The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:10:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.4 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 Smaller Size http://www.tcj.com/smaller-size/ http://www.tcj.com/smaller-size/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100359 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here this morning with his usual guide to the Week in Comics!, pointing out the most interesting-sounding comics new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include two must-read titles: Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #6 and Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. Joe also talks a little about Frédéric Coché.

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. AIGA profiles Eleanor Davis.

Sketchiness, though, is integral to the impact of the work. The loose hand echoes the movement of Davis on her bike: her outlines are like that of a cyclist passing you by—fast, evocative, and a quick impression of shape and energy. As Davis’ recent comics deal with themes of sadness and mental health—her lauded 2014 How To Be Happy is an abstract collection of short stories that explore depression’s many forms—there is also something freeing in the looseness of the sketches in You & A Bike & A Road. In the story, Davis addresses the fact that the journey is, in part, a way to keep depression at bay. “I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling,” she writes on one page. The form of her drawing, its lightness, seems to reject the weight of crippling sadness, just as the process of cycling does for Davis.

The Wall Street Journal profiles former Vertigo/new Dark Horse editor Karen Berger.

The most recent guest on the RiYL podcast is Josh Bayer, and the latest on Process Party is Keith Knight.

—Reviews & Commentary. Bob Temuka writes about the latest Love & Rockets.

The smaller format means there is a smaller chunk of story, and Love and Rockets Magazine #2 features bite-sized slices of both brothers’ ongoing sagas, taking a few steps forward and underlying the slightness of the plotting with a couple of devastating emotional truths. So, same as it ever was, then.

Attempted Bloggery has posted a New York Times article first published twenty years ago, when Bob Mankoff first took over as the magazine’s cartoons editor.

At the same time, the definition of a New Yorker cartoon has changed over the last decade. Its principle characteristic, what has been called a kind of “wink-slash-smirk” humor tailored to Manhattan sensibilities, has been transformed into something a little more generally accessible.

And, some critics say, while New Yorker cartoons of past decades can still elicit grins, many recent ones are so dependent on the moment that they may not last.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/26/17 – Here be lions.) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-42617-here-be-lions/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-42617-here-be-lions/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100337 Continue reading ]]>

I’m not excitable enough to declare anything the reprint of the year in April, but let’s just say I was VERY glad to discover Frémok has issued a new edition of Hortus Sanitatis, a rare early work from the artist Frédéric Coché – early enough that its 2000 initial edition was specifically published by Fréon, the Belgian art comics concern which subsequently merged with the French publisher Amok to form Frémok. I first discovered Coché’s work through Frémok’s 2005 release of The Hero’s Life and Death Triumphant, a very mysterious and unsettling bilingual French-English graphic novel formed from titled sequences of metal engravings. Hortus Sanitatis, its title taken from a natural history encyclopedia with origins in the 15th century. functions in much the same way, though its story is completely wordless. At 48 pages, it is also much shorter, and perhaps more manageable; created for a millennial program marking the city of Brussels’ status as “the designated European capital of culture,” as a short text in the back relates, the comic follows a sort of roving medieval celebration, with a skull-headed actor bringing death to all revelers in his path (to the delight of surrounding celebrants) until he encounters a pregnant woman evoking the Virgin Mary whose body provokes a nuclear/angelic reaction with the death figure’s sword, plunging him into despair as the city around them blossoms into a new, surreal, phallic, pagan state.

If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see that several of the panels have what I’ll call ‘superimposed’ figures, though I don’t really know the proper term of art here. Echo images, depicting the same figures in different positions, or sometimes different locations, as if gesturing toward a forgotten and overwritten history; certainly, this foregrounds the manufacture of the prints themselves as a human effort, along with the fact that a thick white border surrounds the inky pages, as if they’ve been laid on a clean table for perusal in an exhibition. Coché does not always publish work in this style – his 2008 book Hic Sunt Leones divides oil paintings into four-panel arrangements, sometimes accompanied or overlapped by word forms in various languages. All of this work, however, seems to speak of a history in disarray, a chaotic body of interpretation harboring the glimmer of what we once assumed was divinity…

***

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

***

SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Crickets #6: Man, what’s with all the magazine-sized comic books lately? No complaints from me, though – my Ignatz collection desires for the company of peers. Also, I would never turn down a comic this good; we’ve got a real Best of 2017 contender here, In My Opinion, as Sammy Harkham unveils his 48-page latest, most of it comprised of chapter 4 (of a projected 6) of “Blood of the Virgin”, his fictional and altogether absorbing account of low-budget horror movie-making in the American 1970s. There’s plenty of trouble in store for harried editor-cum-writer-turned-director Seymour, rapidly nearing a personal meltdown… if you’ve seen Hang Loose, the short film Harkham wrote and directed with Patrick Brice, you’ve caught a glimpse of the self-destructive masculinity which permeates these events. Plus: a short adaptation of poetry by Francis Edward Ledwidge (from the 2014 First Second anthology Above the Dreamless Dead), several letters, and a hidden message of sedition. Published by the Commonwealth Comics Company, and distributed to comic book stores by Fantagraphics; $8.00.

One! Hundred! Demons!: A reissue, yes, but special attention should nonetheless be paid to this 2002 release from Lynda Barry, a fervently-admired (and perhaps not so widely-read) book that seemed like the grand testament to her talent prior to the welcome swelling of interest subsequent to 2008’s What It Is and the artist’s educational pursuits. Now published by Drawn and Quarterly, the 224-page color work lays out over a dozen vignettes of “the life moments that haunt you, form you and stay with you.” A 9.5″ x 6″ hardcover. Samples; $21.95.

PLUS!

Hostage: This is another D&Q release, one that’s had an author’s tour announcement on the publisher’s front page for long enough that I mistakenly thought the full title was “Hostage on Tour” for a while, i.e. until five minutes ago. I still kinda like it. But anyway, this 436-page(!) blue, white and black hardcover sees artist Guy Delisle depict the 1997 kidnapping and confinement of a Doctors Without Borders admin in the Caucasus region, primarily (it seems) to communicate the experience of being imprisoned and alone for prolonged periods. Released in French in 2016, this marks a turn of Delisle’s nonfiction focus away from periods in his life, while presumably maintaining some sense of the specificity of time and place that has brought him renown, even if that place is a small room. Preview; $29.95.

Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special: By god, I remember buying the first issue of Street Angel with its salmon cover and the SLG logo in 2004 – at one point the story obliquely name-checked Wilkes-Barre, PA, the city where I went to college, and I wondered who the fuck Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca were. I’m still wondering about Maruca, come to think of it, but Rugg has long since emerged as an expert practitioner of personalized action comics and a keen student of historical funnybook textures – qualities well-known today through the works of artists like Tom Scioli, Michel Fiffe and Ed Piskor. Now, Jesse Sanchez — the titular Street Angel, homeless teen martial arts master — finds herself in the front of Previews courtesy of Image, which publishes this 40-page color special as an 8.5″ x 12″ hardcover album. Samples; $19.99.

Splitting Image 80-Page Giant: I remember buying this too. Or, rather, my beloved late great aunt (who’d been reading comics since the Harold H. Knerr Katzenjammer Kids in the Great Depression and helped teach me to read via Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse reprints) bought it for me I was 11 years old and crazy about the new Image superheroes like Shadowhawk and the Savage Dragon. Written and drawn by Don Simpson, Splitting Image was a two-issue parody of the foundation of Image, published by Image itself, lampooning both the personalities of the Image founders as well as the early Image comics; I can still recall Dale Keown’s Pitt, ‘after a long night of battling evil corporations,’ searching the urban jungle for a public restroom… a Pitt Stop, y’see. Also included in this squarebound commemorative reprint (Image being 25 years old this year) is the entirety of the 1994 normalman-Megaton Man one-shot, in which comedy superhero-or-thereabout characters devised by Simpson and Image’s Jim Valentino clash in a scenario concocted by the creators with help from Bob Burden (Flaming Carrot Comics) and Larry Marder (Tales of the Beanworld); $7.99.

Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 (of 4) (&) Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #1 (of 4): Two beginnings for new miniseries by artists known for severe detail. Dead Orbit is written and drawn by James Stokoe, of self-started projects like Wonton Soup and Orc Stain, but maybe better-known now for another auteurist licensed comic, Godzilla: The Half-Century War. This one may bring back memories of some of the odder, seemingly hands-off movie tie-in comics Dark Horse used to release, like the time Jim Woodring & Justin Green wrote an Aliens comic for F. Solano López (Aliens: Kidnapped, 1997-98). Britannia is a Valiant comic, albeit not set in the Valiant superhero world (or, not as far as I can tell); it’s the work-for-hire creation of writer Peter Milligan and artist Juan José Ryp, the latter known for a Moebius/Geof Darrow-informed approach emphasizing noise and fury waist-high in pits of gore, when not lunging into the outright pornographic. That said, 2016’s original Britannia miniseries (the concept concerns the investigations of a detective-of-sorts in the days of the Roman Empire) saw Ryp unusually restrained, almost in the manner of an audition for handsome bande dessinée historical adventure work – some rather muted colors by Jordie Bellaire further calmed the look. I think the whole team returns for this sequel, so we’ll see what happens; $3.99 (each).

Her Bark and Her Bite: Don’t know much about this. A Top Shelf/IDW release, it’s apparently the debut graphic novel by James Albon, a British illustrator. A woman becomes resentful of her boyfriend’s affection for his new dog in a 72-page story set in a world of high-society glamor. Lots of colored pencils and some un-paneled layouts going by the samples, kind of a less-controlled Eleanor Davis, to hazard a meager comparison; $9.99.

The Book of Chaos: Not ringing a bell either, though I have a little context – it’s a new Humanoids release from writer Xavier Dorison, who collaborated with the artist Christophe Bec on a previous Humanoids series titled Sanctum, as well as with Mathieu Lauffray on Long John Silver, which Cinebook has in English. In French, he recently wrote a Thorgal album for that series’ co-creator Grzegorz Rosinski. This one is an earlier (if overlapping) work with Lauffray, a 2000-14 supernatural adventure series titled Prophet in French, presumably re-titled to reduce confusion with SF comics around here. Probably makes for a lush production, 9.4″ x 12.6″ in hardcover, 216 color pages; $39.95.

Star Hawks Vol. 1 (of 3) (&) Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48: A pair of interesting newspaper strip reprints here. Star Hawks came relatively late to the world of new adventure strips, launching in 1977 from creators Ron Goulart & Gil Kane as a unique double-sized two-tier daily; Goulart was succeeded by a number of writers, including Archie Goodwin, while Kane received some assistance from Ernie Colón and Howard Chaykin. IDW collects 320 pages of the SF project at one installment per page, so as to best serve its unusual visual approach. Dan Dunn is also an IDW release, also presented at one strip per page, but that’s because it’s vol. 10 in the Library of American Comics Essentials sub-series, which specializes in printing noteworthy (but maybe not *extremely* salable) selections from out of a feature’s wider run in just that format. The work of artist Norman W. Marsh, Dan Dunn originated as “Detective Dan”, a 1933 original tabloid comic, anticipating the all-new contents of comic books a few years later, starting with New Fun. By the end of ’33, though, Dan Dunn had become a proper newspaper strip, serving up crime-smashing drama not entirely unlike that of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which had debuted in ’31. At 344 pages, the IDW book presents the first year of dailies; $39.99 (Star Hawks), $29.99 (Dan Dunn).

W.B. DuBay’s The Rook Archives Vol. 1: Of the 1970s mainstream comic book heroes, I don’t think very many people recall the Rook today, but for a while the time-traveling gunslinger character epitomized the Warren b&w magazines’ status as a counter-mainstream to the smaller, color superhero comics; while still ostensibly a horror anthology, Eerie in particular began to feature recurring characters and long serials less beholden to horror genre specifics than informed by a sense of brooding fatalism. The Rook eventually became a freestanding anthology magazine of the same title, but these 128 pages — a Dark Horse hardcover presentation at 8″ x 10″ — originate in 1977-78 issues of Eerie, the stories written by Bill DuBay (also an editor at Warren) with contributions by Budd Lewis and Jim Stenstrum. Luis Bermejo, one of many Spanish talents active in the American b&w mags at the time, is the dedicated artist here; $19.99.

The Draw of Sport: We conclude this week with a Fantagraphics release devoted to the art of sports cartooning, a practice familiar to anyone who’s researched the origins of newspaper comic strips, not not nearly so well-represented in contemporary print. Murray Olderman has been writing and drawing about sports since the 1940s, and this 7″ x 9″, 200-page hardcover offers 150 illustrations of athletes active during his career, with accompanying personal takes related in prose; $24.99.

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Interesting Nonetheless http://www.tcj.com/interesting-nonetheless/ http://www.tcj.com/interesting-nonetheless/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100327 Continue reading ]]> Our friend Ken Parille has joined us again with a fascinating column that begins with lettering and winds its way into Roy Lichtenstein. 

When I started reading Marvel comic books in the 1970s, I was baffled by the lettering. While it didn’t appear to be typeset, the dialogue, narration, and sound effects looked too perfect to be done by hand. I was sure that the letterers must have had some help — maybe a weird mechanical device controlled their fingers as they worked. How else, I thought, could they form the thousands of words in a comic book’s balloons and caption boxes with such precision and consistency? Years later I learned — with some amazement, and a little disappointment — that no strange machines were involved. Letterers typically used a plastic “Ames Guide,” T-square, and pencil to create reference lines for words inked freehand. Like the artists who drew a comic’s pictures, letterers worked on pages much larger than the book’s printed size. When the original art was photographed and reduced during production, guide lines and other imperfections vanished, leaving behind only the letterer’s calligraphy.

I especially loved the lettering in Marvel’s early superhero comics. Often done by Artie Simek or Sam Rosen, it looked much stronger than other companies’ text, giving the characters’ already bombastic pronouncements an even greater sense of drama.

Yet I had the impression that, of all the people involved in comic-book production, letterers were considered the least important, not only by fans, but by the companies who hired them. In some of the story credits he wrote, Marvel’s Stan Lee would praise the art (and his own scripts) as “daring” or “vigorous” and then make a joke about the letterer, whose name always appeared last: “lettered with a soggy penpoint by S. Rosen.”

After reading many credits like this — and noticing that letterers regularly went unnamed in other companies’ comics — I got the message. In the comic-book production hierarchy, lettering took last place.

Kind of a slow comics news weekend as near as I can tell, so I’ll just leave you with this Tom Spurgeon interview with cartoonist Joe Decie.

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Lichtenstein and the Art of Letters      http://www.tcj.com/lichtenstein-and-the-art-of-letters/ Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100040 Continue reading ]]> When I started reading Marvel comic books in the 1970s, I was baffled by the lettering. While it didn’t appear to be typeset, the dialogue, narration, and sound effects looked too perfect to be done solely by hand. I was sure that the letterers must have had some help — maybe a weird mechanical device controlled their fingers as they worked. How else, I thought, could they form the thousands of words in a comic book’s balloons and caption boxes with such precision and consistency? Years later I learned — with some amazement, and a little disappointment — that no strange machines were involved. Letterers typically used a plastic “Ames Guide,” T-square, and pencil to create reference lines for words inked freehand. Like the artists who drew a comic’s pictures, letterers worked on pages much larger than the book’s printed size. When the original art was photographed and reduced during production, guide lines and other imperfections vanished, leaving behind only the letterer’s calligraphy.

I especially loved the lettering in Marvel’s early superhero comics. Often done by Artie Simek or Sam Rosen, it looked much stronger than other companies’ text, giving the characters’ already bombastic pronouncements an even greater sense of drama:

Letters by Artie Simek, from Daredevil #21 (1966). © Marvel Comics.

Yet I had the impression that, of all the people involved in comic-book production, letterers were considered the least important, not only by fans, but by the companies who hired them. In some of the story credits he wrote, Marvel’s Stan Lee would praise the art (and his own scripts) as “daring” or “vigorous” and then make a joke about the letterer, whose name always appeared last: “lettered with a soggy penpoint by S. Rosen.”

Title-page credits from Daredevil #13 (1965).  © Marvel Comics.

After reading many credits like this — and noticing that letterers regularly went unnamed in other companies’ comics — I got the message. In the comic-book production hierarchy, lettering took last place.

Though histories of comics focus on artists, writers, and editors, letterers played a crucial role in developing and expanding the aesthetic that defines the classic American comic book: oversized sound effects, text in capital letters, copious words in bold, sentences ending in ellipses or large exclamation points (seldom in the mundane, undramatic period). The power of the best mid- and late-century comics comes not only from the artist’s bold visuals, but from the writer’s prose as rendered in a strong, precise, and easily-readable hand.

Letters by Sam Rosen, from Daredevil #58 (1969). © Marvel Comics.

Despite Lee’s occasional jokes about letterers, he understood their significance and preferred to hire those whose force and clarity matched the drawings of the artists they worked with, innovators such as Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, and Steve Ditko. And it was often letterers, not artists, who created a comic book’s all-important title logo, a design element almost as significant as a superhero’s costume.

1968 ad for Beware the Creeper #4, with ad lettering and cover lettering by Gaspar Saladino. © DC Comics.

**

I didn’t see Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book paintings until long after I read my first comic, but I sensed he was drawn to the same amped-up visuals that I was. While comics could be pure kitsch, like other pulp fictions they could express emotions in moving, if at times blunt ways. Wanting to access this energy, Lichtenstein appropriated comic-book panels he described as “highly charged,” an emotional response partially generated by the imagery’s connection to his life. Having served in Europe during World War II, he was fascinated by war comics, and the sources for his “crying women” paintings, critics have claimed, often play out his troubled relationship with his then-wife; when a comic-book source featured a brunette, Lichtenstein often turned her blonde, like his wife. As Adam Gopnik rightly notes, Lichtenstein’s changes made his “images more like the comics than the comics were themselves.”(1) The artist thickened objects’ black outlines, brightened colors, and eliminated details, acts that clarified and exaggerated the originals’ graphic sensibility. But, puzzlingly, he took the opposite approach to lettering, making it less comics-like. He often ignored the originals’ careful spacing, placement, and design, all of which gave comic-book text a near machine-like accuracy and authority. Though Lichtenstein’s visuals magnify comics’ “highly charged” pop-art vibe, his lettering frequently weakens it, obscuring traces of his works’ pulp origin. To put it another way, Lichtenstein’s lettering sometimes looks kind of sloppy.

The artist has cast such a shadow that nowadays, when many people think of classic American comics imagery, they imagine, not actual comic-book panels, but Lichtenstein’s paintings and their countless pop-culture parodies. The same holds true, it seems, for comic-book publishers. Rather than dig into the company’s vast archive of romance comics for inspiration, the 2015 cover for Marvel’s Secret Love looked to Lichtenstein, especially for its lettering:

Art by David Nakayama. © Marvel Comics.

When I think about Lichtenstein’s art, I can’t help but recall what’s missing: the carefully composed, artful lettering on display in his comic-book sources. Perhaps Lichtenstein should have recruited master letterers such as Marvel’s Simek or Rosen.

**

The comics Lichtenstein appropriated were created with an aesthetic and through a printing process that emphasized the primacy of black lines. A panel’s objects were defined by strong black ink outlines that easily distinguished them from the color background, an instant legibility also shared by the text’s black all-capital letters. This mutual reliance on black marks establishes an important visual connection between a comic’s words and its pictures, a relationship apparent in this Gaspar Saladino-lettered and Irv Novick-drawn panel from a 1962 war comic:

© DC Comics.

Lichtenstein revised this image for Whaam! (1963), his best-known work:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

In Lichtenstein’s painting, unlike its source, the imagery’s thick black line work threatens to overwhelm the narrow, almost wobbly narration lettering. Even at the painting’s large size, the thin text skews the original comic’s word-image balance: the proportions are off. When compared to bold contours of the jet and the explosion, Whaam!’s narration, in which letters crowd together, reads like a tentative italics, the wrong format for such stark imagery. And while all of the source’s lines of text are parallel to the panel’s rectangular border, some of Lichtenstein’s lines (especially “through the sky”) slant toward the bottom right. The yellow text-box’s placement, which differs considerably from its source’s location, also makes for an odd design element: its left side merges into the jet’s tail, awkwardly blending diegetic and non-diegetic features. All of these questionable choices work against the blunt clarity central to post-war comic-book lettering design. When designing Whaam!, maybe Lichtenstein should have studied Saladino more carefully.(2)

In the first panel of his triptych As I Opened Fire (1964), Lichtenstein magnifies the pop power of this Jerry Grandenetti image from All American Men of War:

© DC Comics.

He intensifies its stylization by eliminating the plane’s nickname and the engine’s exhaust pipes:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Flat grey areas become silver, red, and blue; the propeller blades transform into a bold circular design; and the sound effect and its exclamation point swell. But, as in Whaam!, the artist seems less invested in his narration lettering, deemphasizing its compositional role by shrinking the letters’ proportions as well as their rectangular caption box, which has too much empty space on the right side. The reedy text looks like that found in comics produced by companies whose standards — and production budgets — were far lower than Marvel’s and DC’s. Needing to crank out page after page in order to eke out a living, these publishers’ letterers sometimes rushed through their work.

Though most of the era’s comics were hand-lettered, a few companies deviated from this practice to save money. Charlton’s Drag-Strip Hotrodders #16 (1967) accurately credits the text to “A. Machine.”

Like many of his Pop-Art peers, Lichtenstein sought to bring a machine-like industrial aesthetic to fine art, exaggerating the look generated by the limitations of commercial printing. But if he desired a “technical, almost engineering” appearance, as he often said, lettering like that in Whaam! and As I Opened Fire defeats it. Despite being hand-lettered, the source text looks far more engineered than Lichtenstein’s words. In this detail from the drawing I Know . . . Brad (1963), Lichtenstein makes what any comic-book editor would consider several mistakes, flaws that bring unwanted attention to the lettering. The “I” starts too close to the balloon’s edge and the spacing between “I” and “Know” and “Feel” and “Brad” is awkwardly inconsistent.

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

The distance between the “M” and the balloon’s left side and the gap between the exclamation point and the balloon’s right side differ dramatically. The top oval of the thought balloon’s tail pushes near the “RA” in “BRAD” and the lettering slopes to the lower right, out of alignment with the image’s horizontal lines, such as those that form the blinds and window sash.

By the end of the second line of text, there’s more trouble. Lichtenstein fails to leave room for the exclamation point, the most important punctuation mark in American comics history: its excessive use signifies comic’s pulpy, commercial theatricality. Having backed himself into a corner, he compromises by cramming in a tiny exclamation point that’s incongruous with the character’s melodramatic expression. (Here, as in Whaam! and elsewhere, some of his letterforms use strange proportions: the “R,” for example, features an over-sized enclosed space and a very short leg.)

Lichtenstein’s 1963 Image Duplicator: A study in awkwardly spaced, crowded lettering and inconsistent letterforms (the “G” is particularly unattractive). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Invested primarily in the meanings of Lichtenstein’s text rather than its design, art critics frequently discuss the complex semantic interaction between his paintings’ words and imagery but pay little attention to the lettering itself, especially to the kinds of problems affecting works like 1964’s I Know . . . Brad:

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein followed by his source.

The last period in the ellipsis crowds the balloon’s right border (compare this spacing with that before the “M”) and the thought balloon’s bubble tail comes closer to the text than a skilled letterer would place it. He messes with another consistency rule when he creates the peculiar spacing before and after the apostrophe (it’s closer to”Brad” than to “feel”), a flaw especially apparent when compared to the original’s conventional layout.

Viewing Brattata (1962) along with its Russ Heath-illustrated source reveals more of the issues that affect both versions of I Know . . . Brad:

Lichtenstein followed by Heath. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein; © DC Comics.

In Lichtenstein, lines of narration crowd each other and creep over the panel border on the left edge, but not the right. The dialogue threatens the word balloon’s boundaries, the spacing between words changes randomly, and the thin sound effect looks bland, lacking the original’s cartoony style. Based on a George Tuska Buck Rodgers comic-strip panel, Lichtenstein’s Emeralds (1961)

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

also suffers from placement and punctuation glitches (e.g., the undersized apostrophes), along with erratic shifts in the letters’ heights. His shaky, inconsistent text often looks like it was created without the help of guide lines.

The source followed by Lichtenstein.

Because Lichtenstein needlessly increased the gap between “those” and “emeralds,” he’s forced, as in I Know . . . Brad (1963), to shove a small exclamation point against the panel’s border. And in contrast to the distance maintained between the other words’ letters, the L, D, and S in “emeralds” nearly run together — did he forgot that bold text is thicker and therefore requires additional space?

Letters by Jean Izzo, from Sgt. Fury #68 (1969). © Marvel Comics.

**

In the “text and image” aesthetic of comics, words function like pictures, something Lichtenstein, in these works at least, didn’t seem to fully grasp. His lettering frequently feels like an afterthought, and its carelessness weakens his compositions. Part of comics’ pulp power resides not only in the words’ meanings but in their appearance, in the ways that their shapes interact with and echo other elements within a panel and on a page. The design errors that plague Lichtenstein’s work seldom occur in the era’s best produced comics, despite the fact that commercial letterers typically fashioned hundreds of text-filled word balloons and captions boxes per day (it’s this repetition that made them more proficient than Lichtenstein). They worked under the pressure of looming production deadlines and within the limited confines of comic-book production art pages. Given that Lichtenstein operated with large canvasses and more time to plan each detail, it’s surprising that his lettering frequently looks like a rush-job — a problem his paintings’ sizes only further exaggerate.

With its large size and place in museum collections and on gallery walls, the fine art painting invites, even appears to demand, “extended contemplation.” Yet the children’s comic book, at a size smaller than most magazines, calls only for a quick read. Unlike a painting, the mass-produced serial comic also generates its own obsolescence — another issue will always be out soon. It’s ironic, then, that the longer I look at a Simek- or Saladino-lettered comic, the more masterful it becomes. I can’t say the same of most Lichtensteins.

Working against the individualist ethos of abstract impressionism, Lichtenstein wanted to eradicate the artist’s personality from the art. Yet his lettering reveals, in ways that his images do not, the artist’s hand: the hand of a wonky letterer. Comic-book editors assigned art and lettering to different production team members, not only because a division-of-labor model sped up assembly and increased profits, but because the tasks were recognized as distinct skills. Like Lichtenstein, many comic-book artists were strong image makers but weak letterers. Perhaps to avoid Lichtenstein’s lettering difficulties, the Secret Love cover imitates its predecessor’s font but not its erratic layout and cramped spacing:

Lichtenstein-style lettering done better than Lichtenstein. © Marvel Comics.

Knowing the pulp importance of the exclamation point, the letterer employs a stronger, more comic-book-y one than the weedy form Lichtenstein favored.

Detail from Lichtenstein’s It Is . . . With Me (1963) followed by a detail from the source. Note Lichtenstein’s thin exclamation point and the questionable spacing both before and after it. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

**

For decades, comic-book fans have bristled at the mention of Roy Lichtenstein. They believe he should have given some credit — and a lot of cash — to the artists whose work he swiped. They resent the fact that our culture celebrates millionaire fine artists, yet ignores low-brow draftsmen who labored in assembly-line obscurity. Lichtenstein’s defenders — his fans — respond to attacks on the artist by invoking “all art is appropriation” as a seemingly critique-proof way to dismiss, and even erase, the skill and originality of the commercial artists who invented and expanded the aesthetic he relied on. Lichtenstein’s achievement, they say, lies in the ways he reimagined disposable mass-produced imagery and made it museum-worthy. They’re right about this, but Lichtenstein’s imagination was curiously selective. He didn’t always see what was happening in his comic-book sources. The original panels deliver a “highly charged” effect precisely because of the semantic and design interplay between boldly drawn black-outlined images and precisely drawn black letters. By concentrating on his sources’ drawings — and not their hand-drawn words — Lichtenstein overlooked much of comic books’ graphic power.

Perhaps it’s time we look carefully at lettering and think about the people who created it. After all, Whaam!, one of the twentieth-century’s most recognizable works of art, takes its title — and much of its impact — from its sound effect lettering. It would be a happy consequence if, despite Lichtenstein’s deficiencies with text, his art helped us to appreciate the countless and frequently anonymous work-for-hire-letterers who did so much to define American Pop Art, whether it hangs on a museum wall or graces a comic-book page.

_____________________________
Notes:
1. Adam Gopnik, http://www.oberlin.edu/amam/Lichtenstein_Craig.htm

2. The Grand Comics Database (https://www.comics.org/), the most extensive source for comic-book credits, does not identify the comic’s letterer; it is certainly Gaspar Saladino, one of DC’s most talented and prolific letterers of the era. Please read seminal letterer and historian Todd Klein on Saladino: https://kleinletters.com/Blog/gaspar-saladino-1927-2016/. Full credits for the comics I cite above can be found at comics.org.

3. In 1965 Stan Lee tried to capitalize on the Pop Art movement’s visibility and legitimacy by referring to Marvel as “Marvel Pop Art Productions.” After fans complained, he quickly reverted to the earlier name.

The ‘Pop Art’ logo appeared on several comic-book covers in 1965; the 1966 column in which Lee announces the reversion. © Marvel Comics.

4. Colorists, too, have not been given their due. For many decades, their names never appeared in comic-book credits. Even after letterers began to receive acknowledgment, colorists still went unnamed.

_____________________________
Ken Parille is editor of The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories. He teaches at East Carolina University and his writing has appeared in The Best American Comics Criticism, Comic Art, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, Boston Review, GuitarOne, The Believer, and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Knows? http://www.tcj.com/who-knows/ http://www.tcj.com/who-knows/#comments Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100148 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Katie Skelly reviews the latest book from Anya Davidson, Lovers in the Garden.

Anya Davidson’s genre entry Lovers in the Garden packs a tight punch with a roster of characters seemingly straight out of the Roger Corman playbook and the wacky animating idea that maybe, just maybe, women can get on top in this kind of tale. Lovers follows a colorful cast with enough backstory to keep them interesting, and timely references to anchor them in an unspecified, but obviously groovy decade: two rudderless hitmen (one suffering PTSD from his time in the shit in ‘Nam), the ukiyo-e loving sleaze who hires them, an undercover cop hungry for an overdue promotion, and a bottle-hitting journalist saddled with her lovelorn hippie boyfriend. Their worlds collide around a sting set up by a double-crossing secretary that ends in a stand-off and shootout worthy of a b-roll flick.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have released a statement regarding the supposedly controversial content of This One Summer, which was recently named the number one most-challenged book of 2016 by the American Library Association.

This book was not created for elementary readers, but for young readers. The publisher lists it for ages 12 to 18. There has been some controversy as to its inclusion on the Caldecott Honor list, so maybe it bears repeating that the ALA defines children as up to and including age 14. We agree the book is not for young children, nor was it intended for that audience.

We worry about what it means to define certain content, such as LGBTQ content, as being of inappropriate for young readers. Which implicitly defines readers who do relate to this content, who share these experiences, as not normal, when really they are part of the diversity of young people’s lives.

—Not exactly comics, but possibly noteworthy all the same, the Spanish fashion chain Zara has withdrawn a denim miniskirt from its stores after a bunch of people complained that the skirt featured an image that resembled Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog.

There is a lot of “how did this happen?” and “how deluded could they be?” going around the cybersphere, but the answer may come down to a blunt collision of globalism and cultural ignorance.

[…]

Mr. de Santiago is a Spanish artist based in London whose biography on his official web page states, “I like to explore social interactions and gather them into quirky and colourful storytelling compositions.” According to Zara, he said the frog face “came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago.” It is not hard to imagine he was unaware a similar frog face had been used for a somewhat different purpose in the United States.

The boilerplate comment to make about this situation from the comics booster position would be to say this only demonstrates the Power of Comics. But it seems like a more complicated situation than that, one that has very little to do with Furie’s original comics at this point. If I were Furie, I’d be tempted to follow R. Crumb’s footsteps when his signature character Fritz the Cat attracted the wrong kind of attention, and kill off Pepe with an icepick.

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Lovers in the Garden http://www.tcj.com/reviews/lovers-in-the-garden/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/lovers-in-the-garden/#respond Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:00:21 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100229 Continue reading ]]> Anya Davidson’s genre entry Lovers in the Garden packs a tight punch with a roster of characters seemingly straight out of the Roger Corman playbook and the wacky animating idea that maybe, just maybe, women can get on top in this kind of tale. Lovers follows a colorful cast with enough backstory to keep them interesting, and timely references to anchor them in an unspecified, but obviously groovy decade: two rudderless hitmen (one suffering PTSD from his time in the shit in ‘Nam), the ukiyo-e loving sleaze who hires them, an undercover cop hungry for an overdue promotion, and a bottle-hitting journalist saddled with her lovelorn hippie boyfriend. Their worlds collide around a sting set up by a double-crossing secretary that ends in a stand-off and shootout worthy of a b-roll flick.

Davidson’s cartooning delivers, with glassy expressions and shocks of color that push her workmanlike figures over the top. A five-page standoff sequence that detours to a combat zone falls right into order in a story that also touches on the challenges of motherhood and discussions of women career ambitions, without ever crossing the line from pastiche to parody. Davidson can rely on the lived-in spaces she’s created to work out more detail about the characters, which is great shorthand in such a tightly-paced story.

What’s especially excellent in Lovers is Davidson’s ear for dialogue and humor, especially when it comes to dunking on men: the undercover cop convinces her mark her real name is Coral Gables, the dayshift waitress slings insults at the hitmen in her diner, and the secretary Mystic (Mystic!) pulls a gun and declares “This is me asserting myself, you dumb fuck.”

Walking the line between pastiche and parody demands versatility in both storytelling and style, especially for an artist whose roots lie in abstraction. (I challenge you to read Lovers in the Garden back to back with All Time Comics #1 and see the difference between absorbing and reinterpreting genre versus trying to sell it back wholesale for laughs.) To properly express pastiche, a certain mixture of both love and intelligence has to be present, and it’s clear Davidson’s got both. This is the strongest work I’ve seen come out of Retrofit and I’m hoping for more like it.

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A Talk with Gabrielle Bell http://www.tcj.com/gabrielle-bell-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/gabrielle-bell-interview/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100063 Continue reading ]]> Everything Is Flammable, cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s latest graphic novel for the Minneapolis publisher Uncivilized Books, follows Bell as she helps her mother rebuild a life and a support system after losing her Northern California home to a fire. Bell treks from her house in upstate New York to the California woods, encountering many human and animal characters along the way. I spoke to Gabrielle about diaries, metacognition, and more, over the phone from her apartment in Brooklyn.

Interview edited and transcribed by A.M.

ANNIE MOK: When you were getting started putting this book together, what was the organization of the material like? How did you decide to start and finish where you did?

GABRIELLE BELL: I have to admit there was not a lot of organization. It started from… the event…

MOK: With your mom’s house burning down.

BELL: My mom goes through a lot of things and this was pretty terrible. It kind of woke me up out of the self-absorbed tunnel of my life. So I had to go and help her out a bit, or even just be there with her. But I wasn’t so self-involved [laughs] that I wasn’t going to make comics about it. I just started sort of keeping a diary, but more just collecting stories. At some point I collected enough that it would make a book.

MOK: At least one of your minis for Uncivilized consists of roughly drawn diary comics. What’s the difference between the diaries and the finished product for you?

BELL: Mostly I keep a diary every day. Then I’ll take one of those entries and turn it into a more refined story. I’ll stop keeping a diary while working on a story. And I would sort of lose the connection to the source of the story. I always have to break it down and go back to the roughest version, which is the diary. I go through cycles. Sometimes I don’t keep diaries at all because I get so absorbed in the one part of it. Or I’ll get this standard in my head where I think the diary has to be a refined story, to look like a the finished product. I always get to some point where it doesn’t have any spontaneity anymore, [laughs] so I have to let myself be bad at it again. Let it be boring and awkward and have no point again, to get back to the raw data of it.

MOK: With this book or with your books in general, is there an idea or feeling or intent you’re trying to convey to the reader?

BELL: I just want them to be engaged. My ultimate goal is just to make people feel good. I suffer from all kinds of depression and anxiety and a lot of people do. I just want to give a good feeling to the reader. But I want to work out my own issues too [laughs].

MOK: Self-talk and metacognition play a big role in your comics. In one part [of Everything Is Flammable] you’re like, “One night I got the shame attacks. ‘I’m such a jerk. Stop calling yourself a jerk, you jerk!’” How does this kind of self-talk find its way into your comics?

BELL: It’s just a learned behavior. In that particular story, it was me and my mother trying to deal with things that is really a kind of man’s world, dealing with negotiations and business and planning to build this home. Both of us have relied on men in the past and it’s kind of gotten both of us in trouble. It’s put us in this sort of helpless situation. So we were out of our element. And I think, being women too, there’s a husband or the father in our heads saying we’re doing it all wrong. In the story, my way of coping was to sort of flirt with the guy, and manipulate him in my way, while he’s sort of manipulating me. I am trying to play up this vulnerable female role with him and my mother, putting on this image of “We’re just helpless females, we don’t have any money.” “We don’t have these skills of being assertive and manly [laughs] and the art of the deal. So we work with what we have.” The shame attacks at the end just came from feeling ashamed of myself for being manipulative and also just relying on other people, like my friend Sadie, to stay at their houses. I mean, this is all normal stuff. People rely on each other and help each other out. But in this story we were both being forced to get out of our comfort zones.

MOK: There’s a lot in the story about men, and you talk about how in films mothers are portrayed in a negative light. You say, “Mine exists outside of that continuum.” You talk about navigating those kind of liminal spaces.

BELL: I’m very sensitive to mother-blaming. I think the most liberal among us… And father-blaming to. I did that too when I was younger, thinking “I didn’t get what I deserved” and stuff, and now… I’m very sensitive to people complaining about their moms not doing enough for them. Because of the difficulties that any mother has, we should be grateful that they were there at all. I mean, I know some people who had really abusive mothers, that’s sort of different.

MOK: Yeah.

BELL: But even in that case, our parents are really just children. There is this thing of motherhood, just the very word… I don’t see her as my mother. I mean, she is my mother, but I just see her as a person who comes from Michigan, travels in Europe for a while, and then settled down in California, where had some really bad boyfriends [laughs], and then had some kids, and then the kids moved away, and then she made a life of her own in California. I don’t see her in relation to me, like what she owes me or what I owe her.

MOK: It’s interesting that you’re back in Brooklyn ‘cause there’s so much about your relationship to the city, you mention that you could feel like Lou Reed living in a run-down apartment; and then there’s this contrast between that and the woods, and all the plants and the animals you encounter out there. What does your relationship to the woods and animals bring to your work?

BELL: I do really miss living up north, I had a nice yard and I could garden in the summer, and the air was so much more pleasant, more breathable. Even in the winter, when it snowed, it was so beautiful. When it snowed in the city it’s so ugly. I needed the artistic community, to be around other cartoonists. Everyone I knew up there was married and with kids; I mean, they were artists, but I was like this weird single lady up there [laughs]. And I was restless, I wasn’t ready to settle down. I am definitely happier to be back in Brooklyn. I live in a building with some cartoonist friends and I live down the street from [cartoonist] Ariel Schrag…. Turns out you can’t have everything. I mean, if you were rich, I guess. I’m happy to be back in the city, even though I’m depressed here [laughs].

MOK: Aw!… You talk in this book about intergenerational storytelling. You talked earlier about how our parents are just kids, and you have this conversation in the book with your grandmother about her mother. How do you see your place in this link of intergenerational storytelling? You’re now the person telling these stories.

BELL: First of all, I don’t think it was right that I was so hard on her that night. I think I was angry at my mom and then I took it out on her mom. In the story, I’m like, “No more children, I’m not having children,” but I think that’s just because I didn’t want to have children. Not because of the damage done, I guess. I think if I wanted to have kids, it would be, “My kid, I’m gonna raise my kid differently!” But I think it’s just that I’m more of an artist, and I want to do my art and focus exclusively on that. Also, I think that my grandmother and my mother—this is really jumping to conclusions and making assumptions—I think they, probably, it wasn’t their first choice to have kids. It was just a generation, it was expected of you. It wasn’t, “Maybe I don’t wanna have kids, maybe I wanna go to the sea and be an artist or something.” I think I sort of inherited this disposition of not wanting to have kids. Which is kind of interesting, because this disposition resolved itself by ending that generation.

MOK: Speaking of your art, as always you make a few fantastical leaps in your comics. There’s one page where you show your mother living as a mermaid because of this Marilynne Robinson line. Can you talk about making those leaps and what those bring to your comics, those fantastical jumping-off points.

BELL: I don’t think there’s quite so many in this book…

MOK: Yes, there’s much less, which I was curious about.

BELL: The other one [in the book], there’s one where I had this fantasy that I married this guy who lives on my my mom’s property. Then I changed my mind and imagined her marrying him! That was kind of practical fantasy, in a way [laughs]. It didn’t have to do with love, “If I married him I could stick around, and be there for my mom, but if she married him that would even be better because I wouldn’t have to stick around and she’d have somebody to take care of her.” Sometimes I worry about getting boring and just want to dabble it up a little and have a flight of fancy. Sometimes if things get heavy, I wanna make a little fun.

MOK: There’s even some fun ways you visualize anxiety, you show it as a creeping vine, and then there’s the ghost cats.

BELL: That’s also the beauty of comics. That’s one thing that comics can do very easy. It makes the whimsical solid and concrete.

MOK: I’m curious how you negotiate what goes in the comics. Obviously, there’s very personal details about everybody. Do you have conversations to negotiate what stays or what goes?

BELL: Not necessarily. The one interview I did with the guy who was in prison for some time, I was specific with him. I changed his name and ran it by him to make sure there’s nothing that would make him uncomfortable. I didn’t want to incriminate him or anything. There’s a real serious drug culture up there, but that wasn’t what I was interested in, and… It’s pretty legal now, marijuana cultivation, but there is a paranoia still. Having grown up there, it was extreme and very justified paranoia—a lot of fear and secrecy. Even though it’s getting more lax now, there’s the habit of paranoia and secrecy. As far as personal things, I was pretty liberal with my storytelling. For the most part, I was like, “Can I put that in a comic?” I felt like I was being pretty kind to everybody. I wasn’t maligning everyone, so I just hoped that people would be okay with it and would understand that I was celebrating them. Though I don’t know about that crazy guy on the bus. There was a few people that I don’t know what they’ll think of it.

MOK: What’s it like putting out books with Uncivilized? You’ve put out several books with them now and it seems like you have a good publisher relationship.

BELL: Yeah, it’s really good. Really good line of communication. I’ve never been able to communicate so well. Maybe it’s because we were friends before. It’s always been really great with [publisher Tom Kaczynski], I’ll tell him how I want the book to look like, and then he’ll say “How about this?” and then we’ll compromise… I feel really part of the process. I feel like I’m being helped along and at the same time I get a lot of say.

MOK: Speaking of the design, how did the chapter headers come about?

BELL: I think I just wanted to fatten it up a little [laughs], have some filler. I think it helps the story breathe a bit.

MOK: You draw people and places really vividly. Are you doing life drawing at all, or is it straight on the page?

BELL: I took a lot of photos. I do it the way I always do, which is half photographs, and half memory or impression. I did a lot of photographing because I knew this would be a story, like I’d go on a walk and run into this dog barking at me, and think, this seems like a story. It’s more to remember what they look like, not really to draw from life.

MOK: I was like, “God these dogs are all really specific!”

BELL: That was a lot of work [laughs]! That kind of drove me nuts. But I felt like they needed to have specific personalities.

MOK: I really like how the book ends. You end with “Have you seen this dog?” with this dog that’s walking around, and then there’s a short bit about Gus having built a bathroom onto this new house, and you taking a bath. How did you decide to end the book this way?

BELL: I don’t know if anyone would notice, but it felt to me like he was building this thing that I had dreamed about, him putting a big extension on the house. So it was a realization of a fantasy in a way. I was so happy he’d did that. It seemed to me that it showed he really cared for [my mother], saying “I don’t want her to bump her head on the ceiling,” so he went the extra mile and manipulated the boards and did some fancy carpentry so she wouldn’t have to duck her head. So that was really striking. It really was a nice bathroom, it was really luxurious [laughs]. Like a classic sort of hippie bathroom, homemade. So I wanted to end on a good note. Incidentally, he built another room onto it and a porch. I haven’t seen it since it’s been built up. I didn’t really know how to end it. I knew there was sort of a catharsis, and all this emotional stuff with my mother and my grandmother, and the story was sort of over, you know? There’s like in a story, there’s a climax, and the stuff that happens after that where it fully comes to an end.

MOK: You bring up care, it reminds me of what you said earlier about what you wanted to leave the reader with. There’s so much about care and vulnerability in all your books”—there’s the scene with the woman having a seizure and you’re trying to help her, and there’s the scene with your mother’s dog who’s having a panic attack. I’m curious about the role of care and vulnerability in your stories, and also how you’re depicting it, because you depict it very subtly.

BELL: There’s one thing, I just have this weird urge to help older ladies. When I see an older woman who’s vulnerable… maybe because I see my old mother in them or something. I have not always been as caring as I am now. I used to be pretty callous I think. Growing older, you get more sensitive to other people. And when you have anxiety problems and depression problems, it’s easy to not care about other people because you’re wrapped up in your own pain. But I sort of, I guess, made more of an effort to be aware of other people’s pain. Not always successfully. That’s where I get shame attacks too, maybe I was insensitive to someone else’s pain. I used to get anxiety wondering what other people thought of me, now I get anxiety worrying that I might have hurt somebody. So there’s a little progress [laughs].

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Yes, Of Course! http://www.tcj.com/yes-of-course/ http://www.tcj.com/yes-of-course/#respond Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100147 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Annie Mok chats with Gabrielle Bell on the occasion of the release of her new book, Everything Is Flammable.

MOK: Self-talk and metacognition play a big role in your comics. In one part [of Everything Is Flammable] you’re like, “One night I got the shame attacks. ‘I’m such a jerk. Stop calling yourself a jerk, you jerk!’” How does this kind of self-talk find its way into your comics?

BELL: It’s just a learned behavior. In that particular story, it was me and my mother trying to deal with things that is really a kind of man’s world, dealing with negotiations and business and planning to build this home. Both of us have relied on men in the past and it’s kind of gotten both of us in trouble. It’s put us in this sort of helpless situation. So we were out of our element. And I think, being women too, there’s a husband or the father in our heads saying we’re doing it all wrong. In the story, my way of coping was to sort of flirt with the guy, and manipulate him in my way, while he’s sort of manipulating me. I am trying to play up this vulnerable female role with him and my mother, putting on this image of “We’re just helpless females, we don’t have any money.” “We don’t have these skills of being assertive and manly [laughs] and the art of the deal. So we work with what we have.” The shame attacks at the end just came from feeling ashamed of myself for being manipulative and also just relying on other people, like my friend Sadie, to stay at their houses. I mean, this is all normal stuff. People rely on each other and help each other out. But in this story we were both being forced to get out of our comfort zones.

MOK: There’s a lot in the story about men, and you talk about how in films mothers are portrayed in a negative light. You say, “Mine exists outside of that continuum.” You talk about navigating those kind of liminal spaces.

BELL: I’m very sensitive to mother-blaming. I think the most liberal among us… And father-blaming to. I did that too when I was younger, thinking “I didn’t get what I deserved” and stuff, and now… I’m very sensitive to people complaining about their moms not doing enough for them. Because of the difficulties that any mother has, we should be grateful that they were there at all. I mean, I know some people who had really abusive mothers, that’s sort of different.

Elsewhere:

Hazel Cills has a particularly well-sourced and researched piece on the gender dynamics of the New Yorker cartoon world, and the comics world in general. 

And at the LA Review of Books, Brian Selznick talks about his career and latest project.

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Mysterious Universe http://www.tcj.com/mysterious-universe/ http://www.tcj.com/mysterious-universe/#respond Wed, 19 Apr 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100017 Continue reading ]]> Huh, this is odd. Somehow my blog entry from Monday seems to have disappeared entirely, so I’ll re-link to Monday’s story. It featured the debut of new TCJ contributor Alex Wong, who interviewed the French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu about her latest graphic novel, its subject (Cass Elliot), and the Smurfette Syndrome.

The neglect and disrespect Elliot dealt with throughout her career is something that Bagieu can tangentially relate to. Bagieu, who was born in Paris and now resides in Brooklyn, New York, remembers a decade ago when she, along with a fellow writer, pitched a female superhero story idea to a major publisher. Bagieu remembers the male publisher suggesting that their superheroes could have superpowers that would allow them to get the cheapest clothing at sale time, and to always have the perfect shoe even if there was one size left. “I really wanted to slap him in the face,” Bagieu says. “I was so humiliated.”

The comic book industry has presented its own sets of challenges for Bagieu. “For female cartoonists, you have to be quiet,” Bagieu says. “You have to either do girl stuff. In France, we call it the The Smurfette Syndrome. You’re a token. It’s not neutral, we don’t make up half of the cartoonists. You’re just the girl. You have science fiction comic book writers, action comic book writers, and, oh, here’s the girl.”

And then today, we have Chris Mautner’s review of Joe Ollmann’s graphic biography, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook.

I was completely unaware (as I suspect most of you were) of Seabrook’s existence before reading this biography, but it’s easy to see why Ollmann was drawn to him. He not only traveled the world and wrote about non-Western cultures with (for the times) measured respect and appreciation, he also dabbled in the occult, hobnobbed with famous folk like Man Ray, was a horrible alcoholic, had a predilection for BDSM, committed himself to an asylum, and wrote about all of this in a confessional manner that would make the most shameless autobiographical cartoonist squirm with envy. Oh, and he once ate human flesh.

More to the point, he’s also, as I noted earlier, largely forgotten, at best a footnote for introducing the word “zombie” into the American lexicon. Ollmann seems fascinated by how such a unique literary figure as Seabrook, who at one time was quite well-known and well-regarded, could sink into obscurity. And if Seabrook’s descent into irrelevance should conjure any thoughts of the myriad number of worthwhile cartoonists that have been forgotten or discarded by the passage of time, well, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Gloria Rivera reviews Zhang Leping’s manhua The Wandering Life of Sanmao.

The drawing of the original black and white comic is superb, and though never published in the US is completely readable through images alone. Except for signage and a handful of panels, the bulk of the comic is pantomime. Even the dialogue expressed between characters is drawn and not written! Although the relationship between words and pictures in comics should never be debased (as it may be in the show-don’t-tell school of comics) the silence experienced in this comic is unbreakable, and this is a comic that keeps you within its timing, only refraining for pauses of humor, a softness. Leping’s work is noble, leaving his reader in awe of how a man who has experienced so much can describe innocence as he does. This particular collection of comics has been adapted into color comics, animation, film and even live theater productions over the span of 80 years.

—The always strong Doug Wright Awards have announced their finalists.

—The Chester Brown/Dave Sim debate on prostitution continues, though Sim seems to have retired his side.

My March 28th post about Dave Sim’s body-camera proposal has been put up on A Moment Of Cerebus. Dave has been having computer problems and so has been unable to respond. (Perhaps he hasn’t even read the post.) But other A-M-O-C readers have commented. I notice that NONE of them defended Dave’s body-cam idea.

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The Abominable Mr. Seabrook http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-abominable-mr-seabrook/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-abominable-mr-seabrook/#respond Wed, 19 Apr 2017 12:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100127 Continue reading ]]> It’s obviously a bit of an overstatement, but graphic novel biographies tend to largely be cursory affairs, providing little more than a basic outline of a celebrated or noteworthy individual’s life. Think Freud> by Anne Simon and Corrine Maier, The New Adventures of Herge, or Rick Geary’s biographies of Trotsky and J. Edgar Hoover. That’s not meant as a slight; many of these works provide an enjoyable and informative overview, perfect for readers curious but unfamiliar with a historic figure. But for whatever reason (the large time investment involved in making comics being the most likely suspect), most comic book biographies serve more as an introduction than a definitive edition.

That’s not the case with The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, Joe Ollmann’s ambitious biography of the largely forgotten writer William Seabrook. Having spent years sifting through not only Seabrook’s many books, but also his letters and other research materials, Ollmann provides a surprisingly in-depth examination of the author’s life and character.

I was completely unaware (as I suspect most of you were) of Seabrook’s existence before reading this biography, but it’s easy to see why Ollmann was drawn to him. He not only traveled the world and wrote about non-Western cultures with (for the times) measured respect and appreciation, he also dabbled in the occult, hobnobbed with famous folk like Man Ray, was a horrible alcoholic, had a predilection for BDSM, committed himself to an asylum, and wrote about all of this in a confessional manner that would make the most shameless autobiographical cartoonist squirm with envy. Oh, and he once ate human flesh.

More to the point, he’s also, as I noted earlier, largely forgotten, at best a footnote for introducing the word “zombie” into the American lexicon. Ollmann seems fascinated by how such a unique literary figure as Seabrook, who at one time was quite well-known and well-regarded, could sink into obscurity. And if Seabrook’s descent into irrelevance should conjure any thoughts of the myriad number of worthwhile cartoonists that have been forgotten or discarded by the passage of time, well, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Seabrook also happens to fit in rather well with the sort of fictional characters Ollman has pinned wriggling to his comics page in such books as Science Fiction and Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People: Smart, sensitive folks who become consumed by their own obsessions, predilections or just plain bad luck. To rehash an old cliche, if Seabrook didn’t exist, Ollmann might have had to invent him.

And it’s Seabrook’s self-destructive nature that seems to fascinate Ollmann the most. He ascribes Seabrook’s long, slow decline to an inability to settle down, prompted by a fear of success and stability, which drives him to run from job to job and responsibility to responsibility until, eventually, he takes up residence in a bottle.

While clearly admiring Seabrook’s sense of adventurism, respect for foreign cultures, and general charm, Ollman is critical of Seabrook’s treatment of his various wives and friends, and even calls into question some of his motives. For example, he takes Seabrook to task for trying to add a veneer of legitimization to his sexual preferences by labeling it under the guise of “psychic research.”

Ollmann’s narration guides the reader throughout the book, providing analysis, citing contradictory quotes, pointing out discrepancies and offering background and detail whenever possible. All in a methodical nine-panel grid format that he rarely ever wavers from (I only counted two splash pages in the entire 300-plus page book). The dedication to format makes sense for the “and then this happened” type of story Ollmann is telling, but the narrow vertical panels, combined with the grey-blue wash that he suffuses in every panel, draw the reader into the book’s rhythms until they feel swept along into Seabrook’s self-destructive whirlpool.

Despite the impressive amount of research, The Amazing Mr. Seabrook could have taken a step or two outside of Seabrook’s monomania occasionally. I would have loved to have seen some dissents or asides from other travel writers and anthropologists. While the book is critical of Seabrook’s more pandering tendencies, we don’t hear from anyone outside of Seabrook’s circle on how his writings on Haiti or anywhere else might have affected Westerners’ perception of the world beyond their borders. What were the lasting impacts of Seabook’s travel diaries, beyond merely making him famous? Who, if anyone, did he inspire?

Ollman has long delineated short stories about hapless ne’er-do-wells who fight bitterly against themselves and the world around them. In The Abominable Mr Seabrook he might have reached his apotheosis. Seabrook might be an unjustly forgotten author, but in Ollmann he has found perhaps the perfect person to bring him back to the public’s memory.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/19/17 – Glyph Reader International) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-41917-glyph-reader-international/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-41917-glyph-reader-international/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100076 Continue reading ]]>

Recently I purchased a copy of Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira, the new Kodansha Comics translation (by Kevin Steinbach) of what’s basically the catalog for a 2016 exposition of tribute art arranged in honor of Katsuhiro Otomo’s receipt of the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. You probably know if you want this already, being a fancy compendium of 79 pinups images of the sort that Epic used to put in the back of the Akira colorized issues, plus Otomo’s own cover illustration. Each of the featured artists also gets a very brief biography, a small bibliography, and, sometimes, a bit of space to write about their “encounter” with Otomo’s work; less than half of the entries, however, provide such thoughts. There are too many well-composed but uninteresting depictions of rubble and motorcycles and Tetsuo’s cape for my liking, but some of the more striking pieces do raise some interesting questions on the deceptively knotty topic of Otomo.

For example, there’s this piece by the Hong Kong manhua artist Li Chi-Tak, who is known in the U.S. exclusively as a name in the credits to a movie: the 1996 Jet Li vehicle Black Mask, which was based on his comics. Otomo’s influence is evident at varied points in Li’s career, and here he presents the only contribution to this project that actually functions ‘as’ a panel from Otomo’s own work, specifically the sequence in Domu where the heroine, a small girl, unfurls the full force of her psychic powers. It’s actually a little too histrionic to fit in with Domu — in a 2008 lecture, the critic and artist Kentaro Takekuma discusses Otomo’s tendency to give background and character lines identical weight, thus affording setting the same prominence as people, which I think encourages a certain reserve to Otomo’s characters, even as they face severe bodily and psychological peril — but at the same time it tidily fits the theory of Otomo’s work espoused by Angoulême art director Stéphan Beaujean in the tribute book’s opening essay: that Otomo defied the “formalism” of manga, in terms of cartoon icons positioned in particular arrangements to suggest manipulations of time, speed, etc., by imbuing “the drawn line itself” with emotion, which I take to mean an emphasis on the qualities of in-panel drawing rather than juxtaposition or page layout. Of all the book’s contributors, Li best suggests this emotion of line as it might function, albeit vivified, in Otomo’s comics.

By contrast, other artists just go their own way. This is also a Domu piece, by Daisuke Igarashi, whose art does not show many outward signs of Otomo’s influence; some of you, though, will recall his series Children of the Sea, released in English by VIZ, and from that you will detect a similar fascination with childhood inquisitiveness and mysterious biological phenomena. This is not an adaptation of any specific image from Otomo’s book, but rather a means of expressing how Otomo’s work coincides with Igarashi’s personal interests. Of course, children in Igarashi’s work can be quite spiky and impulsive, and if you’ve read Domu you know that this quiet scene is soaked with menace – perhaps the girl is only imagining the villain sitting next to her, the whole comic occurring in her head during a slow afternoon at the apartment complex, but the invisible presence is just as likely to persuade some pliable adult to charge her with a box cutter or open fire with a stolen gun. The game is played both ways.

Another innovation with which Takekuma credits Otomo is pressing the issue of ethnicity in Japanese comics. As the translator and education Matt Thorn has suggested, Japanese readers see themselves in the code of icons that form depictions of people in comics: “the stylized characters in manga, with their small jaws, all but nonexistent noses, and famously enormous eyes,” register nonetheless as Japanese. To Takekuma, however, part of Otomo’s project as a young artist was to strip elements of stylization from manga, to accommodate realism by depicting racial characteristics with a “blunt objectivity,” rather than through the prevailing cartoon shorthand. This image by RanXerox creator Tanino Liberatore appears to depict Tetsuo, judging from the mutating arm and blown-back hair, but he does not register to me as Japanese. Liberatore is the only one among the contributors to implicate race in this way, and — while I admit this may not be his intention! — in doing so, he also becomes the only contributor to evoke Otomo’s longstanding theme of power and its abuses; is Tetsuo not exploited, violence done to him under government authority?

It has to be noted that the picture we have of Otomo in the west is very limited, as very little material from his first decade of professional work has been published over here. Noticeably, the Japanese artists involved with the tribute draw from a deeper well of material, with two pieces devoted entirely to a 1976 short story, Highway Star, which can’t even be read illegally in English. One is by Neon Genesis Evangelion character designer and mangaka Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, but above we see the other piece, by Hisashi Eguchi, a very popular illustrator and founder of the now-defunct artistic manga venue Comic Cue, to which Otomo contributed, along with (eventually) the likes of Yuichi Yokoyama. Eguchi is one of few contributors to have actually collaborated with Otomo; he was also character designer on the 1991 anime OVA Roujin Z, which Otomo wrote, and in his accompanying “encounter” text, he describes his relationship to Otomo as that of a kid brother, despite their similarity in age. Eguchi also states his preference for Otomo’s earlier work, declaring it “pure” and likening it to jazz and rakugo comedy – a comparison he may have snatched from Naoki Urasawa, which, if not precisely refuting Takekuma’s theory of Otomo’s realism, does suggest a current of tradition running through his early work.

Eguchi, incidentally, is renowned for his drawings of women, which we might contrast with this piece by Fumiko Takano. Entirely unknown in English publishing — though some of her work has been translated to French — she is very well-regarded by her Japanese peers, and, perhaps relatedly, dives even deeper into personal reference. Her piece isn’t even related to an Otomo work; as she explains in her “encounter” text, it relates instead to a personal encounter between her and Otomo in the 1980s, where Otomo showed her the correct way to draw a bicycle. Motorcycles, as it happens, are popular images throughout Akira and the included tributes, so there is nonetheless a certain commonality between this rarest of references and the more popular swathe of Otomo’s work. Also rare is Takano’s status as one of 5 women included among the 79 contributors; at the same time as Otomo’s celebration at Angoulême, the festival found itself swamped with controversy over its initial 30-artist list of candidates to receive the next Grand Prix, literally all of which were men.

This, finally, leads us to the question of legacy. After Akira wrapped in 1990, Otomo’s output as a comics artist became very limited; as a result, very few of the tribute pieces acknowledge anything he has done in the past quarter-century. Olivier Coipel, an artist who specializes in American superhero comics, presents a simple joke: after all the action of Akira, Kaneda now has very little going on. Revolutions do not often make satisfactory administrators, so he drinks his days away on a park bench wearing a man bun. Elsewhere in the book, Akira enjoys an eternal youth, though not a lot of these depictions are very inspiring. In analyzing Otomo’s influence for Naoki Urasawa, the aforementioned Hisashi Eguchi (I’ll link it again) asserted that what Otomo accomplished, while impressive, was also imitable. You could learn his tricks, use them, and end up with something that looked like his work; this was partially why he was popular among artists. “He always really wanted to do movies anyway,” Eguchi mused, and Urasawa replied that Otomo once told him that he stopped drawing comics because “he’d already drawn from every angle there is, so he lost interest.” Otomo is still popular among some young cartoonists today, but it’s a popularity born of a receding time. Manga does not look like him anymore, though Akira itself is a strong brand. Is it like those spent beer cans, consumed out of habit and forgotten in a haze of nostalgia? I don’t have the answers, but maybe I’ll find them in the 35th anniversary hardcover boxed set, due in Autumn.

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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!

Ganges #6: Not one, but two continuing alternative comic books up the spotlight this week! Ganges is the signature series by Kevin Huizenga, a magazine-sized serial-of-sorts begun via the Fantagraphics/Coconino Press “Ignatz” line of comics in 2006, but now self-published with distribution by Fantagraphics. Supposedly this 32-page issue marks “The End” of the story of Glenn Ganges, distracted man, attempting but failing to sleep — an effort which comes to encompass an extraordinary span of marital, video gaming, literary and geologic history — but the reality is that sleep cannot often be ascertained until one is awake again. Unmoored by fading consciousness, the story fragments into one-, two-page bits, times and settings shifting abruptly between panels. Plus: deleted scenes, more of “Rumbling”, teasers, letters, and comics-making tips; $8.00.

Berlin #20: Now that Seth’s Clyde Fans is set to wrap in July, this Jason Lutes historical fiction opus has to be the longest-running incomplete Drawn and Quarterly project, right? Black Eye Productions, of course, was the original publisher back in ’96 – I think it’s fair to associate it with D&Q in general, though. Fascism continues to spread its toxin in Germany for these 24 pages, “but some can see it better than others.” Two more issues remain to be finished; $5.95.

PLUS!

The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? #1 (of 4): This is also a longstanding concern, though a notably mischievous one. I remember when the first issue of the first Shaolin Cowboy series debuted from Burlyman Entertainment in 2004; almost the entire first issue was spent on an extremely long ‘pan’ across an absurd lineup of combatants raring to face the title character. The most recent series (Dark Horse, 2013-14, collected under the subtitle “Shemp Buffet”) consisted almost exclusively of a prolonged fight scene against a horde of zombies told in rhythmic panel arrangements, just zombies, chainsaws, zombies, chainsaws, over and over and over – I vividly recall picking up issue #3 of 4 from the stands and thinking “he’s still fucking doing it!” He, of course, is writer/artist Geof Darrow, and preview images suggest that this particular comic (again from Dark Horse) will feature at least a few pages of traditional explication, including the solution to the puzzle of why the Cowboy is not dead after getting himself killed at the end of the last series. I think the plot somehow involves a large pig, and possibly the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, but it’s hard to say right now. I am pretty stoked for this! Preview; $3.99.

Imagine Wanting Only This: Your lit comics pick of the week arrives from Pantheon with the debut graphic novel by Kristen Radtke, a 288-page hardcover account of journeys through architectural ruins across the globe “and the delicate passageways of the human heart.” Definitely more ambitious than the average bookstore autobio, this comes highly recommended by Tom Hart, author of Rosalie Lighting, the best comic of 2016. Radtke has been active for a while in literary and media magazine editing; her art style is a bit reminiscent of Laurenn McCubbin, if more overtly photo-referenced from my quick glace. Give it a flip; $29.95.

Roughneck (&) Soupy Leaves Home: Here’s two more serious-minded comics, both coming from talents probably best known for work with genre comic publishers. Roughneck is the new solo book from Jeff Lemire, a 272-page Simon & Schuster release about a former hockey player dealing with family trouble and trying to avoid encroaching violence. Lemire first came to prominence writing and drawing the similarly provincial Essex County trilogy of graphic novels, so this grittier spot nonetheless may provide secure footing. Soupy Leaves Home is a 208-page Dark Horse softcover, a seemingly YA-targeted story of Depression Era rail-riding with a girl runaway disguised as a boy. The writer, Cecil Castellucci, is experienced in young adult prose, though her comics work has been most prominent in various DC imprints, including the current Young Animal, where she writes Shade, the Changing Girl, a variant on the Steve Ditko concept. The artist is Jose Pimienta; $29.99 (Roughneck), $10.99 (Soupy).

The Filth (&) Wonder Woman: Earth One: For reasons unknown, DC has two new softcover editions of comics written by Grant Morrison this week. The Filth is the really notable one, despite being 15 years old; I think it’s the best comic he’s ever done, refining the scattershot evolutionary SF posturing of The Invisibles into what I’ll call ‘lamentable escapism’ – an escape from the hopelessness of depressive real life into a succession of grotesque action comic escapades that peel back only more layers of ichor-sticky societal flesh. Also, the formidable art is consistent — and consistently gruesome — coming from UK comics veterans Chris Weston & Gary Erskine. I’ve not read Wonder Woman: Earth One, a 2016 collaboration with artist Yanick Paquette, but I understand it to be an attempt to retell the title character’s origin in a manner unencumbered with current superhero continuity – I think this is the first time it’s been in softcover; $19.99 (Filth), $16.99 (Wonder Woman).

Savage Highway: Your Eurocomics pick is a Humanoids release, pairing a European writer with an Asian artist in a manner that’s become familiar in BD of late. Did you know Li Chi-Tak from way up at the top of this post did an album with veteran Belgian comics writer Jean Dufaux last year? It’s titled The Beast, and I hope its translated on Europe Comics or something soon. Anyway, this 168-page hardcover collects a 2015-17 series from writer Mathieu Masmondet and artist Zhang Xiaoyu concerning travelers who seek society in a ruined future world. Note that Humanoids is also re-releasing the original Jodorowsky/Giménez Metabarons series as four softcover books, starting this week; $24.95.

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: Every so often we get a Hellboy comic in the very trim 7″ x 10″ hardcover album format, I think as a means of showing off the artist. Gary Gianni is at the center of this one, both drawing and co-writing with creator Mike Mignola. I remember Gianni’s solo MonsterMen stuff as having a simpatico tone with Mignola’s stuff, so they should blend well for 56 pages; $19.99.

Hogan’s Alley #21: Finally, your magazine-on-comics of the week is the newest edition of editor Tom Heintjes’ annual-or-so collection of articles and interviews relating to popular comics, with a special emphasis on newspaper features and works from the past. Issue #20 won an Eisner last year. This issue promises a never-before-seen interview with George Herriman, rare art from Jack Davis and Wally Wood, and coverage of cartoonist/novelist William Overgard and editorial cartoon depictions of Barack Obama. You can probably even find it at the Barnes and Noble magazine rack, which is not something I can say for a lot of these publications. Official site; $6.95.

Today’s front page image is by Masamune Shirow, a detail from his contribution to Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira. I was kind of wondering if anyone would try to do anything saucy with the assignment, and, as recent history indicates, the smart money for that would definitely be on Shirow. As it turns out, the Ghost in the Shell creator contributes an extremely odd conglomeration of references to all manner of Otomo works, with characters and objects from manga, anime — even an adaptation of Otomo’s comics with which he had no direct involvement! — strewn around a street in the aftermath of some disaster which has obliterated depth perspective from the world. Directly below the image is a (roughly) 250-word supplementary text in teeny-tiny type in which the artist attempts to explain what he is doing. It is absolutely fucking nuts, and proof yet again that Shirow does whatever he wants, however he wants it done. The smut quota, meanwhile, is fulfilled by Requiem Vampire Knight artist Olivier Ledroit, who draws a katana-weilding cyborg woman wearing nothing from the knees up but Kaneda’s jacket and a choker with a butterfly charm. The jacket is unzipped.

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Magical World Link http://www.tcj.com/magical-world-link/ http://www.tcj.com/magical-world-link/#respond Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100071 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, our friend Joe McCulloch would like to mention some comic books, including the latest issues of Ganges and Berlin.

Elsewhere:

The excellent Heather Benjamin gives a good long interview over at the Vans web site.

On Sunday my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of babysitting for Dash Shaw and Jane Samborski. That is one cute and well-mannered baby. I love babies. Though my son is only five, having a baby strapped to my chest was still pretty novel. We strolled around the neighborhood. I talked to her about bricks. Old people looked kindly at me again. We tried to teach her the cha-cha. We got all the fun with none of the trouble. Who knew that her father once took shrooms and watched anime and  has now written about it in a public forum. Sigh. 

What else… Simon Hanselmann’s new zine, Portraits, arrived in the mail. I like that Simon is chronicling the mostly-inane comics subculture that he’s a part of, partly because he’s getting at various “issues” that have been around whatever-we-call-this-comics-world for a while (and which used to be discussed on members-only message boards), like (not) Nobrow’s alleged behavior or the intentional misreading of Robert Crumb. And partly because he tells familiar anecdotes (creepy festival organizers; self-aggrandizing hacks) but doesn’t spare himself. His earlier Truth Zone comics were like talk show panels… here it’s more anecdote and story-based. I like seeing this kind of thing because, well, few people are keeping track of what’s going on now. I would like to see it to cut deeper, to not spare his friends for a gags, and, as he did in TZ, name names, which is something really only artists can get away with. It’s refreshing. 

 

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Talking to Pénélope Bagieu http://www.tcj.com/talking-to-penelope-bagieu/ http://www.tcj.com/talking-to-penelope-bagieu/#respond Mon, 17 Apr 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100042 Continue reading ]]> Before Cass Elliot became a world-renowned name as one of four band members on The Mamas & The Papas, she was a young kid growing up in Baltimore with her two siblings, Joseph and Leah. Her mother Bess was a singer in a swing jazz group at a younger age. Elliot’s father Philip always had dreams of becoming a singer himself, and would take her daughter to watch La bohème, an opera composed by Giacomo Puccini and tell her bedtime stories about Florence Foster Jenkins. These vignettes serve as the opening scenes to Pénélope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’, a unique biographical take on Elliot’s career, which was released by First Second Books last month, two years after the graphic novel made its debut in Europe.

California Dreamin’ is not a rags-to-riches story, but an unapologetic look at Elliot’s foray into music, and the roadblocks she had to deal with along the way. Elliot was blessed with a wonderful voice and vibrant personality, but people in the industry often chose to focus on her large-sized frame, which made her the butt of people’s jokes and made other musicians — including some of her own band members — skeptical about whether she would be the right fit. When her father passed away at the age of 42, Elliot decided to pursue her musical dreams in New York, and later formed a folk music group called The Big Three with Jim Hendricks and Tim Rose.

If the music was satisfying Elliot on a personal level, very little else was. The graphic novel — illustrated in black-and-white with short chapters told in different narrative voices, including Elliot’s dad, her high school mate, fellow band members, and others — slowly unravels the frustrations that lingered beneath the surface throughout Elliot’s career. Bagieu wanted to to create a juxtaposition between Elliot’s constant zest for life and a sense of brokenness. “It was like the everyday joke that she was fat,” Bagieu says. “She had to fight her way to get to where she was without losing who she was. She never thought, “Okay, I’ll be the fat girl.” That’s what I like about her.”

Bagieu grew up listening to tapes of The Mamas & the Papas at her parent’s place, and was immediately fascinated by Elliot and her larger-than-life personality and smile. “I remember always loving these songs and always noticing this pretty voice,” Bagieu says. “I was totally fascinated by her. Ellen and I, we go way back. I always wondered what kind of life she would have had. I thought she had an amazing life. I started to look for anything about her.” The research process for the graphic novel only heightened Bagieu’s fascination. “She had this specific idea of what she wanted to be,” Bagieu says. “She never lost weight. She never changed the way she sang. She was a role model no one really cared about.”

The neglect and disrespect Elliot dealt with throughout her career is something that Bagieu can tangentially relate to. Bagieu, who was born in Paris and now resides in Brooklyn, New York, remembers a decade ago when she, along with a fellow writer, pitched a female superhero story idea to a major publisher. Bagieu remembers the male publisher suggesting that their superheroes could have superpowers that would allow them to get the cheapest clothing at sale time, and to always have the perfect shoe even if there was one size left. “I really wanted to slap him in the face,” Bagieu says. “I was so humiliated.”

The comic book industry has presented its own sets of challenges for Bagieu. “For female cartoonists, you have to be quiet,” Bagieu says. “You have to either do girl stuff. In France, we call it the The Smurfette Syndrome. You’re a token. It’s not neutral, we don’t make up half of the cartoonists. You’re just the girl. You have science fiction comic book writers, action comic book writers, and, oh, here’s the girl.”

When California Dreamin’ was first released in France, Bagieu was perplexed by some of the reaction and feedback about the book. “I had a lot of questions from journalists saying it was very bold to have a fat female character, and it really made me angry,” Bagieu says. “There’s not a moment in the book where she mentions [her weight]. The rest of the world wanted her to be slim. And she basically says fuck it. It’s not even a topic for her. She was only there for the music. She didn’t want to be the example. She was so self confident.”

The graphic novel was released last month on International Women’s Day, which was no coincidence for Bagieu. “In these times, everything for women becomes political,” Bagieu says. “Everything becomes a strong statement. You have to scream all the time, and to speak louder. I think it’s a good opportunity [for people to read] a book about a woman who kept doing what she wanted to do, who never listened to people telling her that she should do this or do that. She was so iconic. I’m really proud it’s coming out that day.”

Elliot passed away at the age of 32 from a heart failure. The Mamas & the Papas released five albums and sold over 40 million records worldwide, and Elliot had a brief solo career after the group broke up. The second half of the graphic novel hones on the often times disruptive dynamic between the band members in the group, and closes with the “California Dreamin’” tune that is synonymous with the band.

When asked whether she would have wanted Elliot to read her graphic novel, Bagieu said no, claiming this was her version of Elliot, and she’d be too nervous if Elliot was alive to read it. “It would be like having a secret crush and one day he finds out,” Bagieu says. “I would be so embarrassed.”

“To me it’s a love letter,” Bagieu explains. “I want to explain to people it’s not that she was the best singer, it’s just that I love her so much and I just want people to listen to her and love her too.”

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Another Game http://www.tcj.com/another-game/ http://www.tcj.com/another-game/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100022 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Dash Shaw reports on his selections for the great Metrograph theater store in NYC. The Metrograph is hosting Dash’s film, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, this weekend. 

The animated movie I wrote and directed, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, opens this weekend in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The Metrograph theater in New York let me decorate their walls with original artwork from the film, and I also curated their small upstairs bookstore, which carries rare DVDs, film-related books, and issues of Cahiers du Cinéma. They asked me to pick books and DVDs that felt related to my movie, or that a cinema-going audience would be interested in. Here are some of the things I selected, and why.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a German animated film by Lotte Reiniger done in cut-out silhouettes against color fields. Made in 1926, it’s likely the first feature-length animated film. Although it’s well known, I’m always surprised how few people have actually seen it. Reiniger’s silhouette work was a key inspiration for Kara Walker. This movie is the perfect embodiment of “independent cinema”—the means/budget is tied to the aesthetic. It’s more powerful because it’s minimal. This is truly an “auteur” movie, much more so than the larger-scale collaborative films of the French New Wave that defined the term. The silhouette sequence in High School Sinking is an homage to this movie.

 

Elsewhere:

Here’s a look at the growing Pittsburgh comics world from the perspectives of longtime mainstream comic book store Phantom of the Attic Comics and Tom Scioli.

The Doug Wright Award nominees have been announced.

Interesting looking word/picture book Playground of My Mind is discussed at Hyperallergic.

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Curating the Metrograph Bookstore http://www.tcj.com/curating-the-metrograph-bookstore/ http://www.tcj.com/curating-the-metrograph-bookstore/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99885 Continue reading ]]> The animated movie I wrote and directed, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, opens this weekend in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The Metrograph theater in New York let me decorate their walls with original artwork from the film, and I also curated their small upstairs bookstore, which carries rare DVDs, film-related books, and issues of Cahiers du Cinéma. They asked me to pick books and DVDs that felt related to my movie, or that a cinema-going audience would be interested in. Here are some of the things I selected, and why.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a German animated film by Lotte Reiniger done in cut-out silhouettes against color fields. Made in 1926, it’s likely the first feature-length animated film. Although it’s well known, I’m always surprised how few people have actually seen it. Reiniger’s silhouette work was a key inspiration for Kara Walker. This movie is the perfect embodiment of “independent cinema”—the means/budget is tied to the aesthetic. It’s more powerful because it’s minimal. This is truly an “auteur” movie, much more so than the larger-scale collaborative films of the French New Wave that defined the term. The silhouette sequence in High School Sinking is an homage to this movie.

Another perfect example of limited animation, and more specifically limited animation derived from comics, is A Charlie Brown Christmas. So much has been written about this canonized Christmas special and its unusual holiday message. Something I haven’t heard discussed about these Peanuts television specials is their odd, idle pace. Some of the lesser-known Peanuts specials, like the Thanksgiving one, have an episodic pace that’s based on a series of the comic strips strung together. By adhering so closely to the original comic strips, they arrive at something unusual in cinema. Also, unlike almost every kids’ cartoon, the voice acting is relatively naturalistic. These kid characters, who act neither like children nor adults, don’t have the over-the-top high-pitched voice acting you hear in contemporary cartoons. (Many of the side characters were voiced by non-actors.) Their dry delivery coupled with the slow pacing magically equals something that is unusual, gentle, and somehow outside of time.

Another DVD I had to include was Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Mystery of Picasso, because I’d never seen this film placed under the umbrella of “animation.” This is a filmed record of Picasso painting live. Picasso knows he’s being watched, so he chooses his strokes and arrangements to make dramatic reveals and changes to the “story” as it’s being unveiled. This is dramatic drawing, and Picasso has perfect comic timing! There are lots of goofy jokes in this movie, as marks come together in unexpected ways. Most of the paintings were destroyed after the movie, another sign that their sole purpose was to been seen as they were brought to life, animated.

For obvious reasons, The Drifting Classroom is often brought up in relation to High School Sinking, although I don’t remember thinking that much about it. Drifting Classroom is about a school that drifts through a portal into another dimension where it’s attacked by monsters. The first High School Sinking comic (which appeared in Mome) was clearly inspired by Titanic, but a surprising number of manga are about schools in danger. For example, almost every episode of Sailor Moon has a monster attacking a school. Even many of the adult cartoons, like Urotsukidoji, are about creatures, usually demons, attacking schools. The study period prior to college in Japan translates to “Study Hell.” All of these monsters must be a literalization or dramatization of the pain and turmoil of that age. It’s hard to think of a comic comparable to Drifting Classroom in terms of visceral power and masterful cartooning. It’s relentless. It’s a comic that’s best when you’re inside of it, before it’s over and after it’s begun, racing through its panels. My favorite school-in-danger anime is the 1970’s cartoon based on the  Devil Man comic series created by Go Nagai. These cartoons, like the Bakshi Spider-Man cartoons, are so brutal and demented that it’s scary to imagine them being aired on television and innocent children subjected to them. The Devil Man series recently came out as a box set that includes all of the episodes.

Also active in 1970s Japan was King Terry, who created the 30-minute limited-animation curiosity 100 Channels. King Terry is the godfather of the “heta-uma” illustration movement, which translates as “unskilled use of skill.” Terry subverted many of the conventions of illustrations. Instead of drawing larger and reducing drawings in print so that they’d be tighter and more detailed, he’d draw small and then blow them up, resulting in bold, thick-line drawings, maybe inspired by the thick lines seen in Roy Lichtenstein paintings, which are often referenced in Terry’s work. Terry wrote playful manifestos about “heta-uma” that declared “draw however you like,” but there was obviously an anti-establishment (or at least contrarian) sensibility to his work. It asked, “Why would you judge a drawing? What do we consider beautiful? Why?” etc. Sadly, the “heta-uma” movement was appropriated by people who just weren’t very skilled at drawing to begin with. But we have this gem of animation, funky music behind cut-out figures by Terry. This was reissued by PictureBox not too long ago, so it is easier to find than the limited animations of Seiichi Hayashi, which you have to buy an expensive box set to see.

The closest link to 100 Channels, in my mind, is Pee-wee’s Playhouse, so I included the box set of Season 1 and 2 at the Metrograph bookstore. When I watched episodes of this again recently, what stood out to me is their manic pace. Playhouse predicted YouTube and short-attention-span internet blips. I tried to think of it as a possible precursor to all of the “quirky” and “twee” characters we see in contemporary television and cartoons, or the man-children of Judd Apatow comedies, but the Pee-wee characters are more severe. Imagine placing artwork from Pee-wee into a Cartoon Network show, or having Pee-wee walk into a Sundance comedy– they would be out of place. Pee-wee’s Playhouse is much more abrasive in its pace and characterization. If it was done today, I believe it would be softer in some way.

I wrote a piece for the Metrograph program book about watching cartoons on psilocybin mushrooms, describing the effects of the opening title sequence of Speed Racer, so I wanted to include in the bookstore Incanto by Frank Santoro, who also painted the key exterior background paintings in High School Sinking. This particular zine by Santoro is lovely and poetic, and also, to me, utterly hilarious, because a section of it comes from a Speed Racer episode. Santoro told me that this was drawn after working as Francesco Clemente’s assistant. Clemente would often interpret preexisting old drawings, so that inspired Santoro to adapt a two-second Speed Racer moment. It’s perfect– like seeing something you’ve seen before for the first time. He captures the stillness of those Speed Racer cartoons with their minimal background paintings.

Like comics, limited animation says, “Look at what you can do with so little.” Like magic lanterns from the 1700s, which used still images in a very similar way to Speed Racer and limited animation, a whole universe is created with only still images sliding across a screen.

I also wanted to pick a couple of newer comics that you could hand to a stranger and they would enjoy without any explanation. Lovers in the Garden by Anya Davidson and Mowgli’s Mirror by Olivier Schrauwen are two books from Retrofit Comics that are perfect to display to a non-comics-reading audience. For one thing, they have a low price point. This printing of Mowgli’s Mirror is the best version of it in the world. Also, both books have strong stories and crystal clear cartooning coupled with unusual aesthetics. And they’re perfect for Metrograph because Lovers in the Garden recalls ’70s crime movies and Mowgli’s Mirror echoes silent film, puppet theater, and even, in one sequence, Lotte Reiniger.

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Hemlock http://www.tcj.com/reviews/hemlock/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/hemlock/#respond Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100000 Continue reading ]]> Hemlock is a sweet but somber Slavic-inspired fairy tale drawn by Josceline Fenton, a longtime cartoonist and animator. Hemlock follows a young 19th-century witch named Lumi and her accidental human-turned-frog familiar, Tristan, as they deal with her accursed unwilling marriage to Baba Yaga’s firstborn son, Sindri. Outcast by the Court of Witches and King Simo, her brother-in-law, Lumi wanders the outskirts of society, traveling in her house-snail, selling fertility spells in exchange for spices and baby teeth that can be used to summon up rudimentary Old Magic. Most of her time is spent concocting hemlock-heavy poisons to keep her evil husband Sindri sedated, at the threatening request of King Simo, but Sindri has developed a tolerance to his wife’s poisons, and his awakening presence is bound to cause problems for Lumi and his brother rival Simo.

While many of the main cast members, including Baba Yaga and her three servants, hail directly from old folklore and communicate with some of the lyrical syntax of their traditional origins, Lumi and Tristan provide a more contemporary entry point for readers with their modernized witty language. Tristan’s constant anxiety and Lumi’s melancholic but outspoken personality combine into a charming rapport that complements the comic’s unhurried pace. Slow pacing and indulgent, unnecessary scenes are a common pitfall in webcomics, given that they’re frequently created and updated in real time, without time to reassess and edit, and often with little or no buffer. Hemlock doesn’t stagger but keeps a steady, measured pace. Still, the lack of intensity and unchanging tempo make for a sometimes tedious narrative simmer. This pace is no doubt intentional on Fenton’s, mirroring the storybook mood of Lumi’s wistful but tense and long-lived life.

“800 years is an awfully long time, Tristan, even for a witch. I haven’t the energy left to hate him.”

Fenton’s inking style is controlled and has grown tighter and cleaner over the years, each brush line smooth and carefully tapered, with the overall feeling of wholeness that one might see in a woodblock print. The linework seems to bleed into itself at the figures’ heavier or shadowed junctures, as if pressed starkly into the page. Fenton cites Aubrey Beardsley as one of her inspirations and while her linework lack the delicate airiness of the 18th-century illustrator, her penchant for tightly inked spot blacks on thoughtfully designed and patterned clothing recalls her predecessor and shines throughout the story. Mike Mignola also comes to mind with his use of minimal composition and heavy blacks to translate pervasive darkness as ambience and to signal scale and space, cavernous voids.

Her character design style leans heavily on caricature, with small features punctuated by expressive bulging eyes, harshly tapered teardrop faces, and decisive, shapely silhouettes. Integrating such a flattened graphic style into a comic can be challenge, especially when trying to depict scale and space within a comic’s planar environment. Fenton opts for an atmospheric approach, often simplifying environments to their bare silhouettes and textures, and adding layers of SFX to signal busy crowds, the rush of wind through the woods, the creaking of the monstrous husband’s house.

As Hemlock approaches the finish of its fifth chapter, Fenton’s writing has become more resolute in its pacing, her characters’ voices hold a sharper clarity. Her art, too, has become sharper and cleaner, which is most likely a product of her intensive animation work and not the most appealing development in her work. Previously, her use of screen tones often enhanced the texture of her linework and added to the depth of environments, but has now fallen to become a more ancillary technique.

While this genially grim folkloric narrative doesn’t have much in the way of action or in-depth worldbuilding, the story satisfies and enchants in a gently amusing way. Fenton’s storytelling hones into the particulars of the unique dynamics her characters find themselves in, like when Lumi poisons her husband as nonchalantly as one might prepare dinner, or the way Tristan deals with his new role as a magic frog familiar—and friend to a woman who is not his mother for the first time. The insight Fenton has into her characters, and her dedication to following through on the truth of their natures without forcing them into the familiar romantic tropes of folkloric narratives, is continually compelling.

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Not with a Whimper http://www.tcj.com/not-with-a-whimper/ http://www.tcj.com/not-with-a-whimper/#respond Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99990 Continue reading ]]> Today marks the TCJ debut of cartoonist and writer Sloane Leong, who reviews Josceline Fenton’s webcomic, Hemlock.

While many of the main cast members, including Baba Yaga and her three servants, hail directly from old folklore and communicate with some of the lyrical syntax of their traditional origins, Lumi and Tristan provide a more contemporary entry point for readers with their modernized witty language. Tristan’s constant anxiety and Lumi’s melancholic but outspoken personality combine into a charming rapport that complements the comic’s unhurried pace. Slow pacing and indulgent, unnecessary scenes are a common pitfall in webcomics, given that they’re frequently created and updated in real time, without time to reassess and edit, and often with little or no buffer. Hemlock doesn’t stagger but keeps a steady, measured pace. Still, the lack of intensity and unchanging tempo make for a sometimes tedious narrative simmer. This pace is no doubt intentional on Fenton’s, mirroring the storybook mood of Lumi’s wistful but tense and long-lived life.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News.
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer has topped the latest ALA list of most-frequently banned and challenged books.

“I think there is clearly a general theme relating to sexuality that certain people are uncomfortable with in books for young people,” Mariko Tamaki told the National Post by email.

“So if your book contains any mention of sexuality, it’s likely to end up in this list.”

[ALA representative James] LaRue chalked up This One Summer’s detractors to being “Velcro parents” — a kind of supercharged version of the helicopter parent.

“I think it falls back into this terrible fear that many parents have that their children are growing up,” he said.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Fandor movie site talks to Dash Shaw.

If I do want to place myself somewhere, it’s with cartoonists who make animation. I don’t want to compare myself to him, because I think he’s the greatest ever, but I’d pick something like the first Astro Boy series created by [Osamu] Tezuka. That’s a case where he was a comic-book artist who wanted to make animation. He relied on his skills as a cartoonist to make cinema. You don’t need to know that to enjoy his work, but for me, it was definitely inspiring. I got a Fandor subscription because they had those kind of unusual animators, and I’m a million times more inspired by that than any animation in TV or contemporary movies. I basically just watched those kinds of avant-garde shorts and anime made before 1990.

DW talks to Guy Delisle about his latest book, Hostage.

We wanted the book to be an immersive experience for the reader. I wanted to enter [kidnaping victim] Christophe [André]’s mind and, and to the best of my ability, recreate what he went through. I guess I wanted to know what I would have done or felt if I had been in his situation.

The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Jonah Kinigstein.

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“I’m an Outsider Person”: The Carel Moiseiwitsch Interview http://www.tcj.com/im-an-outsider-person-the-carel-moiseiwitsch-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/im-an-outsider-person-the-carel-moiseiwitsch-interview/#comments Wed, 12 Apr 2017 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99964 Continue reading ]]> Carel Moiseiwitsch drew dangerous comics. Prominently featuring murderous cops, third-world refugees, and war crimes hopscotching their way to our front door, her works were dangerous because they gave us the raw truth, seemingly drawn in dense black sauce. Moiseiwitch had a period in the mid-to-late 1980s where her comics about punch-drunk authority figures taking turns making a mess of our lives were printed in all the important publications of the time: Rip Off Comix, Wimmen’s Comix, Weirdo, Real Stuff, and Twisted Sisters. As Moiseiwitsch drifted away from comics, like many of the singularly eccentric greats of that era did, she became more involved in fine art and world-wide activism. I spent more than an hour on the phone with the 76-year-old cartoonist and painter recently; we discussed a life full of art and advocacy.


RJ CASEY: How are you today?

CAREL MOISEIWITSCH: I’m good. The weather has been very unpredictable. Sometimes very hot or very cold. Very windy. Things have been polarizing and surprising since moving to the country, that’s for sure.

When did you move out to the country?

A few years ago, to get out of the city. We moved to Fraser Canyon. It’s been interesting.

You’re originally from England?

London, yes.

What was your first exposure to art?

My first exposure to art? Oh, I don’t know.

Do you remember a certain drawing or painting or something that really struck you when you were a child?

Where I grew up there wasn’t very much art. It was drab and desolate most of the time.

How so?

It was like a boarding school. I remember liking some children’s books with dark stories and dark illustrations. I was already attracted to that at a young age.

This was around World War II, right? Do you remember it at all?

I was born during the Blitz, but I don’t remember war. I was too young. But I remember the aftermath.

What do you remember?

I remember playing around the rubble. We used to look at bombsites and find wood and stuff. There were lots of bomb shelters and things like that during the ’50s and ’60s.

So that was a common site for you when you were a child? Places that were bombed out and bomb shelters?

Yes, yes. Everyone had that experience, especially if you lived in or around London. My grandmother lived in a place like that in London. After that, my parents just sort of split up and left me at school. I never saw them again. So the war had a direct impact…

Did you say you never saw them again?

I saw my father very, very scarcely and I didn’t see my mother again until I was eighteen.

Whoa … what were they doing during that time? Do you know anything about their lives?

Getting married again, to other people. Having more children, as people do. Yeah, they weren’t a part of my life.

Then you eventually found your way to the Saint Martin’s School of Art.

I did, yeah. In London.

Were you mainly focused on fine art there? Or illustration?

Fine art. I took painting. They do printmaking and fashion design now. Probably animation too. But at the time, they didn’t even have illustration. I did painting. Or my interpretation of painting. [Laughs]

Was it oil painting?

We did all kinds of painting. Gouache. Oil. Whatever you wanted.

OK. Going off on a tangent for a second because we’re talking about Saint Martin’s — I talked with Peter Bagge yesterday …

Oh Pete! How is he?

He’s good. We live in the same city now, so we see each other occasionally. After I told him that I would be talking with you, he said you had good Rolling Stones stories. He said to mention the Rolling Stones because you knew them when they were teenagers at Saint Martin’s?

Yeah, they used to come around and play at the art events at Saint Martin’s and the school dances and things like that. David Haughton used to come around and he tried to organize a painter’s guild. My friend, who I lived with and would see these guys at poetry readings, he was an electrician and wired up Jimi Hendrix for a local concert. I mean, how do you wire up Jimi Hendrix? I think he had to kind of make it up on the fly. There was all that stuff going on around me. All that early rock ’n’ roll.

After you graduated Saint Martin’s, was the next stop Vancouver?

After I left school, you know, I got pregnant and did all those things that you do. All of my friends became very boring and I thought that my life at that point was just mapped out ahead of me.

What do you mean mapped out? What did you picture?

It just seemed like there was going to be no deviation. I could see what was going to happen to me, and it seemed terrible. I just knew how predictable my life was going to be. A middle-class nobody in London. Just daft.

What did you think was going to happen?

That I would buy a house and decorate it nicely. Have more children. It just seemed horrible. I didn’t want that. So, the West Coast of America seemed like the place to go.



Why that destination?

All the pop songs were about that, right? The Mamas & the Papas, The Beach Boys, even Dylan. You got the impression that it would be good to go to the West Coast of America. But anywhere in America would have been good.

Did you make it to California then?

I went to Canada first because it was easy. I had planned to make it down the coast, but I didn’t. Vancouver was the farthest I got.

What was Vancouver like when you got there?

was a small, provincial town basically. I was coming from London, so … it was very slow. Shops still closed on Sundays. It was in the early ’70s. There was a real sense, though, that if you were a single mom of three, you could get by rather comfortably just with one income. There were some art grants and you could get this, that, and the other. Something relaxed about it.

You went from London to Vancouver with three children with you?

I went to a few other places briefly, but didn’t like them. I tried to go back to London too, but didn’t like that either. So, yes, Vancouver with my kids.

Was that difficult?

[Laughs] I think it probably was! But I didn’t know any better. It beat being stuck in a middle-class nothing life in London.

When you got to Vancouver, were you still painting or creating art in some capacity?

I was struggling and I used to make excuses — the kids were always in the way or something like that. But one day I remember setting up and completing a painting that I really liked. It was a real breakthrough for me. After that, I realized that the kids didn’t really bother me if I was actually concentrating. They left me alone. They were smart.

[Away from phone] Get down. Hey! Get down. Thank you.

I’ve got a puppy that I’m trying to train not to chew on the end of the couch.

[Laughs] You’ve got a puppy?

Yeah. It’s almost not a puppy anymore — one and a half. But still has some residual chewing issues, so we’re in training.

Are you an animal person? Have you always had pets?

No, I haven’t always had pets. I had children. That’s enough animals. [Laughter] But they had pets, yeah.

In your bio at the end of your collection Flash Marks, you mention that punk rock was a gateway into other types of art for you.

Oh, yes. When I got to Vancouver, the general function of art seemed to be comforting, decorative, pretty, beautiful … basically consoling. Things that would fit in nice in your office or next to a sofa or whatever it was, you know? That was still the idea. There was a certain amount of class. Then suddenly there were these punk posters up and zines around. I thought, “Wow! This is it!” Just fantastic.

Do you remember the first poster or zine that you came in contact with?

I don’t actually, but they were always in the street. I was working for sort of an anarchist newspaper called Open Road. It didn’t pay me any money, but I was doing art and comics for them. Those flyers were in there too and I just — I don’t know where I first saw them. I just don’t know. I might have gone down to Seattle and seen The Rocket. That’s the newspaper where I saw an ad for a comic contest. I had started making comics, but they weren’t the kind that you could put in the Sunday newspapers. I sent one in though, and the prize was selecting a tape of your choice. I won and got a tape of the Amadeus soundtrack.

So you had already started making comics by this time in the early ’80s?

Yes.

Did you make a transition from painting to comics?

I was still doing them both. I’ve always done both. And I was getting more involved with the newspaper and those people. I was also originally very involved with the women’s movement. I was doing a lot. I was a punk rock anarchist feminist. Very … out there.

A few of your shorter comics are about modeling. Are those autobiographical at all?

No, not at all. I used to look at the old magazines and sometimes they had these sort of photograph comics in there. They were very cheesy and looked so dumb. They weren’t about, or they didn’t include, any women I was interested in, so I think that’s why I wanted to make a joke about those. But I’m not sure what I’m talking about because I haven’t seen Flash Marks in ages. [Laughs] Maybe I’m still right.

After Open Road and The Rocket, where did you start getting comics published? Was your next one in Rip Off Comix?

Well, I also did some for The Stranger as well, when it was just a struggling little newspaper. But The Rocket used to get me to do more comics and illustrations and things like that. Then, the guy that ran The Rocket [Bob Newman] moved to New York and started working for the Village Voice. He started getting me gigs over there.

Oh, OK.

I also moved back to London at some point in there. And I was already doing some work for a newspaper here — a very mainstream newspaper called the Vancouver Sun. They used to give me work almost once a week.

You were doing editorial illustrations for them? Ones that accompanied articles?

Yeah, and sometimes they were humorous articles and sometimes they were very straight articles. I was always trying to come up with unique angles. Eventually I was fired.

Why were you fired?

The new editor did not want “that woman” in his newspaper. [Laughs] I was proud of that because he was a wretch. Very rightwing.

I can’t imagine your art accompanying normal everyday newspaper articles.

The guy who gave me the job was always trying to hustle for me and give me work, but I didn’t always respond well. He finally left, so I didn’t have anyone in my corner. And the new editor, I loathed him. But I think I did some work for them for about ten years.

Stopping by Seattle to do work for The Rocket and The Stranger, is that where you met Pete Bagge and got into Weirdo?

Yeah, that’s where I met Pete and all those guys. Dennis Eichhorn would sleep on the couch in the office at The Rocket. I met him and that’s when I first started with him too.

How did you get involved with Wimmen’s Comix?

That’s a good question because I’m not sure about that. I guess I was doing Twisted Sisters, so they asked me to do it too. A lot of the people in Twisted Sisters had a show in L.A. at La Luz De Jesus … is that right?

Yeah. The art gallery.

That’s where I met Aline and Robert Crumb. All sorts of people. The guy who does Zippy the Pinhead and his wife, Diane. That was really cool and it all snowballed. I don’t know how it all happened really. [Laughs] I remember that I worked with Fantagraphics and they were amazing to me. Very supportive.

Were you working with Gary or Kim?

Gary — who I think I met at Pete Bagge’s. We mostly talked on the phone and I would send him work. I don’t … mmmh … I don’t really remember a lot about this time …

Why’s that?

Around this time, I have to admit, I have an older son who became very ill with paranoid schizophrenia. He was living on the streets and going quite crazy. So I was kind of sidelined by that for a few years and lost a lot of my … direction. It was all very sad.

This was in the mid-’80s?

Yeah, early and mid-’80s. That’s when he was getting very, very ill. So that became my main preoccupation, as you could imagine. I used to go around looking for him on the streets and things like that.

Was this in Seattle or Vancouver?

Vancouver. My art took a backseat, but I was still doing some work for the Village Voice at that time. I was doing a little of my own work. I went back to England and then lived there for about five years. In England, they were much more accepting of my style in the regular magazines.

Why do you think that is?

Why? Well, I think Vancouver was still a provincial town. But the English have a wider, more diverse taste for drawings and paintings. They like all kinds of stuff and aren’t so snobbish. The Vancouverites were all descending into conceptual art. I feel like it’s been in that tight little box for several decades now. Very little of the stuff has any impact unless it somehow makes it into a mainstream gallery.

When you were doing work for Wimmen’s Comix and Twisted Sisters, did you ever feel the tension between the two? There was a decent amount of bad blood between them.

No, I wasn’t aware of that at all. [Laughs] I carried on regardless … from my icy post in the far, frozen north.

In Twisted Sisters 2, you have a story called “Impasse”. The story is set in Morocco …

Yes, I spent quite a long time in Morocco. I was very influenced by the French bande dessinée after I spent some time in Paris. I loved the French cartoonists’ work and thought their drawings were so incredible. I was very influenced by the French graphic artists. Someone said to me, “Why don’t you just do an autobiographical piece, since you never do that.” I used to just find stories and newspapers and things like that. But I thought, OK then, so I did that one.

Was that story done with etching or some sort of stamp-making?

I was using scratchboard with razors.

That style seemed to be way more popular amongst artist in the ’80s and ‘90s than it is now. You did it so well, and Penny Van Horn, but you don’t see it too much anymore.

Right. It’s seemed to have fallen out of style. One of the reasons I don’t use that style anymore is because I can’t get the good scratchboard anymore. I used to get that from England and it was really good. I can’t get the right ink because it’s all acrylic based now. It just doesn’t look right, so I had to give it up and I was really good at it. I tried looking for all the materials in England. I tried ordering it. It never worked, so I just gave up. It needs to come back! It’s a good medium.

In “Impasse”, the story’s all about anxiety and issues regarding commitment. Are these things that you still deal with or suffer from?

Good question. That certainly is true of me. I finally met the guy who is able to withstand my anxiety and I’m still with him. [Laughs] He’s a very brave man.

Does this anxiety stem from art or …

Just life in general. The art scene has contributed to it though, especially in Vancouver. I just couldn’t stand it. And I’m also always involved politically, so sometimes I get a lot of harassment for that. I still do my own work, but I stopped trying to show it and just stopped … just stopped.

Did you ever feel like you were part of an art scene? Or always outside those scenes?

I was somewhat involved. Not that involved, but somewhat. I really liked that I was welcomed to comics. And those women and guys, I liked them. It was really fun to get involved, because I felt a bit rejected after trying to make it in Vancouver. In London, when I lived there again, I started to get somewhere, but my son became ill, so I came back to help him. I lost that momentum. I’m really just a loner, though. An outsider.

Would you consider yourself an outsider artist?

No, I’ve had far too much art training for that. But I’m an outsider person. Apart from my partner, I live in solitude.

I want to circle back to Dennis Eichhorn. You met him while he was sleeping on the couch at The Rocket office?

Yup! At least I think so.

How was your relationship with him?

I just loved his stories. I would tease him about them and tell him that he was making them all up. He would say, “No! No, I’m not!” I would say that they were just male fantasies and he would say, “No they’re not!” We had a good relationship. We had fun with one another.



Your first story in Real Stuff was “Fatal Fellatio”. That story is just stunning. How did you go about designing those layouts? The pages are so strange.

It was just one of those things where the inspiration fell out of the sky. Dennis told me the story and I just drew it.

You definitely used your fine art background to layout and design that story, right?

Oh, absolutely. Once you’ve been trained to do something, you can’t not do it really. I had also read up on psychology and things like that, so I had some awareness of psychological relations. And then, of course, there was always the feminist analysis I brought to things. I just went in that direction when I was drawing for Real Stuff. I always gave Dennis a hard time whenever I drew stuff for him or when we talked about comics. He was always trying to pitch me a story then tell me what I should draw. That’s not the way I’m going to do it. I’m always going to do it my way. Sometimes he’d like that, sometimes he wouldn’t. More often not. I didn’t want to have to do his stories the way he perceived them.

He wanted panel-by-panel breakdowns?

In a way, he was more visually conventional. If I’m going to do a story, I’m going to go in with my view of it. I don’t just want the images to reiterate the text. I want to add something. Writers in comics often just see the illustrator as a decorator for their text. Most magazines treat illustrators that way too. I like when illustrators undermine the text or oppose it, not just reiterate what’s already in there like the readers are dumb or something.

Is that irritating?

Yes! It’s very boring. Go get a robot to do that.

The subtitle of Flash Marks is “Revolting Comix.” Do you think your artwork is revolting?

Yes, and more! I want my art to be revolting in terms of the verb and the adjective. Revolution and revulsion.

Most of your work is in stark black and whites. What attracts you to those colors?

I’m a very black-and-white person. I love the drama it creates. I am influenced by the German art that was made during and after the war. Those woodcuts and things, that were very expressionist. Very spare and expressive pieces of work — I like that. I’m not interested in highly-rendered art or high realism. I’m not really interested in that.

How about someone like Ralph Steadman?

Yes, I’ve met Ralph and I like his art very, very much. He’s a great guy and I absolutely love his work. He was influenced by Ronald Searle, who is my favorite illustrator ever.

When I view your work, Francis Bacon also comes to mind for me. That intensity …

Francis Bacon! I used to meet him in the pub when I was a student in London.

You knew him!?

Oh yes, he would buy drinks for everybody. He was kind of outrageous. He and I did a drawing together one time. I loved Francis and I loved his paintings. They were a huge influence.

Whatever happened to that drawing?

I don’t know that. We were quite drunk. [Laughter] Francis was a very generous and sweet man. He would buy us drinks and we were so broke. He’d come in and “drinks all around, Francis just sold a painting.”

In Flash Marks, there’s a story called “Coke’s Progress” about cocaine and its effects on people. Were drugs around you at that point when you drew that? Is that something you know about firsthand?

Yes, I used coke and a lot of my friends did as well. But I had enough of messing around with drugs. It made me too anxious. Incredibly anxious. But me and my friends knew that quite firsthand, unfortunately for some.

You saw a lot of people go down?

Yeah. They either went crazy, or died, or got horrible illnesses. Just terrible.

I was looking at your piece called “Strategies for Survival”, which is the women’s magazine cover parody …

Oh, right. The one about women artists.

Yes, yes. You have that line in it that goes, “Will she leave art or will art leave her?”

[Laughs] I always wonder that. That pretty much sums me up.

I was thinking about your era of comics and how many fantastic artists just drew for a couple years, then got out completely. Or ones that went into fine art and never made comics again. Why do you think that time period of the late ’80s to early ’90s had so many artists like that?

It’s not fruitful and it requires such hard work. Also everything became kind of corporate. It’s very hard to survive in that kind of atmosphere. Where I came from — London and Paris in the ’60s — you could go there and draw, record music, and create art, then shuffle around to the cafes and have a drink, meet up with friends, write poetry, or whatever it is you wanted to do. People took you seriously without you having to be famous or successful. You just had to be true to yourself. But now it’s like if you’re not famous or successful, you’re nothing.

Can you recall when that changed?

It’s when corporate values became dominant. And the internet doesn’t make it any better. It’s the same for music and television and all media. Now artists all have good teeth and good hair.

These cartoonists in Wimmen’s Comix and Twisted Sisters who never made comics again — do you think there was an issue with women too? That you weren’t as welcome?

I really don’t know. I really don’t. For me, I felt that comics became a dead end. You’re never going to make any money. I wasn’t sure I could commit my whole life to doing that. I just felt like exploding into the opposite direction, so I did huge installations. Massive ones. I found taking up entire gallery walls way more gratifying in a way. Can anyone do one thing for their entire life now?

I don’t know. [Laughter] Do you think there were more open doors in the fine art world than there were in the comics world for you?

It’s much easier to get sucked into the art world. It’s very seductive. People are a lot more reverential towards fine artists and really in a way they shouldn’t be. There are a lot of shitty people — very tiny, self-absorbed, and boring.

You’re talking about painters?

Artistes. It’s very serious, you know?

Right. Art with a capital “A.”

And with an “e” at the end. Artiste. Those people. Competitive snobs. So weird. It seems to me that in political activism — not comics, not fine art — people are much more friendly and real. I’m much more comfortable in a group of activists than I am in a group of artists.

When did you become active in political and social issues?

When I was a student in London. I got started with the CND — the campaign for nuclear disarmament. Massive marches against nuclear weapons. Huge marches in Hyde Park. I ended up doing a lot of traveling in the Middle East — North Africa and Palestine. I saw what was happening there and came back and started doing drawings, paintings, and photographs of what I saw there.

When did you start traveling like that?

When my kids left or went to university. I think somewhere around ’89.



What called you to the Middle East? Were you going as a tourist or an activist?

I wanted to know what the hell was going on in the world. Get out of my comfort zone and go and see everything.

Getting out of your comfort zone can be hard to do.

I think it should be mandatory for everyone to do it. Maybe even once a week, if not once a day. Don’t you think so?

Yeah, I do think so. Traveling seems like it may be more difficult now in terms of expense and other hassles.

Yeah, yeah. If you went to some of the places I went to now, they might not let you back in again.

Right.

It’s very strange now. You’re right, it is a lot harder to do that.

I saw on your website that you did some activism work in Mexico as well?

No, I don’t think so … oh, yes, I took some photographs in Oaxaca of street art when the uprising was going down. I took some photographs of the graffiti.

Have you ever made any street art or graffiti before?

Yes, I’ve done some stencil stuff and banners. Yeah, you do a small thing on a wall and off you go. I’ve made stencils for people.

Do you think street art is politically important?

I do. The streets, the walls, those are some of the last free places, aren’t they?

How do people react to your art when you’re traveling around the world? How did they react in the Middle East?

They hardly ever saw it. I would take sketches and then make the final pieces when I returned home. I’m sure some people thought I was a bit strange because I had very, very short and bleached hair. I was quite thin at the time too. Most people didn’t know what to make of me, this thin punk drifter traveling on my own and looking so strange. They didn’t know what to make of me at all.

Did you ever get in touch with other artists in the Middle East?

No, not really. Hardly ever. I went to museums and saw a lot of stuff that would influence my own work, but I didn’t meet any other artists. I didn’t know anybody. I was usually wandering around on my own and you can’t really initiate conversation, especially with guys or anything. The women wouldn’t talk to me and I couldn’t talk to the guys. When I approached men, I got the feeling that they thought I was trying to fuck them. It got lonely.

How did your work and activism for the Palestinians begin?

Just by being there. And coming back and thinking about it, drawing it, and reporting on it.

And people were receptive to your stories and what you witnessed when you got back to Vancouver?

Well, I don’t know if you know anything about this scuffle, but the press have been … colluded. They aren’t really writing all of the truth of what is happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis really. There was a young woman who came from Olympia, Washington named Rachel Corrie who was killed trying to protect some houses from being demolished. We were there at the same time. I was there when she was killed. Have you ever heard of her?

I have.

Yeah …

[Long silence.]

I was just remembering that. So, I just felt like I had to do this. I had to go back and say what was going on because there’s nowhere to read it. It almost gets completely deleted from the mainstream press.

Mmmh … news gets deleted altogether or diluted?

I’m not sure I should get into this conversation.

OK.

It might … offend you.

You made a sort of parody newspaper in Vancouver.

Yes, and that was exactly about the newspapers and especially the Vancouver Sun, who I used to work for. The person who owned them at the time had an actual editorial policy to not write anything negative about Israel and the issues surrounding it. So, me and some others made a parody newspaper and wrote negative things about Israel. We got clobbered and got sued.

Wouldn’t that be protected though? I’m sure it didn’t cut into their circulation numbers. It was a parody, right?

Well, yeah, but at the beginning all that stuff falls to the side and they can try to lay the law on you for anything. They didn’t care about the finer niceties of the law or how that power should be used. But that was argued in court. Anyway, the owner of the newspaper eventually went bankrupt and the case never got resolved … I guess it’s resolved now, but it’s kind of in a coma.

A coma?

That’s it. It’s in a coma. No one’s had their just desserts and the case isn’t resolved. So we were going to ask if so many thousands of dollars could be put aside during his bankruptcy, that if he wants to start it up again, we at least know he has the money to reward us. But they weren’t going to do that. They were just going to go bankrupt and refused our request for money. It’s in some strange legal limbo.



And you’ve done some activism at home in Vancouver as well?

I worked with people with mental health problems and drug issues and did some work at shelters. That’s because my son was ill and we had a very hard time getting him diagnosed and treated. At the time, it was very difficult. It’s much better now. I wanted to tell people about it. That these cruddy, stinky people they see on the street weren’t necessary lazy or anything, just very ill.

Do you think art is the best form of activism? Is art a form of activism at all?

It can be a form of activism, but there are many different forms. I went that route because I’m better at art than other things. I’m not very good at giving speeches, but I’m good with images and things like that. So I do that.

Do you think artists have a responsibility to speak out about issues that affect them or …

Yes! I do think that.

So you think that artists who aren’t involved socially or politically are wasting their time?

I don’t know if I would say that. I guess there’s a great need for some people to look at pretty, consoling pictures that they can put on their walls. There’s enough room for everybody. [Laughs] I don’t know if I actually believe that anymore. But you know what I mean, right? There’s a lot of people who do that kind of work and may they be successful. It would bore me.

Those people making pleasant paintings tend to be better known and make more money than the artists using their platform for activism.

Oh yes! [Laughs] But we don’t really need that much money, do we?

Well, I don’t know.

We just need enough to get by. Pay the bills. Pay the rent, hopefully.

You were teaching a while in Vancouver too, right?

Yeah, I was teaching at the Emily College of Art and Design. Yes, I was.

What courses did you teach?

I mostly did drawing courses. I also taught a comics class. Things like that. Mostly just drawing. I used to teach it to animators, sculptors, painters.

Did you enjoy it?

I did. I really liked it. I’m actually quite good at it, but I didn’t like the politics at the school. Most of the people teaching there were stuffy professionals, tenured, didn’t lead discussions at all. They just talked down to the students. I used to have waitlists for my classes.

Do you miss it?

No. [Laughter] Such a pain in the ass. But it was really interesting. It’s very interesting to have to explain drawing and break it down.

When looking over your art, I noticed that you signed a lot it with your name, of course, but other pieces with “Xero.” X-E-R-O.

Yeah, X-E-R-O.

Where does that come from?

It’s an old Chinese tradition to change your name every so often for artists and poets. It’s so you can’t ride along on your reputation.

So how many times have you changed your “art name?”

I’m on my third one. [Laughs]

I have never heard of anyone doing that before.

Haven’t you? Oh, OK.

I think a lot of artists want to ride on their name and reputation after a while.

But it’s bad for you though. You just start repeating yourself and doing what you’ve always done. It stops you taking risks. Galleries are the worst like this for artists, I think, unless the artist is really fucking brilliant.

Galleries are the worst?

A lot of them just want to sell. They want to create a reputation for themselves and they need pieces to sell to do this. So they get artists to just crank out shit and then they sell it. They just want something they can rely on.

How long does it take you to complete a piece? Sometimes your paintings and comic pages look like they’re done at a feverish pace.

Yeah.

Is that how you work?

Yes. I don’t do very much planning.

And it’s the same for your comic pages and your big paintings?

Right. It’s hard for me to sit down and plan. I’m impatient. And that’s something in art and comics that people really admire. People like art that looks very careful. They like when an artist seems like they worked very hard and took a long time.

That illusion that things are better if they look like they took a long time.

Yeah, that’s it. People want artists who try hard. Artists have been traditionally seen as people who get away with murder. So, at least if they worked hard on a piece and took a long time, people have something they can respect them for.

That’s all based in capitalism, isn’t it?

Could be. Good old work ethic.

The last comic you made was called “This is a True Story”. That was in a journal published by Duke University. How did that come about?

I really don’t know how that happened. They just asked if they could use it.



It’s a huge shift in style for you. It’s almost unrecognizable from your older work.

Yes.

It’s much cleaner and the pages are left white and wide open.

Yeah, there’s not very much black. Who can tell why I chose to do it like that or what the inspiration for it was?

Did you think that it would best fit the story?

I was just looking for something new, and by then I couldn’t find good scratchboard. I supposed it’s also supposed to look like a kid’s story.

Like a children’s book?

It does look like that.

I saw on your website the Abu Ghraib drawings that you did too. Those look like they’re done in colored pencil.

Cheap ballpoint pens on plain white paper. I wanted to use the cheapest material possible. I love ballpoint pen. It was a fun experiment, but the scenes are harrowing.

What do you make of the current political climate?

It’s awful. I mean, you read all this stuff about the destruction of the environment. It’s so mindless, so wretched, and so awful. I’m so ashamed that this is happening. But it’s happening all over. I live on a mountain and see the destruction and living creatures’ habitats getting destroyed. Ghastly. And just the number of living creatures on this planet is dropping. We’re just destroying our fucking planet. It’s dark.

Is environmentalism something that you’ve touched upon in your art before?

Somewhat. But it’s such a huge subject that I usually don’t know where to start. I’m kind of circling around it right now.

How about your art right now? Are you working on anything currently?

I am. I’ve got a very small space — I don’t have my lovely studio anymore since we moved — so I’m doing quite small pieces. I’m using gouache and doing images of extreme weather. I’ve experienced a lot of that here. I’m not sure what’s going to come from it, but that’s what I’m doing.

Any hope that you return to comics at all?

I’d like to. I have to say that Trump is very tempting.

Like doing an editorial cartoon?

Oh, I’d like to do a bit more than that! Everyone thinks people like … Stephen Colbert are so outrageous. [Laughs] He couldn’t even get in the kitchen with me and my art. Things need to be said, but in a slightly different way. And I might do it. The only problem is that I’m frightfully ancient now.

You’ve still got time to make more great art.

I hope so.

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News from West http://www.tcj.com/news-from-west/ http://www.tcj.com/news-from-west/#respond Wed, 12 Apr 2017 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99992 Continue reading ]]> Hi there, today on the site is RJ Casey’s interview with Carel Moiseiwitsch, who is known to comics audiences for her work in Twisted Sisters, Wimmen’s Comix, and Weirdo, among other publications. 

In Twisted Sisters 2, you have a story called “Impasse”. The story is set in Morocco …

Yes, I spent quite a long time in Morocco. I was very influenced by the French bande dessinée after I spent some time in Paris. I loved the French cartoonists’ work and thought their drawings were so incredible. I was very influenced by the French graphic artists. Someone said to me, “Why don’t you just do an autobiographical piece, since you never do that.” I used to just find stories and newspapers and things like that. But I thought, OK then, so I did that one.

Was that story done with etching or some sort of stamp-making?

I was using scratchboard with razors.

That style seemed to be way more popular amongst artist in the ’80s and ‘90s than it is now. You did it so well, and Penny Van Horn, but you don’t see it too much anymore.

Right. It’s seemed to have fallen out of style. One of the reasons I don’t use that style anymore is because I can’t get the good scratchboard anymore. I used to get that from England and it was really good. I can’t get the right ink because it’s all acrylic based now. It just doesn’t look right, so I had to give it up and I was really good at it. I tried looking for all the materials in England. I tried ordering it. It never worked, so I just gave up. It needs to come back! It’s a good medium.

In “Impasse”, the story’s all about anxiety and issues regarding commitment. Are these things that you still deal with or suffer from?

Good question. That certainly is true of me. I finally met the guy who is able to withstand my anxiety and I’m still with him. [Laughs] He’s a very brave man.

Does this anxiety stem from art or …

Just life in general. The art scene has contributed to it though, especially in Vancouver. I just couldn’t stand it. And I’m also always involved politically, so sometimes I get a lot of harassment for that. I still do my own work, but I stopped trying to show it and just stopped … just stopped.

Did you ever feel like you were part of an art scene? Or always outside those scenes?

I was somewhat involved. Not that involved, but somewhat. I really liked that I was welcomed to comics. And those women and guys, I liked them. It was really fun to get involved, because I felt a bit rejected after trying to make it in Vancouver. In London, when I lived there again, I started to get somewhere, but my son became ill, so I came back to help him. I lost that momentum. I’m really just a loner, though. An outsider.

Elsewhere:

I don’t usually link to PR, but Moebius news is a little different for me, so here’s some good news.

Glen Weldon on Cathy Malkasian’s Eartha.

And congrats to our contributor and friend, Dash Shaw, on a string of premiers for his excellent film My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Check this site for dates in a city near you. 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/12/17 – St. Deals) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-41217-st-deals/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-41217-st-deals/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 12:02:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99947 Continue reading ]]>

Time to do what comic book stores do best.

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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!

The Artist: Unless I’ve missed something — and I never miss anything, I am always right about everything, forever — this is the first product of the new distribution deal between the respected UK art comics publisher Breakdown Press and Seattle’s own Fantagraphics, for the purposes of affording Breakdown’s wares greater access to comic book stores. They’re starting with a strong one – this 64-page collection of Vice.com webcomics by Anna Haifisch popped up on a number of Best of 2016 lists, presumably due to its alternately droll and surreal glimpses into the unglamorous process of being alive in the art-making scene, though often it’s just stories of awkwardness and forced amusement that could occur among any group of young people. Very delicate and funny drawing; $19.99.

Babybel Wax Bodysuit: This Retrofit/Big Planet release from artist Eric Kostiuk Williams is also a collection of stories, albeit a good deal shorter at twenty 7.25″ x 10.25″ color pages. They look pretty interesting, though, coiling with decoration and insets and suggestive molten shapes. Topics include “self-worth, Internet culture, and the fascinating grotesqueries offered up by our science-fiction present,” per the publisher.

PLUS!

American Barbarian: The Complete Series: Some of you will recall the 2012 AdHouse edition of this webcomic series by writer/artist Tom Scioli, one of several variations on his longstanding fascination with Kirbyesque aesthetics, although there’s also an interest in toyetic, ultra-franchised characters that perhaps jumps out a little more following his work on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. It is the publisher of that latter series, IDW, which now reissues American Barbarian as a 268-page, 6″ x 9″ softcover. Introduction by Rob Liefeld; $19.99.

Caravaggio Vol. 1: The Palette and the Sword: Your orthodox Eurocomics pick of the week sees Dark Horse once again dealing with writer/artist Milo Manara, but no longer through the omnibus format of (many) prior releases. Rather, this 64-page, 8″ x 10″ color hardcover matches the sole extant French volume of what is expected to be a series of albums on the adventures of the Italian master, save for what I understand to be a decrease in size from 9.4″ x 12.6″ compared to the Glénat edition. This is pretty much the 71-year old Manara’s big mainline color comics project of the decade, so if you admire his craft you’ll certainly want a look. Preview; $19.99.

Toppu GP: And moving along to manga, we now encounter the most recent project by Kōsuke Fujishima, creator of the inescapable 20th century love comedy fantasy Oh My Goddess! This one’s a sports serial, specifically concerned with motorcycle racing – from the pages of the prominent seinen monthly Afternoon, although Kodansha has also made individual chapters available digitally in English as they happen via comiXology and the like; $12.99.

The Complete Phonogram: Being a 504-page monster hardcover in which we find the entirety of this music-as-magic genre fiction/personal metaphor project from creators Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, dating back to 2006, when Image was not nearly so popular a place to be; the series struggled financially, though I think you can still say it ‘launched’ the creators in terms of comic book visibility. Now the pair run The Wicked + The Divine, a similarly music-themed but considerably more prominent Image fantasy project, so it makes sense for this older material to be accessible in as uncomplicated a format as this; $49.99.

Aliens: The Original Comics Series Vol. 2: Decades ago, the Dark Horse Aliens series had a reputation as unusually high-quality movie tie-ins, due to their willingness to retain offbeat talents for original stories. Notably, this 224-page 8″ x 12″ hardcover collects 1989-90 issues with art from Denis Beauvais (at that time an artist for the Aircel series Warlock 5, and subsequently in large part an illustrator in the gaming field) and Sam Kieth (who, immediately before, had co-created The Sandman at DC, only to depart after a very brief run). Samples; $39.99.

Judge Dredd: The Cape & Cowl Crimes: This appears to be a new 160-page Dredd compilation put together for a North American audience, published by Simon & Schuster, which has done a few of these unique jobs before. Poking at the never-ending obsession with spandex in overseas comics, these 2000 AD stories from across a good span of time — going back at least as far as ’87, smack in the middle of the blood ‘n thunder era heralded in no small part by the arrival of certain 2000 AD contributors on the superhero scene — demonstrate their own enduring antipathy; $19.99.

Black Panther & The Crew #1 (&) All Time Comics: Bullwhip #1: Finally, we have a pair of new superhero comics with different aesthetic aims. The Crew is the newest spinoff of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ popular run on the Lee & Kirby creation, with poet and academic Yona Harvey also writing, and genre veteran Butch Guice heads up the art. I would call this the ‘prestige’ end of straight-ahead contemporary corporate superhero comics. Bullwhip, meanwhile, is the latest from the Fantagraphics-published superhero line fronted by writer Josh Bayer, once again pairing young and old talents on the art – last issue’s inker, Benjamin Marra, is now the penciller, with longtime Marvel hand Al Milgrom inking; $3.99 (each).

Today’s front page image is a detail from the “NUDE” variant cover to Hellina: Kiss of Death #1, a July 1995 release from Lightning Comics, pioneers of the nude variant cover and originating publisher of Hellina, so named because the title character is from Hell.

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Bomb Squad http://www.tcj.com/bomb-squad/ http://www.tcj.com/bomb-squad/#respond Tue, 11 Apr 2017 12:00:03 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99942 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here as usual with his indispensable guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting the most interesting-sounding releases new to stores. Spotlight picks this week include new titles by Anna Hafisch and Eric Kostiuk Williams.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart has been indicted for “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member,” and faces up to 29 years in prison for his anti-Erdogan cartoons.

His work is often critical of Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian regime, but also of Fethullah Gülen, the alleged leader of last summer’s attempted coup, and of terrorism and extremism in Turkey overall. The substance of his work belies the government’s contention that he’s a Gülen Movement or PKK stooge.

Jim Morin of the Miami Herald has won this year’s Pulitzer for editorial cartooning.

Marvel continues its PR hot streak with the news that Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf planted coded references that have been commonly interpreted as having anti-Christian and anti-Semitic connotations. Marvel has said that it will remove the artwork from future printings of the comic, and that some form of disciplinary action will take place.

—Interviews & Profiles. For Archinect, Julia Ingalls talks to Ben Katchor.

“The strips are kind of written in a half-dream state,” Ben tells me over the phone. “I’m not fully asleep when I’m writing them, but I’m somewhere in between. A lot of them have this free-associative kind of quality as when I’m in a dream, but then I’m awake and I can edit them, make them coherent in some way.”

Tom Spurgeon talks to Jim Blanchard.

I rarely read comics nowadays. Occasionally I’ll re-read an old R. Crumb comic or Kirby-era Fantastic Four reprint or something like that. But, I’m not drawn to them, so I don’t really have any needs to be served by the comics industry. I see Fantagraphics’ output when I visit their wonderful store in Georgetown, but that’s about it. Most of the modern “indy/alternative” comics I see from the U.S.A. don’t engage me. Too self-conscious and niceity-nice. There are a few exceptions. It seems like comics in America stopped evolving around the same time rock music did in the ’80s and ’90s, but I’m out of the loop so I could be wrong. To me, the last great comics generation was the group that came up in the early-mid ’80s: Clowes, Bagge, Kaz, Friedman, Hernandez Bros., Burns — all with amazing, unique artistic chops and all on a par with the best of the previous generations’ cartoonists.

New podcasts include Frank Stack at RiYL and Gabby Schulz at Comics Alternative.

—Reviews & Commentary. LARB has been running a lot of comics writing lately, including Brad Prager’s review of Pushwagner’s Soft City

DAWN BREAKS over a modern apartment complex in the very first pages of Hariton Pushwagner’s dystopian graphic novel Soft City. The sun peers back at the reader from a single eye at its center. Its hundreds of fine, radiating lines call to mind a wild mane, the strands of which resemble heads of hair in William Blake’s work — paintings such as The Ancient of Days (1794), or any of a number of plates from The Book of Urizen, published in that same year. Pushwagner’s eye of providence invokes an array of eschatological meanings. The divine watches us with an organ akin to our own.

and Lily Hoang’s review of Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Ferris’s genre-bending narrative is part horror story, part noir. Karen makes herself into a detective — donning a trench coat and hat to fulfill the stereotype — when her upstairs neighbor Anka is found dead. Although there is no explicit evidence of foul play, Karen devotes her time to searching for clues that might support her suspicion that Anka was murdered. As an amateur sleuth, Karen patches together a retrospective narrative of Anka’s enigmatic life.

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What will it take. http://www.tcj.com/99930-2/ http://www.tcj.com/99930-2/#respond Mon, 10 Apr 2017 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99930 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Richard Elder returns with part 3 of his examination of Ernest Hemingway appearances in comics. 

When the Comics Journal ran the first two parts of this series (which you can read here and here), we asked for readers to help us find other appearances of Ernest Hemingway in comics history. They didn’t disappoint.

The first two parts chronicled the author’s colorful appearances in Superman, Shade: The Changing Man, Cerebus and 40+ other appearances. In the selections below, readers directed us to Hemingway references, adaptations and homages across the comics publishing landscape.

Samurai Crusader (1996)
Reader Phil Rippke pointed out Hemingway’s appearance as the sidekick in Samurai Crusader, a manga series by writer Hiroi Oji and artist Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman and Mai, The Psychic Girl).

“The titular character is visiting Europe and meets the burly, two-fisted adventurer Hemingway and together they try to foil a plot to start a World War. Viz translated it into English and published a three volume series from the 90s,” Rippke wrote. “It’s definitely worth tracking down.”

Elsewhere:

Drew Friedman writes about his New York Observer encounters with presidential son-in-law  Jared Kusher. The fun of this piece is so much in Friedman’s particular “who me” wise-ass tone in his prose. 

Tom Spurgeon interviews longtime Washington state illustrator/cartoonist Jim Blanchard. 

Not-comics: Raconteur Glenn O’Brien passed away on Friday. He was influential in art, style and prose, and had long career in publishing (Interview, High Times, etc) and writing (Artforum, GQ), as well as a prolific life in advertising. Worth reading about to think about if you find valuable what he represented.

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When Wolverine met Hemingway: Part 3 http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-part-3/ http://www.tcj.com/when-wolverine-met-hemingway-part-3/#respond Mon, 10 Apr 2017 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99909 Continue reading ]]> When the Comics Journal ran the first two parts of this series (which you can read here and here), we asked for readers to help us find other appearances of Ernest Hemingway in comics history. They didn’t disappoint.

The first two parts chronicled the author’s colorful appearances in Superman, Shade: The Changing Man, Cerebus and 40+ other appearances. In the selections below, readers directed us to Hemingway references, adaptations and homages across the comics publishing landscape.

Samurai Crusader (1996)
Reader Phil Rippke pointed out Hemingway’s appearance as the sidekick in Samurai Crusader, a manga series by writer Hiroi Oji and artist Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman and Mai, The Psychic Girl).

“The titular character is visiting Europe and meets the burly, two-fisted adventurer Hemingway and together they try to foil a plot to start a World War. Viz translated it into English and published a three volume series from the 90s,” Rippke wrote. “It’s definitely worth tracking down.”

So, we did. The three volumes are:

Samurai Crusader: The Kumamaru Chronicles (reprinting Manga Vizion, Vol. 1, No. 1 through Vol. 1, No. 8)

Samurai Crusader: Way of the Dragon (reprinting Manga Vizion, Vol. 1, No. 8 through Vol. 2, No. 7)

Samurai Crusader: Sunrise Over Shanghai (1997, reprinting Manga Vizion, Vol. 2, No. 8 through Vol. 3, No. 5)

Rippke also directed us to a loving tribute to the series by Katherine Dacey (@manga_critic), published in Manga Bookshelf.

Dacey writes: “Whenever I see Ryoichi Ikegami’s name attached to a project, I know two things: first, that the manga will be beautifully illustrated, and second, that the plot will be completely nuts. Samurai Crusader, a globe-trotting, name-dropping adventure from the early 1990s, provides an instructive example.”

Here’s an image from Samurai Crusader that illustrates Dacey’s enthusiasm for the series.


Glory
#34 (2013)
When Joe Keatinge began writing Image Comics’ Glory, he gave the series’ warrior demoness a complex origin story that included a connection to the Lost Generation of Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and a young Hemingway.

As covered in Part 2 of this series, Hemingway appeared in Glory #30, illustrated in a short story by Roman Muradov. But Sophie Campbell, the arc’s chief artist, reached out to say that Hemingway made an unnamed cameo in the final issue of the series.

“I actually didn’t want to draw that scene at all because I feel like I’m not great at capturing real people’s likenesses and I don’t ‘get’ the whole 1920s Paris/Stein’s salon thing, which is also why Roman Muradov drew the first Hemingway flashback,” Campbell says.


But issue 34 was the finale, so Campbell dug in—she knew how important it was to Keatinge. “Looking back on the issue now I think that part came out pretty good,” Campbell says. “I’m still proud of issue 34; it’s definitely my favorite one.”


Blanche Goes to Paris
#1 (2001)
A self-professed “big Hemingway fan,” Rick Geary included the author in two panels of Blanche Goes to Paris“I felt it only natural to include him in a story that takes place in Paris in 1921,” Geary says. At age 13, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was the first work of “serious” literature that Geary had ever read.

“Later on I read his other novels and came to appreciate what a revolutionary influence he was on American writing,” Geary says. “But the simple power of The Old Man has stayed with me over the years, and the Hemingway ‘style’ overall has given me lessons in the art of unadorned storytelling.”

Blanche Goes to Paris was later reprinted by Dark Horse in The Adventures of Blanche hardcover collection (2009). Geary also illustrated Hemingway in one panel of Steve Vance’s Big Book of Vice (1998), covered in Part 2 of this series, and he directed our attention to this later Hemingway appearance.

 

Puma Blues #3 (1986)
Edward Khanna pointed out a Hemingway reference in the beginning of Puma Blues, written by Stephen Murphy and illustrated in mind-boggling detail by Michael Zulli.

“A character, Jack, has a beard at the time and looks Hemingway-esq and is describing a nightmare he had to his class, which includes a scene with Death holding up a phone and saying ‘It’s for you,’ which I assume is a reference to For Whom The Bell Tolls,” wrote Khanna. He continued: “Rereading the part, I noticed that in the sequence just prior to it, there’s a robot named, ‘Ernest,’ who leaves his master to go find himself in nature.”

 

Generation X #5 (1995)
Comics writer/editor Danny Fingeroth also directed us to Generation X for a villain named Hemingway. As part of Gene Nation, the hulking, spiny Hemingway terrorized both humans and mutants, making appearances across several X-Men-related series until he ran afoul of Wolverine in 2004’s Weapon X #21 (Vol. 2). Here he is, first drawn by Chris Bachalo in 1995.


National Lampoon Magazine
(Vol. 2, Number 9, 1979)
Hemingway isn’t lampooned, oddly, in this April Fool’s issue of National Lampoon. Instead, he appears in caricature form for the magazine’s “Lives of the Great” column.

Among the true facts in the illustration: “In 1944, a jealous Hemingway destroyed the portrait of his lover with a submachine gun. A stray shot blew apart her toilet and flooded the apartment.”


Honorable mentions
Even when not directly featuring the author, the name Hemingway pops up in magazines and other comics. An “E. Hemingway” is listed as a contributor to Cracked #130 (January 1976), although there’s no corresponding story. Other references are less opaque.

In DC Comics’ New 52 line, the name of Deathstroke’s nurse is Hemingway—possibly a reference to Hemingway’s romance with nurse Agnes Von Kurowsky during World War I. She patches up the warrior assassin in Deathstroke #8 (Vol. 2, 2012).


In Milestone Comic’s Static, teen hero Virgil Hawkins attends Hemingway High School. “I’m not sure who on the creative team actually named the school Ernest Hemingway High,” remembers artist John Paul Leon. “…I distinctly remember drawing the first establishing shot of the school around page 10 of issue 1.”

Leon says it’s likely that co-creator Dwayne McDuffie or writer Robert Washington III named the high school, though Leon can’t swear to it. McDuffie died in 2011, and Washington in 2012. Via Twitter, Static co-creator Michael Davis (@mdworld) also wasn’t sure who the Hemingway fan was, writing, “I think it was Dwayne [McDuffie] BUT it may have been [writer Christopher] Priest.”

Below is an image from a Static / Black Lightning story from Brave and the Bold #24, (2007, 3rd Series).


Lastly, a cab driver / sidekick of Doctor Druid in Warren Ellis’ 1995 series
Druid is named Hemingway. He’s not treated very well.


If you know of a Hemingway appearance or reference that we didn’t feature, please email: info [at] hiddenhemingway.com, and we’ll update it in this article. Otherwise:

Click here to read Part 1. 

Click here to read PART 2

Robert K. Elder is the author of Hidden Hemingway: Inside the Ernest Hemingway Archives of Oak Park

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Clean-Up http://www.tcj.com/clean-up/ http://www.tcj.com/clean-up/#respond Fri, 07 Apr 2017 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99877 Continue reading ]]> Dash Shaw wrote a “filmmaker’s letter” for Landmark Theatres about how he created the original comic story that became My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (and includes a pdf of the comic).

When I was a high school student, in the nineties, there were two main schools of comic books: autobio comics on one end and adventure comics on the other. I liked both of them. The idea behind this short story was to combine these two opposing schools; so I had a character named Dash, and it was based on real feelings and experiences, but it was thrown into a boy’s adventure-style action comic. Whatever’s true in it has been warped to favor the main character’s perspective, which is often how autobio stories are. It’s also a joke about how most stories are; like how we know Indiana Jones is George Lucas’ fantasy, and it’s based on his real interest in archaeology and history, but it’d be sort of sad and pathetic if he just named the character “George Lucas.”

RJ Casey wrote about contemporary sports art (with a look back at cartoonist Willard Mullin) for The Classical.

Mullin acolytes and understudies carried this style forward in the 1950, ’60s, and ’70s. Murray Olderman penciled and shaded photo-realistic renderings mostly of football and tennis players. He then filled the frame with highly-stylized gags full of stats and jokes. He was—is now, in his late 90s—a polished polymath and pioneer in the field, an original whose only critique is that he maybe slummed it up in caricature work a bit. Olderman more than made up for that with his productivity and in the fact that he was also an accomplished journalist in his own right; he had a hand in creating the MVP trophy in many of the professional sports leagues.

For The Guardian, JA Micheline writes about Marvel, diversity, and the company’s self-inflicted wounds.

Marvel is a business, but it’s a business that attempts to sell comics to a demographic that has demonstrated a categorical, historical (and ultimately violent) disinterest in anything that is not built explicitly for them, rather than seeking to expand by making concerted efforts to entice other people into the fold. Marvel is certainly subject to the demands of capitalism, but it sets its attempts at inclusivity up for failure when it continues to push white men as its “real audience” and makes them the metric for success.

The Doug Wright Awards have announced that Katherine Collins will their 2017 Hall of Fame inductee.

Collins is the creator of Neil the Horse, one of the handful of comic book series published during the 1980s in English Canada. The book was a whimsical throwback to the world of pre-World War II cartooning and popular culture, starring the titular Neil, a rubber-limbed horse drawn in an Ub Iwerks style, in a series of fantasy adventures alongside his best friends, a cigar-smoking cat and a sexy animated marionette, trying to make it as song-and-dance hoofers in the world of musical comedy.

The Comics Alternative podcast interviews Peter Bagge.

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Big Opinion of Himself http://www.tcj.com/big-opinion-of-himself/ http://www.tcj.com/big-opinion-of-himself/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99869 Continue reading ]]> It’s another day here in New York. Today on the site, Irene Velentzas reviews Jeff Lemire’s Roughneck. 

The story begins effortlessly with the simplicity of Lemire’s inside cover page, a single image that adeptly introduces the remainder of the text. With such images Lemire demonstrates his candid ability to say so much with so little. A sparse tree, off-centred, standing in a bank of snow, alone in the dead of winter. The tree is naked and vulnerable, it stands prey to and yet against the elements, it reveals no answers. How big is it? A towering tree, a young sapling? It’s impossible to know. It is simultaneously natural and unnatural in its composition. It conveys, ever before the first question of the text “That him?”, the inscrutability, the barrenness, the isolation of Derek Ouellette. Asking the reader to come along on a journey through Pimitamon’s barren landscape and Derek’s mind to find beauty in the wild and stubborn nature at the heart of this man and the environment that shapes him.

Links:

Jonathan Chandler has a fine online comic over here.

The Baffler looks at Iron First and finds some pathways to a larger and sadder thing. Think pieces like this don’t interest me that much, but this one’s alright. The Marvel diversity story (summary here) is likewise not that interesting in the sense that expecting entities with a history of questionable racial/sexual/economic politics to act in some way progressive is like hoping Fox News will do the same. It’s just not built that way. I would like for that not to be the case, because kids love superheroes and there should be more diversity there. But until the current craven white guys are not in power there, it’s gonna be a slog, and I suggest reading something else entirely. I’m actually a little surprised that Disney wants to endure so much bad PR again and again. At some point they’ll look at the tiny blip on their balance sheet and think, “gee, we should step into the 21st century”. But that’s a long shot. 

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Roughneck http://www.tcj.com/reviews/roughneck/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/roughneck/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=98879 Continue reading ]]> From the local and particular to the grandiose and universal Jeff Lemire easily and expertly guides the reader through life as experienced in the lonely Northern Ontario outback. The fictional town of Pimitamon near Timmins, Ontario acts as a natural stage for the unfolding dramas of everyday life in Lemire’s most recent work, Roughneck. “Pimitamon,” the Cree word for crossroads, neatly encompasses the conflicting and converging choices we make and paths we take as we wander through past, present, and future moments. Alcohol, drugs, domestic abuse, cycles of violence, family, Native heritage, and of course hockey enter and exit as they are re-called and repressed aspects of Canadian life. Lemire spotlights these underlying issues as the characters ebb and flow through the thicket of problems these issues create. Lemire’s relentless focus on feet, slowly carrying characters wherever they are going, emphasizes a journey that must be undertaken step by excruciating step.

The story begins effortlessly with the simplicity of Lemire’s inside cover page, a single image that adeptly introduces the remainder of the text. With such images Lemire demonstrates his candid ability to say so much with so little. A sparse tree, off-centred, standing in a bank of snow, alone in the dead of winter. The tree is naked and vulnerable, it stands prey to and yet against the elements, it reveals no answers. How big is it? A towering tree, a young sapling? It’s impossible to know. It is simultaneously natural and unnatural in its composition. It conveys, ever before the first question of the text “That him?”, the inscrutability, the barrenness, the isolation of Derek Ouellette. Asking the reader to come along on a journey through Pimitamon’s barren landscape and Derek’s mind to find beauty in the wild and stubborn nature at the heart of this man and the environment that shapes him.

Lemire’s quiet focus on boots throughout the book – walking, crunching, two and from – emphasizes the inward and outward journeys of his characters, walking along different paths that converge and diverge. Panel after panel, Lemire closely focuses on the step’s slow progress before revealing each character in splash page, overwhelmed by the enormity of their surroundings. For Derek, this is the familiar space of the ice-rink, the arena, a place that contains his successes, his failures, and his personal demons. For Beth, Derek’s little sister, her parallel trek is emphasized by her steady progress alongside the grandiose but bleak rural roadside. The burden of her life is evident with each crunch of her boots, a silent attempt to break the cycle of abuse that plagues her. Each step, a small victory, a small escape in itself. Lemire’s splash page of Beth shows her hugging herself against the penetrating cold, a gesture at once self-protective, standoffish, and self-loving. Beth must walk away to choose herself, while Derek must retrace his steps in a continual attempt to escape himself. Both are desperately trying to recover what they have lost in the bleak backwoods town of Pimitamon – perhaps their innocence, perhaps their will, perhaps their roots, perhaps their faith in justice. In the timelessness of Lemire’s quiet splash pages, only this steady metronomic crunching reverberates through the empty enormity of the barren landscape and the reader as each character retraces their steps in an consuming effort to finally set things right.

Those familiar with Lemire’s work, will appreciate the time he takes to tell this story. Time is both the agent and the enemy of the text, and is never rushed for need of action. Glenn Gould used to say about playing music, “it is not related to the striking of individual keys but rather to the rites of passage between notes.” Similarly, in Roughneck, it is not so much the moments of action Lemire strikes, but the passage of inaction that fills the reader with the reflections of the characters’ inner and outer worlds.

Derek cracks eggs over four hours across the span of one page. The cracking, emptying, and frying of eggs alone, takes up a timeless quality in three elongated panels which turns into an increasingly monotonous mosaic as those same panels are repeated four-fold, punctuated by revolutions of the clock. There is no break from this monotony, until the reader finally flips the page to go out for a smoke with Derek, whom we see through piles of garbage bags awaiting their inevitable removal. In this scene, the mindless routine action takes the reader into Derek’s head in which we find nothing more than the monotony of the routine itself, the smokescreen of avoidance, the suppression of other memories through this painfully dull repetition. Such understated moment-building creates the poetry of these characters lives and struggles as we are brought to witness the minutia of their existence, or perhaps the very essence of life itself. Lemire’s composition creates a unique musicality that emphasizes the rests as much as the striking of individual notes. In these moments, the reader pauses for breath, is filled with the life of each character, and accompanies the characters breath by breath. Lemire’s method is an incredibly intimate approach to story-telling, one that increases the story’s tension as multiple character perspectives merge on the page and unfold the story’s progress with bated breath until Lemire creates the next release.

Lemire’s signature artistic style enhances Roughneck’s breathless quality and repressive atmosphere. Lemire is perhaps best known for his liquid like use of grey-tones which gives his characters and settings an otherworldly dreamlike quality. This liquid style is contrasted with the stark but messy inked line which comprises the boundaries of objects within the story world: a rough-hewn face, a tree, a cup of coffee. Roughneck is a satisfying extension of the artistic style Lemire has developed in his other independent graphic novels throughout his career: from the Essex County trilogy to his more recent collaboration with Gord Downie on Secret Path. Lemire’s traditional grey-toned colouration is used to great affect in Roughneck, emphasizing the somberness of both the external landscape and the internal state of his characters. However, Lemire’s use of colour in this work is nicely balanced in its reservation for intruding memories. Though memories may be thought of as a degraded accounts of what actually took place, in Derek’s violent flashbacks and induced drunken stupors, Lemire’s colouration creates a carnivalesque world that is more vivid than the character’s present reality.

A simple trigger, a dog in the alleyway, fires an unwanted flashback both powerful and gruesome in the character’s mind. We see as he sees, the bold spill of red against the serene green and brown muddiness of a winter landscape, the translucent shards of blue glass, and yellow smoke rising from an askew black frame. As Derek slams his eyes and the door shut on both his vision and ours, his addiction, his coping mechanism alcohol, unleashes a flood of memories upon the page’s surface and in bright, lurid detail. We, and he, are suddenly plunged into the seminal and horrible details of this character’s world – a past which haunts him and us even as it intertwines itself with the present. Through intertwining memories of hockey and an alcoholic father, the ice becomes the emotional battleground upon which a boy becomes man – for better or worse. Hockey becomes a mechanism for which Derek believes he can escape all that “Indian Stuff” he would rather not acknowledge.

Still, escape is short-lived and leads both Derek and Beth right back to the place they started, staring at the same crossroads they’ve been at one too many times. In Roughneck, the ice of the hockey rink quickly yields to the ice of the great Canadian outdoors, a surface for facing and rewriting one’s history to create a different kind of future. The ice becomes a conduit for acknowledging one’s heritage, facing one’s fears, and enacting one’s own manner of justice. A variant travelling route in the face of crossroads altogether with steps that “almost” lead to a future, always unknown, just out of reach. It is a journey each one of us has been familiar with at one point or another, which is what makes Lemire’s expression of this particular journey so poignant. Roughneck is a journey which details a minute and intimate conflict that expresses the land of Canada entire and all of its peoples, the desire to move forward step by excruciating small step to find a better future in spite of our troubled past.

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The Vanessa Davis Interview http://www.tcj.com/vanessa-davis-interview-naomi-fry/ http://www.tcj.com/vanessa-davis-interview-naomi-fry/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 12:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99830 Continue reading ]]>

Since the 2005 publication of her first book, Spaniel Rage, Vanessa Davis has established herself as one of contemporary comics’ most reliably satisfying storytellers. Beginning her career with minutely observed, highly episodic diary comics about her life as a young woman finding her way in New York, her work has, over the past decade, grown ever more ambitious and intricate, without losing its attention to small, telling interpersonal moments, its gorgeous use of color, and its carefully calibrated combination of humor and poignancy. (Full disclosure: we’re also been good friends for a number of years.) Now, with the reissuing of Spaniel Rage by Drawn and Quarterly, I spoke on the phone with Vanessa—who is this year’s recipient of the Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize for humor writing—about how her comics have changed over time, her experiences as a cartoonist, and what she’s working on now. — Naomi Fry

“I Definitely Felt Like a Baby”

Naomi Fry: Spaniel Rage initially came out in 2005. You weren’t really a professional cartoonist yet when you were making the comics that became part of the book. How did you start out?

Vanessa Davis:
I definitely wouldn’t have called myself a cartoonist at that point. I studied art in all of the colleges that I went to and I had gone to this arts magnet school from seventh grade onward, so it had always been a really big part of my life and identity, but I hadn’t really settled on a niche; my niche had eluded me. At the point that I started making comics, I was working at the folk art museum in New York and I wasn’t making any art and so it was a moment where I was like, “Am I an artist? Do I do anything now that I’m not in school and don’t have to?”

And you were like 25 or something?

Yeah, I was like 23 or 24. I think Spaniel Rage itself came out when I was like 26.

That’s pretty young.

Yeah. [Laughs]

Now it seems like being a baby to me. To be 25.

Me too. I definitely felt like a baby, that’s for sure.

Did you really? Sometimes when you’re younger you feel like there’s this sort of false, or misdirected bravado of like, “I know everything, I know how things work.”

I think that there are 25-year-olds who do, or at least are like the kind of people that eventually do—I didn’t. I just felt like as much experience as I kept piling on, the thing didn’t happen where I was like, “I really know what’s going on in this world.”

Do you feel similarly now?

No, I feel—I mean I don’t feel like I really know what’s going on, but I’ve sort of reconciled myself to realizing that this is like my personality type. I’m a wide-open person [laughs].

Sometimes there are advantages to not knowing anything. When you were first starting to make these comics that ended up being collected in this book, you weren’t part of a community really, so did you know what you were up against? Did you know the kind of power structures that were in place? Because every community has its own kind of rules and limits and figureheads and all of that. Were you at all familiar with any of that at the time?

No. I knew of some cartoonists and I thought it would be cool to meet them, or for them to like my work, and I also knew that there was a wide world of exciting cartoonists that might become my peers. So I looked forward—but I didn’t know. That was just so far away from what I considered my goals were at that point. I just wanted to see if comics would work for me as a medium, and I wanted to see if it would be sort of socially satisfying.

You mean to meet with other people who are likeminded?

Yeah. You know, I grew up on ’80s movies and also I had gone to this really bohemian high school. So I just imagined that college would be more of that and it wasn’t. And so I was still waiting to meet all these exciting people.

Yeah, it’s like you think, “Oh, I’m an adult, I’ll have these strong friendships with these fascinating women, and like exciting love affairs with these mysterious men.” Then it’s like: Brad Goldstein? [Laughter] And you’re like, “oh.”

Exactly. It usually falls short of the fantasy that you have. Also, my college years were really interrupted because I transferred a lot and I went to three different kinds of school [Washington University in Saint Louis, MICA in Baltimore, and the University of Florida]. So that probably played a part in me not figuring out what my favorite medium was or what my artistic niche was. I loved painting, but it didn’t really fulfill everything that I wanted to do, and I was studying textile design and fibers, but that also kind of fell short somehow.

Why do you think they fell short?

With painting, what I saw was that the real painter’s painter is into the almost sculptural aspects of painting. And with textiles I had a good decorative aspect to my approach, but it definitely wasn’t masterful and I really wrestled with the precision of actual textile design. Then, when I was at MICA, I did this one piece where I learned how to do freehand machine embroidery and I did all these different kinds of chairs, and I remember my teacher, who in general seemed pretty unimpressed with me, was looking at them and she was like, “You know, all these different chairs seem very narrative. It seems like these chairs should be in a scene and there should be something happening around them.” And I think that’s where my substance lies — in the narration. So when I would try to do something that was merely stylish, it fell flat. Or when I tried to be a craftsperson, it kind of fell flat. But one thing that deterred me from ever thinking about comics was the verbal aspect. One thing I liked about painting and making these still images is that I could talk about my life and sort of elevate the stories, by merely portraying them as images. I could make them seem substantial and interesting without losing peoples’ attention, like I did when I would talk about my life. The literal narration in comics kept me away for a long time.  

“Learning What Works”

So you started making what ended up becoming the Spaniel Rage comics in notebooks, on the subway on the way to work, and at home.

Yes. I thought, ‘”I’ll draw something and I’ll write something, and I’ll teach myself how much to write. I’ll see if it becomes anything, and maybe it’ll evolve.”

It really sounds like a self-education in a way.

Well, everything kind of worked in my favor. I didn’t have this lifelong desire to even be a cartoonist, so it wasn’t like I could fall short of any of my own expectations. And there was no pressure, because I didn’t know any of the people, I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like, and there was no danger of money or fame. With the fine art world, coming out of college, it was clear that you had to schmooze, you had to present yourself a particular way, you had to get your artwork beautifully photographed in slides, and you had to know all the people you had to send them to. Just all of this high-pressure shit that I was completely alienated by. And with comics, what I imagined is that all of the people at the comic shows were like my age or middle-aged people with jobs that did this as a hobby, and they had their little side life that was fun and kind of humble, but worked with the rest of their lives. So it wasn’t intimidating in any way.

There’s something about these comics that’s winningly modest. It’s not really trying to impress anyone. Sometimes you have these moments where you’re like, “I didn’t draw this so good.”

It would be disingenuous to say that it was just for myself and I never imagined anyone seeing it, but I couldn’t imagine that that many people would see it. And the people who did see it, I wasn’t too worried about their judgment.

How did these comics make their way from your notebook to the world?

I worked at the publications department of the Folk Art Museum and it was a really supportive office. The guy who worked in the mailroom knew all about my comics and my boss knew all about it. My friend who was the production editor helped me lay them out in QuarkXPress. And then I printed it out on the Xerox machine and stapled it and brought it to shows. I started making some friends and we had this weekly get together, and so I started getting to know some cartoonists more and I would hear gossip and learn about other cartoonists and I would see other people’s comics. And I started going to some more shows, like SPX in Maryland, and then I started going to APE in San Francisco. And I just figured that I would keep self-publishing these comics and just keep living my life, and maybe if I kept doing it for several more years I’d approach a small publisher and be like, “Maybe you’d like to put together a Spaniel Rage collection.” But what happened is that I started to be in a couple of anthologies and so I just … comics is a pretty welcoming community. Sammy Harkham showed my comic to Alvin Buenaventura’s wife and she really liked it. And so then Alvin contacted me about publishing it. And I was just shocked, because at that point the only people who were published were established or famous cartoonists; like, being published itself was a mark of being established. And so I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it, but I just decided, like, you wouldn’t say no, so I did it.

How do you feel about Spaniel Rage now that it’s being reissued by Drawn and Quarterly, more than a decade after it was originally published?

The thing that I love most about Spaniel Rage is that it speaks to the wide-open possibilities of comics; that they’d publish something so inexperienced and raw. Both the fact that Alvin published it, that people liked it, and that now Drawn and Quarterly is rereleasing it, because I think in most other art forms what’s celebrated is being a master and knowing what you’re doing and doing it really well. For me what I think is really being revealed in Spaniel Rage is that process: the process of learning how to draw or learning what to write about or learning what works, and what’s funny and what’s not, and what’s deep and what’s shallow. Basically, what I was impressed by with comics in general was the wide-open possibilities of the forms they could take. And then Spaniel Rage being published kind of confirmed all of those impressions, because I was such a newbie.

“This Practical and Romantic Thing”

Did you have a fantasy that publication would change everything about your life?

I mean, sure I had that fantasy, but I also couldn’t imagine in what way it would. Nothing really changed. Well, that’s not true. I definitely had a lot more exposure to other cartoonists and I got a lot of really good feedback and I enjoyed being the new pony [laughter] and it was like a party. I got a lot of attention and that was really fun, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t really know how to parlay that into the next thing. And I started dating Trevor [the cartoonist Trevor Alixopulos], my boyfriend, right after the time that Spaniel Rage came out, and so that was also a big disruption, where I was like, “What am I going to do about that?” because he lived in California and I lived in New York. I wasn’t really making ends meet in New York, and I wanted to be more serious about comics, whatever that meant, and I was still so young that I could just see what unfolded. And when I visited Trevor he was living in Santa Rosa, which is—compared to New York—a smaller town, and you could work half-time. And it seemed like you could afford to be an artist there in a way that you couldn’t in New York. And so it was sort of this practical and romantic thing where I was embracing both Trevor and comics: like everything would become more serious by moving out there.

Did your work developed in different ways, because the pressures of making a living in New York and space and so on were now slightly eased?

Yeah, they were definitely eased, but then also moving and having a serious boyfriend and making friends in a new town took up some of the attention that I was giving to working. But then in comics, basically what I was OK with happening was Spaniel Rage got a little attention. And so I got to be in some anthologies; like, in Kramers Ergot they needed something in color, so I was like, “OK, that’s a challenge to attack, how will I do comics in color, in ink?” And then in another anthology I had to do a six-page story, and I had never done that before. So I felt like I was in a position where I was getting to do new projects that would stretch my abilities. So I spent a lot of time in that place. I knew that even though I had this book published, I was new to this form, and kind of didn’t really know what I was doing and was open to seeing where it went. But then, shortly after I moved to California, Alvin and I kind of fell out, and Alvin, to a large extent, was my conduit to fancier, more ambitious projects. And so even though I had a good reputation independently, I has living out in the boonies, publishing-wise, and I had lost my hip publisher contact, so I sort of languished in a really pleasant kind of slow, goalless development for a long time.

There’s something in your comics that has this combination of ambition on the one hand but also this coziness.

Yeah, I want to go at my own pace, I want to do things that I want to do, and I don’t want to succeed at the expense of feeling connected to my work.

When you were living Santa Rosa, you also had a column for Tablet, where did longer-form color comics.

I got really lucky with the Tablet assignment, because it was a column—they weren’t really that long, they were only like 3 pages, but getting to do a new comic every month for money—and they paid really well—was amazing. So I really wanted to meet the challenge, enjoy this gift that had been bestowed upon me. Because it was such an unusual kind of job to get to have. I got to write about myself, and I got to write about things in my own personality, but it was a weird mix, because on the one hand they were like, “Okay, let’s do something about Hanukkah,” and I don’t know that that necessarily was on the top of my mind, to make a comic about Hanukkah—

Why not. What do you mean? [Laughter.]

But then it turned out that there was a well of stuff that I had where I could talk about Hanukkah. So it was sort of interesting, because I definitely made a lot of commercial compromises and artistic compromises to fit the assignment, but it was worth it to me because it was such a great opportunity and I was being treated so respectfully as a columnist, compared to most of the other offerings out there. My father [the late Gerald Davis] was a commercial artist. He was a photojournalist, but he also was this amazing artist and he really balanced those two things in a really pragmatic way. And I think that really spoke to me as a burgeoning illustrator/cartoonist for hire. I was like, “I can still make this my own and also make it legible to my mom’s friends who are going to read it on Tablet.” I just didn’t see those as mutually exclusive. So it was a time when, all of a sudden—when it definitely hadn’t been before—it became maybe possible to have this be a job. And so I wanted to explore that as much as possible. I got to do it for about a year and a half.

Your second book, Make Me a Woman, which came out with Drawn and Quarterly in 2010, was mostly a collection of the Tablet things with some things in between, right?

Make Me a Woman captured that period in Santa Rosa where I was open to whatever came across my path. I didn’t know if I just wanted to put Spaniel Rage #2, but I also didn’t feel that I was ready to do a graphic novel. But then it was an interesting experience because working with Tom [Devlin, of Drawn and Quarterly] on the book—we both wanted to see if something emerged from the collection, something unintended. Certainly there were themes that ran throughout the book, but it was also kind of like “who’s making this a book, is it me? Did I intend for this to be my book, or am I going to let accidental threads determine that it’s a book”? In a way, I thought that was the most interesting thing about Make Me a Woman.

“I’m Not Going to Cannibalize Myself”

How do you think gender played into people’s perceptions of what you were doing?

I’ve read criticisms of all my comics from Spaniel Rage onwards: people who said that were told that “this is really raw and really honest, but it’s not even really deep”; like, “she just talks about her hair or she talks about shopping” or something. I think that femininity and masculinity definitely play into those things, but from my perspective, being in it, it’s kind of hard to see where it starts and stops, because I know it’s also a personality thing. Some people get inspired when they see vulnerability, and some people get inspired when they see mastery. And I think that’s an ingrained value system alongside these different cultural expectations we have of men and women.

And what was your reaction to people who complained that even within the realm of diary comics, your work was not giving the reader “the juice of womanhood”? [Laughter.]

Well, I have various reactions to that. On the one hand, those people had preconceived ideas about what they want, and so if I fell short of that I can’t really help it. And sometimes, in my crankier moments, I just feel like: how entitled are people, or how does that speak to what people want from a book? I’m an autobiographical cartoonist, I have to take a lot of effort when I portray other people not to exploit them, but just as much I don’t plan on exploiting myself. I am happy to be open and to be confessional and talk about personal things, but I’m not going to cannibalize myself so that some random person is going to be satisfied. That’s not my job.

So when you write about yourself, what are you aiming to get at?

Fundamentally, I write about myself to connect with other people. I just think there’s a range. There’s a range of what’s personal. And there are other ways to be revealing than to be literally revealing. I think that Spaniel Rage is clearly revealing in the sense that it’s someone’s first effort in a new medium, and so it’s not necessarily interpersonally raw but it’s artistically raw, and that can be revealing in its own way.

Is there something particular that you hope people might get out of your work?

Well, I always hope people will enjoy the view into another person’s mind, which is what I like about comics. Maybe they relate, or maybe it’s just another perspective. I do think that view changes. I was thinking about Spaniel Rage, looking at it again, and I realized that a lot of what I was drawing about was maybe to see if other people were thinking the same things as I was, or going through the same things. Sort of like, “Hey, am I doing this right? Is this familiar, or what?” It was a way to reveal what I was doing and see if it meshed with other people. But then I think that changed for me, because now I know that everyone leads these idiosyncratic lives—sometimes you connect with people, sometimes you don’t—but there are so many other motivations for me: like sometimes I want to remember things, or sometimes I have a beef that I want to work out. Like when I moved to L.A., I started observing these things about humanity, and you’re like, “Am I crazy? Is this really how people act?” I think my comics have always been a way for me to examine my observations and connect with other people.

“A Colorful-Sounding Job Opportunity”

After living in Santa Rosa for several years, you decided to move to Los Angeles with Trevor to become apartment managers.  

[Laughs] Yes, I did. It taught me a lot of things, like any horrible experience does. Living in Santa Rosa was amazing at first. It was like this permanent vacation and I had a part-time job as a secretary, and I just had so much time and freedom. But then after a while, it had been like years and I hadn’t made any decisions about what I was—and nothing seemed to be changing, and Trevor started to feel that way. We were like, “We’d like to make a decision about where we’re going to end up. So maybe we should try something different so that at least we had done that process where we’ve made a choice about where we’re going to be.” It was really hard to leave because it was so comfortable there, and Trevor’s job was really great. Then this colorful-sounding job opened up and we could split the work and get a free apartment. It was supposed to be like 20 hours a week, and we’d move to Hollywood and what an adventure that would be. You know, Santa Rosa’s a small town, we were staying in state, it didn’t seem like a big risk. So we figured we’d try it out, and it actually it was really challenging because—

So it was an apartment complex that was full of has-beens and never-weres?

Yes, not to be harsh. There were a handful of very nice people, but the overwhelming—it wasn’t like a corporate-run apartment building, it was sort of—I used to say to prospective tenants that it was sort of like an independent bookstore. Where they might not have the newest things, but they’ll cater to your—I don’t know how it was like an independent bookstore but it was like—[Laughter]—like on the one hand people were like, “The plumber might come and trash your apartment” but on the other hand—

“It’ll be like family” [Laughs]

But on the other hand if you wanted someone to help put up your curtain rods, like the entire painting team would come and do it on a Saturday. The landlords—the couple who owned the building—were this very nice couple who loved—this was like their retirement, owning this building, and they loved interacting with the tenants, and they loved being social. It was kind of their pet project. But ultimately they got to make all of the decisions, and Trevor and I were brought in to sort of enforce rules that no one was expected to follow. No one bothered following, or cared about following, and there were like no repercussions if they didn’t follow them. And I like being friendly to neighbors but I’m not a busybody, I don’t care, I’m not interested in it. So being all of a sudden put into this role—which we chose to do—but choosing to be in this role of “you did this wrong, or you need to blah blah blah,” sucked. It was really foreign and weird, and they didn’t like it either. It was clear that we sucked at it, so it was just like this really stupid choice that we made, to do this job.

So the people—except for a handful of very nice people—there were some challenging characters. But on the relative plus side, it gave you a lot of material to think about, didn’t it?

Yeah, it’s interesting because it comes back to that exploitation idea that I brought up. Where it sounds—certainly I thought that it would be great for material. I intended to try and turn it into material. One thing that was sort of interesting was that when we would go places people wanted us to dine out on our colorful tenants, and talk about what a horrible experience it was. While we would tell them about it I would see their expressions go from laughing and smiling to kind of checking out, to being a little bit disgusted.

Well, for the record, I was always into it. [Laughter]

It was an interesting lesson in attitude and perspective. Because some stories are inherently interesting, but then they can be ruined by not being able to see them in their full breadth of interestingness. When you’re oppressed by experiences it’s hard to see them clearly—that was an interesting lesson, though I haven’t figured out a way to tell that story yet.

“Little Things Make a Life”

Did the negative apartment managing experience change your perspective about what kind of comics you want to make?  

I know that when I started making comics, when I was drawing Spaniel Rage, I was becoming more well-read in comics, and I was seeing these themes of these ‘90s cartoonists with these hardened cynical viewpoints. Like telling dark stories, and really dark views of the world, and I got that. But I was also like, “I’m like this young girl who’s been pretty lucky.” I’ve had some bad things happen in my life, but overall, I would say that at the time I had this very sunny disposition and I was like, “where is the place in comics for that?” I think that also can sometimes work at odds with expectation of diary comics, because people want to read about the struggles, and the darkest experiences. I remember that it was deliberate that I wanted to bring this sort of like—not exactly basic suburban Jewish girl perspective—but I was like, “I don’t have to fit some mold of what a cartoonist looks like. I can be myself, I can talk about shopping. I also don’t necessarily want to be stuck making comics about the things that have the most plot necessarily. Maybe that was like this really amazingly colorful experience in my life, but I have this instinct to ignore the meaty stories, and try to find the meat in the fluff if that makes sense.

You also want to see if it resonates. And to say something about culture and about life.

Yeah. Or like, I remember when I started noticing that all the cars were shaped the same. And I would idly mention this to Trevor or to a friend; I’d be like, “Hey, have you noticed that everything looks like a Prius?” And it was not a very interesting observation, but it was nagging at me, and so I made a comic about it. So it forced people to contend with this small idea that I had. And so it satisfied that in me.

One of the only longer comics in Spaniel Rage is about how your parents’ cat would always bat around the paper your father’s dentures were wrapped in, and how after your father died, you discovered all of these old denture papers under the refrigerator. It’s very poignant.  

I feel sort of amazed that I did that comic at such an early stage in my comics-making effort, because I actually think that that comic is the kernel that contains my whole M.O. It’s like my dad said, “little things make a life,” and I recognized it when he said it and I have since adhered to it. I’ve held it up as a guiding principle. I think that big things happen, you have no control over it at all, but I do think that there is all of this power in these small things, and they’re the things that I use to connect with being alive. I feel this loyalty to them, to focus on them, rather than these big things, because they’re more personal and they’re more real in a way than the big things that have happened to me.

 

“Resist in Existence”

I’m interesting in the turn that your work has taken now that—not that many people have seen it—but you’ve been drawing larger-scale figures now.

For the past couple of years I’ve had this really long, really fun, really lucrative illustration assignment for a couple of years where I was happily a cog in a machine. I loved it and it paid really well, but that took up a lot of time, so I didn’t do any comics during that whole period. Then that ended and I had a bunch of money in savings, and I hadn’t done comics in a really long time, and I kind of had no idea where to start. So I was like, “Oh I should rent a studio.” Usually when I don’t know what I’m doing with comics I’ll do diary comics, but as I’ve gotten older and life has gotten more difficult, I have sort of like a fraught relationship with—and I almost sounded angry before when I was talking about people wanting things from me. I had a moment when I was feeling extra protective about my personal life, and so I thought that I’ve never had a studio before, and so hadn’t gotten to do anything big—I’d been sitting for like three years drawing these illustrations, and I was like “I want to move around.” Prince died and I wanted to dance to Prince and draw and just see what I would do. So I’ve been doing these big drawings. I don’t really know exactly what they’re about, but it feels really pure and good to be doing them.

And they’re mostly figures?

VD: Yeah. It took me a long time to figure out how to scale up. Like, what materials to use—usually I draw with a mechanical pencil—so like how do you cover ground in the same way that you cover ground small? So I went through a bunch of different materials to see what I liked, then I kind of settled on these. Then it was like “well what am I drawing?” When the election was happening, I felt this weird combination feeling of wanting to protect myself and hide myself from these horrible people, but then also kind of like resist in existence. So I just wanted to revel in the female body, and my sister was like “what’s up with these nudes?” and it’s not like I’m a nudist or anything, but putting clothes on them made them more visually complicated, and it became a visual exercise to figure out how to portray the nudity. So I’ve just been really into that at the moment.

Around the same time you started making these large drawings in the studio, you were asked to do a comics column by the Paris Review, as well.

It had been a long time since I’ve made comics with any regularity, and it was a combination of really hard, and then like not having the time to worry about it, because it was a really tight deadline. But I think a combination of luck, experience, and “fuckitness” kind of came together to work. But it was a difficult experience because I did not feel like I had any control over whether the comics came out good or not.

Like in a way that you hadn’t felt before?

I think that I was being a little more ambitious conceptually with what I was discussing, and I was trying to make connections between things that I felt made sense but I wasn’t able to articulate necessarily, in any kind of convincing way. So I really felt like I floundered—it was very harrowing while I was making them, but then it was extremely satisfying when I was done with them, which is a classic experience [Laughter].

Would you ever like to expand your breadth even further and do a really long-form comic?

It’s not that I’m against it in itself. But it’s like I said before, I’m really drawn to these small stories and small instances. That thinking about something that would take that long to explore—I haven’t felt drawn to something that big. It’s not that I don’t know that I ever will, but… I’m friends with Mimi Pond, and she’s been working on this story that’s so long that it’s over two books, two novels, and it’s like a story that she loves and has loved for such a long time and she has a script. Besides a lot of things that are admirable about Mimi, like one thing that just sounds so amazing is sitting down with a story that you know, and having the script, and chipping away at it—that just sounds amazing to me. So I’d love to be in that situation, or to put myself in that situation, but I just don’t know if I’m going to go that way.

You don’t have to. [laughter]

That’s the thing! I don’t. Obviously there are a lot of people in comics who write books, and that’s great, but like, if you don’t, you can kind of be either way. I don’t have to be a best seller to be allowed to be here, which I like.

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Haters Get Thirsty http://www.tcj.com/haters-get-thirsty/ http://www.tcj.com/haters-get-thirsty/#comments Wed, 05 Apr 2017 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99820 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, the great Naomi Fry returns to interview the great Vanessa Davis.

Did you have a fantasy that publication would change everything about your life?

I mean, sure I had that fantasy, but I also couldn’t imagine in what way it would. Nothing really changed. Well, that’s not true. I definitely had a lot more exposure to other cartoonists and I got a lot of really good feedback and I enjoyed being the new pony [laughter] and it was like a party. I got a lot of attention and that was really fun, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t really know how to parlay that into the next thing. And I started dating Trevor [the cartoonist Trevor Alixopulos], my boyfriend, right after the time that Spaniel Rage came out, and so that was also a big disruption, where I was like, “What am I going to do about that?” because he lived in California and I lived in New York. I wasn’t really making ends meet in New York, and I wanted to be more serious about comics, whatever that meant, and I was still so young that I could just see what unfolded. And when I visited Trevor he was living in Santa Rosa, which is—compared to New York—a smaller town, and you could work half-time. And it seemed like you could afford to be an artist there in a way that you couldn’t in New York. And so it was sort of this practical and romantic thing where I was embracing both Trevor and comics: like everything would become more serious by moving out there.

Did your work developed in different ways, because the pressures of making a living in New York and space and so on were now slightly eased?

Yeah, they were definitely eased, but then also moving and having a serious boyfriend and making friends in a new town took up some of the attention that I was giving to working. But then in comics, basically what I was OK with happening was Spaniel Rage got a little attention. And so I got to be in some anthologies; like, in Kramers Ergot they needed something in color, so I was like, “OK, that’s a challenge to attack, how will I do comics in color, in ink?” And then in another anthology I had to do a six-page story, and I had never done that before. So I felt like I was in a position where I was getting to do new projects that would stretch my abilities. So I spent a lot of time in that place. I knew that even though I had this book published, I was new to this form, and kind of didn’t really know what I was doing and was open to seeing where it went. But then, shortly after I moved to California, Alvin and I kind of fell out, and Alvin, to a large extent, was my conduit to fancier, more ambitious projects. And so even though I had a good reputation independently, I has living out in the boonies, publishing-wise, and I had lost my hip publisher contact, so I sort of languished in a really pleasant kind of slow, goalless development for a long time.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, still playing catch-up:

—Reviews & Commentary. Roger Gathman considers superheroes.

American comics generally participate in an ideology which radiates out from a central preoccupation with crime. And not any crime. The two great crimes are jewel robberies and bank robberies. There’s a reason for that: these crimes make the rich the victim.

Kim Jooha’s favorite comics of 2016.
The Chester Brown/Dave Sim debates have been ongoing.

I had planned to address a few other things that Dave wrote that Deutsch hadn’t dissected but, having written the above, I’ve decided not to bother. When applied to fictional invention, the extreme nature of Dave’s thinking makes for interesting reading. But that extreme nature, when applied to real-world problems, results in opinions that almost no one can take seriously.

—Interviews & Profiles. Tom Spurgeon talks to K. Thor Jensen.

SPURGEON: Can I ask why you self-published this one? I think the last one was one of the last works to squeak from the old Alternative Comics, or at least found purchase with one of the Alternative Comics refugee homes. Correct me if I’m wrong there. But there seem to be a number of small houses; were those an option, or was it self-publishing all the way?

JENSEN: Alternative is still going! Under the fine auspices of Marc Arsenault, who will be handling the Diamond distribution and digital for Cloud Stories because I am bad at that stuff. For me, I just had no idea if anybody on Earth was going to be interested in this book, and Kickstarter seemed like a workable financial model for somebody like me with a fanbase that would be comfortable in ponying up $20 up front. I really like what Spike Trotman — who has been insanely successful on that platform — says: if your Kickstarter failed, take that as a blessing because you dodged a bullet not printing something the market didn’t want. I was incredibly gratified to see the project funded with lots of small pledges, and then proceeded to deliver the book three years late like an asshole.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is the brilliant novelist and occasional comics writer Samuel R. Delany.

My co-editor Dan linked to several of them, but there have been an enormous amount of Daniel Clowes interviews lately, most of them linked to on The Daniel Clowes Reader Tumblr.

—Misc. Tucker Stone.

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Wakey Wakey http://www.tcj.com/wakey-wakey/ http://www.tcj.com/wakey-wakey/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99826 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe brings us into April with comics and more comics.

Elsewhere:

Attention Ryan Holmberg fans: He is speaking at Baruch College tomorrow. 

 

Tim is back, and with him some balance has been restored. Maybe. In honor of his return, I will unfurl some deep thoughts…

This past weekend I visited the Raymond Pettibon exhibition at the New Museum, which served as an excellent reminder that I don’t like Raymond Pettibon’s artwork very much. I have enjoyed his zines, and I think he’s fine, but the stuff never reaches past itself. It’s a 40 year slog through various parts of American culture (surfing, baseball, hippies, religion, murder, etc.) that manages to never rise above or offer any perspective on it. His text, embedded in numerous drawings, is never more than on-the-nose and pat. In a way the show is like a three-floor installation of a Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta (two obvious influences): It shows us plenty of “awesome” things but it’s just that thing and only that thing, and I find that ultimately dull in a museum context. As a 16 page zine, yes, ok. Or even seeing, as I have, a half dozen drawings on a wall. But he’s just not an interesting enough mind or hand to sustain three floors. I prefer the Mike Kelley dive into the same material — the transformative approach rather than regurgitation.    

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/5/17 – Warmer) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-4517-warmer/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-4517-warmer/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 11:56:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99834 Continue reading ]]>

The natural world, courtesy of the Belgian artists Rémy Pierlot & Vincent Fortemps, from their collaborative story in the 2009 Frémok anthology Match de catch à Vielsam.

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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!

Providence #12 (of 12): Being the final installment of this very dense and bookish series written by Alan Moore, ostensibly an attempt to suggest a shared universe for H.P. Lovecraft’s various short stories, but really a series of dips into the everyday lives of these horror characters before or after the stories in which they were featured, with Lovecraft himself existing alongside them, the point of it being a sort of externalization of the early 20th century fears that Moore sees as typified by the biases and metaphors in Lovecraft’s writing. That said, given that the story kind of seemed to end last issue, I suspect that what we’re in for here is an overarching finale for *all* of Moore’s various Lovecraft-based comics with artist Jacen Burrows (colored here by Juan Rodríguez), much in the way that Promethea #31 was the conclusion for Moore’s entire America’s Best Comics line, despite several of those titles (including Promethea itself) releasing subsequent issues. But then, moreso than any other Moore-written comic, in my opinion — yes, even the later The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories — Providence demands a strong degree of familiarity with the source materials upon which Moore is riffing, so maybe it’s not that big a step to assume you’ve also read an additional stack of Alan Moore-written comics from years past. From Avatar Press, which will also have issues of the blood-drenched WWII superhuman drama Über and, via its Boundless imprint, the infernal naked lady series Hellina (so named because she is from Hell), thus summarizing its ethos as its 20th year in business continues; $4.99.

Secret Sneyd: The Unpublished Cartoons of Doug Sneyd: In the great tradition of absolute caprice, I will now spotlight a 280-page book of dirty gag cartoons by a Playboy artist. Specifically, these are roughs – sketches intended to get the joke across, none of which ever reached any state of completion. Might be interesting and/or amusing. A 5″ x 6.5″ Dark Horse release; $14.99.

PLUS!

Love and Rockets #2: I think you may have heard of this series; it’s by a pair of brothers, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, and they kind of do what they want for 36 pages. It’s magazine-sized, 8.5″ x 10.75″, like some of the old Direct Market fare used to be. I was at the MoCCA Arts Festival last weekend looking to get a copy, but Fantagraphics was already sold out by the time I got there, because I stupidly elected to spend time with friends; $4.99.

Eleanor & the Egret #1: I’ve had a great deal of difficulty getting a bead on AfterShock Comics. It was founded by a group of comics industry and Hollywood veterans, among them Mike Marts of Marvel and Joe Pruett of Caliber and Desperado, so I presume there’s some kind of IP development effort going on, though in practice the whole thing seems like Dark Horse Presents if it were a publisher, but not *Dark Horse*, if you get my drift. But hey, this is comic book drawn by Sam Kieth, and I’ll link to a comic book drawn by Sam Kieth, sure. It’s scripted by John Layman, who had a pretty big hit with Chew over at Image – the story concerns art thievery and talking birds, in some manner. Preview; $3.99.

Rock Candy Mountain #1: Not too long ago, the artist Kyle Starks attracted a decent amount of hype for Sexcastle, a crowdfunded homage to the 1980s action cinema, eventually picked up for wider distribution by Image. That same publisher now releases a new comic book miniseries from Starks, a WWII-era comedy about a two-fisted hobo and Satan; $3.99.

2000 AD 40th Anniversary Special: “Wait, didn’t they just have an anniversary issue a few months ago?” No, you fool. You god damned fool, that was 2000 AD #2000, whereas this is the official 40th Anniversary special, a 48-page color & b&W magazine now available in North American comic book stores, offering new stories that’ll either acclimate readers to regular features or tantalize those happy to see some old favorites return: Al Ewing’s & Henry Flint’s Zombo is in this issue, as well as Robbie Morrison’s & Simon Fraser’s Nikolai Dante. Note that Rebellion also has a pair of 2000 AD collections out this week: The Order: Die Mensch Maschine, from the very capable writer “Kek-W” and the old-school painted comics veteran John Burns, and Kingdom: Aux Drift, a combat-heavy post-apocalypse series from Dan Abnett & Richard Elson; $7.99.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations Vol. 1: If you’re as old as me — and you’ll probably need to be almost exactly as old as me, because a lot of this stuff potentially remains a mystery to generations prior — you remember a time when Masashi Kishimoto’s youth ninja comic Naruto was one of the great engines of manga’s popularity in North America. It helped a lot that the anime adaptation was enormously popular and widely pirated; glancing as the “Popular” tab on Crunchyroll.com, the Naruto Shippuden television series (just recently concluded this past March in Japan) is *still* in fifth place. So, it makes perfect financial sense for a sequel manga to begin, though I suspect it makes physical and mental health sense for Kishimoto to step back into a supervisory role, while writer Ukyo Kodachi and artist Mikio Ikemoto head up the comic’s actual production. It’s Boruto! Naruto’s kid! Next Generations! From VIZ; $9.99.

Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art: Finally, I presume Dynamite did okay with 2015’s The Art of José González, because now we’ve got a 272-page hardcover dedicated to pretty much everybody out of Spain who contributed to Vampirella magazine and the other Warren black & whites in the ’70s and ’80s, many of them associated with Josep Toutain’s agency, Selecciones Ilustradas. In fact, many of these artists were represented in British weekly comics as well, along with other global endeavors – writer David Roach’s text intends to address this wider exposure, if the book’s solicitation is any indication. Splashy, lavish, often thoroughly photo-referenced and flagrantly decorative, this whole mini-era of counter-mainstream comics perhaps annoyed those who valued readability and succinctness as paramount qualities in genre fare, but I find its extravagance reliably compelling; $39.99.

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Eyes Will Roll http://www.tcj.com/eyes-will-roll/ http://www.tcj.com/eyes-will-roll/#respond Mon, 03 Apr 2017 12:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99810 Continue reading ]]> Ah, what a relaxing two weeks of child care and Olympian detachment from the comics internet. I wonder what’s been going on in my absence?

Ha ha ha. Good cop/bad cop works again.

Elsewhere on the site, R.C. Harvey is here with a new column on Gluyas Williams.

Williams was soon also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, which had been launched by Harold Ross in February 1925. Although Ross began soliciting cartoons from Williams almost at once, the cartoonist did not produce anything for the magazine until 1926. “Ross would write,” Williams told Marschall, “but I’d say that I was based in Boston and I didn’t know enough about New York to be of any use. And then he finally sent me a cartoon idea about the house wrecker who has the wrong address.

“I did it and sent it over, and Ross sent it back and said that it won’t do: he said to get more fun into it—have a woman taking a bath while they’re taking the bathtub out and like that. [Cartoons with women in bathtubs were standard fare in the Ballyhoo magazine comedy of the period, but I doubt Ross thought along those lines. He did, however, make suggestions that Williams couldn’t accept, whatever they were.—RCH]

“Ross said to change it and put those things in it, and he’d buy it. I sent it back just as it was and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t touch it because my idea of humor was understatement rather than slapstick.’ And Ross wrote—oh, how I wish I’d kept that letter!—it was a wonderful letter, saying, ‘You’re perfectly right. I’m going to change all my ideas on drawings. Of course that’s much subtler your way and better.’

“And after that letter,” Williams concluded, “I thought to myself that this was an editor I’d like to work for.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere, there are too many links I’ve missed, so I’ll dole them out.

—News. Longtime great New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler has passed away. Here is the NY Times obituary.

Some of Mr. Ziegler’s subjects were recurring ones, like the Lone Ranger, hamburgers and comic-book characters.

Superman appeared more than a dozen times. Mr. Ziegler depicted him changing his clothes in a telephone booth while a cat (or is it Batman?) surreptitiously watched from a nearby window, going to therapy to face intimacy issues with Batman, and being forced to hand in his cape after testing positive for anabolic steroids.

Mr. Ziegler was not a big fan of the Man of Steel, he wrote in a New Yorker blog in 2013, but “he’s a guy in a cape and a body stocking and he can fly, which makes him amusing and fun to draw.”

Richard Gehr interviewed Ziegler for this website in 2013, and their conversation is well worth revisiting.

I went to the Fillmore a few times and saw the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and…I don’t know if we actually saw Quicksilver. There were a couple of concerts in Golden Gate Park. The last apartment we had in San Francisco was on Stanyan Street, right across from the park, so we used to be there quite a bit. That’s when I started doing cartoons and figured I should move back East if I wanted to be serious about this.

I also took six months off to try to write. I completed this novel I thought was good when I was writing it, but turns out it wasn’t.

While I was doing this writing, or trying to be a writer, Brian [McConnachie] was in New York and he was also trying to be a writer. He was also doing cartoons on the side, but he can’t really draw. He’s a terrible artist but he has funny ideas, so he started selling stuff to National Lampoon. And he said, “I can’t even draw and I’m selling cartoons. You can actually draw. Maybe this is something you might wanna think about.” So I did. I started kind of fiddling around with it, and then I found that I really enjoy doing it. I mean, I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I found I could do it. So I started doin’ that and then thought maybe this would be a way to make a living without having to sell my soul in some awful job.

I was doing a lot of cartoons in San Francisco. I think I sent some stuff out and it all got rejected. Then I thought maybe I should go to New York and actually visit some of the magazines and do an in-person thing. So I went to New York for like a week, and stayed with Brian and his wife. That’s when I decided we should move back there. If I’m ever gonna make this work, it’s not gonna happen in San Francisco. We packed up the bus again, got a U-Haul, and attached the bus to the back. Jean-Anne and I had a kid at that time – the first kid, Jessica. They flew back to Chicago and I drove from San Francisco to Chicago and met them there, spent a weekend, and then drove the rest of the way to New York. Once I got settled in New York, they took a plane and followed. It was just me and Blanche, the dog, in the truck. That was a good trip.

Marvel sales VP David Gabriel gave an interview to ICv2 in which he blamed falling sales of Marvel titles on reader disinterest in diversity.

What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.

Check that same link for Marvel’s later scramble to clarify Gabriel’s comments and reverse the PR damage.

This of course sparked a lot of outrage in various corners. I’ll share just one viral response (to another response), G. Willow Wilson’s.

If you’re going to write a smug thunk-piece about the “failure” of “diversity” in comics, maybe don’t use the cover image of a book that’s had 4 collections on the NYT graphic books bestseller list, won a Hugo and cleaned up at Angouleme. Just because you HOPE it’s on the chopping block, oh Riders of the Brohirrim, doesn’t mean it is.

There’s much more out there.

I don’t believe Dan linked to the Bloomberg profile of Dilbert creator (and Trump-whisperer) Scott Adams a couple weeks back, but it’s a must-read if you missed it.

Adams’s house is a shrine to the cartoon character that made him rich. One section, visible from the pool area outside, clearly resembles Dilbert’s head, with two oval windows for eyes, connected by a thin line that suggests spectacles. “They look out from the cat’s bathroom upstairs,” Adams told me. The structure is full of indulgent quirks. In the kitchen, Adams installed three microwaves so he “can make a lot of popcorn at once.” Nearby, he transformed a bar area (Adams doesn’t drink) into a display case for Dilbert books and paraphernalia. Other features include a 10-seat movie theater, a gym, and a room filled with beauty salon equipment, where his ex-wife (now Adams’s personal assistant) used to host spa days for friends. Off to the back is an indoor tennis court.

Slate announced the nominees for its annual Studio Prize.

Alison Bechdel was named Vermont’s latest cartoonist laureate.

Okay, there’s a baby spitting up in the corner I have to attend to, so that will have to be enough links for today…

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Gluyas Williams: Master of Line and Shape and Subject http://www.tcj.com/gluyus-williams-master-of-line-and-shape-and-subject/ http://www.tcj.com/gluyus-williams-master-of-line-and-shape-and-subject/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 12:00:01 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98590 Continue reading ]]> His drawings had a pristine purity that gave them a distinction no other cartoonist was able (or willing) to achieve. His line, seemingly fragile in contrast to strategically placed solid flat blacks, was sturdy and not at all delicate: of rigid unvarying width, it faithfully, dutifully, outlined his subjects without affectation or folderol—no wrinkles in clothing, no shading, no shadows. Pure and simple as his attitude towards his subjects, it was a wholly workmanlike line, as workmanlike as the people he studied and understood and drew.

Rick Marschall interviewed him in 1975 and published the result eight years later in Nemo: The Classic Comics Library No. 3, prefacing the exchange with a flood of appreciative and accurate assessment (in italics):

            Gluyas Williams did more with less than practically any cartoonist in history. His masterful panel drawings are genre studies, more often than not crowded with figures, and frequently confusion is the mood. No: confusion is the subject; urbanity is the mood. …

            All of Williams’ characters somewhat nervously floated through the twentieth century, slightly intimidated by technology and more than a little suspicious of the traps and trappings of modern life that awaited, ready to attack, around every corner.

            Perfect were his evocations of personality types and the upper-middle-class milieux that he delineated. But Gluyas Williams’s most stunning accomplishments were as a draftsman. Here was an artist in total command of his media—every pen line is in place, nothing superfluous, yet everything so marvelously expressive.

            Here is the doing-more-with-less ideal, aspired to by many cartoonists, in its finest incarnation. … The stark economy in a Williams cartoon came nowhere close to sterility: rather the scenes were vibrant and bursting with personality. Every figure is doing something—and doing something so expressively that you feel a part of the scene. Added to these gifts were Williams’ awesome sense of design, perspective, and composition. 

Gluyas (pronounced GLUE-yass) Williams (23 July 1888-13 February 1982) was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Robert Neil Williams and Virginia Gluyas. His early education took place in Germany, France, and Switzerland. He attended Harvard University, where he served as art editor of the Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor magazine of legend.

In 1911, after only three years, Williams graduated with a B.A. and went to Paris for six months to study life drawing in the studio of Angelo Colarossi, a celebrated model. Williams didn’t plan on becoming a painter, but he realized, as he later told Marschall, “I just had an idea that it would do me good—and I think it did, too. I mean, you learn how the body is put together, and just draw and draw and draw all day.”

Upon his return to the United States, he followed the example of his older sister, Kate Carew (her married name), who was, by then, a success drawing for newspapers.

Said Williams: “They had newspaper trucks that went around town delivering newspapers to newsstands, and they all had billboard-like signs on the sides—‘See Kate Carew, the only woman caricaturist’ or something like that. They sent her everywhere—sent her over to Europe to come back with Teddy Roosevelt on the boat when he returned from his hunting trip (in about 1910).”

She was sent to London which is where she was when the War broke out. “It was then that she did a great many theater things—caricatures—for The Tattler, for The Sketch. She was good!” Williams did a daily comic strip for the Boston Journal, which he later disavowed because it was “terrible.” “You have no idea how bad it was,” he told Marschall. “I worked at it for one full summer and then I said, ‘This is not for me!’—and vice versa. And I got a job on The Youth’s Companion.” He was soon the head of the magazine’s art department, and he stayed there for the next ten years.

While there, he also freelanced cartoons to various publications. His first significant sale was to Frank Casey, art editor at Collier’s. Casey bought and published as a cover a Williams drawing that had been rejected by the weekly humor magazines Life and Puck. And with that, he began selling his cartoons regularly to Collier’s, and when Charles Dana Gibson bought the old Life humor magazine in 1918 and hired Casey as art director, Williams became a steady contributor to Life.

Williams married Margaret Kempton in 1915, and by 1920 he felt secure enough as a cartoonist to give up his salaried position with Youth’s Companion in favor of a full-time freelance career. In addition to cartooning for magazines, he wrote and illustrated a political spoof about “Senator Sounder” for Life and he did theatrical caricatures for the fondly recalled Boston Evening Transcript. These efforts brought him to the attention of William Randolph Hearst, for whom he worked briefly, traveling to Washington, D.C., to do political caricatures.

In 1922, he also illustrated Of All Things, first of the book collection of Robert Benchley’s humorous essays.

Williams had met Benchley at the storied Harvard Lampoon. Williams was art editor, and Benchley was an aspiring cartoonist. His first drawing printed in the Lampoon showed two Irish women standing next to a smelly garbage can. One says, “Ain’t it offal, Mable?” It was a standard bad pun joke of the day.  In her biography, Robert Benchley: His Life and Good Times, Babette Rosmond says all of Benchley’s cartoon characters looked Irish. No doubt he was partaking of an established cartooning custom: most highly comical characters of the time were either Irish (and looked like monkeys) or African American (with big lips and bugging eyes).

According to the popularly circulated report (by Benchley), Williams pretty soon took Benchley aside and said, “Now look, Benchley—you’ve written some things and they aren’t bad, but your drawings aren’t very good. Why don’t you just stick to writing? We have plenty of pictures.” Reportedly, Benchley, in rehearsing this tale, would complain that he could’ve been making ten thousand dollars a week if he’d just stuck to drawing. But Williams disputed the story in his interview with Marschall: “Of course, he just made that up: I don’t think I ever said any such thing at all.”

In other tellings of the story, Benchley maintained that Williams’ advice at the Lampoon had effectively set his feet on his career path. Said Rosmond: “Robert was overjoyed and rather staggered when he was elected president of the Lampoon—the grandeur of the office scared him. He wondered if he would be equal to it; but he needn’t have worried. His performance on the job founded a Benchley tradition: both Robert Benchley’s sons, Nathaniel and Robert, Jr., were presidents of the Lampoon in their respective years at Harvard.”

Among the people who Benchley (and, presumably, Williams) knew in those Harvard days, Rosmand reports, “were Frederick Lewis Allen, who would be come Harper’s editor-in-chief; and John Reed, later famous as author of the chronicle of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, who has the dubious distinction of being the only American to be buried in Moscow’s Red Square.

“Reed,” Rosmond continues, “was another person who recommended that Benchley pursue a career in writing, sending him a letter inviting him to join Reed at his house at 42 Washington Square in the Village. Said Reed: ‘I will guarantee that you get a good room and fair treatment; the water pipes burst about once a month, and the gaslight is not what it should be, but who cares? BOHEMIA! O BOHEMIA!’”

Williams’ first Benchley book was followed by another in each of the next two years and nine more over the next two decades. Williams illustrated them all. And in return, Benchley wrote the Preface to the first book of Williams’ cartoons, The Gluyas Williams Book, published in 1929. The two creators would be forever linked. Williams’s drawings of Benchley and his milieu so perfectly caught the mood of “the little man” encountering the humiliations and frustrations of life in the twentieth century that the cartoonist’s work was often acclaimed as the best part of the books. In this collaboration, Williams found his metier, a subject and a treatment that were exactly attuned to his sensibility.

In his customary role as the put-upon “little man,” Benchley elaborated upon his relationship to Williams in the aforementioned Preface to The Gluyas Williams Book (quoted here at length and in italics):

There is only one drawback I having been Mr. Williams’ model for so many pictures. After years of capturing those particular facial characteristics of which my mother is so fond, he has quite unconsciously taken to putting me into all his drawings, commercial and otherwise, as the typical American Sap. … My friends point out to me that I have been caught to the life in a Williams drawing showing the delight with which dear old Uncle Tasker will receive a dressing gown for Christmas. When people come to me and say: “I saw your picture in Vanity Fair today,” I know instinctively that it was not among those nominated for the Hall of Fame but in the back of the book among the advertisements typifying the sort of men to whom a Bates umbrella or a pair of Goodyear rubbers will be an ornament.

Not only in his advertising drawings but in those amazing full pages in The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan where the face of Mr. Mencken’s Boobus Americanus is called for, mine is the face.

Thus, through his conscientious attempt to illustrate my books faithfully, Mr. Williams has made me his lay figure, and owing to the enormous popularity of his drawings, I am fast losing all personal identity and becoming a type, like the Gibson Girl.

However, if this is to be my path to fame, I am content. There could be no surer or more permanent way of going down to posterity. For while there are other artists who have caught something of the American scene, and other artists who can draw well, I know of no other artist who combines, as Williams does, that sure insight into the common mind and a technique which might well be turned to more important things—if there were things more important. I believe that Williams drawings will be preserved for expert contemplations both as data on the manners and customs of our day and as graceful and important examples of its art.

On another occasion (in the Introduction to Fellow Citizens), Benchley waxed more favorably yet (in italics):

I have sometimes felt that Gluyas was a little overconscientious in delineating my extra poundage in each book, but my friends tell me that, if anything, he has been kind. All in all, it has been a beautiful relationship.

One of the remarkable things about Gluyas Williams’ work is that he not only keeps it funny but, through the exercise of some sort of necromancy, he has managed to keep drawing as well as he did twenty years ago.

I see him only about once a year, when he comes to New York to check up on my waistline for the next book, but on those occasions, his usually placid face becomes livid as he recounts his most recent escape from lynching at the hands of his compatriots.

In American Heritage for December 1984, cartoonist Edward Sorel describes the annual dinners (in italics):

Although Williams lived in Newton (a suburb of Boston) and Benchley in Manhattan (a suburb of the Algonquin [a celebrated hotel ands watering hole for New York wits]), both made it a practice to meet at least once a year in New York. Over cocktails and dinner Williams would get caught up on all the gossip that never reached Newton.

Williams would later recall those dinners with his old friend: “He was a wonderful man, probably the wittiest man in New York in his day, but he never hogged the limelight. If you were with him he had the rare gift of making you feel that you were the one who was saying the witty things.”

But Williams must have been pretty good company himself. Charles Dana Gibson, Harold Ross, Edward Streeter, and Alexander Woollcott were not the sort who suffered fools gladly, and all valued his friendship. He seems to have had enough good qualities to fill a Boy Scout manual. He was loyal: he stuck with Gibson in 1929 when Gibson’s old Life was failing and other contributors had switched to The New Yorker. And he was modest.

When the publication date of his tenth book approached in 1938, Benchley had become increasingly dissatisfied with his printed humor pieces. By then, he was making a living as a theater critic and doing short humorous films. “I wish they would never get it out,” he said about the forthcoming tome. “I haven’t seen Gluyas’s drawings yet, but they have got to carry it, I’m afraid.” By then, Williams was well into his major contribution to American cartooning. In 1924 Williams sold a single-panel daily gag cartoon series to Bell Syndicate, which distributed the feature nationwide for twenty-five years.

The title of the feature varied with the subject, as was the practice then in similar endeavors by by J. R. Williams and Clare Briggs and others. Whether called “Suburban Heights,” “The World at Its Worst,” “The Moment That Seems a Year,” “Difficult Decisions,” “The Neighborhood League,” or any of a half-dozen other names, the cartoon focused on the minor crises and tepid tribulations of middle-class life in the suburbs of an America that was becoming increasingly urban. The cast was composed of mostly anonymous businessmen, housewives, and youngsters, but a comfortably portly fellow named Fred Perley was frequently the springboard to the day’s chuckle.

Williams explained his philosophy for the feature: “Two things I strive for in my cartoons: to bring the reader to smile at himself in the past or to make it easier for him when the incident happens in the future.” As a rule, Sorel said, “Williams drew only those things that he had observed personally. Years after he retired [in 1953], he described his working methods this way: ‘I’d watch for things to happen at the West Newton Station in the morning or evening—things like somebody trying to get through the station door to buy a paper, just as everyone else surges out to board the train; or trying to get a taxi at the station on a rainy night; or the way everyone in the station starts for the platform when a train rumbles by, and it’s usually a freight train. All those little everyday occurrences can be built into cartoons.’”

Said Edward Street (whose Father of the Bride Williams illustrated) in The Gluyas Williams Gallery (in italics):

Gluyas Williams’ humor is a compound of gaiety and sadness, gallantry and failure, pompousness and frustration, mixed in accordance with some secret formula that he alone possesses and seasoned with a dash of futility and a pinch of wistfulness. He sees humans as confused, insecure, well-intentioned duffers bluffing their way through the world of half-baked customs and screwball mores which they do not understand but cannot sidestep. You like his people and you sympathize with them for the good reason that they are always you—just as they are always Gluyas Williams.

… with a few sparse strokes of his drawing pen he manages to convey the idea that his subjects are not only making fools of themselves, but are quite aware of it. One senses that, in spite of their embarrassment at being discovered, they will do nothing to correct the situation. They are caught in strong currents and find it easier to turn on their backs and float than to struggle against them.

            In the same book, humor writer David McCord goes to greater length (in italics):

This universal human quality—a love, not a contempt, for his fellow man—is what sets Gluyas Williams in a class by himself. Satire has no place in his method of characterization. Even his painfully correct reporting of some of America’s incredible playgrounds shows not the slightest trace of mockery. That crowds of men and women can look and act as they do, and affect to find pleasure and recreation in the sordid mass, is part of the subdivine comedy in which he enters as a spectator, never as a critic. …

Every figure in a Williams drawing is doing something of value to the picture; every niche and quarter of the background is justified and correct. The illusion of distance, rain, and atmosphere, and of the unexplained, is effected solely by ‘the lucid, faultless line we have come so to admire.’

In addition to his syndicated cartoons (which reportedly ran in about 70 newspapers, a goodly number in those days), Williams produced illustrations for numerous books and advertisements.

Williams was soon also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, which had been launched by Harold Ross in February 1925. Although Ross began soliciting cartoons from Williams almost at once, the cartoonist did not produce anything for the magazine until 1926. “Ross would write,” Williams told Marschall, “but I’d say that I was based in Boston and I didn’t know enough about New York to be of any use. And then he finally sent me a cartoon idea about the house wrecker who has the wrong address. 

“I did it and sent it over, and Ross sent it back and said that it won’t do: he said to get more fun into it—have a woman taking a bath while they’re taking the bathtub out and like that. [Cartoons with women in bathtubs were standard fare in the Ballyhoo magazine comedy of the period, but I doubt Ross thought along those lines. He did, however, make suggestions that Williams couldn’t accept, whatever they were.—RCH]

“Ross said to change it and put those things in it, and he’d buy it. I sent it back just as it was and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t touch it because my idea of humor was understatement rather than slapstick.’ And Ross wrote—oh, how I wish I’d kept that letter!—it was a wonderful letter, saying, ‘You’re perfectly right. I’m going to change all my ideas on drawings. Of course that’s much subtler your way and better.’

“And after that letter,” Williams concluded, “I thought to myself that this was an editor I’d like to work for.”

For most of his career, Williams lived in West Newton, a suburb near Boston, but he did his work at a studio in the city at 192 Boylston Street, to which he commuted, completing his weekly quota of cartoons in four mornings. He took his syndicated assignment seriously, said Sorel: “He made certain that he was always fifty or sixty drawings ahead, just in case he got hit by a truck.

 “He was also cautious,” Sorel went on. “Fearing that the ramshackle building he used for a studio would catch fire, he kept his reserve pile of drawings in the local bank. Each week he would take out a week’s supply and send them to the syndicate. But in 1933 Roosevelt declared a bank holiday. ‘My deadline was at hand, and I couldn’t get to my drawings,’ Williams later re-called. ‘The Boston Globe had to pull strings and arranged for me to go under guard to my bank to get the drawings. The guard was supposed to make certain I didn’t take any gold out.’” Added Sorel: “The bank-holiday story was one Williams told over and over. It was an incident that must have seemed like high adventure in a life that was otherwise prosaic: marriage, children, a home in the suburbs, a summer place in Maine, grandchildren, and retirement at the age of sixty-five. He is quoted as saying: ‘I was sixty-five. It seemed like a great age to retire, so I did.’ But some friends believe he was afraid that further drawing would cost him his sight. He had almost three decades yet to live after he retired.

At one o’clock every day, having finished his self-imposed quota for the day, Williams left his studio in Boston and returned to life in suburbia, pursuing such activities as cabinet-making, sailing, billiards, reading detective stories, and playing bridge. The father of a son and daughter, Williams exemplified in many respects the kind of life his cartoons depicted.

For The New Yorker, Williams produced the full-page cartoons under a series of titles that typified his approach. Under the heading “Industrial Crises,” for example, the cartoonist depicted the panic and dismay among company officials “the day a cake of Ivory sank at Procter & Gamble’s” and the chagrin and consternation that prevailed around the boardroom table when “a director of the Diamond Match Company absent-mindedly lights his cigar with an automatic lighter.” 

Typically, a Williams cartoon was crowded with people, each a distinct individual doing something appropriate for the scene. In “Office Building Lobby,” Williams showed a throng of businessmen rushing to enter or leave, one looking at his watch, another asking the elevator operator a question, yet another consulting the building directory, two people arguing, a man flirting with a woman, and so on. 

In “The Waiter Who Put a Check on the Table Face Up,” an entire restaurant population, waiters and customers, looks aghast at the offending party— as does every member of the audience at a piano recital when a woman snaps her purse “during a pianissimo” (every member of the audience depicted in individual eccentricity in an expansive two-page cartoon).

Williams sought to reveal the humor in ordinary life among ordinary people doing everyday things. In many of his earliest endeavors, he said he was inspired by the French cartoonist Caran d’Ache. In these, Williams filled a full page (or two) with a sequence of drawings depicting in pantomine an individual’s growing frustration at performing some activity— a man struggling to remove a stubborn dandelion from his lawn, a father trying to read aloud to his son who fidgets in his lap and climbs all over him. 

“I was devoted to d’Ache,” Williams said to Marschall. “I liked his things enormously; although our styles of drawing were entirely different, his way of approaching things appealed to me.” Later, Williams reflected the influence of British cartoonist H.M. Bateman when he depicted the fate or faux pax of “The Man Who … ”

Both models are evident in “The Woman Who Suspects All Restaurant Glasses,” a succession of pictures showing an imposing matron arriving at a restaurant table and then intently examining her water glass while a gathering crowd of observing waiters displays, first, increasing concern, then obvious relief when the glass passes inspection.

Sorel believed that “the pen-and-ink technique Williams used to record his observations owed much to the work of Aubrey Beardsley. At first it is difficult to see what Beardsley’s erotic, serpentine illustrations have in common with Williams’s open, sunny drawings, but the use of solid black shapes in an otherwise delicate line drawing is common to both. In fact, Williams was so in awe of Beardsley’s work that he never used white paint to correct a line, because he believed (erroneously) that Beardsley never ‘whited out’ mistakes.” “It was some of a shock, therefore,” noted McCord, “when a young American artist (Matlack Price) discovered some Beardsleys ‘fairly plastered with Chinese white.’”

Oddly perhaps, Williams favorite comic strip cartoonists were E.C. Segar and Frank Willard, neither exactly in his manner in either drawing style or subject. Both Popeye and Moon Mullins were determinedly slapstick betraying no restraint whatsoever, and Williams’ humor is nothing if not restrained. Williams soon honed his influences into his own brand of pawky humor, low-keyed and restrained, and evolved a distinctive graphic style that was the perfect complement to the comedy. His drawings, models of lucid simplicity, were precisely outlined with a sturdy, unvarying line and then starkly accented with solid, flat blacks. In both attitude and visual treatment, Williams’s cartoons were so wholly unpretentious that they seemed the embodiment of only honest reportage on the human condition.

Famed British cartoonist, and one-time editor of Punch, Kenneth Bird (aka Fougasse) said: “It will be readily agreed that Gluyas is in a class by himself; but to put this down to his drawing, or to his technique, or to the style he adopted would be to do him very much less than justice.”

Sorel agreed, advising that “if you want a quick fix on what upper-middle-class Americans were doing between the two World Wars, look at the cartoons of Gluyas Williams. It will take less time than reading Dodsworth or the works of J. P. Marquand, and will be just as accurate. Accurate observation was the essence of Williams’s art, and he was, in the words of one magazine editor, a ‘superb noticer.’”

Williams died in Boston in 1982 at the age of 93. Said Sorel: “The thousands of drawings he left behind remain a superb guide to manners and customs during three decades of the American saga. They are also, to a large extent, his autobiography.”

A few more fragments of his autobiography are posted forthwith. 

Bibliography (for the compulsives among us)

Most of the information about Gluyas Williams’s life and career can be found in Current Biography (1946) and in a 1975 interview with Richard Marschall published in Nemo: The Classic Comics Library No.3 (October 1983). Among the books he illustrated are Father of the Bride by Edward Streeter (1948); There’s a Fly in This Room (1946) and Wrap It as a Gift (1947) by Ralf Kircher; How to Guess Your Age (1950) by Corey Ford; The Camp at Lockjaw (1952)by David McCord; and the following by Robert Benchley: Of All Things (1922), Love Conquers All (1923), Pluck and Luck (1924), The Early Worm (1927), The Treasurer’s Report and Other Aspects of Community Singing (1930), From Bad to Worse (1934), My TenYears in a Quandry (1936), After 1903—What? (1938), Inside Benchley (1942), Benchley Beside Himself (1943), Benchley—Or Else (1947), and Chips off the Old Benchley (1949). Williams cartoons are collected in two volumes, The Gluyas Williams Book (1929) and Fellow Citizens (1940), both accompanied by appreciative and informative introductions as is The Gluyas Williams Gallery (1957), which includes sample text and illustrations from several of the books on which the cartoonist collaborated plus a few cartoons. As far as I know, none of his syndicated cartoons have been collected or reprinted (except those you find in this essay—a spectacular exclusive).

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Some Issue http://www.tcj.com/some-issue/ http://www.tcj.com/some-issue/#respond Fri, 31 Mar 2017 13:34:49 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99747 Continue reading ]]> Ironically, given my spiel yesterday, there’s nothing new on the site today. It’s been a busy week of content, so I suggest poking around the site and settling in with something of interest. Here are some fine links:

Barbara Nessim is a wonderful illustrator who has mostly been overlooked — her work in the 1960s was hand in hand with Push Pin in establishing the look of commercial psychedelia. Great, linework and a luminous, bendable sense of color and form. There’s a great-looking show in LA right now.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters gets the Fresh Air treatment.

Here’s a report on Art Spiegelman in conversation with with Paul Holdengräber about his book, Si Lewen’s Parade.

 

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An Interview with Joe Ollmann http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-joe-ollmann/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-joe-ollmann/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99373 Continue reading ]]>

On the occasion of his new book, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, Joe Ollman spoke with Brad Mackay about life, art, and cannibalism.

Brad Mackay: As I was prepping for this interview I realized that even though we’ve known each other for years now, I know very little about you. So, let’s try and fix this. Where were you born and when?

Joe Ollmann: I was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1966 on a Christmas tree farm.

What? Really? Tell me the truth.

[Laughs] What do you mean tell you the truth!? It’s true…that’s the truth.

So your family lived on a tree farm, or …

They sold Christmas trees: that was what we did. I grew up in the country; I was a rural child.

But were you actually born on the farm? Like, a home birth?

No, I was born in a hospital, but I mean … okay, jeez. I was born in Hamilton Ontario, in a hospital.

So, you were raised on a Christmas tree farm.

Yes. I was raised on a Christmas tree farm Brad. [laughs] We’re off to a great start!

This interview is over! So, give me a better idea of your family situation. Did your dad and your mom run this tree farm?

Yeah, that was our part-time thing. My dad’s full-time gig was working at Stelco, as most people in Hamilton did at the time.

For the sake of our readers, Stelco was a major steel company in Hamilton which for many years was a heavily industrialized city.

Yeah. It’s a post-industrial city now, but it was an industrial city at the time. And Stelco was gigantic. It was one of the biggest steel manufacturers in Canada, and probably North America. And, y’know, that industry is mostly dead now. All the manufacturing jobs that surrounded it have dried up. But it was a very big part of my growing up, being in an industrial union town.

And for a long time, Hamilton was affectionately known as The Hammer, right?

Yeah, well it’s still called that, but back then it was called that because it was such a rough place, and because of the steel background. In the 1980s and 90s, when the steel industry was dying it became a pretty economically depressed town, so it was a rough place. It was a little bit scabby then.

I remember when I lived in Toronto I would travel to southern Ontario to visit Phyllis Wright or Seth, and the times I passed through Hamilton, I felt a little threatened. There was a sense that I might get mugged for the first time in my life. So, back to your dad: he worked at a steel factory and then also did this part-time tree-growing gig.

That was our summer vacation: harvesting Christmas trees.

And cue the Canadian stereotypes! [laughs]

I’m serious! Our summer vacation was trimming these trees with clippers, making them nice shapes.

This is starting to sound like a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.

It was pretty wholesome. I mean, y’know, we had access to axes and matches and we weren’t allowed to go walk on the road, but we were allowed to drive motorized vehicles and play with gasoline and powder and all that. It was like a normal rural childhood.

And you survived it, which is good.

I survived, yeah.

Because the dark side of rural life is that the chances of getting maimed or killed by farm equipment or in your case, axes, increases for country kids right?

Yeah, like that famous Dave Collier cartoon.

Yes! It all comes back to Dave. As they say in Canadian comics circles, “All roads lead to David Collier”. He’s been in Hamilton for a long time now right?

Yeah. We have a lot of cartoonists living in Hamilton now. Jesse Jacobs lives here, and Georgia Weber just moved here… Marc Bell lives here part-time. Even Seth, who lives nearby in Guelph, likes Hamilton, it’s like his home-away-from-home. He loves to come to Hamilton and take photos.

So, all this talk about Hamilton turning into a burgeoning arts community that’s not just real estate PR?

There’s truth to it, yeah. It’s one of those post-industrial towns that’s riding a kind of burgeoning wave of creativity right now. There’s a lot of cool stores, restaurants, and shops opening up. A lot of artists have moved here from Toronto which is an expensive city to live in, so they can afford to live here and they’ve brought cool things with them, so Hamilton is much cooler than it was when I left here.

It’s changed for the better, although the downside is the rent and property prices have skyrocketed, so it’s hard for everyone that lives here.

So, how would you classify your dad? He was a working guy, a union guy I take it, right?

He was not a union guy, he was a foreman…

Management…

Yeah, a management kind of guy, but he was a very strong … I don’t think he would have called himself a socialist, but he was… y’know he was… and… I am, and my family all are sort of of that [ilk?]. Yeah.

And your mom, what did she do?

She was always a housewife, mom-at-home kind of all of her life. I mean, she worked in a store before she got married, but then y’know she had six kids and she kind of stayed at home and took care of us.

And what about your siblings?

My siblings are all very nice, normal people. I’m the odd one in the family, but they all like me they’re very nice. They’re the most polite, kind-hearted people in the world. They’re very reliable.

So, very Canadian, is what you’re saying.

Yeah, yeah, basically.

What was the breakdown of brothers versus sisters?

I have one brother and four sisters. So, mostly women in my family. I’m the baby of the six, and it’s not that big a family really because my mother came from a family of 19 kids and my dad came from 11, so…

Jesus.

Irish Catholic, man!

I hear ya. I came from a family of two, but I have three kids now, so I’m kind of trying to change the script; the course of history.

You thinking of having more?

No, no! Good God, no! So, when did you eventually leave the Christmas tree farm?

I did, yeah, when I got married. I got married really young, when I was 17. And so I moved to Hamilton then. But yeah, I lived in Hamilton… I lived in the West End, which was the nice part of town, and then after I got divorced I rented a house in downtown Hamilton in, like, 2000. That was a rough part of town. I thought, “Ah, this’ll be grist for the mill, it’ll be hilarious.” I lived across the street from a crack house and I would get propositioned by hookers when I would go jogging, and I got robbed once, and, y’know, got beat up in an alley by like six teenagers.

I got the shit kicked out of me. I got like ten stitches, my lip was split up to my nose… but that was Hamilton then, and Hamilton now is vastly different than that—I don’t want to give people a bad impression.

Sure. Now you just have to deal with gangs of roaming cartoonists. So, when did you say that was, 2000?

That was like 2000. So, 16 years ago.

That would’ve been around the time I was cruising through.

You know, it’s like any city… you’ll have one street that’s a little rough, and then one street over it’s like paradise, nice people living there and everything. So I was just living in a bad part of town. It was just bad luck.

So, was there a point in your life when you realized you were going to pursue art?

I was always a person that was drawing. You know how in school there’s always the competition to see who the best drawer is? I was always in that competition. I wasn’t the first-place kid: I was like, the second- or third-place kid. There was one girl that was better or there was one guy that was better. But I was always a person that liked to draw, and write stories. And then there were comics.

I remember Mad and Jughead and that kind of stuff around, but I didn’t get fully into comics until I was probably like 9. I bought one at a store on a whim, it was a Spider-Man, and it was one of those lightning bolt moments y’know. From that moment on I was addicted to comics. Every cent I had I would spend on them. I could sit there and get my sisters to hold up a comic and I would name the writer, the editor, the inker, the colorist, just based on the cover. I had memorized everything about them, I was obsessed. I would draw a comic, I would copy things and pretend they were mine. I would rip-off people’s work. [Laughs] And I’d say “Oh yeah, I did this.” And it was just a crappy rip-off of other cartoonists.

That’s a noble tradition in comics. [Laughs] When did your obsession with Jim Aparo begin?

Jim Aparo! I love his stuff, he’s great! He’s so underrated! I think he’s not given enough credit. I think he’s the technical equal of Neal Adams, and Neal Adams was… y’know how they always put Adams on the covers because he would draw you in, and then there’d be some lesser artist on the interior. Obviously they thought Adams was a sell, and he was great, I mean he’s wonderful, a masterful drawer. But I think Aparo was his equal. I mean, if you can compare apples and oranges…

In addition to Aparo, you’ve said that Doug Wright was a big influence on your decision to pursue comics professionally. Can you explain Wright’s appeal? 

Wright was a cartoonist at The Hamilton Spectator, which was the local paper in town. I would read his strips and notice that he would show local things, and I knew that this guy was definitely not from America. This is an actual guy from Hamilton. I later discovered that he was from Burlington, which is close by so, same difference.

I remember thinking “You don’t have to be from America to do this?” Growing up Canadian, America’s influence was very big in our culture in television and everything else, and we kind of denigrated our own television because it looked cheap and crappy. And so anything that you recognized as being done well, you just assumed it came from America. So, I just assumed that comics were all done in America, I didn’t think there was any [done here]. So yeah, finding out that Doug Wright was from around here was very influential. It made me think “Oh, I could actually do that.” It made it real for me.

So what age were you?

About 10, 11, 12. I didn’t know I was going to be a cartoonist, but I was drawing comics all the time and in high school I was drawing comics. I can remember drawing like Peter Bagge, from Neat Stuff — drawing stuff that I saw in there for people in class, instead of doing work. It was probably after high school that I started… I would work at night and draw and do things. I tried to do super-hero comics, but they always turned into weird things, more rooted in reality and Kitchen Sink drama-type stuff. So I guess I realized at a certain point that it wasn’t really my thing and I didn’t have the drawing chops to do that kind of stuff well.

So you’re talking right after high school, so 17, right around the same time you got married.

Yeah, the same time I got married I was making comics in my spare time. I finished high school and then worked night-shifts in a box factory and had a kid. But in the spare moments that I had, I had a drafting table and I would draw comics. I still have some of that crap from those days.

So, night shifts in a box factory. I’m going to assume that wasn’t very lucrative.

No, not at all. It was like minimum wage, maybe $3.25 an hour. I guess it seems very David Copperfield-ish or Oliver Twist-ish now, but it didn’t seem bad at the time. I did that for years, then I worked in a machine shop and they were apprenticing me to be a machinist, but I didn’t wanna do it. Then I got a chance to go back to school through a government work program, and that was to study graphic arts. So I did that, and even though it had nothing to do with comics it was enough to get me into making art because I was working for different printers and things like that. And I got a chance to draw things for ads, like shoes or whatever, I had a chance to actually draw things for work, which was great.

I feel like this speaks to something essential to your voice as an artist. It seems to be powered by a blue-collar philosophy; a working-class sensibility. Like, in this case you’re just happy to be getting paid to make something with your talent, even if it’s just a shoe ad.

Yeah, I always feel that. I know a lot of people who are kind of pure, like real “artists,” like “Oh, I don’t wanna draw things that I don’t wanna draw.” If you told me as a 17-year-old kid working at a box factory that, y’know, I could draw a comic for a textbook and live on that for like two months that would’ve blown my mind. I just didn’t think it was possible, so I feel lucky to be drawing anything.

So when did you start publishing your own comics?

The first published thing was in the 1980s. I did a lot of newspaper strips and illustrations in local papers like The Spectator, and then I did a comic strip in there for five years in the 90s and then they changed editors and they ditched my comic, and then I did five years of a monthly in Exclaim! [a long-running Canadian alternative newspaper]

Yeah, they published a lot of alt-cartoonists. Marc Bell was published in there too, and Dave Cooper. It was probably the first place I saw your artwork.

Also, Fiona Smyth, and Alan Hunt.

Alan Hunt, yeah!

Yeah, he eventually got out of the whole thing, but he was a great cartoonist. I miss his work. I loved those little books…I reread them every now and then.

He also designed the first Doug Wright Awards logo. Obscure Canadian comics trivia! I’m curious about the Spectator stuff. What was the strip there? Was it slice-of-life or…?

They gave me complete freedom to do whatever I wanted. So sometimes it was politics: I was a very lefty political guy, so sometimes there would be just like ranting. Sometimes it would be like, y’know, just like stories, like the kind of stuff I do now, just stories about people. So it was just whatever I wanted to do. It was kind of freeing just to do whatever you wanted.

So this was around the same time that you started making your mini-comic/zine Wag, right? Can you talk about how that came to be?

Wag was just a series of little books that I did because I was working at a printing place and I would use the equipment there to print these little books. Then I would bind them myself, I would score the spines with a butter knife and glue them together myself. And they were just full of whatever I felt like, they were kinda like comics and drawings, and my kids’ drawings, and like poetry, whatever the hell I wanted. I sold tons of them at little zine fairs and things like that.

Then around 2000, a publisher in Toronto called Insomniac Press, saw my stuff in Wag and approached me about doing a book. They were looking to do a graphic novel, and I said I could do a book of short stories and they said okay sure, go ahead. But I had seven months to get it done, so I just sat down and did a book in seven months. Just wrote all the stories and drew them all at night.

That was Chewing on Tinfoil, right?

Yeah. It kinda set the tone of all my books: mildly depressing stories that have the relief of humor throughout to make them not unbearable. That was the first proper book, published by someone else. In the 80s I did one of those black-and-white comics called Dirty Nails Comix about a scientist. It was like science fiction but like weird, lefty politics science fiction about a helmet that this professor invents that gets stolen by this CIA type of agency. The helmet can take your thoughts and amplify them and kill people if you wanted.

 

Then next up was This Will All End in Tears, around 2006.

That’s the one I won The Doug Wright Award for.

Yeah — I think I met you for the first time at the ceremony that year. I remember having an expectation of what that book would be like, and being caught off guard by it. It was a real step up. The storylines were unexpectedly sweet and off-kilter and you end up sympathizing with characters you didn’t think you would.

Yeah, I heard that from a lot of people. I feel like I wish that I’d have spent more time back then building up a body of work in a similar vein to the stuff that I’ve done with those books. With Midlife and Science Fiction, the stories are character-driven and kind of depressing, but very (hopeful) and human. Hopefully not completely depressing because there’s some humanity in there.

Then you published Midlife, which dropped the connected short-story approach for a single longer-form story. Was that a conscious decision?

It’s different in that it’s a full-length story, but I think it’s in a similar vein to the others in terms of content. But yeah, it was a conscious decision to do a full-length book ‘cause I knew that short story collections are kind of a hard sell. Which is weird, ‘cause some of my favorite comics are short-stories: Adrian Tomine or Dan Clowes’s old Eightball stuff. I love those short pieces. I love that anthology kind of thing, where guys were just doing whatever they felt like doing, and at any length.

And now we have The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, a long-form graphic novel biography that focuses on a very complex and tragically human character that you sort of pulled from the dustbin of history, really. It seems like you’re playing outside of your sandbox here a little bit. Can you explain how you came to this project? 

It was just a thing I was researching in the background for years. Seabrook had this really weird, interesting life—he knew all these famous artists and writers—and I was surprised that I’d never heard of him before. So I just started researching him, then bought all his books and I thought he was a very good writer.

When did this happen?

I looked at my notes recently and the first ones I had about him were from 2006. So that’s 10 years that I had it kind of in the background, five years of those being committed to writing and drawing this thing nearly full-time. But it wasn’t much of a conscious decision. I toyed with the idea of doing it, and then I had a script written, and then all the research was done, so I was like “I guess there’s no excuse not to do it.” It was daunting though, because it was big. 300 pages, y’know. I discovered Seabrook in an anthology of zombie stories edited by Peter Haining called Zombie. The story was “Dead Men Working in a Cane Field”, a famous Seabrook story that’s an ostensibly true story of these zombies working cutting cane—it’s great. But what really interested me the bio of Seabrook in the book which gave me a glimpse of this guy; all the people that he knew and his life, plus he was an alcoholic, a cannibal, a bondage freak, and all this stuff.

Well, I can see why he caught your interest. He’s very interesting and engaging, but he’s also a refreshingly unlikable protagonist for a biography.

Yeah. I think he was probably a lot of fun to hang around with and that’s why I think all these famous writers befriended him and remembered him. A lot of them wrote about him in their own autobiographies or memoirs. But like any troubled person, I think he would have been super hard to live with. At the beginning of the book I think I liked him, because he’s a fun guy and a crazy adventurer, and he was very honest about his vices and that kind of stuff. But I think I liked him a lot less by the end of it.

There’s definitely a point in your narrative when his eccentric shenanigans lose their charm and stop being amusing—even to him, I think. It’s a very layered, complex portrait of the man—it feels rich, and true to life. It reminded me of that biography of Orson Welles written by that British actor.

Simon Callow? Yeah, that’s a great book.

Yeah, right? Callow does such a good job of confronting all aspects of Welles, who was a truly complex character, and the result feels very rich and completely human. It’s like the opposite of the standard Hollywood biopic film formula, where it’s just a set of arranged scenes designed to elicit sympathy, while omitting anything that runs counter to the rags-to-riches narrative. You avoid that in this book: you’re not afraid of tackling his darker sides. You confront his rampant womanizing, and even his cannibalism which he exploited in a very strange way.

But he was honest about that in his lifetime; by the time he wrote his autobiography at the end of his life, he told the truth about that cannibalism. But, I mean, yeah, in a book that’s non-fiction fudging with the truth is kind of like the worst thing you can do, and he did a bit of that.

The thing about that story is that, yes, he lied about eating human flesh in his book. But he felt guilty enough about it that he found a workaround that somehow manages to be more disturbing than the story he fudged in the first place.

Yeah. In the context he claimed to have done it in there’s a real cultural significance to it: with these guys who were actual cannibals, culturally. But that fact that he does it when he comes back to an urban center like Paris, and gets his friends into it as well…

Just to be clear, Seabrook gets duped in Africa by some guys who claim they’re feeding him human meat.

Yeah. It was like an ape, like a great ape, that’s what he described it as. He could tell by the finger bones, which he noticed were longer than a human’s.

But he writes about it in a best-selling book anyway, describing the taste of human meat. But he was bothered by this fib enough that he concocts an elaborate and highly illegal scheme and ropes in unwitting friends, to actually consume human meat. In short, he gets back to Paris and feels so bad about lying about being a cannibal that he reaches out to a mortician —

Through a friend, yeah. He acquires a pound of like, neck meat, I read in one place. From the neck! And then, yeah, his translator Gabriel D’Hons [?]let him use his chef and his kitchen, and his chef cooked it in three different dishes—three different ways—and then he served it to him and he ate it in front of his friends. BY doing this, Seabrook felt like he was being true to his lie. But the crazy thing was that Seabrook wasn’t going to tell his friends that it was meat from a human; he said it was from a rare African goat. Then one woman was like “I wanna try some!” and Margery Worthington, Seabrook’s second wife, was like, “No! Don’t touch it! It’s filthy!”

It’s one of the most compelling parts of the book to me, because it says so much about his personality and disposition.

Yeah, it’s a crazy story. But a part of me thinks it’s crazy, and then another part of me as a vegetarian of 28 years, doesn’t think it’s any weirder to eat human than it is to eat a dog or maybe a cow. So it’s not a big deal, if someone’s already dead. As long as, you know, you aren’t going out and consciously murdering them.

Stop pandering to your cannibal demographic.

I’m not pandering! But I just…I don’t think it’s that bad I suppose.

To me the story speaks to his twisted kind of integrity. You argue that he was insecure about his reputation as a kind of “yellow journalist”, a real exploitation artist. In this case he really leans into it: it’s like he figures “Well I told them I ate human flesh, then I better damn well make sure I do it.” 

Yeah, it’s a weird thing to do. And it’s weird to be so obsessive about making it true, y’know. Part of me doesn’t seem like it was about making it about editorial authenticity, I think it was more about him, like, he wanted to do that. He strikes me as one of those guys who would try anything once y’know. And so that’s why I think he wanted to do that. And then when he didn’t get the chance he felt kind of ripped off, and so he made it happen.

So, tell me about your research process with the book.

I have no experience writing this kind of thing; I’m not a researcher or an academic or anything. So I just kind of half-assed did things and tried to keep it organized and tried to keep my sources straight and all that. I relied heavily on Seabrook’s biography, No Hiding Place, which is a great book. Then his second wife Margery wrote a book called The Strange World of Willie Seabrook in 1966 which was her biography. They’d divorced in the 1940s, so this is years later and she was still thinking about him, you can see that she still felt fondly towards him. She didn’t write any (rancour) or anything but she was honest, she was very honest. And you would find very different versions of the same story in the two books.

I also read her papers at the University of Oregon. I went down there for four days and went through her papers, and her (diaries.) It was amazing and kind of depressing. You know, living with an alcoholic and putting up with his bondage stuff, which she wasn’t really into but she tolerated because she loved him. So there’d be all these diary entries of them drinking too much and then this half-hearted bondage… it was fascinating.

You also went to North Carolina for research right?

Yeah. I went to North Carolina—there’s a collector there who had a bunch of writing and unpublished stuff and paraphernalia, like photos and things. So that was a great thing too, I got a lot of info out of there, that was really helpful.

At some point in this 10-year process you decided to stop drinking alcohol, right? Can you talk about that a bit?

I quit drinking somewhere around the middle of the book. I think I’m going on four years of quitting booze now. I don’t think I stopped because of the book, but maybe it made me think about it, because I was constantly writing about someone who would y’know, drink til they puked. I wasn’t drinking til I puked or anything, but I drank a lot: all the time, like at night when I worked. This was the first book I drew sober. People have been telling me the artwork in this book is vastly improved compared to my other books, so maybe drawing without sipping bourbon all night has improved my artwork. I would suspect that that’s probably true.

We’ve talked about this before, and you’ve always stopped short of calling yourself an alcoholic.

Yes. I would say I was a person that drank a lot, but I was drinking a lot less than I used to after my divorce. And for me it was like, oh okay, I’m getting older…I was almost fifty at the time. And I was like, You’re not a kid anymore, you can’t just live rough like that all the time. So it was a conscious decision. It also happened right after my dear old Dad died. My Dad wasn’t a big drinker, but he was diabetic, and alcohol is just pure sugar so… I quit eating candy too, that was another thing, I was just trying to like—I have a young kid, I have grandkids, I’m trying to be healthier, y’know. I tried it for a year with no booze, and I felt better and I saved a ton of money. I wasn’t a cheap drunk, I was drinking good booze, I was drinking good bourbon at night, or good single malt.

Boozing ain’t cheap, that’s for sure.

There’s no real advantage to it. Like my wife says, I am the ultimate all or nothing: I’m either gonna drink everything, or I’m gonna drink nothing.

A total absolutist. So given this change of heart you had, was it difficult for you to have to depict Seabrook’s numerous failed attempts to sober up?

That was very depressing for me. Not as someone who drank a lot, but just like as a person. In his book Asylum he writes about checked himself into a mental hospital for rehab and to get dried out. He was dying at this point, he was drinking himself to death basically. So he spent seven months in Bloomingdale’s mental hospital in New York, and he gets and says “I’m cured, now I can take a drink or two and stop.”

I guess at the time not much was known about alcoholism, so he didn’t know that you really can’t do that. If you’re an alcoholic, you’re an alcoholic. You don’t get cured; you learn to not drink. So that was very sad for me, because he was completely dried out and doing good, and then he made a conscious decision to go out and buy booze and start drinking again, because he felt kind of emasculated by not drinking.

And as a tough guy, I can see that cause I sometimes feel like that. I feel like that about not smoking, because I was a very macho young guy. I was like “Ah, I smoke two packs a day, no filters,” and “Oh, I drink whiskey all night.” So you can see that if you don’t do those things, you just have to find something else to identify yourself with. That’s the secret, and I don’t think he could do that.

Yeah, there’s a strong pathos there in his eventual downfall. I think that was a real masterstroke that you shied away from romanticizing that aspect of his life. You disabused us of the notion of the stereotypical, old-school, happy-go-lucky drunk writer.

Yeah, in most movies and books, even ones with anti-drinking messages, they always make drinking look really good. It never looks as bad as it should; y’know, they don’t show people waking up in a pile of piss or something. That’s literally what was happening to him. In movies they show characters being unreliable and missing kid’ birthdays—

Buying a dog in the middle of the night…

Exactly, all the crazy things that people do when they’re not sober. But, I just tried to make it realistic and true to his experience as possible. It wasn’t pretty! It’s like Hunter S. Thompson, who is a similar character to Seabrook. I would love to know if Thompson was interested in Seabrook or admired him, because I think Seabrook is a progenitor of the Gonzo movement; of throwing yourself into the middle of the story. Because that was always Seabrook’s thing; he tried to throw himself into the middle story and make himself the story.

And Thompson was one of those guys who was all about taking all the booze and all the pills. I eventually heard an interview with his kid, and y’know he was a very hard person to live with, obviously.

Completely unreliable, yeah.

That’s how he described him. And in the end, Thompson ended up blowing his brains out. He couldn’t go on.

Exactly. That moment when Seabrook chooses to take that drink…he might as well have picking up a gun.

You wanna stop him. It’s like watching a horror movie, you’re just like, don’t do it man.

You talk about the fact that Seabrook always felt tied-down by his reputation as a gutter journalist; in reality he was kind of ahead of his time. There’s Thompson of course, but he also brings to mind George Plimpton, whose entire career was based on thrusting himself into new and unlikely situations, and then writing about it. I guess maybe Plimpton perfected the formula; he didn’t drink himself to death and didn’t alarm people by dining on human neck meat. Didn’t Seabrook manage to offend Aleister Crowley with his cannibalism?

Oh yeah that was interesting. After Seabrook died Crowley wrote in his diary “the swine-dog Seabrook is dead at last.” [Laughter] I don’t know if that was sarcastic or if he really hated him, it’s unclear—they seem to get along and they hung out together, like he came out to Seabrook’s farm in Georgia and stayed there for a couple of months I think and so yeah, I guess there must’ve been some falling out at some point.

Didn’t he despise Seabrook after he read about the cannibalism?

No. Crowley thought it was disgusting that Seabrook would let his pet dog lick his face. [Laughter] So Crowley, a guy who does black magic with Eucharist wafers and semen and blood, didn’t like him letting his dog lick his face.

It figures. Seabrook was probably waiting for Crowley to be shocked at his increasingly eccentric adventures, then this dark beast of a man comes to his farm and gets grossed out by a dog kiss. 

Yeah, Jesus Seabrook: don’t let your dog lick your face man! I guess he had his limits, you know. [laughter]

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The Mund http://www.tcj.com/the-mund/ http://www.tcj.com/the-mund/#comments Thu, 30 Mar 2017 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99735 Continue reading ]]> Today:

Brad Mckay speaks to Joe Ollman about The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, and related matters.

And now we have The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, a long-form graphic novel biography that focuses on a very complex and tragically human character that you sort of pulled from the dustbin of history, really. It seems like you’re playing outside of your sandbox here a little bit. Can you explain how you came to this project? 

It was just a thing I was researching in the background for years. Seabrook had this really weird, interesting life—he knew all these famous artists and writers—and I was surprised that I’d never heard of him before. So I just started researching him, then bought all his books and I thought he was a very good writer.

When did this happen?

I looked at my notes recently and the first ones I had about him were from 2006. So that’s 10 years that I had it kind of in the background, five years of those being committed to writing and drawing this thing nearly full-time. But it wasn’t much of a conscious decision. I toyed with the idea of doing it, and then I had a script written, and then all the research was done, so I was like “I guess there’s no excuse not to do it.” It was daunting though, because it was big. 300 pages, y’know. I discovered Seabrook in an anthology of zombie stories edited by Peter Haining called Zombie. The story was “Dead Men Working in a Cane Field”, a famous Seabrook story that’s an ostensibly true story of these zombies working cutting cane—it’s great. But what really interested me the bio of Seabrook in the book which gave me a glimpse of this guy; all the people that he knew and his life, plus he was an alcoholic, a cannibal, a bondage freak, and all this stuff.

Elsewhere:

Chris Mautner writes really nicely about Demon Vol. 1, a great book from one my favorite cartoonists, Jason Shiga. I think, as far as I can tell, that Shiga has nicely escaped the comic world orbit into some kind of regular world success, which is awesome for the world.

Marty Two Bulls Sr. talks to Alex Dueben about his editorial cartooning, his other projects, and journalism. He’s the finalist for the Herblock which is this week.

More on the only important comics-related event this weekend. Seriously  — I got an email listing comics events this weekend and I nearly threw myself in front of a bus just to stop the agonizing boredom it brought on. Wegman and Thurber, take me away! Make me laugh. Make me feel. Feel me up! Anything to distract me from endless panel discussions about anthologies, librarians, and dead people. Maybe comic book conventions should go back to showing old video tapes of anime and 1970s Marvel TV shows. Also, can we go back to calling them comic book conventions? I keep writing and deleting thoughts in this space — mostly questions I have about various people and ideas… and the longer Tim stays on paternity leave the less restraint I’ll have. That kid better grow up fast! Anyhow, here’s the good news:

William Wegman, 2017, after a drawing by Matthew Thurber.


“No Maine Is An Island”
William Wegman & Matthew Thurber
Opening April 1, 7 to 10pm
 

William Wegman and James Thurber, together at last. What’s that? A filing clerk sent the invitation to the wrong Thurber. Too late to retract the invitation now. But when Wegman met Thurber he was crestfallen. That is, he dropped a tube of toothpaste into the toilet. I don’t know why they decided to meet in the bathroom. Maybe it seemed like gender-neutral territory. Foolish Thurber left some Wegmans too close to a scented candle and…whoops.

It seems they’ve started to copy each other’s drawings. To become the other’s ‘evil twin’…but let’s not be naive here!…a ‘good’ drawing? an ‘evil drawing’? No such thing exists…we all know that. We…did you close the chimney flue? You fool, don’t you know bad drawings can crawl down the chimney like bats, like leopards, like Wegmans and Thurbers???? There is however, possibly at this moment in your unattended studio washroom a witch, laughing at you in the mirror. Come on now…enough is enough. Are you being serious? Or are you just halving Fun?

 
“No Maine Is An Island” includes new call-and-response drawings by William Wegman (b.1943) and Matthew Thurber (b.1977), as well as a selection of Wegman drawings from the ’70s and ’80s. The exhibition remains on view, by appointment, through May 7.
 
Teen Party is located at 874 Greene Avenue, Apt 2A, in Brooklyn.  
 
 
 
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Episode 18: Maggie Umber http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99494 Continue reading ]]>

 

On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro.

Previous Episodes

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by Freesound.org user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
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http://www.tcj.com/episode-18-maggie-umber/feed/ 0 0:35:15 On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. On the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) discusses Ron Wimberly, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and the comics tastes of Guillermo del Toro. Mike Dawson no no
Authorized Rates http://www.tcj.com/authorized-rates/ http://www.tcj.com/authorized-rates/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99725 Continue reading ]]> On the site today, Greg Hunter talks to Maggie Umber (Time Capsule, Sound of Snow Falling) on the eighteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue.

Well folks, the beat goes on. Apparently it’s MoCCA this weekend in New York! Can you believe it still exists? Good heavens. Anyhow, here are some events, including one with noted Legion of Superheroes author Paul Levitz, and another with our own fearless leader Gary Groth! I hope there’s some ice cream in this for me. Seriously. The best news is that both Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga, National Treasures both, have new comic books coming out.  

Best of all this weekend: Matthew Thurber and William Wegman are opening a two-person exhibition in Brooklyn. That’s a beautiful thing!

In other comics news, the Paris Review has a fine interview with Pénélope Bagieu, author of the new Mama Cass graphic bio, California Dreamin’. And Heidi MacDonald brings news of the Neil the Horse reprint — a beloved 1980s comic that has aged… well, we’ll see. 

I thought more about what I wrote yesterday and realized that my instinct is to be defensive, for fear of being called a killjoy. But then I remembered that I actually like so much superhero stuff… I just like it done well. It should go without saying that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the genre. What I guess I find depressing is that the jump to this stuff is somehow held up as rebellious. It smacks of reactionary politics and head-burying by once “sensitive artistes” indulging in… not their own ids, but someone else’s. It’s an odd kind of role-playing in public. Publishing-as-cosplay, maybe? 

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Market Advantage http://www.tcj.com/market-advantage/ http://www.tcj.com/market-advantage/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99690 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch takes us on a walk through the present of comics. 

Elsewhere:

Ben Katchor: The agony and the ecstasy.

Michael Chabon talks nostalgia, and mentions Superman, too.  

I don’t care about either of the links above, but, y’know, gotta fill the space! I actually find Chabon especially irritating in almost everything he writes. Remember when he had his own comic book version of the fictional comic book from his novel? Ooof. Anyhow, a side note: I read the much-hyped Crime Destroyer #1, the first release from All Time Comics, a Fantagraphics imprint funded by writer/artist Josh Bayer’s brother, Sam. It is basically a sub-par Marvel or DC comic from the early 1980s… imagine a random issue of Indiana Jones or Legion of Superheroes written and drawn by a couple of young hacks as a try-out for the “big time.” It’s not bad-good, or kitsch, or anything on which you could hang a reason for liking it. And of course it’s vaguely misogynist and racist, but so is the amped-up pop culture world it comes from. All the publicity that money can buy positions All Time Comics as daring and both somehow new and somehow classic. It’s none of these things. Bayer’s writing is overly verbose and mostly incoherent. The drawing by old-time hack Herb Trimpe (now, along with fellow hacks Al Milgrom and Rich Buckler, somehow regarded as an important artist — so depressing) is badly composed, static, and without a trace of distinction. Even the lettering is terrible — crooked, inconsistent and crowded. Some recent superhero riffs, like, say Copra or Street Angel, have actual narrative momentum, personality, and individual points of view. This is just soulless and boring. I suppose some of this comes down to being unable to differentiate between good work and the work you liked as a kid. Or, rather, work with interesting qualities and the work you remember fondly. 

Worse (since my own problem is that I somehow care), one of the big selling points for this line, both in interviews and in Bayer’s editorial in Crime Destroyer #1, seems to be that it’s wacky and transgressive that supposedly “snooty” Fantagraphics is releasing superhero comics — a genre which somehow becomes Trumpian code for populism. How is that true? Fantagraphics, by its own lengthy, page-after-page confession/admission in the recent 40th anniversary brick, has been releasing garbage, including superhero comics, for decades: Amazing Heroes, John Byrne comics, impossibly long novels by Charles Schulz’s son, and imprints including Eros, Monster and others I’m forgetting. That’s not a knock. I’m actually proud to work for a publisher that will do anything it takes to continue publishing great material and doesn’t spin a line of bullshit about community or connection. I would hope and guess that Sam Bayer’s money is very green and very plentiful, so my Seattle brethren held their noses, closed their eyes, and took it like champs. Plus, some of my freelance friends are earning solid (and easy) paychecks working on these comics, and money is hard to come by in this biz. So, for my friends’ sake, I guess I hope this line will last until the money or attention span runs out. As Bob once said, you gotta serve somebody, and, on a spiritual level, this is not that much worse than the very few other outlets that pay money for art. So, finally, in it’s favor, the money-beats-all viciousness of All Time Comics is perfectly 2017.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/29/17 – Goodbye, Sweetheart) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32917-goodbye-sweetheart/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32917-goodbye-sweetheart/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99696 Continue reading ]]>

Above we see my favorite bit of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying – published in French in 2007 and entirely re-lettered by the artist herself for the 2017 English edition. Goblet also collaborated on the translation itself, with Sophie Yanow; it’s a work that benefits from as much of the artist’s presence as possible. Immediately, we think of the unique state of the work’s visual presentation: how its ‘color b&w’ pages incorporate the wear of time into the drawing, because some of the boards are a decade older than the eventually published book. And yet, to usurp time is not the only defiance of the work; even Goblet’s resistance to narrative chronology, to the spectacle of ages passing, even modest ones, is not the paramount affront.

The tradition of American autobiographical comics is that of centering the author. Harvey Pekar, addressing the reader; the present-tense exclamations of Robert Crumb’s myriad neuroses. Goblet’s autobiography, to this American, is marked by departure. Primarily, she reacts. To my mind, the narrative genders her associations: with men, she interacts with strong, charismatic, not always sympathetic personalities. There is her father, a drinker and a fast driver with whom she spends roughly half the book trying to visit. There is also her lover, with whom roughly the other half of the book is concerned; in fact, he co-wrote those portions of the text concerning him, and by god is it not disquieting to witness a male leaving some imprint on a formidable female artist’s work, his lover’s work? God, it unnerves me, though I don’t know the details that aren’t in the book, and art anyway isn’t really really-for-real in touching the banality of creative exchange.

But anyway, up top: they have temporarily broken it off, Goblet and her lover, and her father will not accept her tears. This is the primary crossover between the two streams of male interaction in Pretending Is Lying, and here — perhaps with Goblet herself — we see a new facet of her father’s blowsiness. “Believe me my dear, nobody’s important enough for your tears…” It is not that he wants to overpower her with his personality; this is perhaps what happens regardless, but he does not want it. What he wants, is for her to be as fierce as him, though she will not do it in the same way.

Women, in Goblet’s book, are less knowable. An ingenious prelude introduces Goblet’s mother as a magician and a charlatan, believed to possess nigh-wizardly powers by the young “Nikske”, which means “Little Nothing”. Later, the mother is presented as a fearsome God, binding the child Goblet with rope as she screams and cries; it is horrifying, and followed immediately by the mother’s wary comfort of the child, who accepts everything as natural. Goblet’s own daughter is elsewhere characterized as faintly unknowable in the way small children inevitably are, while her father’s lover is drawn as a Munchian grotesque, with whom Goblet comes to quarrel over her daughter, a double-reflection of her mother. The women in the book, thus, are powerful and contentious figures, against whom the artist collides.

To her father, Goblet depicts herself absorbing. Or perhaps she is absorbed. As it happens, when her father drives off with her, drunkenly, dangerously, in chapter 3 of 4, Goblet physically disappears from the book. The final chapter depicts only her lover on-panel, as he seethes over boots, listens to music, tangles with the cat, and from the author’s disappearance we understand the absence of her as a presence in his life. Previously, he was characterized as haunted by a ghost, by the indecisive conclusion of his last relationship. Goblet draws the other woman as a ghost, another elusive feminine figure, but she simply declines to draw herself at the end of her book, and her absence is felt, by us and him. Hers is a space in his obnoxious, talkative mind. His cat brings a dead bird and he invents from that a reason to call her. Goblet pulls back from depicting characters to depicting city architecture; François Schuiten appears in the Acknowledgements. She pulls back from architecture to birds, and then to just the sky, a smear of oil against paper, with text booming in space. God, she is there again. She didn’t leave.

“I really want to see you!” he says.

“When?”

“now”

***

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!

What Parsifal Saw: A new Fantagraphics collection of recent work by Ron Regé, Jr., without a doubt one of the most distinctive cartoonists of his generation. The slim, 80-page color softcover deals in “magical, alchemical, ancient, and mysterious ideas,” per the publisher, which as it happens is also issuing a new softcover edition of Regé’s 2012 esoteric manifesto The Cartoon Utopia this week, in case you missed it the first time. This is total invocation here – a whirling tour of an author’s worldview with no conceivable compromise; $14.99 ($24.99 for Utopia).

Otomo: A Global Tribute To the Mind Behind Akira: TALES OF CAPITALISM – I saw the Japanese edition of this at the same bookstore where I picked up Golgo 13 magazine last week; the ¥ 5,400 cover price translated to north of $70.00 USD off the rack, which was definitely too rich for my blood. Now, like magic, Kodansha has a much less expensive English edition ready at basically the same dimensions: 168 pages at 10.7″ x 12.4″ in hardcover. You may recall Ōtomo winning the Grand Prix at Angoulême in 2015; this book is essentially a mass-market catalog for an exhibition held the following year in his honor, amounting to a fancy collection of tribute art by international notables. Contributors include Manuele Fior, Masamune Shirow(!), Tanino Liberatore, Taiyō Matsumoto, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka, Naoki Urasawa, Juan Giménez, Stan Sakai, Tsutomu Nihei, Jordi Bernet and the late Jirō Taniguchi, among many others. Will anyone dare throw in a Domu piece? Note also that Kodansha is planning a deluxe all-hardcover box set of the entire Akira series (and the Akira Club art book) in the unaltered right-to-left format for this October; $29.99.

PLUS!

Audubon: On the Wings of the World: If the Otomo book above doesn’t fit your criteria for a comic — which would make since, because it isn’t — then your *formal* Eurocomic pick of the week is this 2006 album from artist Jérémie Royer and writer Fabien Grolleau, profiling the 19th century naturalist of the title, author of the famous The Birds of America. Lots of opportunities for nature drawing, released in English via Nobrow as a 184-page, 8.07″ x 10.83″ color hardcover; $22.95.

Lobster Johnson: The Pirate’s Ghost #1 (of 3): Your no-doubt extremely smooth and pretty mainstream costumed action comic of the week comes from one of the most reliable teams around – writers Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, and artist Tonči Zonjić. With the main Hellboy series wrapped up, this is the only Mignola-branded project where I never miss an issue, as the focus is very tight (early 20th century period antics starring a determinedly un-nuanced pulp avenger), the pace is very fast, and nothing ever really gets in the way of its formidable surface appeal; $3.99.

Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality #1: In contrast, I don’t really know anything about the Black Mask-published Space Riders title (“Capitan Peligro and his fearless crew deal harsh justice to the scum of the galaxy while searching for the hidden truths of the universe!”), under which this appears to be the second miniseries, but I do like what I’ve seen of the artist, Alexis Ziritt, who works in a kind of tattoo art style buzzing between Mike Allred and Gary Panter. Try and flip through if you see it. Preview; $3.99.

Valerian and Laureline Vol. 14: The Living Weapons (&) Blake & Mortimer Vol. 24: The Testament of William S.: Cinebook has a whole stack of Franco-Belgian translations out via Diamond this week, so I’m gonna highlight a duo of classy youth adventure comics with long histories behind them. The Living Weapons, granted, isn’t from *too* many years ago, being a 1990 release from creators Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières. If you have the old iBooks omnibus Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (2004), this 56-pager is one of the albums in there. The Testament of William S. is far more removed from the source; it’s actually the newest Blake and Mortimer investigatory adventure, released in French only last year. The writer is Yves Sente and the artist is André Juillard, working in the tradition of creator Edgar P. Jacobs for 72 pages set in the late 1950s, at which time the actual series was already ten years old; $13.95 (Weapons), $15.95 (Testament).

Scene But Not Heard (&) Beyond Palomar: Here’s a pair of books from longtime alt-comics guys that have been around before, and now will be available again. Scene But Not Heard is a 128-page collection of wordless, rather Kurtzmanesque color comics Sam Henderson created for Nickelodeon Magazine, perhaps rousing memories of an era when that very mainstream forum gave a lot of work to small-press cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver contributes a comics-format introduction to the Alternative Comics release, which was initially co-published with Top Shelf, although I don’t know what the status is now. Beyond Palomar, meanwhile, is a collection of Gilbert Hernandez comics from Love and Rockets, specifically the one that contains Poison River, one of the holy fucking shit comics of the late ’80s/early ’90s. It is accompanied by its lifelong companion companion serial, Love and Rockets X, for 256 big pages of challenge and reward; $14.95 (Scene), $16.95 (Beyond).

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Also humor but not exactly comics is this print iteration of an enduring type of online entertainment – the funny commentary on wacky old funnybooks. Actually, I can’t remember the last time something like this appeared in print. The author is Jon Morris, a webcomics artist going back quite a ways (he was nominated for an Ignatz in 2001, the year the awards were cancelled), and a comics blogger dating to at least the late 1990s. The present volume is a 256-page Quirk Books survey of oddball rogues, following up on a 2015 look at similarly goofy superheroes; $24.95.

Asian Comics (&) On the Graphic Novel: Finally, here are two University Press of Mississippi books-on-comics now available in softcover editions. Both are of some unusual interest. Asian Comics is a massive (352-page, 8.5″ x 11″) overview of the comics of 16 nations – not Japan, but China, Hong Kong, Korea, India and others. The author is John A. Lent, founder of the International Journal of Comic Art, and I man whom I suspect has forgotten more comics than any of us have read. On the Graphic Novel is a 375-page Bruce Campbell translation of a text by Santiago García, a Spanish-born writer and translator recently seen with the artist David Rubín on a version of Beowulf released stateside by Image. García “follows the history of the graphic novel from early nineteenth- century European sequential art, through the development of newspaper strips in the United States, to the development of the twentieth-century comic book and its subsequent crisis,” as the publisher puts it; $30.00 (each).

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A Look Back at 20 Years of Mankoff’s New Yorker http://www.tcj.com/new-yorker-cartoon-editor-steps-down-after-20-years/ http://www.tcj.com/new-yorker-cartoon-editor-steps-down-after-20-years/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99429 Continue reading ]]> On Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 1:30 in the afternoon, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, sent a memo to the magazine’s roster of cartoonists. A minute later, the same memo arrived at the inboxes of the rest of the staff.

“We are going to have a change,” Remnick began, quoted by James Warren at poynter.org, “—after more than two decades as cartoon editor, the incomparable Bob Mankoff is stepping aside from that post and assuming what is arguably a higher post, that of a regularly contributing artist. Bob has been a remarkable and innovative partner to me, as he was to Tina Brown [Remnick’s predecessor]. He brought a real sense of originality to this work, but, even more important, a sense of the artists and their interests. He has brought everyone’s best work to the table and managed a complicated balancing act with grace, sustaining the work of people who have been publishing in The New Yorker for many years while bringing new artists into the mix, including more diverse voices and views of the world.” “A huge antic talent and wonderful wry observer,” Tina Brown told Warren. “I saw how special he was immediately and will always be proud I made him the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.”

Remnick continued: “In addition to going back to the drawing board with greater frequency, Bob will edit an ambitious new anthology, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons [scheduled for publication in 2018], and will continue to work with Condé Nast on redeveloping the Cartoon Bank, which he founded and ran for many successful years.”

Mankoff, “known for his erudite, absurdist sensibility and a distinctive, pointillist drawing style,” said Andrew Chow at nytimes.com, will enter into this new phase of his career on the first of May. And what will he do then?

“I think I will rest on my plaudits for a while, if I can find them,” he told Michael Cavna by phone at Comic Riffs. “Last time I tried resting on them, I slipped and threw my back out, so I’m going to be cautious.”

Cavna asked: upon reflection, what will he miss most? “The unwarranted adulation and respect that comes with the imprimatur of being cartoon editor of The New Yorker,” Mankoff said. “However, if no one is looking, I might try to sneak that imprimatur out of the building.” And what might the late Mollie Mankoff — whom the cartoonist describes as the stereotypical smothering Jewish mother — say to her son, if she could, upon his farewell from an editorship that greatly enhanced the magazine?

“They paid you for that?” Mankoff quips. He said he is looking forward to finding the comic side of an increasingly fraught era, reported Chow: “The humor is very dark, but it’s there. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything.” And if he’s not up to the task? “I’ll go bowling,” he said, with a laugh. That’s pretty much what there is to the public Bob Mankoff—a joke and a quip. Or, rather, jokes and quips in a seemingly unending cascade.

Bob Mankoff is a funny fella. A very funny fella. He could be a stand-up comic. Instead, he’s the cartoon editor of the most prestigious cartoon-publishing enterprise in the country. Tall and thin with a salt-and-pepper moustache and chin whiskers fringing a cadaverous visage framed by long luxuriant locks, Mankoff obviously enjoys being funny. And that’s part of his act: when making appearances hither and yon, he joyfully assumes the persona of an egomaniacal cartoon editor.

In the guise of a towering ego, he struts back and forth across the stage, mugging and dropping one-liners at every step. He basks in the laughter he provokes in his audience. He enjoys the spotlight so much that he doesn’t share it noticeably with the three New Yorker cartoonists who have accompanied him to Chicago on a promotional tour in the summer of 2004 for the new landmark compilation, The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, a nine-pound 656-page gargantuan compendium that prints 2,004 of the cartoons the magazine has published from its first issue, February 21, 1925, through the February 23, 2004 anniversary issue. This historic achievement comes equipped with two CDs that contain all 68,647 cartoons published during that period.

Mankoff pauses, an elaborately dramatic moment, and then says he’ll give ten bucks to anyone who can find a cartoon in back issues of The New Yorker that isn’t in the Complete Cartoons. Another pause. “Twenty bucks if you keep quiet about it,” he snarls with a fiendish grin.

My first exposure to Mankoff’s stage persona was in watching him in a video as he introduced The New Yorker’s digital archive. He held up a disk, saying every cartoon the magazine had ever published was recorded on the disk.

Then he dropped the disk and pretended that it was smashed beyond repair. But—no matter—he quickly reached into his suit coat’s inner pocket and produced another disk. Holding it up, he said: “Backup.” At the time—mid-1990s—the rest of the world was just beginning to appreciate the necessity of backing-up whatever was put on a computer. Mankoff dramatized the need—with a laugh. Then I saw him “live” at that promotional appearance in Chicago.

Behind Mankoff on stage is a table at which are seated David Sipress, Matthew Diffee, and Charles Barsotti, each with a table mic in front of him. They watch, rapt, their editor cavort in front of them, gesturing at key rhetorical moments to the projection screen behind them upon which New Yorker cartoons flash in sequence, beginning with some early ones from the magazine’s first year and continuing through 2004.

When Mankoff reaches the year Barsotti’s first cartoon was published in the magazine, he urges Barsotti to take up the narrative, but as soon as Barsotti says something, Mankoff jumps on it, elaborating on the idea to make it funnier. Barsotti tries a couple more times, but we never find out much about what he thinks because Mankoff is helping him along every time.

When the chronology gets to Sipress’ debut in The New Yorker, he is invited into the monologue. Mankoff asks him a question or two, Sipress responds, grins, and Mankoff plunges on into the next decade. Diffee enjoys a similar monosyllabic cameo appearance.

During Mankoff’s monologue, we find out that he is not only cartoon editor for The New Yorker, he also contributes cartoons from time-to-time, and he’s the president (or CEO) and founder of the Cartoon Bank, an online cartoon marketing operation that he invented and then sold to The New Yorker. Mankoff pauses at this point to wonder, eyebrows erect with mock suspicion, about conflict of interest, which he expresses in terms of organization chart logic: who’s in charge here, he wonders. Mankoff is, of course.

During the question-and-answer period following Mankoff’s presentation, we learn that The New Yorker cartoon editor is no longer involved in picking the magazine’s cover illustration as of yore. That duty has fallen to a relatively new staff position, art editor, filled these days, and since its inception in the early 1990s under Tina Brown’s editorship, by Francoise Mouly, who, with her husband Art Spiegelman, is apparently responsible for bringing much new talent into the magazine, often recruiting from the ranks of Spiegelman’s underground cartoonist “gang” (as Mankoff termed it) whom she and Spiegelman promoted in their avant garde 1980s magazine, Raw.

Mouly not only cultivates cover illustrations but, we assume, all other illustrations in the magazine that are not captioned cartoons. Mankoff, I suspect, wishes it were otherwise, that he, like his predecessors in the cartoon editing chair, had some say in these matters. But he doesn’t. Much.

I also suspect that Mankoff chaffs a bit at the fame the magazine’s reportage has earned over the years, beginning, most spectacularly, with John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” in the 1950s. He mentioned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh a couple of times in a less than deferential way.

The New Yorker enjoys a reputation as the forcing bed for the modern single-panel gag cartoon: the genre achieved its apotheosis at The New Yorker, and the magazine is revered among gag cartoonists as a result. Its cartoons also rank high on the cultural scale generally. But the New Yorker writers seem to stand higher in our sober Puritan work-ethic culture: serious reporting is closer to God than silly laughter. And it was ever thus.

Mankoff, I think, is somewhat resentful of this state of affairs and regards cartoonists, justifiably, as superior beings. After all, many cartoonists, he observes, can write passable prose; few journalists can draw acceptable cartoons.

Asked about the future for cartooning, Mankoff says, “The future will be online in combination with on-demand publishing.” His opinion reflects his own bias in favor of the business he created, Cartoon Bank, a distinctly online, on-demand operation.

How acute his prognostication is may be judged from his response to another question. He was asked his opinion of the current plight of editorial cartoonists, whose ranks have steadily dwindled over the last ten years or so as newspapers discontinue staff positions. Mankoff professed to know nothing about this dilemma; he has never even heard about the crisis, he said. But he may have been kidding. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

All of the minor annoyances that plague Mankoff fade when he’s on stage. There, he’s in his element—always joking. His wife is a tolerant person, he implied: there are few places they go together that she doesn’t hit him for uncontrollable wise-acreage. “Like when I got to the supermarket,” he explains, “and they ask, ‘Paper or plastic?’ And I say, ‘You know, I’m gonna eat it all here.'”

Someone in the audience asks, “How does a cartoonist protect his work from being ripped off?” “Guns!” Mankoff quips.

Warmed by the glow of the spotlight, he prances around the stage, mugging to the audience and sometimes laughing at his own jokes, the perfect caricature of a genuinely funny man, thoroughly enjoying himself. And we, seated in rows at his feet, enjoy him just as thoroughly.

 

*****

Mankoff in public is what everyone doubtless thinks a cartoonist should be—a wise-acre, a smart-ass, a stand-up comedian spouting punchlines at every breath. And Mankoff, 72, is good at it. He started as a class clown. It was self-defense.

According to Cavna in a profile he wrote about Mankoff in 2014, as a youngster, Mankoff “needed to develop techniques to combat his mother’s solo obsessiveness and onslaught of Yiddishisms. … When it comes to his mom, the issue was always one of closeness. The cartoonist says Mollie Mankoff, as an ever-loving presence, was not a Jewish mother — she was a Jewish smother. “He became the Boy Gevalt, developing a mouth as rapid as Mom’s. ‘Yiddish excels at combining aggression, friendliness, and ambiguity,’ he writes, ‘a basic recipe for humor that my mother was excellent at cooking up and on which I was spoon-fed.’

“Mother and son had a less-than-ideal personal relationship, Mankoff says, but the dynamic was perfect for honing his humor: she was not an audience but a target, and comedy thrives on conflict.”

“I am a ‘made’ cartoonist,” Mankoff he says, “but I was born a comic.”

“Beyond his parents’ walls,” Cavna continued, “Mankoff soon became the quick-quipping kid from Queens. He went to New York’s High School of Music and Art, but his draftsman’s hand didn’t match the best in class; it was the gags that gave him an edge and a niche. By his calculation, it was humor that leveled the playing field of life.”

“You need chutzpah, whether you’re Jewish or not,” Mankoff said during his profile interview with Cavna. “Humor levels the playing field. I understood that early on — that was something I had.” The class clown is “on” all the time. Quips define his personality. For the sake of his individuality, he needs the attention that he gets by cracking wise all the time. Given this display of egotism, it is surprising to realize that as an editor he went outside and beyond his spotlight-craving essence.

 

*****

The New Yorker is a notoriously tough market for cartoonists to break into. It customarily takes years and thousands of submissions before a cartoonist finally sells one to the magazine. In his memoir, How About Never—Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons, Mankoff discusses his first sale to The New Yorker —and that of other New Yorker cartoonists. Michael Maslin submitted cartoons for seven years before he sold one. Mankoff’s first sale occurred, in 1977, after he’d submitted 2,000 cartoons in merely two years.

The legendary exception to this agonizing rite of passage is Roz Chast. She sold a cartoon on her first try in 1978 when she brought a portfolio of her work in to Lee Lorenz, then New Yorker cartoon editor. I like to think she’s still undergoing the initiation phase even though the magazine is publishing her attempts with clockwork predictability.

Like most children who wind up as cartoonists, Mankoff doodled all the time as he grew up. At the High School of Music and Art, he learned that he didn’t draw well enough to aim for a career as an illustrator or artist. But he didn’t stop doodling, and his doodles were often funny. His senior year at Syracuse University—1966, when he was 22—he encountered Syd Hoff’s book, Learning to Cartoon.

“The preface was very encouraging,” Mankoff writes, “—with genial Syd assuring me how easy the process would be.”

But Mankoff’s first experience trying to sell cartoons to magazines by taking a bunch of them around to cartoon editors’ offices in Manhattan was bleakly unsuccessful. To avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam, he entered graduate school. Attending, first, Atlanta University, an all-black college in Georgia where (he says) he was the only white guy, and then Fairleigh Dickinson University, he earned a master’s degree in experimental psychology. But “when my experimental animal died, I took it as an omen to quit,” as Mankoff puts it, and, having never given up drawing funny pictures, he entered the cartooning racket, submitting cartoons to the numerous magazines that were headquartered in New York.

He sold several cartoons but the Holy Grail for magazine cartoonists, he knew, was The New Yorker. It paid better than any of the others. And it had status.

Setting his sights on selling to The New Yorker, Mankoff describes in his memoir his research: he looked at New Yorker cartoons in every reprint volume he could find, learning, among other things, that “there was no such thing as a typical New Yorker cartoon.” They could have short captions or long ones, be whimsical or satirical or philosophical. “One common thread,” however, that ran through them all “was that they made the reader think. You had to be a participant in the experience, up-to-date on the latest trends and buzzwords, aware of the world around you, and possessing a mental flexibility able to appreciate different comic visions, techniques and talents.”

Two such talents inspired Mankoff, he said—Saul Steinberg for his “philosophical meditation in ink,” and James Thurber, for his weirdness and “his apparent lack of drawing skill.” Here was something Mankoff could aspire to do. Although his initial cartoons were drawn with lines, Mankoff soon developed a distinctive “style” of his own, creating his images by using dots—stippling, it is called. “I might say,” he said, “I eventually found my style by connecting the dots.”

Instead of adding gray tones to his linework with a wash, Mankoff did what he saw in halftone reproductions of photographs: he added gray tones with dots. The closer together the dots, the darker the gray.

In his study of New Yorker cartoons, Mankoff realized that “the perfect melding of an enigmatic image in need of humorous clarification by a one-line caption was the hallmark of the New Yorker cartoon.” This verbal-visual blend is the hallmark of all good single-panel cartoons: the picture is a puzzle, and the caption explains the puzzle. Or vice versa. The single-panel cartoon is the haiku of cartooning.

As cartoon editor, Mankoff also came to understand that New Yorker cartoons often ridicule the magazine’s readers. The presumed reader of The New Yorker was culturally literate, socially aware and empathetic. Cartoons often satirize the pieties of these readers as well as their self-centered dissatisfactions. Writes Mankoff: “The most New Yorker magazine-ish cartoons are not making fun of the less fortunate, and they’re not faux rebellious, speaking ‘truth’ to power. Rather, they ridicule their own class—maybe, just maybe, producing some skepticism about its unconsciously held assumptions, and, if not an out-and-out laugh, then at least an out-and-out wry smile of recognition.”

 

*****

 

After his first sale, Mankoff appeared regularly in the magazine. He was good enough and dependable enough that he was offered a contract in January 1981. A contract New Yorker cartoonist agrees to give the magazine first refusal rights: it gets first choice of all his/her    cartoons. Those that are not accepted he can try to sell elsewhere. A contract cartoonist is also paid more than a non-contract cartoonist; the payment increases over time and according to the number (and size) of the cartoonist’s cartoons that are published.

The New Yorker’s famed taste about what a good New Yorker cartoon is results, inevitably, in more cartoons being rejected than being accepted. Typically, as you correctly suppose, a New Yorker cartoonist has heaps and piles of cartoons the magazine has rejected. As cartoon editor, Mankoff says he looked at about 1,000 cartoons a week (500 from contract cartoonists). He winnows this down to about 50 good ones and takes them to the weekly “art meeting” with editor Remnick and others (usually a secretary or assistant), where about 20 are picked for publication at an average rate of about $675 each. Before publication, every cartoon is checked against the computer-file of New Yorker cartoons to make sure the same punchline hasn’t appeared in the magazine before. Ideas, not artwork, sells the cartoons. “It’s not the ink,” Mankoff intones, “it’s the think.”

Mankoff is  conscientiously on the look-out for new talent, always, and he would like to see more women cartoonists in the magazine. “I’d say about 10% of the cartoons submitted come from women,” he said in an online interview recently, “and there’s no doubt if women ran the magazine and one was cartoon editor, more would be selected.” (And what you wish for….) The rigorous selection process means, usually, that about 30 good cartoons, at least—not counting the other 900-plus submissions—are homeless.

The usual practice of freelance magazine cartoonists is to produce a batch of 10-20 cartoons a week. In offering them for sale, cartoonists begin with the highest-paying magazines (The New Yorker and, until last year, Playboy). The cartoons rejected by those markets are then offered to other magazines, starting with the next highest paying and going down the list until the final possibilities (paying, sometimes, only $5 a cartoon) are reached. Cartoons that survive this process are presumably really lousy, but at any moment going down the list of markets by their rates of payment, a cartoonist has several cartoons that he/she thinks are good but haven’t sold.

Before he was cartoon editor, Mankoff was selling to The New Yorker pretty well: one week, the magazine bought seven of his 10 submissions. But that meant he still had three unsold cartoons that he thought were good enough for The New Yorker. And most weeks, he had more than that left over.

He realized that other New Yorker contract cartoonists also had a substantial number of unsold cartoons every week. And since the left-overs had been concocted expressly for The New Yorker sensibility, most of them were not suitable for other publications and could not be offered for sale anywhere else. That’s when Mankoff had his idea: why not create a platform on which these unsold cartoons might have another change to sell.

“The basic idea for the Cartoon Bank,” he writes in his memoir, “was quite simple: to do for cartoons what photo-stock houses had done for photos—make cartoons available to publishers and the general public for purchase and licensing.” He elaborated in his phone interview with Cavna: “In the early ’90s, the market for magazine cartoons was already not only drying up, but dried up. There was still the Everest of The New Yorker, but the rest of the markets were pretty much the equivalent of foothills.” [And most of them were quickly giving up publishing cartoons.]

Quoted in the spring of 2005 by Jerome Weeks in the Dallas Morning News, Mankoff explained the disappearance of cartoons from most magazines in those days by saying that “they’ve gotten over-designed—there’s no place for a cartoon.” I’ve been saying as much for years: cartoons disappeared from magazines when art directors started controlling the content of the publications. Art directors like solids—solid colors, solid blacks, solid white space, and the solid “gray” of columns of type. Cartoons interfere with the cadence-counting impulse of page design by manipulation of solids. 

Said Mankoff in his memoirs: “I conceived of the Cartoon Bank as a way for cartoonists to make money by licensing the nine cartoons out of every 10 they did that got rejected, often unfairly by obtuse editors like I became. The Cartoon Bank hasn’t been a failure, but it hasn’t been successful enough to do what I wanted it to do: provide enough of a supplementary income so that cartoonists could devote themselves full time to cartooning. When it does that, I’ll be very proud. Until then, I’m partially proud.”

He added: “Most of the cartoons rejected by The New Yorker, then and now, are quite good.” Good enough to still attract buyers.

He started the Cartoon Bank with just New Yorker cartoonists, but it soon expanded. Even though it didn’t produce enough supplemental income to make its cartoonists independent financially, it worked as a marketing device. The other aspect of Mankoff’s idea was to make the Internet the platform. All at once, there was a virtually universal marketing mechanism.

The Cartoon Bank was up and running by 1991 when The New Yorker acquired a new editor, Tina Brown, from her previous post at Vanity Fair, where she had been editor since 1984. Brown thought the Cartoon Bank was a “million-dollar idea” and urged Si Newhouse, then owner of The New Yorker, to buy it from Mankoff. After a few years, Newhouse went along with her, and they made Mankoff an offer.

Mankoff agreed to sell the Cartoon Bank but only if two conditions were met. First, he would continue to be the president of Cartoon Bank. His second condition amounted to extortion: he’d sell the Cartoon Bank if The New Yorker would make him its cartoon editor. In describing this ruthless (not to say unscrupulous) proposal in his memoir, Mankoff says he didn’t, really, expect them to meet his second condition. (But he felt that proposing the second condition at least proclaimed his ambition.) The magazine had a cartoon editor, Lee Lorenz, also a cartoonist, who had been at that post for 24 years. In order to give Mankoff the job, they’d have to fire Lorenz. And it was Lorenz who had brought Mankoff into the magazine’s stable of cartoonists. How much of an ingrate was Mankoff? Mankoff slides by this moral contretemps by saying, simply, that “Lorenz decided to retire later that year.”

Then, presto—“ambitious, eligible Bob got tapped by Tina for the job,” assuming what would soon be the last great cartoon editorship in the country. Was Lorenz offered any special inducement to retire? Did someone urge him to retire? Mankoff doesn’t say.

 

*****

And what kind of cartoon editor was Mankoff? Not bad, over the long haul. In fact, very good, all things considered. And with Mankoff, there are a lot of things to consider. He was the fourth person to fill that function but the first to have the title “cartoon editor.” The first to act as cartoon editor was Rea Irvin, a cartoonist and artist who was at foundering editor Harold Ross’s elbow since the magazine started in February 1925. Irvin’s taste in art and in comedy established the basic aura of New Yorker cartoons—as well as the design of the magazine. Irvin quit his unofficial role when Ross died in 1951, but by then, Jim Geraghty (not a cartoonist himself) had joined the staff in 1939 and held the cartoon editing post until 1973 when Lorenz assumed the cartoon editorship (albeit still without that title; both Geraghty and Lorenz were called “art editor”; Irvin was called “art supervisor”).

At first, Mankoff concentrated on the Cartoon Bank. At The New Yorker, the process of submitting and selecting cartoons and a stable of cartoonists whose talents were proven meant that the cartoon operation could proceed with little guidance from Mankoff. But the Cartoon Bank was still in a start-up phase, and he spent comparatively more of his time as its “president” and chief operating officer.

Once the Cartoon Bank was running as smoothly as could be expected, Mankoff shifted more of his attention to the cartoon editorship. Critics carping from the sidelines had complained that the quality of the artwork and the sophistication of the humor in New Yorker cartoons wasn’t what it used to be. To which, Mankoff, writing his memoirs, responded: “It never was.”

It is true, however, that few of the New Yorker cartoonists draw in ways that compare favorably to Peter Arno or George Price, Helen Hokinson or Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow Jr., Chon Day, Alaln Dunn, Syd Hoff or Mary Petty, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, William Steig or Gluyas Williams. At the same time, the magazine no longer runs full-page cartoons; indeed, for most of Mankoff’s tenure, cartoons didn’t even rate a half-page.

And there were other subtle changes that had seeped into New Yorker cartooning over the years. In the old days (roughly until Geraghty came aboard), cartoons were often written by people who weren’t the cartoonists. George Price’s distinctive comedy was not his: all of his New Yorker cartoons were written by others. Staffers James Thurber and E.B. White often provided captions for drawings submitted by other persons. By the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons. (In fact, to reveal an undisguised bias of mine, true cartooning, blending words and picture, can most happily take place in a cartoonist’s mind, not a writer’s. Which may account for the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades. And, even—inevitably—into current decades.)

Talking to Weeks at the Dallas Morning News in 2005, Mankoff says he had to “teach” The New Yorker editor Remnick about how cartoons should be deployed in the magazine. New Yorker cartoons are topical (and always have been) but not as front-page topical as newspaper editorial cartoons. For decades, thanks to the magazine’s founder’s Puritan bent, sex was taboo as a subject for cartoons. Then when Tina Brown took over as editor, that area opened up. New Yorker-style sex, that is. In his memoir, Mankoff explains—”that means no sex. No sex is funnier.” He cites the drawing of a couple in bed, the woman snuggling up to her husband and saying, “Is this a good time to bring up a car problem?”

In their phone interview, Mankoff told Cavna that since he became editor, “the biggest change was that cartoons, even of the very benign variety that appear in The New Yorker, now have great power to offend — at least among the easily offended — a class whose numbers grow even as I write,” Mankoff says. “Now, even Canadians take offense at being stereotyped as polite.” Mankoff jokes about the shift, observed Cavna, but when he inherited the lofty office from Lorenz, he had to cultivate cartoonists who worked in comic tones increasingly absurd and meta — talents who, “when they use a cliche, they destroy it,” he likes to say.

When Remnick became editor in 1998, cartoon humor backed off a little from Brown’s edginess—but not as far back as William Shawn, who had succeeded Ross in 1951. “It didn’t happen immediately,” Mankoff says in his memoir. “We needed a while to shake off Tina’s inclination to shock.” 

Although Mankoff has a clear grasp of what makes a good cartoon—its blending of words and pictures—any issue of the magazine contains cartoons the humor of which is essentially verbal: the caption doesn’t need the picture for its comedy. Here are a couple captions without pictures:

“My life has become a tangled web of fictitious user names and fiendishly clever passwords.”

“So, as you can see, health care is so complicated you may never get well.”

Other cartoons, happily, maintain a visual-verbal blend that makes them superior representatives of the artform.

Over the last year or so, runaway whimsy has elbowed New Yorker social satire out of the running as the most frequently published: too many cartoons feature talking animals saying just what you’d expect a talking chicken, say, to observe about a weather vane or goats going to have  their entrails read or a couple of moose (meese?) who avoid crowds because they claim not to know the plural form of the name of their species. 

*****

Mankoff’s great achievement as cartoon editor is not so much in evolving the nature of the cartoons as it is in the cartoonists: he brought new talent into the magazine.

“Lee Lorenz handed me a plane on automatic co-pilot,” Mankoff said of the established roster of talent. “People were ready to do this forever,” he told Cavna in the 2014 profile. But, added Cavna, as the comedy zeitgeist shifted, Mankoff came to a realization: he needed to cultivate a new crop of cartoonists. In his memoir, Mankoff says: “This wonderful plane flying on autopilot needed some actual piloting or it was gong to run out of fuel. Unless I shifted my course, all that would be left of the New Yorker cartoon tradition would be found in cartoon anthologies. So, I would have to do what Lee had done and find some new cartoonists.”

 But before any new cartoonists could get a foot in the door, Manoff said, “I need to open the door a bit wider. That’s why in 1998, I established Open-Call Tuesdays when anyone who wanted to show me cartoons could make an apointment to see me. Previously that privilege had been restricted to established New Yorker cartoonists. … I thought Open-Call Tuesdays was a great idea, that in and of itself it would bring a bunch of new cartoolnits to the magazine. And a lot of fresh-faced aspirants did show up.”

But Mankoff realized showing up was not enough. These new talents needed cultivation. So instead of simply giving them rejection slips—the usual New Yorker cartoon tutorial—Mankoff started coaching them. “Why shouldn’t the new generation have the privilege of covering their bathroom walls with rejection slips [like he did]?” he asks in his memoirs. “It wasn’t just that I wanted younger cartoonists to suffer as I had; I understood that you learn more from your failures than your successes. But I realized that if all you ended up having were failures, all you would have learned is how to fail. So I broke the code of silence and became a real blabbermouth, giving aspiring cartoonists feedback and developing a mini-course in cartoon fundamentals and the psychology of humor.”

He tinkered with captions and explained why. He pointed out composition variations in the pictures and asked why one was better than another. He also did the unheard of. He arranged for newcomers to get published in The New Yorker quicker than the magazine’s traditional arduous acceptance rituals allowed. “If I had to wait for new cartoonists to assimilate all the rules and produce perfect cartoons before they could get into the magazine, I would be waiting a very long time,” he says in his memoirs. “And time wasn’t on my side.”

With Remnick’s collusion, Mankoff eased talented new cartoonists into the magazine a little before they were absolutely, unquestionably ready. “We were cutting new cartoonists some slack,” he explains, “—doing some affirmative action, giving them some reinforcements to get them hooked on cartooning the way I had been.”

Positive reinforcement might take a while. Recruit Matt Diffee waited eight months before his second cartoon was purchased. “When he was finally published again,” Mankoff says, “the improvement was obvious, both in the idea, which is not just a twist on a common cartoon cliches, and in the drawing, which also departs from traditional cartoon conventions by creating a fantasy scenario.” 

“What I absolutely take satisfaction in is that, as I leave as cartoon editor, I leave The New Yorker and my successor with a bumper crop of new and talented cartoonists who came in under my tenure,” Mankoff said on the phone to Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “To name a few—Liana Fink, Emily Flake, Drew Dernavich, Paul Noth, Harry Bliss, Edward Steed,” Mankoff said, before wryly deciding to name more than a few: “Alex Gregory, David Sipress, Joe Dator, Zachary Kanin, Farley Katz, Pat Byrnes, Ben Schwartz, Tom Toro, Chris Weyant, Amy Hwang — well, you get the idea.”

Chicago-based New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes expanded on Mankoff’s role during his interview with James Warren at poynter.org: “Bob Mankoff sees thousands of individual cartoons each week, but what he looks for are individual voices. And then he cultivates them, as he did mine. Mankoff gave me my big break, not simply by buying a cartoon, but by buying into me as a cartoonist.

“And it’s amazing he can do that for me,” Byrnes continued, “—and so many other cartoonists he has brought into the magazine. The number of cartoons he sees each week would numb anyone else’s sense of humor. But Bob has a sense for humor. He not only sees what is funny, but why it’s funny.”

And, yet, Byrnes went on, Mankoff seems to take it all quite seriously. “Some of it’s an act. He loves to wear the persona of the crusty New York cynic, but inside he’s still a gangly, insecure, smart aleck kid. That’s evident in his most famous cartoon, ‘No, Thursday’s out. How about never? Is never good for you?’ No surprise, the cartoon was autobiographical. He can be deadly serious and outrageously silly in the same breath.”

Ironically, the more cartoonists Mankoff brought into the magazine, the fewer are published regularly. With only 15-17 cartooning slots to be filled in each issue and a couple dozen new cartoonists—plus the roster Mankoff inherited—there are more than twice the number of cartoonists than there are places in the magazine for their cartoons. Still, a few, mostly standbys from Lorenz’s day, get in nearly every issue—Roz Chast, Barbara Smaller, Dave Sipress, Michael Maslin, Tom Chitty; of the newer cartoonists, Edward Steed and Drew Dernavich and, lately, Liam Francis Walsh.

With his interest in computers and the digital universe, Mankoff also contributed to growing The New Yorker’s Internet audience by shepherding the daily presence of cartoons on the magazine’s website. And in the print magazine, he developed the weekly cartoon caption contest from its once-a-year appearance in the short-lived annual Cartoon Issue of The New Yorker. His successor will inherit more than an airplane on auto-pilot. And she is both a throw-back and a iconoclast: like Geraghty, she’s not a cartoonist. And, that’s right, she’s the first female cartoon editor at The New Yorker.  

In the memo announcing Mankoff’s retirement, Remnick made the introductions: “The person I’ve chosen to be the next cartoon editor is Emma Allen, who has worked in recent years an editor of The Talk of the Town, a writer, and the driving force behind Daily Shouts, which is one of the best features of newyorker.com. Unlike Bob and Lee, she is not a cartoonist, but then neither was James Geraghty, who did the job before Lee. (Hell, William Shawn was not a writer, either, and he wasn’t too bad in the editing department. [Shawn was the second editor of The New Yorker, succeeding Harold Ross, the founding editor, in 1951.] ) Emma has a terrific eye for talent, knows the history of cartooning deeply, and is an immensely energetic and intelligent and sympathetic editor. She will work with Colin Stokes [associate cartoon editor] on selecting cartoons, running the caption contest, and creating a bigger digital footprint for cartoons. I am quite sure that we have only just begun to figure out new ways to explore and exploit digital technologies as a way to distribute your work to more and new readers. All of this is intended to stake out a healthy future for cartoons at The New Yorker.”

To which Mankoff had the final word (as he often does): “My greatest gratitude goes to the cartoonists. I know how much easier it is to pick a good cartoon than do one, much less the many thousands they have done and will continue to do. And, continue they will, with Emma Allen who now takes over this most iconic of all New Yorker features. I wish her and them the best of luck. And me, too—I’ve got to find that old cartoon pen of mine.”

Here at Hare Tonic, we’ll edge out Mankoff’s final word with some from one of the cartoonists he brought into the magazine, Pat Byrnes, who made an observation that poynter.org’s James Warren recorded:

“Oh,” said Warren, “a final thing noted by Byrnes that involved not Mankoff but Remnick and the art of leadership. It’s a little thing, but one that editors everywhere should note, especially those who increasingly rely on (and, in many cases, shaft) freelancers and other needy journalists.

“‘The important detail to cartoonists is the ‘2:32 p.m.’ part,’ Byrnes noted, referencing the time on the email Remnick sent to the magazine’s editorial staff. ‘Remnick’s email to the cartoonists arrived one minute earlier,’ Byrnes said. ‘I know that’s not much, but it speaks well for Remnick that he informed the cartoonists first.’”

Well, yes. But he didn’t pick a cartoonist to be the new editor. What does that say? With Playboy no longer an outlet for magazine cartooning, The New Yorker is the last magazine cartoon outpost in civilization. How well will Emma Allen serve the profession and the arts of cartooning? We’ll see.

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I Hope No One See Me In Here http://www.tcj.com/99682-2/ http://www.tcj.com/99682-2/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99682 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, R.C. Harvey looks at Robert Mankoff’s tenure as the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, and his recent exit.

And what kind of cartoon editor was Mankoff? Not bad, over the long haul. In fact, very good, all things considered. And with Mankoff, there are a lot of things to consider. He was the fourth person to fill that function but the first to have the title “cartoon editor.” The first to act as cartoon editor was Rea Irvin, a cartoonist and artist who was at foundering editor Harold Ross’s elbow since the magazine started in February 1925. Irvin’s taste in art and in comedy established the basic aura of New Yorker cartoons—as well as the design of the magazine. Irvin quit his unofficial role when Ross died in 1951, but by then, Jim Geraghty (not a cartoonist himself) had joined the staff in 1939 and held the cartoon editing post until 1973 when Lorenz assumed the cartoon editorship (albeit still without that title; both Geraghty and Lorenz were called “art editor”; Irvin was called “art supervisor”).

At first, Mankoff concentrated on the Cartoon Bank. At The New Yorker, the process of submitting and selecting cartoons and a stable of cartoonists whose talents were proven meant that the cartoon operation could proceed with little guidance from Mankoff. But the Cartoon Bank was still in a start-up phase, and he spent comparatively more of his time as its “president” and chief operating officer.

Once the Cartoon Bank was running as smoothly as could be expected, Mankoff shifted more of his attention to the cartoon editorship. Critics carping from the sidelines had complained that the quality of the artwork and the sophistication of the humor in New Yorker cartoons wasn’t what it used to be. To which, Mankoff, writing his memoirs, responded: “It never was.”

Elsewhere:

I recommend this print by Carol Tyler honoring the late Jay Lynch, with proceeds to benefit the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, which provides financial assistance to cartoonists and their families in times of hardship. 

Here’sJulia Gfrörer speaking to Max Morris for the Bad at Sports podcast. 

More Clowes talking, more! The Guardian.

Ben Schwartz has more thoughts about KRAZY.

 

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Gifts for the General http://www.tcj.com/99649-2/ http://www.tcj.com/99649-2/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99649 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Frank comes back with his Riso journey, this time talking to Ryan Sands, publisher at Youth in Decline.

I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…

Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).

On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.

Elsewhere:

-Tomorrow night the great Brian Chippendale is opening a show of his new paintings at one of my favorite galleries, Safe Gallery in Williamsburg. Go check it out. 

-TCJ-contributor Philip Nel discusses children’s books that address the ideas and realities of refugees. 

-The NY Times has a lengthy obituary of Skip Williamson.

-Tributes to the illustrator Jack Unruh.

-I always enjoy an interview with Daniel Clowes, and here he is talking Wilson.

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Risograph Workbook 4 http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-4/ http://www.tcj.com/risograph-workbook-4/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99578 Continue reading ]]> Ryan Sands, Publisher at Youth in Decline, joins me for Part 4 of my ongoing series where I speak to some of the pioneers of risograph printing.

I started this conversation with Mickey Z, then spoke to Jesjit Gill of Colour Code Printing, and caught up with Ryan Cecil Smith – check out the rest of the Risograph Workbooks: Risograph Workbook 1: Mickey ZRisograph Workbook 2: Jesjit Gill/Colour Code Printing; Risograph Workbook 3: Ryan Cecil Smith.

Now Ryan Sands steps up to the plate!

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

Sands: The legend is true! When folks ask me what got me into risograph printing, the answer is the photo below:

Comics risograph printed by genius Mickey Z

When I was still just a baby zinemaker, I got to know Mickey Zacchilli and her work online. We became friends talking about horror manga via my old blog Same Hat, and Mickey did some cool drawings for my “mixtape” zine Electric Ant (which includes Mickey and Michael DeForge‘s first-ever collaboration, the end papers for Issue #2). I was totally enamored with Mickey’s comics, and how she used limited spot colors to give the zines a lot of life. Before her risograph comics, I hadn’t seen people use their own handwriting as a specific layer of color, which makes a zine have this cool depth while still looking like a hand-made DIY object.

Titus Andronicus drawing by Mickey Z for the Electric Ant zine (2008)

People ask me about risograph a lot, and I get hesitant to characterize it as a look or aesthetic unto itself. The machine is just a means to production, and how artists mess with it and use it is a reflection of their priorities and style – Mickey uses the riso to maintain spontaneity and a handmade griminess to the comics, while someone like John Pham applies his printmaking emphasis and precision to create these really sharp and dense books full of color and gradients. Then there are folks like Ryan Cecil Smith, and Colour Code Printing‘s Jesjit Gill, who want to push the color blending and technique as far as possible, recreating (and sometimes surpassing) the sharpness of CMYK offset printing. A risograph machine is just tool that allows creators & publishers to speed up & expand on an existing approach.

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

I currently use a RP 3105 at my space, which doubles as a little print shop and as a warehouse/shipping hub for Youth in Decline. The machine I use now was purchased by my friend David Murray (Telegraph Gallery/SEIBEI) via Craigslist – I believe from a printer in Sacramento who didn’t want it and basically gave it away if he’d pick the thing up. We co-parented that machine when David lived and had an office here in the Bay Area, and I basically learned how to risograph over the course of printing Thickness #1 on it.

Jonny Negron’s cover artwork (2011)

From Julia Gfrörer’s story “The Chasm” in Thickness #3 (2012)

At some point along the way, I also purchased a risograph GR model from a church near Oakland, which had been using it to print their weekly bulletins for years. They were getting rid of it to get an all-in-one laserjet printer, and sold the machine to me for like $150. So, for a short while I actually had two risographs, but I gave my GR Series machine to another local SF bookmaker, Luca Antonucci at Colpa Press. It was getting expensive to acquire additional color drums (and keep supplies stocked) for two different models, so I doubled-down on the RP 3105. It’s such a sturdy workhorse, and can print up to 11″ x 17″. I have 8 or 9 different colors for it, I believe.

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

Oh no, I have no formal art training whatsoever. I think of myself as a publisher (or zinemaker) first & foremost, and use a few different printers and methods to make books. Youth in Decline uses a few local offset printers, a bindery, as well as my own machine – it all depends on what a specific artist wants to do for their project.

That said, I did screenprinting in high school and college – mostly to make t-shirts – and learned a lot about stencils and color trapping via trial & error. The basic principles of screenprinting (layering inks, overlays, etc) all completely apply to the risograph. In university I worked as co-editor of my school newspaper’s A&E section, and that was where I learned a few layout programs like Quark and InDesign, and how to plan out book signatures and layers.

I really think it is interesting that riso and the “art book fairs” of Printed Matter have run concurrent – meaning we are seeing more “zine” people at comics shows and vice versa – can you speak to this loose crossover? I feel like your label sort of runs in that corridor…

Whenever there’s a tool that has lots of funky ways you can mess with it AND a fairly low cost to experiment and make mistakes, this sort of machine is good for folks that care about all the details of physical book production. I get super bored by books that are simply “risograph-themed” anthologies, but I love seeing “art book” folks use it in unexpected ways – like the thermography technique of Colour Code Printing to create elevated inks and push the envelope with the machine. That said – at its heart, the machine was intended to be a blue collar workhorse for schools and churches and offices to churn out hundreds of pages a minute for cheap, so I bristle a bit at the trend of high-end “risograph prints” in limited editions. I saw a gallery show in SF recently that had a 3-color risograph print for $40!!! Are you kidding me? That shit cost like $0.90 to print and you could make 1000 prints in an afternoon (including drying times!).

On a less cranky note, some of my favorite risograph books are actually not comics at all, but text-heavy magazines and journals. When I visited Motto in Berlin back in 2011, I saw a bunch of poetry zines and literary journals published on risograph – my favorite in this vein is the queer film journal Little Joe Magazine. Their embrace of a limited spot color palette feels vintage without being slavishly retro or lame. So nice.

Left: Assembling Wacky Wacko Magazine #1 (2015) and Right: the press release follow-up letters for Dream Tube, printed on leftover wedding invite card stock (2016)!

Personally, I am fascinated with how risograph printing has changed making color comics. Before risograph was around the choices were expensive offset or expensive print on demand. I remember you stapling and folding zines the night before festivals like many of us but I think for you it has been different because of the riso – can you speak to the excitement surrounding the options now, as opposed to “just xerox or offset”?

You’re right, my background is as a zinemaker and I’ve stapled thousands of zines by hand over the years. I have usually taken the approach that I want to learn something myself and do it by hand before I pay someone else to do it – whether collating and stapling, trimming, or perfect binding square books. A risograph is not some magical machine that takes the work out of DIY, but it does totally change the economics of self-publishing at a slightly bigger scale than purely DIY zines (say, doing 200-1500 copies of a book). For a run of that size, the cost of printing a 2-color book on Risograph is cheaper than xeroxing a B&W zine, and than printing offset in the US.

When I started Youth in Decline, I originally maybe conceptualized it as a risograph publisher, and all our books would have a signature “risograph” look. But, by the 2nd book I wanted to do – a collection of full-color paintings by Hellen Jo – I felt limited by that definition. Now I think of the risograph as one of many tools in the toolbox, and let the content decide the production approach (offset, xerox, risograph, digital-only) and not the other way around.

From Frontier #5: Sam Alden (2014)

Some of my favorite things we’ve done have included a little of each medium. For both Frontier #5: Sam Alden and Love Songs For Monsters (a Science Fiction chapbook by Anthony Ha), we did the interiors on risograph, the covers offset in full-color, and then worked with a local bindery to bring the entire thing together and trim/bind the books. There’s something really nice and elevated about a book mixing those techniques together with decent finishing that looks “pro” but still very personal. I also try to use the machine for anything that would cost money to do elsewhere – we’ve printed our shipping labels, our manila envelopes, our subscriber mailings, and even our wedding invites(!) on that damn thing.

Can you talk about how you choose to take on projects – how has it changed over the years?

We’ve put out a few dozen books by now, but Youth in Decline is still very much a small publishing house with limited bandwidth. My mission is basically focused on two things: Developing and fostering new talent with thoughtful editorial & production attention to their work, and helping most-established and international creators indulge in an interesting or experimental book or digital project. Youth in Decline is still (for now) my side project after work, so I try to work with good people on projects that have something unique and urgent to say (both aesthetically and narratively).

My wife Jane and I were lucky enough to welcome a daughter at the start of 2017, so we’re taking a bit of a hiatus as we figure out this parenting thing. Juggling everything is a challenge, but we have some really cool plans in store for our Frontier series and other projects in the 2nd half of 2017 and in 2018.

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See the latest publications from Youth an Decline HERE. Be sure to check out Mickey Z’s new RAV 2nd Collection and the Frontier series.

Mickey Z – RAV #2

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Maybe next Spring? http://www.tcj.com/maybe-next-spring/ http://www.tcj.com/maybe-next-spring/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99635 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Frank Young interviews the Tumblr phenom Samplerman.

Do you consider yourself a cartoonist? What led you to creating your “Samplerman” persona?

I am a 46-year-old cartoonist. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for more than 25 years, without any popular success, I have to admit—perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence, not harassing publishers enough, taking no answer for a “no thanks,” and no longer posting my pages (lots of improvised and unfinished stories) on my obscure blogs.

I have always chosen the DIY way to make my fanzines and minicomics: it is affordable and it mostly requires commitment and time. Due to lack of feedback, I’ve felt discouraged from time to time. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve kept doing this for so long instead of finding a real job…

I’ve been obsessed with comics all my life. I would have liked to be a comic strip cartoonist, but that career doesn’t exist in France. The conventional formats here are the hardcover, annual 44-page book or the black and white, 300-page one-shot graphic novel. I’ve always been attracted to arts of all kinds: poetry, radio, cinema, animation, the avant-garde, experimentation and the borders of communication. I’m also drawn to abstraction, distortion, destruction, surrealism, sociology and politics. Most of my past comics are kind of absurd and meaningless (nonsensical, to say it nicely). At the end of the day, whatever I am doing, the path from a panel to another has become for me the ordinary way to explore this alternate reality (comics) where I feel at home. So yes, I think am a cartoonist; a weird cartoonist.

Hence the question could be: “Are the Samplerman pieces strictly comics?” I would answer: “Depends on how restrictive your definition of comics is.” If the reader considers certain of my “stories” just as a sequence of panels without any logical connection, I am fine with that, but my works are at least a failed attempt at doing a story from a cartoonist’s neurasthenic brain.

 Elsewhere:

Our friends Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer talk about their upcoming anthology, Mirror Mirror II

And Michel Dooley remembers Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson with an image-heavy post.

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An Interview with Yvan Guillo/Samplerman http://www.tcj.com/yvan-guillosamplerman-interview-by-frank-m-young/ http://www.tcj.com/yvan-guillosamplerman-interview-by-frank-m-young/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99309 Continue reading ]]>
A quiet revolution in comics—as relates to its connection with fine art and design—is staged on the tumblr of Yvan Guillo, under the pen name of Samplerman. Using castaway imagery from comics—much of it found at free websites like the Digital Comics Museum, and Comic Book Plus—Guillo creates breathtaking, playful kaleidoscopic images that have, until recently, been confined to the web.

With the self-publication of Street Fights Comics (2016, and one of my picks for the best comics work of that year.) and a new, self-titled 44-page art book of Samplerman images published by Los Angeles’ Secret Headquarters, the time seemed right to talk with Yvan Guillo about his delightful, dizzying and thought-provoking comics art and how it’s created. This interview was conducted via e-mail in January and February of 2016. Guillo has chosen a selection of some of his Samplerman favorites to illustrate this piece.

Do you consider yourself a cartoonist? What led you to creating your “Samplerman” persona?

I am a 46-year-old cartoonist. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for more than 25 years, without any popular success, I have to admit—perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence, not harassing publishers enough, taking no answer for a “no thanks,” and no longer posting my pages (lots of improvised and unfinished stories) on my obscure blogs.

I have always chosen the DIY way to make my fanzines and minicomics: it is affordable and it mostly requires commitment and time. Due to lack of feedback, I’ve felt discouraged from time to time. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve kept doing this for so long instead of finding a real job…

I’ve been obsessed with comics all my life. I would have liked to be a comic strip cartoonist, but that career doesn’t exist in France. The conventional formats here are the hardcover, annual 44-page book or the black and white, 300-page one-shot graphic novel. I’ve always been attracted to arts of all kinds: poetry, radio, cinema, animation, the avant-garde, experimentation and the borders of communication. I’m also drawn to abstraction, distortion, destruction, surrealism, sociology and politics. Most of my past comics are kind of absurd and meaningless (nonsensical, to say it nicely). At the end of the day, whatever I am doing, the path from a panel to another has become for me the ordinary way to explore this alternate reality (comics) where I feel at home. So yes, I think am a cartoonist; a weird cartoonist.

Hence the question could be: “Are the Samplerman pieces strictly comics?” I would answer: “Depends on how restrictive your definition of comics is.” If the reader considers certain of my “stories” just as a sequence of panels without any logical connection, I am fine with that, but my works are at least a failed attempt at doing a story from a cartoonist’s neurasthenic brain.

At the start, “Samplerman” was a side project. The first attempts sat on my hard drive for months before I posted them. These were very simple panels, in low resolution, that displayed samples of web-downloaded scans of “Superman” or “Fantastic Four” that I had duplicated and symmetrically joined: the most basic manipulation. The abstract visuals resulting from this treatment didn’t corrupt the seduction of the original drawings and colors, which were visually familiar though modified, like comics seen through a distorted mirror.

I thought that it would be fun to make a parody of a comics using this method—a 36-page kaleidoscopic comic—and then I would go back to my old hand-drawn comics. But when I posted these few pages on my tumblr la Zone de Non-Droit/the No-Go Zone, which I share with my friend, the cartoonist Léo Quiévreux, the feedback for these posts was quite strong. Soon a publisher asked me if I had plans to make a book. I decided to dig deeper.

The pseudonym (more than a persona in my opinion) is the term that I was putting as a hashtag (#samplerman project) each time I posted these things. I am doing various kinds of comics which attract different tastes and interests, so the pseudonym is a simple way to not confuse people. It has its issues, though. I haven’t figured out how to display my different universes on the home page of my website, and I still wonder if I should give up the part of my work that remains unpopular.

The “Samplerman” title refers to how my work has conscious musical connotation (by the way, a Spanish DJ used this same pseudonym before me). There is a fabric and pattern association as well, and it’s kind of a stupid superhero name: Superman with a patchwork outfit. The name came to me in one piece in my brain without too much thinking. And the people who contacted me about this work by referring to this word adopted it too.

How do you approach the anonymous vintage comic books that you use to achieve your collages? Have you taken advantage of the enormous body of digital scans available on Comic Book Plus, Digital Comics Library, etc.?

I approach these old comics with gluttony; and, yes, I visit these websites all the time. I am not a specialist of American comics. I didn’t read them as a kid, even though they were widely available here. I am constantly discovering and learning about the artists of these past eras of comics history. As my knowledge slowly and randomly increases on the subject, I no longer consider these comics anonymous. I am constantly amazed by the designs, the styles, the variety and the energy displayed there.

I want to download everything, but there are so many comics available that I wonder if I will be able to get everything. I find something interesting and usable in almost every comic I get from those websites. Without these incredible resources, I wouldn’t have been able to fill my pages with so many diverse graphic elements, and I wouldn’t have produced as much work.

I am like a kid surrounded by an infinite stack of comics, A kid who doesn’t really read, and can’t follow the stories, but immerses himself into the universes found in their pages. With gluttony and delight!

I didn’t know about these sites at the beginning, when I wondered if I’d be able to produce more Samplerman pieces… I encountered them at the right time. I also appreciate their principles of scanning only public domain material. It prevents me from using copyrighted works, and the risk of getting myself into legal trouble, which I can’t afford.

My only regret: Sometimes the definition and the quality of the scans aren’t good enough to be used. It’s too pixelated, or too compressed, but this remains a bottomless source for my pieces. I’ve started to buy some physical copies of old comics on eBay, so I can scan the pages myself and get the best quality, but I’m not rich. I have to make choices.

In “Street Fights Comics,” you obviously sought out images for the purposes of building a free-form comics narrative. In your regular “Samplerman” images, which you post on tumblr, you create stand-alone, poster-like images. Which approach is most artistically rewarding to you?

It seems like I make either right-brain or left-brain comics. Both are rewarding in their own way. I have a formal, pictorial approach which requires spontaneity and embraces randomness, open-mindedness and non-verbal communication. I put myself in a sort of trance and start working with no pre-existing plan. I start by choosing a template for a page (a six panel or a more unconventional template). This is my only constraint. Then I compose my page. This is a bi-dimensional visual reality. This kind of work is made for viewing rather than reading—it’s the side of Samplerman that no longer belongs to comics.

And there is the more intellectual approach, which involves more humor, sense/nonsense and collection/repetition. The idea of collecting the pages into a book was in my thoughts almost from the start. And, yes, Street Fights Comics belongs to this.

It requires preparatory work—collecting and gathering elements connected to a theme and a vague idea of a story. The balloons, dialogue and transitional signs (“meanwhile,” “after that,” “then” etc.) play a more significant role for this kind of comics. They are more linear and kind of realistic or surrealistic; the human figure is more present and more consistent, and there is a ground and a sky. But they are contaminated by the other approach. As long as I forbid myself to write my own text, they will fail to tell consistent, normal stories.

I work like I’m playing a game, with constraints, but I like to change the rules to avoid boredom, or becoming a living algorithm. I follow the paths that appear one after another. Sometimes I have a stupid idea like: “What if I made a hole in a page, or a panel, to see what happens?” I am interested in Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategy” cards, which I consider an exciting tool that helps push the boundaries of the creative process.

A sense of absurd humor informs all your work. Do you find some of this humor inherent in the 1940s and ’50s stories you dissect for your work?

The comics of all eras contain involuntary and voluntary humor. Reading them 70 years after their first publication inevitably leads the reader to find it at times laughable, stupid and ridiculous. The serious comics (romance, horror and war comics) contains a humor that comes from a propaganda-oriented way of telling stories. Commercial and advertising comics are especially funny and ridiculous. This is seriousness from a period when comics weren’t taken seriously including by their creators.

Some texts are pure genius. I have in mind the panel from by Fletcher Hanks where a bunch of evil characters say: “We must end democracy and civilization forever!” I find this funny and terrifying at the same time.  I also take my material from comics which are still actually funny: the newspaper comics from the 1920s and ‘30s, Herbie, Plastic Man, Abbott and Costello etc. My use of the source material isn’t always in contradiction with their initial meaning.

I’m always looking for a strangeness, a silliness in the juxtaposition of dialogue balloons I extract from these extraneous stories. What makes some of my panels funny is the misplacement, the décalage. It can be unexpectedly realistic: in real life we experience people talking without really listening to each other. The practice of collage prevents me from going where I wanted to go in the first place. With collage, you have to play with what you have and be open to unexpected results—a different meaning and many possible interpretations and reactions from the readers, including laughs.

Patterns and textures are a big part of your stand-alone images. You create these patterns from insignificant images within comics panels—hats, hands, shoes, even lettering. Do you see patterns emerge from the original comics sources as you examine them? Or do you isolate these elements and play around with them as you design a new page?

My method is flexible. As someone who make collages and draws comics, I might have the ability to notice, as I flip through the scanned pages, which element will produce a better effect and be magnified by duplication and the kaleidoscopic treatment.

I’m drawn to the primary bright colors mixed with halftone printing dots, overlapping and crossed lines—the organic melting of the ink with the paper. Some panels are likely to express the joy the artist had when he drew a specific element. It’s often half-abstract, half-figurative: women’s hair, cigarette smoke, sea waves, clouds and in animals like snakes, elephants or octopi. They were opportunities for the artist to escape the story and give some freedom to their hand and pencil.

I enjoy mannerism in art. I enjoy the variety of styles: some artist show their obsession for details (Basil Wolverton) and some are more gestural. The rounded “toon” style has its own very interesting energy.

I usually come across a comic where the components triggers a compelling desire to make a collage. I select, cut out and place the elements on my composition. At the same time, I try to keep them in an organized image bank. This process slows me down a little. Sometimes I don’t file the elements, which I regret later, because their large number makes it difficult to remember which comic I found them in. Sometimes I revisit my image bank to reuse the elements. The same element can be used on its own or transformed into a pattern. I also have a “pattern” section in my image bank.

I would imagine you use Adobe Photoshop, or a similar computer program, to assemble your images. Does your creative process occur within those programs? Or do you make sketches or do other pre-planning before each image is assembled? Some “Samplerman” images seem extremely composed, while others have a feeling of spontaneity. The blending of these two opposites is a compelling factor in your work.

The creative moment occurs mostly when I face the computer screen. I only make sketches when the computer is not on—when I take a walk with a paper and pen in my pocket, or when I have an idea related to structure or geometry for potential compositions. I am always thinking about some elementary geometrical manipulations, combined and applied to the samples. Squares, triangles and circles are everywhere. And I fear this is where my work could start being boring and repetitive—I could apply this to anything.

I try to keep a sense of movement in my work. Sometimes I feel the urge to break my composition, to destabilize the eye-scan and push it toward the next panel. I tend to use symmetry a lot when I start putting together a background and the elements. It’s somewhat satisfying but at the same time it paralyzes any feeling of movement. I usually end up distorting the symmetry I rely on. I try to give it a shake and extend the life of these unearthed objects in any way, like a mad scientist.

Your use of color adds a great deal to the Samplerman images. Do you ever alter the color of the material you source from old comics? Or do you use the found images as the basis for your color choices?

I make only the most minimal changes to the color. I may change the colors from parts of my samples for special effects, but I try to stay within the four-color spectrum of the letterpress printing technique that dominated comic books until the 1990s. It’s possible that I’ll break this rule in the future, and take the license to make more extreme adjustments.

I correct only the black and white balance. The scans are so different, with various dominant colors from one to another. I like the yellowish tone of the aging, low-quality paper. I want the general tone to remain moderate—not too saturated but bright. When my pages are selected to be printed, I convert them to the four-color process and inspect each channel. The colors have a great impact on my choices and they trigger my creativity. When I compose a panel, I often look for a particular color in whatever element I pick.

I assume you are aware of the work of 1950s comics collagist Jess Collins, whose “Tricky Cad” pieces are brilliant dissections of “Dick Tracy.” Though your work goes into far different places, has Collins been an influence on your Samplerman pieces? Are there other collagists who have inspired your work?

I must confess that I only heard about Jess after I started my project. I immediately looked for his pieces when someone compared my work to his. From the examples I’ve seen, there are definitely some similarities.

Other artists came to my attention after I began my collages, so I can’t say they influenced me, but I’m curious to see what they have been doing by using the same approach and material. Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976) is another artist I recently discovered. Some of his pieces remind me of mine, except he made them four decades ago.

Other artists who have made a strong impression on me, not so long before doing this kind of collage myself, include Ray Yoshida (1930-2009), who systematically collected samples from comics during the 1960s; his pieces are very nicely composed. His work brought to me the idea of making collections of items that appear again and again from one comic to another. Some comics have influenced me for my collages even though they weren’t collage: I have seen a lot of character removal approaches in art, leaving background spaces empty.

I was quite impressed by the “Garfield Minus Garfield” project. This kind of intrusion into someone else’s work inspired me towards other kinds of manipulations in comics. In a similar vein, the French cartoonist Jochen Gerner has revisited Herge’s 1931 Tintin en Amérique album by highlighting, on a black background, its many symbols and signals in a half-comics/half-artbook untitled TNT en Amérique. I remember a story by Art Spiegelman (1976’s “The Malpractice Suite”) in which he drew extensions to panels of old comic strips.

Artists reading other artists’ work creatively have attracted my interest for a long time. My best friends are not cartoonists, but they have influenced me too. They make digital and “real” collages (with glue and scissors): Laetitia Brochier, Frédox and Jean Kristau. Their work is published mostly by Le Dernier Cri in Marseille. My friend the cartoonist/illustrator Léo Quievreux creates drawings that look like collages. He is influenced by William Burroughs’ cut ups and has managed to make visually similar experiments. Pakito Bolino, who runs Le dernier Cri, makes secret collages (in the sense that he rarely displays them) that blend manga, E.C. horror comic, old horror movies and pornographic photos, which he uses as a basis for his drawings.

I’m also fascinated with the meme phenomena on the Internet: the sprawling, unleashed creativity of an anonymous community of unconnected artists. And I must pay tribute to the collages by Max Ernst, based on 19th-century engraved illustrations. I’ve loved them for a long time. Twenty years ago, I went to a Kurt Schwitters retrospective, and I consider his work important, if not directly influential on me. A few more names: Chumy Chùmez for his book Una Biografìa, Roman Cieslevicz, John Heartfield and the Dada movement.

NOTE: A new printing of Street Fights Comics should be ready when this interview is published. The first run of 50 copies sold out quickly. With its republication and the Secret Headquarters art book, plus Miscomocs Comics, an existing compilation published by Le Dernier Cri, the “Samplerman” side of Yvan Guillo may be on the verge of wider global recognition.

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Taking All the Lox http://www.tcj.com/taking-all-the-lox/ http://www.tcj.com/taking-all-the-lox/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99539 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have Gary Groth’s lengthy 1985 interview with Bernie Wrightson. It’s a great read.

GROTH: Again, about the Frankenstein book, what I’m interested in finding out is what is the intent of the illustrations? Are you intent upon adding another dimension to the novel?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. I started this in 1976. All this time, and all this work, all this effort and aggravation and what not have gone into this simply to embellish this old book. Which, when I started out, I thought was a terrific book. Now, six years have gone by, and I don’t think it’s such a terrific book, anymore. Okay, we’ve got some good drawings to go in there, some of them are spectacular. And for anybody who does like the book, this is going to be a real good edition of it. My personal feelings have nothing to do with that at all. You should just buy the book because you want it, and enjoy it, and don’t worry about how I feel. When I did the drawings, I was really involved with the book and my intentions were really good when I did them. They had to be or my drawings wouldn’t be that good. I really believe that an artist can’t communicate to a viewer unless he really pours himself into it and tries to do that. And I tried to do it with that, and they work. So, I’m not apologizing for that, I’m not apologizing for anything, I’m just saying that I’m glad I’m still not doing it, because my attitude has changed completely.

GROTH: It sounds like you think a little less of the book now than when you first started.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I guess I do.

GROTH: Who are some of your favorite authors?

WRIGHTSON: Stephen King.

GROTH: Poe, I guess? Or isn’t he one of your favorites?

WRIGHTSON: He was real good to start out with, but I don’t think I’d ever read him again. Wells, H.G. Wells, in limited doses.

GROTH: Lovecraft?

WRIGHTSON: Nah. He was always a little too ponderous. I have a hard time with the language. There are a few things that he’s done that I’ve really enjoyed, but for the most part I can’t take him.

GROTH: What do you like about King?

WRIGHTSON: What do I like about King? Damn near everything. The guy has an uncanny knack for creating characters who are people that you know, just really solid people. A storyteller par excellence. Absolutely riveting from the first page. A terrific command of the language and colloquialism and slang and bullshit and whatever. And on top of that, he can scare the fucking pants off me.

GROTH: That’s what friends tell me.

WRIGHTSON: Have you ever read him?

GROTH: No, I never have. And friends have told me that they’ve actually gotten frightened reading his books. And I can’t imagine that.

WRIGHTSON: If you’ve never experienced that, I envy you. Because I wish I could re-experience that feeling for the first time.

GROTH: I keep intending to read The Shining, but I’ve not gotten around to it.

WRIGHTSON: I think you ought to start out with Salem’s Lot.

WHITE: How about Firestarter?

WRIGHTSON: Firestarter and Salem’s Lot, I think, are the two best stories he’s written.

 

Elsewhere:

Robert Silvers, the truly legendary editor of the New York Review of Books, passed away on Monday. The New Yorker has a series of tributes.

Peter Bagge talks about his new graphic biography of Zora Neale Hurston over at CBR.

Comics culture: The Paris Review looks at bodybuilding and the old sand-kicking ads.

 

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The Berni Wrightson Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-berni-wrightson-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-berni-wrightson-interview/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99589 Continue reading ]]>

Circa 1996.

From The Comics Journal #76 (October 1982)

Berni Wrightson, famous for his graphic portraits of rotting zombies, slavering werewolves, maniacal axe-murderers, and drooling witches (as well as the odd dinosaur or sword-wielding barbarian), is possibly the most popular artist to emerge from comics’ short-lived artistic renaissance of the late 1960s; one might say that he, along with his contemporaries Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith, were the motivating forces behind that peak period. It wasn’t just what Wrightson drew that made his work so striking, but the attitudes behind his work.

After an apprenticeship as an editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun (and a fanzine illustrator for such publications as Squa Tront, Amra, Heritage, and others too numerous to mention), Wrightson graduated to the professional comics, drawing two issues of Nightmaster for DC’s Showcase. From there, he went on to revitalize DC’s mystery titles, bringing to them his zest for all things gruesome and ghoulish; during this period, his style became increasingly lush and sophisticated.

While working in color comics, Wrightson also worked briefly for Web of Horror, a black-and-white Creepy imitation that lasted three issues and also featured the work of Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Ralph Reese. Wrightson worked briefly for Marvel: the bulk of his comics work, however, was done for DC in the early to mid-’70s, and it was there that he scored his greatest popular success in comics with Swamp Thing. The feature was popular enough to spawn a feature film (albeit a poor one); many believe Swamp Thing’s success was due (with all respect to Len Wein) to Wrightson’s superb artwork.

After winning the Academy of Comic Book Arts’ award as Best Artist for two years running, Wrightson left color comics (for good, he thought) to pursue other projects, including work for Warren’s line of black-and-white horror magazines. He produced some classic work for Warren: many impressive single page illustrations, adaptations of stories by Poe and Lovecraft, and original collaborations with Jeff Jones and Bruce Jones. Among Wrightson’s other projects during this time were a series of full color horror and fantasy paintings executed in a variety of media, issued as posters by Christopher Enterprises, and an eight-painting portfolio based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

It was late in 1975 that Wrightson began work on what might prove to be the most distinguished and important project in his oeuvre; as of this writing, he is nearing completion of his profusely illustrated edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, and it has been suggested that Wrightson’s monster will stand as the definitive graphic interpretation.

In 1978 Wrightson’s work appeared alongside that of his friends Kaluta, Jones, and Windsor-Smith in The Studio Book, an artistic chronicle of the two years that the four artists shared a studio on Manhattan’s West Side. A Look Back, a voluminous collection of Wrightson’s work from every phase of his career, was published in 1979 by Christopher Zavisa.

Wrightson’s latest project, a full-color comics adaptation of Stephen King’s screenplay for George Romero’s feature film, Creepshow, has just been released.

Recently, Executive Editor Gary Groth (assisted by Peppy White) visited the smiling master of the macabre, who remained cheerful throughout the following conversation, despite a broken leg.

—STEVE RINGGENBERG

This interview was conducted in May 1982. It was transcribed by Tom Mason and copy edited by Gary Groth.

 

GARY GROTH: [Referring to Harlan Ellison’s introduction to Berni Wrightson: A Look Back] Were you intimately familiar with Katsushika Hiroshige’s work?

BERNI WRIGHTSON: Who? [Laughter.] No. I was a little dismayed when I read Harlan’s intro, because he seemed to go off on that and boy, he just lost me in that first paragraph. I thought, “Gee, I don’t know these guys.” I’m real happy for Harlan that he’s familiar with them and all and I’m glad he likes their work but I just never heard of them before. And I thank him for bringing it to my attention, and I have since looked into it and the guy is quite good and I can see all the correlations and everything but at the time, I just said, “what the hell is he talking about?”

GROTH: Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why don’t we talk about Creepshow, the newest thing you’re doing—the adaptation of the Romero/King film collaboration. Could you talk about what it is, how you got involved in it, how big it is, who you’re doing it for, and what format it’s going to be in?

WRIGHTSON: Oh boy.

GROTH: All at once.

WRIGHTSON: Well, NAL (New American Library) is doing it. They’ve never done a comic book before but they are King’s publisher right now. So they of course want to do it; it’s going to be a trade paperback along the lines of the Alien comic book, whatever that sold for. Sixty-four pages I think, full color. So whatever those things are going for now, that’s what it’ll be. It’s kind of a comic book adaptation of the movie and I say kind of because the movie is kind of an adaptation of a comic book.

GROTH: EC’s?

WRIGHTSON: No, it’s a very EC-like, horror comic called Creepshow. Basically it starts out with a kid reading a comic book in his bedroom and his father comes in, takes it away from him and says, “You readin’ this shit?” and throws it out in the garbage and the wind blows the comic book open to the first page (of course a storm is coming up), and the camera comes down on the splash page real tight; the drawing, which is done by Jack Kamen, becomes a freeze frame, and the first story starts. And the whole story runs through and the last shot becomes a freeze-frame, turns into a comic picture, the camera pulls back, and you see a full page and this awful skeletal hand reaches in and turns the page, and so on. And it just goes on like this for five stories. At the end of the last story it pulls back, freeze-frame, comic book, it fades out and comes back in to some garbage men coming down the street and they find this comic book laying in the garbage can. The guy picks it up, looks at it and says, “What is that?” “That’s a comic book.” “Oh great, say, I love this stuff” and he’s thumbing through it and he says, “Oh, look at these ads. Look at this. Venus Fly Trap. Look at this, X-Ray glasses. You want some of those? And how about that, A voodoo doll?” “I don’t know, somebody already got that,” and he holds it up and there’s the thing clipped out. The camera cuts to the kid’s house and his father’s sitting in the kitchen and he’s going like this [rubbing neck] and his wife’s at the sink saying, “What’s the matter honey?” “I don’t know, I slept on my neck funny or something, just kind of got a pain back there.” Cuts upstairs, kid’s got this voodoo doll and he’s sticking in the neck of it and it freeze-frames, becomes a comic book drawing, the camera pulls back and it’s the cover of the next issue. End of movie. So it’s just this really neat kind of well worked out thing.

GROTH: And King wrote the movie?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Did the whole screenplay, everything. A couple of the stories in it are adaptations of things he had published elsewhere. The longest segment is “The Crate” and runs about 30, 40 minutes, and appeared in Cavalier, Gallery, or something, and another one, the segment that King is in, which is a short one, like 15 or 16 minutes, was originally published under the title of “Weeds,” in some men’s magazine, I think. Anyhow, I didn’t get to see the whole movie because I was down there in October of last year and at that time the movie should have been done, but they were running overtime.

GROTH: Down where?

WRIGHTSON: Pittsburgh. And they were just finishing up the segment that Stephen King is in. And I was there. I was only supposed to be there for a couple of days to talk with King and Romero and try and get correlated with them about what we wanted to do with the comic book. But I ended up being there a week because I had to talk to the producer and he was out of the country. Just a lot of missed connections and everything. So, I spent a lot of time hanging around the studio, watching the movie being made and looking at footage that had already been shot. It’s not going to be Jaws, and it’s not going to be Superman, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. I got a real good feeling about it. Romero’s got a real respect for trash, if you know what I mean. The kind of trashiness that’s associated with horror comics. Or like B horror movies and stuff like that. The man has a genuine love and the movie has this kind of trashy aspect about it which is totally intentional, and it’s something that a slicker director would have missed entirely. It’s like the Vault of Horror and Tales of the Crypt movies. But those things are really kind of lame, just all the slickness, and pretentiousness and really, “Well, I know it’s coming from a comic book, but this is the movies, my good man.”

GROTH: That brings to mind Kubrick’s [The] Shining.

WRIGHTSON: Right.

GROTH: Which was just ponderous.

WRIGHTSON: Right. Right. Because King has a very trashy aspect to him and about this stuff. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in telling a horror story. Whereas that didn’t come across in Kubrick’s movie at all. Kubrick’s movie was very prissy somehow. Even though the performances were terrific, and you can’t fault the production and all it’s just, “Christ, who wrote the cretinous script” and really changed the thing around. Creepshow is just the other end of the scale entirely. It’s like every drive-in movie there ever was rolled into one. Just real great spirit of fun about it.

GROTH: Good trash.

WRIGHTSON: Good, good trash. Yeah. Exactly.

GROTH: How many pages is your adaptation!

WRIGHTSON: Sixty-two.

GROTH: And it’s in full color?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. My adaptation doesn’t have the bridge thing with the little kid, because we figured as far as the movie goes, that’s reality and what we want to present to the public is the same thing the kid is holding in the movie, which is just a comic book.

GROTH: And the coloring is full process?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. The coloring is done by my wife, as is the lettering. I just couldn’t handle the whole thing myself, and besides, I prefer that she do it because after drawing that many pages I just don’t want to know from it any more.

GROTH: You don’t want to look at it any more.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Just take it away from me, please. [Laughter.]

GROTH: What was it like getting back into comics after staying away for a few years?

WRIGHTSON: A little stiff at first. But I was surprised. I got back into it very easily, and I think the material had a lot to do with it. I was just working with good stuff.

GROTH: Did King write the comics adaptation, or did you adapt it yourself?

WRIGHTSON: No, he offered to, and I told him I would prefer just to take the screenplay, which is like this thick [indicate 5 inches], this massive tome of a screenplay, something like 3-4,000 scenes. And I just took that and re-adapted it myself to comics. I did a lot of editing and deleting, because, Christ, the way he writes, I just didn’t want to lose a word of it. But it was just too much to put into 11 pages a lot of times, because his dialogue is just so rich.

GROTH: Have you read some of his other books? Are you familiar with his work generally?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I’ve read everything he’s ever written.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’m a big fan of his. And that helped too. I’ve never felt this good about a project this big all the way through. It’s always been the case where I was real excited to begin with, and then halfway through it starts to run out and towards the last quarter, I could give a shit. And it really falls down.

GROTH: Which is what happened to Swamp Thing?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah. It’s like 90 percent of my work you can look at and the last quarter of it falls flat. I just really run out of steam. And Creepshow doesn’t do that.

GROTH: I guess we’ll get into this more later, but to do comics and to do illustration must take an entirely different frame of mind. You really have to change your approach.

WRIGHTSON: It does. Yeah.

GROTH: Could you talk a little about that? Breaking things down into small panels as opposed to having a major illustration.

WRIGHTSON: It’s kind of difficult to talk about, really.

GROTH: Do you have to simplify your drawing for comics?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, which is something I didn’t realize until just recently. You just can’t go on putting all that work in there. Like when I brought out the first Frankenstein portfolio and had these things selling at conventions a couple of kids, came up and said “Boy, I really wish you were doing comics again” and I felt a little miffed because I had these illustrations and I said, “What do you mean doing comics again?” “Oh, I could see you doing comics because you do a whole comic book and every panel would look like that” and he pointed to one of these Frankenstein things and I said, “You’re out of your Goddamn mind. There’s no way I would put that kind of work into it any more.” Not that I ever did in the first place. You just can’t do it. I don’t know what percentage applies to comics … but a good deal of comics rely on spontaneity in the way it’s done and the spontaneity is communicated to the reader in a way. It seems to me that a comic book is enjoyed spontaneously in direct ratio to how spontaneously it is produced. And I’m not saying that “quick comics is good comics,” because you can work a long time on a comic book and still be spontaneous, but it does reach a point of overwork. I love Steranko’s work, and always have. Especially his comic stuff. But, too many times, I think he really overworks it and just cerebralizes it a little too much and, I don’t know about the rest of his audience, but he loses me when that starts to happen. And I can’t think of any specific instances because I haven’t seen his stuff in quite a while. But I remember that happening to me pretty often. Like once a job, at least.

PEPPY WHITE: His Outland adaptation was sort of like that.

WRIGHTSON: I never saw enough of Outland because I didn’t get Heavy Metal regularly enough to follow it, so all I could see of Outland was an isolated episode here and there. So I couldn’t really say how it worked all strung together, but I kind of got that feeling from it. Although that might be a prejudice now that’s kind of built in. I kind of expect it from Steranko. But I hate to single him out because I really like his work, but he’s the only example I can think of right now of really overwork … well, Neal [Adams] does it too. Neal at his worst. Neal at his best can be the best fucking comic-book guy in the business. The Superman-Muhammad Ali thing is just a classic and I still take that thing out and read it, it’s still enjoyable. And that’s Neal at his best. But you can look back and see where a lot of that stuff came from which was just Neal at his worst, well, not at his worst, but being experimental and all. And a lot of the stuff just didn’t make it.

GROTH: What do you think of Krigstein and his work for EC with all that over-elaborating and so on?

WRIGHTSON: I’ll tell you I’m probably least excited by Krigstein of any of the EC guys, including Kamen. You talk to anybody, he’s the guy that everybody is least excited about. I’m more excited about Kamen than Krigstein. But then, you have to understand. I’m always going to be more of an illustrator than a storyteller. And I look at the drawing and I don’t really like Krigstein’s drawing. And if I don’t like the drawing I don’t read the story. And if you don’t read the story you can’t comment on the storytelling. And I do read the Krigstein stories, but I’m really turned off by the drawing.

Panels from Krigstein’s “Dinosaur.”

GROTH: I tended to think you would be. You’re one of the few people who can be an illustrator and comic artist with equal facility. I don’t know if you consider that to be true, but it seems true to me.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, there aren’t a lot of us around. I don’t know who else I can think of … Kaluta, Jeff [Jones]. Although I really wouldn’t call Jeff an illustrator, and I don’t think he’s really done enough comics to qualify as a comics artist. He likes to dabble and play around with the medium, but he’s certainly not an illustrator and I think he’d be upset if I called him one.

WHITE: What does he consider himself to be?

WRIGHTSON: An artist. And I think that’s about as much as you can nail it down with him. I think he doesn’t mind being called a painter but there’s a lot more to him than that.

GROTH: One of the major criticisms about most of the EC artists was that they were illustrators and not comic book artists. People like Williamson, Frazetta, and so on.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but is that much of a criticism? I don’t really consider it anything like a put-down. What the hell is wrong with good draftsmanship, good drawing? And as far as storytelling, outside of Krigstein, who, from what I understand, was just hanging on by a toenail there because of what he did to Feldstein’s stories, you couldn’t do much in the way of storytelling. Krigstein blocked that stuff out and it was all very straightforward, cookie-cutter breakdowns, never varied from the standard format, which I always thought was one of the great strong points of EC, was that terrifically overpowering format they had. Speaking more in line with the horror books it seems like any artist of a lesser caliber than they had would not have been able to survive the format, the format was that tight and that restrictive that you needed somebody who could really draw well and draw straight. Even Graham Ingels was considered a straight artist.

GROTH: Yeah, that’s because the format was so strict. I guess what we’re getting into now, what comics are developing into is a more organic process where the artist is the writer or the artist and writer work so closely together they almost become one.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. That’s good and bad. There aren’t too many artists around who work well as their own writers, myself included. Sometimes it clicks, most of the time, no. Never really have been. There have been people like Eisner, Johnny Craig …

GROTH: Kurtzman.

WRIGHTSON: Kurtzman … Woody [Wallace Wood], to some extent.

GROTH: Have you seen Miller’s work?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Yeah. I like what I’ve seen. I think he could spend a little more time on his drawing. Not too much though, he’s got it down. Personally, his drawing doesn’t turn me off to the point where I don’t read the stories. So I read the stories and it’s like … Christ, his strong point really is storytelling. I mean, aside from plotting, characterization, and everything else it’s just this cinematic, well let’s just get on with it.

GROTH: I would think the reason the drawing doesn’t bother you so much is because the narrative is so powerful.

WRIGHTSON: That might be, but I really don’t think there’s all that much wrong with the drawing. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to that Marvel house style, but that’s something I think everybody’s gotten used to, as far as super heroes go anyway. Kirby set the pattern for that 20 years ago and, hell, we’ve all settled into it very comfortably, thank you.

GROTH: Are you a big fan of Kirby’s and that whole school?

WRIGHTSON: No, never have been.

GROTH: Do you like his work, or are you just indifferent to it?

WRIGHTSON: Not especially. My own peculiar tastes. I liked Kirby’s stuff in the horror books before he started doing superhero stuff. Although I was a carryover into the superhero stuff when he did it. Like the early Fantastic Four. The first 3 or 4 years of that were just tremendous, and Ditko’s Spider-Man and all that stuff. But superheroes I’m pretty much out of.

Panel from Kirby’s “The Scorn of the Faceless People.”

GROTH: You never were into them?

WRIGHTSON: Not especially, no.

GROTH: Well, let me get back to the beginning here. I read your book, Wrightson: A Look Back, and one thing I noticed was at the very beginning you said you were taught in Catholic schools and I quote you as saying, “It was awful.” How much do you think that had to do with your subsequent passion for horror?

WRIGHTSON: A hell of a lot, I’m sure. I mean, I’m not scared of being struck down by God any more [laughter], and I’m not scared that the Holy Mafia’s going to come after me. But I think the whole idea of that kind of parochial education is pretty twisted in a kind of medieval way. Especially for somebody who is slightly sensitive like I was, and like a lot of other kids were too. It really has deep effects. And it affects just everybody else deeply too, although a lot of people just muddle through life and never really notice it. So they send their kids to Catholic school and it just continues on and on and on.

GROTH: I went to seven years of parochial school.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah? Is this early grade school?

GROTH: From 1st grade to 7th. Very oppressive. Hated it.

WRIGHTSON: Well, especially from where we’re from. That was in Virginia, I presume. GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And Maryland’s not too far off. And that part of the country is really … I hate to be prejudiced again and make sweeping statements and all … but it seems like the further South you go the more backward you get in a lot of ways. I’m speaking from experience, and my own experience having grown up in Baltimore and knowing people that have grown up in Virginia and the Carolinas and everything and Jeff [Jones], my God, who grew up in Georgia, and it’s … I’m at a complete loss for words …

GROTH: How long did you go to parochial school?

WRIGHTSON: I went for the limit. Twelve years.

GROTH: No wonder you’ve turned out this way.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, it got even worse in high school.

GROTH: Yeah?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Cause in high school you could get punched by a priest. The nuns … there was a limit to what the nuns could do.

GROTH: I got punched by nuns. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Well, yeah, but they were not as physically strong as a full grown man. Nuns were mostly little old ladies. Once in a while you’d get a young one, like an ex-basketball player or something who could really swing.

GROTH: An ex-boxer. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, in high school a lot of the priests there were ex-boxers and they still did it like for exercise, recreation.

GROTH: Practice.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, they’d spar. When it came time for a little corporal discipline, Jesus, these guys were whap, whap, whap. I mean, you can’t use the old deadly weapons thing on a priest.

WHITE: It seems like a contradiction, too. Priests slapping around little children.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well at the time I don’t know how … They were the only ones around who could still get away with it. We had lay teachers in the same school with the priests because there weren’t enough priests to staff it, and at the time the lay teachers in parochial school could slap you around too.

GROTH: My experience was that the lay teachers were just as bad. There was really a sadistic streak …

WRIGHTSON: Oh, boy, we had some, let me tell you, we had a guy who wasn’t content to make you write “I will be a good boy” 50 times, this guy would do things like make you take off your jacket, roll up your sleeve, and hang your arm out the window in the middle of January for the whole class. He had a broken brick that he used for bookends and, this is going to sound like a sadistic fantasy but it actually happened, he put the thing down with the jagged ends up, and when some kid in the class was talking out of turn or something, he’d make him kneel on it, make him put his arms out like this and start piling books on the guy’s hands. And make him stand there like that for the whole class. And the guy’s up there trembling, y’know, and the books are starting to fall off and the guy would go and put the books back on. And the guy is whimpering up there, crying, tears, and all but wetting his pants, y’know. I was riveted between the spectacle of this poor fellow being crucified and watching the teacher really getting his rocks off in a strange way.

GROTH: That really is medieval.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, and it was really … I could give you a lot of really overt examples of all this kind of nastiness.

WHITE: You ever do any stories of nuns with axes in their hands?

GROTH: You mean axes in their heads. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: No. No.

GROTH: Do you see a lot of your work as a kind of purging? Or do you really think of it consciously?

WRIGHTSON: No. Sometimes if I get depressed or confused I’ll start to think along those lines but usually not. Usually I’m having too much fun with it.

GROTH: It’s probably not wise to psychoanalyze yourself and your work.

WRIGHTSON: No, I have a real fear of that. I’ve got a feeling that maybe the reason I’m doing what I’m doing as well as I’m doing it is because I got bent very badly somewhere back there and if I went to a doctor and got myself straightened out I would lose just my whole motivation for working. It’s like, “Well, shit, thanks, Doc, I just don’t feel like doing this any more. I’m going to sell shoes now. Thanks.”

GROTH: Yeah, because you really do have an obsession with horror and really ghoulish aspects of life that has not diminished in the least over the years, as far as I can tell …

WRIGHTSON: I’ve occasionally tried to clean house in my own psyche and try to suppress it and get on to something else. Come along and do something like Captain Sternn and kind of get sidetracked and all. But, Jesus, it always comes back full force. I’m working on a bunch of stories right now for no particular publisher, just playing around with ideas that are probably some of the most horrendous comic book stories, comic book horror stories that have ever been done.

GROTH: Are you writing them too?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, oh yeah. I mean, these things are …

GROTH: Beyond the pale?

WRIGHTSON: Well, these things are made for reading on the toilet.

GROTH: Yeah?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I’m determined to write some horror stories that will scare the shit out of you.

GROTH: Are you at all worried about the conservative bent of the country, the Moral Majority, and book burnings and things like that, with regard to what you just talked about, the horror stories?

WRIGHTSON: Yes and no. Sometimes I think that the majority, not the Moral Majority, but the majority of the country has got so much better sense they’re not going to let anything like this happen. It’s like this block of people, fine, they’re going to live their own lives and they’re going to complain from time to time, and what it’s going to come down to is that if they don’t like a particular book, they aren’t going to buy it, and if they don’t like a particular TV show, they’re going to change the channel, and if they’re not going to like a particular movie, they won’t go see it. And that’s all that’s going to come of it. Other times I get real paranoid. And I think that this is just the groundswell, and it’s just going to grow until it takes over the whole country like some kind of awful rotten cancer. Just invade everything.

GROTH: It really is frightening because it’s based upon infringing upon certain freedoms.

WRIGHTSON: Well, that’s it. I mean, I’m a confirmed abortionist, and have no patience with right-to-lifers because they want to tell somebody what they can and cannot do with their own body. I’m sure the majority of the Moral Majority are very honest, hardworking …

GROTH: Wrongheaded.

WRIGHTSON: Well, not really wrongheaded. I mean, they believe in what they want to believe in very strongly and life works for them and all. Don’t impose it on me, because what works for you isn’t going to work for me and I am every bit as good as you are as a person. And we will meet in heaven, if there is such a place, and don’t tell me I have to do everything you have to do to get to heaven because that’s all bullshit.

GROTH: Are you a particularly religious person?

WRIGHTSON: No, not at all. Not in the standard, academic sense. I don’t practice, don’t go to church, don’t go to confession. Couldn’t even tell you if I believe in God, because I … okay I guess I do believe in God, but what is God? I don’t believe that he’s this big guy in a robe and white beard. And I don’t believe that he’s any kind of person, he’s just some force completely beyond our understanding. There’s gotta be something out there running the show. I mean, there’s gotta be something behind all this. And in that respect, okay, and as far as life after death, who knows. If there is a thing like heaven, like I learned in school with the golden streets and the gates and the harps and angel wings and like that, I’m going to go there. I’m not going to go to hell just because I’m not going to church. It’s like, I got an arrangement with the guy upstairs and I’m leading a good life, not doing anything bad, not hurting anybody.

GROTH: I’ve never known you to be a particularly political person. Are you?

WRIGHTSON: No. I’m probably the most apolitical person I know. Drives my poor wife crazy sometimes.

GROTH: Is she very political?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I couldn’t tell you how, or in what direction because I just have no interest at all. I figure there are so many people out there that are so much more hip to that than I am. For me, I’ve got better things to do, I’ve got horror stories to tell.

GROTH: Does your wife ever jump on you for that?

WRIGHTSON: Every once in a while, she gets a little despondent about it, but it doesn’t last very long. I think my saving grace is that I can only take it seriously up to a point, and then it all becomes a big joke. She refuses to see horror movies with me, though.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Unless they’re really top-of-the-line horror movies. She’s agreed to see Cat People although I don’t know if I can go now with a broken leg. I like to see trashy stuff. I like to go see like Friday the 13th, and He Knows You’re Naked, and all this stuff. [Laughter.] And she just refuses to see that. We went to a triple feature at the drive-in last summer. It was The Fog, Escape From New York, and Scanners, and they ran Scanners last. Escape From New York was fun, we loved that. The Fog was okay. It was an all right ghost story, nothing special. And then Scanners, oh God! After sitting there and getting media burn for about four hours, they give you this thing and in the first 10 minutes a guy’s head explodes and that was a bit much for me to take, and my poor wife was just cringing under the seat.

GROTH: There’s something really disturbing about that movie.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. Can’t put my finger on it. I mean, I’ve seen other movies with a lot more splatter than that, but that one had some undercurrent of sadism which really kind of …

GROTH: I thought there was really something ugly and distasteful about it but I really couldn’t put my finger on it.

WRIGHTSON: It seemed to kind of revel in its own excesses or something.

GROTH: Okay, moving right along. You said that a TV personality actually taught you basic drawing. Guy by the name of Jon Gnagy.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Jon Gnagy.

GROTH: Could we just talk for a minute about that?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’m surprised you never heard of him.

GROTH: No, I never did. And of course, I lived down there.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I know he was in Virginia because Kaluta used to watch him too when he was a kid.

GROTH: My whole life could have changed if I watched this thing.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah! [Laughter.] The guy was on something like 9:30 in the morning every Saturday.

GROTH: I was probably watching Romper Room.

WRIGHTSON: Or Rocky and Bullwinkle or something. Although I think that was before their time. But it was fascinating. I mean, to this day I’ll stop on the boardwalk or in a shopping mall if there’s somebody there doing portraits or caricatures or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, I can do it myself, but I just love to watch other people draw.” I’ll be delighted for hours over at Jeff’s place while he’s working. He’s used to me hanging over his shoulder. And he can just paint away, and we’ll sit there and talk and drink beer and all and just watching him work even somebody who isn’t a goddamn genius like Jones, just some guy picking up pennies doing caricatures. I love to see that thing moving around on paper. And I think that was the basic fascination with this guy on TV. But of course I was young enough and had the energy and really wanted to give it a try and started dragging out the paper. He just had these four basic shapes, the circle, the cone, the cylinder, and the cube, and he would just show you that anything you wanted to draw was made up of these components. Which is oversimplified, but it’s like basic construction for just about anything. And that’s where it came from.

GROTH: And you took the Famous Artists Course for one year?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. Never finished. Haven’t met anybody who ever finished it. [Laughter.] But everybody speaks very highly of it. It’s a real good course. I think the problem is it’s a little too good and the students who take it have learned so much in the first year, they go out looking for an art job and they get it and once you get a job you don’t have time to mess around with it any more.

GROTH: After the first year, how did you learn, or elaborate on learning anatomy, composition, all the basics?

WRIGHTSON: That was just flying completely by the seat of my pants.

GROTH: Did you study certain other artists, or was it just practice, practice, practice?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, I think any other artist I ever looked at I studied to one extent or another, and learned something from them. I guess some small part of it was natural aptitude. But I can’t really say how much because I’ve been influenced by so many people, living and dead, that it’s hard to say where anything comes from. It’s all this big hodgepodge. And it’s hopefully something original by the time I’m done with it. But you can kind of narrow it down to a handful of people like most of the EC guys, and Frazetta the paperback cover artist as opposed to Frazetta the comic-book artist, because I never really saw much of his comic book work.

GROTH: What about the early illustrators like Franklin Booth?

WRIGHTSON: I didn’t get into that until later. My introduction to them was mostly through these later guys. I found out about J.C. Cole, Leyendecker, and people like that through Reed Crandall and his work, found out about Hal Foster and George Bridgeman through Frazetta, and Alex Raymond through Williamson and it’s like everyone of them you can kind of trace back, go back to the guys that influenced them.

GROTH: Do you like Foster?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, yeah. I like Foster a whole lot better than Raymond, actually. I used to get into intense arguments with Al [Williamson] about that.

GROTH: He preferred Raymond?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: I suppose Raymond is a more romantic artist.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Raymond is very romantic.

GROTH: Foster certainly seems a superior illustrator.

WRIGHTSON: Foster has this timeless quality about his drawing. And I don’t mean the fact that he’s dealing with Prince Valiant, which happens in the past, but it’s the actual drawing itself, you could almost call it absolute drawing. There’s seems to be very little stylization in Foster’s work. For the life of me I can’t think of anybody who can draw that well academically, that straightforwardly, with none of the flash that Raymond had. And I think that’s the key. It’s like Raymond maybe has a little too much flash. I don’t know. I can never get too much beyond this point talking about it because it starts getting very confusing and contradictory. I just prefer Foster over Raymond.

GROTH: You had a stint at the Baltimore Sun.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: What did you do there, and how old were you?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, let’s see. I was about 18 or 19 I guess. And I worked there for nine months as an editorial cartoonist, which sounds better than it was. I just worked in a big room with a bunch of other artists and most of the work was photo retouching and paste-up, layout type work and not a lot of cartooning or illustrating. I would have preferred to do a lot more and give the goddamned airbrushing to somebody else. You know, I just couldn’t handle that fucking machine. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Still?

WRIGHTSON: Still. Keep me away from machinery. I just can’t do it. I was driving the car a few weeks ago and the windshield wiper went out of whack and I just panicked, because it was a thunderstorm, and I said, “Oh God, what’s going on with this thing?” I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. I had to drive from here to Poughkeepsie, which is about 50 miles, in the middle of a rainstorm, and after the rain stopped the road dirt was being splashed up and I had to get out of the car every five miles and wipe the thing off. I finally got to where I was going to go and Jim Starlin was there and I told him, “Oh Christ, the goddamned car is just no good,” and he said, “What do you mean?” “Oh, the windshield wiper doesn’t work, and I don’t know what I’m going to do, and it’s going to cost me a million dollars, Jesus, this is so goddamn depressing.” He goes out and looks at it, goes into his car and gets a socket wrench and tightens a nut. That’s it, y’know. It wouldn’t occur to me to do that because I’d be afraid of screwing it up. It’s like I’m not going to touch it because I’m going to make a mess, and it’s just going to cost me more in the long run. When I was living in Florida, the refrigerator started to make a funny noise. I was going to call the repairman in. A friend of mine came over and said “Well, let’s pull it out from the wall and look.” And I said, “What do you know about refrigerators? Let’s call the guy in and find out what’s making this noise.” “Look, what’s it going to hurt? We’ll take the thing off and look at it.” So we took off the front vent thing and looked down there. A register receipt from a shopping bag had slipped down and gotten stuck in the thing so the fan blade was hitting against it. [Laughter.]

WHITE: So he just took it out?

WRIGHTSON: Right. Just pulled it out, and the refrigerator was fine. No more noise. I would have called the repairman, who would come in, cost me $75 just to walk through the door, just to pull the goddamn thing out. Terrific. Me and machines, no way.

WHITE: There’s something mystical about machinery.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I believe that machinery has a life of its own.

GROTH: Berni Wrightson meets the Industrial Revolution.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. I tell you, machinery to me means a pen point as opposed to a brush. I mean, it’s made of metal and if it’s flexible, that means it’s got moving parts, you know, and I don’t want to mess around with it. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Did you learn anything on your Baltimore Sun job or was it’ really drudge work?

One of Wrightson’s pieces for the Baltimore Sun.

WRIGHTSON: I learned a bit, yeah. I learned a lot of the realities of working as an artist

GROTH: Grim realities …

WRIGHTSON: Well, yeah. I learned that working as an artist was a little like a shit sandwich. [Laughter.] The more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat. [Laughter.]

GROTH: From the Sun you went to work for DC, you moved to New York. And that was a pretty big move for a 19 year old, 20 year old, or however old you were.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. It was a little weird. To this day, I keep feeling that there were other agencies afoot. I look back on it and it just somehow seems to me that a lot of that decision was completely out of my hands. I came up here with a few samples, and showed them around … I won’t bore you with the whole story, because it’s in the book anyhow. But it was just kind of word of mouth, people say, “Oh, I saw this guy Wrightson, blah, blah, blah” … on and on and on and next thing I know I get a call from Kaluta, who got a call from Williamson who got a call from Dick Giordano who said, “where’s this Wrightson kid?” And I said, “Oh really?” So I moved to New York.

GROTH: When you first moved up, you talked to Giordano?

WRIGHTSON: I think so, yeah. Or I talked to Williamson, who talked to Giordano. I talked to Williamson first, and I don’t remember if I saw Giordano at the same time, or if Williamson kind of passed it on to him or what.

GROTH: When you moved up, did you move right in with Kaluta?

WRIGHTSON: Well, no. That’s a little bit backwards. I moved up first and then he came up about four months later.

GROTH: Because around that time, the thing I remember was all you guys living in one big place.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I was there alone for a couple of weeks. And then some friends from Baltimore moved in and then Mike [Kaluta] came in December or January, I think. But that was on 77th Street. You never came up until we were on 79th Street.

GROTH: Probably, yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And at that point, there were about 10 of us living there full time and at least another 20 coming and going constantly.

GROTH: Wait a minute. Ten of you? Not in one apartment?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, not usually there all at the same time, but, there were ten of us circulating through. We’d all kind of make an appearance at least once a month.

GROTH: Who other than Mike and Jeff Jones?

WRIGHTSON: Well, Jeff had a separate apartment. Jeff started out on the first floor and moved up to the 6th. We were on the 8th floor. And mainly it was myself, Kaluta, Al Weiss, always two or three girls, somebody’s girlfriend living there, and then a whole bunch of people I don’t think you’d know. They weren’t really in comics.

GROTH: Was it a kind of artistic commune?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, sometimes it sure seemed like that. Mostly it was just like …

GROTH: Chaos, lunacy.

WHITE: A big party.

WRIGHTSON: Well, no, it wasn’t really a party, it was, “Christ, where’s the money going to come from so we can get something to eat?” Although that was never really a big problem. I initiated those intro pages in the DC mystery books as a device to make money without having to do a hell of a lot of work because at the time it was just … you know, comics were still fun, but doing an eight or 10 page story took up a lot of time and I really wanted to fuck off because

everyone else was doing it.

GROTH: Everyone else was fucking off?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And I felt left out if I had to stay home and work, you know. So, I wanted to go over to the park and play frisbee, and do all this stuff. And I decided to come up with some way to make some money without really busting my ass. So … covers were fun, but there’s a limit to how many covers you can do. But the intro pages … boy, I could do three or four of those things, just kind of do a backlog between House of Secrets and House of Mystery, and I don’t know what I was getting paid at the time, maybe $50 a page which doesn’t sound like much but the standard of living was a bit lower then too. And I could do one in a night, sometimes two. So that was fun. And just knock the sucker out, get the money and I could just breeze through for another week or two. Not have to work.

GROTH: Yeah, I remember you saying once that you could do one illustration a week and live comfortably, something like that. And I also had the impression that you would prefer to do that rather than busting your chops and making a lot of money and having a big bank account. You would almost prefer doing less work and living comfortably than …

WRIGHTSON: Ideally, the thing is to do a little bit of work and make a lot of money. But it doesn’t always work out that way. But, yeah, being comfortable is just fine. I don’t mind being comfortable. As far as being rich …

GROTH: You don’t mind being rich either?

WRIGHTSON: You gotta pay the fucking tax man. And that’s where it all goes. So what’s the sense in having a whole lot of money anyway unless you’re going to spend it on something. I mean, I’m going to make out real good this year financially, but I got a lot of things to spend it on. I’m building this studio, I might buy another car strictly for business. Okay, fine. I’m not going to be left with a whole lot of money at the end of the year. And most of what I spend is completely deductible. I don’t really want $100,000 a year. I don’t know what I’d do with it. Until I find out that I could do something with the money, that I could hang on to it, I don’t want to make it.

GROTH: Are you very materialistic? Do you buy a lot of things?

WRIGHTSON: I love to buy things, yeah. And I like to buy things that I can somehow deduct, if possible, and still have my nice possessions. Yeah, I’m real materialistic.

GROTH: Since you’re an artist, the world is your business.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. I love having interesting things around to look at. You know, a lot of it, you look around and think, “Oh boy, what junk.” It’s like one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and a lot of this stuff I find real appealing.

GROTH: Your first big job for DC was Nightmaster. That was the first character. But you did, I think, a mystery story or … they put you on something before that, and there was a little dispute there because you didn’t get the first Nightmaster.

Panel from Nightmaster.

WRIGHTSON: They put me on Nightmaster first actually, and I did the first third of the book, I think seven pages. Carmine Infantino was underwhelmed. I mean he was just not impressed. “Who is this kid I’ve been hearing so much about?” He very, very diplomatically said, “Well, we don’t think you’re quite ready for a full book. We’re going to put you on mystery fillers to get you started.” I was kind of disappointed, but not really, because the Nightmaster stuff wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway. I thought it was going to be like Conan, real barbarian stuff. Of course, National in its own kind of wimp way wasn’t prepared to pull out all the stops and do a barbarian comic, so it had to be this kind of wimpy, wishy-washy fantasy thing with a rock singer. Real trendy and groovy and … Yeah. Just didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do horror stories anyway, so that’s what they put me on and I was happy to be doing it. Then by the time, I guess three months later, when the second issue of Nightmaster came around. I took that on out of injured pride. Just to kind of prove to myself that I could do it. So I did it. Big deal. Really set the world on fire, you know. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You only did about two of them, right?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Believe me, that was enough. I’d really had it. After that I didn’t want to know from a fucking full comic book ever again.

GROTH: You were slow.

WRIGHTSON: Not just slow. But the material was just not your Stephen King, you know. WHITE: Slow and bored.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: Was Nightmaster the one that Kaluta and Jones helped ink?

WRIGHTSON: Everybody helped on that. Jesus. I think Steve Hickman helped on that. Steve Harper. God I forget. Anybody who happened to be passing by helped on that, because I’m real slow, real slow. I’d never been up against a deadline like that before.

GROTH: After that, did you go to work for Marvel?

WRIGHTSON: I forget, really, at what point I went to Marvel. But it was mainly over a dispute about coloring my own work at National. They refused to let me do it there, and I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll go to Marvel.”

GROTH: Hmm. That’s sort of ironic, considering what happened at Marvel.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And as it turns out, I did a couple of jobs for Marvel, colored them, and decided that I didn’t really like coloring anyway, and went back to National because I just kind of liked it better over there.

GROTH: You mentioned in the book a lot of glad-handing at Marvel, a lot of pep talks …

WRIGHTSON: At the time, yeah. It’s not like that anymore, it’s a lot more business-like and loose and actually a lot nicer, freer atmosphere than National now. But at the time, I don’t know how much of it was me, because I was a little bit of a tight-ass at the time, but I just felt there was a lot of glad-handing, phoniness. Never really warmed up to Stan [Lee] a whole lot. I always thought of Stan as this kind of grinning idiot PR man that didn’t write real good comics, let’s face it. But he really knew how to sell them. And really knew how to sell himself. I’ve since changed my mind. Stan is a lot more than that. But at the time I kind of had a chip on my shoulder.

GROTH: Can you talk about the King Kull job, which more or less sent you back to DC?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, not really much to talk about. I colored it. Or rather I didn’t color it. The whole idea was trying to figure out some way to show sound draining from a soundless medium. So, I thought, of course, the lettering and the balloons become smaller. The balloons stay the same size and the lettering becomes smaller until finally you have people speaking in blank balloons. That’s good, but that’s not quite enough. Well, what if it’s a really brightly colored thing to begin with. Lots of primaries: reds, yellows, and blues, and all. And this all starts washing out, until it finally becomes black and white, as the color drains out, the color bleaches out of the thing. I thought, “Yeah, that’s interesting. I like that.” So that’s what I did. That’s the way I handled this thing. And I drew it that way in black-and-white with that in mind so that the pages where the sound was all gone were going to be in black-and-white, and there’d be lots of zip-a-tone and screens and stuff so there’d be some interest, some grays and stuff, but no actual color. Then I got the silver prints to color, colored those up, spent a lot of time on it. Really sweated on it, y’know. And paid close attention to the color chart and getting this thing just right. Turned it in, everybody said, “Oh, lovely! Terrific! We love it!” I didn’t hear anything about it until the job comes out and when it comes out … in the first place, they obviously hadn’t printed from the originals. They had printed from low-grade photostats. So a lot of the line work, especially the zip-a-tone and the screens and stuff I had done fell out, was gone, completely. On top of that, they had gotten somebody to recolor it, so that all these pages, all this real careful orchestration where the color is bleaching out. If I’m going to put all that kind of work into it, and this is what happens, why bother? Of course, I got pissed off. I went in to Roy Thomas and Stan and raised hell: “What did you do this for? Didn’t you know what I was trying to do?” What I got out of that, was, “We’re doing color comics here.”

Panels from King Kull.

GROTH: Every panel has to have color in it.

WRIGHTSON: Right, right. Like the company is going to go under if they publish a comic book with one page of black-and-white.

GROTH: You probably don’t remember this, but I coincidentally happened to visit you in New York the day you got that comic …

WRIGHTSON: I don’t remember.”

GROTH: … and the thing that I remember most is that you were raving and ranting which struck me because …

WRIGHTSON: I can’t rave and rant like I used to.

GROTH: Is that right?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You never struck me as getting mad that much. I mean you always seemed to be sort of an easygoing guy.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I save it up. When I get mad, I’m a real stinker. I go off on a hell of a toot when I get angry. But it takes a while. Sometimes I go for years without getting mad. But boy, when I get mad, watch out.

GROTH: I do remember you were really hot.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. Well, even at that, I don’t think I’d get quite that hot any more.

GROTH: Mellowing.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I figure maybe I’ll live longer.

GROTH: Now at about this point in your career, you’re quoted as saying, “I’ve reached a point where I’ve outgrown comics.”

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’ve probably said a lot of dumb things like that. [Laughter.] I guess at the time, maybe I felt that I had. I realize now that I never did and probably never will. I think what happened at that time was, I’d been in the business long enough to see what had happened to a lot of the other guys. Most notably Woody [Wally Wood], who … Christ, Woody could have had the world at his feet at one point but didn’t do it. He just stayed in comics. One of the best, maybe the best comics man that ever lived. Even his comics stuff started getting stale after a while. He was just a very unhappy man, very disillusioned, very bitter. I mean for a long time, like the last 30 years of his life. And, boy, I didn’t want to be like that. And it’s not just Woody, I can talk about Woody like that, because he’s dead. But there are a lot of other guys around, now, alive, that aren’t terribly happy men, who are working in comics. They do good comics, and I can’t fault them on that. But they could do other things, and I get the feeling that they would like to do other things, but they’ve reached a point where they can’t. And I just reached a point back then where I thought to myself, “Do I want to be 40, 45 years old, and wake up in the morning and call Jim Warren and ask where my check is?” I thought, “Nah, nah, there’s more to it than this.” I just got to get out, see what’s going on in the real world. This is just becoming too much of an enclosed little microcosm, I just couldn’t handle it any more. So I had to get out. And I’ve done that periodically since then.

GROTH: There’s a certain tragedy in watching people do comics for 30 years by rote.

WRIGHTSON: Well, after a while it becomes a formula, a system. I’m real suspicious of stuff like that.

GROTH: What do you mean?

WRIGHTSON: For myself, when I was working in comics … well you can see it with the Swamp Thing series. The whole series, #1-9 were inked with a brush. And one of the reasons I got out of color comics was, you’ll notice that issue 10 was done with a pen, and there’s a big difference, stylistically. I had convinced myself that by the time I got to issue 9 that I had passed the point of being very good with a brush and it was … the question of quality I can’t really talk about. I can’t say that I had become too good or anything like that but what I can say is that inking with a brush had become too easy and I got real suspicious of that. I started seeing myself repeating little things with a brush and that frightened me. I started seeing this kind of business where it’s getting to the point where I can do this blindfolded. I was doing it without thinking. And that really bothered me. So I threw all my brushes out and started drawing with a pen. And this, of course triggered off a lot of other things. So the result was, I decided I had had it with color comics and quit that and I think at that point I went to Warren for a while, started doing stuff for him. A lot of pen work.

Panel from Swamp Thing.

GROTH: Let me ask you something directly related to that, getting tired of doing the same thing over and over again. Isn’t part of the involvement in comics being so involved in the narrative that it doesn’t seem like you’re repeating yourself? That the story so involves you emotionally or intellectually that you …

WRIGHTSON: Now I feel that way but at the time I didn’t because I felt fairly detached from the story end of it at that time. I was working with Len [Wein]. For the most part working with a writer will do that. And I felt it’s his job to write it and my job to draw it as well as I can so I got involved with the drawing, and was the mistake I was making about comics was this kind of separation. Like you’re the writer, and I’m the artist. And if we don’t communicate, that’s fine. We don’t have to. Which is bullshit. I don’t think you can be a good … I don’t think you can do comics well unless you’re a bit of both.

GROTH: Did you work with Len closer at the beginning of the series than at the end?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Because that was the time of getting everything kind of nailed down. And after that, I didn’t have the time really to get involved with the writing aspect of it. Also, I was starting to lose interest real early on, starting with #6 … I think that was the “Clockwork” thing, wasn’t it?

WHITE: “The Clockwork Horror.”

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think that’s where it starts to show that my mind is beginning to wander a bit.

WHITE: But I think there are some incredibly detailed panels in there …

WRIGHTSON: It wasn’t easy. Boy, it wasn’t easy. I was not into that story at all. Len wanted to do that for #5 …  

GROTH: Well, detail doesn’t translate into passion …

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Len wanted to do that for #5 and I was not ready for it. I mean he was real excited for this story, y’know, and he told me about it. “Oh, this is about clocks, and robots and stuff! Oh, it’s great!” “Yeah, yeah.” And at the last minute I backed out and I said, “Look, I can’t do it, okay? Let’s put it off until the next issue. I got this idea, we’ll do this witch thing in between. C’mon, let’s do it.” He didn’t want to do it, but I finally talked him into it. I think I said something like, “We’ll do the witch thing, or I’m going to quit right now.” [Laughter.]

GROTH: From what I can tell, you probably never worked faster than on Swamp Thing.

WRIGHTSON: That was real fast. I was averaging two pages a day of pencils. And maybe about a page and a half a day of inks.

GROTH: Not exactly John Buscema, but for you that’s …

WRIGHTSON: For me, that’s incredible. For me, that’s just super-speed.

GROTH: Well, you know in Europe of course they take one or two weeks to do a page. WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: They turn out two albums a year.

WRIGHTSON: Sometimes I think it would be nice to have the luxury to do that. Other times I think … there’s a balance to be struck with doing comics. The time involved is a very delicate thing as far as I’m concerned. If you’re doing it too fast, you’re hacking. If you take too much time, you’re being too precious. And that kills it just as well as hacking does. But there’s a balance somewhere in between of just really being hot, knowing you’re hot and getting on with it. And being hot is not a consistent quality. It has its ups and downs and when you reach a down point you have to shift gears and really get on with it and say, “Okay, these two panels in between are a little bit clumsy. I could do better if I thought about it but I want to get on with it.” And you do it. Okay, every panel ain’t a classic. Big deal. It’s like you’ve got enough good stuff to let the so-so stuff … it’ll carry it.

GROTH: I guess the object is not to be so self-conscious about it.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: Because Jack Davis for the EC’s worked like a madman. He would do stories in three days, whereas Wood would take a week. People like Williamson might take longer, but they all worked at the speed they were comfortable with, even though some were faster, some were slower.

WRIGHTSON: And the work was always high quality, too. Like Davis has my unending respect. The guy could do such good work so fast.

GROTH: He was extraordinary.

Panels from Davis’s “By the Fright of the Silvery Moon!”

WRIGHTSON: And there were other people. Johnny Craig, I understand was their slowest. I mean, he was every bit as good as Davis, but just not fast at it, so big deal.

GROTH: And of course Kurtzman took forever.

WRIGHTSON: But his stuff is always delightful.

GROTH: Let’s see, after Swamp Thing …  

WRIGHTSON: After Swamp Thing was Warren, wasn’t it?

GROTH: No. [Laughter.] Not if my notes are accurate. Purple Pictography. Is that accurate? With Bode.

WRIGHTSON: That came before Swamp Thing, actually.

GROTH: Did it?

WRIGHTSON: I’m pretty sure. Yes it did. Because I was still living in New York when I did that and Swamp Thing for the most part, I was doing upstate.

GROTH: All that means is that A Look Back isn’t in chronological order, exactly.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, well. I never noticed. But yeah, Purple Pictography came before Swamp Thing.

GROTH: And again with that, you lost interest toward the end.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I hate to say for the same reason because it seems like I’m blaming the writer, which I’m not, but we were doing the pictography things … Vaughn and I would get together and talk about a premise and all. Mostly it was just an opportunity to get together for an evening and bullshit. So we’d sit around and do a lot of bullshitting and take five minutes off to work up a plot for the next Pictography. And it was real comfortable. We did that for the first three and it was fun. And it was mostly Vaughn saying, “What do you feel like drawing this month?” And I’d say, “Oh, I feel like drawing Frankenstein this month.” “Okay, we’ll do something about Frankenstein.” “What do you feel like this month?” “Oh, hell. I just saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Let’s do something underwater this month.” And it was easy, and it worked for the first three. And the fourth one, we didn’t discuss at all. He didn’t come to the city, he sent me a letter with a plot, not just a plot, but a full script and I just didn’t like it. It wasn’t what I wanted to draw. We didn’t have a chance to bullshit, we didn’t talk about it. And that just kind of killed it. I struggled through it, and struggled through it and couldn’t get it off the ground. Got Weiss to help me on it and he drew a couple of panels. Got Jeff to do some coloring on it. Just really was not happy with it. Don’t think I mentioned anything to Vaughn about it. And then he did the same thing on the last one. Instead of us getting together to chew the fat, he just sent me a finished script. And I just kind of gritted my teeth and got down and did it but said this is the last one.

GROTH: Prior to the fourth one did he give you full scripts?

WRIGHTSON: No, no.

GROTH: So it was more of a collaboration?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. We would just kind of agree on what I wanted to do, and we just did it “Marvel style.” I’d pencil it up and send it to him and he’d send it back dialogued.

Panels from “Water Job.”

GROTH: Now in the book you say you’ve been offered opportunities to work for magazines like Hustler and you’ve basically said you wouldn’t do that because you had moral qualms about some of the magazines.

WRIGHTSON: Well, times have changed. [Laughter.] When I was doing the thing for Cavalier, it was kind of an innocent, tits ’n’ ass book. And since then, we’ve gotten into all this beaver stuff, bondage—all this kind of crap. And … I hate to sound like my own little Moral Majority here and say, well, tits ’n’ ass is fine but cunt shots are definitely out. [Everybody chuckles] I’m uncomfortable with it and that’s all it really comes down to. My opinion of that kind of stuff is trash. I mean, I still like good tits ’n’ ass stuff. I still buy Penthouse, Gallery, kind of the relatively classy things. Playboy not so much unless they’ve got an interview with somebody I want to read. But the really trashy things, I don’t buy ’em. I don’t want to look at

them. It’s like … women are beautiful no matter what, right? But there’s an attitude involved with that that I just don’t like. I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain.

GROTH: Do you consider the exploitive aspect of things like Swank, Penthouse, Playboy? I mean, all of them in some way exploit women.

WRIGHTSON: It never really bothered me, because I never saw anything really wrong with it. I can’t ever remember thinking of it as pornography. And even Hustler isn’t really pornography, it’s what I consider bad taste. Well, not even bad taste, but wrong attitude. Which is even worse than bad taste. Bad taste can be fun, but a wrong attitude never is. It’s kind of a subtle difference and I don’t know if I’m explaining it well. I’m not talking about the attitude of the women being photographed. But it’s kind of an editorial attitude where the women are really … like Playboy and Penthouse, I really don’t get the feeling that the women are being treated as objects. Whereas things like Hustler, I really get the feeling that they’re being treated as objects. And that offends me.

GROTH: I think it’s the old adage that nothing succeeds like excess.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. But that’s not necessarily true. I mean, you can be excessive as hell if it works, and you’re doing it with the right attitude and it’s being received with the right attitude.

WHITE: Sort of the George Romero attitude.

WRIGHTSON: Exactly.

WHITE: As opposed to the Wes Craven attitude.

WRIGHTSON: Right, exactly. Romero can do it and get away with it, because there’s a purpose behind it.

GROTH: A good analogy would be the EC horror comics, which were always tongue-in-cheek.

WRIGHTSON: Exactly. And which were, strangely enough, never really all that excessive. It was like they didn’t have to be. They knew that they were quality, they knew that they had good stories and the best artists around and they were top of the line. They didn’t have to fall back on all the schlock stuff. Although …

GROTH: The baseball game with entrails …

WRIGHTSON: [Laughter.] That’s still an awful good story.

GROTH: It’s still fun.

WRIGHTSON: And it would not have succeeded if you hadn’t shown it. It’s that kind of thing. You had to see the guy there where all the schmutz and stuff hanging out of his head to be impressed for the story to make its point. It’s like “Yeah, of course,” and that’s not offensive at all.

GROTH: There was an odd kind of integrity at EC to even the worst stuff they did, because it was so beautifully crafted. Just to get back to Swamp Thing for a second …  Have you seen the movie?

WRIGHTSON: No, no.

GROTH: Do you want to?

WRIGHTSON: If it ever comes around, sure. I’m not going to break a leg to go see it. [Laughter.] It is supposed to be on Sneak Previews next week, so I’ll catch that.

GROTH: Yeah. I told you we saw it. God, was it incredible.

WRIGHTSON: All I know is what I’ve read in the magazines, fanzines and all and the stills I’ve seen.

GROTH: What’s the general reaction been, because I haven’t really been following the reviews?

WRIGHTSON: It’s been remarkably quiet. I haven’t heard anything from anybody. I don’t know if they have the mistaken notion that I don’t want to talk about it or anything. Or if they feel I’m embarrassed, which is completely erroneous. I couldn’t give a flaming fuck. [Laughter.] I’m curious. I would like to see what they did with my character.

GROTH: Or to.

WRIGHTSON: Or to, as the case may be.

GROTH: I—we—saw it at a preview and for the first half of the movie the audience was polite. Then, toward the second half, the film was so ludicrous that even at this preview where you’re supposed to be civilized, and the guy who produced it is sitting up, people in the audience were still screaming, giggling … Whenever this guy who looked just like Curly from The Three Stooges would appear you’d hear somebody in the audience go “Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop.” [Laughter.] Did you see Craven’s Last House on the Left? I mean, that was a sick film.

WRIGHTSON: I saw a part of that and I can’t remember the reason for leaving. It had nothing to do with the movie, but I don’t recall it.

GROTH: It was not humorous or charming or …

WRIGHTSON: I never saw the end of it and I hear that was the best part.

GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: Or the most notorious part. What else did he do?

GROTH: I don’t know what else Craven’s done, but I did see that one movie and thought, “Holy hell.”

WRIGHTSON:  No, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Wes Craven movie. Although his reputation does precede him.

GROTH: Well this, I guess, is as good a time to get into that, just briefly. You were actually considering suing DC?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. That’s kind of a mistaken notion. What I wanted to find out … See, what happened was, they went and did the movie and I had to find out about it by reading it in your publication, as a matter of fact. I got pissed off. Here’s this whole movie, it’s practically done, and nobody told me about it. Then I hear that Len and Joe are flown to South Carolina in some kind of advisory capacity and it’s like … I mean, I like free trips [laughter], I like to go somewhere on somebody’s expense account. I mean, I’m not asking to be involved with the movie. I probably would have turned it down anyway, because I don’t think it’s a good idea for a movie [laughter], I just don’t think I would have been.

GROTH: They should have used you for an advisor.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t think it can be done. Or if it can be done, do it in the dark, for God’s sake.

GROTH: Without Adrienne Barbeau … [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Anyway, I got mad that this all seemed to be done. It seemed like I had been singled out to be excluded from this …

GROTH: You were only the artist.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. And I didn’t know why. I have been referred to as one-third of the creative team, I’ve been referred to as a co-creator. So, how come? Why am I being left out? I was not about to call National to ask them why I was being left out. So I went to a lawyer and told him the whole deal, and said I was pretty pissed off. What is my situation legally? Am I in any position to get any satisfaction out of this? And they said they’d look into it. I guess that’s where it still stands.

WHITE: They’re still looking into it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well, they’ve called me several times. What happened was that they were looking into it back in October when this Creepshow thing came along and once I started on Creepshow, I was feeling too good about that job … going along with it, getting it done, just sailing along and having a real good time. Whenever the lawyer called and wanted to get together in the city, I kept putting him off. I didn’t want to go down there and get aggravated about all this when I was feeling so up about this job. Besides, I had a real tight deadline and didn’t want to waste a day going into town. I guess they got tired of calling me after that. And then, after Creepshow, we had to go see my parents because we had to see them for Christmas, tax time came along and I had to worry about that. And, I broke my leg. [Laughter.] So there just hasn’t been time to see what’s going on and frankly I’ve still been feeling too good about things in general that I don’t want to talk to a lawyer and be brought down.

WHITE: You seem like a happy man.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I am. I am happy, not content. I believe it’s a mistake to be content. You should always want to strive for something more. Happy? Yeah, yeah. I’m real happy.

GROTH: The lawyers will fix that.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I have paid this guy a good sum of money to look into it for me and I figure he probably feels by now that he’s earned it. So the next step is to get together and see where the lawyer can take it from here so the lawyer can make some more money from me. At this point, I’m feeling too good about it and I think I’ve pretty much changed my mind about it. I don’t think I’m going to do it. I’d just be letting myself in for, win or lose, three to five years of aggravation with this thing. I figure maybe the worst thing I can do to National is to just never work for them again.

GROTH: Did DC pay you something for the film?

WRIGHTSON: I got $2000, which pissed me off even further. Got a check for $2000, which said “Swamp Thing Film Bonus” which was really kind of weird. Because to get a bonus, you should get something else ahead of time. I mean, you should get something first, and then the bonus comes. [Laughter.] So, here’s the “Swamp Thing Film Bonus” and a little note from Jenette thanking me for my most wonderful creation … I cashed the check. [Laughter.]

GROTH: And gave it to your lawyer …

WRIGHTSON: Well, not quite. $2000 is $2000, and I deserved it. I mean, it was partly my creation, they made a movie of it, I’m entitled to something. But $2000, gee, this is a movie, a major motion picture. This is Avco-Embassy. And I just started to think about how my $2000 stacks up to what National’s been getting, you know, of the fruit of my fucking labor.

WHITE: Or Len.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I don’t know about Len. I haven’t talked to him. I think that Len at this point is probably scared to death to talk to me. Probably thinks I’m some kind of fire-breathing ogre that is out to see that he loses his job and I just don’t care.

GROTH: Have you seen the new Swamp Thing comic?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, ran into it a couple of weeks ago.

GROTH: What do you think?

WRIGHTSON: Uh, it isn’t the same. And I’m not tooting my own horn, because I think I have a pretty good handle on the perspective of all this. I thought that the character died with #10. And I’m not being full of myself when I say that. It was just a very personal thing from my standpoint and when Redondo took it over, I mean that guy can draw circles around me. He’s a much better artist than I am. But he didn’t know Swamp Thing. He didn’t know the character, he didn’t know that little universe. It was just not the same. And this new fellow, Tom Yeates, looks like a perfectly competent artist. He seems to enjoy doing comics. I met him briefly, he showed me some original pages that he had with him. He’s a real nice guy. It’s just not the same thing. He doesn’t have any more of a handle on the character than Redondo did, visually. And the thing is … Swamp Thing is a real limited character. There’s only so much you can do with him. I even strayed away from the limits you could take the character to. For the most part I tried to keep him in this kind of grim little foreboding universe where it worked. Wasn’t such a hot idea bringing him to Gotham City, y’know. [Laughter.] But, hell, at the time I wanted to draw Batman. It was fun; I enjoyed it. They wouldn’t let me give Batman a gun. I always preferred the old Batman when he had a gun. He was more like The Shadow. I thought it would be great if he came up against Swamp Thing. Yeah, give him a gun. Fill him full of lead. Like shooting a cabbage.

GROTH: Glad you mentioned The Shadow. You did a sample page but that didn’t go through.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, at the time I was up to my ears in Swamp Thing, and foolishly thought I could handle two books at one time. Because like I said, I was really hot. I was penciling two pages and inking a page and a half a day. I thought it would be a breeze. Swamp Thing’s bi-monthly and I’ll fill in the other month with The Shadow. Only it didn’t occur to me that I was taking the whole two months to do the book. So I did the sample page and I think I was even slated to do the first issue of The Shadow. This was before it really started going through a lot of changes. I think Len was going to write it. And I came to my senses, fortunately, before ever starting on it. And just said there was no way I could handle two books. So I stuck with Swamp Thing. It’s more in my line. And they said, “Who’re we going to get for The Shadow?” and I immediately said, “Kaluta.” And they didn’t hear that. They said, “Who’re we going to get to do The Shadow?” So then they went through all that bullshit with Jim [Steranko], I don’t know who all …  

GROTH: [Alex] Toth.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And finally settled on Kaluta, who I still maintain is the best possible choice all along. And for no other reason than he really wanted to do it. I mean, he was really intense about it.

GROTH: Now, you went to work for Warren. But you worked for Web of Horror first, didn’t you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was pretty early on. That was what ’69, ’70?

GROTH: That sounded like a real anarchic situation.

WRIGHTSON: It was weird. I had this fellow, Terry Bisson, come along one day and at the time, Warren was just reprinting a lot of stuff, and the new stuff he had was just awful and the thing had really gone down the tubes. And I know the real story behind that, and I’m not going to tell you. No, Warren told me the whole thing behind that, and I’m sworn to secrecy.

GROTH: Well, he got into deep financial trouble …  

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but that was more a symptom, not a cause. But I can’t tell you the cause. So, I’ll just titillate you and your readers with that. But the magazine’s a really bad one, and we’re all sitting around saying, “Aw, Creepy used to be so good, look at this piece of shit, this is awful.” And by we, I mean myself, Jeff, Bruce Jones and Kaluta, and into the middle of all this complaining, and pining for the good old days walks this fellow, Terry Bisson from …  Major Magazines. They published some romance things and Cracked magazine. Up until now, he’d been writing blurbs for the backs of the romance magazines, or for the covers. “I spent the night with my father-in-law,” things like that. He walks in and says, “My publisher wants to put together a horror magazine.” “You mean, like Creepy?” and he says “Yeah, exactly like Creepy. See, at our magazine company, we do nothing but rip off other magazines.” [Laughter.] He was real upfront about it. “We want to do a Creepy rip-off.” [Laughter.] “Oh, yeah, that sounds great, what are you paying?” And the money wasn’t bad. “Okay, yeah, we’ll do it.” So we get together, he had a place down around Canal Street and we’d get together, kind of have conferences and all. And he dug up some writers from somewhere, and he was writing some of the stuff himself and none of us knew any better. I didn’t know good scripts from bad scripts. We’d all just get down and do this stuff and it was like all of us there in the same building, virtually, all living together, just working for the same outfit. “Aww, this is just like the EC days, man, this is great! This is great!” And they had the monster contests. And it was just fun. We were real high on this thing. Even though the first couple of issues were really just crap. Awful stories, and the art wasn’t too much better. But there was a certain kind of enthusiasm that was coming through in this stuff. I thought so. And evidently, the magazines were doing well. People were buying this stuff. So it was looking real good. And how many issues did it go? Three?

GROTH: Yeah, three. And you did the cover for the fourth one.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, the fourth issue. Terry Bisson left. After the third issue, he just split. And just disappeared. “Say, what happened to Terry?” “Oh, he joined a commune in Colorado.” “What are we going to do? Who’s going to be our editor?” And Richard Sproul, the publisher, said, “Look, the magazine’s doing okay, I want to go on with it, why don’t you boys work it out?” “Well, shit, yeah, all right, yeah.” Bruce and I would get together with Mike and Jeff and say, “Hey, man we need an editor for this thing, and there’s nobody in control.” Mike and Jeff said, “Oh, leave us alone! We just want to work.” And so Bruce and I said we’d be co-editors. So we start handing out scripts to everybody … There was a backlog of stuff, some real bad stuff which was scheduled for the fourth issue. Bruce and I got in there, we took the whole goddamn thing apart. We took just about everything that was going to go in the fourth issue, threw it out and started from scratch. We gave Ralph Reese a script and Ralph did the best job that he had done up to that point in his career. I mean, just beautiful. He came in with this double-page splash of this galleon floating in space that you could just fall into. Just gorgeous. Bruce did this incredible space opera thing. Real EC type stuff. Terrific. Michael did a thing about a sea monster which eventually got printed somewhere else. I did a story called “The Monster Jar” which to this day I don’t know whatever happened to. And the cover for that issue. I forget who all we had in there but it was all good stuff. We were taking the best, the cream. This was going to be the best issue.

The only reason I did the cover for the fourth issue was that we had Krenkel lined up to do a cover, a headless horseman cover which would’ve just knocked your socks off, but he got sick. So he couldn’t do the finish, all he had was a little rough. And I wanted to go with the rough, but Bruce talked me out of it saying it was a little too rough to go with, and I guess he was right. But it was great. It was just this head-on shot of the headless horseman riding straight at you, the horse cut-off at the breast, charging out of the picture, just flaring nostrils, and this headless guy just whipping the horse. Trees flashing behind it. Aww, it was just terrific! It would have been such a great painting. And we tried to get Frazetta, but he wasn’t interested. He said he didn’t want to do the horror stuff. So we got Krenkel and he was all set to go with issue five with this headless horseman. Oh, and the best part of this whole thing, we were going to come up with a winner for this monster contest. The entries had been pouring in. Sproul takes us in to the back room, it’s like this closet where they store artwork, and says “Here’s the contest stuff.” The room looked like Fibber McGee’s closet, he opens the door and this stuff is just pouring out. Tubes, packages, and Bruce and I are carting this stuff out to his house. And it takes a whole day, between Sproul’s office which was in Long Island City and Bruce’s place, which was in Rushing. It involved something like two different buses and a long subway ride to get there. So we’re doing this, all day long, back and forth, carrying it by the armload, because he doesn’t have a car. Finally get it all to his apartment, we spend the whole weekend going through this stuff. Some of the stuff is just terrific. There are some talented kids out there that are never going to get anywhere because Bruce and I fucked up. We picked winners, then we had to restructure the whole prize thing for this because there was so much good stuff. Originally, it was supposed to be one winner per issue. We broke it down so that it was first, second, and third place and two honorable mentions. Just so we could fit all this stuff in. We were going to start announcing winners in the fourth issue. We get the whole thing together, do the paste-ups, came up with a new logo, all this stuff. Just restructured the whole magazine. It looked great. Got the whole thing done, and we spent our last weekend putting it together. And it’s looking great, we’re going to take it in and show it to Sproul. Go into Long Island City, to the office, Monday morning knock on the door. And the door just creaks open, y’know. And the office is empty. I mean, the desks are gone, everything is gone. Some scraps of paper blowing across the floor. It was just like the Twilight Zone, there was just nothing there. All the artwork, everything, all the contest stuff had disappeared. Not a word. We found out years later that the guy relocated in Florida. And I don’t know what the deal is. We tried to get people’s artwork back. Just couldn’t get it. Ralph Reese lost his thing, I lost my thing, Kaluta was late turning his in so he was able to hang on to his. Bruce lost his story. Frank Brunner did a real nice job for us in pencil or wash. That was gone.

GROTH: You must have been very depressed.

WRIGHTSON: Well, shocked. “Just what the hell is this?” We couldn’t believe it. And nobody had been paid, so there was all this money owed to us.

GROTH: You ever have the inclination to track this guy down?

WRIGHTSON: For a while we talked about it, but never quite got it together to do. I think something happened about that … I think Ralph Reese managed to get some money out of them somehow, by just being persistent. I think Michael did too, I don’t remember. But I know nothing ever happened for me. I got mad, and then it dissipated and I just decided I couldn’t do anything about it. I was just going to get on with the next job.

GROTH: Where did Abyss come in?

WRIGHTSON: Somewhere in there, it was around the Web of Horror time. Somebody, I think Bruce, sat down with pencil and paper and figured, “Well, you’re making $50 a page, and this book is selling for 35 cents or whatever it was and they print so many of them and look, there’s millions of dollars coming in off this book and you’re just getting $50 a page. So if we published our own magazine, we’d make a lot of money. All of that money would come to us and we wouldn’t have to pay the publishers.” Yeah, great, terrific! So we did Abyss and we got, I think $25 a page. No, not a page. $25 each.

GROTH: About $4 a page.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, only, out of this. That was our big moneymaking scheme.

WHITE: Not quite what you had in mind.

WRIGHTSON: No, no. We just didn’t know what the hell we were doing. Told the printer we wanted 2,000 books and he printed 1,000 and charged us for 2,000. Of course we go down to the printers and there’s all these boxes with books. I’d never seen 2,000 books before in boxes. “Yup, that’s a lot of boxes, looks good to me.” So we take them all back and realize we got shortchanged by a thousand. Call the printer up and said, “You owe us a thousand books.” He said, “Oh, no, the order was for a thousand books.” I said, “But you charged us for 2,000.” He said, “Oh, no, it says 1,000 on the bill.” And sure enough, it said 1,000. But the price he quoted us was what 2,000 copies were going to cost.

GROTH: So you guys really got screwed, huh?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, this guy really saw us coming. [Laughter.] So that’s Abyss.

GROTH: It’s amazing you guys weren’t more violent.

WRIGHTSON: We were a bunch of wimps. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How old were you about this time? About 20, 24, mid-20s?

WRIGHTSON: Not even that old, I think. I must have been like, 21, 22.

GROTH: Jeff’s older, of course.

WRIGHTSON: All the other guys were older. I was the baby of the bunch. Until Barry. And then he was younger than me. Mike’s a year older than me, Jeff’s five years older than me. Bruce is three or four years older.

GROTH: You are 34?

WRIGHTSON: I’ll be 34 in October [1982].

GROTH: And, Badtime Stories?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was pretty early on. It was a fellow named Ron Barlow that I knew from Baltimore. Well, we had been talking about doing a magazine before I came to New York. And he kind of held on to the idea through everything. I worked on these stories while I was working for National, kind of between jobs I’d do this stuff. He was paying me something like $25 or $30 a page, just to kind of keep it going, to keep the interest up and all. And I finally got it all done, and put it out. Never made much more money over the original $30 a page initially. But that’s okay.

GROTH: It was really an excellent collection of stuff.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, it really was. I enjoyed doing it. Ron never put any pressure on me. It was always, “Do it at my own pace.” And I’m just amazed that it ever got done. And I’m still pretty proud of it.

GROTH: And it was nicely written, too.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I had fun with the stories. It was the first time I really had a chance to write my own story.

GROTH: Of course, you did each story in a different style and different approach.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think that was maybe a little pretentious. I should have just concentrated more on telling the story, instead of worrying about technique and all. But I was into technique at the time.

GROTH: Here’s a quote that might go nowhere … whoever wrote the text for A Look Back

WRIGHTSON: Chris Zavisa did.

GROTH: He wrote, “Comics tend to distort an artist’s ability to draw individual illustrations.” I assume you concur?

WRIGHTSON: What is the context this is in?

GROTH: Let me just dig it out and see if it makes any sense.

WRIGHTSON: Well, it’s a real provocative quote, but I think I need a little more in front and in back.

GROTH: [Still looking for the quote, Wrightson continues to talk.]

WRIGHTSON: I feel like I should babble on or something. Make some noise for the tape. [Looks at phone.] Yeah, this is great. Jim Starlin came over the other day and rewired our wall phone so I could use it as a desk phone. He said he’d have to rewire it to put it back on the wall when my leg gets better.

GROTH: Starlin?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Starlin is an absolute genius as far as I’m concerned.

GROTH: Did you see his Captain Marvel book?

WRIGHTSON: I loved that book!

GROTH: Did you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah! I really enjoyed that.

GROTH: Did you see his other book?

WRIGHTSON: I’ve got it but I haven’t read it. But the Captain Marvel book I was real impressed with.

GROTH: And that’s superheroes …

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, well that’s the whole thing. I just don’t follow that and …  It’s not my thing. So I’m a little surprised at myself for being that taken by a superhero story, but I really liked it.

GROTH: Well, Captain Sternn is sort of a superhero.

WRIGHTSON: In his way, yeah. But that’s a funny thing about superheroes. I’m going to be involved with superheroes sometime soon, after my leg heals. [Whispering] I wonder if I should even be talking about it.

GROTH: One thing’s for sure, you shouldn’t badmouth superheroes if you’re going to be involved with them.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How are you going to be involved with superheroes?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t really know that much about it. George Romero has an idea for a superhero movie, which he called me and asked me to be production designer on and also to do the storyboards for the movie in comic book form. Very much like Creepshow. Which could subsequently be published as a tie-in with the movie. So, it looks like I’m going to have to be doing a lot of thinking about superheroes in the future.

WHITE: And he discussed the character with you?

WRIGHTSON: No, all he did was call for like 10 minutes.

GROTH: And you agreed to do it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, that was the whole reason for the call. He said he had this idea involving superheroes for a movie and he wanted to know if 1 was interested in being involved. And I said, “Of course.” [Laughter.] And also, Romero’s doing The Stand. And I’m going to be doing the movie poster. It’s one of these deals where they want the poster first. Because what happened with Creepshow, they got that Jack Kamen thing which you’ve probably seen. Kamen did that before anything had been done on the movie, and they kind of made a bunch of copies of this and put them up all over the place and said, “We want to stick to this. This is the kind of spirit we want to maintain for this.” And he said it worked so well that they had this kind of visual key to kind of go by through the whole thing. And they want to do the whole thing for The Stand.

GROTH: I was surprised that you didn’t do the poster for Creepshow.

WRIGHTSON: It turns out that Kamen is an old friend of the producer.

GROTH: Because horror was not Kamen’s forte.

WRIGHTSON: Judging from the poster and the few things I’ve seen that he did for the movie, it’s more his forte now than it was back then.

GROTH: Sort of a reverse Davis syndrome.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I think he draws a hell of a lot better than he used to. He is a lot looser and freer.

GROTH: Well, I can’t find that damn quote so let’s let it lie.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I really don’t know where to take that.

GROTH: The Warren stint, 1974 and 1975 you did a lot of work for him. Could you talk about how that came about? Maybe you can say some nice things about Warren to balance out …

WRIGHTSON: I have nothing but nice, things to say about Warren, strangely enough. I may be the only person in the world that does. I think Warren is a terrific person. I got tired of color comics, just got tired of seeing bad reproduction and terrible heavy color on top of fine line stuff. And just decided I wanted to try black and white comics for a while, because you pretty much get what you do as far as reproduction. By this time, Warren was once again top-of-the-heap in black-and-white horror comics.

Panel from “Black Cat.”

GROTH: About the only heap.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I think he was the only person doing them at the time. But he had survived his own bad times. He had survived all the crummy imitators who came and went. And there he was, seemingly back on his feet doing pretty good stuff, some interesting things. I think DuBay was in charge. The magazine was looking good to me so I went down to see him. He’d been after me for years to work for him. And of course, I’d heard all the Warren stories and everything. This guy sounds like a maniac, I don’t want to work for him. [Laughter.] But at this point, I thought if the guy was crazy, I can handle that. So I went down to see him and the guy was just terrific from the word go. I mean, I’d heard all these stories about people’s first meeting with Warren and crazy things. And he did do some crazy things that I kind of expected because the man’s reputation did precede him. For one thing, he trapped me into some kind of dumb thing, got me to make some kind of statement and then said, “No, you’re wrong about that.” “No, I’m right.” “No, you’re wrong.” “I’m right.” “Wanna bet?” and I said, “Yeah, a dollar.” “Show me your money.” So I took out a dollar, put it on his desk, and he took out a dollar and put it on his desk and then he proved me wrong and he took my dollar and said, “Would you sign it?” “Yeah, sure.” I signed his dollar. He opens his desk drawer, pulls out a wad of dollar bills like this [indicates a thick wad of bills]. Vaughn Bode, Billy Graham, Ken Kelley, Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, anybody who ever worked for him, he trapped into this stupid thing and got them to sign a dollar bill. It was terrific. [Laughter.]

I went in and he said, “Okay, you want to work for me. That’s terrific, I’d like you to work for me. I like your work. But you work for me, you understand that I own everything. I own all the rights, you don’t have anything. You get your originals back, but I get all the rights. I can do anything I want with what you do for me. I can repackage it, restructure it, anything. I own all of it. Agreed?” I said okay. That’s no worse than I am now. And I’m getting my originals back, too. And he said, “About getting your originals back, you get your originals back you can do anything you want with them. You can wipe your ass with them, line your garbage can, hang them up, you can even sell them.” And I said I probably would. “Okay, and if you sell them and the guy you sell them to sells them again and it gets sold again and again, and again and again and the 12th person down the line that it’s sold to prints it, you’re responsible. Can you deal with that?” I said sure. “All right. And on top of this, I’m going to pay you the best money you ever got.” [Laughter.] “Have we got a deal?” I said we had a deal. It was fine, it was always completely pleasant with him. It was great.

A funny thing happened soon after I started working with him. I was going to move, I found this great place. I was going to move out of my apartment and into an old church. Didn’t have enough money for the deposit for all this, so I went into Warren and said can I have an advance on the job I’m doing for you because I want to move into this place, and explained the whole thing to him. He said, “I never give advances to people, and here’s why.” And for an hour and a half he goes into this tirade about why he will not give anybody an advance; because you can’t trust artists, not me personally, but generically, artists are irresponsible people blah, blah, blah. On top of that, what if I give you this money for an advance and you have all your good intentions and everything of paying me back and then you get hit by a truck and you never finish the job. And I’m out the money, and I’m out the work blah, blah, blah. For an hour and a half he goes through this whole thing. I’m sitting there getting depressed as hell because I’m not going to get the money and then he finally says, “So that’s why I won’t give you an advance, but I will give you a personal loan.” And it was for something like $400. He writes me a personal check. Everything is fine. I walk out of his office, go and get the place. Couple of weeks later, I finish the job, turn it in, he pays me, I deposit the check, wait for it to clear, and pay him back his $400, we’re square. Then about a month after that, I break up with the girl that I moved into the church with and I’m moving back to the city. I’m going to move to Queens. Again, I’m strapped for money. I go in to see Warren, and I say “Jim, I know this is awful close on the heels of the last time, but I really have to ask you for a personal loan.” He said, “I never give anybody personal loans.” [Laughter.] For an hour and a half he sits there and gives me the same reasons why he doesn’t give anybody personal loans, and they’re the same reasons he doesn’t give an advance. He goes through the whole thing, and at the end he says, “But I will advance you on the job you’re working on.” [Laughter.] He’s a maniac. [Laughter.]

GROTH: This is apparently the sort of thing that drives other people berserk.

WRIGHTSON: I thought it was great! I loved it! The man was just totally unpredictable. All this time I’d been dealing with Carmine Infantino who was just a sweetheart of a guy, Stan, Joe Orlando, all these folks, really good people. And then I go down there to Warren and the guy is completely off-the-wall. I loved it.

GROTH: Yeah, I’ve heard some great Warren stories. I heard that when Dave Cockrum was working for him Dave walked in and asked for a raise. Warren pulled open his drawer and pulled out this box, pushed the button and the box started laughing at Dave.

WRIGHTSON: I’ve heard stories that go back a long way. Like originally he was really courting the old EC guys to come work for him and the guy he wanted most that he just couldn’t get was Davis. He wanted to start off doing a whole book of Davis’s stuff. “It’s horror stories, Jack, I want you to do all horror stories.” And Jack said, “I don’t do horror stories.” “C’mon Jack, one story, eight pages, come on Jack.” “I don’t do horror stories.” Finally he got it down to “How about designing a character? How would you like to design Uncle Creepy? C’mon Jack,” offering him money and all this stuff. And Davis said he didn’t want to be involved in the horror stuff, “I’m a cartoonist now, leave me alone.” A few days later, in the mail, Davis gets a Sony TV, small color TV, real expensive. No letter, no card, nothing, just the TV. From somewhere in New York. A few days after that he gets a tape deck. And he’s getting all this stuff. After a couple of weeks of getting all these gifts, Warren calls up. Now, this stuff has become Jack’s possessions and Warren has what he wants just by blackmail. [Laughter.] I can’t substantiate that. It’s just something I’ve heard.

GROTH: Well even if it’s apocryphal, it’s still good. So you were always on very good terms with Warren?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, yeah. And when the business of this book [Berni Wrightson: A Look Back] came up, I was living in Florida, Chris Zavisa in Detroit. He started advertising the book, saying that there was going to be work from DC, and I think he printed some pages in the ad. He got a letter from DC’s lawyers threatening to sue him if he didn’t get permission to use this stuff. So we got real panicky, and said, before we did anything else, let’s arrange a trip to the city and talk to everybody and get some permission. So I flew up from Florida at my own expense, Chris comes in from Detroit. I had previously made arrangements and set up appointments with everybody. And I set up the appointment to see Warren first. And I told Chris, “Look, Warren and I have always gotten along fine, but you’re a stranger in this, and I don’t know what he’s going to be like because the man is unpredictable. And he might suddenly become a totally schizoid, crazy person. Let’s go see him first because this is probably going to be the worst. National we’ve got them knocked, we don’t have to worry about that. I’ve worked for National for lots of years and we’re on good terms. Let’s go see Jim first and get it out of the way.” So we went in to see Warren and there was kind of a misunderstanding at first. Chris pulls out a dummy that he has and is showing it to Warren as kind of a presentation thing, and Warren is immediately from page 1 going, “You can’t do that. You can’t spread it across two pages. You’ve got to break it down into one page. You can’t go full color, full bleed, no way. Gotta enclose that in a border or we do that in black and white.” We’re going, “What, what, what?” and this goes on for like 10 or 15 minutes, and it’s really crazy. We’ve only gotten two pages into the thing and Chris is getting pissed off and I’m more and more confused and I say something and Warren says, “You mean you don’t want me to publish this?” I told him “No, this is the publisher, he wants to publish this book on me, and we’re here to ask permission to use stuff that I’ve done for you in the book.” And he said, “Oh, yeah, use it all! I don’t care! Use everything! Anything you put in there is going to look good on me. Use it all. Fine.” And it took that long to get permission from him and then we sat there for 30 or 40 minutes and schmoozed. [Laughter.] Yeah. It was terrific. Very pleasant. He made us coffee. He told us stories about the old days. Very nice. Then we go to National for the appointment and got nothing but grief.

GROTH: Really?

WRIGHTSON: Right. One of the things we wanted to do was print all of the Swamp Thing covers, full page black-and-white. “No, you can’t do the whole run. You can do the whole run, but you have to print them in color from the comic book.” And I immediately blurted out, “Well that sounds like a goddamn perfect waste of a few pages of good color,” and it seemed like when I said that, they insisted that I do it their way. That’s why it’s in there. There are like these weird arbitrary conditions they put down. We wanted to print some representative pages from the mystery stuff and they said we couldn’t do that. But they let us print that whole Plop! story, “Gourmet” in its entirety. And everything we wanted to do they countered with some reason why we couldn’t do it. And we weren’t asking for anything unreasonable. This book would have been another 50 pages longer if we had gotten everything in the National chapter that we wanted to. As it turns out, the National chapter is real skimpy. So we spend two or three hours up there in the office, arguing with Jenette about all the stuff we can and can’t do and why we can’t do it.

GROTH: Who actually wanted you to publish things like the covers? Was that Jenette?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know where that came from. I don’t think it was Jenette. That came from upstairs somewhere. The kicker, the punch line comes a few weeks later when Chris gets a bill from National for $1,500.

GROTH: For what?

WRIGHTSON: For the rights to publish this stuff.

GROTH: Did he have to pay it?

WRIGHTSON: He never did. I hope he never does. Fifteen hundred dollars. They really need the money to print whatever it is, the 20, 30 pages. Jesus, petty fucking people.

WHITE: Just to put a burr up your ass or something.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And we didn’t even have to go to Marvel. Chris wrote a letter to Stan saying he was doing this book, lots of color, this many pages, blah, blah, blah, very big deal. We’d like to use selected pieces Berni Wrightson did for you. Stan wrote back and again, carte blanche. He said use anything or everything, and citing pretty much the same reasons that Warren gave, saying it’s only going to reflect well on me and the company.

GROTH: DC really is anal retentive.

WRIGHTSON: Jesus. Those people … I just couldn’t believe it. So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when the whole Swamp Thing crap happened. Why is it like beating my head against a wall dealing with these people?

GROTH: Will you ever deal with DC or Marvel again?

WRIGHTSON: Marvel I have nothing against. Back at the time they pulled that business on King Kull, they were doing that to everybody. That was just kind of symptomatic of what Marvel was at the time and they don’t really do that any more. They’ve gotten a hell of a lot more reasonable in recent years. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard about the new contracts that Marvel is offering, but these things are just dreamy. And as soon as I’ve got some time, I’m definitely going to work for them. I’m going to do something. I’d love to do a horror book for Shooter. But I just don’t want to commit myself until things open up a bit. I’ve got a few other things on the fire right now. But National, never again. Those people have screwed me for the last time.

GROTH: Ever work for Warren again?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t see why not. I just haven’t really gotten around to it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still on good terms with Warren.

GROTH: What do you think of stuff like 1994?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t even look at it. I hardly ever buy comics.

GROTH: You just read The Comics Journal to keep up.

WRIGHTSON: Only sporadically. [Laughter.] Only when your subscription department sees fit to send it to me.

GROTH: When you got out of comics, you started painting, which was another entirely new departure for you.

WRIGHTSON: I dabbled a bit before that.

GROTH: The paintings that really impressed me here were the paintings from Poe.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, they were some of my few oil paintings.

GROTH: How did you tackle painting when you really got into it seriously?

WRIGHTSON: You mean technically?

GROTH: Yeah.

WRIGHTSON: It was basically not knowing anything. I was living in Queens when I started the Poe portfolio and I had done the Telltale Heart there. Jeff [Jones] was living upstate, and I went up to visit him and I brought up a canvas and started working on that there, “Descent into the Maelstrom.” And I remember going into his studio, early in the morning and he was already there, working on something of his. And I set this thing up on a spare easel, and he said, “Oh, you’re going to start painting, huh?” And I said, “Yeah yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” And he said, “You’ve got a blank canvas.” I said, “Yeah, I know what I’m going to do.” So I squirt out some paint on the palette and just start picking up these great gobs of paint with the brush, whap, whap, whap. He was appalled. “You can’t do that! You can’t do that! You’ve got to lay some groundwork, lay some underpainting.” He was frantic that I was just laying this stuff on. And I’m starting to paint water directly on there. Waves are starting to appear. “You can’t do it, you can’t do it!” And I got real discouraged because he’s a painter, he should know. So I didn’t do any more work that weekend. Just kind of hung around, walking through the woods and all, wondering what I was doing wrong. So I don’t have any really conventional method of working. It’s whatever seems good at the time.

GROTH: You’re a real autodidact.

WRIGHTSON: I beg your pardon. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Self-taught.

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. Listen, care for a cookie?

GROTH: No, thanks.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, these are good. These are the kind that are never crisp. They’re always kind of soggy. [Laughter.] I like soggy stuff.

GROTH: I can’t wait to transcribe that. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I got real pissed off when as I was growing up, about 12 or 13, you couldn’t find a cereal that got soggy in milk anymore because the big selling point was that the cereal stayed crispy. I like a cereal that just sops it up. Becomes soup. Like the old corn flakes. Nowadays you can leave the corn flakes in there for a day or two and they get soggy.

GROTH: Let them soak overnight and then come back the next morning.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, right. But I like that stuff. I like granola now, because that gets soggy.

GROTH: You do have certain peculiar tastes. One of them is the painting called “Momentos,” which you characterized as not a sick picture. And you said, “Had I gone for that effect, I would have put feet on the fence instead of the heads.” I thought this was an interesting revelation. Can you talk about why the feet would have made it a sicker picture?

“Momentos.”

WRIGHTSON: It’s because when you think of things like axe murderers, most people have this kind of pigeonhole that they put someone like an axe murderer into. This kind of comic-book thing of a guy with an axe chopping off somebody’s head. Somehow it makes it easier to deal with. And you can talk about axe murderers, “Oh yeah, axe murderers, hahahaha.”

GROTH: It’s become accepted.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. In a strange kind of way because it’s a cliché, the axe murderer chopping off a person’s head. Whereas a real axe murderer might not go after a head, or any particular part of the body. Maybe just be concerned with killing you, maybe chop you in the chest or something. Nothing gets severed, really. But if you’re going to sever something, it seems a lot more horrible to me to think of a row of severed hands or, worse than that, fingers, just all lined up on a shelf or something, than heads. It’s like a head, a complete severed head—I mean, let’s get into this—sitting on a shelf, there is still that humanity about it. Gruesome as it is, it could be somebody sticking a head through the wall playing a joke. So there’s still this association with humanity attached to it. But you get to something like toes or kneecaps, elbows …

GROTH: And you know there’s a guy out there without elbows.

WRIGHTSON: Right. It’s like suddenly, “Oh my God!” The other thing is, you can cut somebody’s toes off and they can still live. Cut somebody’s head off, that’s pretty much it, except for some, um, athletes. Even like whole limbs. You can cut off a whole leg and there could be a person out there without a leg. So thereby hangs a tale.

GROTH: It’s the implication that’s so creepy.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Whereas the head, that’s it. There are headless bodies laying somewhere and they are most certainly dead. But if you get into other parts of the body you become increasingly creepy. I have the feeling I’m not explaining things terribly well today, but we’re covering a lot of ground so, why not? [Laughter.]

GROTH: I don’t know where to go from that. [Laughter.]

WHITE: I remember there’s a quote in the book that says you like axe murderers.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I think that was at a point in the interview where I was getting tired and just kind of running out of things to say.

GROTH: One thing I’m curious about, and this probably has no bearing on the interview. All your quotations in the book didn’t sound like you. I know how you talk and you’re very informal and casual. It sounded like you were being more formal, more careful.

WRIGHTSON: There were spots in there where I went over it and Chris cleaned it up too. Because I told him I didn’t want an interview where you put in all the “you knows” and “uhs,” stuff like that. So he kind of went through there and chopped bits and pieces.

GROTH: Why don’t you think people don’t kill other people? Neal [Adams] has a theory about this and I just wanted to get yours.

WRIGHTSON: Why people kill other people?

GROTH: No, why people don’t kill other people.

WRIGHTSON: But people do kill other people.

WHITE: End of discussion. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I mean, it’s on the news every day.

WHITE: Why do you think people do kill other people?

WRIGHTSON: Because they’re there. [Laughter.] It’s because person A has something that person B wants. And to person B the only way he’s going to get it is to kill person A.

GROTH: Why the hell didn’t I think of that when Neal was telling me? Neal gave me a theory about why people don’t kill other people and I don’t know why I didn’t sit there and say, “But Neal, people do kill other people.”

WRIGHTSON: What’s his theory, briefly?

GROTH: It’s because people won’t trust you if you go around killing a lot of people. You’ll become untrustworthy. The way Neal explained it …

WRIGHTSON: Is he talking about primitive man now?

GROTH: No, this was modern technological society. Say I killed your wife, you wouldn’t trust me any more.

WRIGHTSON: No, I probably wouldn’t. [Laughter.]

GROTH: And that’s why I don’t do it. [More laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: But, on the other hand, I’d probably kill you. [Laughter.]

GROTH: That’s probably true too. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: So that kind of throws the people not killing each other theory out the window.

GROTH: Neal pontificated on this for about a page in the magazine.

WRIGHTSON: If everybody realized that then nobody would kill anybody. We wouldn’t have war …

GROTH: If we could get you and Neal together. I think we’d have a fascinating conversation.

WRIGHTSON: It wouldn’t go very far because Neal and I, and this goes back a long way, don’t argue. Invariably, we’d have a discussion and it would reach a point where I could see no point in going on, because Neal was completely wrong and I was completely right, and I would just shut up, leaving Neal with no one to argue with.

WHITE: And very sad.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And not a little angry. And I remember he got pissed off quite a few times at that. Where I would just kind of end the thing by saying “You’re wrong.” [Laughter.] And not saying anything. He’s becoming increasingly “Space Cadetish.”

Panels from Adams’s “The House that Haunted Batman.”

GROTH: Wait until you read the interview. It’s really something.

WRIGHTSON: I’m looking forward to it.

GROTH: Neal always sounds very reasonable.

WRIGHTSON: Well, he’s always been that way. There was a time when he could have probably convinced me that the sky was pink.

GROTH: You did a book for Neal, didn’t you?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Freak Show.

GROTH: Has that ever been published?

WRIGHTSON: It’s in the process of coming out in Spain.

GROTH: Because you did that about two years ago.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. When did I finish that? Last year? Yeah.

GROTH: We published a couple of pages from it. It looked like nice work.

WRIGHTSON: It was pretty good.

GROTH: You wrote it yourself?

WRIGHTSON: Bruce [Jones] did. I don’t know when it’s going to come out over here. Heavy Metal wants it, but they seem to have some kind of problem with Neal about it and I don’t know what that’s all about. But it’s coming out in Spain now.

GROTH: Is it going to be in color?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, it’s sort of in color. I’m not happy at all with the reproduction.

GROTH: You’ve seen it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I’ve seen one segment of it. And I’m not happy at all. Michelle [Berni’s wife] colored it and it looks like they didn’t photograph it right to begin with and then they had somebody retouch it, because it photographed pale, or something. She colored it very carefully with watercolor, brushwork and all, and they came and did the retouching with what looks like magic marker, solid colors, whacking away at it. Really looks bad.

MICHELLE WRIGHTSON: And it’s just in this Spanish Creepy. [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I thought it was going to be … Well, originally it was going to be Pilote, but there was some problem with that. And then I thought it was going to be some frankly, more prestigious Spanish thing. And it’s in the Spanish version of Creepy.

GROTH: I hope they don’t use the same coloring over here.

WRIGHTSON: They will.

GROTH: They will?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. That was part of the deal, that they get the separations cheap.

GROTH: That’s a real goddamn shame.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: It would be almost better to print it in black-and-white. I really like your black-and-white work.

WRIGHTSON: It takes a lot more time.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: I mean, you’re one of the few people, who, if you do a comic strip, adding color doesn’t mean that much to it. And I almost prefer the black-and-white in a lot of cases.

WRIGHTSON: Well, it depends. If I’m working for color …

GROTH: You did this specifically working for color?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah. So there are lots of open areas … Actually, this thing might hold up in black 6k white.

GROTH: The pages I saw were in black-and-white and they looked good.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. This would probably hold up more than Creepshow. Because that was really done for color. There are lots of wide-open areas. In fact, in a lot of places, no line to hold the color, and the color helped that an awful lot.

GROTH: I want to talk about your Frankenstein project. You’ve been at it for a long time now.

WRIGHTSON: It looks like it’s finally going to come out sometime soon.

GROTH: Is it completed?

Thumbnail from Frankenstein.

WRIGHTSON: Yes, it is completed. There were one or two drawings to go, and I just came to the realization recently that I’m probably never going to do them. I’ve probably burned myself out on the Frankenstein project, and if I keep holding it up to do a couple more drawings the thing will never get done. So I’ve decided that … I took a look again through the structure of the thing and I thought that I would have to do a drawing or else I’d have a chapter or something without an illustration or there would be some kind of imbalance. But it turns out that there isn’t, so …

Yeah, I was going to get on it before this happened [banging cast], so I guess sometime this summer if I can squeeze it in between everything else that’s going on.

GROTH: Are you going to publish the book yourself?

WRIGHTSON: Definitely, yeah. It’s reached a point now where I couldn’t possibly let somebody else do it and expect to make any money. I’d be losing money anyway, except by doing it myself. And even then, I’ll probably lose money, so …

GROTH: What format is the book going to be in? It can’t be small.

WRIGHTSON: No. It’s going to be hardback, about so big …

GROTH: Similar to A Look Back?

WRIGHTSON: Maybe an inch smaller all around. Maybe 8 ½” x 11” then. Or whatever the next standard size is, down from that.

GROTH: Is it going to be on 800 pound paper? [Laughter.]

WRIGHTSON: I’m not really sure, that’s something else I’ll have to check. I want something pretty opaque. But it’s going to be all black-and-white, there aren’t going to be any color illustrations.

GROTH: A color painting for the cover?

WRIGHTSON: No, no. The cover, if you go up to use the bathroom, you’ll see it. It’s hanging up in the hall. Or even if you don’t have to use the bathroom. It’s a wraparound cover, black-and-white, pen-and-ink drawing. With maybe a second color for the title.

GROTH: You probably don’t even know, but about how many copies are you going to print and where are you going to sell it?

WRIGHTSON: Well, I’m planning to print around 5,000 copies for the first printing, maybe more. I’ll probably be wholesaling it mostly to comics shops everywhere. I’ll be handling a bit of retail sales myself, but certainly not too much. Because that becomes a full time job. I’ve got the thing pretty well structured for a wholesale business.

GROTH: How do you go about selecting which scenes from the novel to illustrate?

WRIGHTSON: It isn’t easy, it really isn’t.

The final version.

GROTH: You must know that book inside and out.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, boy do I ever. I’m so sick of it. [Laughter.] It’s a ridiculous book. It really is silly. The thing just defies all logic and all good sense, but what the hell, it’s fun. As far as selecting things, I have a stack of drawings this big that aren’t going to appear in the thing. Finished, complete drawings and these things don’t get knocked out in a couple of hours. I spent a few days on them. You can put that much time into doing a drawing, and really become involved with it and everything, and then decide you’re not going to use it. Or, what’s even worse, deciding that you don’t like it. After investing all that time and energy into it and really being convinced that you’re doing a great picture, and get the whole thing done after a week’s work, and you look at it and go, “Nah.”

GROTH: I’ve never heard an artist say that after putting so much time into it he just didn’t like the drawing.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know how many artists go through that. I certainly do. Not all the time. Most of what I’ve done, I like. I like to look at my stuff. But still, there’s an awful lot of stuff I do that I just put a lot of time and energy into before it really connects that this ain’t a good picture and I don’t like it.

GROTH: It’s surprising to me that you wouldn’t make that determination far before it’s finished.

WRIGHTSON: Surprising to me, too. I mean, sometimes I do. Sometimes it doesn’t get beyond a pencil drawing. Just look at it and say, “This ain’t working,” and put it aside. But more often than not, I just finish the thing, and then decide that it’s a piece of garbage. [Laughter.]

GROTH: How many drawings are going to be in the book?

WRIGHTSON: About 40 full-page illustrations, give or take one or two.

GROTH: I think at one point you said you had 100 possible illustrations but decided it looked like a Big Little Book or something.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. I really had to cut it down. With that, there would have literally been a drawing every other page. And that was just too much. If you’re going to go that far, do a comic book.

GROTH: This also sounds like one of the few projects where you didn’t run out of steam near the end.

WRIGHTSON: Well, actually I did kind of run out of steam. And that’s been the problem for the past couple of years. I haven’t done anything on it in at least a year, maybe more. So I really have run out of steam. I’ve just been putting it off, saying I’ll get around to it. And, like I say, I just came to the realization maybe two months ago, that I better get this sucker out soon or it’s just not going to get done.

GROTH: Do you have a problem where your technique might change over the period of doing the drawings so that you can tell the early drawings from the later drawings?

WRIGHTSON: Well, you can, actually. I can. Because the technique improved. It’s kind of strange. The technique improved, and then it got too good. Or, like I was saying earlier on, it became too easy. And I can see that. I don’t know if anybody else will. But there’s a middle period, fortunately it’s a very broad middle period, of what I consider to be the best stuff. On the early stuff, the technique isn’t quite there, and on the later stuff the technique is completely overpowering. To me, anyway.

GROTH: Can you elaborate on that, when your technique improves? How do you improve your technique? Is it the quality of line?

WRIGHTSON: It’s a question of getting to know what you’re doing.

GROTH: Control?

WRIGHTSON: No, not control. Well, control has something to do with it. But that’s not everything, because the control was there all along, but it was just knowing what to do with those lines. I’m kind of aping Franklin Booth on this thing, I’m trying to do it all with single lines varying in thickness, to kind of imitate an old steel engraving or woodcut. So there’s not a lot of cross-hatching. There’s not a lot of that kind of pen texture. So it’s … Well, let’s call it an engraving technique, with a pen. It’s just taking this engraving technique and after you’ve done 20 or 30 pictures, you really start getting the hang of what a line this thick is going to do when you narrow it down across the space of seven inches to a hairline. And then lay another line exactly like it, next to it. And the next one is a little bit thinner so you can get a gradation. And after a while it becomes remarkably easy to do it. It does for me, anyway. And I don’t think I’m going to be using this technique much after this. I’m going to find something else.

GROTH: Is there a point where you can over-embellish?

WRIGHTSON: Oh, hell, there’s always that point. Yeah. I always run that risk. There are so many things of mine that are just overdone. I could have used that fabled “second artist” standing over my shoulder to take it away when it was finished.

Illustration for Frankenstein that didn’t make it into the final book.

GROTH: Again, about the Frankenstein book, what I’m interested in finding out is what is the intent of the illustrations? Are you intent upon adding another dimension to the novel?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. I started this in 1976. All this time, and all this work, all this effort and aggravation and what not have gone into this simply to embellish this old book. Which, when I started out, I thought was a terrific book. Now, six years have gone by, and I don’t think it’s such a terrific book, anymore. Okay, we’ve got some good drawings to go in there, some of them are spectacular. And for anybody who does like the book, this is going to be a real good edition of it. My personal feelings have nothing to do with that at all. You should just buy the book because you want it, and enjoy it, and don’t worry about how I feel. When I did the drawings, I was really involved with the book and my intentions were really good when I did them. They had to be or my drawings wouldn’t be that good. I really believe that an artist can’t communicate to a viewer unless he really pours himself into it and tries to do that. And I tried to do it with that, and they work. So, I’m not apologizing for that, I’m not apologizing for anything, I’m just saying that I’m glad I’m still not doing it, because my attitude has changed completely.

GROTH: It sounds like you think a little less of the book now than when you first started.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I guess I do.

GROTH: Who are some of your favorite authors?

WRIGHTSON: Stephen King.

GROTH: Poe, I guess? Or isn’t he one of your favorites?

WRIGHTSON: He was real good to start out with, but I don’t think I’d ever read him again. Wells, H.G. Wells, in limited doses.

GROTH: Lovecraft?

WRIGHTSON: Nah. He was always a little too ponderous. I have a hard time with the language. There are a few things that he’s done that I’ve really enjoyed, but for the most part I can’t take him.

GROTH: What do you like about King?

WRIGHTSON: What do I like about King? Damn near everything. The guy has an uncanny knack for creating characters who are people that you know, just really solid people. A storyteller par excellence. Absolutely riveting from the first page. A terrific command of the language and colloquialism and slang and bullshit and whatever. And on top of that, he can scare the fucking pants off me.

GROTH: That’s what friends tell me.

WRIGHTSON: Have you ever read him?

GROTH: No, I never have. And friends have told me that they’ve actually gotten frightened reading his books. And I can’t imagine that.

WRIGHTSON: If you’ve never experienced that, I envy you. Because I wish I could re-experience that feeling for the first time.

GROTH: I keep intending to read The Shining, but I’ve not gotten around to it.

WRIGHTSON: I think you ought to start out with Salem’s Lot.

WHITE: How about Firestarter?

WRIGHTSON: Firestarter and Salem’s Lot, I think, are the two best stories he’s written.

GROTH: Did you see the King story in the Marvel comic?

WRIGHTSON: “Lawnmower Man,” yeah.

GROTH: What did you think of that?

WRIGHTSON: I thought Walt went a little bit off the deep end on that. Hard to explain. I like Walt’s stuff. It’s hard to talk about it with King’s stuff because when I read the story I saw it completely differently. So I see Walt’s thing, and for the most part, I disagreed with it.

GROTH: Did you disagree with the caricature aspect?

WRIGHTSON: No, no. Because that’s one of the things I like about Walt. I’ll tell you the thing that really bothered me was the layout. Usually, Walt’s stuff makes perfect sense. It’s just easy, you can breeze right through it. That one for some reason, boy, it just kept getting in the way. I was constantly reminded that I was reading a comic book that was trying to force my eye in directions that it didn’t want to go.

GROTH: Did you like the story?

WRIGHTSON: I liked the story, yeah. And I like a lot of Walt’s intentions, what he was trying to do with it, and for me, he just didn’t succeed. Maybe he succeeded for everybody else and I’m just funny that way.

GROTH: Did you like his Alien?

WRIGHTSON: I loved his Alien. That was with a little trepidation, because they offered it to me first, and I turned it down, because they said, “we want it last week.” I think they had two months for 48, or 64 pages. It might have been something like 48 pages in a month or 64 pages in two months or something absolutely ridiculous like that. Full color. I reluctantly turned it down, because they were ready to fly me to England right away. And I’d never been to England.

GROTH: Did you see the movie?

WRIGHTSON: Oh yeah.

GROTH: Did you like it?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, the movie’s a classic, I love it. I’ve seen it four times.

GROTH: We just saw it again a couple of weeks ago. It’s great for midnight shows.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t like Giger’s work. I don’t like his painting.

GROTH: Why don’t you like it?

WRIGHTSON: I don’t know if I can explain. His work seems very affected to me. Phony isn’t the right word. But there seems to be too much reliance on a certain set of devices recurring, and recurring. And I don’t like to see that. Stylistically I don’t mind seeing a recurring style, because that’s what you have, but Giger doesn’t strike me as having as strong a style as he does a reliance on objects and paraphernalia.

GROTH: It’s not genuine.

WRIGHTSON: Yes and no. That’s sort of it, but not quite. It’s a real hard thing to put your finger on. This is all a prelude to saying that the stuff he did in Alien was brilliant. For that movie, it just worked so well. And I just don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it.

GROTH: And we’re all in love with Sigourney Weaver.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, yeah, yeah. What a heartthrob.

GROTH: And Moebius, of course, designed some material for the movie. Do you like Moebius’s work?

WRIGHTSON: What I’ve seen of it, yeah. Actually Kaluta pointed it out to me, it was in The Making of Alien, it had all these sketches and everything. I don’t know how, but we got into talking about Ron Cobb. Evidently Michael doesn’t have a real high opinion of Ron and said, “Look at this,” and he shows me the book and we’re flipping through it. And I get to the costume designs. And I’m flipping through and I get to the Moebius design, which is the one they used. And I said, “Boy that’s Moebius, huh.” And Michael said, “Yeah! That’s it exactly! Right! That’s it!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” “You just flipped through 15 pages of Ron Cobb’s costume designs and Moebius comes through with one picture and they pick it!” [Laughter.]

GROTH: Let’s get in to what you like in terms of art. Not necessarily specific artists, but what do you look for? What kind of thing do you pick up on?

WRIGHTSON: Mostly, I’m really fascinated with the stuff I can’t do.

GROTH: Which would be?

WRIGHTSON: Just about everything. When you come right down to it, I’m really pretty limited about what I can and can’t do. I really admire technical facility. Not really as an end to itself, but abstractly. You can have all the technical facility in the world, and still make bad pictures, I realize that. But, still, there’s something about being able to whip something out with no effort at all, or draw a perfectly straight line with a brush, or do a perfect circle. And working with airbrush … I’m just envious as hell of people who can do that. Although, strangely enough, most of the work I’ve seen done by airbrush, I can’t stand.

GROTH: Do you like [Richard] Corben?

WRIGHTSON: When he doesn’t rely too much on the airbrush, yeah.

GROTH: About 3 percent of the time.

WRIGHTSON: [Laughter.] Yeah. No, I like a lot of what Rich does. And I’m probably pretty typical. I probably like the same things about him that you do. And dislike the same things.

GROTH: What about underground artists? I’ve never heard you talk about them. Ever. Do you follow them, do you like them?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I like most of the guys for different reasons. I always think of Corben as an underground artist. And I think as far as an artist he’s the top. And there are a lot of other guys like S. Clay Wilson, I really like. And I don’t like his drawing especially much. But I like what he does with it. That certain twist of mind that he has. Crumb, of course. Bill Griffith I think is a genius. I really like his stuff. Zippy the Pinhead.

GROTH: Have you seen Raw?

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, I’ve seen an issue or two. I haven’t really had time to sit down and go through it, so I can’t really comment on it.

GROTH: There are a lot of strange things in there.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, Art [Spiegelman]’s kind of off-the-wall. He’s a character. I like Art. Did you ever get to see his lecture?

GROTH: Well, not really. He invited me over, but I haven’t gone yet.

WRIGHTSON: Actually, I kind of like early Chester Gould stuff. Again, not for the drawing but the guy was a hell of a yarn-spinner and the stuff … well, for the last 25 years, it’s been anemic as hell. But early on, it was really grim. Gangbusters stuff. No-holds-barred stories with these great characters like Flattop, Puss Face, and all these people.

GROTH: [Laughter.] How about the newspaper strips? Did you like Harold Gray?

WRIGHTSON: I haven’t seen newspaper strips in so long …  

GROTH: McCay … any of the old stuff?

WRIGHTSON: I love all the old stuff. Yeah. Little Nemo and Hal Foster, we talked about him before.

GROTH: Of course, nothing like that is being done these days.

WRIGHTSON: Well, that’s it, you know. Prince Valiant is just a joke.

GROTH: It’s really tragic.

WRIGHTSON: Well, of the funnies up here, Prince Valiant is the only straight thing. And the rest of it’s all humor stuff. And I’m not too crazy about most of the humor stuff either. Ever since Doonesbury everybody’s coming along, being laid back, in the goddamn humor things, and … Whatever happened to people being hit on the head, and pies and stuff, Sure, it’s probably just fallen out of fashion and will come back, but I really miss that stuff. Slipping on banana peels.

GROTH: Yeah, there’s nothing like McCay, Herriman, and Feininger today.

WRIGHTSON: It’s probably reflecting the mood of the country. All conservative and wimpy.

GROTH: Feiffer’s good.

WRIGHTSON: Feiffer’s always good. Feiffer has just been consistently brilliant through the years. Charles Schulz has gotten tired, I think. I think he started getting tired with the goddamn Red Baron. That wore out its welcome.

GROTH: It seems like when someone does something for 20 or 30 years, he just starts to burn out.

WRIGHTSON: I don’t see how these guys can keep up with it. The only guy I know personally that does a strip is Williamson, and he’s not even doing that one any more. He’s doing the Star Wars strip now.

GROTH: Yeah, he quit Agent X-9.

WRIGHTSON: Right. I haven’t talked to him in years but I’ve heard that he is so much happier now. I mean, he’s finally away from civilian stuff and he can do people in boots and tights and outrageous machinery and stuff.

GROTH: The pay has to be better.

WRIGHTSON: Oh, I don’t know, the money was always good. Although it’s probably better, astronomically better, with Star Wars, than it ever was with Corrigan. Because Corrigan was never carried by that many papers. But he was still making a hell of a good living at that.

GROTH: What about Captain Sternn, speaking of such things?

WRIGHTSON: I did the strip, just for the hell of it, and never really had Heavy Metal in mind and Jeff came over and wanted to know what I was going to do with it, and I said I didn’t know. You think maybe Heavy Metal? He said, sure. But it wasn’t done for anybody but me. I started it while I was living in Florida, I was working on Frankenstein down there. Got bored and felt like doing a strip, so I did Captain Sternn. Got bored with that, put it aside. We moved up here and were here for a few months and then I completely forgot about it and I was digging through some old stuff and ran across it and said, “Aw Hell, I ought to finish this up.”

GROTH: What did you think of the animation?

WRIGHTSON: I was tremendously pleased with it.

GROTH: I thought it was the best thing in the movie.

WRIGHTSON: Well, I tried to convince myself that I liked the movie. I saw it twice. And then came to the realization that I couldn’t stand the movie, but I did like my part of it. And thought there was nothing wrong with that, because that’s the way it is, isn’t it? I think mine was the truest, the truest to its original form, and stayed the closest to me stylistically. And I can’t think of the guys’ names who did it, but I never talked to them, was never in contact with them. But they put their finger on the exact quality I was going for with that. Just this kind of Warner Brothers feeling. And I’m real gratified that they picked up on that immediately.

GROTH: Are you much of a film buff?

WRIGHTSON: More or less, I guess. But I don’t get out to the movies much. Certainly not now [points to leg].

GROTH: Are you kind of isolated out here?

WRIGHTSON: Not really. Kingston is 10, 15 miles away and they’ve got five theatres over there with seven more on the way. Of course, they do a lot of Smokey and the Bandit and they’re still waiting for Chariots of Fire. So they do a lot of good old boy, redneck, kick ass, drive-in stuff up here. [Laughter.] But they still get some good stuff. If you haven’t seen it yet, see the new Richard Pryor movie. It is devastating.

GROTH: Which one?

WRIGHTSON: Live on the Sunset Strip. Well, see them both actually. Because he is so good. He’s just got to be the funniest man alive.

WHITE: In the world.

WRIGHTSON: Outside of Jerry Lewis. [Laughter.]

GROTH: What kind of movies do you like? You said you liked horror movies.

WRIGHTSON: I love comedies. Horror movies. I loved Reds and Ragtime, whatever you want to call those. Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, pretty much what everyone else likes. I’m fairly typical in that respect, except that I like a lot of really bad horror movies that most other people don’t. [Laughter.]

GROTH: You have to love Tod Browning’s Freaks.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. Well I think you had to have grown up in the ’50s. That’s a big part of it. You had to have grown up during the days when you had a double-feature, bad science fiction movie every week. Always involving giant bugs or some kind of thing.

GROTH: And then you get addicted.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah. And those things were so bad. Of course, they only cost a quarter, for two movies. No, it was 50 cents.

GROTH: Yeah, you aren’t that old.

WRIGHTSON: Maybe that was a matinee or something, because I remember standing in line half way around the block when Rhodan was playing. Which was one of your all time bad Japanese movies. But I just loved it. He’d flap his wings and the buses would go flying off into the air. [Laughter.]

GROTH: All the toy buses went flying into the toy buildings. [Laughter.] You didn’t like The Shining much.

WRIGHTSON: I was real disappointed in The Shining. I saw it twice, once in the theatre and once on HBO at a friend’s house. I had great hopes for that. I thought, “Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Wow! It’s got to be great!”

GROTH: Nicholson gave a really effective portrait of a loony.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah, but the thing that really disappointed me was that he was acting too crazy too early. I mean, he’s supposed to be a little bit troubled at the beginning, but he doesn’t become a raving lunatic until later on. But you don’t trust this man from the very beginning. And Shelley Duvall was even a little on the weird side. And it wasn’t their fault. It was Kubrick, the direction.

GROTH: Duvall twitching and smoking cigarettes constantly. She looked a little off.

WRIGHTSON: Yeah.

GROTH: So, what are you doing now?

WRIGHTSON: Well, I’m just kind of laying around. Just starting to read The Stand for about the fifth time.

GROTH: You mean you haven’t started it five times, you’ve actually read it?

WRIGHTSON: I’ve read it four times and I’m starting in on my fifth.

GROTH: Holy hell.

WRIGHTSON: I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written at least twice. And it takes a really good writer to get me to read something more than once. I mean, he’s good even when you know what’s coming. You can go through it a second time and just marvel at how well he manipulates you. And you have to marvel at it because you can’t figure out how he does it. It just works. It gets you all fired up and interested the second time around. Not many people can do that.

GROTH: Well we certainly should ridicule your volleyball feat here [pointing to Berni’s broken leg].

WRIGHTSON: I figure I have a slot reserved for me in the Volleyball Hall of Fame. There aren’t many people who can fall on themselves and break their leg.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/22/17 – Welcome to the “real” world.) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32216-welcome-to-the-real-world/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-32216-welcome-to-the-real-world/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99543 Continue reading ]]> This past weekend I had the great fortune to pick up the Spring 2017 issue of Shogakukan’s quarterly Golgo 13 magazine – a nearly 300-page compendium of complete storylines featuring Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, the Perfect Machine of Snipe, a hyper-competent assassin created by gekiga founding father Takao Saitō way back in 1968. Next year it’ll be half a century of people getting shot directly between the eyes from a faraway perch, but don’t fool yourself into thinking the franchise is irrelevant; later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan will be hosting an online manual in which G13 will dispense valuable (and presumably non-murderous) safety tips for business travelers abroad. Canny move for a comic aimed squarely at aging men, but as I was soon to find out, the feature is not without a lingering energy.

If you’re as familiar with Golgo 13 as I am, the above sequence will seem almost pornographic. Why is Duke suffering like this in a random hotel room? It’s like seeing the Shadow slam his hand in a car door; Saitō and his large crew of assistants at Saitō-Pro — which put out another 40-or-so pages of this stuff every two weeks, without fail — are well aware of the iconographic power of seeing their unbeatable champion marksman writhing from physical illness, his drippy skin a putrid salmon in the opening color sequence. Per a 2015 NHK television documentary (unofficial subtitles), the now-octogenarian Saitō still draws images of Golgo 13 himself in the comic, though I wonder if he pushed himself here to present the character in so agonized a state, or if Duke’s infirmity rendered him a conceptually lesser being, passed off to supplemental hands.

The story is titled “Messenger from the Canopy” – it’s dated to January of 2011, clocking in at Episode 508 per the franchise’s terrifying storyline wiki. Immediately after the dramatic open, we’re thrust into a flashback detailing G13’s typically amoral attitude; he’s been contracted by a Big Pharma fat cat to eliminate a pesky biologist whose research in the Costa Rica rainforest is threatening profits. Ever the professional, Duke makes it look like an accident.

But alas, Duke’s identity is discovered by the biologist’s subordinates, who plan a most awful retaliation – smearing a special toxin on the doorknob of his hotel, to infect him through contact with the skin.

I can’t say I’ve had the chance to look at every one of the preceding 507 adventures in paid murder, but my sense is that it’s somewhat unusual to depict Golgo 13 physically suffering from the fallout of his deeds. Indeed, the client — the aforementioned Big Pharma fat cat — is soon depicted succumbing to his own sudden bout of mystery flu.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that we’re seeing a newly ‘moral’ Golgo 13. From what I have read — including the thousands of pages translated to English — the series endeavors to maintain a very even tone, never aggressively cruel, but unwilling to allow too much in the way of empathetic concern to trouble its holy mission: presenting Duke Togo as the most marvelous man who ever lived. In this way, it makes perfect sense to kill the fat cat: he’s a gratuitously greedy, mean villain, and it would be sad if he got away. And, moreover, the sight of his mashed potato physiology succumbing to death’s embrace in 2.8 seconds contrasts nicely with the sweat-drenched survival of the impossibly manly title character.

Still, he’s gonna need a little help.

LOOK AT THAT FIRST PANEL. It takes a comic more-or-less explicitly aimed at middle-aged men to really nail the business supremely normcore business casual shit going on in here, and I don’t think any American comic can compare. Also of note is the local specialist brought in to aid Duke’s condition; Golgo 13 storylines tend to spend a great deal of time explicating the problematic international situations into which the title character fires bullets, but the studiousness generally stands apart from the ‘thrill’ portion of the comic: the exotica, on which G13’s international travels depend for their escapist kick. Thus:

Hot enough for ya? It was hot enough for Golgo 13 magazine that one of the panels was reproduced in color on the back cover, highlighting the cadaverous tone of Duke’s skin, and perhaps the mystic foreignness of the darker-hued men surrounding him.

Meanwhile, word has spread about G13’s condition, and vengeful motherfuckers from a totally different assassination are en route to finally settle the score. One can scarcely imagine the power vacuum that would be left in place of the departed Duke Togo, given that he’s been involved in a wide variety of world events since 1968, while somehow remaining 30-ish years of age, a la Batman. Did you know Golgo 13 clinched the 2000 election for Bush? The incredible facts are in vol. 13 of VIZ’s English books. Two years ago, there was a suggestion that Saitō would soon wrap the series up, but nothing seems to have come of it; perhaps he too (or the suits at Shogakukan) understood the implications of a financial vacuum as well.

Anyway, the revenge squad sets upon Duke’s sickbed, but even on the verge of death he remains the most outstanding shootist who ever bent a finger:

Ha ha, he even did a Buffalo Bill trick shot knocking the pistol out of that guy’s hand!

As expected, everything wraps itself up by virtue of Golgo 13 being inarguably better than everyone else. The natural therapy specialist gets paid, the various aggressors and betrayers are all killed, and — duly restored to health — Duke sets off to take care of those who dared make him bend the human knee in a manner not completely dissimilar to Nancy Allen and John Travolta at the end of Carrie, although maybe I’m just imagining the frame spinning around and around.

And while I don’t know if some photo-reference specialist at Saitō-Pro had to draw the panel of the muzzle flash on pg. 81 or simply copy it from the extremely similar image of such from the jungle assassination nine JPEGs above, I would place a very modest amount of money on Takao Saitō himself drawing the final panel of Golgo 13 surveying his handiwork. That, friends, is an anti-hero shot.

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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!

Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero: Being the newest Drawn and Quarterly collection of work by Michael DeForge, this time a weekly webcomic that approximated what the artist’s presence in an alternative weekly could have looked like in an era when those things were more common. A very particular melange of family drama, outdoorsy Canadian literary burlesque, overt self-parody and bleak gag work, presented as a 96-page, 10.9″ x 5.8″ two-color hardcover; $24.95.

The Interview: And here is the next Fantagraphics release from Italian-born cartoonist Manuele Fior, following quickly on last year’s translation of 5,000 km Per Second. This is a newer work, released in Europe in 2013, concerning a psychologist and his patient encountering what seems to be an interstellar message from an alien race. “[A] science fiction novel that eschews the stars in favor of the delicate, fragile, interior world of human emotion,” sez the publisher. A 6.75″ x 9.5″ duotone hardcover, 176 pages; $24.99.

PLUS!

The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation (&) Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel: Two very different, opposing strains of thought here. Torture Report is the work of Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, a pair of longtime genre comic hands who, in 2006, achieved a new degree of visibility through their production of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, a comics version of findings by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States which proved novel and perhaps more readily accessible to some readers than the source text. Many nonfiction works followed, with The Torture Report, a 144-page Nation Books release, providing a presumably similar rendition of 2014 findings by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concerning CIA practice during the George W. Bush administration. Terms and Conditions, meanwhile, is artist R. Sikoryak‘s parody of this impulse, transforming the October 21, 2015 update to the iTunes Terms & Conditions into a conceptual graphic novel, with each page finding the style of a different cartoonist or creative team seeking poignantly to dramatize the most skippable text ever drafted. A huge swathe of international styles are attempted, ranging from newspaper strips to manga to Euro masters to recent Image Comics and bookstore market hits. A Drawn and Quarterly softcover, 108 color pages; $16.99 (Report), $14.95 (Terms).

Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (&) A Treasury of XXth Century Murder Compendium Vol. 1: More from our world of nonfiction, courtesy of two alt-comics lifers. Fire!! is the latest comics biography from Peter Bagge, whom I cannot say I predicted would be heading in this direction. Busy Drawn and Quarterly publishes 104 color pages on the author and folklorist of the title, a divisive figure in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. A Treasury of XXth Century Murder is the most recent iteration of a longstanding passion of artist Rick Geary, detailing various historical killings from a sober perspective. The 240-page NBM “Compendium” collects three earlier volumes (The Lindbergh Child, 2010; The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, 2010; Madison Square Tragedy, 2013) into a single hardcover; $21.95 (Fire!!), $27.99 (Murder).

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie Adaptation: If you thought writer/artist Tom Scioli was finished playing with Hasbro toys… you’re sort of right, but not entirely! This 40-page IDW special represents Scioli’s ‘adaptation’ of a (wholly imaginary) movie based on his own 2014-16 series with co-writer John Barber, which will be getting an all-in-one collection of its own next month. I really enjoy this stuff – some of the only throwback map-of-my-interests genre work to incorporate the influence of stuff like Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X among the poppier cartoon standards. Preview; $4.99.

The Black Flame Archives #1 (of 7): Speaking of offbeat fantasy fare, this Devil’s Due/1First series — “1First” being the present form of the former First Comics — promises a re-colored presentation of a backup feature Tom Sutton pencilled for Starslayer in the mid-’80s with inker Don Lomax and writer Peter B. Gillis. I’ve never read this stuff, but I’ll look at Sutton’s art, sure; $5.99.

Judge Dredd: Deviations (&) Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf (&) Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls: Three distinct flavors of authoritarianism from both sides of the Atlantic, sometimes all at once. Deviations is part of the U.S.-based strain of Judge Dredd comics from IDW, albeit written and drawn by a longtime 2000 AD contributor, John McCrea (colored by Mike Spicer) – it’s a What If…? type of thing, following up on a 1983 storyline that saw the title character transformed into a werewolf. At the same time, Cry of the Werewolf is IDW’s new presentation of that very story, written by John Wagner & Alan Grant and drawn by Steve Dillon, who died last year. The 48-page special is structured, in fact, as a memorial to Dillon, with pieces of tribute art accompanying the b&w/color main story and a portion of the proceeds donated to the Hero Initiative, apparently Dillon’s preferred charity. Every Empire Falls, on the other hand, is a Rebellion collection of seven recent stories from 2000 AD, written by Michael Carroll and drawn by various artists, including Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra; $4.99 (Deviations), $5.99 (Werewolf), $25.00 (Empire).

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 5 (&) Master Keaton Vol. 10 (&) BLAME! Vol. 3: All the manga of note to me this week comes from continuing series, so I’ll do this quickly. Goodnight Punpun is VIZ’s two-in-one release of brutal youth comics by Inio Asano, I believe set to be complete, therefore, in 7 books. Master Keaton is yet more episodic insurance investigation suspense/sentimentality created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika. There should be 12 volumes of this in total, unless VIZ is also planning on releasing the 2012-14 revival series, which would up it to 13. BLAME! comes from Vertical, dropping another 354 pages of Tsutomu Nihei’s architectural action comics in a very flattering oversized format. There should be 6 of these; $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton), $34.95 (BLAME!).

Starstruck – Artist’s Edition (&) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar: At the Earth’s Core: Finally, we have a pair of releases representing older works by a colleague of the late Bernie Wrightson, the still-active Michael Wm. Kaluta, whose Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die series with writer/co-creator Elaine Lee is currently ongoing from IDW. Naturally, that same publisher is behind the Starstruck – Artist’s Edition, a 12″ x 17″, 144-page hardcover presenting the original 1980s Heavy Metal/Marvel Graphic Novel serial along with two issues of the subsequent Epic comic book series in the form of Kaluta’s original art, shot in color. Pellucidar is a 104-page Dark Horse collection of ’70s DC comics, including a 1973 issue of Weird Worlds drawn by Kaluta (written by Dennis O’Neil), along with other stories drawn by Alan Weiss and Dan Green; $150.00(-ish) (Starstruck), $12.99 (Pellucidar).

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More is More http://www.tcj.com/more-is-more/ http://www.tcj.com/more-is-more/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99391 Continue reading ]]> First up — good news! I’m so happy to report that Tim Hodler and Lauren Weinstein welcomed a baby girl into the world yesterday. 

Today on the site we have an obituary for Bernie Wrightson by Steve Ringgenberg.

Born in 1948, to a working class Baltimore family, Wrightson didn’t recall receiving a great deal of encouragement for his early artistic endeavors from his parents, but as he observed in a 2015 interview in Comic Book Creator, “I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.” Comic books and comic strips were early influences, with Wrightson citing Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, drawn by Mac Raboy and Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane as his favorite comic strips. Wrightson was only five or six when he began reading EC Comics, the most visceral of which, as drawn by Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta, had a profound influence on his aesthetic. Another big influence on Wrightson was horror films: He was fortunate to be in the “Monster Kids” generation, when Famous Monsters of Filmland began publishing, and Universal released its “Shock Theater” package of old horror films for syndication, spawning a host of local late night horror movie hosts like Baltimore’s own Dr. Lucifer, played by faded movie idol Richard Dix.

Popular interest in dinosaurs had a resurgence in the late 1950s, providing another piece of Wrightson’s influences. While he remembered loving Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, other, more cheaply done dinosaur films failed to impress him. As he recalled in the same Comic Book Creator interview, “I saw that Lost World remake with Claude Rains (1960), and that was a huge disappointment…you couldn’t fool me with plastic horns on a big lizard…” Another great early influence was the Ace Books editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs featuring covers and frontispiece illustrations by Frazetta, which Wrightson credits with getting him to start reading novels cover to cover.

And the great Joe McCulloch brings us his weekly dose, but with comics listing to follow later today.

Elsewhere:

A look at a mostly under-known aspect of Betty Boop.

Ben Schwartz on Michael Tisserand’s George Herriman biography.

Bringing Wilson from page to screen over at The New Yorker.

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Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017 http://www.tcj.com/bernie-wrightson-1948-2017/ http://www.tcj.com/bernie-wrightson-1948-2017/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=99506 Continue reading ]]> Swamp Thing co-creator, comic book artist and illustrator Bernie Wrightson died March 18th following a long battle with cancer. Wrightson was a product of the second generation of comics fandom and began contributing to fanzines in the late 1960s, before breaking into the comics industry in 1969, with work for Web of Horror and DC’s Showcase, including two issues of the dark fantasy strip “Nightmaster”. Although his early work was raw, it was powerful, with lush inks, dynamic anatomy, and a knack for telling stories, especially dark, scary ones, as you’d expect from an artist whose favorite movie was James Whale’s 1931 masterpiece, Frankenstein. Although Wrightson’s métier was horror, he was too talented and too versatile to be easily pigeonholed, and drew beloved fantasy and sword and sorcery stories and illustrations early on in his career.

Born in 1948, to a working class Baltimore family, Wrightson didn’t recall receiving a great deal of encouragement for his early artistic endeavors from his parents, but as he observed in a 2015 interview in Comic Book Creator, “I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.” Comic books and comic strips were early influences, with Wrightson citing Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, drawn by Mac Raboy and Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane as his favorite comic strips. Wrightson was only five or six when he began reading EC Comics, the most visceral of which, as drawn by Graham Ingels or Frank Frazetta, had a profound influence on his aesthetic. Another big influence on Wrightson was horror films: He was fortunate to be in the “Monster Kids” generation, when Famous Monsters of Filmland began publishing, and Universal released its “Shock Theater” package of old horror films for syndication, spawning a host of local late night horror movie hosts like Baltimore’s own Dr. Lucifer, played by faded movie idol Richard Dix.

Popular interest in dinosaurs had a resurgence in the late 1950s, providing another piece of Wrightson’s influences. While he remembered loving Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, other, more cheaply done dinosaur films failed to impress him. As he recalled in the same Comic Book Creator interview, “I saw that Lost World remake with Claude Rains (1960), and that was a huge disappointment…you couldn’t fool me with plastic horns on a big lizard…” Another great early influence was the Ace Books editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs featuring covers and frontispiece illustrations by Frazetta, which Wrightson credits with getting him to start reading novels cover to cover.

In addition to his influences from popular culture, Wrightson also learned about drawing by watching John Gnagy’s famous art instruction program on television, and taking the Famous Artists correspondence course. His first published drawing appeared on the letters page of Creepy #9 (June 1966), showing a man being dragged into an open grave, and a headstone bearing the inscription “Berni Wrightson, Dec. 15th, 1965”. 

Within the next few years, Wrightson made a stir in fanzine circles with his many Frazetta and Ingels- influenced illustrations. A meeting with his idol Frank Frazetta at a 1967 convention in New York further inspired Wrightson to begin creating his own stories. It was at that convention that Wrightson also met Al Williamson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Dick Giordano. He also met fanzine publishers Rich Hauser and Roger Hill and soon began contributing to both Spa Fon and Squa Tront. Years later, Michael Kaluta recalled that halcyon weekend like this: “And the next day, we four DID meet Frank Frazetta and Ellie right in their hotel room, three doors down the hall from the room we’d rented. We met Roy Krenkel in Frank’s room later that evening, after Frank and Robert Barrett had driven out to Frank’s place on Long Island and brought back a huge stack of Frank’s originals…Wrightson traded a drawing to Frank for a Johnny Comet Sunday page…that flawless original was with Bernie all the time we roomed together…from Nightmaster to Swamp Thing.

 In 1966, Wrightson secured a job at The Baltimore Sun as an illustrator, his first professional work as an artist. His first published work in comic books was “The Man Who Murdered Himself” in House of Mystery #179 (March-April 1969), a title with which he would have a long association. Wrightson is also credited with creating the illustrated splash pages that graced many issues of DC’s “mystery” comics as a way of getting a quick paycheck. Wrightson drew his first continuing character in 1969, Nightmaster for Showcase issues 82-84.

Wrightson contributed painted covers and interior stories to all three issues of Web of Horror, a Warren-esque horror mag published by owners of Cracked.  Writer Bruce Jones and Wrightson were scheduled to take over of as editors of WOH with the fourth issue only to find the offices empty after the publisher unceremoniously pulled the plug on the magazine.  Fortunately, he was getting plenty of work from DC’s mystery magazines, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Unexpected, Weird Mystery Tales, and The Witching Hour.

In 1971, working from a script by Len Wein, Wrightson illustrated “Swamp Thing” in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971). Reader reaction was instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive, and by fall of the following year, DC was publishing a Swamp Thing title with scripts by Wein and pencils and inks by Wrightson.

Comics fandom reacted enthusiastically to the new title and Wrightson was soon assigned the art chores on DC’s new Shadow title, based on the famous pulp character.  Despite doing a house ad featuring the character, Wrightson quickly realized he couldn’t handle doing two books simultaneously and The Shadow was assigned to his friend Michael Kaluta. Wrightson did keep his hand in, helping with the penciling and inking chores of issue three, and inking the splash page of issue four.

After ten issues of Swamp Thing, Wrightson departed for other assignments, though over the years, he did a number of Swamp Thing covers for various reprints and collections of his original stories. To this day, Swamp Thing remains one of his signature characters. During the mid-70s Wrightson also did covers and interior stories for Marvel’s slate of mystery comics, including a well-remembered adaptation of a King Kull story, “The Skull of Silence” (Creatures on the Loose #10).

One of the things Bernie Wrightson is best remembered for is being a founding member of The Studio, the loft space he shared with Michael Kaluta, Jeffrey Jones, and Barry Windsor-Smith, starting in 1975. This gathering of successful and popular artists eventually produced The Studio, a lavish art book containing sections on Wrightson’s illustrations, as well as those of his studio-mates.

It was during this period that Wrightson began work on what was widely regarded as his magnum opus, Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein (1983), a new volume of Mary Shelley’s horror classic with a frontispiece and 50 full-page illustrations by Wrightson. Dark Horse subsequently reprinted it in 1994. There was also a French portfolio of Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations.

In 1982, Wrightson illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, itself an homage to EC horror comics.

This was the first of several collaborations between King and Wrightson, with Wrightson illustrating such King projects as The Cycle of the Werewolf and the extended publication of The Stand. He was the creator of the character Captain Sternn, who was also featured in a segment of the Heavy Metal film. From the ’80s to the present Wrightson continued to draw characters for Marvel, DC, including Batman, The Punisher and Spider-Man. More recently he enjoyed a feruitful relationship with IDW, drawing Dead She Said, the Ghoul and a new version of Frankenstein. Wrightson also had a prolific career as a concept artist for films including Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

In January of 2017, following a series of health problems that included brain surgery, Wrightson announced his retirement from drawing and public appearances.

Bernie Wrightson was a fan favorite from the very beginning of his long and prolific career. Among the many awards he received over the course of his 40-plus years working as a cartoonist and illustrator were: Shazam Awards for Best Penciller (Dramatic Division), in addition to winning the 1972 Shazam Award for Best Individual Story (Dramatic Division) for Swamp Thing #1. Because of his work with Jim Starlin on the charitable comic Heroes for Hope, Wrightson shared a Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award. In 1975, Wrightson won the San Diego Comic Con’s Inkpot Award. The National Cartoonists Society recognized his work on Frankenstein, Alive, Alive! in 2012 in the Comic Book Category. The year 2015 brought Wrightson some final recognition for Swamp Thing, his Frankenstein illustrations, and indeed, his entire body of work when he received the Inkwell Special Recognition Award.

Perhaps the finest recognition Wrightson received was the almost universal adulation he received from his fans for his kind and generous nature to many people over the years.

Bernie Wrightson is survived by his wife, Liz Wrightson, his sons John and Jeffrey from his first marriage, and a stepson, Thomas. The family plans a celebration of his life and work for later in 2017.

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