The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:03:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) 1440 http://images.tcj.com/2011/04/tcj_talkies.jpg The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com 144 144 http://www.tcj.com/feed/podcast/ The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson editorial@tcj.com no no The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997 http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-complete-strange-growths-1991-1997/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-complete-strange-growths-1991-1997/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:00:21 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=101180 Continue reading ]]> To read Jenny Zervakis’ The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997, the first book published by John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half comics distribution outfit, is to take a welcome step back to the Golden Age of Zines. Long before the advent of such things as social media, GIFs, hashtags, and ebooks, cartoonists and zine-makers like Zervakis created, communicated, and collaborated with kindred spirits through the magic of print media via regular old postal mail. The Complete Strange Growths is a great addition to the small list of archival books devoted to preserving classic titles of this crucial era, including Porcellino’s own King-Cat Classix (D+Q, 2007), The Complete Deep Girl by Ariel Bordeaux (Paper Rocket Minicomics, 2013), and Fantastic Plotte by Julie Doucet (L’Oie de Cravan, 2013).

Strange Growths has been credited as a groundbreaking comics zine for its quietude, and focus on the quotidian—or, as Tom Hart’s back cover blurb aptly states, “on thought and mood.” It’s easy to see why John P. has acknowledged Zervakis as a major influence on his work, and fitting that he has published this collection. Zervakis’ comics record her experiences, memories and contemplations of the moment with an aesthetic that is personable yet detached, intelligent but fun-loving, and observant of small details while never losing focus on their larger significance, and never sinking into preciousness or sentimentality.

The thirteen issues are presented chronologically in their original form, cover to cover— the perfect way to chart Zervakis’ artistic trajectory. There is also a section in the back devoted to comics Zervakis drew for various anthologies (though none of the anthology titles or dates of publication are given). The comics and stories run the gamut of subject matter: light and dark, amusing and tragic, and everywhere in between, giving the reader a taste of Zervakis’ divergent experiences, hopes, regrets, whimsies and dreams.

One uncomfortably effective strip presents the first half of its title at the top of the page: “Sometimes You Don’t Know Until It’s Too Late”. Then Zervakis shows us a trio of situations in which she was presented with an opportunity to aid a worthy cause or help an animal in trouble…but opted not to. At the bottom of the page is the second half of the title: “You’ve Gone and Broke Your Own Heart”. We’ve all experienced this sort of “shoulda coulda” guilt and it’s excruciating.

The evocative “Dancing Beautiful” depicts Zervakis out one night at a club, listening to different bands, which triggers a childhood memory of dancing with her sister and cousin to love songs, but “not knowing what love was.” The panel of the girls dancing in their underwear is one of Zervakis’ loveliest, most indelible images.

Another brief story, “Time Travel”, also presents a memory inside another memory. Other stories, such as “Silent Passenger” and “Messages”, are melancholic tone-poems, capturing and recording moments to reflect upon and perhaps feel comforted by. Still another variety of Strange Growth‘s strips are those like “Neanderthal Romance” and “Bus Driver Philosophy”, which record, in humorous Harvey Pekar-esque fashion, odd encounters with strangers. Like Pekar, Zervakis is genuinely interested in the quirks of other people; she displays generosity even to the more outwardly annoying of them–certainly crediting them with at least giving her a good anecdote to pass along to readers.

Like so many other zine-based cartoonists from the ’90s (and today), Zervakis’ work is instinctual, spontaneous and personal—the antithesis of slick or polished. Her best drawings at times remind me of the ’40s-era children’s book illustrator Louis Slobodkin in their homey, rounded feel. Her most consistent art is usually to be found on the zine covers, in which she often depicts trees, gardens, potted plants, and other vegetation, rendering them with a wonderfully odd, fecund beauty. She evinces a deep appreciation for nature in general, whether relating anecdotes in “Gardens” or waxing poetic in “A Changing Season”.

In an excellent back-pages interview conducted by comics critic Robert Clough, Zervakis gives context to several of the stories, and to her general creative process, noting that comics are simply one conduit for her creative impulses. She states that she identifies more as a writer who draws, which sounds accurate, and as a part of the ’80s and ’90s generation of creators who mainly worked through self-publishing and distribution channels. She also confesses to having a “weird” relationship with art. The title Strange Growths feels apropos to the contents of every issue: the drawing for the table of contents in issue #1 features a face with the titles of the stories bulging from its head. “Strange growths,” indeed.

Though the comics here were created over two decades ago, there’s a timeless quality to them; they still feel fresh, evoking not nostalgia as much as an acknowledgement of the prismatic quality of life—the sheer breadth of its pitfalls and possibilities. Strange Growths was, and continues to be, something special.

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Fun http://www.tcj.com/fun/ http://www.tcj.com/fun/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:00:15 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101338 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Kirby returns with a review of Jenny Zervakis’ The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997.

To read Jenny Zervakis’ The Complete Strange Growths: 1991-1997, the first book published by John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half comics distribution outfit, is to take a welcome step back to the Golden Age of Zines. Long before the advent of such things as social media, GIFs, hashtags, and ebooks, cartoonists and zine-makers like Zervakis created, communicated, and collaborated with kindred spirits through the magic of print media via regular old postal mail. The Complete Strange Growths is a great addition to the small list of archival books devoted to preserving classic titles of this crucial era, including Porcellino’s own King-Cat Classix (D+Q, 2007), The Complete Deep Girl by Ariel Bordeaux (Paper Rocket Minicomics, 2013), and Fantastic Plotte by Julie Doucet (L’Oie de Cravan, 2013).

Strange Growths has been credited as a groundbreaking comics zine for its quietude, and focus on the quotidian—or, as Tom Hart’s back cover blurb aptly states, “on thought and mood.” It’s easy to see why John P. has acknowledged Zervakis as a major influence on his work, and fitting that he has published this collection. Zervakis’ comics record her experiences, memories and contemplations of the moment with an aesthetic that is personable yet detached, intelligent but fun-loving, and observant of small details while never losing focus on their larger significance, and never sinking into preciousness or sentimentality.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Professed Alan Moore fan Damon Lindelof is reportedly in talks to adapt Watchmen into a television series for HBO, which seems like a strange thing for anyone who respects Moore to do.

Key parts of Ted Rall’s defamation lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times have been thrown out by the judge in the case.

The nationally syndicated cartoonist, whose work once appeared regularly in The Times, filed suit last year alleging that the newspaper defamed him by calling into question the veracity of his work.

Acting on a motion by The Times, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin dismissed Rall’s claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against three current Times journalists and former Publisher Austin Beutner.

Alternative Comics publisher Marc Arsenault and his family are raising funds to help with various costs stemming from a burst appendix.

Being self-employed, they’ve also had to hire help to run their bookstore, Wow Cool Alternative Comics, while Marc is in the hospital and will need continued help while he recuperates at home and undergoes physical therapy.

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Pretending Is Lying http://www.tcj.com/reviews/pretending-is-lying/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/pretending-is-lying/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100890 Continue reading ]]> Reading the New York Review Comics edition of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying, I was reminded of an old Phoebe Gloeckner interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal. It’s commonly believed that the harrowing experiences she depicted in A Child’s Life and Diary Of A Teenage Girl are based partly on her own life. However, when Groth asked about certain events  in the book and referred to them as happening to her, she very insistently deflected that line of questioning. She repeatedly said that it happened to the character she created (named Minnie) and not her, no matter how many times Groth tried to get her to admit to something that seemed obvious.

The reality was that Gloeckner was not being disingenuous, nor was she even deflecting. A narrative about a personal experience is a narrative, not the experience itself. It’s mediated by the author. In a way, it’s a kind of a lie, at least in the sense that when we pretend to play at something, it’s a lie. This does not diminish the importance of these kinds of experiences; in some ways, it’s easier to get at the truth through one’s own textual avatar than it is through a supposedly “truthful” autobiographical character. Art is also artifice, and clever authors can show us the strings and matte paintings that make up their world while still making us believe in them because of their own skill and self-awareness.

Goblet’s book addresses all of these issues and many more in a story that is deliberately complex, showing a number of people in her life at their very worst, and then flipping our understanding. Her drunk and neglectful father is at first set up as an unambiguous villain but later is depicted as far more compassionate than one might think. Her mother is depicted as a magical force for good in the beginning, but Goblet explores how her mother at times transformed her into something horrible. The pull of an old relationship threatens to tear apart Goblet and her boyfriend Guy Marc in a section in which they collaborated with each other in depicting how the scenes would proceed, even if it made them look bad. Ghosts and other things that don’t exist take up prominent roles. People are warped into animal selves or made to look like Munch’s The Scream. It’s all pretend; autobiographical narratives are all pretend; and everyone is at least partly pretending.

Having established that, Goblet is able to go in some fascinating directions with the assumption that what’s important about the stories in the book is not that they factually depict a narrative, but rather capturing the emotional truth of a situation. The book has four chapters, each of which represents a different emotional fragment of her life, with the first and third chapters and the second and fourth chapters directly connecting.

There’s a lot that distinguishes this book from typical memoir. The partial collaboration with Guy Marc Hinant on some remarkably painful experiences is one, yet it’s just another aspect of Goblet’s mission in providing as many different angles on a situation as possible while demonstrating remarkable depths of empathy. Another is that the Goblet started work on the memoir in 1995 (when her daughter, a key character, was four) but was only able to work on it in fits and starts over the years, finally finishing it in 2007. The first chapter explores magical realist perceptions and has a painted wash over it that altered over the years. In that sense, the book reminds me of the Marcel Duchamp work The Large Glass, which took thirteen years to complete, spent some time gathering dust, and cracked in transit to its permanent home. That Duchamp had to repair it apparently pleased him, as though this was the final finishing touch. In much the same way, Pretending Is Lying started as one thing but wound up going in different but not dissimilar directions, as time altered her original art, her approaches to storytelling, and the very relationships she was examining during the course of the book.

Another non-comics work that Pretending Is Lying reminds me of is Bob Dylan’s autobiographical Chronicles, Volume 1. Dylan, like Goblet, chose to eschew a simple, chronological memoir and instead jumps across time in his four chapters, spinning stories surrounding particular times and places. Each chapter expresses something important to him, and there are connections between the chapters for those looking. Similarly, Goblet is able to explore a lot of ground regarding her family by jumping around in time and building nesting narratives. The first and second chapters in particular feel like complete works on their own, the third feels like a true sequel to the first (it’s even a direct continuation from where chapter one left off) and the fourth feels like an epilogue. Despite this level of artifice, the emotional urgency of each chapter is so powerful on its own that the structure disappears, leaving only that emotional impact.

The book’s introduction features what appears to be a simple, sweet anecdote regarding Goblet and her mother. When walking outside with her mother, Goblet was going too fast and fell. In the process, she tore holes into her leggings, which made her greatly upset. Her mother took the leggings, pretended to fix them, and put them back on her daughter backwards, so Goblet could no longer see the holes. Her reaction was awe and mystification, but the reality was that this was a form of artifice. Pretending. Lying. All for a good cause, of course, but when compared to her mother’s actions described later in the book, the “good fairy” effect fades.

The first chapter is a visual tour-de-force as Goblet masterfully establishes everything that the reader needs to know. We learn she has a four-year-old named Nikita, and that she’s visiting her father (and stepmother Blandine) for the first time in four years. She stopped seeing her dad in part because he was a drunk. With that simple setup, she dives right into the dynamic with her daughter, her dad, and her stepmom. She draws her dad as this huge, bulbous, and slightly absurd figure and Blandine skeletal, and with a Munch-like perpetual Scream expression. The book’s translator, Sophie Yanow (a formidable cartoonist in her own right), is able to get across some of the book’s verbal jokes, like the fact that variations and diminutives of young Goblet’s name mean “little nothing” or “dumb.” Her father is a classic macho blowhard, bloviating like a politician and bragging about how much people love him and like to give him things, his greatness as a firefighter, etc. If you’re not 100% behind him, then you become a potential enemy, and he sees his daughter as being in cahoots with his ex-wife.

Goblet literally starts depicting her father as a bull when his rage starts to build, borrowing from medieval religious imagery. Her ability to merge her imagination with reality is at once seamless in a narrative sense and painful & raw (though beautiful) on the page.  Her father is a powderkeg. Blandine is just as bad. When Nikita tells her that a drawing that she made wasn’t really of her friend but rather that she was pretending, Blandine screams the titular line, “Pretending is lying!” over and over. On those pages, Blandine is suddenly drawn the way a child might draw an adult: raw lines and a looming presence. The chapter ends with her father claiming that he was abandoned by Dominique and her mother, while Goblet knows the opposite was true.

The long second chapter is all about ghosts. It begins with a story about Goblet’s father encountering what appears to be a ghost that she was relating to her boyfriend Guy Marc Hinant; that spectral image of a woman haunting a space recurs throughout the chapter. Much of the chapter is told from Hinant’s point of view (retrospectively) as he conceals from his new girlfriend Dominique that he’s still very much hung up on his old girlfriend in a relationship that went sour. She moved on to another partner as well, but Hinant saw her behind Goblet’s back and then boldly lied to her about it. There are a couple of clever establishing scenes that show the powerful connection they started to form, including funny banter in a grocery store and a sex scene where Hinant’s desire is reflected in several small panels imagining her naked in numerous positions before he comes up to her and puts his hands down her shirt. This scene makes the other scenes that much more painful.

In fact, these pages are full of characters in pain, with Goblet coincidentally developing brutal migraines just as Hinant is seeing his ex. Hinant chooses not to be honest about what he wants, in part because it’s clear that he’s not sure. Goblet is tortured by his gaslighting and is constantly stressed and paranoid. Hinant’s ex is drawn to him (and they both say words to the effect that they are the only ones for each other) but neither can make it work. It’s a hellish limbo that’s set off by Hinant’s inability to figure out what he really wants and to control the reactions of everyone around him. The chapter is excruciating to read in many respects, but Hinant notes that the narrative is not the experience. Once again, artifice allows both artists to express painful feelings through their avatars on the page. By the end of the chapter, Hinant figures out that he can’t be with his ex, that they’ve moved in different directions, and he needs to leave her behind before he’s stuck forever. It doesn’t make him happy, but he does grudgingly come to an understanding of himself.

Something else important happens at the end of the chapter. Goblet is informed by a family friend that her father is dead in a bizarrely humorous extended speech (“He’s not doing well. He’s not doing well at all. He might be in the hospital. It would seem he that he’s dead.”), triggering all sorts of emotions, but then she is told he was in a coma for a while and is now better. When she goes to see him, she confesses to him the problems with her boyfriend, and he proves to be caring and empathetic in his own way. This is another way of revealing artifice, because the reader had been made to think her father was one thing, and the reality is that people are complicated and messy. Her father was a narcissistic drunk and he also loved her.

The third chapter picks up right where the second chapter ended, as we get a flashback to Goblet’s childhood when her parents were still together. Her father is off watching a race on TV on a rainy day, while young Dominique is bored, and her increasingly annoyed mother gets angrier and angrier at her for interrupting her housework. Though Goblet has abandoned the color and magical realist flourishes by this time, this isn’t to say that the pages aren’t fascinating. They provide a master class on the use of negative space, spotting blacks, and setting up grays to create mood. The use of shading helps create the claustrophobic character of their tiny apartment, and the way Goblet juxtaposes the scenes with herself and her mother vs those of her father talking to the TV are perfectly timed with the rising tensions in the story. When her mother finally explodes and starts screaming at her, the stories intersect, with her father rising to intervene–until there’s a brutal crash on TV. He’s distracted, in part because the fiery accident gives him a chance to fantasize about saving the driver, and partly because he is always distracted. The work of raising Dominique, it is implied, is always left to her mother.

And her mother makes horrible choices, locking her up in the attic and tying her arms so that they are suspended high above her head, the ropes tied to the rafters. In each of these scenes, Goblet juxtaposes the text of her mother screaming at her with drawings of the car on fire and blurry figures trying to intervene, and conversely juxtaposes the text of the TV commentary about the crash with crystal-clear images of herself in the attic, weeping and wailing. By the end of the story, the mother takes Goblet down and is calm again, putting her on her lap and playing a game with her after the storm has subsided. When her father enters the room, he is in the world of the crash, oblivious to anything else.

Returning to the present, the dinner at her father’s house is a disaster when Blandine starts screaming at Goblet and demands that she let her daughter stay there. Blandine is not presented like a Munch image because she is monstrous or frightening. She’s presented that way because she is in constant, unrelenting psychological pain. It’s clear that some of that pain is of her own creation, and some comes from living with Goblet’s father, but Goblet clearly triggers something in this visit, and it leads to a screaming match and Goblet’s subsequent exit. The final image of her father driving them home, boasting about “Injection Turbo” and going fast is a perfect send-off for what is essentially an aged teenage boy, playing pretend.

The final chapter takes place some time later and begins with Hinant complaining about shoes that need repairing and being told he has to throw them out and get new ones. It is a hilariously transparent metaphor for his relationship with Goblet, which leads to intensive listening to the blues and then a call to her after his cat brings him a bird. He stumbles through a story about wanting her to see the bird (which has flown away) and then copping to the lie: he just wants to see her. Everything else in the story collapses into a single point—”When? Now.”—as the paints suddenly resume and all figurework falls away. All of the pretending and lying falls away, even as he immediately admits to lying (the first time he does so in the book). There is just that one moment of desire, of longing, of sadness, of forgiveness, of love.

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Floral Nobility http://www.tcj.com/floral-nobility/ http://www.tcj.com/floral-nobility/#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101308 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews Pretending is Lying:

Reading the New York Review Comics edition of Dominique Goblet’s Pretending Is Lying, I was reminded of an old Phoebe Gloeckner interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal. It’s commonly believed that the harrowing experiences she depicted in A Child’s Life and Diary Of A Teenage Girl are based partly on her own life. However, when Groth asked about certain events  in the book and referred to them as happening to her, she very insistently deflected that line of questioning. She repeatedly said that it happened to the character she created (named Minnie) and not her, no matter how many times Groth tried to get her to admit to something that seemed obvious.

The reality was that Gloeckner was not being disingenuous, nor was she even deflecting. A narrative about a personal experience is a narrative, not the experience itself. It’s mediated by the author. In a way, it’s a kind of a lie, at least in the sense that when we pretend to play at something, it’s a lie. This does not diminish the importance of these kinds of experiences; in some ways, it’s easier to get at the truth through one’s own textual avatar than it is through a supposedly “truthful” autobiographical character. Art is also artifice, and clever authors can show us the strings and matte paintings that make up their world while still making us believe in them because of their own skill and self-awareness.

Elsewhere:

NY Mag takes a long look at the business and popularity of YA comics.

The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Joe Ciardiello.

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Fixin’ http://www.tcj.com/fixin/ http://www.tcj.com/fixin/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:38 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101305 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here as usual with his indispensable guide to the Week in Comics! Highlights this week include new titles by John Porcellino and Andrea Panzienza (which Joe calls “quite possibly the vital global comics release of the season”).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
Kate Beaton celebrates Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie.

That might sound grandiose, but in my mind, nothing tops the ten year run of Octopus Pie. And in the lifespan of what we call Webcomics, 2007-2017 is a granddaddy of a run, worthy of names like “pioneering,” “influential” and “groundbreaking” because in the space of those years, in this new medium, there was room to be those things without any hyperbole. The comics landscape of the past decade needed filling out and Meredith carved her space out with precision, showing a polish and drive and a talent from the beginning that set a high standard.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, William Bradley reviews a new book about the political dimensions of young Frank Miller’s work.

Many of us grew up certain that Miller was not only an artistic genius who changed the way people thought about Batman in the 1980s, but also a champion of artistic freedom and creators’ rights in an industry that had a history of not only censoring itself needlessly but also screwing over creators like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, and Steve Gerber. Later we were forced to ask ourselves: Had he changed in some way? Had we been wrong about him? Did the problem with his later work and attitudes cast a shadow on the earlier work that we had enjoyed so much?


—Interviews & Profiles.
For Wired, Emma Gray Ellis writes about the ultra-rightwing cartoonist Ben Garrison and his encounters with 4chan.

Former Breitbart editor and troll king Milo Yiannopoulos once called Garrison “the most trolled man in internet history.” (And considering Yiannopoulos has taken part in some of the largest, most vicious trolling campaigns in internet history, he ought to know.) But in 2009, when his career as an internet cartoonist began, Garrison was just a 52-year-old graphic artist with an obscure blog. “I was furious when the banks were bailed out, so I decided to draw a few protest cartoons,” Garrison says. “But the Nazis didn’t think I went far enough.”

The most recent guest on RiYL is Frank Santoro, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Josh Bayer.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/21/17 – Tornado Morning) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-62117-tornado-morning/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-62117-tornado-morning/#comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101284 Continue reading ]]>

Just a little page from last year’s King-Cat #76, from a story titled “(Memory of) Frying Up Burgers in My Cold, Miserable Apartment, Alone, Listening to Sports Radio”. Relevant to what’s coming…

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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!

Zanardi: In his paper “Cannibale, Frigidaire, and the Multitude: Post-1977 Italian Comics through Radical Theory”, as adapted to article form in the comics anthology Mould Map 4 (Landfill Editions, 2015), writer Federico Pagello identifies Andrea Pazienza as “the most popular” of the artists who formed Frigidaire, a long-lived venue for experimental and confrontational Italian comics, graphics and journalism. His peers Stefano Tamburini & Tanino Liberatore may have traveled farther on the back of the violent cyborg character RanXerox, but Pazienza — active in publishing since his student days among the radical left in the Bologna of the late ’70s — “expressed the political, cultural and existential preoccupations of the most sensible members of his generation,” bringing him visibility to a national audience beyond typical comics readers. Zanardi is a 256-page, 7.75″ x 10.5″ Fantagraphics hardcover translating what Pagello identifies as likely his best-known work, depicting “a cynical and ferociously individualistic lifestyle” as embodied by the young man of the title, representing “the mutated climate of the new, post-industrial, heavily hedonistic 1980s Italy.” All relevant strips should be included, from the early ’80s Frigidaire installments to an unfinished serial published in Comic Art, which ceased upon Pazienza’s death in 1988 at the young age of 32. Quite possibly the vital global comics release of the season. Translated by Alberto Becattini with Simone Castaldi, and introduced by the artist Manuele Fior; $29.99.

King-Cat Comix & Stories #77: You’re damn right King-Cat gets the spotlight again; the signature project of artist John Porcellino, this digest-sized b&w zine offers one of the art form’s best-sustained viewpoints into a person’s very particular worldview: thoughts, visions, environment, life. This 40-page number is an All-Animals issue, with stories on “possums, dogs, cats, Midwestern mountain lions, moths, horses, frogs, toads, and more!” That’s not my hand in the pic, I think it’s Porcellino’s. Comic book store distro by Alternative; $5.00.

PLUS!

In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads (&) A New Low: Two more from Fantagraphics. In the Pines is an 8″ x 11″, 136-page hardcover from Dutch cartoonist Erik Kriek, whom some of you will remember from the Oog & Blik wordless meta-superhero series Gutsman Comics from years back. Here he adapts five songs from the tradition of crime and tragedy in musical narrative, although it seems this edition (along with every other translation) lacks the bonus CD included with the 2016 avant-verlag original, which presented the five titular songs along with an original creation sung by Kriek himself…! A New Low, meanwhile, is a 7.25″ x 10.5″, 128-page collection of Johnny Ryan cartoons drawn from his long history with Vice magazine – “some of the most transgressively hilarious and politically incorrect comics to ever grace a glossy, national magazine,” crows the publisher. This column is pretty transgressive too, you know. I say “fuck” sometimes. They wouldn’t let you say “fuck” at Comics Alliance; I tried. One time I included a David Foster Wallace quote with the word “fuck” in it with an article, wondering if they’d edit out the word “fuck” if David Foster Wallace said it. They did; $24.99 (Pines), $19.99 (Low).

Lobo/Road Runner Special #1: Fuck these comics; $4.99.

Golden Kamgod, way to pluck that low-hanging fruit. I dunno, I just have a really visceral aversion to these DC serious-but-funny takes on Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbara cartoon properties, which seem designed primarily to coax oh my god such a weird idea ha ha ha ha ha ha reactions from credulous entertainment news sources that translate to added visibility, theoretically leading to impulse sales from curious and/or potentially-ironic-but-probably-assertively-‘sincere’-and-anyway-still-buying-so-it’s-exactly-the-same-thing-as-far-as-the-publisher-is-concerned consumers of popular ‘geek’-categorized franchise content. Hey, it worked for Archie. The Flintstones book is supposed to be actually good, and, as we know, only one (arguably) actually-good title is needed to valorize the whole line’s calculation, given the curve on which these corporate funster efforts are typically graded. Whoops, I just fell into their clutches by even talking about it! Still, NONETHELESS, the Lobo/Road Runner book is drawn by Kelley Jones, and it’s nice to see his work, and to know he’s getting paid. Maybe It’s Good (TM). Anyway:

Golden Kamuy Vol. 1: Being the launch of a new VIZ translation project for a prominent seinen manga, popular in the corners of online I happen to visit. Winner of last year’s bookseller-selected Manga Taishō award for new-ish series, this ongoing early 20th century period adventure from artist Satoru Noda sees a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war searching for gold up north in Hokkaido with the aid of an indigenous Ainu girl, all while pursued by the Imperial Army. Apparently the Japanese text makes use of the Ainu language, although that’s probably something only identifiable from the translation notes in this edition. The series is up to vol. 10 in Japan and runs in a weekly magazine, so settle in if you like it; $12.99.

Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War (&) Dorohedoro Vol. 21: Two glimpses into the society of creatures, via separate Japanese generations. Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War is the third installment of the Zack Davisson-translated line of Shigeru Mizuki yōkai comics from Drawn and Quarterly, which is to say the publisher’s fourth Kitaro collection counting a 2013 book with translator Jocelyne Allen. Much of this 176-page edition is occupied with a long storyline from 1967 (I think), although there’s a few added comics along with the supplementary texts and bonus games. Dorohedoro is the enduringly popular grimy fantasy work of artist Q Hayashida, which publisher VIZ has now placed in exact parity with the Japanese editions… until next week, when vol. 22 drops overseas; $12.95 (Kitaro), $12.99 (Dorohedoro).

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 6 (of 7) (&) Master Keaton Vol. 11 (of 12): More manga, both from VIZ, both from experienced authors, both nearly finished. Goodnight Punpun is the bleak road-to-adulthood epic of Inio Asano, now on its penultimate two-in-one volume. Artist and Journal contributor Sarah Horrocks says we’re “[g]etting to the part of the book that is better than everything,” which sounds like a recommendation to me. Master Keaton is the episodic insurance investigation series created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika, which was directly succeeded in 1994 by the former’s suspense series Monster in the pages of Big Comic Original. There is technically a 13th volume, collecting a much later revival series by Urasawa and editor/contributing writer Takashi Nagasaki, but VIZ does not appear to have it scheduled right now (and may not even have it licensed); $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton).

The Complete Skizz: This one’s been in print a few times in the past, but the name “Alan Moore” is a powerful one, and this 1983 project is *technically* the only open-and-shut self-contained serial he completed for 2000 AD, setting aside the rather modular nature of The Ballad of Halo Jones. It’s also vintage 2000 AD in a way, as it riffs on a popular concept from domineering media (here the ’82 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) with a particular local twist – often this manifested in the form of satire or white-knuckle pacing, but Moore (who was assigned the concept editorially) added a very regional, working-class texture to the tale of a space alien crash-landed in Birmingham. Jim Baikie provides the art for these 272 pages, published in North America by Simon & Schuster; $25.00.

The Leaning Girl (&) Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars: New editions here of works previously available. The Leaning Girl is the IDW version of a book previously published in 2014 by Alaxis Press subsequent to a crowdfunding campaign; it’s an English translation of a 1996 album in the Obscure Cities series of allegorical urban fantasies created by artist François Schuiten and writer Benoît Peeters. Quite a good place to start, as it boasts a sprawling, mysterious plot and some of Schuiten’s most lavish draftsmanship, with added photo-roman sequences shot by Marie-Françoise Plissart with the acting prowess of artist Martin Vaughn-James (of the extraordinary 1975 proto-graphic novel The Cage). Some notable sex and gender thematics too, as I’ve detailed before. In contrast, I don’t think I noted Indeh anywhere in this column when it was first released in hardcover last year; released by the generalist publisher Hachette and written by the actor Ethan Hawke, who revised the script from a screenplay he’d been working on for over a decade. Often these factors don’t add up to impressive comics, but I keep hearing decent things about this 240-page package, now in softcover, drawn by Greg Ruth of various Dark Horse series among other pursuits, who’s picked up an Eisner nomination for his efforts; $29.99 (Leaning), $25.00 (Indeh).

Lost Planet (&) Prince Valiant Vol. 15: 1965-1966: And here’s ‘classical’ adventure comics stuff, both retrospective and simply long-lived. Lost Planet was a 1987-89 Eclipse Comics series from artist Bo Hampton, evoking the derring-do of early SF pulp and the values of lavish adventure comics. IDW is presenting its hardcover collection of the work in de-colored form, so as to highlight the duo-shaded texture of the original art. Prince Valiant, of course, is the adventure comics institution from Hal Foster, once again presented by Fantagraphics in a 10.25″ x 14″ hardcover; $29.99 (Planet), $34.99 (Valiant).

Perspective in Action: Finally, your comic-that’s-also-a-book-on-comics-and-other-things-too of the week comes from the veteran alternative cartoonist and commercial illustrator David Chelsea, a formidable talent who’s written frequently on the topic of mastering perspective in drawing. This is his third release with Watson-Guptill on the topic, a 176-page comics-format guide to practical creation of a variety of example projects, with an eye toward “major perspective-related developments in history” across a variety of media; $22.99.

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Corn and Ribs http://www.tcj.com/corn-and-ribs/ http://www.tcj.com/corn-and-ribs/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101273 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, R.C. Harvey looks at the curious cartoon history of the Boy’s Life magazine mascot.

In another example of how far I can stray from the presumed topic, this time we start out with Pedro, the mailburro at Boys’ Life magazine back in the 1950s. And from there, we wander off into the surrounding landscape to a fare-thee-well, meeting Reamer Keller, Lowell Hess, Dik Browne and Tom Eaton on the way. 

Strolling leisurely through an antique mall one day last fall, I came upon a stack of Boys’ Life magazines. On top of the stack was the one with the cover that’s posted nearby. “Pedro,” I thought, murmuring the name of the magazine’s unofficial mascot, a donkey. Millions of other male Americans as well as I would recognize Pedro immediately. Officially, he was the “mailburro” of Boys’ Life, which was officially the magazine of the Boy Scouts, hence the vast circle of acquaintanceship with Pedro.

Elsewhere: 

Here’s Dan Clowes’ superb contribution to the new, magazine-sized Resist!

And a few visual announcements: next weekend my beloved Spoonbill is having a little zine fair in the shop. If you live in Brooklyn and haven’t been to this iteration of Spoonbill & Sugartown, you’re missing out.

And Kim Deitch recently posted this great and little-seen ad for his great Boulevard of Broken Dreams, published over a decade ago.

 

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Remembering Pedro http://www.tcj.com/remembering-pedro/ http://www.tcj.com/remembering-pedro/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:26 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101263 Continue reading ]]> In another example of how far I can stray from the presumed topic, this time we start out with Pedro, the mailburro at Boys’ Life magazine back in the 1950s. And from there, we wander off into the surrounding landscape to a fare-thee-well, meeting Reamer Keller, Lowell Hess, Dik Browne and Tom Eaton on the way. 

Strolling leisurely through an antique mall one day last fall, I came upon a stack of Boys’ Life magazines. On top of the stack was the one with the cover that’s posted nearby. “Pedro,” I thought, murmuring the name of the magazine’s unofficial mascot, a donkey. Millions of other male Americans as well as I would recognize Pedro immediately. Officially, he was the “mailburro” of Boys’ Life, which was officially the magazine of the Boy Scouts, hence the vast circle of acquaintanceship with Pedro.

Ostensibly, Pedro delivered the mail to the magazine’s staff and responded to letters-to-the-editor.

Inside the Pedro-covered issue of the magazine (dated June 1961) was a full-bore article about Pedro. It was, alas, not an actual history of the hayburner’s association with the magazine. It was, rather, a tale that relates the fictional 1947 arrival of the descendant of the genus genius Equus Asinus, one Don Juan Pedro Ladino de Philmonte, at the offices of Boys’ Life in New York, where, after alarming various members of the magazine’s staff by speaking—and sometimes reading—he took the position of mailburro, sorting incoming mail and then delivering it to the magazine’s minions on the 17th floor of 2 Park Avenue.

At first, Pedro offered to sing for the editor, observing that “where I come from, discerning people refer to others of my species as ‘mountain canaries.’” But the editor escaped this dubious privilege by saying, simply, “Don’t.” In sorting the mail, Pedro discovered that many of the youthful letter-writers asked questions that no one on the magazine’s staff was equipped to answer. But Pedro, as it happened, was fully equipped with a vast store of knowledge on a wide array of esoteric as well as mundane topics. So he pulled up a chair in front of a typewriter and began typing (with his hoofed “feet”) answers to all those questions.

“The fabulous flopears drew unfailingly from his incredible fountain of knowledge. It was not long before the entire operation of the magazine hinged upon the incomparable Don Juan Pedro Ladino de Philmonte.” At the end of the article, the office receptionist notes: “The foregoing report was typed by Pedro himself”—thereby accounting for the article’s flattering treatment of its subject.

We should have known. It was all a happy fabrication (the salutary version of “lie”). What was true, however, was that Pedro everafter adorned the magazine’s letters-to-the-editor column. The column was introduced by a paragraph or two relating the “fleabait’s” latest adventures, always signed with his “mark”—UU (a horseshoe imprint)—and during my time as a Boy Scout reader, the column was adorned with a small comical drawing of Pedro by freelance cartoonist Reamer Keller. More of him in a trice.

The cover art that had attracted my attention was by Lowell Hess, a popular humorous illustrator of the 1950s, who, as we’ve seen, also decorated the article within. (And if you follow the arrows embedded in the art, you’ll be following in Pedro’s footsteps as the enters the premises and, finally, gets a job there.) After magazines began folding in the late 1950s, Hess found work at Graphics3 Inc. as creative director, for 26 years, designing and illustrating pop-up greeting cards for which he won many awards. He died in 2014 at the age of 93.

Hess did other Boys’ Life covers from time to time, including the two at your eye’s elbow—one about Pecos Bill, the legendary cowpoke of the Southwest; the other, a glimpse of staff shenanigans in the editorial offices of Boys’ Life.

It was reported in a blurb about the staff portrait cover that when Pedro saw Hess’s picture of the staff at “work,” he snorted: “Hah—a perfect portrayal. The staff of this magazine in action looks just like a bunch of crazy, mixed up kids. F’instance, just look at —”“F’instance,” snapped the editor, “—just look at Pedro.” And he pointed to a tiny portrait at the lower right corner of Hess’s picture. Pedro sneered. “Why, I’m not even in the—.” Looking where the editor pointed, the hayburner balked and delivered himself of a half-strangled gulp. “That Hess guy is blind,” he observed, noticing that Hess had drawn him in a waste basket.

“Well, anyway—practically nobody will notice me. I hope.”

But I’ve now destroyed that hope, frail though it was to begin with. Inside the March 1955 Pecos Bill-covered issue was a two-page comic strip about the famed cowboy, drawn by Dik Browne, who was then also producing a regular full-page comics feature, The Tracy Twins, in the magazine. It was Browne’s skill in drawing kids and family members that attracted the attention of Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker and, simultaneously, of Sylvan Byck, the comics editor at King Features, both of whom were looking for someone to draw a new strip about Beetle Bailey’s sister’s family. Both Walker and Byck, unbeknownst to each other, had decided Browne would be perfect for the assignment.

Browne was working, then, at Johnstone and Cushing, an advertising agency well-known for doing advertising with comics. With a bullpen full of cartoonists, horsing around was part of daily routines. And when Byck phoned Browne and asked him if he would be interested in doing a nationally syndicated comic strip, Browne thought a fellow staff member (namely, Stan Drake) was playing a practical joke on him; so he hung up the phone.

Later, learning that Drake was innocent—and that no one else in the shop was guilty—Browne called Byck back and arranged a meeting. Hi and Lois debuted soon thereafter, on October 18, 1954. But Browne kept doing The Tracy Twins until about the time he launched a strip solely his own, Hagar the Horrible, February 4, 1973.

Other cartoonists did covers for Boys’ Life. Nearby, for example, is one by Ed Nofziger, who specialized in drawing comical talking animals in magazine cartoons. Before we leave Boys’ Life as a breeding ground for cartoonists, let’s return to Reamer Keller, who drew Pedro for the magazine’s letters column well into the 1960s. 

Keller was one of the most prolific magazine cartoonists during the heyday of magazine cartooning: starting in the 1930s, his cartoons appeared for 30-40 years in virtually every magazine being published. According to St. Wikipedia, he drew cartoons two days a week and for the next three, made the rounds of magazine offices to sell them. He was “so prolific he often drew 50 cartoons a week and routinely published a thousand cartoons annually for decades.” His style was loose, almost slapdash, which undoubtedly helped boost his output.

In the early 1950s, he produced a regular panel cartoon for Collier’s about an eponymous  hillbilly named Kennesaw. It was syndicated as a comic strip December 7, 1953 – January 28, 1956. Ten years later, he did a syndicated panel cartoon, Medicare, about doctors and nurses, January 3, 1966 until some time in 1976. He died in 1994 at the age of 89. Only two collections of Keller’s work are, to the best of my knowledge, available: Why the Long Puss (1956) and The Mating Manual (1957). I’ve dipped into the former for some of the samples posted near here—and into a couple of Best Cartoons of the Year anthologies, edited by Lawrence Larriar.

Finally, one last squib about Pedro: “The Wacky Adventures of Pedro,” a comic bookish feature in the comics section of Boys’ Life these days, has been written and drawn by the late  Tom Eaton since the early 1980s. Before that, Eaton served a stint at Hallmark then as art editor at Scholastic Books.

Quoted by Chris Tucker at scoutingmagazine.com, Joe Connolly, art director of Boys’ Life at the time and an army buddy of Eaton’s, said Eaton drew other Boys’ Life comics—Dink and Duff and Webelos Woody—before taking over Pedro. His picturing of Pedro is, as you can see from the fragment here, much more tightly rendered than Keller’s. 

Eaton took particular pains with the language in the feature, often resorting to alliteration and elaborate word play—referring to Pedro as “queasy quadruped,” “four-legged phenom,” and  “alfalfa aficionado,” and also conjuring up such musical interludes of “luminous lingo” as “entrpreneurial edible innovation.”

At 75, Eaton retired at the end of 2015, leaving Pedro to Kansas children’s book illustrator Stephen Gilpin, whose work, coupled to Eaton’s in the previous visual aid, is done with a finer more whimsical line. There. See how much an obsessive cartoon lore-ist can wring out of a cover picture of a jackass?

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As It Was http://www.tcj.com/as-it-was/ http://www.tcj.com/as-it-was/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 12:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101253 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Greg Hunter’s always excellent Comic Book Decalogue returns, this time with an interview with the inimitable Matthew Thurber.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The winners of the Bill Finger Award, given to comics writers whose work has been under-recognized, have been announced. This year’s winners are Bill Messner-Loebs and Jack Kirby. The Kirby selection is a little surprising but very hard to argue with.

—Rob Clough reports from this year’s CAKE.

—Nick Sousanis writes about the comics biography he created about Columbia comics librarian Karen Green.

—Paul Constant reports on this year’s Comics & Medicine Conference.

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Episode 20: Matthew Thurber http://www.tcj.com/episode-20-matthew-thurber/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-20-matthew-thurber/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 12:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101247 Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. Continue reading ]]>

 

On the twentieth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Matthew Thurber discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling BlackoutsVictoria LomaskoMichael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere.

 

Previous Episodes

Episode 19: Ben Sears

Episode 18: Maggie Umber

Episode 17: Eddie Campbell (Part II)

Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I)

Episode 15: Trungles

Episode 14: Anders Nilsen

Episode 13: MariNaomi

Episode 12: Anna Bongiovanni

Episode 11: Dean Haspiel

Episode 10: Lane Milburn

Episode 9: Anya Davidson

Episode 8: Gabrielle Bell

Episode 7: Inés Estrada

Episode 6: Dylan Horrocks

Episode 5: Sammy Harkham

Episode 4: Ed Luce/2DCloud

Episode 3: Yumi Sakugawa

Episode 2: Caitlin Skaalrud

Episode 1: Josh Simmons

Jingle credits: Fanfares created by Freesound.org user primordiality, uploaded September 2009. Sounds included under Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.
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http://www.tcj.com/episode-20-matthew-thurber/feed/ 0 0:51:22 The Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. The Infomaniacs and Art Comic creator discusses comics pedagogy, Rolling Blackouts, Victoria Lomasko, Michael McMillan, Dickens, Fantômas … this one goes everywhere. Mike Dawson no no
A Chat Noir with Graham Chaffee http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-noir-with-graham-chaffee/ http://www.tcj.com/a-chat-noir-with-graham-chaffee/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101202 Continue reading ]]> “I’m a terrible writer, is what it is,” Graham Chaffee tells me—but I don’t believe him. The cartoonist, who spends his days working as a tattoo artist in his Hollywood studio, is being too modest. His fourth graphic novel, To Have and To Hold, is a gut-punch thriller that argues otherwise, proving that Chaffee’s a storyteller who knows how to make the most of his medium. Whether he’s using spoken dialog or intimating a narrative through his character’s gestures, facial expressions, or body language, his work is consistently engrossing.

Set in the early 1960s at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, To Have and to Hold centers on Lonnie, a disgraced ex-cop forced to eke out a living as a night watchman, and his beleaguered wife Kate, whose marriage never served up any of the bliss promised by all those TV commercials and glossy magazine ads. Now the Ross’s life together is etched by petty bickering and smothering resentment. When Lonnie discovers that Kate has been stepping out on him, he reacts in a way that brings their world into chaos and threatens to destroy more than just their lives.

Over the course of 200 chiaroscuro pages, Chaffee puts his spin on the classic heist story through deeply-articulated characters and a black-and-white style perfectly matched to the subject matter. On the one hand, his work captures the visual élan and narrative smack of some of the best classic Hollywood B crime pictures—think 1950’s Armored Car Robbery or 1953’s Crime Wave, while on the other hand it recalls the melancholy bleakness and sophisticated relationship politics of noir writer David Goodis, rather than the cardboard rat-a-tat of Mickey Spillane.

Over the course of several emails, Chaffee and I discussed, among other things, his creative process, the influence of cinema on his work, and the dark side of the promise of prosperity in postwar America. -Mark Fertig

You’re a full-time tattoo artist in Los Angeles. I’m curious about how that job overlaps with your work as a cartoonist. Does your work in one area inform or influence your work in the other, and do you ever struggle to avoid burnout?

Tattooing is restrictive to my work as a comics artist. I am so used to crafting these clean designs with recognized protocols for outline, shading, and color, that it’s hard to switch gears and loosen up as a draughtsman. I fear my comics are more controlled and uptight than I’d like them to be. I’m no Ware or Burns, but I’d like to be even less so: looser, more expressive, more Julie Doucet!

You once described your graphic novels as “paper movies.” The narrative sensibilities in To Have and To Hold are often unmistakably cinematic—even the cover is reminiscent of a vintage movie poster. In what ways do films and filmmaking inform your process?

It’s more that I see the story like a movie in my head. I’m trying to draw the scenes the way I’d shoot them if I had a camera. I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t study specific scenes or shots or anything. This also means I don’t use a lot of narrative boxes or thought balloons—I’m a “show it, don’t say it” kind of guy. My characters run around and do stuff, and you gotta infer their motives and desires from their words and actions, because we’re not going inside their heads. This means a lot of the weight is carried by the actors—their gestures, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and whatnot.

To Have and To Hold is a noir crime story in the classic sense. Does your fascination with noir come just from movies, or are there other sources—pulp fiction, true crime, or other comics and graphic novels?

Hmmm…Well, I read a ton of pulp fiction and detective stories. I love Cain and Thompson and Hammett and Chandler and all that crew—Christie, Sayers, Greene, Highsmith, Doyle—not to mention the Scandinavians… 

But Noir seems more a product of postwar cinema—and I think my noirish influences are more movie-oriented than bookish. I’m never thinking about books or authors when I’m trying to write or draw a scene; I’m definitely moving a camera around in my head.

The Cold War, specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis, is a constant presence in the story. Why did you choose to situate the story in that specific moment in history?

To date, all my stories have taken place in the same imaginary east-coast metropolis and the time is vaguely 60s—that’s a paradigm that just sort of evolved through the various graphic novels. You’ll see the same people and buildings recur throughout my work.

Anyhow, for To Have and To Hold, I needed a realistic news broadcast that could play on the radio or television in various scenes. I found one from October of 1962 and the Missile Crisis was the main story—so I thought, okay: October ‘62—that’s when all this happens. As the plot developed, the Crisis seemed more and more appropriate as a paranoid backdrop for a story with so many tense and unhappy people. So, to be honest, it was a serendipitous sort of accident.

I couldn’t help but grin when I saw your nod to the poster for The French Connection. It’s just one of many cultural references that are peppered throughout To Have and To Hold. What’s behind them? Do you ever worry that they might yank your readers out of the story?  

I’ve been pulling that shit since Big Wheels—I can’t help myself!  Sometimes, I see an image that’s just too good not to include—too inspiring. Like this painting by Millard Sheets:

…or this one by Norman Price, from Treasure Island, which has haunted me since childhood—my French Connection image is my way of giving it a 60s update, while also paying homage to the Friedkin film.

While we’re here, I’d like to point out the closing reference to the closing shot in Psycho:

So, yeah—it’s childish, but whatevs—I look at it this way: anyone who would get these references is likely the sort of person who would enjoy spotting them more than they mind being briefly taken out of the story…at least I hope so.

Your drawings capture the dark moodiness (or is it the moody darkness) that goes hand in hand with noir, while retaining a confident, economical quality that lends itself to this kind of storytelling. Is that something that comes naturally, or did you need to tweak your technique for this project?

It comes naturally. I have always wanted to tackle noir—love the dramatic imagery—my favorite panels are the nighttime shots. It’s a challenge to compose using only black and white. I have become reasonably adept at it, but I’m still far behind masters such as Alex Toth and/or [Epileptic author] David B. In fact, I have recently branched out into gray—which you’ll see in my next book.

Your action sequences are especially vivid, yet so much of the story is told through smaller, often silent panels that rely on facial expression or body language instead of dialog. I’d like to learn more about your process here. Do you work from a tight outline? Are there moments, for example, when you realize a page needs an additional panel, or that a panel is unnecessary?

Good Dog had a typed script, then a fully finished sketchbook layout with lights and darks, before I started the finish art. So I did the whole book three times, which was exhausting and slowed me down a lot. And then Gary [Fantagraphics publisher Groth] told me it was too short for a graphic novel and I had to go back through it and add 30 more pages somehow…

So for TH&TH, I decided to just get into finish art as soon as I could. I plotted the story—the main bits of it—and then wrote the first scene, sketched a layout or two, and jumped into finish art right away.

I kept on that way, writing a page or two ahead of the art and finishing as I went along. I definitely went back and rewrote and redrew stuff as the story evolved—sometimes gluing a new panel over an old one, sometimes replacing the whole page. Sometimes it’s just finding a better image, like here:

…and other times, it was about writing a better scene. Mostly this involved the evolution of Kate, from “cheating wife” to actual person. There’s a scene at the beginning of the book, after Lonnie has learned that he’s been deceived, and he wakes her up to fish for clues. There’s a conversation that amounts to a struggle for moral advantage, which Kate wins by means of a grumpy handjob. I rewrote that sequence twice—and redrew four pages trying to get it right.

The plot of To Have and To Hold is more urgent and straightforward than that of Good Dog or The Big Wheels, with an ending that offers readers plenty of closure. And at 200 pages it’s also a good bit longer. How has working this way been different for you, and is it a direction you think you’ll carry on in the future?

I’m a terrible writer; is what it is. Big Wheels and Good Dog are just sort of: “Okay, it’s 6:00 AM and we wake up…now what?” To Have and To Hold is the first story with a real plot—it was way more work, but now I feel sort of committed to the idea of beginning/middle/end, so I’ll probably keep trying to do it…

The marriage at the center of the story is in awful shape. Lonnie and Kate are bored, bitter, barely getting by, and without children to soften life’s hard edges (though you give us a few glimpses of what their life together was like in younger, happier years). What does their story say about the postwar American Dream?  

Well, it’s the promise of prosperity that fuels Kate’s dissatisfaction, isn’t it? We can see in the flashback panels that she thinks she’s backed a winner. When Lonnie threw his career away, dealing impounded dope with his beatnik friend, she felt gypped. Now they have to watch their expenses; she’s gotta go back to secretarial work to help pay the bills—hardly the fulfillment of the American dream. Tucker, on the other hand, seems like a pretty safe bet: good job, swell dresser, looks a little like Kennedy. If she can’t have the American dream, she can fake it with Tuck, and she’s realistic enough to know that’s about as good as it gets for her.

 

I really enjoyed getting to know Kate; she’s a wonderful character, easily the story’s most subtle and—awful pun completely unintended—fully developed. Was she difficult to write? Is she a femme fatale?

She wrote herself.  Kate started this story as “cheating wife” but I knew as soon as I gave her a line of dialog, that she wasn’t gonna stay there.  Her real breakout came in this scene:

 

Lonnie thinks he’s got her number. He thinks that he’s gonna toy with her and learn the truth, but she shuts him down while still half-asleep and then, when he pushes it, reverses the moral advantage he feels he has and leaves him in no position to question her about anything. Their dialog in this scene told me what my heist story was really about: the slow dissolve of a marriage. Fictional characters (at least my characters) exert a level of independent agency, outside the writer’s control. Once you introduce them, they take on their own personalities and insist on being heard. Kate moved herself out of the fairly insulting role of “protagonist’s object of desire or revenge” to “real person who has her own desires.” The final story is as much about her as it is about him. She has the best lines, too…

 She is not a femme fatale, for all the reasons outlined above. A fatale exists only as an object for the hero to desire/pursue/whatever. They aren’t real people; you have no idea what they like or dislike or want or anything. They’re just there to reflect the hero’s own desires. 

This never happens to a femme fatale:

 

 

To Have and To Hold is dedicated to Eddie Coyle and Popeye Doyle—a worn-out crook and an obsessed cop—two of the early 1970s cinema’s grittiest anti-heroes. Lonnie is cut from the same cloth. What is it about these guys that appeals to you?

Lonnie is one of those guys who is just smart enough to underestimate the people around him—to think he’s got an edge. Feeling like he’s a little smarter than everyone else has given him this frustrated sense of entitlement; he’s his own worst enemy, perpetually biting off more than he can chew.  If he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story, naturally, so perhaps that’s the appeal.

“The consequences of hubris” is a pretty well established theme, going back past Popeye Doyle to…Oedipus, maybe? Lotta antiheroes in between. Lonnie’s got plenty of company there, wherever he is…

He’s also an ex-soldier and an ex-cop forced into “early retirement,” both of which are familiar noir beats. Nevertheless, To Have and To Hold breaks from that tradition in some fascinating ways. Unlike heist films such as The Asphalt Jungle or even Ocean’s Eleven, it doesn’t waste page after page scouting out the perfect crew or glorifying the details of the plan. Was it important for you to update (or upend) certain noir tropes?

It’s less about upending noir tropes and more about telling a story I like. While I love noir and have always wanted to do a noir story, I wasn’t too concerned with sticking to the rules of the genre. I am not the world’s most original writer, and I knew I was gonna lean on some archetypes and clichés—but I wanted to keep ‘em to a minimum—to make my characters as real as they could be in this absurd situation I created for them to run around in. I wanted it to feel grounded in reality. I didn’t want to romanticize any of it. I knew To Have and To Hold was gonna end hard for somebody—that doom was inevitable—but that’s about it.

There’s a bleak, understated quality to some of these crime films of the 60s and 70s (Get Carter, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Taking of Pelham 123, etc., etc.) that appeals to me as a writer. I don’t think I could have escaped the lurid, hammy, melodrama of classic black and white noir. I wanted to play with atmospheric lighting and whatnot, but all those weary gumshoes and sexy dames are too entrenched in their iconography for a guy like me to break ‘em out. But these little 70s noir flicks—I could get in there and push my story around without feeling like I was gonna break the genre.

I follow you on Instagram, where you post a lot of in-progress panels and pages. Howzabout telling us what we can expect from you in the future?

I’m working on another noir, this time in 1970s Hollywood. It’s about some low-budget filmmakers who fun afoul of the mob. There’s arson and insurance fraud and general mayhem in the valley.

Here’s that gray I was talking about:

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Folksy http://www.tcj.com/folksy/ http://www.tcj.com/folksy/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101240 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Mark Fertig interviews Graham Chaffee about his new book, To Have & To Hold. 

You once described your graphic novels as “paper movies.” The narrative sensibilities in To Have and To Hold are often unmistakably cinematic—even the cover is reminiscent of a vintage movie poster. In what ways do films and filmmaking inform your process?

It’s more that I see the story like a movie in my head. I’m trying to draw the scenes the way I’d shoot them if I had a camera. I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t study specific scenes or shots or anything. This also means I don’t use a lot of narrative boxes or thought balloons—I’m a “show it, don’t say it” kind of guy. My characters run around and do stuff, and you gotta infer their motives and desires from their words and actions, because we’re not going inside their heads. This means a lot of the weight is carried by the actors—their gestures, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and whatnot.

To Have and To Hold is a noir crime story in the classic sense. Does your fascination with noir come just from movies, or are there other sources—pulp fiction, true crime, or other comics and graphic novels?

Hmmm…Well, I read a ton of pulp fiction and detective stories. I love Cain and Thompson and Hammett and Chandler and all that crew—Christie, Sayers, Greene, Highsmith, Doyle—not to mention the Scandinavians… 

But Noir seems more a product of postwar cinema—and I think my noirish influences are more movie-oriented than bookish. I’m never thinking about books or authors when I’m trying to write or draw a scene; I’m definitely moving a camera around in my head.

Elsewhere:

A major exhibition on Garth Williams has opened, and it looks great. 

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New Shoes http://www.tcj.com/new-shoes/ http://www.tcj.com/new-shoes/#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101218 Continue reading ]]> Okay, now Joe McCulloch is really here with his usual guide to the Week in Comics! Spotlight picks this week include new books by Yeon-sik Hong and the Sunday Press.

The focus this time around is on works by Rube Goldberg, notably the 1909-10 color Sunday iteration of his Foolish Questions feature, in which snappy retorts are offered in face of thoughtless queries; Al Jaffe did stuff like this later in MAD, along with innumerable comedians looking to puncture the inflated chumminess of passerby in hindsight from the mic. I always feel kind of bad for the dummies in these things; they’re just trying to be sociable. It’s hard sometimes.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian profiles Jillian Tamaki.

Half Life is metaphorical of ageing, she ventures. “Not that I’m old, but you can already see, at 37, that the body starts changing in ways that feel very inevitable, and they link you to broader humanity – you think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why old people are they way they are.’ It feels inevitable, like you’re joining some sort of weird club. But as we face ageing, we don’t want to do it with fear. Ageing is death, right? That’s why we all freak out about it, but we want to deal with it calmly. That’s what we all would like – you lose control over your body, and you’re doing it with a degree of grace.”

The women in Boundless are smart and self-aware, reflective and angry; diverse in age, race and body shape – but their characters seem almost interchangeable. “I feel like they are possibly conceptual,” Tamaki says. The stories [are about] a fantastical element, always butting up against reality. I wonder if the women are incidental. Maybe it’s the same woman at different times in her life, or something like that.”

The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Arnie Levin, the most recent guest on the CBLDF podcast is Ed Luce, and the most recent guest on Inkstuds is Ben Sears.

—Misc. Michael Cavna writes about the recently announced inclusion of webcomics in the Library of Congress.

The first phase of the webcomics online collection will include nearly 40 titles, including such long-running works as Josh Lesnick’s “Girly” and Zach Weiner’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.”

“Webcomics are an increasingly popular format utilized by contemporary creators in the field and often include material by artists not available elsewhere,” Megan Halsband, a librarian in the Serial and Government Publications Division, says in a statement.

Mark Evanier speculates about recent rumors that Mad magazine may be closing shop or otherwise making major changes.

Rumors abound that the magazine known as MAD — an institution that’s been around exactly as long as I have — will soon cease publication. I’m pretty sure this is not so, though it is about to undergo some massive changes and no one is saying quite what they’ll be. One biggie though is that its office of operations is shifting from New York, New York (across the street from where Stephen Colbert does his show) to Burbank, California (across the street from where Ellen DeGeneres does her show). With this migration will come a brand-new editorial staff consisting of…

Well, if the folks in charge of DC Comics have decided who the folks in charge of MAD will henceforth be, they’ve kept it a lot more secret than anything in the Trump White House. I don’t know and no one currently involved in the production of MAD seems to know.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/14/17 – Wicked Hearts Anon.) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-61417-wicked-hearts-anon/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-61417-wicked-hearts-anon/#comments Wed, 14 Jun 2017 05:25:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101195 Continue reading ]]>

The story of my life, supplied by Kenshi Hirokane and his studio from vol. 2 of the bilingual edition of President Kosaku Shima, translated by Ralph F. McCarthy (Kodansha, 2011).

***

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!

Uncomfortably Happily: It is a rare thing when Korean manhwa appears in translation these days; rarer still when it’s a slice-of-life tale of the everyday. I have a lonely fondness for Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth (First Second, 2009), an extended consideration of natural phenomena as analogies for human sexual traits. This 576-page Drawn and Quarterly softcover is a bit more ‘everyday’, but no less fascinated by rural living – artist Yeon-sik Hong and his wife move to the countryside in search of serenity, but peace proves elusive in this setting. An all-in-one edition of a 2012 series, though I suspect the format matches that of a ’13 French-language edition from Ego Comme X. The translator is the cartoonist and illustrator Hellen Jo; $29.95.

Foolish Questions and Other Odd Observations: And here are some rare materials in a trusted format – that of Sunday Press Books, one of the earliest and most renowned purveyors of hardcover editions dedicated to presenting vintage works in as close to tactile contemporaneity as feasible. The focus this time around is on works by Rube Goldberg, notably the 1909-10 color Sunday iteration of his Foolish Questions feature, in which snappy retorts are offered in face of thoughtless queries; Al Jaffe did stuff like this later in MAD, along with innumerable comedians looking to puncture the inflated chumminess of passerby in hindsight from the mic. I always feel kind of bad for the dummies in these things; they’re just trying to be sociable. It’s hard sometimes. Also included are supplemental gag panels going into 1919, plus texts by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter), Paul Tumey and Carl Linich. A 10″ x 10″ hardcover, 96 pages; $35.00.

PLUS!

Garbage Night: Artist Jen Lee picked up some some very positive reactions in 2015 for her oversized comic book Vacancy, which followed anthropomorphic animal kids facing the temptation and the peril of living wild in a ransacked post-domestic setting. Now the same publisher, Nobrow, offers a 72-page color hardcover (7.1″ x 9.8″) reprinting the original work with a lot of new stuff from the same milieu; $18.95.

Vague Tales (&) Ripple: A Predilection for Tina: Fantagraphics new and old here. Vague Tales is the new one from small-press funnybook specialist (and MythBusters producer) Eric Haven, a 64-page color hardcover involving “telepathic encounters with a demonic aviatrix, a wandering crystalline being, a flaming sword-wielding warrior, and a mysterious sorceress,” among other sights. I believe this is the lengthiest edition of Haven’s work so far. Ripple, meanwhile, originated in the millennial comic book series Weasel from Dave Cooper, an indie comics veteran dating back to the grimy age of Aircel and Northstar, soon to decamp for the worlds of gallery art and television animation. The story concerns a frustrated painter and his fraught relationship with a young model he plans to use for a sensational exhibition on the erotic potential of homeliness – it may be read as an anxious depiction of fascinations in the artist’s own oeuvre. David Cronenberg added an intro for the 2004 first collection, and now the whole thing returns as a 136-page, 9.5″ x 10.5″ hardcover; $16.99 (Vague), $24.99 (Ripple).

Pop Gun War: Chain Letter (&) Nate Powell’s Omnibox: Other collections! Other publishers! Chain Letter is a new 176-page Image release from Farel Dalrymple, continuing his long-lived solo surreal fantasy project. This is the material that wrapped up in the publisher’s now-defunct Island anthology, so you could also consider this the next book struck from that. Omnibox is a 696-page slipcased package of Nate Powell books originally released by Top Shelf (a publisher since acquired by IDW): the graphic novels Swallow Me Whole (2008) and Any Empire (2011); and the decade-spanning short works collection You Don’t Say (2015). Powell is best-known today as the artist of the hugely successful politico-biographical trilogy March, but it’s worth checking out these solo works – Swallow Me Whole in particular is a terrific book, a rare depiction of sibling affection cutting like a small beam through the mounting fog of mental illness; $19.99 (Pop Gun), $59.99 (Omnibox).

Winnebago Graveyard #1 (Of 4) (&) Slasher #2: A pair of real, stapled comic books for people who need it in their lives. Winnebago Graveyard is a new Image debut, this one from horror specialist Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson, a London architect who’s been drawing some very striking comics for the likes of Image, Dark Horse and others. Niles tends to gear his scripts toward showcasing particular aspects of his collaborators, and this Satanic Americana concept looks to go heavy on deep-shadowed small town wooded ambience. Slasher is horror of a different sort, continuing the new Charles Forseman series with Floating World (distro by Alternative), in which a pair of adult online friends with troubling personal situations bond intimately via text while gingerly testing out their predilections for bloodplay in very much non-consensual situations. The first issue matched broad-canvass characterizations with a slow sense of menace in a manner I found to be an intriguing continuation of the artist’s Revenger aesthetics – rotten fruit colors and easy-access character types now put in the service of encouraging you, the genre-savvy and history-hip reader, standing so slightly aloof, to pick up the hint that everything arguably mundane is teetering on the brink of smashing down a cliff of disgust; $3.99 (Graveyard), $4.99 (Slasher).

Valerian: The Complete Collection Vol. 1: Poor Laureline – banished from the title because they didn’t name the movie after her. Un film de Luc Besson is set to drop in just over a month, so Cinebook is now offering a 160-page, 8.66″ x 11.42″ hardcover pairing the earliest, 1967-68 appearances of the galaxy-hopping Pierre Christin/Jean-Claude Mézières SF characters (which I don’t believe were collected in album form until the ’80s, and have never appeared before in English) with the first two ‘official’ albums: The City of Shifting Waters (here presented in a longer, two-part format as serialized in Pilote, 1968-69) and The Empire of a Thousand Planets (1971). Artist Mézières is working in a comparatively sprightly cartoon mode here, informed by the likes of Morris and Jack Davis, which makes this a unique choice for a cinema tie-in… and yes, there’s production materials from the big screen version in here as well, plus chats with Besson and the creators; $29.99.

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal of Luke Kirby: A 288-page all-in-one collection for a 1988-95 2000 AD series maybe less familiar outside the UK than some, concerning a saga-in-recollection of a boy wizard’s growth in the 1960s. A good portion has never been reprinted before, owing to disagreements surrounding ownership of the series; I can’t seem to find any explanation of whatever resolution has occurred at the moment (and this column is LATE ENOUGH). The creators are writer Alan McKenzie and artist John Ridgway, the latter succeeded by Steve Parkhouse and Graham Higgins; $28.99.

Jack Kirby’s The Forever People – Artist’s Edition: Finally, we are graced with a less-rare appearance by another specialist in tactile vintage works, the famous IDW line of gigantic hardcovers shot in color from b&w original art. Kirby is a popular subject, and this 144-page tome collects issues #1 & #4-8 of his Fourth World series, 1971-72, with inks by Vince Colletta and Mike Royer; $125.00 (or so).

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What Else to Do http://www.tcj.com/what-else-to-do/ http://www.tcj.com/what-else-to-do/#comments Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101192 Continue reading ]]> Here in Brooklyn it’s really turned to summer — hot smelly NYC summer is upon us. I sat outside yesterday and enjoyed, at different ends of the day, sunshine, orange juice, and ribs. Life! Joe McCulloch also knows it’s summer and later today will have the comic book news to prove it!

Elsewhere:

I’m enjoying The New Yorker’s new-ish forays into comics… there’s this new one, for example. Worth checking in on.

After his Facebook money and Howard Stern appearance I sorta lost track of one-time early oughts comics sensation David Choe. The publicity around his recent mural in NYC has brought scrutiny to his alleged sexual misconduct in recent years. Hyperallergic has published a pretty brave and scathing essay on the matter. 

On a related note, I was moved by this story. Of course we don’t need to applaud the extremely wealthy for  good deed, but this is a nice example of the insane culture market actually doing something good.

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Fire!! http://www.tcj.com/reviews/fire/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/fire/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100882 Continue reading ]]> Since ending the regular run of his seminal series Hate!, Peter Bagge has been experimenting with all sorts of different genres. He wrote an all-ages series with Yeah! (drawn by Gilbert Hernandez), wrote and drew some of a hilarious comic about a conservative daily strip cartoonist and his “assistants” with Sweatshop, did an amusingly unsettling post-apocalyptic story with Apocalypse Nerd, crafted a Second Life satire called Other Lives (which dated very quickly), and another book that touched on identity and technology, Reset. None of them had a lot of commercial success, but Bagge hit on something with a backup feature in Apocalypse Nerd called Founding Fathers Funnies. It was an accurate yet highly irreverent take on the Founding Fathers of the United States, a subject he clearly found fascinating. He also clearly had a knack for zeroing in on certain details while creating a lively narrative.

That seemed to stem in part from his years of doing reportage and commentary for the libertarian magazine Reason. Despite whatever point of view he had going into a story, he always did a lot of research, was open to listening to the views of others (no matter how kooky), and brought a surprising amount of objectivity and empathy to the table. In other words, he did a far more effective and compelling job than most “real” journalists. Bagge is also far from being in lockstep with all of his party’s platforms. His ability to bring both clarity and a strong narrative angle to events made Founding Fathers Funnies effective as a straightforward history and series of mini-biographies, and his no-bullshit sensibilities made it funny. Plus, there’s the matter of his art. He never changes it one whit no matter the subject matter at hand.

That means rubbery limbs, exaggerated expressions (including bugged-out eyes), lots of side-eye and tons of flop sweat. Everything is over the top, with Bagge reserving his craziest and most expressive art for the most extreme of situations. His art was the secret weapon of Founding Fathers Funnies, in part because he recast these usually soberly told tales in his own style, which by nature was dramatic and ridiculous. And to be fair, the real details of these stories were indeed dramatic and ridiculous. The style also worked reasonably well for Woman Rebel, his first full-length comics biography published by Drawn & Quarterly. It was interesting that Bagge chose to tell the story of a historically important woman, especially given the dearth of such material in general and comics in particular, but it was her idiosyncratic, iconoclastic and quasi-libertarian tendencies that drew Bagge’s attention to the founder of what would become Planned Parenthood.

With Fire!!, Bagge decided to take on another fascinating historical figure: the author, essayist and playwright Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was a significant cultural figure and a larger-than-life and charismatic character who lit up rooms, but who frequently didn’t fit in with her colleagues, among other reasons because she wasn’t a leftist. Like Sanger, she was an iconoclast who also had quasi-libertarian beliefs, though not quite in the same way. Now the prospect of a white male author telling Hurston’s story drew a bit of controversy when it was announced. Some misunderstood the way publishing works or conflated it with mainstream comics, saying that the book should have been “assigned” to someone else. That argument of course makes no sense because there was no assignment; the book was strictly Bagge’s idea.

More problematic in the eyes of others was the match of Bagge’s art style with a book about an African-American woman, her family, her friends, etc. Given that African-Americans historically have not depicted with respect in the world of comics, the exaggerated style of Bagge was seen as continuing that legacy. To be sure, given the way that the likes of Will Eisner, Frank King, and many others drew African-American characters and usually denied them a sense of agency and dignity that the Caucasian characters in the strips possessed, this is a point to consider. Others objected to the fact that several of Bagge’s characters in Hate! were racist (like Butch Bradley), and even Buddy (theoretically Bagge’s stand-in) was known to have used the n-word. Of course, Butch was unequivocally depicted as a monster (especially in his later years) and Buddy was never anything less than an asshole; indeed, the whole purpose of Hate! was a satire of youth culture, albeit one that wasn’t trying to be especially sensitive. That said, Bagge has had a number of African-American characters in his other recent books, although always as a part of a wider cast.

In the context of Fire!!, however, none of these criticisms wind up seeming relevant. Yes, there are aspects of Bagge’s art that are problematic for telling this kind of story, but he actually addresses some of these issues right up front, before his narrative begins. He is extremely scrupulous when it comes down to sourcing people, images, quotes and events, and the nearly forty pages of notes provide for remarkable reading on their own. When he slightly altered anything, he documented it very carefully. Take the cover, for example. The amusing image of Hurston in a white dress while strapped with a revolver and swearing a Stetson hat while leaning on her car was a composite of several other photos. Every single vignette in this book of carefully paced vignettes is sourced and expanded upon in the notes, which are almost as funny as the story itself. Bagge is not afraid to editorialize from time to time, but he knows when to rein it in and stick to the strict facts and when to weigh in on a subject. That said, it’s obvious that he has nothing but admiration and respect for Hurston, and the vast majority of the drawings are simple talking heads or characters just interacting in a normal way. In the end, it will be up to each reader to decide if Bagge’s drawings are disrespectful or not based simply on his style, but it does seem clear that mockery is not his intent.

Throughout the book, Bagge treats every character with respect. Foolish behavior is depicted foolishly, but there is absolutely no distinction between the way he draws white characters and the way he draws African-Americans. Bagge is above all else trying to tell a story and trying to do so in an entertaining way while at the same time stay as close to the record as possible. His research for the comic was staggering and I don’t blame him for preparing such a carefully prepared endnotes section, because it really does form a kind of secondary narrative of its own. That’s especially true when it comes to detailing the backstories of the many famous people she encountered in her life, like Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, anthropology professor Franz Boaz, and Howard president and noted philosopher Alain Locke, who tended to ignore female students but admired Hurston’s abilities as a writer.

Bagge focuses on several key ideas in the book. First and foremost was Hurston’s life growing up in Eatonville, Florida in the 1890s. Eatonville was the first all-black city in America. That had a profound effect on Hurston as being surrounded by people who looked like her meant that she never felt inferior. Certainly, she had issues with her family (especially her father after he quickly remarried after her mother died), but the structure and culture of the town itself were indispensable in how she came to view the world and also had a significant (and frequently controversial) impact on how she came to view forced integration.

Secondly, Bagge focused on Hurston’s life as an academic, in the field of cultural anthropology. She spent years crisscrossing the American south, seeking out the local folklore and tale-tellers. A lot of the book details some of the more colorful encounters she had in her travels. The sequences in which she learns Hoodoo are especially fascinating and outrageous. Thirdly comes Hurston as author and firebrand, fighting against what she saw as respectability politics centered around class. Finally, Bagge examines the ways in which she was regarded as a novelty even by white people she was friendly with, but also how she eventually felt betrayed by her fellow black people.

As noted earlier, Bagge took a profound interest in Hurston’s politics and identity. She wrote her books in local dialect, which displeased some of her mentors, but as far as she was concerned, she simply wrote what she had heard growing up. She disdained Communism and regretted its influence on her friends, even as she became an outcast as a result. While she despised the viciousness of Jim Crow laws, she saw forced integration as a mistake because she thought that it would only result in black children getting the short end of the stick in now-integrated schools. She instead wanted more money going to schools in mostly black areas. Of course, she rarely had to deal with the consequences of Jim Crow laws herself, and her charm and ability often got her out of sticky situations. Dealing with Jim Crow racism on a daily basis may well have changed her mind, even if her arguments against integration did in some regards make sense. Black children did get the short end of the stick. They were looked at as potential janitors, not potential doctors. Integration didn’t make racism go away. What it did do was wipe out one aspect of its institutionalization, and while that victory was largely conceptual at first, history has shown that it was absolutely necessary, even with its fallout.

What ties all of these themes and ideas together is Bagge’s skill at constructing short vignettes from Hurston’s life that touch on her charm, talent, and occasional volatility. Bagge has had years of experience mastering how to properly pace a funny story that’s mostly comprised of people sitting around talking to each other, and it truly pays off in biographical stories like this. In terms of the story’s rhythms, it feels at times like an issue of Hate! starring Hurston and her friends. Despite the cartoony quality of Bagge’s drawings, he’s always been incredibly skilled at depicting body language and the ways in which bodies interact with each other in space. His panels are always immaculately composed and his page design is always bright & attractive while remaining clear and easy for the eye to navigate. In bringing Zora Neale Hurston to life in such a bright and vivid manner without ducking difficult issues, Bagge proves to be the right person for the job.

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Row Row Row Your Boat http://www.tcj.com/row-row-row-your-boat/ http://www.tcj.com/row-row-row-your-boat/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:00:08 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101145 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews the latest comics biography by Peter Bagge, Fire!!

Since ending the regular run of his seminal series Hate!, Peter Bagge has been experimenting with all sorts of different genres. He wrote an all-ages series with Yeah! (drawn by Gilbert Hernandez), wrote and drew some of a hilarious comic about a conservative daily strip cartoonist and his “assistants” with Sweatshop, did an amusingly unsettling post-apocalyptic story with Apocalypse Nerd, crafted a Second Life satire called Other Lives (which dated very quickly), and another book that touched on identity and technology, Reset. None of them had a lot of commercial success, but Bagge hit on something with a backup feature in Apocalypse Nerd called Founding Fathers Funnies. It was an accurate yet highly irreverent take on the Founding Fathers of the United States, a subject he clearly found fascinating. He also clearly had a knack for zeroing in on certain details while creating a lively narrative.

That seemed to stem in part from his years of doing reportage and commentary for the libertarian magazine Reason. Despite whatever point of view he had going into a story, he always did a lot of research, was open to listening to the views of others (no matter how kooky), and brought a surprising amount of objectivity and empathy to the table. In other words, he did a far more effective and compelling job than most “real” journalists. Bagge is also far from being in lockstep with all of his party’s platforms. His ability to bring both clarity and a strong narrative angle to events made Founding Fathers Funnies effective as a straightforward history and series of mini-biographies, and his no-bullshit sensibilities made it funny. Plus, there’s the matter of his art. He never changes it one whit no matter the subject matter at hand.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Hogan’s Alley has reprinted a speech Charles Schulz gave to the National Cartoonists Society in 1994, and also a 2010 interview with Cathy Guisewite.
—Caleb Orecchio writes about the recent Alan Moore collection, Brighter Than You Think.

Something I find very interesting about Moore is his awareness of the artist. He seems to know how to “use” an artist better than any writer I know of, which, to me, aids him in diversifying the types of stories he can tell. He uses them like a solo cartoonist might pick a color to evoke mood, or use a certain brush to evoke a certain era of comics’ past. Using an artist like Mark Beyer can help to abstract a story and give it a heightened sense of reality and playfulness, whereas using an artist like Stephen Bissette can help ground a story to real-life and make a comic more like a documentary. If you’re writing a story for Peter Bagge, the writing is funny and whimsical (Moore’s ability to write comedy is WAY under appreciated in my opinion); and you write strange stories of flight and fantasy for Rick Veitch.

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Director http://www.tcj.com/director/ http://www.tcj.com/director/#respond Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101167 Continue reading ]]> What a week. On it goes. Today on the site:

Robert Boyd reviews Pat Palermo’s Galveston Diary series.

But for the past year, Palermo has been in Galveston, Texas, doing a year-long residency at the Galveston Artist Residency. The residency, which comes with an apartment and a large studio, has freed him up to do work in addition to continuing LIVE/WORK. Palermo gave himself a challenge: to draw and post a page of comics every day. That’s the kind of project you would expect to last a month or so before the artist gets tired of the grind. But Palermo has managed to do it every day since August 2016.

The pages are drawn in a small sketchbook in pencil, scanned, and published online. They have an immediacy that his more considered comics work lacks. He makes the most of his Brooklyn fish-out-of-water perspective, and the work paints a very particular portrait of the weirdness that is Galveston. But because it was also an eventful period in our county’s history, the world of politics takes on a great deal of importance as the daily comics diary progresses. Trump is elected and Palermo’s relates his crushing despair, anger, and his subsequent activism, surprisingly—considering his lack of local roots—in the realm of local politics, both municipal and state-level. That said, the strip continued to have a lot of autobiographical material, especially about Palermo’s encounters with Galveston’s barflies.

Elsewhere:

Chris Mautner has a persuasive and enticing review of Alan Moore’s now complete Providence, which we’ve also covered on this site via Craig Fischer’s examination. 

Michael Tisserand writes about the influence of Mark Twain on the work of George Herriman

And this weekend is the CAKE festival in Chicago, featuring lots of good guests and events. 

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Pat Palermo’s Galveston Diary http://www.tcj.com/reviews/pat-palermos-galveston-diary/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/pat-palermos-galveston-diary/#respond Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=101149 Continue reading ]]> Pat Palermo is a New York-based artist who has been an active participant in the art world while maintaining an identity as a cartoonist. This  doesn’t seem like such a strange thing now, as more and more people are getting MFAs in comics. But I come from a generation whose art professors looked down their noses at such ambitions. There was almost no crossover between art and comics. It seems crazy now, but that’s how it was.

But Palermo, who received his MFA from Bard in 2005, is just young enough to be on the side of grudging acceptance of the mixing of these two previously distinct worlds. His comics work has paralleled his other work and the two are mutually informed by one another. His first published comic was Cut Flowers, self-published with a Xeric Grant in 2005. It was a mostly realistic slice of life about an artist and his studio life, typical of a time when cartoonists still felt the need to separate themselves from the dominate genre, superhero comics, by doing comics that dealt with quotidian reality. It is not obviously autobiographical, but it has the feel of literary fiction, like a New Yorker story. His highly skilled drawing was a little like a combination of Adrian Tomine and Frank Robbins. 

He has continued drawing in that style with his current series, LIVE/WORK, the first issue of which was published in 2012. He has been working on issue two ever since. LIVE/WORK is set in the New York art world that is largely invisible—amongst the art handlers and installers, artists scraping by taking on these art-adjacent jobs while trying to get it together to do their own projects or co-op galleries. And Palermo did cofound a gallery, Soloway, in 2012. So there is an element of draw-what-you-know in LIVE/WORK.

But for the past year, Palermo has been in Galveston, Texas, doing a year-long residency at the Galveston Artist Residency. The residency, which comes with an apartment and a large studio, has freed him up to do work in addition to continuing LIVE/WORK. Palermo gave himself a challenge: to draw and post a page of comics every day. That’s the kind of project you would expect to last a month or so before the artist gets tired of the grind. But Palermo has managed to do it every day since August 2016.

Palm Trees. 9/3/16. His first Brooklyn fish-out-of-water strip.

The pages are drawn in a small sketchbook in pencil, scanned, and published online. They have an immediacy that his more considered comics work lacks. He makes the most of his Brooklyn fish-out-of-water perspective, and the work paints a very particular portrait of the weirdness that is Galveston. But because it was also an eventful period in our county’s history, the world of politics takes on a great deal of importance as the daily comics diary progresses. Trump is elected and Palermo’s relates his crushing despair, anger, and his subsequent activism, surprisingly—considering his lack of local roots—in the realm of local politics, both municipal and state-level. That said, the strip continued to have a lot of autobiographical material, especially about Palermo’s encounters with Galveston’s barflies.

 1/2/17. Pat gets involved in state politics by protesting Dan Patrick in Houston.

Palermo’s accomplishes all of this in pages dense with information. He draws them small and in pencil—the sketchbook pages are 7 by 5 ½ inches—and usually every square inch is packed with information, visual or textual. Pencil drawing gives the work a contingent feel and the allows for a wide variation in tones. It also looks very good as-is. Therefore, I was slightly disappointed that he decided to publish selections of his daily diary comic inked. Fortunately, the penciled pages still exist — he inked photocopies on a light table. The inked strips are not terribly different from the penciled strips, just tightened up a little. They have less tonal range, warmth and immediacy than the pencil-only work.

Pencil-only strip.

Inked strip.

For the annual residents’ exhibit at Galveston Artist Residency, Palermo published three 5.5 x 8.5 inch pamphlets covering the first three quarters in Galveston. (There will be a fourth volume about the last three months of his residency.) These can be purchased on his website. Since I have been reading these strips every day as they appear on Palermo’s website, I was familiar with all the material in them already. And he left a lot out. The three pamphlets, titled SEP OCT NOV, DEC JAN FEB and MAR APR MAY respectively, focus on Galveston-based material, whether autobiographical, political, or historical.  

4/14/2017. Durst learns drag from drag performer Ci Ci Ryder.

There is a long, amusing section on Robert Durst in MAR APR MAY. Durst was the bizarre murderer who dropped out of sight in 2000 (after allegedly murdering his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst) by moving to Galveston. Durst took a female identity and moved into a cheap apartment, where he became acquainted with local crank, Morris Black. He ended up killing and dismembering Black. (He got off by claiming self-defense and by having the best criminal defense lawyer in Houston represent him.) His story intersects Palermo’s because Durst took drag lessons from local drag performer Ci Ci Rider (aka C.C. Rider), and who, in DEC JAN FEB,  the artist befriended and persuaded to MC “The Festival of the Beautiful,” a piece of counter-programming against Galveston’s big, highly commercial Mardi Gras parade. It’s a small island (population of just over 50,000).

3/27/17. Pat redraws old comic book covers from time to time.

But, missing are strips like a regularly occurring feature where Palermo took drawing requests, most of which were quite bizarre and humorous, made all the more so by Palermo’s literal interpretations. In February and March, Palermo spent a couple of weeks drawing an hallucinatory adaptation of Formulary for a New Urbanism by Ivan Chtcheglov, an obscure text from 1953 that influenced the Situationists. He also occasionally recreated mainstream comics covers he had presumably read as a kid. And he drew a series of portraits “congratulating” the worst of our political leaders.

11/5/16. One of Pat’s requested drawings.

After the end of his residency, Palermo will return to Brooklyn and finish up LIVE/WORK. He’ll probably have to return to being a working stiff to support his art habit, and I assume will not have time to do a daily comics page anymore. (He drew a strip about his anxiety about this in April.) That’s the beautiful thing about this residency and any good residency—it gives an artist the time, space and resources necessary to do something they might otherwise never have done. Pat Palermo’s Galveston Drawing Diary is a marvelous comic made possible by an amazing institution: the Galveston Artists Residency.

4/10/17. Pat’s anxiety about the end of his residency.

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Baby http://www.tcj.com/baby/ http://www.tcj.com/baby/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 12:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101127 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Kirby reviews a graphic memoir by Nicole J. Georges, Fetch.

Nicole J. Georges’ followup to 2013’s Calling Dr. Laura continues her coming-of-age graphic memoir, this time focusing on Georges’ relationship with her dog, Beija. A unique mix of Shar-pei and Dachshund, Beija has a very difficult personality, which includes hating almost all males on sight and lunging at children. But Georges loves her unconditionally. It’s a love that sustains them both through housing problems, bad relationships, and the general life upheavals that punctuate Georges’ maturation from teenager to adult. During her years with Beija, Georges learns to hone her strengths and recognize her weaknesses, eventually learning to live life on her own terms, eschewing templates. With its theme of the deep relationships between people and their pets, Fetch has obvious appeal for animal and dog lovers. But this bildungsroman should also interest a broader audience.

Fetch takes us back to Georges’ teenage years, with occasional, further flashbacks to her as a young child. Raised by a loving-but-dysfunctional, frequently absent mother, and an aggressively “manly” stepfather, Georges learns to channel her loneliness, energy, and affections towards animals. At sixteen, she acquires Beija from the dog pound as a gift to her boyfriend, Tom. But Beija proves to be a handful from the beginning, a “bad dog” who repulses both Tom’s parents and Georges’, and she is ultimately the catalyst for the young couple to move away to Portland, Oregon. Both take to Portland right away: “Dirty and quirky. It felt like home.”


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Hillary Brown talks to Eleanor Davis, about her new travel book and politics.

It feels very good to be more active. I’ve only become more active because of this really awful thing that’s happened, and I wish it hadn’t happened, but being active itself feels good. There is a clarity now that I didn’t have before. Before things seemed complicated. Now they are simple. It is very easy to see that we just need to fight as hard as we can, in every way that we can.

I have learned a lot about government—federal and state and local. I’ve learned it’s not the end of the world to talk with someone who disagrees with you or who thinks you’re stupid or who thinks you’re wasting their time. I’ve learned a lot about immigration issues. I’ve learned I’m not afraid to get arrested; in fact, I felt very proud. I’ve learned about all the vital work local groups and activists are doing every day. I’ve learned that I guess I should just go ahead and start calling myself a socialist. I’ve learned about my community, and the people who live here, and what they need and what they have to offer. I’ve learned a lot of good chants. I’ve learned that I am smarter and braver and more powerful than I thought I was, but that I’m smaller and more foolish than I thought I was, too.


—Reviews & Commentary.
At The Cut, Jillian Tamaki walks readers through one of her stories.

This is a drawing of a photo I found at a flea market in Williamsburg a million years ago. I think it looks like a fashion show, or maybe it’s a Wiccan thing. Either way it looked ritualistic to me, so I used it to illustrate a passage about rituals. Our lives are full of them — from skin care to packing a suitcase a certain way — because they make us feel safe and in control. I used a lot of found images for this story because I wanted to create a collage effect by illustrating a wide spectrum of people and giving no explanation of their relationship to the text.

Tahneer Oksman writes about Dominique Goblet’s Pretending is Lying.

Pretending is Lying was first published, in its original French, 10 years ago by the renowned French publisher L’Association. L’Association is known for releasing experimental, quality comics — in the English-speaking world, some of the best-known translated works that originated with them include Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and David B’s Epileptic. This is Belgian cartoonist and visual artist Goblet’s first English translation (done in collaboration with cartoonist Sophie Yanow), though she is already known in the Franco-Belgian comics world for her many experimental publications, including a number of collaborations. In a brief preface to the book, Jean-Christophe Menu, one of the founders of L’Association and the editor of the original addition, as well as an “exceptional friend” to the author (as she puts it in her acknowledgments), describes how the book took Goblet 12 years to write: “There were other books, expositions, trips; the autobiography returned, left again, returned.” Traces of this postponement appear in the book itself, most notably in the yellowed pages of the scenes composed early on.

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Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home http://www.tcj.com/reviews/fetch-how-a-bad-dog-brought-me-home/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/fetch-how-a-bad-dog-brought-me-home/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100745 Continue reading ]]> Nicole J. Georges’ followup to 2013’s Calling Dr. Laura continues her coming-of-age graphic memoir, this time focusing on Georges’ relationship with her dog, Beija. A unique mix of Shar-pei and Dachshund, Beija has a very difficult personality, which includes hating almost all males on sight and lunging at children. But Georges loves her unconditionally. It’s a love that sustains them both through housing problems, bad relationships, and the general life upheavals that punctuate Georges’ maturation from teenager to adult. During her years with Beija, Georges learns to hone her strengths and recognize her weaknesses, eventually learning to live life on her own terms, eschewing templates. With its theme of the deep relationships between people and their pets, Fetch has obvious appeal for animal and dog lovers. But this bildungsroman should also interest a broader audience.

Fetch takes us back to Georges’ teenage years, with occasional, further flashbacks to her as a young child. Raised by a loving-but-dysfunctional, frequently absent mother, and an aggressively “manly” stepfather, Georges learns to channel her loneliness, energy, and affections towards animals. At sixteen, she acquires Beija from the dog pound as a gift to her boyfriend, Tom. But Beija proves to be a handful from the beginning, a “bad dog” who repulses both Tom’s parents and Georges’, and she is ultimately the catalyst for the young couple to move away to Portland, Oregon. Both take to Portland right away: “Dirty and quirky. It felt like home.”

When Georges refers to Beija as “very much a work in progress,” she could be describing her younger self. She and Beija are inextricably linked, much more so than Georges and Tom, who break up after just six months. During that time, Georges discovers DIY and “alternative” culture, which prove to be life-changing. It’s fun spotting the little tributes to some of her early-’90s zine and music forbears in Fetch, including Carrie McNinch’s classic diary comic The Assassin and the Whiner and lyrics from the song “Freewheel”, by the great Dyke/Homocore band, Team Dresch.

The DIY ethos is an important element of Fetch. Creating her own zines and comics in Portland’s rich alternative scene, Georges finds her true creative voice. DIY not only informs her work but, in fact, becomes her very lifestyle, her raison d’être. Early in the narrative, Georges describes how a chance encounter with an acquaintance leads her to begin painting pet portraits on commission, which soon enables her to become a self-supporting artist, with Beija serving as her muse. To this day, Georges, a self-taught artist, has fashioned a good cartoonist/educator career for herself by dint of her grit and determination—and most impressively, by following her own creative instincts.

Involvement in the Portland scene also aids Georges in coming to terms with her sexuality. She comes out, first by announcing it in the pages of her zine, and then to friends and crush objects. She enters a relationship with a woman named Avery who, along with her “penchant for problematic pets,” provides Georges with some keen insights and support. But things ultimately don’t work out; another relationship with a woman named Kit fares even worse, sending Georges into a dark emotional tailspin. Beija is always there, through the pain and heartache, needing Georges’ watchful care: “my homemade external organ […] a flag representing my ability to love and grow, take care and be defended.”

Georges’ art in Fetch is as idiosyncratic as ever: a blend of straightforward representation and zine-like improvisation, with more than a dash of playful whimsy. One of the best animal renderers in the business, she draws Beija with tenderness, fully capturing her oddly charming, rough-hewn personality. I particularly like the drawings that announce each section of the book in which Beija is cast as Disney’s beleaguered Dumbo.

Fetch’s storytelling rhythm and visual sense are of a piece: like Calling Dr. Laura, the book is long and agreeably rambling. The panels tend to be horizontal and rectangular, with the characters often dwarfed in large, airy, sparsely furnished interior spaces that hint at possibilities. Georges is one of those cartoonists whose work is instantly recognizable. It’s singular. And she has a light touch. Even when the narrative occasionally goes down some gloomy tunnels, there’s the sense that the resilient Georges will pull through— especially with Beija always waiting at home. The final portion of the book, a tribute to Beija’s life, is a heartfelt, moving elegy. The epilogue moves forward with hope for happiness under new circumstances and new companionship. Fetch is a lovely book for dog lovers, and an inspiring testimonial for making and owning life on one’s own terms.

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Still Be http://www.tcj.com/still-be/ http://www.tcj.com/still-be/#respond Wed, 07 Jun 2017 13:15:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101129 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Bill Kartalopoulos brings us an interview with Geoffrey Hayes, who passed away suddenly last week. 

BK: What were the kinds of children’s books at the time in the sixties that would have served as some kind of model?

GH: Well, it started out, I think, when we were kids. The books that we had that I think really inspired me the most were the Little Golden Books. Even though I had read a lot of other things. I read the classics like Charlotte’s Web and Doctor Doolittle and all of those kinds of books. The ones, I would say, because they had such bright illustrations, were the Golden Books that were the most inspiring.

And then as I got into high school I became aware of Maurice Sendak, and I’m trying to think who else at that time I really liked. I had always liked Garth Williams and… I think those were the two main illustrators, but there were other illustrators that I gravitated toward and liked.

BK: Thinking about Williams and Sendak, that’s kind of two models in the sense that, from what I know of Williams’s work, he was mainly illustrating text by other people, whereas Sendak, although he started out drawing books written by others he quickly moved over to writing and drawing his own picture books. Did you think that one or the other was going to be a more likely career or path for you?

GH: Even at that time I think Sendak illustrated more books by other authors than he wrote himself. I would say that how I differed from the two of them is I definitely knew I had a lot of stories to tell and the writing became as important to me as the art. So in that sense I would probably say somebody like Carl Barks was more of an influence in the sense of someone who just had a very fertile imagination, and who told his own stories as well as illustrated them.

BK: Now, I assume that while you were looking for work and while Rory was starting to get published, you were keeping tabs on what he was doing and what was happening in San Francisco in the underground comix?

GH: Yes, yes, definitely. Especially in those days… When he went right back to San Francisco and he had his first comic published, yes, I was very aware. And then I actually ended up coming back to San Francisco myself for a couple of years, so I was with him. Not necessarily living with him, but we were together right when his career was really starting to take off.

Elsewhere:

Here’s a preview of a new book of drawings by Jodorowsky. It’s raining Jodorowsky art suddenly. 

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An Interview with Geoffrey Hayes http://www.tcj.com/101111-2/ http://www.tcj.com/101111-2/#comments Wed, 07 Jun 2017 12:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101111 Continue reading ]]> Like many I was surprised and saddened to learn of the death of children’s book author and cartoonist Geoffrey Hayes. I didn’t know Geoffrey well, but I had the good fortune to spend some time with him and with his work. In 2007 and 2008 I did production and other work on the first two seasons of TOON Books, Françoise Mouly’s line of comics for early readers. Hayes’s Benny and Penny in Just Pretend was among the publisher’s three launch books. We lavished a lot of care and attention on those books to really get them right and make a strong first impression.

In the middle of all this activity — and occasionally since then — I had the chance to interact with Geoffrey, and was pleased to meet a truly warm and gracious person who was never less than totally enthusiastic about his creative work. When I first met him, I didn’t realize how prolific he’d been as a children’s book author, and I was certainly intrigued to learn that the artist who produced such sweet and gentle work for children was the brother of the late Rory Hayes, whose bleak underground comix I was much more familiar with. I had a chance to fill in some of these gaps when Françoise asked me to conduct a brief Q+A with Geoffrey for the TOON Books blog to support the launch of his book. Françoise wanted something short and concise that could be read and understood fairly quickly by a casual reader, but I took the opportunity to try to get a broad overview of Geoffrey’s life and career so that I could understand it better. A greatly edited version of the piece was posted to an early version of the TOON Books blog, and is still online. The unfortunate circumstance of Geoffrey’s passing reminded me that I still had the full version of the interview, and I’m grateful for the chance to share it now.

This interview ends on an unresolved note, with Geoffrey hoping he’ll have a chance to write and draw more “Benny and Penny” books for TOON Books. In fact, he would become the publisher’s most prolific author, with eight books in their catalog (six in the “Benny and Penny” series). His second book for the publisher, Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!, was the first comic to win the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award from the American Library Association. At the time of his death Geoffrey was working on a graphic novel titled Lovo and the Firewolf, which was due to be published by Fantagraphics and the production of which he was supporting with a Patreon drive launched earlier this year.

I hope that readers who haven’t already caught up with Geoffrey’s work will take note of the substantial body of high quality children’s comics he produced over the past ten years. They are well-crafted, full of lovely colored-pencil drawings, and are emotionally authentic. In addition to the interview published here, I’d recommend reading his in-depth account of life growing up with his brother Rory for the Virginia Quarterly Review. TOON Books has also posted a remembrance of Geoffrey with commentary from Mouly and links to other interviews. These are all worth your attention.

BK: Would you be willing to tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like?

GH: Sure, sure. I had a happy childhood. I had some unusual, I guess I would say, phobias when I was a kid. I was terrified of being stung by a bee, I was terrified of injections, and since I was a small boy, dogs used to scare me. But those went away, of course, as I got older. Other than that I had a very nice childhood. It was just my two parents and my brother and me, so we had a small family. And we were close, we were close. My parents created a very loving environment for us to grow up in. And Rory and I, since we were just two years apart, always played together, we were friends, and so I was never lonely as a kid because I always had my brother. Plus I had friends as well.

BK: What town were you living in?

GH: In San Francisco.

BK: And what was that area like at the time you were a kid?

GH: Well, San Francisco I would say, when I was a kid in the fifties, it was more of a small town in a way than a city. It was a little more provincial than it is now. It wasn’t as sophisticated as New York. Nowadays with globalization and everything most cities are pretty similar. I would say it was smaller, even though it was a city. It had a slower pace, certainly, than it does today. My family moved a lot, but we always moved within the city, so we were always changing neighborhoods. And I grew up in quite a number of different neighborhoods within the city.

BK: Were you into comics or art or anything like that when you were a kid?

GH: Oh yes, oh yes, absolutely. Rory and I started drawing I guess when we were… I know I’d been drawing since I was five. And I think we started drawing together when Rory was maybe seven and I was nine, and we used to draw books for each other and write stories for one another. And of course I had tons of comic books. This was the nineteen-fifties, and there were so many comic books available then, so I grew up reading not just comics, I read other books as well, but I’ve always had comic books in my life.

BK: Do you remember what comic books you would have been reading at the time?

GH: Mostly they were the four-color comics, the Dell Four Color. So they would be the Walt Disney characters, or Little Lulu, or, oh, anything of that ilk, those sort of funny characters. And then as we got a little older we started reading the DC Comics, and we always liked horror comics, anything scary we liked. And then as well we were young teenagers and Marvel came out, we started reading Marvel. But we started with the funny animal characters.

BK: Do you know if you would have been reading like Carl Barks comics when those were available?

GH: Oh, yes, absolutely, definitely Carl Barks, a lot of the Carl Barks. And when we used to buy comics, oh, I would say we probably bought, between us, maybe four to six a week. So we read a lot.

BK: You mentioned horror comics. Were you the right age for EC Comics when those were coming out?

GH: Yeah, we were a little young when they were popular, and we were aware of them, but I don’t think we had too many. And then later on we were able to find some in second-hand bookstores, second-hand comics, so we had a few of those. Not, I would say, a huge amount, but we definitely did have some EC.

BK: In addition to comics were you into any particular kinds of movies or books or anything like that?

GH: Oh, yes, we also used to go to the movies, I would say, twice a week. And so we saw a lot of films. In fact one of the theaters at the time, in San Francisco, every Saturday they would have matinees for kids. And they would have three movies in a row. And so we would go to see those. We were into mainly science fiction and horror movies, but we saw anything: comedies, adventures, westerns. We loved science fiction, we loved monsters, and things like that. Anything that was a little out of the ordinary.

BK: And drawing was something that you kept up even into high school and beyond, I assume?

GH: Yeah, yeah we did. I knew all along I wanted to be an artist. Well, I guess I would say when I was maybe 14 I decided that that’s what I wanted to do professionally when I grew up. And with my brother, I don’t think he ever thought of that in terms of a career. He just drew because I drew and because he liked to draw, and then it wasn’t until later when he got into underground comix that he started getting published. I think then he started thinking of himself more as an artist. But we did continue to draw.

BK: Did you go to art school after high school?

GH: I actually went to art school during high school. I was studying commercial art, so yeah, I did. Rory didn’t, but I did.

BK: Around what year would that have been when you went to school after high school?

GH: Oh I would say, around… this was around maybe mid-sixties, sixty-five or so. I moved to New York after high school and I went to college in New York. I went to Hunter College, and I was also trying to get published. Because I knew that’s where the publishing was. And it took me about ten years. I didn’t get published right away. I was really not ready yet. But I knew that’s where I wanted to be, and then Rory followed me a little later and we lived together in New York for about a year, maybe a year and a half, and then he didn’t really fit in with New York. He didn’t care for it that much. So he ended up going back to San Francisco, and that’s when he got involved in the underground comic scene.

BK: Now at the time, when you were looking for work after school, were you already set on doing children’s book work?

GH: Yes, yes, I knew I wanted to do children’s books.

BK: What were the kinds of children’s books at the time in the sixties that would have served as some kind of model?

GH: Well, it started out, I think, when we were kids. The books that we had that I think really inspired me the most were the Little Golden Books. Even though I had read a lot of other things. I read the classics like Charlotte’s Web and Doctor Doolittle and all of those kinds of books. The ones, I would say, because they had such bright illustrations, were the Golden Books that were the most inspiring.

And then as I got into high school I became aware of Maurice Sendak, and I’m trying to think who else at that time I really liked. I had always liked Garth Williams and… I think those were the two main illustrators, but there were other illustrators that I gravitated toward and liked.

BK: Thinking about Williams and Sendak, that’s kind of two models in the sense that, from what I know of Williams’s work, he was mainly illustrating text by other people, whereas Sendak, although he started out drawing books written by others he quickly moved over to writing and drawing his own picture books. Did you think that one or the other was going to be a more likely career or path for you?

GH: Even at that time I think Sendak illustrated more books by other authors than he wrote himself. I would say that how I differed from the two of them is I definitely knew I had a lot of stories to tell and the writing became as important to me as the art. So in that sense I would probably say somebody like Carl Barks was more of an influence in the sense of someone who just had a very fertile imagination, and who told his own stories as well as illustrated them.

BK: Now, I assume that while you were looking for work and while Rory was starting to get published, you were keeping tabs on what he was doing and what was happening in San Francisco in the underground comix?

GH: Yes, yes, definitely. Especially in those days… When he went right back to San Francisco and he had his first comic published, yes, I was very aware. And then I actually ended up coming back to San Francisco myself for a couple of years, so I was with him. Not necessarily living with him, but we were together right when his career was really starting to take off.

BK: Were you interested in the underground comix that were coming out?

GH: To a degree. Not that much. They didn’t excite me because they didn’t really sit with the kind of stories I wanted to tell. But I did actually have some work in several of the underground comix of the time. I did a handful of stories for various publications. One of the series that Rory had done was a series of books called “Bogeyman Comics,” and I did a few stories for those issues as well as a few for some others. But not too much. I would say my participation in the underground world was rather limited.

BK: And so did you spend a full ten years in New York looking for an opening…?

GH: Well, no, I was in New York and then I, of course was working at the same time I was going to school. I was working for a publisher, which was Harcourt – at the time it was called Harcourt Brace World – and I was working for them. I worked in the photocopying room there. And then I went back to San Francisco for a couple of years and then moved back to New York, and it just sort of took me a while for my work to develop to the point where it was professional enough for people to be interested and also to the point where I had stories that were viable.

And it wasn’t until… well, I was 26 or 27 and I had been working at a Japanese architect’s firm doing drafting and interior design, and I got laid off with a lot of other people. It wasn’t just me, but they had really cut their work force. And it was the first time in my life, actually the only time in my life, where I was receiving unemployment. So I just thought that would be a good time to beef up my portfolio, which I did and then I started taking it around to various publishers. And a lot of editors or art directors were very interested, but nobody was really giving me a concrete response until I went to Harper and I met Edite Kroll who’s now become my agent, so Edite has been with me from the very beginning. And the thing that was different about her is that she not only liked my work, but she was determined to get a book out of me. So we worked together until I did my first book, which was called Bear by Himself.

BK: And that was published in 1976? Is that right?

GH: Right, that’s correct, yeah.

BK: And how was the reception to that book?

GH: Actually quite good for a first book. It was in print for about thirteen years, which I think is very good, and it got good reviews. It was actually a decent beginning.

BK: And what did you follow that up with?

GH: My second one, which actually got better reviews than my first one, was a novel called The Alligator and His Uncle Tooth. And that got quite good reviews, that sold well too. And at that time I also illustrated a book by Margaret Wise Brown called When the Wind Blew, and that got a prize from the New York Times, one of the ten best illustrated books of the year.

BK: So at the time did you feel like there were a lot of good opportunities for you to function as a writer/artist doing picture books for kids?

GH: Yeah, yeah, there was. I would say that from what I’ve been able to assess from the children’s book field, that in the fifties and sixties was probably the ideal time for an illustrator like Sendak to come up from the ranks, because the libraries at the time had tremendous funding, so people didn’t really worry about the commercial sales of books because they knew that they’d sell enough library copies to make up for it if the trade books did not do well. Of course now the whole thing’s turned the opposite way, you know. So I would say when I started which was in the seventies, it was still a pretty fertile time, and there were a lot of good illustrators, but the market wasn’t as saturated as it is today. So I would say I had a lot of opportunities.

BK: So there was a moment in the late seventies then when you and your brother would have had work in print at around the same time. Were you responding to one another’s work?

GH: Oh yeah, definitely, he would always send me copies of the magazines he was getting published in, and I certainly sent him copies of my books. He was very aware of that. In fact my first book, Bear by Himself, was based on a drawing that Rory had done of a teddy bear sitting on a hill which he named “Bear by Himself.” So there was a lot of interchange between us. I actually, when I was writing my second book, The Alligator and His Uncle Tooth, I actually asked Rory for some input in that, he gave me his ideas, so, even though it’s primarily my book, there’s elements of his work in there as well.

BK: Now the two kinds of drawing that you and he were doing at the time were obviously quite different. Was that a logical extension of the stuff you might each have been doing in high school, or was there a kind of divergence on the part of one or the other after a certain point?

GH: Well, it’s funny, some of my work… maybe around 1970, this is before I was published, some of the work I would do, it’s almost indistinguishable from Rory’s. There were times when pieces I’ve had that for years I assumed were Rory’s work, and then when I looked at them more closely I realized, “Oh my god, I did that!” We started out I think being a little similar, but then, yes, I would say that a lot of the books that I did were sort of off-shoots of some of the stories that we created when we were kids together. And then Rory sort of veered off in a different direction. In some ways he kept some of the elements, but they just got much more strange, and more unique, more how Rory – I think what it was is when we worked together, in a way we were sort of merging our styles to a certain degree, and then we sort of separated that way. Rory was allowed to just become more 100% his stuff rather than influenced by mine, and vice versa.

BK: And I assume that you’re a big fan of his work.

GH: Well, I was… a lot of his underground work, I’ll tell you the truth, when it first came out, it was kind of shocking and disturbing to me because it was so different in a way than the work that we did growing up. And certainly I’ve always been a fan of Rory’s work and the stuff that we did together.  But I don’t love all of his underground work, but I certainly admit that it’s very audacious, and in the intervening years I’ve seen how it has influenced other artists, whereas some of his stuff I think today is not quite as disturbing as it was when it was originally published because you’ve seen similar kind of things, whereas at the time it was very innovative and sort of raw.

BK: To go back to children’s books you were doing at the time, you did Bear By Himself, and the first Uncle Tooth you said was a novel, that was prose, for what age group?

GH: I would guess maybe 7 to 9. At that time they didn’t call them “chapter books.” This was a longer novel kind of book, maybe 128 pages, still for a young kid, but I would say still closer to Charlotte’s Web than to what a modern chapter book would be.

BK: And what were your next few books after that?

GH: Let me see… well, I started doing a few books where I would just illustrate from other authors’ texts, none of which I was that fond of. I think When the Wind Blew is my favorite collaboration. I did some more follow-ups with my main character Patrick who was in Bear By Himself. I had done a series of four little books with Patrick that I’m very proud of, and they were originally done for Four Winds Press. Those were hardcover trade books.

And then a few years after that I signed a ten book contract with Random House, and it was an exclusive contract, so for a while I was only doing books for Random House. I did a lot of books with my own characters, but in series that they had initiated themselves. My Otto and Uncle Tooth books I did as a series of Easy Readers, and those have done tremendously well, those have sold more than any of my other books, and I did five of those in that series. And I did some Patrick books with them, but I don’t think they were very successful. Part of that was because I was trying to adhere to what worked in their series and they were mass market, so it wasn’t the same as doing something more personal.

BK: One question I wanted to ask you is about the media that you use. It looks like you work a lot in colored pencil.

GH: Well that’s new. For years I would say my primary medium was watercolor, or pen and ink, sometimes pen and ink and watercolor, because that and acrylics are standard children’s book kind of tools most people work in – although now I know it’s different today because a lot of people are doing work in computers and all kinds of things, but for a while it seemed to be what the publishers wanted.

It took me a long time to realize that I just didn’t do my best work that way, even though I loved watercolors, but drawing on watercolor paper is just never comfortable to me. It just always sort of, I would tighten up and I was not really happy with that. So it’s only in the last, I would say, four years that I went back to pencil, and I realized because of copy machines these days I could do pencil, photocopy it, and have it look like inks. So I could add color on top of it. My problem in the past was I could do pencil, but it would still be on watercolor paper and I could put, you know, watercolor on top of it, but I was back to that same old thing. Whereas now I can work on any type of paper I want and photocopy it, and add the colored pencils. So this is sort of a new thing for me.

BK: Now you’re doing the TOON book, but had you ever had any impulse prior to this to doing something that was in more of a comics format?

GH: Oh, absolutely. Actually one of my earlier books that I did when I was at Harper and Rowe, now HarperCollins but it was Harper and Rowe at the time, was a comic book, it was called Elroy and the Witch’s Child. And it didn’t do very well. I think at that time there was a lot of prejudice against comics. And although it was starting, you were starting to see some influence because of Maurice Sendak and some other people, into the children’s book field, because there certainly weren’t graphic novels and I think the public just didn’t have that awareness of graphic fiction the way they do these days. So it didn’t do too well, but I was pleased with it and in those days I had to, because color books were still expensive to do, so I separated all the colors. I did each color individually, it’s the way they used to do old comic books…

BK: The hand-cut color separations…

GH: Yeah, yeah, and so it was quite tedious because I had all these little panels, and then I did all of the line-work and the text on a separate overlay, so I think I had like six overlays, five or six per page counting the original art. But I enjoyed it, I definitely enjoyed that. And then some of my children’s book after that, like those four little Patrick books that I did for Knopf, those had balloons. I wouldn’t say they were really comic books, but they had balloons to them. The art was watercolor so they looked like traditional children’s books with balloons.

BK: So how did you get involved with the TOON Books originally?

GH: Well Françoise contacted me. I guess she just must have Googled me.

BK: And when you first started talking about ideas for the TOON Books, was Benny and Penny something you had already thought of?

GH: Yes, actually, because I think when we were just talking, before this was even formed, you know, it was just the very beginning, I had sent Francoise some of my portfolio pieces. And one of them was the story of these two little mice, although they weren’t called Benny and Penny, but they were similar characters. And when we decided on what the first book would be I thought, “Well, maybe it would just be simpler to do them,” and she thought that was a good idea. Basically it’s the same story as in the first Benny and Penny. I just reworked it, certainly with Françoise’s input, and giving her what she needed for the series as well, so it changed slightly, but it’s basically the same plot.

BK: But the way you had it was in comics form originally?

GH: Yeah, it was. It was a comic.

BK: So even if the TOON Books hadn’t started as a project, is that something you had thought about publishing in some kind of comics format?

GH: Actually, I hadn’t thought about publishing it. For the last few years I had just been, for myself, just doing a lot of stories, but, like, I said, “Well, if I didn’t have the imprint of a publisher, what would I just do? Just for myself? What kind of stories would I want to do?” So I’ve been working quite steadily, just getting down a lot of ideas that have been rumbling in my brain for years, and most of them are comic stories. And this was just a stand-alone story I had done. I hadn’t planned to do it even as a series, it was just this one story about these two little mice. Almost none of the stuff I’m doing now I’m doing with the thought of publication in mind. I’m just doing it how I want to do it. And then seeing what happens from that.

BK: So it’s recently when you’ve been doing this private stuff that you’ve gone back to something like the comics form?

GH: Yes, exactly, I realized a few years ago that comics has always been my first love, and now of course it’s starting, where there are comics for kids again. Because even though I love comics I didn’t really want to draw superheroes. That’s just not my kind of style of drawing. And so my stuff has always skewed younger. And there just really wasn’t any place for that. I mean, they’re not really doing…

BK: Dell comics…

GH: Yeah, like the Four Colors for kids these days. And then I just said, “Oh, the hell with it, this is what I like to do.” So I’ve been doing a lot of stories, comics stories.

BK: What kind of editorial guidance did you get when turning the original Benny and Penny story into the TOON Book?

GH: One thing that Françoise wanted, she suggested, was to keep it on the kids, not have any parental characters, or if they are, just have them very much on the periphery. And that wasn’t too different from the original story I had but that was something that Françoise stressed. And also in the original story when Penny had sort of disappeared at one point and Benny couldn’t find her, I had shown what had happened to her so that the reader knew where she was, it’s just that Benny didn’t know, and Françoise suggested she thought it would be better if the reader was kept in the dark as well as Benny, so that it was more of a surprise at the end of the story.

BK: And in terms of the story of Benny and Penny, was there some basic idea that you thought was important to communicate to the kids who’d be reading it, in that particular story?

GH: Not really, I don’t think too much like that. I just was trying to be true to their relationship and whatever kids would get from that, they would get. Because you can never really know what children are going to take away from your work. In all my relationships between characters I try to make that there’s some sort of love there even though there may be conflict. So in this one I just basically wanted the characters to have an affection for each other even though they at times would drive each other crazy.

BK: Did you find that your storytelling works any differently in doing comics pages than it does in the picture books?

GH: Well, in a way only because comics are sequential and I think I’ve always just had a love of sequential art. I’ve always been a big fan of animation for that same reason. But when you’re doing something sequential you’re showing almost every action, or you actually are showing every action, where when you’re doing a regular book you wouldn’t necessarily show everything. Again, if something was in the text it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in the art. I’m almost thinking like with Benny and Penny that the way you could look at it you could almost read the story without even reading the text, because there’s a flow throughout the art of where they are and what they’re doing.

BK: Are you planning to do more Benny and Penny books?

GH: Mm-hm! Well, that’s up to Françoise. I just did a dummy for a Benny book, just Benny…

BK: “Benny By Himself…”

GH: Yeah, which is what Françoise had asked for. If she wants more, I’ll do more.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/7/17 – Exceptional Shine) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-6717-exceptional-shine/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-6717-exceptional-shine/#comments Tue, 06 Jun 2017 12:00:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101090 Continue reading ]]>

It would be cruel to claim that this is the most arresting image from last weekend’s New York Times Magazine “New York Stories” all-comics special, but it’s definitely what I remember most. I suspect that those of you who’ve read this stuff availed yourselves of the online version and its cheesy animated touches, so I feel the need to specify that there are not only advertisements for $3.5 million apartments in the print magazine, but that sometimes the advertisements interrupt the comics themselves, just like in forward-facing faves from the House of Ideas, effendi. Nothing like settling in for the new Tillie Walden and running into promotions for First Republic Bank; I hope Avery Hill is taking notes, ’cause this is how the big boys do it.

‘Twas the fate of this affair, though. You might be scanning the list of contributors right now and wondering how artists who are mostly not from New York are supposed to come up with New York Stories. The way this is accomplished is that the artists are actually adapting stories from the Times‘ Metro Desk – stories which trend forcefully toward a certain breed of cloying human interest, leavened by sentiment and salted with raised-eyebrow irony. A new development obstructs an apartment dweller’s view, so he hangs a monitor streaming a live feed of the outdoors where his window used to be – technology sure is change-y, and I’m ambivalent! Some of the drawing is good, but almost all of these adaptations are wont to pursue a very direct and literal approach, straining occasionally for poetry in their severely limited allotments of space but rarely evoking more than the tinny particulars of their sensitive vignettes: a woman watches life pass by her window until a kind neighbor joins her; a young man defends his catcalling of girls at the beach in the midst of reverie; the whole darn neighborhood pitches in to help a lady find her lost dog through the wonders of smartphones… still wonderful, somehow, in 2016, from when this dispatch originated in prose. My attention rapidly straying, I found myself most engaged by artists who seemed to be pushing the hardest against the restrictions: Walden, who sets much of her story about a well-off man in the thrall of a fortune teller con artist in a woozy allegorical plane of his dreams and fears; or Sammy Harkham, whose tale of NYC’s lone murder on September 11, 2001, consists entirely of narrative captions over drawings of city architecture, suggesting the great aloofness of history toward the mistimed plight of the individual.

But these are exceptions. Predominantly, it’s the stories that hold prominence in these comics, and I’m not convinced that becoming comics does them many favors. Take Enemies Among Us (drastically reformatted for the online version, fyi), in which Marvel/DC/Archie veteran Francesco Francavilla draws a tale of WWII-era intrigue centered around ferreting out (German) terrorists who’ve slipped into NYC’s immigrant community. This is a very hotly politicized topic, no doubt disinterred from 2002 for the purposes of new relevancy, but while prose could at least theoretically tease out nuance from the account, what emerges from out under the lacquer of Francavilla’s four pages of backlit noir illustration is nothing more trying than a warm bath of civic flattery – one of the terrorists maybe becomes “affected” by the city life (no conclusions), and turns in the rest of them, his reward deportation over execution. I [heart] NYC too, but these tiny vignettes playing at resonance aren’t helped by the translation to comics, and ‘comics’ is helped even less. This is not a testament to comics’ sophistication, of its parity with nonfiction in prose; this is comics as a novelty act, rightfully dismissed the week after so that real work ostensibly can begin again.

***

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!

Bulletproof Coffin: The 1000 Yard Stare: All due respect to Warner Brothers’ latest, but the first two Bulletproof Coffin series (2010, 2012) have been probably my overall favorite ‘superhero’ stuff of the decade – the creation of the UK-based team of writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane, the premise drifts heedlessly into and outside of a constructed history of U.S. comic book-making, implicating issues of creativity, legality, sexual desire, childhood play, and bone-deep American resentment throughout. This one-shot is the latest installment, following the aged and washed-up comic book professionals David Hine and Shaky Kane as the latter embarks on an attempted career-reviving solo project at Image. And indeed, this is an Image #1 for your first week of June. Check this one out. Preview; $3.99.

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel: Continuing Drawn and Quarterly‘s commitment to Québécoise artists, this 100-page, 6.5″ x 9″ hardcover represents sketchbook work by Montreal-based children’s book author and comic artist Elise Gravel, who’s released a handful of works in English through various publishers. “…not just an exhibition of Gravel’s work, but a challenge to young artists to keep a daily sketchbook,” says the publisher, suggesting a sort of Lynda Barry-like inspirational-pedagogical slant to the material; $17.95.

PLUS!

To Have & To Hold (&) Tarantula: Speaking of noir and pulp and whatnot, here are two releases of that general type. To Have & To Hold is the new book from Graham Chaffee, a skilled cartoonist who became a tattoo artist, with 18 years passing between his story collection The Most Important Thing and Other Stories (1995) and his formerly-most-recent book Good Dog (2013). All of his books have been published by Fantagraphics, and so it goes with this 202-page “hard-boiled disquisition on the darker regions of married life and the American Dream” set in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tarantula is an AdHouse release, evoking something more along the lines of ’60s/’70s exploitation film and horror magazine stuff — and, given the infernal psychedelic focus, perhaps the 1967 cult classic BD album Saga de Xam by Nicholas Devil & Jean Rollin — but dressed in the sickly colors and broad declarations expected from the same creators behind Black Mask’s Space Riders series: the artist Alexis Ziritt and the writer Fabian Rangel Jr., working with letterer Evelyn Rangel. A 96-page color hardcover; $24.99 (Hold), $14.95 (Tarantula).

The Last American (&) The Divided States of Hysteria #1: High-impact comics here, old and new, each adopting a particular critical attitude toward the American project as it stood and stands. The Last American is a 1990-91 miniseries from Epic Comics, which had enjoyed some success with the Pat Mills/Kevin O’Neill series Marshal Law. Here, a different group of bedrock 2000 AD creators participate in the action: writers John Wagner & Alan Grant and artist Mick (Mike) McMahon, following a defrosted Army man as he searches a post-nuke landscape for signs that U.S. citizens are still alive. I know a bunch of you really like McMahon’s art, and he’s in this Rebellion softcover release throughout. The Divided States of Hysteria is a new project from American Flagg! creator Howard Chaykin, an Image comic book series with cover art calculated to stop the breath of observers (though some may simply roll their eyes). It’s Chaykin’s take on these troubled times of ours, in a U.S.A. torn apart by “greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy” – a thriller’s plot seems in the making, with racially-motivated and terroristic killings prominent in the lives of its ensemble cast. Chaykin did a very anxious and politicized version of Challengers of the Unknown back in 2004-05 that I found pretty interesting, and this maybe comes from a similar place; $19.99 (American), $3.99 (Divided).

All Time Comics: Atlas (&) The Infernals #1: Two ‘disreputable’ comic books here – the former explicitly designed that way, and the latter just kinda leaning in. Atlas is the 28-page third installment of the Fantagraphics-published superhero throwback project All Time Comics from writer/frontman Josh Bayer, with frequent contributor Benjamin Marra now handling solo art duties on what we are assured is “the darkest, the most political, the most relevant” of the line… something about corruption and public manipulation. I do like the Das Pastoras covers on these. The Infernals, meanwhile, is a new comic from Verotik, which is sure to raise a hearty cry of “holy shit, Verotik is still around?!” It is, they put out maybe one comic book per year, and it’s still written by Glenn Danzig (whom I will never stop believing is the unstated basis for the lead villain on the new Twin Peaks). Moreover, the credited artist is Simon Bisley, a longtime collaborator who also did the cover illustration for the new Danzig album the other week; $3.99 (Atlas), $4.95 (Infernals).

Jazz Maynard #1 (&) Instrumental: A pair of genre comics dealing with jazz music this week, for some reason. Jazz Maynard is your Eurocomic selection – a crime genre series from contemporary Spanish creators Raúl Anisa Arsís (aka: “Raule”) and Roger Ibañez Ugena about a trumpeter and his guns-blazing encounter with sex trafficking and organized crime. Curvy, subtly anime-inflected visuals (Maynard is very Spike Spiegel), monochrome juxtapositions, deep shadow. Magnetic Press publishes in the form of a comic book miniseries; there’s five albums of stuff out in France right now. Instrumental, oddly enough, is the work of an *actual* jazz trumpeter, Dave Chisholm, who’s also been putting out small-press comics for about a decade now. A Z2 Comics release, the 224-page softcover tells of a struggling musician who gets a mystic and possibly cataclysmic horn, rendered in b&w brushiness recalling Paul Pope and Craig Thompson (and, I suppose, Blutch and his Total Jazz lurking in the back). A download of the official soundtrack by the author will apparently be included; $3.99 (Maynard), $24.99 (Instrumental).

Belgian Lace From Hell: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 3 (of 3): Concluding author Patrick Rosenkranz’s expansive survey of the works of the notorious underground cartoonist – as late as 1989, his work proved instrumental in frustrating the physical assembly of copies of the anthology Taboo 2, so offensive was the art deemed. That stuff and more, from Zap to Weirdo with illustrations, commissions and private paintings, is included in this 8″ x 11.25″, 232-page color hardcover, along with Rosenkranz’s biographical text. A Fantagraphics release; $34.99.

Manga in Theory and Practice: The Craft of Creating Manga: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week is a rare one – a text by a Japanese professional, translated to English. But such is the affection for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that we now have a 280-page hardcover manifesto from creator Hirohiko Araki, detailing his methodology for all facets of manga creation. Publisher VIZ suggests that the golden ratio is somehow involved, so please take that as an invitation or a warning; $19.99.

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Only Developments http://www.tcj.com/only-developments/ http://www.tcj.com/only-developments/#respond Tue, 06 Jun 2017 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101115 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here as always this Tuesday with his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics! His spotlight picks this time include new titles by David Hine & Shaky Kane and Elise Gravel. He also has some unkind words for the New York Times Magazine’s all-comics issue.

Predominantly, it’s the stories that hold prominence in these comics, and I’m not convinced that becoming comics does them many favors. Take Enemies Among Us (drastically reformatted for the online version, fyi), in which Marvel/DC/Archie veteran Francesco Francavilla draws a tale of WWII-era intrigue centered around ferreting out (German) terrorists who’ve slipped into NYC’s immigrant community. This is a very hotly politicized topic, no doubt disinterred from 2002 for the purposes of new relevancy, but while prose could at least theoretically tease out nuance from the account, what emerges from out under the lacquer of Francavilla’s four pages of backlit noir illustration is nothing more trying than a warm bath of civic flattery – one of the terrorists maybe becomes “affected” by the city life (no conclusions), and turns in the rest of them, his reward deportation over execution. I [heart] NYC too, but these tiny vignettes playing at resonance aren’t helped by the translation to comics, and ‘comics’ is helped even less. This is not a testament to comics’ sophistication, of its parity with nonfiction in prose; this is comics as a novelty act, rightfully dismissed the week after so that real work ostensibly can begin again.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. The most recent guest on Process Party is Katie Skelly.

—Commentary. The Ignorant Bliss podcast posted an episode with various critics and comics figures (J. A. Micheline, Darryl Ayo Brathwaite, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Jonathan W. Gray, and Ronald Wimberly) discussing the controversial cover for Island #15.

So when the last issue of the anthology comic Island was released and people saw the cover by the artist Dilraj Mann of a black woman rendered all in absolute black with red lipstick and door knocker earrings hit the internet it caused quite a stir. … So I gathered some voices from the online debate and some others we knew to have a conversation about his cover, art, editorial practices in comics and voices of black women within the comic industry.

—Misc. Ethan Rilly has contributed a guest post to the AdHouse blog on the occasion of the upcoming release of Pope Hats #5.

Whenever I’m pushing into the final stretch of a project I get oddly superstitious. Every day I need to wear the same shoes, same watch, eat the same shitty snacks. Weird random stuff. And then there’s a list of normal human tasks that I have to keep on the back burner. It’s an extreme, productivity-based version of “Let’s not jinx this.”

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Adding More http://www.tcj.com/adding-more/ http://www.tcj.com/adding-more/#comments Mon, 05 Jun 2017 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101075 Continue reading ]]> It’s been a long few days. On the site:

Eleanor Davis interviews Jillian Tamaki:

ED: What story of yours have you found people respond to the most strongly? And what was your response to their response?

JT: Well, obviously the strongest reaction I have had to A Book has been This One Summer, which is a collaboration. [This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, was the ALA’s most challenged book of 2016 – ED]. It’s interesting, for the interviews for Boundless thus far, people have wanted to discuss “The ClairFree System.” Which is slightly surprising.

ED: I experience the clearest emotional arc reading it. Not intellectual clarity, but emotional, with the conditional intimacy of the final moment.

JT: I’m trying to think of their “reaction” though. I feel like they want to hear me talk about it. It feels very mysterious and strange to them, I guess? It’s not a typical image-text pairing. I mean, it’s about The Economy, which I think about constantly.

ED: I read that comic as both a feminist critique, and defense, of Capitalism. I LOVED it, obviously.

 JT: I had forgotten: that story was sparked by learning that some of my friends in my hometown had gotten into what they called a “Skin cult.” Which is maybe a pyramid scheme? You made commissions off of selling to your friends. But on the other hand, it just seemed like Mary Kay or Avon for the millennial set. And it was bizarre because I was like, oh, I remember Avon and these suburban selling-parties when I was a kid. But now I’m on the flip, the adult, and the moms needed CASH.

Elsewhere in comics-land:

Geoffrey Hayes, cartoonist, illustrator, and brother/collaborator of Rory Hayes has passed away.

Last week Drawn & Quarterly announced a book by the cartoonist Berliac. There was an immediate reaction online, as cartoonists and readers pointed to public statements about transgender people made by the cartoonist, some aggressively aimed at artist and TCJ-contributor Sarah Horrocks, who unpacked her interactions and thoughts on Twitter. After two days of research and thinking, D&Q, which like many small publishers, is based on fairly intimate relationships with its authors, no longer felt it could support Berliac given his behavior. The company’s statement is here. Berliac’s statement is on Facebook. 

The New York Times Magazine this week was given over to cartoonists, most notably David Mazzucchelli, Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga, who drew versions of stories taken from the Metro Desk of the paper.

And finally, Robert Storr writes about Raymond Pettibon at NYRB.

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A Conversation with Jillian Tamaki http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-jillian-tamaki/ http://www.tcj.com/a-conversation-with-jillian-tamaki/#comments Mon, 05 Jun 2017 12:00:26 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100860 Continue reading ]]> Jillian Tamaki’s new book, Boundless, has just come out from Drawn & Quarterly. It’s a collection of her short comics done over several years: a calm, whipping, crackling body of work.

To talk about Jillian Tamaki’s artwork, for me, means talking about myself. For most of my life I felt like being a woman meant I was worth less as a human being. I felt like I could never make art as good as I could have if I were a man.

I first learned about Jillian Tamaki’s work around 2007. After several years of seeing the images she created, I knew that there was no artist who was better than her. There are artists who may be as good, but there is no one who is better. It was the first time – but not the last – that I was able to recognize this in a woman artist.

After that, a long and awful lie broke apart inside me and began to melt away.

– Eleanor Davis, May 17th, 2017.

ED: What story of yours have you found people respond to the most strongly? And what was your response to their response?

JT: Well, obviously the strongest reaction I have had to A Book has been This One Summer, which is a collaboration. [This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, was the ALA’s most challenged book of 2016 – ED]. It’s interesting, for the interviews for Boundless thus far, people have wanted to discuss “The ClairFree System.” Which is slightly surprising.

ED: I experience the clearest emotional arc reading it. Not intellectual clarity, but emotional, with the conditional intimacy of the final moment.

JT: I’m trying to think of their “reaction” though. I feel like they want to hear me talk about it. It feels very mysterious and strange to them, I guess? It’s not a typical image-text pairing. I mean, it’s about The Economy, which I think about constantly.

ED: I read that comic as both a feminist critique, and defense, of Capitalism. I LOVED it, obviously.

JT: I had forgotten: that story was sparked by learning that some of my friends in my hometown had gotten into what they called a “Skin cult.” Which is maybe a pyramid scheme? You made commissions off of selling to your friends. But on the other hand, it just seemed like Mary Kay or Avon for the millennial set. And it was bizarre because I was like, oh, I remember Avon and these suburban selling-parties when I was a kid. But now I’m on the flip, the adult, and the moms needed CASH.

ED: It’s so fucking empathetic to the need for both beauty – a healthy, smooth exterior – and money. It’s so empathetic to what those two things can mean, in this case for women.

JT: I am constantly bewildered by the juxtapositions of city-life. Like, businesses closing left, right, and center, but then so many empty storefronts. No one can afford to rent, and yet we can bid $500K over asking price on teardowns. So there was an attempt at that in that story. Human needs and desires with cold hard, figures. Friendship and manipulation. Hopes and realities.

ED: I’ve noticed you think about environment a lot. Your first comic in Boundless, “World Class City,” is one of my favorites. That comic is so loving, and scared, and hopeful, and sheepish? I don’t know if I’m projecting too much.

JT: Cities. I feel like it’s a real relationship. With longing and dreams and disappointments. Beautiful bits and really ugly bits. That comic is about NY, but can be about any big city. People project so much onto NY, it is still seen as a place to go make your dreams come true, put yourself to the test, be the best version of yourself, possibly even make yourself over. I think this thing can happen where the city gets folded into your identity. It’s a song, by the way! The words in “World Class City” are song lyrics

ED: Oh! Like, an existing song?

JT: No! The one and only song I have ever written. I was briefly in a punk band with a few other women in their 30s.

ED: Oh my God! Your band Shebola? Have you recorded it? Why doesn’t Boundless come with a flexidisk insert?

JT: It always ended up very shoegaze-y or angry songs about pussies. Literally, we could have put out an album of pussy songs. Anne Ishii and Chelsea Cardinal are the other members.

ED: FLEXIDISK INSERT!

JT: Oh God, I would like to be much better! I am very enthusiastic, though. Screaming is great.

ED: Jillian! That’s so cool! I want to hear this song‼

JT: This is so embarrassing, but here is “World Class City,” the song, sort of.

[JT sends ED the song]

[ED listens to the song]

ED: Holy shit! I love this so much! What instrument are you playing? This is just hugely satisfying.

JT: We switched all the time! Guitar, keyboard, drums. Punk as fuck.

ED: Did you write “World Class City” after you realized you were gonna leave New York?

JT: Oh yes. Definitely. I had always had a very weird, uncomfortable relationship with New York, but it was my home and leaving was very melancholy despite being 100% the right decision.

ED: I read it in the voice of someone who is in love with a thing, but is aware of being in denial about its flaws. A keening sort of mournful love.

JT: Oh, I never fell in love with the place. But, I’m glad. I prefer that, instead of it seeming sarcastic.

ED: How did you decide the images for it?

JT: To be honest, I can feel increasingly confined by the image part of comics. Perhaps because often, for more commercial works, the images need be a lot more literal? I feel like images can “lock” an idea. To depict someone specific can be nice sometimes – the books I do with Mariko are always about specificity of time and place and character. But sometimes it’s nice, when reading prose, to have the ideas and concepts more open. They can feel more universal or possibly even symbolic. So I guess this comic was about trying to stretch that word-image relationship. I don’t want to show you what kind of person thinks this way, acts this way, etc.

ED: “World Class City,” and another story in Boundless, “The ClairFree System,” are doing an odd trick that I’m not super familiar with in comics. With both of them the divide between the words and the images is very stark. The dreaminess of the images makes real life feel muffled. Then, in “ClairFree,” when you come out of the beautiful dreamlike images and into a sequence depicting reality, reality is this scruffy, itchy thing.

JT: The images in ClairFree system are a combination of found photos I had kicking around and pictures I took of various artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Both were sort of adapted to a sort of universality, which is what that comic ends up being about.

ED: It feels hypnotic.

JT: Most of the artworks were statuary. Universality is the wrong word. Perhaps more like, the line between hope and survival, future and present?

ED: The images have a sense of purity and solidity, and grandeur.

JT: I dunno, I just feel like, how to recapture some of the feeling of prose? Where ideas are so much more free-floating. It’s cool to create juxtaposition between dialogue and body language, I do that all the time, and we have our tricks as to how to create ambiguity, but what if you are given NO “clues” as to how the words are intended? Sometimes comics can feel like seeding clues.

ED: Yes! I think you did that!

JT: Ideas, dialogue, environment.

ED: One of the things that makes me feel crazy about comics is that they’re so distant, inherently.

JT: How so?

ED: Prose feels like it’s happening inside your head, because you’re building the images of the text yourself. Comics does that work for you, about fourteen inches in front of your face, so you’re less engaged. With “ClairFree” and “World-Class,” you’re allowing the world-creating prose-response, but then folding additional images on top of that. I had a sense that both comics existed inside my own mind in a way that other comics do not.

JT: Perhaps some people will feel the image-word relationship will have been stretched too far.

ED: Yeah, dude, it’s going to really bug a lot of people!

JT: Well, whatever [Laughs].

ED: Just to give you a heads-up. [Laughs] I know this is kind of a shitty attitude, but I feel so comfy in people not getting my stuff. I just roll around in it.

JT: I wonder if having a kid would change this equation entirely. If you’re suddenly all, ok, cool, time to flesh out the SuperMutant Magic Academy universe and call up Cartoon Network. Instead at this point it’s like, what am I going to do… NOT try to push myself? I’ve been making some choices that are, “ok, well, you’re in a position to do this.”

ED: I’ve been there lately too. It feels good, and bad, and scary.

JT: It’s really scary. I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about being scared.

ED: Yeah.

JT: Mid-career is a trip, man. I have seen so many ppl around me flip that switch, where it’s like, “time to get real.”

ED: Time to get real, like, make that money?

JT: Yeah, or the innovation stops.

ED: “This look is selling.”

 JT: This sounds weird but it can almost seem childish or selfish to keep on pushing in this way.

ED: Well, art directors and audiences don’t tend to ask for it. It IS for oneself.

JT: Yeah. It’s true. Feels increasingly like a choice.

ED: I am trying to think of anyone I know who has pushed their style so much or as successfully as you have.

JT: What choice do I have but to try to aim for the highest heights? I simultaneously HATE this way of thinking, because it strikes me as so masculine, and phallic and horrible.

ED: Don’t you think we’re both masculine ladies though, in that regard? I am OK with that. When I’m not being my best self I’m proud of it. Wanting to succeed, fuck it, that’s my feminist act of resistance.

JT: I’m really lucky though. It does feel like a very charmed life.

ED: Oh my God, I say I’m lucky all the time but I HATE hearing you say you’re lucky! Guys don’t say they’re lucky!! They say they WON!!!

JT: I work hard but…. right time, right place, etc. etc… THAT kind of luck! Like, COSMIC luck!

ED: Jillian, that’s what I say! But it’s infuriating to hear you say it! It’s LUCKY that God came down and pressed his finger into your nog and gave you fight mixed with skill!

JT: WELL! I mean! I coulda had shitty parents who forbade me from drawing and forced me to be an accountant like my dad!

ED: OK, that part is “lucky.” That part was lucky for all of us. [Laughs]

Final question: what do you think an artist owes their audience?

JT: I accept various answers. If someone were to respond, “NOTHING!”, I totally accept that! I’m even OK with a level of cynicism from an artist. I guess for me I have found the most powerful and meaningful outcomes have arisen from people connecting with characters or stories, and relating them to their own lives or situations. I feel I owe my audience honesty so we can make that connection.

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Dog http://www.tcj.com/dog/ http://www.tcj.com/dog/#respond Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101054 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Alex Wong talks to Guy Delisle about his latest book, Hostage.

From that conversation, how did it take another decade and a half for this project to reach its conclusion?

I did a first version actually a while back of 12 pages which I showed my editor. He was very excited, but then I had work, and I was only working on comic books on the side at the time. A few years later, I came back to it and I didn’t like the first version of the book anymore. I kept postponing it. I went to North Korea. I had a kid in 2003. We went to Burma. I was always postponing it, and I needed to travel to France to talk to Christophe. I think I must have been afraid to work on this book because it was something else who had to talk about their story. It was a different process. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t traveling anymore and I realized it had been 15 years. I still had the recordings I did with him in 2002, and I worked with that. I’d phone Christophe once in awhile for small details. He would read the pages as I was doing them. I didn’t want any surprises, bad surprises, for him when the book finally came out. I wanted him involved in the process so it could be as close to the real story as possible.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
The sf novelist Charlie Jane Anders writes about Wonder Woman comics.

For all their problems and dated elements, those early Wonder Woman comics have a poetry that sticks in my mind all these years later. In Marston’s telling, the Amazons were tricked by Hercules and his men, who enslaved them until they were saved by the goddess Aphrodite. The bracelets that all the Amazons wear, including Wonder Woman, are a reminder that they have been subjugated before, and that this must never happen again. So when Wonder Woman does her famous trick of deflecting bullets with her bracelets, she’s using the symbol of remembrance of slavery to defend herself. But meanwhile, if any man chains her bracelets together, she loses her superpowers.

Sam Ombiri reviews Joe Daly’s undersung epic, Highbone Theater.

The dialogue is so natural, and the way Daly guides you through what’s being said seems like it’s collaborating with life. It’s so mundane that it becomes all too real. It seems like it’s way more dense than it is really, because of the size of the book, but it’s so rhythmic, and it sucks the reader in so that you barely even notice that you’re flipping the pages. You start it, and you keep going, and you don’t feel the big obligation to take note of anything. Or that may be inaccurate, since you are supposed to, as a reader, take note of what’s happening in the narrative. I didn’t catch so much that the colored pages were adding an extra meaning to the atmosphere changing, other than, something’s up, tonally and design wise. Color is the equivalent of sound design.

It isn’t about comics, but Martin Scorsese’s editorial in the Times Literary Supplement on the overvaluation of single images when discussing cinema is obviously easily applicable to them.

It’s also important to remember that most of these images are actually sequences of images: Peter O’Toole blowing out the match followed by the sun rising over the desert, the baby carriage rolling down the steps amid the chaos and brutality of the attack by the Cossacks. And beyond that, each separate cinematic image is comprised of a succession of still frames that creates the impression of motion. They are recordings of instants in time. But the moment you put them together, something else happens. Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye – perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes.

—Interviews & Profiles. Laura Knetzger is the latest guest on Inkstuds.

—Misc. Lynda Barry writes about becoming a character in Jeff Keane’s Family Circus.

I was a kid growing up in a troubled household. We didn’t have books in the house but we did have the daily paper and I remember picking out Family Circus before I could really read.

There was something about the life on the other side of that circle that looked pretty good. For kids like me there was a map and a compass hidden in Family Circus. The parents in that comic strip really loved their children. Their home was stable. It put that image in my head and I kept it.

—Crowdfunding. Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and Ø.K. Fox have co-edited an anthology of abortion-rights-related stories called Comics for Choice, featuring 60 contributors. They are crowdfunding via indiegogo now, with the proceeds going to charity.

Cartoonists and illustrators have teamed up with activists, historians, and reproductive justice experts to create comics about their diverse personal stories, the history of abortion, the current politics, and more. Proceeds will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Together with 70 member funds around the country, NNAF works to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access, so that everyone can have full reproductive choice.

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“I Wanted the Reader to Really Suffocate with Him”: A Guy Delisle Interview http://www.tcj.com/a-guy-delisle-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/a-guy-delisle-interview/#respond Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101045 Hostage. Continue reading ]]> In 1997, Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André was kidnapped in the middle of the night by armed men and taken to an unknown destination in the Caucasus region. This is how Guy Delisle’s Hostage opens, and for 436 pages, we get a first person account of André’s three months in solitary confinement as he grapples with hopelessness, and more importantly, tries his very best to make the time go by without going insane. Delisle, whose previous work includes Pyongyang, Jerusalem, Shenzhen, and Burma Chronicles, takes a departure from his first-person travelogue style to tell André’s story as it was told to Delisle. The graphic novel was 15 years in the making. At the 2017 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, we talked to Delisle about Hostage.

I read that this graphic novel was in fact a 15-year process.

Yeah. I heard Christophe’s story in the newspaper and it was such an incredible story. I had a chance to meet him because I had a friend who works in Doctors Without Borders. We all went to lunch together, and I started asking him questions. I was thinking he probably didn’t want to talk about it because it was a traumatic experience for him. But he was super open, he gave me all the details and the whole story from beginning to end. I remember going, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. I do stories, and it would be nice to make a comic book about this.’ And he said, ‘Yeah sure.’

From that conversation, how did it take another decade and a half for this project to reach its conclusion?

I did a first version actually a while back of 12 pages which I showed my editor. He was very excited, but then I had work, and I was only working on comic books on the side at the time. A few years later, I came back to it and I didn’t like the first version of the book anymore. I kept postponing it. I went to North Korea. I had a kid in 2003. We went to Burma. I was always postponing it, and I needed to travel to France to talk to Christophe. I think I must have been afraid to work on this book because it was something else who had to talk about their story. It was a different process. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t traveling anymore and I realized it had been 15 years. I still had the recordings I did with him in 2002, and I worked with that. I’d phone Christophe once in awhile for small details. He would read the pages as I was doing them. I didn’t want any surprises, bad surprises, for him when the book finally came out. I wanted him involved in the process so it could be as close to the real story as possible.

What did Christophe think about the book?

He was very happy. His family, who had been through the experience in a very traumatic way because they didn’t know what would happen to Christophe. For his brothers and sisters and for the family to see the story that he’s told so many times but in a graphic novel, it was much closer to the experience that Christophe had than what they could imagine. So for the family, it was really good for them to read and see that.

I thought it was interesting that you told the story from a very one-sided point of view. The narrative stays with Christophe while he’s in isolation, and the outside world is essentially shut off for the readers the same way it was for Christophe in real life. This absence of information provides so much drama to the story. How did you decide on that?

I decided on it right from the beginning because as I was listening to Christophe, and he was giving his perspective, I knew I had to do an immersive type of book. I wanted the reader to really suffocate with him, to stay with him and just show how you survive in that situation where you have no control of your life. He thought he was going to be there for a weekend, then a week goes by, then two weeks, and you go crazy and think am I going to stay there for months? Then Christmas is coming, and you start thinking about people who’ve been kidnapped and been in situations for years. I wanted to show that process of time. That’s why it’s 400+ pages. I could have said three weeks later and shown Christophe with a beard, skinner and more tired. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted people to turn the page and see the routine and go crazy with him. The plan was to make it as close to his experience as possible.

With a 436-page book, how much trust does it take in your own storytelling that you can keep the reader will engaged and interested throughout the process?

I have an exact answer for this one. After finishing 300 pages, Christophe was still in that room, and I thought, this is going to be boring. I had doubts, so I passed it around to friends who I trust because they’re good readers, and my publisher, and I waited for their reaction. They told me that it was good, and asked for the rest of the pages [laughs]. I thought, “Okay, cool.” I kept going. They reassured me. After 300 pages, I needed that.

The illustrations and colors are very muted, and you really went out of your way to illustrate the monotony of being trapped in that room.

The whole thing is very minimalistic. It was a bit more realistic than what I usually do, which is usually a bit cartoony. This story just demanded the style to be a bit more sketchy and realistic, so I worked on a process where I was doing all my drawings on paper and scanned all of it to have that sketchy feeling. Just very thin lines, no black and white, very simple, one color, that was enough to do my shadow. I didn’t want to use effects. Just very simple drawings, very simple colors, very simple text and a long, long story. It was a process. Since I knew it was going to be a long book, I couldn’t do watercolors. It had to be fast, like one page a day type of story, otherwise I’d still be working on it [laughs].

What reference material did you consult in putting together this book?

I read a few stories of people being kidnapped, but they were all very different stories. Christophe was on his own, and he managed to escape, which is different from most stories. I was actually influenced by my reading of comic books. When you’re doing comic books, it’s nice to read a lot of comics, so you know you can do this as well, and there’s always someone who’s going to come up with something new. I remember I was reading Louis Riel by Chester Brown, and there’s these action scenes in there where the suspense is very strong even though the drawings are very small and very far away. It’s almost the opposite of action, but it worked perfectly. That was an influence. On my first version of the book, I did a lot of action scenes on the kidnapping– shadows, walking, closeups, all of that. It looked nice, but it defeated the purpose. Because the more special effects you put, the more far away it is from a real life story. So reading Chester Brown, I realized I had to keep it simple to make the readers feel like they’re there. So the kidnapping at the start of the story happens in one place, and boom, boom, they’re outside. The treatment was much more subdued than the first version, the colors were simple as well. When it’s a real life story, it’s better to forget about the special effects.

What did your wife, who also works with Doctors Without Borders, think about the book?

She really liked it. I was talking to some of her friends, who are administrators at Doctors Without Borders, and there’s the scene where Christophe finally gets a contact with the outside world after two months, they put him on the phone in the car, he talks to them, and it’s a request for a million dollars for his escape, and he tells them not to give the captors the money, that he can hang on longer, which is very heroic. I was talking to these administrators, and they were saying, “Fuck, I would never say that. I would say pay whatever you have to pay, get me out of here as fast as possible.”

He was genuinely upset that they were going to give up a million dollars for him. He was very upset. Upset, depressed. It’s hard to understand in a situation like that. He was working with the numbers for DWB and the money they’re trying to save, especially since they’re privately funded. He was just going crazy because of that.

And he needed to keep himself sane the only way he could, which in this case was to alphabetically recall all the famous military battles in his head since he was such a history buff.

Every kidnapped person goes to his imagination in order to hang on. Christophe plays these board games where he re-does famous battles. He’s really into that. He reads a lot of books about Napoleon. I did a tour with him in Germany, we went to Leipzig, and he was on the field trying to see where the Battle of the Nation happened. But yeah, this happens to all the kidnapped people. There was one Frenchman I read about who spent all day going through the Bordeaux wine in his region. In a way, it’s nice to know, as someone like me who draws and writes stories, that imagination can save your life somehow. You have your regular thoughts as well aside from your imagination but those thoughts can be problematic because you start thinking about stuff that you want to do that you can’t. Christophe starts thinking about his sister, her marriage and whether they would cancel the wedding because of him, and that’s not good, you can get depressed. He was trying not to collapse, and decided he would go into his imagination as a way to escape.

You’ve done several first-person travelogues. After Hostage, are you looking to do more stories like this where you can tell other people’s perspectives?

Every week I have new ideas, where I think this might work, but I just wait and see to see which ones keep coming back to me that I want to work on. I don’t have a big book that I’m waiting for. People send me their incredible life stories now, but a lot of them don’t really interest me. It just so happens that I read Christophe’s story in the newspaper, and the story struck me as something incredible, that someone succeeded on escaping from a kidnapping. I got to meet him. We got along well. We did the book. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again.

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Sunburning http://www.tcj.com/reviews/sunburning/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/sunburning/#respond Thu, 01 Jun 2017 12:00:50 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=100436 Continue reading ]]> Keiler Roberts’ newest volume of loosely assembled memoir strips, Sunburning, is a more assured, confident, and cohesive collection than her prior work. While Roberts displayed a distinct authorial voice, a refreshing lack of fussiness with her blunt and direct pencil drawings, and a powder-dry sense of humor in her past comics, everything comes into tighter focus in this book. She tackles all of her usual topics: life as a working mother and artist; the continued growth and delightful agency of her daughter, Xia; her relationship with her husband Scott, her parents, and others in her life; how she deals with being bipolar as well as other various neurological and chiropractric ailments; and general observations about life.

Roberts portrays herself with brutal honesty and isn’t afraid to look prickly or even selfish. That’s partly a guise for her genuine curiosity about others and tremendous empathy, a cover that she reveals in dribs and drabs even as she gets off hilarious one-liners. However serious the subjects of her strips, Roberts is a gagsmith first and foremost. No matter how dark or grim the tone (and sometimes it’s just frothy or silly), Roberts always constructs her strips with the rhythm of a humorist, including the final beat of a punchline at the end of the strip. That said, she’s also quite willing to cede the best lines to characters other than her own, including (and especially) Scott and Xia. In fact, it’s obvious that she often positions her curmudgeonly self-caricature as an antagonistic force for others to bounce off of. One example: her telling Scott that she’s letting him have his way in a house decorating decision because “she’s really nice.” Another is Roberts being frustrated by an unresponsive friend and declaring she needs something to annoy her even more, to which Scott lovingly puts a hand on her shoulder and says, “I’m always here for you.” It’s a triple-threat of a line: a funny zinger, a genuine expression of affection, and an acknowledgment of Roberts’ crankiness.

Roberts plays down that persona when the strips are about her illnesses, mental and physical. There’s a remarkable scene where she realizes that Xia is starting to understand a lot of the material in her mother’s comics, prompting Roberts to think it best to tell her about being bipolar. The fantastic thing about the scene is not just how nonchalantly the girl accepts the news, but also how she adapts it into a vernacular she can understand, comparing her mom’s needs for pills to the dog’s. Later, when Scott asks her what she thinks her mom wants for Christmas, she exclaims, “Pills!” There are scenes when an ever-more self-aware Xia tells her mom not to put something in a comic when Roberts realizes how delicate the balance is in telling her daughter’s story. In many ways, this volume sees Roberts begin to step away from focusing on her daughter. There’s a sequence where Scott, ever the devil’s advocate, wonders out loud if kids will find out that Xia’s been in a comic book and make fun of her for it. For a moment, it paralyzes Roberts, until she realizes that it could very well have gone the other way, with Xia resenting the fact that she has never appeared in her mom’s comics. I’m not truly sure it would have been possible for Roberts to have ever fully excluded her daughter from these memoirs, and that impulse is not at all unlike the urge to take countless photos of one’s child and put them on Facebook.

After a number of comics where Roberts shows how much of a pain in the ass raising a child truly is, this book shows how the intensity of one’s connection to one’s child can supersede those often incredibly difficult moments. There’s one scene where Roberts simply wants Xia to hug her; Xia is more interested in eating gingerbread, and it’s heartbreaking. The ups and downs of bipolar life are especially difficult for Roberts, and she compensates by trying to control as much as her life as possible–especially in the way she keeps the house clean. There’s one long section where we see her work on every aspect of the house, and when Scott comes home and warmly greets her, she replies, “You’re tracking in dirt and leaves” instead of
saying hello. It’s an unknowing disruption of her equilibrium, and it’s worse when it’s self-inflicted, like when she knocks a sugar bowl onto the floor. While saying barely a word, Roberts succinctly demonstrates what it’s like living with bipolarity. What’s funny is that that level of fussiness does not extend to the page. While she works in a naturalistic style to be sure, the expressiveness of her characters and the sense of them living in a space the reader feels is real is more important than precision or detail. There’s nothing precious about her drawings, and that immediacy is crucial in getting across the power of the emotion that’s in so many of her stories.

Roberts examines the minutiae of her back problems, odd neurological symptoms from her past, chronic fatigue, and other illnesses, in part because she is able to find humor in them, in part because they are genuinely odd and frequently inexplicable, and also because it is a way of revealing how someone can be partially disabled or ill yet seem completely healthy. Where Roberts goes from good to great is in modulating the emotional arc of the book; she is careful to balance long sections about illness with shorter, funnier strips. The specificity of Roberts’ difficulties and how she is willing to provide detail makes them all the more relatable to the audience, but it is clear that she finds it important to emphasize that her intellectual and emotional curiosity extends far beyond her own skin.

That’s especially true in the hilarious spa sequence that’s a sort of sequel to a similar scene in her earlier book, Miseryland, where once again Roberts and a friend sit and soak in a spa, commenting on bodies, the idea of who they’d least want to run into at the spa, and the odd scene of mothers coming to the spa with their young children. As Roberts noted in the interview I conducted with her here at TCJ, she loves drawing bodies in all their shapes, sizes, and oddities. In general, nudity in her books signals a more relaxed scene or some kind of great gag, or simply life as it is normally lived. There are quiet moments of joy, happy moments spent around family, moments of frustration, and the creeping realization that Xia is using Roberts for material in her playtime just as Roberts is using Xia for her comics. Play is crucial to happiness, and because of its importance, it is a deadly serious activity; one works out one’s imagination and emotions through the tools that are available to them. Roberts expresses that comics are what make her happiest, precisely because they offer her an opportunity to play, explore and create narratives. With this volume, she adds the personal insight of how best to arrange each of these narratives with regard to how they relate to each other, adding a level of complexity that makes this a powerfully satisfying and engaging read.

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Gold Peak http://www.tcj.com/gold-peak/ http://www.tcj.com/gold-peak/#respond Thu, 01 Jun 2017 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=101037 Continue reading ]]> It’s June! Can you believe it? I cannot. Today on the site: 

Rob Clough reviews Sunburning by Keiler Roberts.

Keiler Roberts’ newest volume of loosely assembled memoir strips, Sunburning, is a more assured, confident, and cohesive collection than her prior work. While Roberts displayed a distinct authorial voice, a refreshing lack of fussiness with her blunt and direct pencil drawings, and a powder-dry sense of humor in her past comics, everything comes into tighter focus in this book. She tackles all of her usual topics: life as a working mother and artist; the continued growth and delightful agency of her daughter, Xia; her relationship with her husband Scott, her parents, and others in her life; how she deals with being bipolar as well as other various neurological and chiropractric ailments; and general observations about life.

Elsewhere:

I continue to be amazed by the drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King, who is opening a show in London now.

Here’s a profile of the very influential illustrator Bernie Fuchs.

And here’s a link to the latest Steve Ditko Kickstarter.

 

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Poetic Self-Destruction: An Interview with Eric Haven http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-eric-haven/ http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-eric-haven/#comments Wed, 31 May 2017 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100750 Tales to Demolish and the new collection, Vague Tales. Continue reading ]]> Eric Haven continues the tradition of Bay Area comic artists pushing the envelope with their own unique brand of storytelling. I first became a fan of Eric’s work when I discovered his comic series, Tales to Demolish, published by Sparkplug Comic Books. To read an Eric Haven comic is to be transported to another dimension ruled by other-worldly heroes, and where vivid, jarring imagery combine with unassuming, deadpan humor to turn the traditional science fiction narrative on its head. This is evident in Eric’s upcoming book, Vague Tales, where he chronicles a dizzying, mind-bending exploit inside a dream realm.

Eric and I chatted on the phone to talk about his beginnings in comics, 70s TV pop culture, how the Bay Area comics community has influenced his approach to comics and what a cartoonist’s role can be in politically-charged times such as these.

Rina Ayuyang: Eric, were you interested in comics as a kid?

Eric Haven: Yes. Some of my earliest memories are of comic books, of certain comic covers I saw on a newsstand or specific panels from a Jack Kirby monster story. But cartoons held an early fascination for me as well.

You grew up in the ’70s, so what cartoons were you watching in particular? 

I watched the classic Warner Bros. cartoons every Saturday morning. Also Tom & Jerry, Droopy, Scooby Doo… all the normal kid stuff. But the Hanna-Barbera superhero cartoons were particularly memorable. The Herculoids, Space Ghost, and Bird Man were really weird but strikingly designed characters and they made a strong impression on me.

I can see that in your comics. Your characters have a superhero comic influence, but there is a quirkiness, something humorous and human about them. The Hanna-Barbera characters like in Johnny Quest are serious men on a mission, but also melodramatic and comical. Do you see that quality in your own comic characters? 

Wow, awesome, I’m glad you think that. I try to keep the earnestness and the ridiculousness in balance in my comics, and sometimes it results in comedy. When it does, I’m happy. But I’m also happy to just draw weird stuff. I love the weirdness of the Herculoids – not only the visuals but also the music and the way it’s edited. Weird sequences of cavemen throwing molten lava balls into the mouth of a dragon. It’s just very strange!

Do you find that your comics are nostalgic, like a look back at these characters from comics or cartoons that you enjoyed as a kid?

Completely. Although I don’t have any desire to return to those simpler days, nor do I think those days were better than now. Ultimately, I want my comics to be clearly understood both visually and narratively. Those comics and cartoons from my early childhood seem to best encapsulate that desire: simple designs, easily-grasped story.

When did you start working on your own comics?

long time ago. I’ve always drawn comics, as long as I can remember, but they were almost never full stories. Usually it was just a splash page with the character’s name in bold letters hanging over an awkwardly-posed rendition of a superhero. I might get a few more pages into the story, maybe a bit of an origin, but I’d always abandon it and start a new one.

My first real comic was published in 1992. It was Angryman, published by Iconographix, which was an imprint of Caliber Press. They also published Ed Brubaker’s Lowlife, Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake, and Jason Lutes’ Catch Penny Tales.

What was Angryman about? 

It was about a 20-something guy trying to make his way through the world, but weird things kept happening to him. He was connected in an unexplained way to a psychotic superhero, and interacted with a tiny, flying Tiki monster. I wrote out full scripts and drew thumbnails for six issues. It was fun, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.

How did you feel about your comics-making after that? Did you feel like you could make this a profession? 

I hated it. Hated it!

Why?

After three issues of Angryman, I learned the hard truth: I’d never make a living in the comic business. I gave it everything I had, even quit my day job at the sake factory in order to fully commit to the art. But when I received the royalty check for the first issue – the princely sum of $100 – I realized my folly. In addition, seeing my comics out in the world started to fill me with dread. All I could see were the mistakes and the awfulness.

I stopped trying to produce comics for publishers at that point. Instead, I made mini-comics. That way I could still make terrible comics, and nobody but a few friends would see them. I could spend time flailing around and experimenting without fear of judgment. It was almost 10 years of mini-comics making before Tales to Demolish came out.

Did that start as a mini, or did Dylan Williams and Sparkplug Press publish it right away?

I designed it as a regular-sized comic and sent it out to a few different comics publishers, but never got a response. Some cartoonist friends suggested that I show it to Dylan, and when I did he said he’d like to publish it.

Did you know Dylan before you worked with him?

Yeah, he worked at Comic Relief in Berkeley. We hung out there. Before it was published by Iconografix, Angryman was a Xeroxed mini-comic. Comic Relief bought some copies and sold them in the back of the store with lots of other mini-comics. Dylan was great at pushing those hand-made comics, he truly loved the art form.

There was a strong indie comics community in the Bay Area then. Were you involved in any of that or were you a “loner” cartoonist? 

More of a loner. You’re right about the comics community in Berkeley, but I didn’t really feel like I was a part of it. I had a circle of non-cartoonist friends I hung out with socially, and foolishly didn’t recognize the benefits of networking with other cartoonists. Even so, it was comforting to know there was a group of artists around town that would regularly meet and share work.

How was your experience with Dylan and the various other publishers you’ve worked with? How have they affected how you do your comics?

I’ve had the great fortune to work with great publishers. Dylan was a very unique person. He understood comics from a variety of different angles; he was a historian, a teacher, a publisher, and an artist. Most importantly to my comics-making, Dylan was my introduction to some of the great cartoonists of the 1940s and 1950s. I had of course read books on comics, like the Smithsonian volumes of comics and newspaper strips, and whatever other books on the subject I could find at libraries. But Dylan used to make these mini-comics/zines of cartoonists like Bernard Krigstein, Mort Meskin, Ogden Whitney, Fred Guardineer, and lots of others. You can find any of these guys and unlimited examples of their work on the Internet now, but in the early ’90s it was rare to come across it. Plus, seeing a bunch of complete stories from one artist bundled together so you can track their development or thematic idiosyncrasies was extremely educational. Fantagraphics is doing that now with all of their EC artist volumes, but Dylan did basically the same thing more than 25 years ago.

I can say the same for Alvin Buenaventura as well. Alvin had incredible taste in comic art and would show me work outside my normal comfort zone in comics. A lot of European stuff, some southeast Asian stuff that I’d never come across on my own and never even knew existed. Like Dylan, Alvin just wanted to share the work that excited him as a publisher and printmaker.

Since he had such a discerning eye, it was always good work and it’d always be very inspiring. I spent many hours in his warehouse flipping through pages of books and comics and prints, sometimes to the point of visual exhaustion.  

And you worked with Eric Reynolds with Vague Tales 

I pitched Vague Tales to Eric a couple years ago and described it as “Cowboy Henk meets Void Indigo”. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what the book was going to be about at that time, but those two esoteric reference points seemed to best explain the mix of weird humor and 1980s-era sci-fi fantasy horror I was going for.

In Vague Tales, you introduce an assortment of very strong iconic characters who could be lead characters for their own comic. How do you come up with them? 

Well, it was mostly a visual process. I’d start with a drawing of the character, with no idea about the character’s backstory or how he or she fits into the narrative. I just wanted to experience the joy of drawing a cool-looking character. Their backstory and narrative purpose developed as I drew it. The intent was to create something formed from my unconscious mind, or whatever part of my brain that pushes the pencil around on the paper. It was very much like the experience of drawing comics when I was little, starting with a heroic-looking splash page and then building the story around it.

Going back to the Herculoids, there’s a feeling of epic excitement in the intro sequence of the cartoon. The characters are flying through space, smashing things, screaming. As a kid, that was enough for me! It didn’t matter what the story was about, my proto-cartoonist mind was triggered and locked in to enjoying the visual and audial experience. I think the characters and narrative in Vague Tales are an attempt to replicate that feeling. 

In Tales to Demolish and in Kramers 7, you depict yourself as a character. How personal are these stories? There’s a glimpse of autobio, though your character is thrown into these faraway sci-fi worlds.

Yeah, sure. It’s autobio in that these stories feature myself and sometimes my surroundings. Always easier to draw what you know! But the stories quickly veer into absurdity with very little semblance to my actual life experience. I never named myself in those comics – the character looks like me, but he is never mentioned by name. That was probably enough to separate my true self from my comic self, or to keep myself from having a psychotic break or something.

In 2009, Alvin asked me to do a continuing strip for The Believer magazine and it was then I decided to give the “Eric” character a name different than my own: “Race Murdock”. But I have no desire to portray myself in comics anymore, or at least not right now in this period of my life. Especially stories where it’s all about me getting destroyed in some way!


Yeah, what’s that about?

I don’t know! For some reason, I thought it was always funnier to place myself into stories where the end result is death or dismemberment. It’s fun to see Wile E. Coyote get crushed or flattened or exploded, and then keep coming back for more. To me, those cartoons are the epitome of poetic self-destruction. So minimal! So hilarious! In Race Murdock, I decided to explore that idea of self-destruction, whittle it down, minimize it to such an extent that I could destroy myself within the constraint of a 4-panel strip. But after four years of Race Murdock, I think I got whatever it was out of my system. 

In Vague Tales, the reader is looking into a world, especially with this first character we see, who is pulled out of current times into another world.

It’s an experimental piece. I was trying to describe what it may be like to have a hallucination or to experience altered consciousness. There isn’t any real plot to the story other than the character moves through time and space, perhaps in his own mind or maybe utilizing some form of mental telepathy, and at the end the book he’s back where he started, only changed in some mysterious way.

It feels like there’s a huge backstory that’s going on between them all these iconic characters in the story, like in TV sci-fi serials or soap operas, but the reader doesn’t know what the story or connection is thus the title Vague Tales. I don’t know if that was what you were thinking about when you were coming up with these characters, but do they have a connection? 

I’ve always been interested in dream states and altered forms of consciousness. In this book, I’m trying to simulate those states of mind where strange connections or epiphanies are common. There is a connection between what all the characters are going through, but that connection is never specifically or technically explained. It’s purely visual or metaphorical. Dreams are so powerful because they are operating on our own individual, highly personal symbolic system. I’m trying to replicate that by repeating symbols that hold special meaning. The front cover of the book mirrors the back cover and then you peel back skins, layers, as you turn the pages through the story, each one relating to the last, sometimes purely visually. For example: one of the characters, a silicon-based creature, has his head explode into multiple fragments, and then you turn the page and there is a full sized drawing of someone else’s face. It cuts from one image to another, suggesting a connection between the two. I know I’m not explaining this clearly (and yep, that’s indicated by the title of Vague Tales) but I was trying to make this thing that is very much a dream, a hallucination, and to make an artifact of it and bring it out of that realm of dream and into the physical world. This book is that artifact.

It’s very weird. I don’t know if Vague Tales is going to have an effect on anyone else, but it is very personal to me. These images seem to make sense to me, and I wanted to string them along in a sequence that hopefully elicits a reaction in the reader. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case; it’s an experiment. I have no idea what the reaction is going to be. I’m very happy that Eric took a chance to publish this thing; it’s a very personal work that I felt compelled to create. 

I understand that — the need to share and express as an artist no matter who gets it. And I can also see the progression from you portraying yourself in your earlier comics as an obvious way to show that the story is personal to you now being totally comfortable just throwing your entire self, mind and body, into this world that you’ve created that makes the story ALL you in a sense.

Yeah, that’s right. Instead of having the story being ABOUT me, the story actually IS me. Maybe the experience of reading the book is like spending time in my subconscious. Being a cartoonist is a weird thing as I’m sure you’re aware. Feeling this need to put these images out there…I don’t know why. I haven’t really questioned why these images are resonant within me. I just put it all out there. It may mean nothing…[laughs], but…

…Or does it have to mean anything to anyone else 

Right! Does it? [laughs] I don’t know. My answer to that question might change year to year, project to project. Why have I taken time out of my life to do this thing? Why am I compelled to make these images? This book doesn’t answer any of those questions. In fact, just the opposite: I opened my mind and just let whatever was in there to spill out. It may be ridiculous imagery, it may be infantile or lurid, but I felt the compulsion to get it out. And it’s come at great cost, actually.

How?

Taking great chunks of time off from work, for example, time that was, purely from a financial point of view, perhaps better spent being gainfully employed.

And why are you compelled to do this in a comics form? Why comics, why not painting or something else? Painting would be the first medium that comes to my mind as way to express what one is feeling as opposed to comics. 

Comics, for me, is how you just described painting. Comics, for me, are the ultimate art form, one that allows the artist to express himself or herself through words and pictures equally. The human brain is hard-wired for language and for visual symbols, so comics are actually the most efficient way to communicate. Putting words and pictures together, and then putting them in a sequence on a series of pages, is highly evocative and possibly even more descriptive than either painting or writing on their own.

Seems more accessible too.

Accessible, yes, but also more accurate. If the intent of the artist is to communicate his thoughts and ideas as efficiently and truthfully as possible, I think using words in combination with pictures would be the best method.

Speaking about how this medium for you is a way to just get everything within you “out there”, I want to talk about The Resister. Many artists are responding to the election and the current political climate here in America through various ways like sharing articles and viewpoints on social media, but what prompted you to go further and draw a comic specifically about this?

That was rage. Pure, unadulterated RAGE. I’ve never felt so angry about our political situation, not even during the Bush years. I think anyone with a shred of rationality should be working to resist 45 and his administration. It’s abhorrent what has happened; I literally can’t believe it. I’d like to think that Americans are at least semi-educated and reasonable, but this election showed that a significant portion of our population is backwards, bigoted, misogynistic, and hateful. I’m really concerned about this. 

When did you start working on it? Was it right after the election, and also was it a purely therapeutic thing, dealing with what’s going on politically or a call to arms? 

It was not purely therapeutic because I still feel the rage. It’s ongoing. It didn’t work. [laughs] 

So there are more Resister comics to come. [laughs] 

Maybe. The social media echo chamber seemed to enjoy it! I started drawing the comic the week he took office, after realizing I couldn’t even think about anything else, “How did this happen?! This is insane! A new, terrible reality has usurped our entire existence!” I just couldn’t understand it or believe it, so the comic was a way to direct all the rage outwards.

How much do you think that artists should be focusing their time now on making more political art as a part of The Resistance? What’s your take on artists’ contributions to the whole cause? 

That’s a good question, and it’s a question I continually ask myself as well. Is it more important for me to go to a science march, or stay indoors and do more Resister comics? Just for me personally, funneling the rage into comics may have a longer-lasting effect. But I’m not advocating drawing comics over marching and demonstrating and calling representatives. Everyone should be resisting, but everyone should do it in their own way. Resist!

From your on-going experience of not making any money from comics [laughs], what can you say to those young artists and students attending comic schools and different comics programs in colleges?

I wouldn’t know what to tell them. Maybe I’d suggest they read “Art School Confidential” if they haven’t already.

In 1989 when I graduated, I had a degree in Illustration from Syracuse University and thought, “okay, I’ll be an illustrator”, but getting started in the field of freelance illustration is really, really challenging. I would say to people who are studying comics to just try to do the best work you can while recognizing that your work might never get published, let alone make any money. Just do it because you like it. Enjoy it as means of self-expression. 

That’s true, I mean where else, I guess besides film maybe, can you show off something so graphically charged like a maimed corpse or something. 

Yeah, you can do whatever you want and the only limit is your own imagination. And making comics can be infinitely more satisfying than filmmaking if you prefer complete artistic control over collaboration. Just one lone cartoonist, transmitting their thoughts through words and pictures directly from their brain to yours over time and space — It’s a very pure art form.

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New York Moonlight http://www.tcj.com/new-york-moonlight/ http://www.tcj.com/new-york-moonlight/#comments Wed, 31 May 2017 12:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100971 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we present Rina Ayuyang’s interview with Eric Haven, the creator of Tales to Demolish and the upcoming collection, Vague Tales.

After three issues of Angryman, I learned the hard truth: I’d never make a living in the comic business. I gave it everything I had, even quit my day job at the sake factory in order to fully commit to the art. But when I received the royalty check for the first issue – the princely sum of $100 – I realized my folly. In addition, seeing my comics out in the world started to fill me with dread. All I could see were the mistakes and the awfulness.

I stopped trying to produce comics for publishers at that point. Instead, I made mini-comics. That way I could still make terrible comics, and nobody but a few friends would see them. I could spend time flailing around and experimenting without fear of judgment. It was almost 10 years of mini-comics making before Tales to Demolish came out.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The National Cartoonists Society announced the winners of the annual Reuben Awards. Among others, Ann Telnaes won outstanding cartoonist of the year, and Lynda Barry won the Milton Caniff lifetime achievement award.

The Montreal webcartoonist Sophie Labelle was forced to cancel a promotional event and go into hiding after a series of transphobic threats.

“This kind of thing happens to any trans person who’s visible and trying to raise awareness of trans issues,” Labelle, 29, said by phone from an undisclosed location on Friday. “In this case, the organizers had received threats that people would come and disrupt the event, so we decided to be on the safe side.”

Something used with particular virulence against Labelle has been the practice of doxxing. One of those cyberspeak words that is rapidly entering the general vernacular, it refers, in Labelle’s words, to “having personal information leaked with the purpose of undermining somebody. In the past I have exposed some of the groups that have been posting threats on my Facebook page, and Facebook has deleted most of them, and I think that’s what made it escalate to the point where they doxxed me and published my home address. They hacked into my website to get that information.”

—Commentary. Chris Ware writes about Saul Steinberg.

As a cartoonist myself, I am dismayed that there’s little in the show I can steal, the crossover in the Venn diagram of the image-as-itself versus as-what-it-represents being depressingly slim. I am painfully aware that in comics, stories generally kill the image. But Steinberg’s images grow and even live on the page; somewhere in the viewing of a Steinberg drawing the reader follows not only his line, but also his line of thought. Describing himself as “a writer who draws,” Steinberg could just as easily be considered an artist who wrote; as my fellow cartoonist Lynda Barry puts it, his “drawing went not from his mind to his hand but rather from his hand to his mind.” Or as Steinberg himself declared at the beginning of a 1968 television interview, “[my hand explains] to myself what goes on in my mind.”

The UK cartoonist Hannah Berry writes about her decision to leave comics (or at least graphic novels) due to financial considerations.

To make a graphic novel takes me three years of blinkered, fanatical dedication, and I realised while working on Livestock that I just can’t do it again. I’m done. I’m out. And from quiet talks with many other graphic novelists, ones whose books you know and love, I can tell you that I’m far from being the only one.

This is the problem with making graphic novels in the UK today, and it’s one we need to address: the numbers do not add up.

Douglas Wolk reviews a slew of new books for the NYT Book Review’s Summer Reading issue, including comics by Emil Ferris, Jason Shiga, Gabrielle Bell, Igort, Guy Delisle, and Jillian Tamaki.

If Tamaki (the illustrator of the Book Review’s By the Book feature) has a favorite storytelling strategy, it seems to be dreaming up some kind of odd artifact of mass culture and then examining the way people react to it. “Body Pods” concerns a cult movie adored by some of the narrator’s friends, and their reactions as its stars begin to die. “Darla!” is an oral history of a (nonexistent) short-lived pornographic sitcom from the ’90s. (“It was a different time,” the narrator deadpans. “You could never make something like it now.”) And the Borgesian “1. Jenny” begins by imagining a “mirror Facebook” whose users’ profiles begin to diverge from their real-world counterparts,’ and goes on to follow one woman’s obsession with her alternate self’s love life.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Millions talked to James Sturm about a new edition of his 2001 book, The Golem’s Mighty Swing.

Most of the book’s Jewish characters are immigrants or first-generation Americans — they fled from pogroms, hostile empires, and emerging nations. They desperately wanted to believe in the ideals of America. For the team’s black player, Henry Bell, his view of America is far different — his family came to America in chains. A baseball story set in the 1920s is especially susceptible to evoking that rose-tinted strain of American nostalgia. I did want the book to challenge this view. I keep coming back to the present political moment and this creepy notion of “making America great again.” Talk about rose-tinted glasses! Who was it great for? And if so, on whose backs was that “greatness” generated?

Pedro Moura interviews comics scholar Maaheen Ahmed about her new book, Openness of Comics: Generating Meaning within Flexible Structures.

I did indeed deliberately avoid titles that had already been well analyzed, but I also wanted to try and get a more transcultural perspective on comics by including works from different regions and genres. Since I also wanted to better understand the rise and establishment of the graphic novel phenomenon, I thought it might be more productive to start with Eisner’s Contract with God which can be said to bridge the more mainstream idea of comics and the basic implication of a graphic novel as being a novel. This was also the reasoning behind including Pratt’s long, novel-like Corto Maltese adventure, The Ballad of the Salt Sea as a European counterpart to Eisner’s graphic novel to start the next section.

I did indeed want to include more works (e.g. Aristophane’s Faune from 1995 and only recently re-issued by Frémok, to name only one of the many fascinating, experimental comics published in Belgium). Their absence however is due to more practical concerns of space (since the analyses are kept descriptive in order to provide a well-rounded ‘picture’ of each comic) and structure (of the book itself). I would’ve also liked to include a much larger section on the relationship between (experimental) comics and artists’ books – so much still needs to be done in that area!

The CBLDF podcast speaks to Gilbert Hernandez, Virtual Memories talks to Seth, and Process Party talks to John Porcellino.

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Actually Kind Of http://www.tcj.com/actually-kind-of/ http://www.tcj.com/actually-kind-of/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 12:54:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100987 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us the week in comics, with a special focus on Steve Ditko’s latest.

Elsewhere:

Our parent company Fantagraphics has announced a new comics anthology called Now

The cartoonist Maggie Umber wrote a very frank account of the end of her marriage and the toll publishing can take on a relationship.

 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/31/17 – Knot Comics) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-53117-knot-comics/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-53117-knot-comics/#comments Tue, 30 May 2017 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100993 Continue reading ]]>

An acrobatic test amidst the scrumming mob, from a specialist in need of no identification. I knew I was a pretty far gone Steve Ditko fan long ago, but it’s great to have new confirmation: a 48-page comic I backed on Kickstarter with no idea as to the contents, 17 pages of which turned out to be pencils for an unfinished story from an unknown period, and I was delighted. Most of you know that Ditko maintains an ongoing series of all-new comics as published by himself and Robin Snyder — issue #26 is forthcoming, hopefully in time for the artist’s 90th birthday in November — but the pair has also been releasing a parallel series of miscellaneous, reprint-heavy comics with a separate, continuous system of numbering. The first such-numbered comic is Mr. A. #15 from November of 2014, though I prefer to think of it as “#15: Mr. A.”, since the issue number is the key identifying factor, with the individual comics’ repeating titles often drawn from older series. Thus:

#15: Mr. A. (Nov. 2014)
#16: Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (May 2015)
#17: Out of This World (July 2015)
#18: Mr. A. (Spring 2016)
#19: Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (Summer 2016)
#20: Out of This World (Autumn 2016)
#21: Mr. A. (Spring 2017)
#22: Murder (Summer 2017)
#23: The Hero Comics (Summer 2017)

(Ordering info here; the publishers are silent as to the contents, retroactive or otherwise, of issues #1-14.)

The Mr. A. issues probably hold the most interest, as they are comprised in significant part of never-before-published complete stories intended for a Mr. A. series in the early 1990s (#24 has already been announced as another Mr. A. issue). The image above, however, comes from The Hero Comics, which collects a pair of stories from the Ditko “Packages” of the millennial period, along with an ’09 piece from one of his older all-new 32-page comics, and some assorted one-page images. And, of course, the aforementioned 17-page no-letters, no-inks story, “V? vs. Frog Man”. Ditko ultra-fan Nick Caputo has identified the V? character from a lineup of forthcoming characters in Charlton Action: Featuring Static #11 (Oct. 1985), so it’s probable (though not certain) that the art originates from around that time.

The new comic’s introduction invites the reader to “have a field day imagining what it is all about,” so I’ve decided the titular Frog M[e]n are a gang of internet-bred nihilists who’ve abrogated all moral responsibility to behave in the manner of animals, luxuriating in their own debasement as a sick statement on the futility of living in a rotten society. V? is a human bystander in a sharp hat and tie who can’t help but take action in the fact of injustice, leading to his acquisition of a high-science power belt and a superheroic rebirth in a test chamber not unlike that of noted Superman adversary Doctor Manhattan, a derivation of Ditko’s & Joe Gill’s early ’60s Charlton character Captain Atom. But while D.M. slides into the DCU as a means of justifying chronological aberrations brought on by confused publishing strategies, Ditko here gives us the power of viewing time and space outside of the sequential boundaries of perception. Is this story from before or after Watchmen? With a copyright date of 2017, the answer could be both – such is the creator’s Victory.

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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!

Boundless: Jillian Tamaki is a big enough deal right now that I can sit down in an NYC subway car — I think it’s the E train, probably not just that one — and see a comic strip-like illustration of hers hanging among the ads, and I don’t think it’s especially strange at all. This 7″ x 8.7″ Drawn and Quarterly softcover collects 248 pages of short comics, many of which appeared on the Hazlitt website in 2015 & 2016, though there’s also some new stuff, as well as Tamaki’s contribution to the 2012 anthology Nobrow 7, and the entirety of her issue of the Youth in Decline showcase series Frontier (#7). Interesting to see how her art expands and contracts given the venue, while the stories remain concerned with people navigating life through the gauzy filter of media, be it television, internet or literature; $24.95.

Revenger & The Fog: This is a Bergen Street Comics Press release — which is to say it’s co-published by somebody I do a podcast with, BE WARNED, STAY SAFE — collecting all of the issues released in the Oily Comics vigilante action series from writer/artist Charles Forsman that were not collected in the prior Bergen Street book Revenger: Children of the Damned. I like this later material more… it’s less ‘in quotes’ (i.e. no Russian cyborg nudity), and applies a more sophisticated back issue rot box coloring scheme to the increasingly feverish character emotions at play, ecstasies of betrayal and loyalty; $18.95.

PLUS!

Canopy: The latest Retrofit/Big Planet release, an 80-page wordless color comic from Karine Berdou, a French artist who’s worked with publishers ranging from BD behemoth Delcourt to the Swiss arts-focused publisher Atrabile, which is where this piece originated in 2011. Many small figures caught in various states of motion on unpaneled pages, with themes of family and coming-of-age in a folkloric world; $15.00.

Paklis #1: A new Image debut, and a one-man anthology at that. Dustin Weaver has been working in a very rich & heavy style for a variety of Marvel comics projects for a while (I think he first attracted wide attention in 2010 through the Jonathan Hickman-scripted series S.H.I.E.L.D.), but this is his first creator-owned work, claiming sturdy Euro-Japanese influences a la Moebius, Miyazaki & Ōtomo. New issues are scheduled to arrive monthly at least through #4, so expect more soon. Preview; $5.99.

The Egyptian Princesses: Very direct title for this 2010-11 series from Ukrainian-born artist Igor Baranko, who published a few pieces with SLG early in the ’00s (and pencilled some Simpsons comics at Bongo), but really hit his stride with a set of fiercely eccentric historical genre works with Les Humanoïdes on the French market – Jihad (aka “The Horde”), 2003-04, and Shamanism, 2005-06. (He also drew the 2003-08 Exterminator 17 revival for writer/co-creator Jean-Pierre Dionnet.) The Egyptian Princesses, a 244-page b&w softcover, follows the daughters of Ramesses III and their exploitation of “forbidden knowledge of necromancy and black magic” in defense of the throne; $19.95.

Lennon: The New York Years: A Eurocomic of a different type, this 2015 release is based on a ’10 biographical novel by author and filmmaker David Foenkinos, adapted by the enormously prolific bit-of-everything BD writer Éric Corbeyran and an artist known only as “Horne”. IDW presents the English edition as a 156-page, 8″ x 11″ b&w hardcover album; $19.99.

Xena: Warrior Princess – The Classic Years Omnibus Vol. 1: C’mon, you remember Xena, right? Syndicated adventure series, ran throughout the second half of the ’90s? I’d forgotten that Dark Horse had put out a licensed comic book toward the tail end of the show’s run, 1999-2000, and imagine my surprise when I found out it was one of those American projects headed up by a 2000 AD mainstay. No less than Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner writes most of these 14 comics, now collected into a 360-page Dynamite softcover. The most frequent artist is Mike Deodato Jr., with turns by Joyce Chin, Clint Hilinski and Ivan Reis, while Ian Edginton (who, truth be told, worked on a number of Dark Horse license projects and other American comics prior to doing a lot of work under the 2000 AD banner) scripts the later chapters; $24.99.

Mister X: The Archives (&) Starslayer: The Log of the Jolly Roger: Two actual Dark Horse releases now, collecting works with origins in the 1980s Direct Market (like Dark Horse itself). Mister X is an oddball design-y dark fantasy/noir-ish series created by Dean Motter and published by Vortex Comics beginning in 1984 (a significant delay from the earliest conceptualization of the series from Motter and artist Paul Rivoche). The early issues are notable for the participation of Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez, after which there’s an episode with Ty Templeton & Klaus Schoenefeld, and then the appearance of the young artist Seth, who drew eight issues. The first 14 numbers are collected in a 384-page softcover, with an added story by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean. Starslayer is a Celtic-warrior-in-space concept from writer/artist Mike Grell, which was initially released by Pacific Comics in 1982-83 before moving to First Comics, and eventually different creative teams. What Dark Horse is collecting is its 224-page softcover is the 1995 Acclaim Comics “Director’s Cut” of the Pacific material, which Grell amended with a good deal of new and revised content; $24.99 (each).

Providence Act 2 (of 3): Finally, lest we be misled by the top of this column – the writer Alan Moore still pursues pastiche today, most recently in this Lovecraftian series from Avatar with artist Jacen Burrows. This comic book-sized hardcover collects issues #5-8 (of 12), in which a reporter’s meetings with various ‘real’ supernatural inspirations for fictional horror characters adopt a gruesome and awful poise. Most of my favorite bits in this series are toward the end… I *loved* the final issue, which should be collected toward the end of this year; $21.99.

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Used in Media http://www.tcj.com/used-in-media/ http://www.tcj.com/used-in-media/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100974 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

Rob Clough looks at Study Group Comics through the prism of genre comics. 

The website of Study Group Comic Books has a button on their menu bar labeled “Genres.” It speaks volumes about the publishing mission of Zack Soto—the choices range from familiar genres like “Fantasy,” “Horror,” and “Crime” to “Abstractions” and “Trippy.” No alternative comics publisher is as explicit in its interest in genre comics as Study Group, both on the website and in paper form. Soto is also the rare publisher that still releases single-issue comics as part of a larger series as opposed to focusing on full-length books. Soto exhibits a voracious appetite for absorbing and understanding comics of all kinds, and that’s also reflected in the Study Group Magazine that he publishes with editor Milo George and art director Francois Vigneault.

Study Group is far from the only alternative comics publisher that deals with genre, but they focus on them more than any other. That said, their output look less like the sort of genre comics one might see from larger publishers and more like the kind of gritty, idiosyncratic comics associated with minicomics scenes like Providence in the late 1990s. Manga and other genre influences like EC horror comics can be widely seen in some Study Group releases. Let’s take a look at their output from the last couple of years.

 

The longtime Spirou-contributor Pierre Seron has died. 

Comics-related: Jane Mai and An Nguyen discuss “Lolita Fashion”

Not comics: “The Berlin Painter” offers some visuals that we could learn from.

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Rediscovering Genre: Study Group Comics http://www.tcj.com/rediscovering-genre-study-group-comics/ http://www.tcj.com/rediscovering-genre-study-group-comics/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 12:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97919 Continue reading ]]> The website of Study Group Comic Books has a button on their menu bar labeled “Genres.” It speaks volumes about the publishing mission of Zack Soto—the choices range from familiar genres like “Fantasy,” “Horror,” and “Crime” to “Abstractions” and “Trippy.” No alternative comics publisher is as explicit in its interest in genre comics as Study Group, both on the website and in paper form. Soto is also the rare publisher that still releases single-issue comics as part of a larger series as opposed to focusing on full-length books. Soto exhibits a voracious appetite for absorbing and understanding comics of all kinds, and that’s also reflected in the Study Group Magazine that he publishes with editor Milo George and art director Francois Vigneault.

Study Group is far from the only alternative comics publisher that deals with genre, but they focus on it more than any other. That said, their output look less like the sort of genre comics one might see from larger publishers and more like the kind of gritty, idiosyncratic comics associated with minicomics scenes like Providence in the late 1990s. Manga and other genre influences like EC horror comics can be widely seen in some Study Group releases. Let’s take a look at their output from the last couple of years.

Titan #1-5, by Francois Vigneault. This is a smart, stylish, political sci-fi romance thriller. In the future, gigantic, genetically modified humans called Titans work in mines on various moons around the solar system. They are a labor class that works for Terrans, who are their managers and security force (and essentially, represent a higher caste in a hierarchical system). The story centers around Joao Da Silva, a Brazilian manager sent from Earth to evaluate the Homestead station on Titan, and Phoebe Mackintosh, a Titan labor representative who is tasked to monitor him. There are multiple intrigues on both sides, with the tension between the Titans (who work in hazardous conditions) and Terrans (who are viewed as exploiters) being cynically stoked by several individuals with selfish agendas. Vigneault makes the story work because of the intense characterizations of Joao and Phoebe. They have conflicting agendas prior to meeting, but their immediate sexual chemistry alters the course of the story.

Obviously, issues of class and race inform the central conflict of the story, but mostly in  a way that drives the plot instead of as a sort of transparent, heavy-handed Star Trek-style moral metaphor. Instead, the comic more closely resembles another science-fiction TV show in terms of tone and moral complexity: the revamped Battlestar Galactica show from the ’00s. Titan has the same lived-in, grimy feel; living in a space colony is cramped, sweaty and unpleasant. There are the same sorts of secret deals, hidden agendas, double-crosses, and acts of violence that spark huge amounts of unrest. There’s also the same emphasis on romance as a kind of frenzied, desperate activity that is literally life-affirming in the face of danger. Both Joao and Phoebe are smart, centered, funny and ultimately moral character.

Vigneault is a skilled cartoonist and his character design and attention to detail emphasize the claustrophobic character of the colony. His faces, interestingly enough, have a cartoony & exaggerated character instead of the more naturalistic technique he uses for the rest of his drawings. Vigneault favors thick eyebrows, lots of dripping sweat, and dense scars. The reader is welcomed to crawl inside every panel and take a close look, as Vigneault rewards close reading with all sorts of interesting detail. Each of the five issues has used a different color wash, with the third issue’s red being especially fitting for an extended sex scene.

This is a solid example of genre fiction that doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence and has multiple layers, but doesn’t try to thematically overreach. Both sides in the conflict have their own ethical murkiness, but Vigneault is more interested in developing how that affects conflict, action, and character interaction than he is in lecturing the reader. The final issue takes a number of unexpected and brutal turns, but the romantic element of the story is far from ignored.

Power Button #0, by Zack Soto. Genre-inspired stories told in an idiosyncratic narrative and visual style, Soto’s comics seem to be very much influenced by Fort Thunder. Unlike his stylish and innovative Secret Voice comics, this story feels remarkably derivative of old Marvel titles like The Silver Surfer and Rom, wherein a brave person from a world threatened by overwhelming outside forces sacrifices themselves. That sacrifice comes by way of undergoing a transformation that allows them to save their planet but permanently separates them from further contact. This comic looks nice but is otherwise quite conventional, which is disappointing considering the quality of Soto’s other work.

The Secret Voice #1-3, by Zack Soto. Soto is strongly influenced by Mat Brinkman and Brian Ralph, and that influence is most clearly evident in the first issue of this continuing series that’s jammed full of clever ideas, appealing world-building, unusual and eye-catching character design, and an idiosyncratic use of color. This is a fantasy epic about a nearly invincible warlord and the enigmatic scholar-sorcerers in the Red College who oppose him. Soto is all about establishing place and letting the reader absorb its particular rhythms; the opening of the first issue features several pages following a water source down deep under a mountain until we meet the main character, a bandaged and bespectacled Red College member named Dr. Galapagos.

What I like best about this comic is the way that Soto balances one narrative with several others that jump back and forth in time, creating a one-man anthology similar to the sort of fractured storytelling that Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar do in their Dungeon series. Soto even varies his visual approach in these interstitial features, going from the denseness of his “Secret Voice” serial to the airy and open layout of “Heard You Were Around”, where Soto almost entirely abandons line in favor of color and shape. It’s not quite abstract, but the looseness of the art fits the wistful and nostalgic quality of the story.

The “Secret Voice” story in the second issue is not nearly as reminiscent of Fort Thunder. Soto expands his world-building and central character conflicts to reveal that Dr. Galapagos is tormented by a voice that possesses him at times, and the reader meets other Red College members who are fighting the war in their own ways. The scope here is not unlike Lord of the Rings: vast battles, cities under siege, huge armies of monsters, and a desperate defense. The structure of the heroes’ society is unusual enough to make this story happily free of cliche, and Soto’s use of restraint in giving the reader just enough information to follow the story without overwhelming her with backstory lends the story a mysterious but appealing edge. Of course, given the more conventional narrative structure in the main story, Soto throws a more enigmatic narrative at the reader in the backup serial, “Maps Of The Unknown World”, which is once again all about space, environments, and slowly illuminating them.

One can see this series as Soto experimenting with and finding his stride as a cartoonist. The third issue is more visually complex but also more original than the first two issues, as his own style starts to emerge. There’s an effortless flip between the main plot and nuanced character interaction. What’s remarkable is how quickly the comic proceeds despite being a relatively peaceful interlude in the larger story. Soto makes up for that with another time-jumping feature with a dark, denser and scratchy approach that is built on deep reds and purples (and drawn by Jason Fischer), and a narrative that is relaxed in its pacing even as its actions (keeping demons from entering a gate) are frantic. The second installment of “Maps Of The Unknown World” is suitably enigmatic, but there’s a bit more context added to make the narrative more coherent, even if its connection to the larger story remains unclear. Soto is the pacesetter for the Study Group line in many ways; his fusion of genre tropes and alt-comics storytelling has been the model for this kind of comic for quite some time.

Magical Character Rabbit, by Kinoko Evans. This is self-conscious shojo manga, down to the funny “translation” in the title and the characters underneath it. It’s a relentlessly cute but still interesting story about a rabbit wizard who is tasked with performing the town’s winter solstice rite. On cheap paper that handles the deeply saturated colors well, the comic is basically about the mage’s attempt at figuring out what she has to do in order to perform the rite. Evans knows how to pace a comic and this one is no exception, as the rabbit runs into a variety of characters–some helpful, some annoying–while trying to figure out just what to do. The purple, orange, and yellow color scheme varies in that some colors look like they were done on a risograph and others look like they were hand-colored via colored pencil. This is a perfect comic for a child aged 8 through 12. A knowing fan can enjoy the tropes that Evans runs through, while a young fan can enjoy it purely on its own terms. Evans’ use of a thick line sets it apart from a lot of manga-style stories and gives it a solidity unusual in comics that strive for cuteness. It makes the village and its characters seem more mundane and less ethereal.

The Short Con, by Pete Toms & Aleks Sennwald. This attractive book, done in small, square format, is another Study Group release aimed at children. The high concept is very funny: the residents of an orphanage also happen to run a detective squad that solves all sorts of crimes. The book fits somewhere between Richard Sala and Drew Weing, combining the weird, the creepy, the absurd, and the adorable all in one package. When a rich girl is sent to the orphanage, she’s paired up with the slightly misanthropic girl nicknamed “Pops,” who has a habit of accidentally getting her partners killed. Toms exploits every cop trope one can think of, and while the identity of the killer is completely ridiculous, it makes sense within the context of the story. Working mostly in a four-panel grid, Sennwald takes a lot of cues from Sala in terms of character design, only he uses a slightly thinner line and deliberately makes the characters look they’re playing dress-up. Only in the context of the story, danger is everywhere, be it from robot dogs or the machinations of a master criminal. The pacing of the book is spot-on, allowing just enough character growth and bonding without padding it too much. Everything from design to coloring is top notch on this little book, and I found myself wanting.

Vile 1-2, by Tyler Landry. These are short, moody horror stories that rely on atmosphere and suggestion instead of gore. Each issue uses a single spot color to go with the black pages; the first issue features light green and the second issue dark green. There’s some classic EC horror comics influence here, but only up to a point, as Landry deliberately employs vagueness as a storytelling tool. For example, the first issue starts with an interstellar battle where the “good guys” seem to be winning, until one ship is shot down and crash-lands on a planet. Up until that point, we have no reason to believe he’s anything other than a laser-toting hero. When he crashes and sees what might be the skeletons of former crewmates who were left on the planet as expendables when they crashed earlier, the reader is clued in that this guy is a narcissist and a sociopath, and possibly delusional to boot. What Landry leaves vague is if what the pilot sees is real or just a hallucination. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because the reader sees him for what he really is.

The second issue is a typical “someone goes missing in the forest at night” story that’s set up in the first segment by the two main characters looking for gold, talking about how important companionship is out in the wild. As soon as the emotional depth of that point is developed–boom. The younger character simply disappears. The older character thinks he sees his friend’s skeleton for a moment, then follows his trail to the river, where the younger man’s half-eaten apple has been abandoned. He is not discovered, nor is any explanation given. Nor is it necessary; the story is about a feeling writ large, with the terror of loneliness and the unknown holding full sway. Both issues are well done but feel on the thin side as complete products; I’d prefer to read a larger collection of these stories.

Haunter, by Sam Alden. Alden is in an interesting phase of his career at the moment, experimenting with a number of visual approaches in order to tell different kinds of stories. He’s gone from the heavily naturalistic style à la Nate Powell to an almost abstracted pencil-heavy style that emphasizes shading as a way of creating form. Figures are created as a kind of negative space. Alden has always been fascinated by the idea of exploring ruins and other places people shouldn’t go, and the consequences of those actions bringing on horrific ends or bizarre consequences. In Haunter, Alden takes up that theme and applies a vivid, often nightmarish color scheme through the use of watercolors. Watercolors sometimes bleed and saturate the page in funny ways, and all of that works to Alden’s advantage in this comic.

In terms of narrative, it’s sort of Josh Simmons meets Carl Barks. That is, it has the relentlessly fluid panel-to-panel transitions that makes it a thrill ride to read, along with the silent qualities of key Simmons works that inspire dread and a sense of impending, inevitable doom. The story is simple: a young woman is hunting a boar-like creature with her bow and arrows. After missing and tracking her prey, she discovers an abandoned temple of some kind, flooded in a number of areas. Eventually, she finds a huge statue of some sort of god-figure and sees a tunnel in the middle of it. She goes down the tunnel until she encounters a tall, monstrous guardian that immediately starts shooting at her with its own bow. The rest of the comic consists of the hunter’s attempt at escape and the guardian’s attempt to kill her. The way Alden shifts from green to yellow to blue to purple and to orange as a way of reflecting fading light and other visual illusions while also mixing in other colors to create dissonance is truly the story of this comic.

Though Alden’s linework is greatly muted by the color splashes in this comic, it’s still remarkably precise and effective, especially with regard to the two figures. We feel the hunter’s curiosity and later desperation, thanks to the way Alden draws body language as well as the line weight giving the character real presence. The guardian, a terrifying mass of spikes and thorns, has a line weight precisely equal to that of the hunter. That’s a subtle way of indicating that the thing is not invincible, and the hunter uses both guile and brute force to defeat the much stronger creature. There is no right or wrong or good or evil here; there is simply the matter of dealing with an intruder and raw survival. In best EC horror comics fashion, Alden throws one last twist at the reader at the end, one that shows that victory is often defined in the long term. In many respects, this comic is a bit of a lark; it lacks the emotional complexity of stories like “Backyard”, “Hollow”, “Household”, and “Hawai’i 1997”. That said, given its origins as a webcomic, the comic was meant to be a simple adventure story told in a highly complex manner, and it is as lush and memorable in terms of its visuals as any horror or adventure comic I’ve read.

Study Group Magazine #4. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a piece in this issue, which I will obviously not discuss. SGM has always been a representation of the overall aesthetic of Zack Soto and a particular strain of cartoonists; one that believes that comics in all their forms are worthy of at least study and consideration, be they mainstream or alternative. Whereas there used to be a hard line in the ’80s between alt-cartoonists and mainstream comics, in part because it was so hard to establish a beachhead for alt-comics, younger cartoonists who have had equal access to both simply seem to care less about such divides. The focus of this issue goes a step further, as it addresses fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the ways in which they relate to comics.

SGM has always had an eclectic mix of commentary and comics. The commentary is especially unusual in this issue, with a conversation between Tucker Stone and features editor Milo George about the old, weird DC miniseries Hawkworld that’s thorough, hilarious, and entirely suitable to the material at hand. There’s a fantastic piece by Dylan Horrocks (including his own illustrations) about D&D as a world-building device and how that resonates with writing. The world-building is significant because it offers a place to inhabit that is not our world, if only for a little while, and that has a strong impact on one’s day-to-day mental health in a positive way. The “craft interview” between George and Farel Dalrymple (told in first person by Dalrymple) is easily the most interesting, revealing piece I’ve ever read about the artist, going into an incredible amount of detail regarding his influences and techniques. It was especially useful to read given that it talked a lot about The Wrenchies, which is by far his most complex and layered comic.

David Brothers and Joe McCulloch both discuss manga, with Brothers zeroing in on issues related to power in Akira and McCulloch contributing one of his memorable personal pieces about reading his first-ever manga, Golgo 13. It’s funny, perceptive, and goes off on tangents that wind up circling back to the original themes. James Romberger’s piece on the influences of Jack Kirby is spot-on, with tons of illustrations to back up his points, while Francois Vigneault’s interview with fantasy cartoonist Andreas Kalfas links into the way others in the magazine talked about role-playing.

The comics in this issue are also a reflection of Soto, George, and art director Francois Vigneault’s tastes, from the oddball Ed Whelan reprint “Comics” McCormick to “Shitbag”, an astounding sketchbook story by Lark Pien that is completely unlike her normal style and subject matter. It’s brutal, visceral, and even sickening, with the titular creature a force of nature. The story revolves around the cruel machinations of an incestuous brother and sister who torture and kill slaves for fun, and it is done with a fine line and watercolors. There’s also a goofy story by Noah Van Sciver, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game by Ian Chachere, and an amusingly violent silent story by Levon Jihanian that fits right into that role player/inventory slot. There’s also a long strip by Patrick Crotty that I found to be visually impenetrable. That’s unfortunate, given how well the rest of the magazine flowed.

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Beware of the Blob http://www.tcj.com/beware-of-the-blob/ http://www.tcj.com/beware-of-the-blob/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=100950 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Aug Stone reviews a new edition of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Georges Bess’s comic for children, The Magical Twins.

The Magical Twins (Les Jumeaux Magiques in the original French) was the first collaboration between Alejandro Jodorowsky and Georges Bess. It was originally published in 1987 in the French comics magazine Le Journal de Mickey. Although ostensibly intended for young readers, The Magical Twins contains all the imaginative transformation we expect from a book written by Jodorowsky.

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


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Asher Elbein at The Atlantic has a surprisingly spot-on story on Marvel’s recent sales slump.

…in the aftermath of Marvel’s rocky first quarter—and with the controversial Secret Empire now in full swing—it’s clear the publisher’s problems run more deeply than an ill-timed storyline or public-relations fumbles. Audiences are drifting away. New fans feel ignored. Despite movies that dominate the cultural landscape and regularly clear millions of dollars, the entire edifice of corporate superhero comics represented by both publishers has been quietly crumbling for years, partially due to Marvel’s own business practices. Marvel can’t seem to actually sell comics, diverse or not—and the company only has itself to blame.

—Douglas Wolk is insane.

—Kilgore Books is Kickstarting its spring/summer line, which includes new titles by Glynnis Fawkes, Tim Lane, Leslie Stein, Noah Van Sciver, and others.

As you may know, we’ve been publishing quality independent comics since 2009, and in that time we’ve produced 26 comics, three prints, and a feature-length documentary.

Our goal is to help new(er) cartoonists reach a wider audience by ensuring their books stay in print, they get royalties in advance, and they get hooked up with new distribution paths. We tend to specialize in literary and humor comics, though anything that catches our eye is fair game.

—After years (decades?) of complaining endlessly (and not entirely baselessly) about the embarrassing childishness of most comics canons, the always intriguing, always frustrating comics critic Domingos Isabelinho plans to write about his 25 favorite comics.

—Michelle Hart writes about Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This:

On its surface, Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This is a book about grief. When Radtke was in college, her uncle, a man whose presence in her life is something between a father’s and a brother’s, dies from a rare genetic heart condition. The sudden death of uncle Dan and the possibility that the same condition could be present in her own DNA create in Radtke a desire to explore ruins and abandoned cities, to explore, physically and philosophically, life’s impermanence.

Illustrated in stark and often-gorgeous shades of gray, the book looks the way Radtke feels: at once benumbed and dreamy. The cleanliness of the linework augments the melancholy of the narrative, a technique that calls to mind Adrian Tomine, another significant chronicler of urban solitude. The simplicity of the people in the book is contrasted with the staggering complexity of the environments. In one stunning two-page spread, Radtke looks out at an Icelandic vista; Radtke is small, occupying only the bottom-right corner of the page, with the sky large and enveloping. Despite the book’s compositional wizardry, however, Radtke remains committed to understatement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, me too. It was my clubhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

How has Fante Bukowski been received by your readers?

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

Is he a sympathetic character to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A page from One Dirty Tree.

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

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

A page from All Time Comics by Noah Van Sciver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere:

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

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

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

Runner, Risograph print by Panayiotis Terzis

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

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

I’ll turn the mic over to Pan now:

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

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

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

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

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

A spread by Lane Milburn from Trapper Keeper #1

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

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

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

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

Trapper Keeper #2 with a Joe P. Kelly cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The back cover of Bluetooth, with Leon Sadler – 2010

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

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

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Aisha Franz

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

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

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

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

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

A spread from Xoana by HOPE

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

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

A spread from Trapper Keeper #4 by Brenna Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

A spread from Magalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis 2016

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

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

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

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

Megalith #3 – Panayiotis Terzis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irene Velntzas reviews Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless. 

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

Elsewhere:

Douglas Wolk writes about Captain America and politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.B. Cole, 1945



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

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

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

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

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

Irv Novick, 1940


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

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

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

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

Edd Ashe, 1940

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

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

Artist unknown, 1942

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

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

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

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

And yet that’s how it actually happened!

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

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

Artist unknown, 1944

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Biro, 1941

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

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

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