tumey: That leads me to my next question. For almost a hundred years, people have been writing about the life and work of George Herriman. Gilbert Seldes sang his praises in 1924. In 1986, Patrick McDonnell and Karen O’Connell published Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. This has been regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In addition, there’s been a library’s worth of introductory essays to the various reprint volumes of Herriman’s work published over the years by Bill Blackbeard, Richard Marschall and others. One would think all the stories were told, and the subject was exhausted. And yet, in 2016, you’ve given us something new and, I think, quite magical: a 560-page, detailed biography of Herriman. Can you talk a little more about the research methods you used to deepen and broaden Herriman’s story? How did you dig all this stuff up, man?

Michael Tisserand: Patrick and Karen’s work was certainly a foundation. Their writing about Herriman is beautiful and timeless, as is Gilbert Seldes’, actually. But of course none of these writers had the Internet to make it possible to do a more exhaustive search.

But I started there. Patrick and Karen very generously shared all their original research with me, as did many others. When I started out, I was concerned that the comics scholarship community would be suspicious of an interloper, but it was just the opposite. The generosity has been overwhelming.

Paul Tumey: So you built on the work of others?

Michael Tisserand: Yes, exactly. Rick Marschall invited me to his house and beneath a painting by Rudolph Dirks, answered question after question about early newspapers and syndications. I had a most wonderful day with Bill Blackbeard. Tom Inge had once pursued a biography of Herriman and shared with me the letters and other information he’d received, which then led me to contacting Russell Myers, who shared a recorded interview he’d conducted with Bud Sagendorf that focused just on Herriman. Jeet Heer took me under his wing and provided copies of his copious files, and engaged in conversation after conversation about Krazy Kat. Same with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. Brian Walker, who co-curated the show that sparked this book, opened up his archives and even invited me to lunch with his father, Mort Walker, and Jerry Dumas. One of my happier afternoons of research!

And there were so many more. I learned the extent to which cartoonists are scholars of their art. Not only do they possess the knowledge, but in many cases, they own the historical treasures such as old letters and inscribed pieces of art that are necessary for telling the story.

Elsewhere:

The Nib has 10 cartoonists’ reactions to the election.  I look forward to much, much more, like the new New Yorker cover. This 2015 essay by Toni Morrison has been shared a lot lately. It’s worth revisiting.

RIP The great Leon Russell, love poet. I will miss you.

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Through the Graves the Wind is Blowing http://www.tcj.com/through-the-graves-the-wind-is-blowing/ http://www.tcj.com/through-the-graves-the-wind-is-blowing/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96812 Continue reading ]]> We must hope for the best, but after Tuesday’s election, even the best tastes like ashes. There are innumerable issues that should be of great concern to all Americans: violence against religious and ethnic minorities and immigrants, likely civil rights abuses, an unleashed police-state mentality, the empowerment of white nationalist groups, the potential erosion of press freedoms, the imminent possibility of another economic collapse, almost certain international turmoil, and a gutting of our already far too meager efforts to fight climate change. Among many other things.

Cartoonists have historically played a small but important role in times of political and cultural crisis: giving vent to anger, attacking powerful and oppressive forces, providing emotional comfort to the afflicted, helping to focus attention on absurdities and wrongdoing and means of action. Those of us who value the art form should be vigilant in our support for and defense of those artists who will be brave enough to tell the truth in the days, months, and years ahead. It should go without saying that this is only one small part of a wider range of vital struggles, but it should not be forgotten, here least of all. We will need as many courageous artists as we can get. I hope they are out there.

I would like to look back at this post years from now and feel embarrassed by my dramatic tone. But I don’t expect to.

——————————

Rob Clough has written a review of the first installment of a new anthology, 4Panel.

Canadian artist Mark Laliberte has been publishing his 4Panel experiments in the pages of Carousel magazine and on the web for quite some time now. They are the product of a less restrictive version of OuBaPo-style constrictions, which give artists certain parameters they have to work with, like including certain elements on a page, telling the story as a visual palindrome, or using the same images but different words in multiple panels. The sole constriction for this particular project is that each artist has to work with the old comic strip standard of four panels at a time forming a single, coherent unit. What goes into those panels is up to each artist, and for the first print volume of 4Panel, Laliberte chose three artists whose visual styles are certainly varied.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News.
Former Wizard World convention exec Stephen Shamus has been sued for alleged theft, according to a brief report in the New York Post.

A comic-convention marketing exec raked in $1 million for himself by stealing celebrity-signed merchandise from his own company and then selling it, according to a lawsuit.

Stephen Shamus, 42, helped select celebrities for fan gatherings run by Wizard World, which pays stars to show up and sign autographs for fans — but often fenagled the high- profile figures into signing memorabilia for him personally.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian speaks to Al Jaffee.

What do you think of the current political scene? There’s so much now that’s so far afield it’s a little hard to blow it out of proportion.

You’re absolutely right. I think they’re defeating Mad, because they’re going beyond anything we can think of doing to show the clownish nature of their claims. It used to be that politicians claimed that they would make jobs for everybody in the country within two years or something like that; now they claim that they’re going to make jobs for everybody on Mars. It’s just so outlandish.

GQ talks to Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, about Dr. Strange.

“I think that’s what makes Doctor Strange so interesting and also so difficult to adapt,” says Howe. “I liked a lot of things about the movie, but the Doctor Strange comics are Exhibit A in the argument that some things that can be done in comics just can’t be replicated any other way. There’s a lot of great nods to Ditko’s visual motifs from the comic book, but it’s different to see them on a page. I think there are a lot of people who mistakenly believe that the movies are the realization of what comics really wanted to be, and I think that kind of shortchanges the comics”

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Ed Koren.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the Saturday Evening Post, Ed Dwyer writes about the current state of comic strips.

Today, wherever I am, I still open the paper to the “funny pages” first thing to start my day with a smile. But I am in increasingly diminished company, as newspapers have consolidated or shut down across the country and readership has dropped dramatically. The numbers tell the tale: In 1960, there were 1,763 total daily newspapers (morning and evening) with a total circulation of 58,882,000; in 2014, there were 1,331 with a total circulation of 40,420,000. Meanwhile, average daily newspaper readers are now in their mid-50s and getting older. And reading the newspaper is not a habit with younger generations, who prefer to get their news online (ironically, often at newspaper websites) or via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Even some of my own contemporaries tell me that they don’t read the print newspaper. “Print, how quaint,” they sniff.

For Paste, Shea Hennum has written a basic introduction to European comics.

Since the mid-’90s, smaller publishers like NBM have intermittently translated work, but French, Spanish and Italian tomes came in at a mere trickle for more than a decade. As a result, a generation of readers was cut off from a rich wellspring. But that’s begun to change; thanks to the ascendance of publishers like Humanoids, efforts by smaller publishers like Uncivilized Books, New York Review Comics and IDW, which launched a EuroComics imprint specifically to import classics like Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese and Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo’s Alack Sinner, some of the finest comics ever produced are poised to become more accessible.

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More From There http://www.tcj.com/more-from-there/ http://www.tcj.com/more-from-there/#respond Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96888 Continue reading ]]> Life goes on, right? Right. So here we go.

R.C. Harvey reports back from CXC. 

The first two days of the four-day CXC took place at the Billy Ireland, with programming and special exhibits; the succeeding two days transpired downtown at the city’s Metropolitan Library, where the CXC Expo opened. Spinning out from those two sites, the CXC took over the city with special exhibits at various venues.

CXC replaces the triennial festival of cartoon art that was sponsored by the Billy Ireland for many years. The idea of CXC founders Jeff Smith (Bone) and Lucy S. Caswell (curator emeritus of the Billy Ireland) was to make Columbus the Angouleme of America. Like the International Comics Festival in France in January of every year since 1974, CXC would take over the host city.

For Smith, CXC is a dream come true. “I had this idea,” he said, “What if we could bring these artists together on one weekend in Columbus? This isn’t the kind of event where people come dressed up as Captain America (although they’re free to do that if they want to). These artists are people that are working from their own voice.” As Smith did in creating Bone (which, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary).

This year, CXC took over Columbus from Wednesday evening, October 12, with a preamble event, through the following Sunday.

There’s no registration. No list of attendees. (And people, including Columbus residents, come and go all weekend.) And no head count. Attendance at last year’s “soft launch” was estimated at 600-1,200.

And elsewhere, links to amuse and uplift:

Nick Gazin loves CAB.

A cookbook that is also partly a comic? Do tell…

Christoph Niemann makes fun graphics. 

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4Panel, Volume 1 http://www.tcj.com/reviews/4panel-volume-1/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/4panel-volume-1/#respond Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=96362 Continue reading ]]> Layout 1Canadian artist Mark Laliberte has been publishing his 4Panel experiments in the pages of Carousel magazine and on the web for quite some time now. They are the product of a less restrictive version of OuBaPo-style constrictions, which give artists certain parameters they have to work with, like including certain elements on a page, telling the story as a visual palindrome, or using the same images but different words in multiple panels. The sole constriction for this particular project is that each artist has to work with the old comic strip standard of four panels at a time forming a single, coherent unit. What goes into those panels is up to each artist, and for the first print volume of 4Panel, Laliberte chose three artists whose visual styles are certainly varied.

The results are visually quite interesting, especially given that the anthology is in full color. Each piece has a four-page prologue of sorts where each page is a single panel, and Laliberte’s mostly abstract section starts off with a birth and ends with a death. Each four-panel strip after that ranges from a sort of color reset for the eye (the “slip” strips: blue, yellow, red, etc) to naturalistic images to DayGlo pop art images to highly cartoony art. There’s a sense of discomfort on each page, a sense of stillness before something awful happens. There are also other resting points, as well as Laliberte’s playing with the form itself: Ben-Day dots, collage, playing with colors over photos and especially the use of word and thought balloons as stand-ins for characters. Conceptually, his section feels thin compared to the work of the other three artists in the book, and I’m not sure the constriction of the four-panel set-up had any kind of formal impact on what he wound up drawing. Any tension on the page comes from the images themselves, not the formal qualities of how they were ordered.

4panel-lead

Far more successful was Jesse Jacobs, who begins with four single-panel pages, then moves into the regular format, and finshes with four more single-panel pages. Jacobs came up with a narrative to fit into the project’s constrictions and made the format a crucial part of the narrative. The story’s about a perfect garden on another planet, or perhaps another aspect of the creator myth story he loves to tell. The first four pages are about the perfection of the garden, and he carves up each page into diagonal sections that represent different areas of the garden, neatly divided by his use of angles and colors. It allows the eye to digest each page as a whole as well as explore the details on each page. Then he shrunk down his narrative to fit in four small panels, with the page formatted in portrait, instead of in landscape like the rest of the book. Despite that loss of detail and a new hyperfocus on elements being introduced in the narrative, those initial four pages remain burned in the reader’s mind, making it easy to retain while the story unfolds.

What follows is a story of the garden’s creators having to deal with an invasive plant hurting the garden. First they introduce insects to eat it, but they start devouring other plants. Reptiles are brought in to eat the insects, and then a vicious dog-like creature is introduced to kill them. When the dog proves savage and impossible to control, they send in humans, and that’s when the real trouble began. Humans start small, but create religion, industry, and rebellion, and so have to be set on fire. That’s when we return to the single-panel pages, with the garden rebuilt and the characters having learned nothing. The story itself is not especially remarkable, as anyone who’s ever followed an ecosystem could have predicted it. What makes this such an interesting read is Jacobs’ shifting use of color as a narrative marker and the way he contrasts rigidly arrayed shapes against bizarre monsters that radically upset the balance of each panel. His work juxtaposes interestingly against Laliberte’s, since both rely heavily on color patterns to drive their stories, but do so in completely different ways.

The third entry is Mark Connery’s black and white lunacy, featuring many of the characters from his long-running series Rudy. Connery’s strips have always mixed absurdism, wordplay, eye-pops, collage and good old-fashioned comic strip fundamentals. That said, it’s not unusual for him to use an open-page layout in addition to a standard three- or four-panel layout, so it is odd to see such a rigid format for him on page after page. His response is to use the strip titles as something for the visuals to bounce off of, either as a punchline of sorts or at least a referent. That referent doesn’t have to make sense, other than staying within the internal logic of the strip, like “Eternal Combustion” being both a pun and a way to understand the quasi-abstract images in the panel. In some of the strips, there’s a definite punchline in the sense of how it should function in the context of the panel, only its actual connection to the events of the strip are tenuous at best. It’s most certainly not random, but it is deliberately disorienting.

Take “Life In the Sewer”, for example. The first panel features a floating head talking about Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The second panel, which features a floating bird head and has a heavily stippled background, reiterates that reference with another Turtle’s name. The third panel is a close-up of a drooling creature, and the punchline panel features Rudy with the creature, colloquially asking for a drink. The pop culture reference and the expectations generated by the figures in the first three panels seem radically disconnected from the punchline, yet the strangeness of it coheres. That’s the key to Connery’s success: a measured approach to the reactions certain sets of juxtapositions create. That’s just one strip, and it’s clear that Connery carefully considered the cumulative effect of his strips, each of which has a different set of elements that are funny, weird and strangely familiar.

Anuj Shrestha is the final artist in the book, and his clear-line, sci-fi body horror is an interesting match with Connery. Like Connery, he plays around with the notion of punchline or a concluding statement in the fourth panel of his strips. He also uses titles for each strip to provide a strong context, allowing him to use a variety of of narrative approaches. While most of the strips do have a linear narrative, there are frequently vast spaces of time between each panel that are connected by visual “rhymes.” “Bargains”, for example, depicts a Native American in panel one, a European explorer in panel two, a ship sailing on the ocean in panel three, and a drawing of supermarket butter with the Native American’s image on it. These strips feature progressions, which doesn’t necessarily mean growth or even evolution; it’s simply cause-and-effect, the inevitable consequences of some seed act. The events of the story all take place on what looks like the moon, which makes sense since colonialism is a running theme throughout the story, culminating in exploitation and self-extinction. That’s balanced by the four-page, single-panel-per-page coda, which features a hopeful final panel that balances the birth and death that appear in Laliberte’s intro.

One problem with the anthology is Laliberte’s need to overexplain everything. It’s one thing to provide a history of 4Panel and OaBaPo-style comics, but it’s quite another to literally spell out the meaning and themes of each creator’s comics. Laliberte should have had a little faith in his readers to figure things out, because it is all there in the comics themselves. Sean Rogers’ postscript is more useful, as it goes much further into the history of comics with constraints and it discusses the work of each artist in the book after the reader has had a chance to actually read them. Hopefully, further volumes will allow the reader to figure things out for themselves, because it’s an interesting project and Laliberte certainly has a sense of which artists would be good candidates for this format.

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Not Just Another Comics Festival http://www.tcj.com/not-just-another-comics-festival/ http://www.tcj.com/not-just-another-comics-festival/#respond Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96821 Continue reading ]]> Just think of it: a comic-con without movie or television stars. No Hollywood. No gaming. No cosplay. And no superheroes to speak of. What kind of a comic-con is that? Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) is another of a rare breed— a comics festival for people who love comics and the art of cartooning. And it’s all free. No charge. Just come to Columbus, Ohio.

For four days in Columbus, October 13-16, the CXC organizers’ “mission was to make Columbus the cartooning capital of the world,” said Tom Spurgeon, Festival Director, in an interview with Tim Hodler on this site in early October.

Spurgeon was picked for the job after the first “soft launch” of CXC last year. CXC needed a manager. As editor of this magazine from 1994 to 1999, he knew a lot of people in the field, and his connections were valuable. One of the CXC founders, Jeff Smith, was among the first cartoonists Spurgeon interviewed after arriving at TCJ and Smith reached out to Spurgeon, who moved to Columbus from his hideout in New Mexico where he produced The Comics Reporter.

“Festival director,” Spurgeon told Hodler, “means I’m primarily responsible for the logistics of it, the making it happen of it. That’s both in just making sure stuff gets set up but also that we’re executing according to our goals and ideals.”

Why Columbus?

Because the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum on the campus of the Ohio State University is in Columbus. The Billy Ireland houses the world’s largest collection of original cartoon art and related books, magazines, and newspaper clippings, and the Billy Ireland actively promotes interest and scholarship in the arts of cartooning, staging numerous exhibitions and seminars throughout the year.

Other special comics events through the year include the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) and the Independent Comics Fair.

Falling in line, the Columbus College of Art and Design recently announced the addition to its curriculum of a new Comics & Narrative Practice major. Columbus Alive, a free weekly in town, devoted its October 13 issue to CXC; the coverage began with an article about cartooning in the city, “25 Essential Columbus Comics,” graphic novels and comic books produced by local cartoonists.

And Ohio has an ample cartooning history. Scores of cartoonists were born in Ohio or spent significant time there. The reputed “father of American newspaper comics,” the Yellow Kid’s Richard Outcault, was born in Ohio. Ditto Billy Ireland, Milton Caniff, and James Thurber; others lived and worked in the state— John “Derf” Backderf, Brian Michael Bendis, Billy DeBeck, Roy Doty, Al Frueh, Cathy Guisewite, Charles Landon, and dozens more, from Gene Ahern to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel to Bela Zaboly.

ohiocartoonists1 ohiocartoonists2

The first two days of the four-day CXC took place at the Billy Ireland, with programming and special exhibits; the succeeding two days transpired downtown at the city’s Metropolitan Library, where the CXC Expo opened. Spinning out from those two sites, the CXC took over the city with special exhibits at various venues.

CXC replaces the triennial festival of cartoon art that was sponsored by the Billy Ireland for many years. The idea of CXC founders Jeff Smith (Bone) and Lucy S. Caswell (curator emeritus of the Billy Ireland) was to make Columbus the Angouleme of America. Like the International Comics Festival in France in January of every year since 1974, CXC would take over the host city.

For Smith, CXC is a dream come true. “I had this idea,” he said, “What if we could bring these artists together on one weekend in Columbus? This isn’t the kind of event where people come dressed up as Captain America (although they’re free to do that if they want to). These artists are people that are working from their own voice.” As Smith did in creating Bone (which, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary).

This year, CXC took over Columbus from Wednesday evening, October 12, with a preamble event, through the following Sunday.

There’s no registration. No list of attendees. (And people, including Columbus residents, come and go all weekend.) And no head count. Attendance at last year’s “soft launch” was estimated at 600-1,200.

With no formal registration required, determining how many people enjoyed this year’s Festival requires looking at several aspects of the event. The scholarly presentations at the Billy Ireland were not counted, Spurgeon told me (I counted about 130 people at one of the second day’s presentations), but Wednesday evening’s screening of Mark Osborne’s “The Little Prince” was estimated at 200 based upon the available seating; similarly, at Thursday evening’s rare public appearance of Garry Trudeau, 750 people filled seats at the Mershon Auditorium.

At the Library downtown, Spurgeon said, “we were 2,200 over average attendance on Saturday, and 1,600 on Sunday.” There’s no advance printed promotion. To get yourself oriented, you must start at the web site. The closer CXC came, the more programming popped up on the site. So before I booked a hotel room and bought my plane ticket, I knew the first official event was Wednesday evening, and that the programming began Thursday morning at the Billy Ireland with coffee and pastries at 8 a.m. I showed up there at 8:30 a.m. and picked up the printed program and a cup of coffee. I was handed a blank name badge (no preprinted badge with your name; no one knew I was coming—no registration, remember?) and wrote my name on it.

The program booklet told me about the exhibits all around town:

At the Columbus College of Arts and Design, selected original art provided by Nate Powell from March: Book Three, the final autobiographical volume of Congressman John Lewis’ engagement in the Civil Rights Movement. Powell signed copies of the book on Saturday. At the Columbus Museum of Art, selected original art by artist-in-residence at the Thurber House (where James Thurber grew up), Ronald Wimberly, who appeared on the program on Sunday in conversation with OSU’s Jared Gardner. At the Wild Goose Creative, the Sunday Comix Group presented Comics vs Art: Fine Art Isn’t Just for Adults Anymore, “a show that playfully reimagines fine art as comics panels.” OSU’s Barnett Collaboratory, cartoonist Keith Knight and collaborator Matthew Schwarzman appeared in “an evening of ideas, games and live art called Sex, Lies and Social Change: The Roots of Community-Based Arts.” At the Boat House, the Columbus Metropolitan Club offered a special CXC program featuring animator Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda,” “The Little Prince”), editorial cartoonist Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch), and graphic novelist Ronald Wimberly (Prince of Cats).

On Friday, the Sol-Con Expo and Workshops was scheduled to take place at OSU’s Hale Hall. This event was founded in California by John Jennings and Ricardo Padilla to foster awareness (among the public and among the affected minorities) of Latino and African American comics and their creators by showcasing their work. Said Jennings, interviewed in Columbus Alive: “Basically, it’s a way to combat symbolic annihilation, which is erasure through omission. It’s a way to empower people who haven’t been able to see themselves in mainstream comics and media.”

And at the Billy Ireland, two special displays (in addition to the permanent exhibit): Good Grief: Children and Comics, which examines “the history, role and tensions of child characters in comic strips and comic books”; and Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, which combines original art from the Nemo tribute book of the same name with resources from the Billy Ireland’s extensive collection of Winsor McCay material. And on Friday, an Open House offered special tours of the facility (leaving every hour) and a display of some of its treasures in the Reading Room.

The program booklet also listed (and annotated) the CXC special guests: cartooning legends like Garry Trudeau, Sergio Aragones, Ben Katchor, Ed Koren, Carol Tyler, Stan Sakai, John Canemaker, Seth, Charles Burns; modern stars Raina Telgemeier, Brandon Graham, Julia Gfrorer, Jay Hosler, Mark Osborne, Sacha Mardou, Skottie Young, Ronald Wimberly; skilled practitioners of their craft like editoonists Ann Telnaes and Nate Beeler, satirists Keith Knight, Lalo Alcaraz. All of these caroonitsts made presentations throughout the weekend. What follows are a few highlights, day by day.

THURSDAY

The presentations began Thursday morning at the Billy Ireland with the first of the two day-long scholarly symposium featuring about three dozen presentations, all gathered under the umbrella heading “Canon Fodder!”

The cultural status of comics has improved over the last 30 years, particularly since the success of the so-called “graphic novel,” which term, by avoiding the word “comics,” helped make comics socially respectable. And social status in combination with a tsunami of new and much better work fostered study in academe—hence, the need for determining a “canon,” a list of essential comics works. “What are the great comics?” The printed program asked. “What are the comics everyone should read? An all-star line-up of scholars and thinkers sit down under the CXC banner for a two-day summit on the making of canon. Who gets to decide the comics canon? Who gets left out? What are the implications of canon building for the academic, for artists, for the art form?”

I sat with 60-130 others in the audience (the count varied from one time period to another and from Thursday to Friday) and dutifully took notes, often about presentations that I could barely hear. I’m about half-deaf (don’t ask which half), and some speakers spoke more softly than others. Although I had a sound magnifying gizmo with me, I probably missed as much as I heard. So what follows is more a summary of major points (and not all of them) than a detailed examination of any of them.

The headlong growth of comics studies in colleges and universities now embraces histories of the medium, of genre (heroes, funny animals), of publishers, and of cartoonists/artists and writers. And as the social media took over human interaction, social media and the comics became a legitimate subject for study.

Ally Shwed, cartoonist/writer/visiting prof of sequential art at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Queretaro, Mexico, discussed the growth and influence of social media on the determination of canon under the heading: “To Pander or to Play the Game: Fan Interaction and Comics Canon in the Digital Age,” her argument taking the following route:

Industries no longer have control over how their brand is disseminated: that’s been taken over by the social media. Letter columns in comics were an early form of interaction between publishers and consumers, and publishers controlled what was made public. With social media, that control is no longer possible. The Internet, fostering a kind of anonymity, de-individualizes by grouping like-minded consumers. Individuality is subsumed in the resulting sense of power in groups, and the growth of groupings weakens any sense of personal responsibility for what one says even as it enhances the influence of individuals through the group.

Group responses can overwhelm the hierarchies of power. Social media protested a recent cover of a version of The Killing Joke and got it withdrawn. Ditto the connection between Captain America and Hydra because the connection was not consistent with the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby character as initially conceived. The Internet eliminates barriers between the readers and producers of comics. Smart publishers acknowledge the power of social media. And so fans help create canon to a greater extent today than ever before.

This may seem a laborious way to arrive at the conclusion that social media has the power to determine canon, but tracing the route of the reasoning is one of the attributes of the academic enterprise in comics studies.

In other presentations, the history of comics was seen as a history of influences. Australia’s cartooning historian Ian Gordon argued for more comparative histories. He maintained, for instance, that Jimmy Bancks was undoubtedly influenced by Percy Crosby’s Skippy when, in 1921, he concocted and conducted Us Fellers, a strip that eventually morphed into Ginger Meggs, becoming virtually a national institution in Australia. I’m not quite convinced: in the early days, Ginger Meggs was about a gang of kids; the eponymous Skippy was usually presented as a loner, particularly at first.

Besides, the timing is a little off: Skippy, which began in the old Life humor magazine in March 1923, didn’t get into newspapers until syndicated in 1925, and then by a bush league syndicate; the strip didn’t get major distribution until Hearst took it over as a Sunday in 1926 (daily, 1929). So it’s unlikely that Bancks saw the feature until at least 1925, four years after he started Us Fellers, or maybe as late as 1926. But there could still be some kind of influence. Dunno when Us Fellers began focusing on one of the fellers, Ginger Meggs, who became the title character. But it’s possible that Bancks began concentrating on one mischievous character after seeing Skippy —somewhere, in Life or in newspapers. (See? That’s the sort of hair-splitting that scholars, even mere chroniclers like me, get involved in.)

Autobiographical comics were mentioned as candidates for the canon—especially those starring Scribbly, who, in comic books, was the cartoonist alter ego of his creator, Sheldon Mayer.  Thursday evening was occupied by John Canemaker, the award-winning animator and historian, who, with illuminating commentary, presented several of Winsor McCay’s celebrated animated films (with Nemo and Flip, about how a mosquito operates, and the famed “Gertie the Dinosaur”).

FRIDAY

The scholarly presentations continued most of the day.

John Jennings, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California at Riverside and an artist with several comics to his credit (a couple pages of a current comic book/graphic novel project, Blue Hand Mojo, appear near here), talked about “Marvel Comics Original Cloak and Dagger Series as Anti-miscegenation Narrative.” He deviated from the usual academic practice of “reading a paper.” He occasionally quoted from his paper on the comic book heroes (Cloak and Dagger representing white and black cultures respectively), but he mostly talked extemporaneously, often interjecting self-deprecating asides or humorous observations (“What is the shadow in darkness?”), sometimes recommending further reading or research on the topic, while he showed pictures illustrating his premise. mojo

Daniel Yezbick, professor of English and media studies at Wildwood College in St. Louis, Missouri and author of Perfect Nonsense, an appreciative biography of George Carlson from Fantagraphics, read from his paper— but forcefully, with emphasis and wild gesticulation. The topic was “The Action Figure as Embodiment and Extension of Comic-Book Continuities.” He presented images of action figures that “extended the lives of comic book superheroes” and called for further study.

Afterwards, I asked him if he was serious. “Weren’t you being satirical about academic comics studies?” I wanted to know. He laughed. But “expanding the canon” was, after all, one of the subtopics of the seminars. Someone mentioned the German doll, Lilli, who morphed into a panel cartoon character and then into Barbie, “the iconic toy of the 20th century.” Another presenter talked about the a-sexuality of Jughead Jones in Archie Comics—“a form of queer relation.”

Here’s a selection of some of the topics of the two-day seminar:

Cultivating Transnationality in the Comics Canon: on Spain and Latin America

How Lust Was Lost: Genre, Identity and the Neglect of a Pioneering Comics Publication

A Fabric of Illusion: C.C. Beck’s Critical Circle and His Theory of Comic Art

Seeing Deafness: Representing an Invisible Disability Through the Visual Rhetoric of Superhero Comics (“We tend to equate fluency with literacy, an outdated model”)

Decentering and Recentering in the Field of Comics

Ach! Female-Created Comics Strips and the Scholarly Canon

The more seriously such obtuse subjects are considered, the more self-satirical the presentations seem to become. Maybe it’s just me: after a day-and-a-half of these effusions, I was beginning to see satire wherever I looked—Yezbick’s paper on action figures, for example.

Esoterica aside, I enjoyed as much of the presentations as I could hear. And many were provocative. “The error of equating fluency with literacy,” someone said, is a tantalizing notion, worth pondering further.

Later in the afternoon, Canadian cartoonist Seth took the stage in conversation with Craig Fischer. Seth was, judging from the audience’s reaction, an amusing as well as informative speaker. Among his thoughts: anyone aspiring to doing comics has an obligation to learn the history of the medium. Charles Schulz thought the same. But I couldn’t hear much of what Seth was saying, so I amused myself by trying to caricature him. cxcseth

The day’s agenda concluded with a panel discussion on “The State of the Industry.” The panelists included Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features syndicate, Shena Wolf (GoComics.com), Chip Mosher (comiXology), and Keith Knight (self-published). Burford, who’s worked at King for 17 years, 10 of them as comics editor, said his department consists of 53 employees. In today’s newspaper market, the question always is: what’s worth taking a risk on. But as newspapers struggle to survive, said he, “We have to change the way syndicates operate and what they do.” But he offered no specific suggestions—even though the topic must be under more-or-less continuous discussion at his office.

“Most of the great cartoonists,” Burford said, “can’t stop themselves.” Hence, his advice to aspiring cartoonists looking to get syndicated: “If you can’t not do it, then you can think about syndication.” Wolf, at one point, chimed in: “Sometimes we give up on something or don’t accept it just because it isn’t like what we’ve done before.” Knight added his usual unconventional perspective. He goes to lots of shows that aren’t comics shows. That enables him to cultivate readers that aren’t in the usual crowd. When he wasn’t speaking, he was listening while he also drew a daily installment of  his comic strip, The Knight Life. At the beginning of the session, he asked if anyone in the audience had an H2 pencil; someone did, and loaned it to him for the duration of the panel. A question that lurked through the presentation: Are comic books and graphic novels taking the position in the cartooning industry that once syndicates held?

The afternoon ended with a reception in the Billy Ireland. Mad’s Sergio Aragones and Carol Tyler, underground comix legend, were presented with Masters of Cartooning Arts awards.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the campus, the all-day Sol-Con: The Black and Brown Expo and Workshop was transpiring. The event featured a “slew of local and national Latino and African American creators,” showing their wares in a variety of genres, formats and styles and participating in workshops and academic panels.

“They are creating these really vital, kinetic African American or Latino superheroes, said Frederick Luis Aldama, who teaches film, comics and Latino pop culture courses at OSU. “But then there are others that are working to use the visual and verbal craft of comics to tell everyday heroic stories.” The stories, he continued in Columbus Alive, “are as exploratory as the mind is infinite, but grounded in concerns that we experience as Latinos and African Americans in this country, things like discrimination, lack of access to education, racism, homophobia and sexism.” Aldama has authored two scholarly books: Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez (332 6×9-inch pages, b/w; 2009 U. of Texas Press, paperback, $29.95) and Latinix Comic Book Storytelling: An Odyssey by Interview (270 6.5×10-inch pages, occasional color; 2016 Hyperbole Books/San Diego State University Press paperback, $24.95).

In his first book, Aldama begins by tracing the history of comics by and/or about Latinos (including the occasional appearance in mainstream funny books), pausing to describe some of the heroes, some of their adventures, and some of the cartoonists. The last two-thirds of the book consists of interviews with Latino/Latina cartoonists and/or writers, 21 of them. The second book is entirely interviews, 29 of them, including only 4 that appeared in the previous volume. Among those interviewed are Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos (creators of the contemporary syndicated strip Baldo), Gus Arriola (creator of Gordo, a syndicated strip that ran for over 40 years, starting in 1941, and the subject of a book of mine, Accidental Ambassador Gordo; this interview, Aladama told me, he believes was the last Arriola gave before he died), Roberta Gregory, Los Bros Hernandez (Gilbert and Jaime), Lalo Alcaraz (creator of the syndicated strip La Cucaracha) —alas, the only names I know.

Both books are modestly illustrated: not every work is depicted in Your Brain, but many are, albeit in black-and-white. The Storytelling volume offers at least one illustration for each of the cartoonists interviewed—and most of them are in color. latinix1 latinix2This brace of books are the best way to equip your library for dealing with an emerging cultural event—cartoons and comics by Latinos. If you have something you need to look up, you can probably find it in one of these two tomes.

Friday afternoon, the spotlight fell on Garry Trudeau, who was “in conversation” with author Glen David Gold on the stage at Wexner Center’s Mershon Auditorium at OSU. Trudeau seldom makes public appearances, so his gig at CXC was a rare event and attracted a big crowd. I don’t think there were many empty seats in the auditorium: all of the CXC events were open to the public, and this event, like several others over the weekend, had been written up in advance in the local newspaper, the 145-year-old Columbus Dispatch, and the publicity pulled in ordinary civilians—comic strip readers and aficionados, not just cartoonists and comics scholars.

In an article in Columbus Alive, Trudeau the political satirist was asked about Trump. Did he buy into the notion that Trump really doesn’t want to win, that he launched his campaign as a publicity stunt? Trudeau’s response was typically acerbic and insightful: “No,” he said. “That’s what normal people call an ‘ulterior motive,’ which implies delayed gratification, of which Trump is incapable. When he says he wants to be in the White House, you have to believe it because it’s very short neural pathway between his id and his mouth.” Is Trump’s candidacy a “mere sign of the times or is it symptomatic of larger issues we can’t hope will be swept away by his potential defeat?” “A one-off,” said Trudeau. “But that doesn’t mean the GOP doesn’t have a Herculean task of reconstruction ahead of it. All the china’s been broken, and that’s not even good for Democrats. We need at least two functioning, philosophically robust parties to make our system of government work.”

Gold got Trudeau talking by showing some of the controversial Doonesbury strips and asking the cartoonist to comment on them. Trudeau’s been quizzed by newspaper reporters about many of the more sensational strips, so when Gold put one up on the screen—Joanie Caucus famously waking up in bed with Rick Redfern, for example (a strip that more than 30 client newspapers chose not to publish)—Trudeau had talked about it before. And he did again here.

Among the strip images Gold displayed was the one in which DB was shown just after being wounded in Vietnam. He lost a leg in the process, but, said Trudeau, the thing that caused the most comment from readers was that DB’s helmet was removed while he was unconscious. No one had ever seen him without his helmet. He’d started Doonesbury life in a football helmet and was never seen without it—and when he went to Vietnam, he was never seen without a military issue helmet that concealed as much of his head as the football helmet had. Readers were stunned to see him bareheaded. That he was also missing a leg was apparently of less concern to readers. And DB’s surprising appearance without head gear symbolized and emphasized the drastic change that the character was going to undergo. At the end of the conversation, CXC president Jeff Smith came back on stage and presented Trudeau with the CXC award for Transformative Impact on the Profession.

Various saloons around town had been designated as CXC watering holes where the festivities would be hosted by some of the visiting dignitaries. Enjoyable as they undoubtedly were, I, aged and half-deaf, went to my hotel and bed.

SATURDAY

The CXC Marketplace and Expo opened at 11 a.m., and the Festival moved away from the Billy Ireland on campus to downtown Columbus. At the Columbus Metropolitan Library, almost 100 display tables were staffed by creators selling their own books (including 15 from Sol-Con) and magazines and by publishers doing the same with theirs. I was surprised to see so much high quality work being published by independent creators. Fantagraphics had a display, as did OSU Press and IDW (and others, no doubt; I must’ve missed a few). cxcexhibit

About 20 panels and individual presentations ran parallel all day long in meeting rooms throughout the Library. Unlike the scholarly programs of the previous two days, these hour-long sessions featured cartoonists, not academicians. Every cartoonist who was a special CXC guest (see the list at the beginning of this extravaganza) was interviewed or made a presentation. Several also did drawing demos. And Sol-Con joined in the festivities, offering a strand of programming. Charles Burns at another downtown venue discussed his career; Nate Powell talked about the March books he’d drawn. Raina Telgemeier did a solo session; ditto many others. I went to a session featuring The New Yorker’s Ed Koren being interviewed by Tom Spurgeon. I placed my mini-microphone on the table, but Koren kept moving his chair away from the table. I heard very little.

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At a session on political cartooning, the presenters represented a range of minority passions—Ann Telnaes, sexism/feminism; Lalo Alcaraz, Latino; and Keith Knight, African American. Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch editoonist, moderated. The panelists were seated at a table, and behind the table, a projection screen had been dropped from the ceiling so the cartoons of the presenters could be displayed as they talked.  cxceditoonists1After projecting a couple dozen cartoons, the computer-projector failed to work, so the panelists plunged onward without it. Then, several minutes later—suddenly, without explanation—the projection screen was pulled back into its ceiling nest, rising silently like spooky wraith. Telnaes and Knight and Beeler chimed in with a couple jocular comments on the mysterious ways of projection screens and the ominous import of the screen’s disappearance, but Lalo said nothing. Looking a little alarmed, he stood up, staring at the audience, then he turned around, putting his hands on the wall behind the table and spreading his legs in the classic posture of a miscreant apprehended by law enforcement.cxceditoonists2

There were serious moments thereafter—and a couple more humorous ones; but nothing will ever compare to Lalo’s spontaneous demonstration of a persecuted Latino.

In a reflective moment later, Telnaes warned about the sexism we could expect to see emerging more obviously once Hilary is elected—just as racism bubbled up after the election of Obama.

Later in the afternoon, Knight made a solo presentation entitled “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They.” He’s been doing this presentation around the country for months, often at gatherings having nothing to do with cartooning. Raised in Massachusetts, Knight didn’t have a black teacher until his junior year in college when he enrolled in an American literature course. “My teacher, who was black, assigned James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou—all black writers—for us to read,” Knight explained in a newspaper interview published over the weekend (and he said pretty much the same during his presentation). “Someone brought up the idea, ‘Why are you giving us all black writers?’ and the teacher said, ‘I’m giving you all American writers.’“When he said that, that’s what made me want to change my work: knowing he was working within the system but he was an activist.”

Knight has been an activist for more that 20 years, embracing cartooning as a means of confronting big ideas of race, identity, cultural appropriation, police misconduct and more in his three cartooning ventures: K Chronicles, a weekly autobiographical comment on the passing scene; The Knight Life, another autobiographical enterprise, this one a syndicated daily comic strip; and (th)ink, an occasional overt political panel. He started reporting his personal experiences in his cartoons because he didn’t see anyone he identified with represented in the medium. “When I look at editorial cartoons,” he said, “I never see the average joe as a person of color. The best cartoons,” he continued, “can take complex issues and sort of simplify them. Not to present them and to say, ‘This is a simple issue,’ but to get people to understand an argument in a simple way.”
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He showed some of his cartoons during his presentation, but mostly, he talked. He cited statistics. He related several personal experiences that exemplified the ludicrous absurdity of racism in America. Once, he said, he had been putting up posters around his neighborhood when he was accosted by police. Looking for someone who had burgled a house, they were acting upon a description—“tall and black.” That was the description. That was all. Knight was tall and black, but, he pointed out, he was sporting a dreadlocks. He related other instances in which white people were “privileged” in a way that a black person, in the same circumstance, was not. A white man can yell and scream at police; a black man can’t.

SUNDAY

CXC stayed in the same places, and the day’s events were pretty much the same as Saturday’s—the expo, parallel programing, and spotlights on special guests. Seth joined Ben Katchor “in conversation” at the Museum of Art, and Raina Telgemeier was “in conversation” with Jeff Smith at the Library.

And the Wild Goose Creative offered an exhibition of comics art inspired by Western paintings: “Imagine an exhibit hall lined with paintings by Western artists from 1400s through modern times. Imagine these works mysteriously transformed into words of comic art.” wildgoose1 wildgoose2

I left about noon on Sunday, just as the day’s events were getting going at the Library, so I can’t report much of what happened.  But I’ll certainly return to Columbus for next year’s CXC. It’s a better event for comics lovers than any of the comic-cons I’ve attended.

We leave with Spurgeon’s comparing CXC to other comic-cons while talking with Hodler: “Most conventions are like tent revivals that pull up and leave when the weekend is over; we’re a series of churches—in the case of the Billy Ireland, a cathedral—and we’re still here that next Monday.”

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Episode 15: Trungles http://www.tcj.com/episode-15-trungles/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-15-trungles/#respond Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96790 Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Continue reading ]]>

 

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On the fifteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Trungles talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books.

 

Previous Episodes

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by Freesound.org user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
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http://www.tcj.com/episode-15-trungles/feed/ 0 0:37:38 Trungles is a comics artist whose work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who is included in the Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Trungles is a comics artist whose work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who is included in the Mirror Mirror 2 anthology. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books. Mike Dawson no no
Not Feeling It http://www.tcj.com/not-feeling-it/ http://www.tcj.com/not-feeling-it/#respond Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96880 Continue reading ]]> Art is and will continue to be vitally important in the days and months to come, but somehow blogging about comics feels too frivolous this morning.

Still, for those of you who need a distraction, we have published the latest episode of Greg Hunter’s Comic Book Decalogue, an interview with an upcoming comics artist named Trungles, who work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who appears in Mirror Mirror 2. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books.

Links will wave to wait until tomorrow.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/9/16 – Celebrating Election Fever!) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11916-celebrating-election-fever/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11916-celebrating-election-fever/#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2016 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96842 Continue reading ]]> tominorobo10001

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Only one man’s vision of humanity makes sense this late in the season: Suehiro Maruo, who is the only cartoonist I actually *follow* in Japanese instead of dipping in and out by circumstance. This sequence is from the second collected volume of his current series, Tomino the Damned, which follows a pair of trouble-prone young children through an increasingly surreal chain of calamities involving clairvoyance, movie-making and human oddities in an ultra-stylized bygone era. The book was released in May — I didn’t say I followed Maruo quickly — around the same time as a live-action film adaptation of Maruo’s 1984 comic Shōjo Tsubaki (aka “Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show”). There was an earlier, animated adaptation of that book, infamously personal and tonally harsh, but from the looks of its trailer the new film seems to be emphasizing the parodic character of Maruo’s work though a very arch and self-consciously literal translation of the artist’s visual cues. It’s rather camp.

It’s also something that’s advertised directly on the jacket of the new Tomino, which is not a wholly unrelated endeavor. Maruo is not the same artist that made the likes of Ultra-Gash Inferno anymore; the extreme content of his notorious shorts has largely vanished, placing his visual compositions and gale-force obsession with bygone aesthetics in a position of unopposed primacy. But Tomino nonetheless deliberately evokes comparisons with his past works (Shōjo Tsubaki powerful among them), suggesting a retrospective intent – a summarization of where the 60-year old Maruo has been, in perhaps a more accessible form. Still, in comparison to the new Shōjo Tsubaki film, Tomino demonstrates how drawn images by a confident artist can better incorporate symbols and fetishes and aspects of heavy design into a ‘world’ that reads as natural to the eye. The film stands at a great remove, while Maruo’s comics are inescapably Maruo’s world…

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Neo Parasyte f: Hey, a little more manga here. Last week Kodansha debuted a western-original anthology of stories based on Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan series. Now we get an equally unusual proposition: a 288-page anthology of stories inspired by the 1988-1995 Hitoshi Iwaaki horror/SF series Parasyte (which just had an anime adaptation a few years back, in case you’re wondering as to the relevance). The twist, however, is that Parasyte was a seinen manga, whereas the contributors here all hail from the world of comics aimed at girls and women. Expect appearances by Asumiko Nakamura (Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist), Kozue Amano (Aria) and Kaori Yuki (Angel Sanctuary) among a dozen others; $13.99.

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Cometbus #57: And if we’re covering the unusual, I guess we’ll just skip to your non-conflicted book-on-comics of the week, the 90-page latest in Aaron Cometbus’ long-running zine series, which just happens to be dedicated to interviews with 14 comics-related personalities active in the NYC area. Charles Brownstein and Zak Sally contribute some of the pieces, while Nate Powell supplies illustrations, but mostly it’s Cometbus chatting people up, ranging from artists like Gary Panter and Julia Wertz to curators (Robin Enrico), retailers (Gabe Fowler), editors (Bill Kartalopoulos) and others, down to a concluding segment in which MAD veteran Al Jaffee gallantly answers leftover questions from the prior interviews regardless of context or personal expertise. Less a comprehensive presentation than a fleeting ride-along on a current of curiosity, distributed to comic book stores via Last Gasp; $5.00.

PLUS!

Looking for America’s Dog: Okay, yes – an actual U.S. politics-related publication this time. Steven Weissman released Barack Hussein Obama with Fantagraphics in 2012, assembling a “dada-esque” (as the publisher put it) vision of national political figures. This is a 112-page hardcover follow-up, in which hapless Joe Biden lets Bo the White House dog run out of the gate, prompting First Daughters Sasha and Malia to maneuver through “an increasingly strange and hostile world.” Again, that’s from Fantagraphics; $22.99.

At the Shore (&) How to Survive in the North: Two comics from artists with a smooth and practiced style. At the Shore is the work of Jim Campbell, an artist and musician affiliated with the Meathaus group from a while back. He’s been working on this comedic horror project in serial form for a while; the 208-page collected softcover arrives from Alternative. How to Survive in the North is a Nobrow release by Luke Healy, a Center for Cartoon Studies graduate blending historical fact and modern-set fiction in 192 pages of struggle in icy terrain; $19.99 (Shore), $22.95 (North).

Summerland: I am wholly unfamiliar with the work of artist Paloma Dawkins, though I understand she is a Canadian animator and illustrator, with some comics work out there. Color schemes look to transition throughout this 48-page Retrofit/Big Planet release on the topic of vacationing and playacting, which I presume will serve as a succinct and inexpensive means of becoming acquainted; $9.00.

Who Killed Kurt Cobain?: Your Eurocomic of the week (non-reprint division) is this IDW English edition of a 2015 book by artist Nicolas Otéro, himself adapting a 2014 prose novel by Héloïse Guay de Bellissen in which the story of the beloved titular musician is observed by his childhood imaginary friend Boddah, the addressee of his final letter. A 152-page presentation in hardcover. Preview en français; $24.99.

Century’s End: And here are some French comics reprints from the catalog of Enki Bilal, formerly published in English by Humanoids but now arriving courtesy of Titan. The 184-page, 9.7″ x 12.8″ hardcover package collects a pair of political thrillers written by Pierre Christin: 1979’s The Black Order Brigade and 1983’s Hunting Party, realistic fictions in sharp contrast to the allegorical fantasies that Bilal and Christin had collaborated on earlier in their careers; $34.99.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1: Without a doubt the big take-a-look superhero project of the week is this Marvel spinoff of a very high-profile Black Panther run by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Here the primary writer is Roxane Gay, a very prominent novelist, editor, essayist and academic, making her comics debut in the company of artist Alitha E. Martinez, of various superhero, SF and young adult projects. There will also be a second story written by poet Yona Harvey and drawn by Afua Richardson, making this I believe the first Marvel comic in which all of the writing and drawing roles are fulfilled by women of color. Preview; $4.99.

Heavy Metal #283 (&) Klaus: Two from a genre comics long-timer, Grant Morrison, who’s been fronting Heavy Metal magazine for a few issues now. Readers of this column will want to be alert for #283 — the seasonable untimely but politically *very* timely Fear Issue — for a new collaboration between Morrison and longtime Cerebus background artist Gerhard, the latter drawing anthropomorphic animal characters in a mystery story. (Yes, that’s new comics by Dave Sim and Gerhard in the space of two weeks.) Klaus is a hardcover collection of Morrison’s recent project with artist Dan Mora and BOOM! Studios, exploring the figure of Santa Claus through “Viking lore and Siberian shamanism,” to presumably superheroic ends; $7.95 (Heavy Metal), $34.99 (Klaus).

Usagi Yojimbo – Gallery Edition Vol. 2: The Artist and Other Stories (&) Voodoo Vengeance and Other Stories: Artist-focused books both, each one bypassing the reproduction styles of their component parts. The Artist and Other Stories is an original-art-reproduced-in-color project from Dark Horse, displaying 256 pages of 21st century stories by Stan Sakai at 12″ x 17″. Voodoo Vengeance is another Fantagraphics collection of EC stories presented without color, all of them drawn this time by Johnny Craig. It’s 216 pages; $125.00 (Artist), $29.99 (Voodoo).

More Heroes of the Comics (&) The Gaze of Drifting Skies: A Treasury of Bird’s Eye Cartoon Views: A dynamic duo of, ah, comics-adjacent projects from Fantagraphics. More Heroes of the Comics is a 184-page suite of color portraits by the great Drew Friedman, all of them devoted to figures from the history of American comic books. Note also its predecessor, from 2014. The Gaze of Drifting Skies is a 9″ x 12″ softcover showcasing “marvelously orchestrated scenes of human bustle,” a device frequently used in newspaper and magazine illustration of ages ago. Jonathan Barli edits; $34.99 (Heroes), $29.99 (Gaze).

The Comics Journal Library Vol. 10: The EC Artists Part 2: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week that could not be more obviously a conflict of interest considering that this is the digital venue for The Comics Journal – a 256-page, 10″ x 12″ hardcover collection of interviews with figures associated with the very famous purveyors of pre-Code crime, horror, war, humor and SF comics. A new Gary Groth chat with Jack Davis is included among archival encounters with Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Marie Severin, Bernard Krigstein, Alex Toth and others. Fantagraphics publishes, following 2013’s Part 1; $34.99.

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No Snow, No Show http://www.tcj.com/no-snow-no-show/ http://www.tcj.com/no-snow-no-show/#respond Tue, 08 Nov 2016 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96816 Continue reading ]]> Nothing more important today than comics, right? Joe McCulloch will tell you about them.

Elsewhere, comics marches on…

Alex Dueben interviews Dash Shaw.

Fletcher Hanks is featured over at Vice.

Apparently The Saturday Evening Post still exists and has published a pretty broad overview of newspaper strips today.

And… oh boy, what a day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kane-08

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

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

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

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

kane-09

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

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

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

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

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

kane-11

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

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

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

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

kane-13

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

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

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

kane-14

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

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

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

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

kane-15

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

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

kane-16

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

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

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

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

kane-17

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

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

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

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

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

kane-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kane-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certainly ticks the boxes of the human nightmare.

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

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

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

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

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Would you write a comic for David Hine to draw? 

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

 kane-31

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Let’s Table This http://www.tcj.com/lets-table-this/ http://www.tcj.com/lets-table-this/#respond Mon, 07 Nov 2016 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96784 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Tim Goodyear talks to the eccentric British cartoonist Shaky Kane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. For Hyperallergic, Nicole Rudick interviews Ben Jones.

NR: When I think of Christopher [Forgues]’s work, I think of pencil, but when I think of yours, I think of all the different media you’ve used, and I think of color. How do you know when you want to do something just in pencil?

BJ: I think I know why Chris does it. He lives a strict and severe existence. He’s a true believer. An analogy for Chris is that he’s in a war and he has to go into battle, so [you should] take your bulletproof vest. And he’d be like, “The bulletproof vest will slow me down and will affect my decision-making on the battlefield.” I think that’s what he’s doing with just using pencil and never erasing — he’s forcing himself in the moment to make confident decisions. You can see that in his drawings.

You have to say something very different for why I do it. I think it probably goes back to me copying Far Side comics as a kid. I did it two ways. I did it on a Macintosh SE by tracing them with a mouse, and I did it with a pencil in a sketchbook. Not to make this like a childish escapism thing about my process, but those are two tools that I think are great and I’ve stuck with them.

For The New Yorker, Sarah Larson talks to Richard McGuire, focusing primarily on his spot illustrations for the magazine.

In 2005, the artist Richard McGuire—now, perhaps, best known as the author of the lovely and powerful book “Here”—was living in Paris, working on an animated film, when he heard from one of his editors at The New Yorker. McGuire has contributed covers and illustrations to the magazine for many years. “They wrote me and said they had this idea,” McGuire said recently, at a café in the West Village, where he lives. The idea concerned spot illustrations—the cozy little drawings of, say, a fork, a chair, or a window dotted with hanging plants—tucked into long sections of text. For decades, spots had been drawn by many different artists per issue, as the cartoons are, each one doing its own thing while providing some relief for the eye. In 2005, for the eightieth-anniversary issue, “they said, ‘We want a whole issue done by one person,’ ” McGuire told me. So he began drawing some spots. “I think it was because I was working on the animated film that made me think of it as a sequence,” he said.

Michael Maslin talks to Arnold Roth about his John Updike covers.

I tell this story sometimes, like when I give talks in art schools, because people ask about those covers. We lived in Princeton then. It was a Friday evening. I had my studio in my house, naturally. The phone rang and it was woman who said, “I’m an art director with Knopf. John Updike has instructed us that he wants you to do a cover for a book that will be coming out, Bech a Book.” I was honored. We put it in action — I sent him a bunch of drawings — some of them ran on the cover flaps. About 11 years later, again — I got a call, and she said, “We have another Bech book.” [Bech Is Back] So same thing, I did the jacket. Thirteen years after that, the phone rings, the same conversation. I raced down to the kitchen where Caroline was making dinner, and said, “Hey — I have a steady gig.”

Also in Hyperallergic, Benjamin Sutton talks to Jessica Campbell about her book, Hot or Not: 20th-Century Male Artists.

One of the few rules that I set out for myself was that I could not immediately call to mind what the artist looked like. So, artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock were off the table. They are too iconic, too recognizable.

There are, unfortunately, thousands of artists who needed to be cut from the book, though this means that I can spend the rest of my career working on sequels to fill in the art historical gaps. I’m hoping it will turn in to the Fast and Furious of book series.

The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Julia Gfrörer.

—News. The winners of the Joe Shuster Awards have been announced, including best cartoonist Jillian Tamaki.

—Reviews & Commentary. David Sipress remembers the late New Yorker cartoonist Bob Weber.

One afternoon, as we were leaving the restaurant, Bob asked me to walk a few blocks with him. He next reported something to me that I had been vaguely aware of, and more than a little bothered by—that there had been some grumbling about my drawing among the cartoonists.

“I was listening to a couple of guys say that your drawing is too awkward, or that you can’t draw, and I knew they were missing something, so I decided to find out for myself. So over the weekend I sat down and tried to draw like you. I tried and tried, and you know what? I couldn’t do it.”

This act of kindness and curiosity was pure Bob Weber, and it erased forever any anxiety I might have had about what others thought about my work.

—Misc. Photographer Greg Preston is attempting to crowdfund a book of photographs of comics and animation industry legends. Michael Dooley talks to Preston for Print.

Photographer Greg Preston is a good-natured, low-key guy. There’s an ease about him that enhances his subjects’ comfort amidst their already-familiar surroundings. It’s visible enough in The Artist Within, a handsome, generously-sized hardcover from 2007 with roughly a hundred “portraits of cartoonists, comic book artists, animators, and others,” as the book’s subtitle has it. He’s captured a broad spectrum of extraordinary talents, from Al Hirschfeld, Jules Feiffer, and Carl Barks to Jack Davis, Gahan Wilson, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and from Will Eisner, Neal Adams, and Frank Miller to Crumb, Spiegelman and the Hernandez Bros. The lush details and rich tones and textures of his full-bleed monochromes reward repeat visits.

Comics Enriched Their Lives! #44.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series of film adaptations are coming out on Blu-ray from Criterion soon, and they’ve posted a brief interview with the original manga writer Kazuo Koike in anticipation.

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Basic Human Concern http://www.tcj.com/basic-human-concern/ http://www.tcj.com/basic-human-concern/#respond Fri, 04 Nov 2016 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96787 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Keenan Keller, of The Humans and Galactic Breakdown,  interviews Benjamin Marra, whose most recent book, American Blood, is out now. Here’s a bit:

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

Yes, it is a send-up of the way sex is handled in genre and American visual storytelling. It makes me think about the power images hold. If my work were prose and I were writing about sex I don’t think it would get the same kind of attention, but because the sex is depicted it somehow becomes more significant. I think sex is a very human act but for some reason it’s largely missing from a lot of visual stories in the U.S. In television that appears to be changing. Television is a lot more daring these days with the themes it explores. It’s obvious to state, but in many feature films graphic violence is accepted where sex is not. One theme is about the destruction of life, what tears us apart as humans. The other is about creation, feeling alive, and what we share as humans. It’s strange, but also a very human fault to be obsessed with doom rather than salvation. 

Elsewhere:

Well folks, if you’re in NYC you might be going to CAB this weekend. Here’s a preview of what awaits you.

I liked this “lost” Mothers News interview by Brian Nicholson.

The Comic Art Museum in San Francisco has a new home.

The movie version of Wilson, by Daniel Clowes, has a trailer out and it looks promising.

]]> http://www.tcj.com/basic-human-concern/feed/ 0 Ink in His Veins: An Interview with Benjamin Marra http://www.tcj.com/ink-in-his-veins-an-interview-with-benjamin-marra/ http://www.tcj.com/ink-in-his-veins-an-interview-with-benjamin-marra/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96277 Continue reading ]]> So, I just wanted to start this off by saying that I am a huge Benjamin Marra fan. I’ve been following his work for years – finding him first, on the now antiquated site Flickr, just before he started his own publishing imprint, Traditional Comics.

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

moleskin-art

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

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

american-blood-cover

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

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

168-169

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

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

 91

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

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

Perhaps all of it. Especially living in the U.S. and then living outside the U.S. and seeing it from a new perspective. The mere fact that we exist is pretty strange to me. Sometimes even looking at the design of the human form is absurd to me.
165

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

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

180

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t suffer from self-doubt. The work I make is a product of training myself to eradicate self-doubt. What is difficult a difficult challenge is perfecting my process when it comes to drawing. That is always going to be an eternal struggle. I don’t really question whether what I’m working on is too out there and I think I miss the mark constantly. The results of missing the mark is what could be called my style.

Do you think of an audience while creating? Do you think that is necessary to creating good work or do you let your inner voice “and the stars” guide you?

I don’t think of the audience when I’m creating content. But I do think about the reader when I’m considering formal storytelling choices. It’s sort of like if I were a prose writer, I’m not thinking about the audience with regard to the meaning of a sentence. But I want the sentence to make sense and be clear. I think it’s necessary not to consider the audience to make good work. It’s important to listen to what guides you from within. If you let an illusory external audience dictate creative choice, you’re not making art.

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A small minority of loud people online have come out questioning whether a white artist should be creating works of fiction in a “black” world.  And that a white man parodying the rap world (Gangsta Rap Posse) or telling the story of an American slave (Lincoln Washington) is inherently racist. What are your thoughts on such criticism?

I don’t think too much about criticism. If you make things there will always be a portion of the audience who disagree with it. When I started making comics I never thought anyone would read them. There’s a ton of content out there and I’m thankful if anyone chooses to read my stuff. If people start talking about it then that’s even better. And if there’s a conversation about the work I make, then there are going to be multiple perspectives. I have a compulsion to make comics. It’s up to the readers to discuss them. It’s not my place.

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You wear your love of D&D, fantasy adventure and barbaric protagonists on your sleeve, making several comics within that sort of world (Orion, Blades and Lazers, Naked Heroes). Does this go back to adolescent fixations? What is it about monsters, magic, power stats, and manly mayhem you love so?

It goes back to reclaiming something I didn’t experience as a kid. I didn’t play D&D or other RPGs much as a kid. For one, I didn’t know anyone older than me who knew enough about the game to run it. Secondly, my mom sort of believed in the whole Satanic Panic back in the ’80s and thought D&D would turn me into a devil worshiper. The art, as with comics, in early D&D is what pulled me in. The fact that I couldn’t play it made it that much more mysterious. I started playing and running RPGs about a decade ago and have multiple games going at once. What I enjoy about it is the cooperative, improvisational group storytelling form as well as the genre and tone of the games themselves. There’s nothing else that ignites my imagination the same way.

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Rereading your The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd I found it played with similar ideas as OMWOT. Government conspiracies, over the top sexualization and uber violence in the name of America, all seem to be there, just representing opposing sides of the coin. Was that comic the seed from which Terror Assaulter grew from? Or am I waaay off base?

The Maureen Dowd comic definitely wasn’t what I was thinking of when I conceived Terror Assaulter. But you’re right on; they do share a lot of themes and ideas despite being very different comics. When I made The Incredible Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd. I’d been reading a lot of Vince Flynn books and those had a big influence. Terror Assaulter was more inspired by movies, witnessing 9/11 and the decade of NeoCon foreign policy that followed, and conspiracy theories I’d been exposed to.

102You’ve worked with a lot of musicians over the years doing record covers and posters as well as a comic for the New York band, Naked Heroes. You also have used music in your comics (which is very hard) in extremely gratifying ways, like the rhymes Gangsta Rap Posse kick and the Ripper and Friends theme song (all of which I feel should be recorded at some point).  What role does music play in your work? Is it a major influence on you creatively?

I love music, but I don’t listen to it much. I put it in my comics when the story demands it, but I don’t actively try to weave it into my work. Music isn’t a huge influence on me creatively. However, music does offer a wonderful opportunity and canvas for illustration. I really enjoy working on album covers. When it’s working it feels great.

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I am openly jealous of your fashion sense and your ability to look good even as a Centaur. You’ve played with your “image” throughout the years, having posed for several amazing “artist/author” photos with many of your books and I was very happy to see these collected in American Blood also. Too many cartoonists take themselves too seriously. Is it important to you to take a piss like that and not take yourself so seriously? 

Yeah, it’s important to me not to take anything too seriously. When I did take art very seriously I found myself creating mental walls that I eventually had to knock down. I found myself creatively paralyzed and a perfectionist. I’m very serious about not taking things too seriously.

This is your second book with Fantagraphics, what has it been like working with them? Was this a relationship you sought after? Do you have plans to continue working with them?

It’s been a dream working with Fantagraphics. It’s not something I sought after. Working with Fantagraphics happened pretty organically over a few years. I do have plans to continue work with them. I’m working on my next book for them currently. I hope to have a large library of books with them in the near future.

 What are some of your favorite comics happening right now? Who are some artists you’d like to shine a light on that your audience might dig?

I mostly mine the comics of the past, so I don’t know about too much that’s going on these days. But I did love Wendy by Walter Scott. The next volume is due out next month if I’m not mistaken. Artists who’s work continually blows my mind are Ken Landgraf, as well as his collaborator John Jacobs, and Lawrence Hubbard, who’s Real Deal collection just came out. I saw some of Lawrence’s originals over the summer and I think seeing them in person forever changed me as an artist.

Do you have any dream projects (however unlikely) involving other people’s characters or properties?

For example I want to write a series of Troma comics involving several of their properties that various artists would then draw. Is there anything out there you wish you could get yer hands on? 

Not really. It would be fun to work on Jim Valentino-era Guardians of the Galaxy book, but I’d rather work on my own stories. I’ve got a queue of them in my brain and they all need to get out. I’d rather realize my visions than help someone else realize theirs.

night-business-cover

What’s next for Benjamin Marra?

Night Business. I’m finishing the series right now as a single, complete, 10-chapter volume. It’s due out next fall.

One last question… What is best in life?

Obviously, “to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women,” as Conan said. There is no other answer.

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The Shirley Jackson Project http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-shirley-jackson-project/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-shirley-jackson-project/#respond Thu, 03 Nov 2016 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=96700 Continue reading ]]> sjp-cover-fahyWhy celebrate Shirley Jackson? The question is an easy one, now—with the recent release of Ruth Franklin’s biography, A Rather Haunted Life—or any time. Jackson moved expertly between comedies of manners and tragedies of all sorts, writing short stories of great wit as well as novels of great dread. There is much to explore in The Haunting of Hill House, The Lottery and Other Stories, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and much to praise. But if the why of celebrating Shirley Jackson is easy, the how leads to more complicated questions, which Rob Kirby (a TCJ.com contributor) has navigated in compiling The Shirley Jackson Project.

Kirby’s tribute anthology was produced under one major constraint: Jackson’s estate holds the rights to her stories, precluding any straightforward adaptations. Many entries in the book are closer to meditations; the pieces will appeal most to existing converts, but they’re also evidence that these converts abound. Kirby, in his introduction, describes Jackson not as a horror writer—as she’s sometimes known—but as a writer interested in psychological states and psychological flux. This idea echoes throughout the anthology, especially in the autobiographical pieces (or comics that appear to be autobiographical). Several cartoonists use Jackson as a lens with which to examine fraught family dynamics and/or moments of instability in their younger years.

orner_sjpEric Orner’s “Brendan in the Jungle,” possibly the best of these entries, documents a long-distance correspondence with a friend who’s beginning to self-destruct (and who’s reading a Shirley Jackson collection as he does so). Orner includes specific scenes from this collapse along with discrete, related images, while anchoring his panels with a tight grid and alternating white and gray backgrounds. On its surface, his story has less to do with Jackson than most pieces in the book, but in fewer than ten pages, “Brendan” manages to cover transitions, manners, and death—and if a reader reduced Jackson’s work to three elements, it might be these. Jon Macy’s “Words of Fire” is a more straightforward but still affecting piece about art and abuse, in which Macy frankly and economically shares details of Jackson’s life and his own. Annie Murphy’s “Afraid of Ghosts” and Ivan Velez, Jr.’s “Hill House Ain’t Got Nuthin’ On Me!,” two other comics in the micro-memoir vein, are less satisfying reads, at least within the (literal, spatial) confines of the format. Velez, Jr.’s panels appear forcefully cropped, and both pieces feature cramped lettering, too tiny for the book’s trim size.

a-craw_sjpThe anthology doesn’t lack for humor, which is important—few readers would dispute Jackson’s power to disturb, but her writing can be quite funny too. Gabrielle Gamboa contributes “Recipes for your Demise,” a brief and enjoyably mean-spirited set of illustrated, capsules-sized notes on the real, historical hazards of foods mentioned in Jackson’s stories. Asher and Lillie Craw also cover Shirley Jackson and food—and the collection probably did not need this done twice, all things considered—but the more memorable of their two entries concerns “the hidden world of the buildings” in Jackson’s work. This comic devotes each of its pages to a different location, and each page reads like a cheeky but earnest micro-essay. Not to be outdone, curator Kirby and artist Michael Fahy provide a two-page index of Shirley Jackson archetypes, with Fahy’s coarse-looking portraits, wrought of rough lines and spot blacks, complementing the wit with which Kirby links together various Jackson characters.

One sign of a good anthology is that even the misfires are interesting, and this is true of The Shirley Jackson Project. “Merricat” by W. Woods posits a series of found sketches by Merricat Blackwood, of We Have Always Lived in the Castle—sort of a losing endeavor by default, as the novel itself takes a deep dive into Merricat’s interiority, but it’s still fun to see the choices made sketch by sketch. Jennifer Camper’s “The Guest Bathroom” begins another losing game, putting a Jackson-like figure in the center of its story about a gradual home invasion, and also adopting a Jackson-like voice for its captions. In other words, it’s particularly easy to measure this piece against Jackson’s own work. But Camper still boasts one of the collection’s most dexterous plot-level feats, weaving together strands of the Jackson stories “Like Mother Used to Make,” “Trial By Combat,” and “The Villager” within one comic.

In an irony Jackson might have appreciated, two of the most evocative pieces here are nearly (in the case of Robert Triptow’s “The Haunting of Fernwood Drive”) or entirely (Maggie Umber’s “The Tooth”) wordless. Triptow renders his comic in lush pencil and sticks to a first-person point of view. Like a few of the other pieces in the anthology, this one involves the veiled threat of parental menace and a move toward self-liberation. And although the comic would stand out for the novelty of the perspective alone, Triptow’s curious combination of this POV and the absence of dialogue or an inner monologue from the person whose view the reader inhabits makes for a unique blend of airiness and discomfort.

umber_sjpUmber’s “The Tooth” is presented as the centerpiece of the collection, or maybe it just asserts itself as such. Umber takes fragments of one of Jackson’s most hallucinatory stories and builds a visual tone poem from them. The comic isolates certain moments from Jackson’s original, about a woman traveling by night toward a dentist appointment, while maintaining the irresolute qualities of Jackson’s original. The blurred border between dreams and waking life, subjectivity and reality, is the substance of “The Tooth,” and Umber’s approach (brush pen on watercolor paper) serves this tension. Lines and objects lie on the page as if they will fade away if the reader’s gaze lingers—and lie by omission as well, each image sharing and concealing different parts of the story. Meanwhile, most consecutive panels fall far enough apart within the story’s timeline that performing closure becomes a bit like leaping across a series of widening puddles. Elusive but memorable, creepy but restrained, it’s a fine comic to anchor an anthology that honors Jackson by refusing to reduce her work to any one element.

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Get You Hence http://www.tcj.com/get-you-hence/ http://www.tcj.com/get-you-hence/#respond Thu, 03 Nov 2016 12:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96741 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews a new tribute anthology, The Shirley Jackson Project, edited by TCJ’s own Rob Kirby, and featuring artists such as Eric Orner, Jon Macy, Gabrielle Gamboa, and Maggie Umber, among others.

Kirby’s tribute anthology was produced under one major constraint: Jackson’s estate holds the rights to her stories, precluding any straightforward adaptations. Many entries in the book are closer to meditations; the pieces will appeal most to existing converts, but they’re also evidence that these converts abound. Kirby, in his introduction, describes Jackson not as a horror writer—as she’s sometimes known—but as a writer interested in psychological states and psychological flux. This idea echoes throughout the anthology, especially in the autobiographical pieces (or comics that appear to be autobiographical). Several cartoonists use Jackson as a lens with which to examine fraught family dynamics and/or moments of instability in their younger years.

Eric Orner’s “Brendan in the Jungle,” possibly the best of these entries, documents a long-distance correspondence with a friend who’s beginning to self-destruct (and who’s reading a Shirley Jackson collection as he does so). Orner includes specific scenes from this collapse along with discrete, related images, while anchoring his panels with a tight grid and alternating white and gray backgrounds. On its surface, his story has less to do with Jackson than most pieces in the book, but in fewer than ten pages, “Brendan” manages to cover transitions, manners, and death—and if a reader reduced Jackson’s work to three elements, it might be these.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Interviews & Profiles.
The Guardian profiles Lynda Barry.

“A parent company would buy the successful weekly papers in different towns, and the first thing they would do was kick out the cartoonists,” she says.

If saying things you shouldn’t say was what sparked Barry’s comic strip, it was likely also the thing that ended it: “For someone who had just acquired a weekly paper to have to read these really sad stories about childhood – I can understand why they would replace me with sudoku.”

Flood magazine talks to Julia Gfrörer about her new book, Laid Waste.

You’ve created a vivid picture of a medieval village and the people who populate it, but there’s plenty that’s strange here, too. How do you relate to this period of time?

It’s a fallacy to assume that our ancestors were enormously different from us, but inaccurate to imagine them being very like us, too. You sometimes get glimpses of things that are shockingly familiar—for example, an exhausted scribe noting in the corner of a manuscript page that his workday is almost over. But other things are very difficult for us to understand: it’s in vogue now to identify with historical witches and heretics, but we rarely see ourselves as the bigoted accuser.

The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Sean T. Collins.

—Misc. The cartoonist and animator Alex Fellows (Spain & Morocco) has recently lost his employment, and is selling art at very reasonable prices to help stay afloat.

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Long Days Wait http://www.tcj.com/long-days-wait/ http://www.tcj.com/long-days-wait/#respond Wed, 02 Nov 2016 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96766 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, I bring you my chat with Anya Davidson about all things Band for Life, as well as art and life and such topics that sprang to mind. Go out a buy everything you can by Anya. Here’s a bit from the interview:

I somehow don’t think Guntit is actually based on your own bands (or maybe….), but the member do fit some rock archetypes. Are you a reader of rock bios? If so, which is your fave?

The name Guntit is taken from a real band. Lale Westvind, Thomas Toye and Laura Perez Harris were all living in New York (Lale’s since moved to Philly) and they started a band. When I heard they were called Guntit I was like “that’s the best band name ever.” You know, the reason most of us start cartooning is we’re in grade school and we draw our teachers boning or something and our classmates think it’s hilarious so we keep at it. I wanted to make Lale, Tom and Laura chuckle, because they’re some of the coolest people on the planet, so I drew this proto Band For Life Strip and that’s how it started. But all the characters are fictional in the sense that they’re 95% me, a sprinkle of my friends and a sprinkle of observation out in the world. As far as band bios, yeah, I read Come as You Are, the Story of Nirvana when I was a kid and that was a big deal, and Confusion is Next, the Sonic Youth Story. Get in the Van, the Rollins one, is great. I read White Line Fever, by Lemmy, while I was on tour once. That’s a great one for reading in the car cause the type is huge. And Patti Smith’s memoirs. I don’t know if I have a favorite, although the Nirvana one turned me on to a lot of other music. I did very consciously set up a rivalry between Annimal, the drummer in my book, and Linda, the frontwoman. I’ve always hated the Rolling Stones, but I find the rivalry between Richards and Jagger really entertaining in a camp way. So I sprinkled some of that in. But it’s just a fact that bands have conflict. I don’t know if collaboration can exist without conflict.

Elsewhere:

Philip Guston’s masterful Nixon cartoons are going on view in NYC.

Alex Dueben interviews Paul Kirchner.

Fest news: Trendsetting festival TCAF is now working with the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival.

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A Chat with Anya Davidson http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-with-anya-davidson/ http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-with-anya-davidson/#comments Wed, 02 Nov 2016 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96228 Continue reading ]]> band-for-life-1

I am an unabashed fan of Anya Davidson’s work, which I first read in 2007. I loved working with her as an author, and published her first book, School Spirits, in 2013. Then, as now, she makes incredibly observant, funny, and generous comics. That last part is important. In all her many comics and zines, Anya seeks the best and most interesting of us and the world, though with an eye out for all that’s fucked up and mortifying. It’s a very delicate balance, and she never fails (no pressure there). Anyhow, I’m always amazed at how much she has to say, and doesn’t mind us listening, about her seemingly omnivorous set of interests.  Moreover, her comics are a joy to look at. Her thick-thin strokes dance on the page and her characters are always-recognizable graphic icons. Hers is a Kurtzman-esque cartooning technique that she can apply to any scenario of her choosing, though often with a SF undertone.

I read her new and wonderful book, Band for Life, in a few giant gulps. It charts the fortunes of the band Gun Tit, which is really an armature for her musings on culture, sex, money, love, and the weather. I love it. Anya will be at this week’s Comic Arts Brooklyn with a new zine, Golden Chimes and a new comic book, Lovers in the Garden. Go out and get her books.

Since we began talking about it a few weeks back in Chicago, I want to hear more. Tell me about your horse in Nova Scotia. And that lady, the one who looked after you.

I grew up on Prince Edward Island, which is near Nova Scotia-similar vibe but even smaller. Telling a Canadian you grew up on PEI is like telling an American you grew up in Arkansas. It’s not cool. I met a woman named Yogi Gamester. Actually, my parents must have met her and I’m not sure how. She’s incredible. She grew up exercising racehorses, traveled all over Canada. Ended up on PEI with a young child in a bad marriage. Got a divorce, was given some land in the settlement and built her own house. Then she started rescuing horses. On PEI, harness racing is a big deal, but any kind of racing is really brutal on horses. They start them too young, when their bones and tendons aren’t fully mature. They get terrible injuries and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Yogi started rescuing horses from the track, and taking in all kinds of unwanted horses and ponies. Last I knew she had over twenty. She teaches kids in the community to handle and ride the horses for practically nothing. My friends and I would ride all over the island on trails and dirt roads. We had complete freedom by age 9. We’d fall, we’d get fucked up, all the girls I met at Yogi’s grew up to be tough as nails. Yogi funds the whole thing with her own money, and a few donations. She works at the vet college in the shipping department, and I remember her taking us to the college to learn about horse parasites. We’d look at these giant jars full of parasites in formaldehyde, and watch movies about animal husbandry and eat pizza. She would often take in Dutch vet students. The Dutch are really serious about agriculture I think, which is why a lot of them come over to Canada. I’m starting to dredge up really old weird memories. Goddamn it, Dan. I’m conjuring up a handsome Dutch icthyologist and now I’m going to move on to another question. Oh, but you can check out her website here.

When did you discover music and begin performing?

I grew up crazy about music. First it was oldies, then it was ’70s hard rock, then it was grunge. Once I hit grunge, around age 12, I started reading about the bands I loved and learning that they’d been heavily influenced by punk. There was a record shop on the Island, Back Alley Discs. Chaz who ran the place started recommending me punk records. I had a best friend, Erin, who was obsessed too. Her mom worked at a nature store, and I remember we went down in the basement of the shop, where Erin would often hang out, and we put on Plastic Surgery Disasters. That was the first time I heard the Dead Kennedys. After that we went to a lot of shows, and started ordering 7-inches that sounded cool from distro catalogs. The zine Slug & Lettuce was huge for me. There was a small but active scene on the island. I didn’t start playing in a band (although I’d had some guitar lessons) until I was 18, and I moved to Chicago (from Nashville Tennessee. Long story.) for school. I met the members of Coughs, the band I was in throughout most of my 20s, at Food Not Bombs. They had a try-out and I became their singer.

What was the arc of Coughs? Sometimes people tell me Coughs was/is legendary. Tell me more.  

27338-500I’m not sure who you’ve been talking to. Did Ethan D’Ercole (killer screenprinter!) tell you Coughs was legendary? We were around for about six years, and we definitely had fans in Chicago, who were mostly other musicians who played in bands that we were fans of. We were on Load Records, with great bands like Lightning Bolt, Brainbombs, Sightings and Scissor Girls. We did two LPs with Load. LPs I’m still pretty proud of. We started out practicing in this basement at a place called the Creative Resistance Artist Collective and playing places like the A-Zone (Autonomous Zone), which was an anarchist space with a zine library, to playing clubs and more traditional venues. We toured a fair amount, east and West Coast, and right as we were breaking up we toured the UK. I’m so thankful for my time in that band. I got to see the world and meet people in contexts I never could have imagined. There were six of us, all really strong personalities. The members of Coughs are wilder, weirder and more brilliant than any fictional characters I could create. We were all really young when we joined the band, and some of us needed to leave Chicago and try other things. We’ve mostly all kept playing music.

I first heard of your work from CF and Carlos Gonzales back in 2007. How did you encounter those guys?

I met those guys on tour. Our first tour, I think, was the East Coast. Providence, New York, Boston. It’s very very foggy. I didn’t book the shows so I don’t know who the original contact was. All I know is that we showed up to Providence and I’d never heard of Fort Thunder and I had no idea that Olneyville was home to so many of the world’s most brilliant cartoonists. It was probably the single most formative experience of my life. I had brought a bunch of my own shitty zines on tour and they were so gracious. They were like “oh cool, you make comics. We make comics too.” They treated me like an equal, even though they were leaps and bounds ahead of me. It meant everything. If someone comes up to you with their shitty zine, treat them kindly, for fuck’s sake.

You are, despite your personal shyness, a natural performer. Do you miss the stage? What is the best show you ever saw?

I did miss it terribly but I’m in a new band With Conor Stechschulte and Chris Day, two amazing artists, and our pal Kenny Rasmussen on drums. I think we’re gonna be called Lilac. Fuck you, Kenny, we’re called Lilac now, OK? Deal with it. Just kidding. Kenny’s not gonna read this. He’s lucky–he’s not a cartoonist. It’s really really hard to find a group of people you connect with personally and musically. When you do it’s precious. It’s really hard to let go, and there’s a grieving process when you break up. Dude that “best show you ever saw” shit is impossible. I have favorite moments. I remember CF hanging from the rafters of the Che Cafe in San Diego. I remember Mindflayer playing at the Texas Ballroom, and XBXRX at the Fireside Bowl and Neptune at some club in Boston and the USA is a Monster in the basement at Mister City and Sisterfucker at the Mopery and the White Mice at some bizarre frat house in Philly and Tinsel Teeth at a warehouse space in Providence-not sure which one. Those are some stand-out moments.

band-for-life-181I somehow don’t think Guntit is actually based on your own bands (or maybe….), but the member do fit some rock archetypes. Are you a reader of rock bios? If so, which is your fave?

The name Guntit is taken from a real band. Lale Westvind, Thomas Toye and Laura Perez Harris were all living in New York (Lale’s since moved to Philly) and they started a band. When I heard they were called Guntit I was like, “that’s the best band name ever.” You know, the reason most of us start cartooning is we’re in grade school and we draw our teachers boning or something and our classmates think it’s hilarious so we keep at it. I wanted to make Lale, Tom and Laura chuckle, because they’re some of the coolest people on the planet, so I drew this proto-Band For Life strip and that’s how it started. But all the characters are fictional in the sense that they’re 95% me, a sprinkle of my friends and a sprinkle of observation out in the world. As far as band bios, yeah, I read Come as You Are, the Story of Nirvana when I was a kid and that was a big deal, and Confusion is Next, the Sonic Youth Story. Get in the Van, the Rollins one, is great. I read White Line Fever, by Lemmy, while I was on tour once. That’s a great one for reading in the car cause the type is huge. And Patti Smith’s memoirs. I don’t know if I have a favorite, although the Nirvana one turned me on to a lot of other music. I did very consciously set up a rivalry between Annimal, the drummer in my book, and Linda, the frontwoman. I’ve always hated the Rolling Stones, but I find the rivalry between Richards and Jagger really entertaining in a camp way. So I sprinkled some of that in. But it’s just a fact that bands have conflict. I don’t know if collaboration can exist without conflict.

I assume you like hippies and punks, but if you had to choose, which would you take, and body aside, which cultural parts?

r-1984967-1256753789-gifMy philosophy is perfectly illustrated by the cover of the LP by the band Uncurbed. It’s a picture of a bunch of half-clothed hippies in a commune, but the music on the record is just super nasty and crusty metallic hardcore. They have a song called Liberation Hippies and one called Party Punx. They got it right. Since the turn of the century there’s been an unbroken thread of counter-cultural activity and awareness. It takes different forms but the differences are mostly aesthetic. Progressives know that those boundaries are arbitrary, and divisive. Yeah-I get it-punks are supposed to hate hippies ‘cause hippies were all about doing drugs and burning out and they didn’t effect the social change they were supposed to, and it’s punk to hate your parents etc…The fact is, I hate all codified subcultures. I do and say and think what the fuck I want, and I dress however I want, and I recognize that everyone involved in any countercultural struggle is an ally. Janis Joplin was punk as fuck. Aesthetically I have to say my favorite decade is the 70’s.

Dogs. Tell me about dogs.

Dogs are disgusting and I wish I didn’t love them so much. Mine is getting old, which is really hard on a big dog. Her hind legs are getting weak. Pets are tragic.

Who do you think draws the best animals in comics?

I’ll tell you who draws the best animals but she’s not specifically a cartoonist. Kathleen Hale, author of the Orlando the Marmalade Cat series from the 1930-3-70’s. Her illustrations are stunning. Also, I’ve been reading about Jack Yeats, WB Yeats’ brother. He was an illustrator and cartoonist. He did a lot of drawings for this magazine called Paddock Life. His horses are amazing. So are Lautrec’s. There’s the whole school of “half animal, half people” cartooning. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat wins that contest. Brian Blomerth’s “Pups in Trouble” comics are lovely. Gilbert Shelton’s Wonder Warthog is great. Leslie Weibeler draws really good animals too.

Kathleen Hale, A Bicycle Made for Five, circa 1938.

Kathleen Hale, A Bicycle Made for Five, circa 1938.

Do you have any experience with the prison system?

No, and I felt a little weird about representing it, even briefly, in my book. I was institutionalized as a teen after a suicide attempt. That was my only experience of being held against my will, and having no autonomy whatsoever. Being told what to wear, being physically restrained etc… But I know it’s far different-I would never compare that experience to what people deal with in prison. I think our prison system is racist and irreparably flawed, and that it needs to be dismantled. I had my characters meet in prison because I wanted to illustrate their inability to function in conventional society, but one is coming from a place of uncontrolled, self- destructive anger and the other is acting specifically in protest. And there’s a B movie “women in prison” trope that I wanted to explore, because the book is very much about loving trash culture. Specifically Reform School Girls with Wendy O Williams, who’s a hero of mine.


band-for-life-215Do you care about artistic communities? Do they matter?

Yeah. I’ve always been interested in the idea of intentional communities. I’ve never tried living in a communal setting but I can tell you my personality really wouldn’t jive with it. I love hearing about Ida, for instance, the intentional queer community in Tennessee. I have some friends in New Mexico who all bought land right next to each other and are building Earth ships. They’re heroes. I’m an only child and I grew up pretty solitary. I’m not great at sharing, and I like to work alone. But I live within walking distance of  friends, and I love being in close proximity to them. It’s a fact that I would have nothing without the artists I’ve met over the years. Artistic community has really been everything to me.

Do you think we need a more robust ecosystem for comics? You seem pretty self-sufficient — always have — but do you feel like there’s a place where your work goes and reaches an audience?

I don’t know Dan. I mean, it’s easy to romanticize the days when print was stronger and there were more paying venues for cartoonists and illustrators. I’m really wary of nostalgia, and I can’t say if that was a better time because I wasn’t there. But yeah, I wish there was more distribution for comics these days, and I wish there were more newspapers and magazines that paid artists. I don’t think there’s much of an audience for my work, and I don’t care. You know what there is an audience for? Books about weddings and food. Pictures of cats in funny costumes. Pictures of celebrities at the beach. That’s OK. This world is absolutely, unconscionably terrifying. If you’ve had a hard day and you want to look at a picture of a butt in a thong, I’ll be the last person to criticize. The people who appreciate my work seem to find it. That’s amazing, and I’m very thankful. I’m obsessed with the book No Hidden Meanings by Sheldon Kopp. It’s kind of an atheist’s bible. It’s a list of precepts. 12, 13 and 14 say it all. “It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.” “You don’t really control anything.” “You can’t make anyone love you.”

bandfinal178Is page 178 basically your daily dilemma? 

Yes 100%. Being an artist can seem frivolous in light of how much healing the world needs. And I’m constantly being reminded of how insignificant I am, and how small the audience is for my work, and agonizing over whether I should have become a therapist or a teacher or a ceramicist. But I do think art is a necessity. I think it’s a spiritual need for human beings. I mean, there was a lot going on thirty-thousand years ago. You wouldn’t think that Paleolithic people would have a pressing need to paint horses and rhinos in the Chauvet cave but there they are. They had religious significance, they were an attempt to understand and influence the natural world. Am I comparing the success of my work to that of the Chauvet cave? Fuck no. I’m just saying that some people are compelled to make art and I’m one of them and I wish I could stop but I can’t. There’s also a part in the book where Linda says “sometimes I feel like I’m not living up to my full potential and other times I’m just thankful I’m not lying in a ditch drinking paint thinner.” That’s me too. Sometimes I’m just amazed I didn’t have to be institutionalized for my entire life. My psyche is kinda fragile. I think I’m doing the best I can.

Your comics have always been amazingly hopeful right alongside the crotchety humor. What gives you such optimism?

I’m very privileged.  I’ve had so much love and support from family and friends. I truly know what it feels like to give and receive love. I know the power of love. Plus, check out Kopp’s precepts #23, 24 and 25: “Progress is an illusion” “Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.” “Yet it is necessary to keep on struggling toward solution.” “

band-for-life-162It strikes me that you’re doing a kind of slice o’ life comics almost like American Splendor or something. Whatever comes to mind comes out of the character’s mouths. They are distinctly characters, but you channel your observations through them. They all can’t help but comment on everything from age to sex to urban life. Why funnel that through these monster/SF characters?

Ha! I’ve been asking myself the same thing. I thought for a while that it was more interesting to draw monsters than people, but I’m starting to change my tune. I wanted it to be a visual joke, really deadpan. I thought the incongruity would be funny-that you see these outrageous looking characters talking about really mundane shit. I was influenced by Melvin Monster, which you turned me onto, where there’s a monster world and a human world and the fabric between them is really thin and porous, and you can kind of step back and forth between them. And I was tremendously influenced by Brinkman and Chippendale, who do a lot of that. And I wanted to make a joke about the B movie “monsters and babes” trope, where the slimy monster carries off this gorgeous babe. I thought, “what if the monster and the babe lived happily ever after, in a really egalitarian relationship?” And then I got frustrated, ‘cause I was like “how can I address these really pressing, real-world issues like killer racist cops, if everyone’s green and orange etc…” That’s why I chose to try a different approach with Lovers in the Garden, my book that’s coming out from Retrofit in November.

band-for-life-89I was struck that by how casually you set up relationships between different species/same sexes, etc. And that they are all based on intense conversations and proclamations. It brings to mind, actually. Philip Roth, who you reference. Tell me about depicting love/sex/devotion. And Roth, too? 

I often wish that I was better at depicting sex explicitly. You know who’s incredible at that? Conor Stechschulte. His Generous Bosom  comics depict the weirdness and mechanics of sex so explicitly and brilliantly. Relationships and sex always surprise me. The way you can find yourself profoundly attracted to someone with whom you have nothing in common. The way you can be madly in love with someone you’re not attracted to. How you can end up in bed with someone unexpectedly. How you can be tormented for years with dreams about an ex, even in a happy relationship. It was important to me to try and depict devotion because capitalist culture always wants you to be looking at young flesh, new flesh. It’s kind of subversive to try and figure out how non-traditional couples can survive and thrive over the long term. I read some Philip Roth right after college. Portnoy’s Complaint, Exit Ghost, Goodbye Columbus. I tried to read Our Gang but couldn’t get into it. I liked Portnoy’s Complaint a lot but the Breast is my favorite. It’s such a stupid idea-this man physically becomes a breast. It’s in the tradition of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Gogol’s The Nose, so there’s definitely a precedent, but it’s so outrageous and he plays it so straight and it ends up being profoundly affecting. He takes his outrageous premise seriously and pushes it as far as it can possibly go. That’s what great sci-fi writers do. And I applaud his agenda-I read that he was really into busting up the stereotype of the effete Jewish intellectual man. He wanted to give Jewish men their sexuality back. That’s hot. 

band-for-life-142Tell me about your SF love. It’s been present the last few years in force. It seems both literary and visual and musical. What regions does it space? Like, concept records, Star Trek, LeGuin, etc?

My Sci-Fi love is deep and wide and all-encompassing, and has been ever since I can remember. David Cronenberg is probably my favorite director. His movies have this incredibly astute psychological sensibility-Movies like The Brood and Dead Ringers really tackle the horror of living in a female body in a way that few directors can match. I love Rodney Matthews and Roger Dean as psychedelic sci-fi album cover artists, and Robert Beatty is carrying on that tradition. I love Space is the Place, the Sun Ra movie, and everything about George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and the artists they worked with like Pedro Bell, Overton Lloyd and Ronald “Stozo” Edwards. Star Trek is perfect-As a kid I watched the original series. Battlestar Galactica is a huge favorite. Farscape is the best. I like the Left Hand of Darkness a lot. I was really into Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy and the Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk as a teenager. The Fifth Sacred Thing is interesting because it’s one of the few novels that imagines what a utopian futuristic community would look like. It’s a lot of guilt-free group sex and crystal healing which, come on, who doesn’t want that? I’m fascinated with Martine Rothblatt and other transhumanists, even though I think transhumanism is fatally flawed for reasons I won’t go into here. I’m not so much into hard sci-fi like Asimov and stuff. I can appreciate that stuff but I’m more into the psychological drama of space travel, and the ways we can use sci-fi to better understand our present. And I’m in love with Lane Milburn, who’s a sci-fi cartoonist. Sometimes he wakes up and tells me he’s dreamt about space colonies, or just flying through the vastness of space. I think he might have traveled here from another dimension.

This book is a collection of serialized strips — so nearly every strip has a punchline. Was that a challenge you made for yourself? To tell complete vignettes in each strip rather than focus exclusively on serialization?

No no that was all dictated to me by Nick Gazin, the comics editor at VICE, where the strip first appeared. He explicitly stated that every strip should end with a cliffhanger or a punchline. The whole form of the book-the fact that the story is told in strips, is because of the parameters around that gig. Even after the strip got axed from VICE I maintained that format because it was a really interesting challenge. I still don’t know if I’m funny, but I entertain myself. Sheldon Kopp, precept #30: “We have only ourselves, and one another. That might not be much, but that’s all there is.”

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Your palette reminds me in some ways of all things great and glorious about our lord and savior Karl Wirsum. You come to color (I guess) as a print maker. How’s the difference like between printing color and using markers?

Karl Wirsum is a divine being, and I think he was super influenced by advertising, sign painting and other mass-distributed print media. I definitely come to my palette through printmaking, specifically 4 color process printing, or CMYK printing. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, key. Key is usually black. And then you get great secondary colors when you overlap those primary colors. Markers don’t have the same flatness, and I cheated. I had, like, a few different blues, I had a red marker and a magenta marker. I didn’t limit my palette quite as much as I do when I’m printmaking, but it’s still pretty limited.

Also: Replacements or Husker Du or both? There’s no wrong answer. 

Husker Du. Zen Arcade is such a genius record. This might be controversial, but I just can’t get into the Replacements.

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