The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.1 Copyright © The Comics Journal 2011 editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) editorial@tcj.com (Mike Dawson) 1440 http://images.tcj.com/2011/04/tcj_talkies.jpg The Comics Journal http://www.tcj.com 144 144 http://www.tcj.com/feed/podcast/ The Comics Journal podcast TCJ Talkies is a biweekly creator interview podcast hosted by Mike Dawson at The Comics Journal. Cartoonists and other comic book luminaries will stop by the Talkie-Hut and chat about their creative process, motivation, and careers. Comics, cartoonists, The, Comics, Journal, graphic, novels, sequential Mike Dawson Mike Dawson editorial@tcj.com no no Krazy Love http://www.tcj.com/krazy-love/ http://www.tcj.com/krazy-love/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97693 Continue reading ]]> We don’t have to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch into Michael Tisserand’s inch-and-a-half thick, three-pound 545-page biography of Krazy Kat’s kreator to realize that it is a stupendous triumph of exhaustive research and organizational skill. I’ve read only the first two chapters of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, and I already know more about this shy genius than I ever expected to know. But we don’t have to read even that much to realize that this volume is a biography of the cartoonist, not a critique of his work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, in our annotated Krazy Gallery assembled from the Hyperion Press reprint tome, The Family Upstairs: Introducing Krazy Kat, we show the evolution of Herriman’s most celebrated characters with sundry hints of their situation during the first months of the strip, 1910-1912. These excerpts appear here in the same order in which they were initially published, and they show Herriman becoming increasingly playful in the deployment of his medium’s visual resources—a broad hint about things to come in the “weekend” Krazy of later years. 

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The Comics Nurturer: Kevin Czap & Czap Books http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-nurturer-kevin-czap-czap-books/ http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-nurturer-kevin-czap-czap-books/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96406 Continue reading ]]> Kevin Czap was recently awarded the Emerging Talent award at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) festival, a fitting honor for a cartoonist and publisher who is starting to publish on a more aggressive basis. A self-proclaimed “Comics Mom,” Czap’s goal as a publisher is to nurture and encourage the artists that they publish (Czap’s preferred pronouns are they/them) to be their best and most fully-formed artistic selves, no matter their style or method. Their forward-thinking and nurturing presence as a publisher is most closely aligned with how Annie Koyama works with her artists, but Czap’s dedication to the crew of artists they’ve been publishing for years as well as their eye for challenging, weird, and poetic work reminds me most of Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books. Like Williams, Czap is 100% invested in their artists. Also like Williams, Czap is very much hands-off in terms of content; the only real “editing” is the selection of the artist for publication. The result is a surprisingly wide array of genres and approaches, united only by the humane themes in their art. Czap is also publishing some of the most challenging, cutting-edge comics available now, like Czap Books’ flagship anthology title, Ley Lines, one that focuses on relationship between art and artists. Let’s take a look at some recent and older work published by Czap, including their own comics.

Futchi Perf and other Czap Books By Czap

Turning first to Czap’s own work, the centerpiece of that is the enigmatic and blissfully beautiful Futchi Perf (a linguistic variation on “perfect future,” I’d guess). Prior to the full publication of that comic, they published some precursors in anthologies and minis, like Lyric Sheet and a split mini with cartoonist John G. In the latter comic, both artists explored an alternative version of Cleveland, with John G.’s delving into loneliness and isolation as earnestly as Czap searches for connection and meaning. I think describing Czap’s work as utopian doesn’t quite hit the mark. A utopia implies a perfect working system where everyone is happy. It has an almost mechanistic connotation.

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What Czap instead posits is a city where all basic needs are met, and which is devoted to free self-expression, connection and understanding. It’s a sloppy and beautifully human city, subject to human frailties and limitations but also buffered by the possibilities of kindness and empathy. The introduction, appropriately titled “Theme”, is a best-case scenario extrapolation, where “all the right things are winning!” and “this neighborhood is swarming with all your closest friends!” The dense and shadowy but still cartoony line reminds me a bit of Kyle Baker’s old work. A more contemporary mutual influence, I believe, is the cartoonist Jeremy Sorese. Czap’s character design, world-building, and unspoken but obvious focus on a society that is clearly gender-fluid, racially mixed, and diverse in every way imaginable (including but not limited to sexual preference), creates an environment where there is at last an even playing field. That fascinating exploration of a world where being genderqueer is the norm instead of the exception reminds me of Sorese, only Czap is more interested in how that plays out across a wide swath of society rather than with a small set of characters.

Czap is also interested in exploring what kinds of conflicts still exist in a society where basic needs are accounted for. The story “Seventh Energy” provides fascinating, cut-away diagrams of how Cleveland is powered by an energy-harvesting source that comes from Lake Erie. While life may be a best-case scenario  in this version of Cleveland, Czap notes that as long as human beings have emotions, desires, and interact with one another, there will still be the possibility of conflict, unhappiness, insecurity, and confusion about one’s path.

That idea is tracked throughout the comic, as the lack of self-actualization is explored in conjunction with a society that emphasizes inclusiveness and innovation. Czap’s Cleveland is strongly influenced by the Kid Mind, a sort of living-cloud think tank that influences culture and trends. Young people, with their fashion, sociopolitical consciousness, and dialect informed and informing the Kid Mind in near real-time, use devices to find house parties and other ways to connect. Their appearance in the story “Lyric Sheet” is connected to the story’s protagonist and a famous singer-poet named Graces. Czap delves deep into mythology, as the Graces were the patrons of the pleasurable things in life, including play, rest, and happiness. The protagonist’s connection to Graces (at first unspoken and later explicit) goes beyond even the influence of the Kid Mind.

Czap’s dense but cartoony line creates a more pleasant version of the sort of future worlds that another potential inspiration, Brandon Graham, conjures, complete with bushy eyebrows, highly expressive lettering, and noodly figures. It’s a world that’s every bit as crowded as Graham’s, only far less grimy. The real key to the comic’s visual success is the deft and clever use of color via the Risograph. The light from devices is a swirling pink, color contrasts offer a quick key to foreground and background figures, and key panels switch from dark blues to pinks to emphasize the emotional importance of that component. The final comparison I’d make is the Zak Sally story “The Great Healing”, in which a narrator reveals a world where every desired miracle has taken place, where “tears crawled back into wet eyes.” What makes Czap’s version unique is less of a focus on a single moment than an exploration of this premise, simultaneously world-building and character-building. Of all Czap’s comics, Futchi Perf comes closest to recapitulating Czap’s entire project as a publisher.

A Lesson In Survival, on the other hand, is very much an OuBaPo kind of experiment, matching Joni Mitchell lyrics to swirling black cityscapes and figures. While many of them border on the abstract, the reader is made to juxtapose them against the lyrics, which have their own meaning when separated from the original songs. It’s not an entirely successful experiment, as the repetition and lack of variation on themes drags the mini down, and there’s not quite enough to connect the images and lyrics to make it all click.

“He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap” is a collaboration with Cathy G. Johnson, another long-time presence at Czap Books. This is a short, black & white broadsheet that in many ways is the quintessential Czap publication. It’s scratchy, expressive, slightly oblique but also emotionally open. Featuring the narratives of several characters in what appears to be a small Southern town, it’s about identity, gender, and the sense of being trapped or locked into one’s life with no recourse for some, and the infinite possibilities available to the imagination of children. The loopy lines converge into figures beautiful in their grotesqueness, drawn with their hearts on their sleeves. I’m not quite sure how the division of labor was split between the two artists, but there’s a remarkable degree of storytelling fluidity, and the reader is left wanting so much more.

Czap Books

Eat That Toast is a collection of full-color gag strips by Czap’s brother Matt. He’s an animator and improv comedian associated with the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and it’s clear that a lot of lessons from the world of improv are reflected in his sense of humor. Czap’s art is functional, relying heavily on exaggeration and color in support of his gags, which are mostly conceptual. The drawings are clear and don’t detract from the jokes, but they aren’t usually funny as drawings; if anything, they feel a bit web-comic generic. That said, the conceptual nature of his gags is killer, and it’s clear that he’s a skilled comedic writer. What I like best about this collection is the way he sets up a group of recurring characters that create a certain set of expectations as to the eventual punchline, yet Czap is repeatedly able to find a fresh way either to tell the joke or else cleverly subvert expectations. The best is the recurring saga of a family of anthropomorphic toast and the ravenous bird that stalks them. What’s great about it is that in many of these strips, Czap will go to great lengths to discuss the most intimate details of the toast family’s life and then spring the bird on them in horrifying fashion.

Other highlights include the vegan who’s against food consumption of all kinds, the bird who works in a pizza joint (including a truly unsettling strip where being told to pour soda on a pizza he’s delivered turns out to be some kind of fetish), the contagiousness of pick-up-artist syndrome, the archeologist-adventurer whose dreams of treasure never quite materialize in the ways she expect, and all kinds of ridiculous puns and wordplay. My favorite strip of all is one about a dad who’s just explained “the birds and bees” to his son, and when the kid gets with his girlfriend and is being pecked by birds and stung by bees, he triumphantly thinks, “I’m doing it!” Another great one takes the concept behind “hugs, not drugs” to its logical and dark conclusion. I actually would have preferred to have seen the jokes without the use of color, because it didn’t really add much and was actually distracting at times. The core ideas are so solid that going simpler might have been preferable, but there’s no doubt that Matt Czap is as funny as any humorist out there. Fans of Joey Alison Sayers would especially enjoy his work.

Ulcera is by young Brazilian artists (Paula) Puiupo and Adonis Pantazopoulos. What it shares with other Czap books is an interest in futurism, utopianism, and a radical rethinking of personal identity within the context of interpersonal connections. Considering the ages of the artists (20 and 19, respectively), it’s remarkable to see how thoroughly manga has become the international comics lingua franca. The influence is so deep and pervasive that it can’t be ascribed to a particular artist or artists. That’s because such a wide variety of styles has been available to younger readers for nearly two decades now, and that influence has spawned a generation of cartoonists who sprang off from manga and developed their own ideas and visual approaches.

The plot involves a young woman named Ulcera who infiltrates an organization (and structure) called The Tower, a cultish influence-peddling group. There are echoes of Catholicism, future tech, bionics and other human-machine mash-ups, sex, body horror and transformation, BDSM, and magic. The plot is non-linear and frankly difficult to follow at times, but there’s an essential wit at the center of the whole production that embraces the madness of the story while poking fun of it. The thin line of the artists is set off by the dense use of blacks. The characters are angular and expressive, bordering on the grotesque. Multiple readings don’t necessarily make it any more coherent; instead, the book becomes easier to apprehend by approaching it as a series of slips in time and space that are connected but not in ways that are always obvious. The Puiupo/Pantazopoulos created their own storytelling language in the course of making this comic, one that intersperses stretched-out silent moments with new and sudden interjections by heretofore unseen characters. The experience is one of being kept constantly off-balanced and surprised.

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Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys began like many of the best comics do: as a series of sketches that took on a life of their own, until stories and ideas started forming around them. I’m most familiar with Knetzger as an all-ages cartoonist, though her autobio comic Sea Urchin was a bold and creative attempt at confronting her depression and social anxiety. Some of her other comics are more clever than heartfelt, and it’s obvious that Bug Boys is Knetzger’s comics lab for working through problems, both as a creator trying to find her way and on a personal level. There is no cute high concept to Bug Boys, nor is there a deliberate sense of world-building at the expense of character. Everything in the book is built around the friendship of beetles Stag-B and Rhino-B, two insects who are trying to find their way in the world.

This volume collects individual issues of the Bug Boys minicomic, and the story of this book is as much Knetzger’s evolution as an artist as it is her own characters starting to grow up. Knetzger leans heavily on manga for her style, though there’s certainly a touch of James Kochalka to be found here as well. The comic never reaches Kochalka’s level of twee in part because the comic is about the characters working through their negative emotions in what feels like a genuine manner. It’s obvious that Knetzger has invested much time and energy into the characters. Another influence is Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Knetzger takes from that comic the depiction of a restless thirst for adventure. The boys love exploring treasure maps and going on little quests as much as they do cooking or camping.

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The beetles also often face existential crises, wondering about their role in a world where they are so small and have to co-exist with so many bigger, frightening species. The boys learn to cope with diverging interests, as Stag-B starts to help Dome Spider catalog bug knowledge in a library (which includes comics), while Rhino-B starts to become a better outdoorsman. They act as village representatives and help prevent a massive war from breaking out between the bees and the termites. They survive a hallucinatory and truly harrowing journey through a cave with their friend Dragonfly. Much of the book is told in the language of meditation and therapy, as the boys learn again and again that they have to find ways to accept themselves and live in each moment without looking too far ahead. There’s a genuine warmth and a humane quality to this book that still embraces but is not consumed by a loosely told overarching history of the Bug Village. Any details the reader is given only serve to enrich and deepen the relationships that are at the forefront of the story. The impeccably clean and cute line of Knetzger is versatile enough to embrace the lighter and more fun aspects of the story as well as darker or more interior scenes as well. It’s a work where each chapter serves not only as its own enjoyable, self-contained piece, but also to add another building block in the beetles’ friendship and the world they live in.

Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight is Czap Books’ most recent publication, and it’s an all-ages fantasy/adventure/romance with queer overtones. It’s impeccably plotted down to the last detail and Zabarsky’s world-building is vivid without overwhelming the story or the characters. It’s the story of Lelek, a young witch, and Sanja, the daughter of a local trader who happens to be handy with a sword. Lelek has robbed several customers and Sanja gets roped into training Lelek how to fight while insisting that she stop stealing. Lelek’s initial distrust slowly turns to friendship, warmth, and then love, and the plot revolves around Lelek’s tragic and mysterious past as she slowly comes to terms with it. The McGuffin of the story is the essence of Lelek’s magic, part of which was taken away from her for safekeeping when she was a child, leaving her only a potion skill that involved a complex set of spitting actions.

The narrative moves forward around Lelek’s search for that part of her, with the other part of her essence is contained in a lit candle that always floats above her head. A tragedy at the end triggers the book’s climax, tying up all the plot threads with remarkable tidiness. One subtext of the book is the toxicity of patriarchal customs and beliefs, as they push Lelek into crime and cause the tragedy at the end of the book, as Sanja’s younger brother feels forced to do something horrible to prove his masculinity to his demanding father. The book’s focus on cooperation, openness, friendship, and generosity gives it a remarkable sense of warmth, but the characters are far from perfect. They make mistakes. They are insensitive at times. They lose their tempers. The characters are so fully-formed that I sense that this book could be a big deal for its rightful YA demographic. The rubbery and cartoony quality of Zabarsky’s line for her character designs is contrasted with the wonderfully detailed nature of her drawings of nature and the villages the characters explore, and Zabarsky’s use of spotting blacks and negative space in composing each panel is ideal. Another important aspect of the work is Zabarsky’s ability to clearly render dynamic action sequences, which is a key element of the first half of the book. It’s perfect YA storytelling: easy to follow but lovely to look at.

Czap Distribution

As part of his publishing concern, Czap has long championed and sold the work of others whose work he hasn’t directly published. That’s happening less now that a real body of publishing work has started to coalesce, but those comics are at the root of their operation and represent the way that they’ve supported a small group of like-minded cartoonists.

Cyanide Milkshake #5, by Liz Suburbia. Suburbia’s minis have been distributed by Czap for years, long preceding her breakthrough first book with Fantagraphics, Sacred Heart. This zine is a good old-fashioned, one-woman anthology. It’s chock full of gags, a continuing adventure storyline, autobio, stories about her dogs and much more. It’s the most no-frills, back-to-basics mini possible, printed on copy paper and drawn with Sharpies. It’s a testament to her skill and style that it looks so good. It’s punk in the best sense of the term: do-it-yourself, thoughtful, questioning of authority, and entirely personal. It’s fun because Suburbia is good at so many things; her fake ads (like for something called Spermicidal Tendencies–“when you need hardcore protection”) are hilarious, her lettering is eye-catching without being distracting and has some genuinely beautiful decorative qualities on some pages, and her genre parodies are true to the characters while still earning laughs. Her recollection of her sister helping Suburbia manage her anxiety and OCD is genuinely touching, and she’s one of the rare cartoonists who really knows how to draw children. Even her continuing zombie-apocalypse adventure is more notable for the way she depicts relationships than it is for the flesh-eating action. Distributing Suburbia’s work illustrates one of Czap’s crucial qualities as a publisher: an eye for developing talent.

Ojitos Borrosos (“Blurry Eyes”), by Ines Estrada. Estrada is an emerging artist and Czap handed me a copy of her book a couple of years back. Estrada has published comics in her native Spanish as well as in English, and this is a cleverly edited collection of her short works. They’re subdivided into several categories, including autobio, love stories, science fiction, and “instructive” comics. Estrada is the rare cartoonist whose use of greyscale doesn’t detract from the clarity of her storytelling, in part because she’s so direct, funny and gross. It’s clear that Julie Doucet was a big influence on her character design and scatological bluntness, but Estrada’s sense of humor and narrative interests are all her own. If there’s an American comparison I might make, it would be Eleanor Davis. Take “The Next Thing: Nesting”, for example. It starts off with a bird looking to nest in a tree, only to be slowly pinned and trapped by its branches. Like Davis, Estrada can employ a cute, cartoony style for horrific effect. “Plastico”, in its own strange way, is a statement about the ways in which men objectify women. In this case, a woman trapped in a department store meets a number of women covered in plastic who are being used as sex toys, but they protect her by covering her up and then melting, frustrating the men who are watching them, hoping to watch them have sex.

Estrada’s sense of humor is at the core of all her stories, and that sense of humor ranges from silly & whimsical to nihilistic. A talking head lectures the reader about how the end of the world is an anthropocentric idea, since insects will take control. The narrator chides the reader for wanting to take the easy way out but then informs them that she’s just a comic character whose end will come soon. “Girls Also Pee Standing” is a step-by-step instruction manual to encourage women to urinate standing up, and in many ways it’s the quintessential Estrada story in its scatological qualities, cute drawings and powerful sense of personal identity. “Mitocondria” is the show-stopper in the collection, as it tells a story of a woman’s boyfriend who has his personality switched with the dog. The resulting story (where the two appear to switch heads as a symbol of the switch but appear normal to everyone else) features the man (now a dog) getting progressively more agitated at his fate and the dog (now a man) at first enjoying eating and having animalistic sex. The ending, when the dog sniffs out the source of the change is incredibly dark, as the couple is eventually reduced to maggot-ridden protoplasm. Her diary comics are every bit as scatological as her other comics, but there’s a surprising level of sweetness to them as well when she talks about her boyfriend. There’s a rawness to Estrada’s comics and a sense of immediacy that energizes her work, but it’s also obvious that her imagination, storytelling ability, and assured craftsmanship go hand-in-hand with that expressiveness.

Ley Lines

This is a series of minis that all have the same logo and trade dress, but each issue is by a different artist. In many ways, this series, co-published by L. Nichols and Grindstone Press, is Czap’s greatest achievement. It purports to be “dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us.” Each cartoonist’s interpretation of what this means is different, and while many select fine artists, there are also poets and performance artists as well. Here’s a rundown, issue by issue:

#1 (November 2014): Unholy Shapes, by Annie Mok. The deceptively flip cover copy aside, this is a remarkably studied, thoughtful, and frank self-examination by an artist and her relationship with the art and artists that have shaped her, for good and ill. Mok uses a smudged, inky approach to her art here as she both does her own cartooning as well as copying in her own hand a number of key works by the Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele. This comic is both biography and autobiography, weaving the two together in clever ways. It must be said that despite the many interesting formal decisions Mok makes in this comic, it is by no means formal experimentation for its own sake. Every panel and every line has an emotional resonance to it, as though solving the problem of making this comic was a way of resolving other personal and aesthetic issues. Mok is frank and forthright with her own sexual and drug-related escapades; not to make the story more sensational, but rather to echo Schiele’s own iconoclastic and sexually blunt life.

Mok’s evaluation of the plastic qualities of Schiele’s work is fascinating. The title of the mini refers to the monstrous and vampiric qualities of Schiele’s highly angular figures, especially his frequently tortured self-portraits. Mok relates Schiele to a childhood fear of seeing Nosferatu on a TV show as well as to certain toxic individuals in her life. Mok’s rundown of that angular, somewhat androgynous figure in today’s culture is spot-on, and the comic concludes with an understanding of the ways that Schiele’s work has become an unconscious part of Mok’s own work as an artist and performer. Mok’s raw honesty is balanced by her sense of restraint, and the fact that she used a 2×4 grid on almost every page points to how the tight compositional structure of the comic was key to that restraint. Most every moment, regardless of its emotional significance, is given the same amount of room and has the same visual impact, as Mok does not vary her style much in the comic.

#2 (February 2015): Golden Smoke, by Warren Craghead. One gets the sense that Craghead would have had no less meaningful an aesthetic experience on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as he did at Art Basel Miami, noted as “the largest art fair in the U.S.” It is fitting that the festival is held in Miami Beach, the part of Miami where the conspicuous display of wealth is a spectator sport and where appearance is more important than substance. I like to refer to Craghead as the Godfather of Comics-As-Poetry, and his distinctive merging of word and text gets at the raw, naked commodification of the festival and its utter disconnect from the aesthetic experience.

The commodification of art is not exactly a new phenomenon, but Craghead doesn’t purport to making a startling discovery with regard to how the rich treat art as a status object that’s one of many excuses to throw exclusive parties. Instead, Craghead simply draws what he sees in the moment, using a style that blends the signifier with the signified as words fill up images and create forms, all while informing the image with things that he overhears and events that he sees. My favorite page involves a gallery where works by Rothko and Calder are given Pinterest “pins” by Craghead, as paintings are reduced to the banal level of recipes or macrame projects.

#3 (May 2015): Thank God, I Am In Love, by Cathy G. Johnson. Johnson’s comic is the thematic opposite of Craghead’s, as she expresses her unabashed love for Vincent van Gogh. Johnson makes it clear that it’s not the mythology of Van Gogh that enraptures her; to paraphrase Heidegger, the true biography of Van Gogh might be: “He was born. He painted. He died. The rest is anecdote.” This is not to be dismissive of his life or struggles, but Johnson makes clear that what connects her to him, what brings her so much aesthetic bliss, are the actual paintings. The actual strokes and stabs and whorls, the creation of color and light that we can see and know that were made by his hand. That in many respects, we have the privilege of knowing him as well as anyone because we have his work to experience. To be sure, what Johnson is describing is the aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense: the “sublime,” that almost transcendental experience that is separate from the descriptions and even the emotions that surround it. That Van Gogh’s paintings bring her this on a regular basis, as she notes, is a constant source of happiness.

#4 (August 2015): For Lives, by Andrew White. White delves into the creative process of Pablo Picasso vis-a-vis his portrait of Gertrude Stein. If the other pieces followed a personal, aesthetic or emotional connection to art and artists, White’s focus is analytical. His approach is certainly immersive, as he overlays text over image, most of which are drawings and paintings from Picasso. Much of the text is from Stein herself, as she discusses her reaction to the work and her understanding of Picasso’s process. Like Johnson and Van Gogh, there’s an understanding that the only way Picasso truly expressed himself was through his work. It was his language, but there is also a sense of frustration that he could never quite match up with the ideal, transcendent image in his head on canvas. His paintings are ugly because he felt ugliness matched the intensity of that very struggle. The struggle represented his honest attempt at communication, capturing and wrestling with a single image in a single moment. White’s use of the 2×2 grid throughout creates a rhythm not unlike Mok’s comic, only his light, sketchy line and prominent use of negative space gives the comic a more languid pace.

#5 (November 2015): Poems to the Sea, by Erin Curry. Artist Cy Twombly’s work has always seemed grossly out of place in a gallery. Though he worked big, his scribbly poetry should have been a minicomic, and cartoonist/sculptor Erin Curry saw it that way as well, creating a sequel to Twombly’s 4×6 grid Poems to the Sea. Curry’s comic is yet another approach in trying to understand and express the sublime, this time through abstract figures, erasure, and the grid. It’s an attempt, at the most basic level, of trying to communicate and capture the feeling  of that moment of connection to the transcendent, with the most immediate and rudimentary of markings. If the sea is a metaphor for consciousness, this is Curry’s attempt to plumb those depths and show the reader what she sees.

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#6 (February 2016): Medieval War Scene, by Aaron Cockle. I’ve long enjoyed Cockle’s elliptical storytelling, use of erasure, conceptual humor, and fascination with conspiracies. This comic full of visual fragments talks about the relationship between art and destruction, opening with German painter Werner Heldt’s paintings of devastated, post-World War II Berlin. With a sense of coldness, Cockle notes that Germany had inflicted the same kind of long-distance destruction as its foes did to it. His rattling off the specific technical specs of his page is meant to reflect the “just the facts” nature of long-distance warfare. A strip about the loss of so much of Sappho’s ancient work thanks to vases cracking and papyrus crumbling over time notes how so much of the totality of cultural antiquity is elided into a single entity, comprised of love poems and war maps alike. The title of the mini refers to the Edgar Degas painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, an ahistorical painting where soldiers kill nine nude women, and follows up the other two stories by noting how maps reduce war zones to distant dots and dehumanizes groups of people.

#7 (May 2016): Made with Love in Hell, by Mimi Chrzanowski. Chrzanowski’s approach is to take a particular piece of art (in this case, Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights) and riff on it. This is a mother-daughter story where Bosch’s alien architecture (which looks like it might have also inspired Jim Woodring) is very much left intact, only in a form that is at once more hellish and monstrous but also cute. The mechanics of navigating hell are simultaneously disgusting and adorable, like climbing up the anus of a giant witch and being spat out when one reaches their destination. There are “Demonmon” (i.e., Pokemon) cards, where the monsters involved perform mundane activities, fruit platters are eaten constantly and also provide shelter, and Mother is a robe-wearing, terrifying mass of swirls with teeth above a furnace who works out at Curves. It’s a charming and bizarre comic that’s not just a reinterpretation of Bosch’s imagery. It feels like Chrzanowski took the time to imagine what it would be like to inhabit and grow up in such an environment, down to good old-fashioned maternal guilt. Her character design is inspired and both drives the narrative and is secondary to it in many ways. The tension between the horrible and the cute informs every page, especially when Chrzanowski really zooms in for a close-up. While bizarre background details pop up without comment, we are occasionally reminded that despite the conventional nature of the mother-daughter conflict at the story’s center, every detail that we see would be terrifying to the point of utter madness in any other setting.

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#8 (August 2016): The Letting Go, by Kevin Czap. Czap’s contribution to this series fits in with the others in that it’s very much about the sublime. The way they get there, however, is quite different, as the story builds on Dutch conceptual/performance artist Bas Jan Ader’s last work, In Search of the Miraculous. That work was a trip via boat across the Atlantic Ocean, and the artist did not survive the trip. Interestingly, the work was a reference to a book of the same title by P.D. Ouspensky, based on the teachings of the thinker George Gurdjieff and a system that came to be known as the Fourth Way. The Fourth Way essentially synthesized different forms of Eastern thought and practice in a way that was deliberately non-dogmatic. All of this is relevant because Czap’s unnamed narrator (depicted as a woman whose face we never see) begins the story discussing the things they need to let go. In particular, fear and control are named.

Czap connects these two feelings to desire, which of course is at the heart of Buddhism as the cause of all suffering. This comic is a snug fit with Futchi Perf because of the way Czap describes a kind of dynamic, propulsive and positive growth as fear and control give way to trust. The drawings are beautiful and elegant, incorporating a number of intricate decorative elements while still remaining entirely clear as individual compositions. Czap makes a lot of allusions to the ocean, of discarding things in it, as well as storms at sea that are barely survived. After the gentle quality of the first several pages, the end is a harrowing journey, with the text blowing up in size and dominating the page and the images carved up by the small grid that’s appeared on each page. Unlike Ader, Czap’s character makes it to shore, thanks to unyielding support.

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Coming In http://www.tcj.com/98146-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98146-2/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98146 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Rob Clough looks at Kevin Czap and Czap Books.

Kevin Czap was recently awarded the Emerging Talent award at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) festival, a fitting honor for a cartoonist and publisher who is starting to publish on a more aggressive basis. A self-proclaimed “Comics Mom,” Czap’s goal as a publisher is to nurture and encourage the artists that they publish (Czap’s preferred pronouns are they/them) to be their best and most fully-formed artistic selves, no matter their style or method. Their forward-thinking and nurturing presence as a publisher is most closely aligned with how Annie Koyama works with her artists, but Czap’s dedication to the crew of artists they’ve been publishing for years as well as their eye for challenging, weird, and poetic work reminds me most of Dylan Williams’ Sparkplug Comic Books. Like Williams, Czap is 100% invested in their artists. Also like Williams, Czap is very much hands-off in terms of content; the only real “editing” is the selection of the artist for publication. The result is a surprisingly wide array of genres and approaches, united only by the humane themes in their art. Czap is also publishing some of the most challenging, cutting-edge comics available now, like Czap Books’ flagship anthology title, Ley Lines, one that focuses on relationship between art and artists. Let’s take a look at some recent and older work published by Czap, including their own comics.

Elsewhere:

The newly enduring longevity of Fletcher Hanks is some kind of testament to the what a nerve the work strikes. And also Paul Karasik’s ongoing promotional efforts. Here’s one.

And at The Paris Review, Joe Ollmann takes us behind the scenes of his new book on William Seabrook.

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Tired of Winning http://www.tcj.com/tired-of-winning/ http://www.tcj.com/tired-of-winning/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98035 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we have a special treat for you: an interview with the great Ted Stearn of Fuzz n’ Pluck fame conducted by the also great David Mazzucchelli.

AN IMAGINATION ARCHIVE

DM: (Sifting through books and papers) I’m sitting here going through, like, thirty years of your stuff, and it’s really interesting to see the connections between drawings and paintings you were doing about thirty years ago—

TS: (laughing) Thirty years! That’s crazy.

DM: Well, that’s the late eighties, right?

TS: Eighties, yeah.

DM: It’s interesting, ’cause I remember a lot of those paintings very distinctly—

TS: Really?

DM: Yes, very clearly. Well, pretty clearly—

TS: You know, Richmond [Lewis] was an inspiration for me. She really was.

DM: Oh, yeah?

TS: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t want to paint like Richmond, but I remember I would go in your apartment and you would have all the Daredevil stuff out, and I was like “Okay, looks good! I want to see Richmond’s paintings, though!” (laughs)

DM: Her stuff was out too, as I recall.

TS: Yeah, well I kinda went “Oh, David, that’s really cool, you’re an incredible draftsman—let’s go see the paintings, now.”

(laughter)

DM: Smart move. Some of the imagery in the paintings you were doing back then found its way into the first comics you were making.  The “Beach Boy” comic for example [published in Rubber Blanket No. 1]—there was a lot of Coney Island imagery and boardwalk scenes in your paintings before that.

Painting by Ted Stearn, late 1980s.

TS: Right. Well, that was the first comic I did for you, and that was definitely pulling from my obsession with the Jersey Shore (laughs)—before it was a TV show!

DM: And where did that come from—that obsession?

TS: Um, I don’t know. I think I saw a lot of aesthetic stuff that I was really excited about, and so I wanted to reinterpret it as, not a cacophony, but a whole orchestration of shapes and colors and busyness and—

DM: You mean the combination of signs and different typography and different-shaped buildings and things all crammed together, that kind of accumulation?

TS: Yeah, I think it reflects in the comic maybe a little bit? Just how disorienting, if you walk through a boardwalk area? I was very intrigued by that, and I was also intrigued because it’s right next to nature—beach, ocean, complete nature—and then you’ve got this, you know, orgy of the follies of civilization or something. Also, I grew up in that kind of environment—we would always go to the beach in the summer, and as a kid I loved the boardwalk, the ocean, the whole scene. So it had a lot of personal resonance with me in hindsight, and the whole craziness of the boardwalk made me think about that contrast.

DM: There was another painting of the huge orange with human legs—

TS: (Laughs, shakes head)

DM: —that became Sourpuss in the Fuzz and Pluck comics.

TS: Yeah. (Shakes head) I don’t know why, I really don’t. I think it’s best not to analyze too much….

Also, Sara Lautman is back with one more bonus strip to follow up on her week creating our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The National Book Critics Circle has announced the nominees for this year’s awards, and one of the nominated titles is Michael Tisserand’s George Herriman biography, Krazy.

Fortune magazine takes a look at Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter’s possible role within the Trump administration.

While announcing the news that he has picked David Shulkin (a previous appointee of President Barack Obama) to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump also mentioned that Perlmutter has been “very, very involved” in advising Trump’s team on veterans affairs issues. Trump also called Perlmutter—the Israeli-American executive who became Marvel’s CEO in 2005—”one of the great men of business” in the Wednesday press conference, Trump’s first as president-elect.

—Interviews. Betsy Gomez interviews Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman about their Resist! anthology.

FM: We first did it to address our own need, and our need was to do something. Not just sit around being stunned and depressed — we wanted to do something affirmative. That’s when we succeeded, because the outpouring of responses, and even seeing all those images, I think that getting a copy — that’s obviously a reward that it gets into so many people’s hands.

We were also going to do a slideshow of all the submissions that we got. We want people to go “Ohhhh, wow!” There is an absolute force out there. We want them to be as aware as we are of the positive or the constructive force. It’s not a denunciation. It’s not an attack on Donald Trump. It’s a celebration of everything that we have in common, of not just women, but men also, and people for whom gender is fluid, as well as young, as well as old, as well as professional artists, as well as doctors and lawyers and grandmothers, as well as everyone who feels that they lost something on November 8th — they should be able to find something here that is at least as sustaining as what was taken away that day.

The most recent guest on Process Party is Leela Corman.

—Reviews & Commentary. Dash Shaw’s Cosplayers Christmas.

The release of A Cosplayers Christmas as a standalone comic immediately draws attention to itself as an item of commercial production due to its ties to a season that has become increasingly associated with rampant consumerism and due to the way it invalidates the “perfectness” of the existing collection by implying that what has been produced to date is incomplete, thus requiring the production of a more “perfect” collection at a future date. This commercial aspect of the comic is countered on the comic’s cover by Shaw’s dedication of the item as a gift from him to you, the reader. To further emphasise the conflation of commercial and gift-giving principles, Shaw includes, on the comic’s cover, a depiction of the icon of the festive season, Santa, on the side of a Coca Cola bottle (Coke being the infamous creators of the popular image of Santa via the advertising campaigns they first began in the 1920s). This blurring of the lines between gift and product (you have to exchange money to receive the “gift” and are thus made fully aware of its ascribed monetary value) also alludes to the inseparability of art and commerce, with Shaw purposefully attaching his work to a consumer-centric holiday in order to comment from within its systemic order. In the same way as the designs of previous iterations of Cosplayers reflected the themes that were to be explored within their pages, the market positioning and cover construction of A Cosplayers Christmas summarises the dominant theme of the comic itself.

—Misc. Lee Moran writes about R. Sikoryaks’s recent Trump comics.

“The idea occurred to me right before the election,” the New York City-based artist told The Huffington Post on Saturday. “Trump had said so many outrageous things during his campaign that I wanted to catalogue them.”

“It was important to me to only use Trump’s actual quotes, I didn’t want to put any words in his mouth,” he added. “Once Trump became the president-elect, I felt I had to do it.”

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The Ted Stearn Interview http://www.tcj.com/the-ted-stearn-interview/ http://www.tcj.com/the-ted-stearn-interview/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98037 Continue reading ]]> I’ve known Ted Stearn for about thirty-five years.  He was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design when my future wife Richmond Lewis and I were also there, and we all became good friends in the years thereafter.  I was so intrigued with the paintings, drawings, and sculptures he made over the years—particularly a series of “automatic drawings” that were devised from random mark-making—that I suggested he make a comic for Rubber Blanket, the magazine I was publishing in the early 1990s.  Ted took the challenge so seriously that he is still making comics today—damn good ones, too.

Ted Stearn and David Mazzucchelli. Photo by Richmond Lewis.

His latest book, The Moolah Tree, is the third installment in a saga that began in Fuzz and Pluck (1999) and continued in Splitsville (2008).  Fuzz, a rejected, perennially abused teddy bear with no self-confidence, and Pluck, a poultry-slaughterhouse escapee with self-confidence in (over)abundance, are unlikely companions trying to survive in a world of users, losers, and desperate seekers (not unlike our own).

In this conversation we talk about many of the ideas that power his work, and also touch on his careers as a teacher and storyboard artist.  I encourage you to visit tedstearn.com to see more of his work than can be shown here.  He remains one of my favorite people and one of my favorite artists.

— David Mazzucchelli

THE SMELL OF PAINT

DM: You and I had similar trajectories in art school. We both started off majoring in illustration and then switched into painting. Knowing your work over all these years since that time, and thinking about the things that you wanted to make when you came out of school, I’m curious why you went into Illustration in the first place.

TS: I was paranoid about work and how I was going to get it, and I thought that fine art was too…fluffy. And I remember I called up my parents—I’m sure a lot of readers can relate to this—I called up my parents, it was three months after being in Illustration, and I said “I don’t know what to do”—I was, like, crying—“I don’t know what to do, I—I can’t do this, I don’t like it, I hate the teachers, and stuff’s stupid, uhh….” And I actually said “I wanna go into Painting, but I don’t know,” you know, it’s just too—you just don’t do that, it’s too…impractical. So, they were so sweet, they said “Do what makes you happy. Just go ahead and do it.” And I remember my first tour of the Painting Department and I just felt like “Oh, I belong here. This is great. I like this.” Because everyone was just really into it. I liked the smell, and the freedom… and the Illustration Department, I think you would agree, had serious problems back then.

DM: Well, regardless of problems it may or may not have had, it didn’t turn out to be the place for me either.

TS: What was the reason for that, for you?

DM: I think I didn’t know what illustration was, and I was trying to make what I thought art was, even though in the back of my mind I think I always knew I wanted to make comics. But I was trying to make drawings and paintings, and when I switched out of that department, it became immediately clear to me what illustration was—you’re given a problem and you solve it.

TS: I feel like something can be compartmentalized as illustration and not art when the subject is more important than the actual work. You know what I mean? That’s its job. If it goes beyond that, and it becomes a world within itself, and it becomes this really interesting, complex, other thing, then…you can call it “art,” I guess.

Painting by Ted Stearn, 1988.

DM: With a capital A. What occurred to me was, I embraced ambiguity. In art ambiguity is a good thing, in illustration it’s not necessarily a good thing.

TS: I remember something you said in the studio. You said “You know, now I get it! It’s like the Talking Heads—stop making sense!”

(Both laugh)

TS: You remember saying that?

DM: I do.

TS: Well, it stuck with me, I was like, “Yeah, sure, definitely.” I mean, one of my favorite things about art-making is you have to break rules. I never liked sense too much.

Ted Stearn, self-portrait drawn with “wrong” hand.

AN IMAGINATION ARCHIVE

DM: (Sifting through books and papers) I’m sitting here going through, like, thirty years of your stuff, and it’s really interesting to see the connections between drawings and paintings you were doing about thirty years ago—

TS: (laughing) Thirty years! That’s crazy.

DM: Well, that’s the late eighties, right?

TS: Eighties, yeah.

DM: It’s interesting, ’cause I remember a lot of those paintings very distinctly—

TS: Really?

DM: Yes, very clearly. Well, pretty clearly—

TS: You know, Richmond was an inspiration for me. She really was.

DM: Oh, yeah?

TS: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t want to paint like Richmond, but I remember I would go in your apartment and you would have all the Daredevil stuff out, and I was like “Okay, looks good! I want to see Richmond’s paintings, though!” (laughs)

DM: Her stuff was out too, as I recall.

TS: Yeah, well I kinda went “Oh, David, that’s really cool, you’re an incredible draftsman—let’s go see the paintings, now.”

(laughter)

DM: Smart move. Some of the imagery in the paintings you were doing back then found its way into the first comics you were making.  The “Beach Boy” comic for example [published in Rubber Blanket No. 1]—there was a lot of Coney Island imagery and boardwalk scenes in your paintings before that.

Painting by Ted Stearn, late 1980s.

TS: Right. Well, that was the first comic I did for you, and that was definitely pulling from my obsession with the Jersey Shore (laughs)—before it was a TV show!

DM: And where did that come from—that obsession?

TS: Um, I don’t know. I think I saw a lot of aesthetic stuff that I was really excited about, and so I wanted to reinterpret it as, not a cacophony, but a whole orchestration of shapes and colors and busyness and—

DM: You mean the combination of signs and different typography and different-shaped buildings and things all crammed together, that kind of accumulation?

TS: Yeah, I think it reflects in the comic maybe a little bit? Just how disorienting, if you walk through a boardwalk area? I was very intrigued by that, and I was also intrigued because it’s right next to nature—beach, ocean, complete nature—and then you’ve got this, you know, orgy of the follies of civilization or something. Also, I grew up in that kind of environment—we would always go to the beach in the summer, and as a kid I loved the boardwalk, the ocean, the whole scene. So it had a lot of personal resonance with me in hindsight, and the whole craziness of the boardwalk made me think about that contrast.

DM: There was another painting of the huge orange with human legs—

TS: (Laughs, shakes head)

DM: —that became Sourpuss in the Fuzz and Pluck comics.

TS: Yeah. (Shakes head) I don’t know why, I really don’t. I think it’s best not to analyze too much….

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

DM: The reason I’m bringing it up is that in the drawings that came a little bit later, the ones you call “automatic drawings,” there’s also an animated quality to shapes, so that seemingly random or casual marks get turned into living creatures by the addition of arms or legs or something like that.

TS: All those images that I was creating was kind of like building…an imagination archive that I could pull from.

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

DM: Those automatic drawings are what made me ask you to make comics for Rubber Blanket. Those and the paintings. There were characters and a sense of place and a sense of “something’s going on”—I thought “this guy can make interesting comics.”

TS: I just couldn’t believe how hard creating a comic was.

DM: (Laughs)

TS: So hard. And yet I really wanted it. It took me years and years and years. And some kids just have it and they go ahead and do it. But if you hadn’t asked me…I don’t think I would have done it.

DM: Sorry about that.

SCULPTURE TAKES UP SPACE

DM: Do you see a connection between the work you’ve ended up doing in animation as a storyboard artist and the way you were thinking when you were making kinetic sculptures? 

TS: Uh…. (Pause) No.

DM: (Laughs) Okay.

Kinetic sculpture by Ted Stearn.

A sketch for a kinetic sculpture.

TS: Well, they require different approaches, to me. But I will say, one reason I got into comics, one reason I was making those sculptures, one reason that I’m pretty natural at storyboarding is I have this fourth dimension of time. I mean, all works of art technically would have the dimension of time, but this is like really kind of exploding it in a past and future direction. So, the sculpture is less about movement and more about introducing the element of time. That became very interesting to me, and that’s why I enjoyed all that more than, say, just doing a painting, an image—that became really limiting to me, even though I loved it and I would go back to it easily, but…I felt like I was in a box. I didn’t want to be in that box, I wanted to create worlds and places that kind of just expand as much as I can. There are a lot of influences—music is a big influence on me. In the early nineties I was doing paintings and drawings, but I felt stuck, so I started making drawings that were all over the wall, and then I started building things, making three-dimensional drawings, as it were, and it kind of took off from there.

Sculpture by Ted Stearn.

DM: Right.

TS: You know, Jonathan Borofsky was a big influence on me. I remember seeing his work in 1982, we did a field trip to New York from RISD, and he just blew me away. I was just like, “This is just play, this is just so much fun.” And he had some kinetic sculptures in there.

DM: I remember the “Chattering Men.”

TS: Yeah…(makes hammering motion) the “Hammering Man.”

(Note: there were both.)

TS: But it was the overall-ness of it, it was just like…this huge sculpture here, this painting of a dream leaning against the wall over here—I loved that freedom, the turning yourself inside out. I loved just being able to, uh, not be disciplined about what you’re going to make and just sit down and start making something and see what you come up with. So this was a frontier for me, to build things and construct things, as opposed to sitting and drawing on paper. It was a very different experience. So I’m a really big believer in getting outside of your medium.

A video of Stearn’s 1992 installations. 

DM: Interestingly, after that expansion of grad school, by going into comics you did end up drawing on paper.

TS: I know, can you believe it?? Yeah.

Ted Stearn in his studio, 1990. Photo by Sharon Jandik.

DM: But long before you were making comics you were thinking about characters and settings and worlds and creating these environments and I think it really shows right from the first comics you made that there was this sense of world-building, or atmosphere—

TS: (Nods vigorously) That’s really good, I hadn’t really thought about that a lot, but I think that’s true, and I think the artists and the authors who I admire the most are able to do that. They did reflect on the real world, but they created their own—like, Basquiat did that, and, I don’t know, Goya did that, Charles Burchfield, and a lot of other artists that I admire. They weren’t married to “reality”—you know, so many artists recreating the world in their own vision. That’s what I appreciate about a lot of artists and I guess that’s what I was trying to do, though I don’t think I thought about it consciously, whether it was the sculpture or the paintings or the automatic drawings or the comics…

DM: And Halloween costumes.

TS: Which one was that?

DM: You were always coming up with interesting Halloween costumes.

TS: (Laughing) I don’t remem—

DM: I remember one in particular that cracked me up, it was a shirt with like twenty-foot-long sleeves and your hands were just dragging behind you—

TS: (Laughs) I had rubber gloves at the end. And one was the seven plagues of Egypt— (touching his chest in different places) I just stuck things on me.

Halloween costume, c. 1996.

DM: Richmond remembers you did (miming a large shape around his head) a big head, a big bear head or something—

TS: I did. I did a Fuzz head, yeah.

DM: That was after you had made Fuzz and Pluck?

TS: Of course, yeah. What happened to those days? We used to construct things.

DM: Now we don’t have room to keep them.

TS: (Laughs) That’s true. That was a big element in why I gave up doing sculpture—even though they were meant to be disassembled, I still didn’t have space to put it anywhere.

PARADOX

DM: When you were in grad school, you read the book Gödel, Escher, Bach, and I think that had an influence on some of your thinking in terms of connecting dots between different things…

Automatic drawing by Ted Stearn.

TS: Actually I couldn’t get through it all, but the concepts were fascinating, linking music, math, and art. If you look at my background, my father was a chess player, he played chess almost every night, with himself or with a computer. And he was a big influence on my thinking. He was a computer programmer, and he was also always debating with us. He would take a devil’s advocate view of something and he would argue with us about, for example, whether the moon landing ever took place. Anyway, he had that book, and when I was about twenty-one I was like, “Oh, what the hell is this? Who cares?” And then later I picked it up again—but it wasn’t just that book, he also had The Annotated Alice, which is about the things that are really going on in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, as well as Gödel, Escher, Bach. I was also tying in Zen Buddhism, which was about similar either/or conundrums. A lot of it had to do with math and a lot of it had to do with logic and a lot of it had to do with paradox, and how a paradox is almost impossible and yet it is possible—(laughs) there’s a paradox in itself. So, that really fascinated me because I really wanted to investigate just how elusive truth is. That was definitely injected into all my work. Like if you think about the automatic drawings—that’s when I just sat there and drew whatever came into my head—to me that’s the nonsense, the non-sense, it’s anti-sense.

DM: Lewis Carroll is sort of the intersection of logic and nonsense.

TS: Well, that’s what I realized. Alice is not a real girl, she has nothing to do with being a little girl, really. She’s logic. She’s reason in a world that is nonsense and she’s trying to make sense out of nonsense, and the nonsense is telling her, “No, you’re the one who’s nonsense. This is sense.” So everything is turned on its head. So I’m always thinking about, in terms of stories and characters, how can we turn things on their head and make the reader go “Oh, I thought this was gonna be an easy answer, and it’s not.” I have fun playing with that idea—where we think that the right answer or the moral issue or the character’s correct motivation is all based on this very clear line, and I really want to throw a wrench into it as much as possible.


DM: In the new book, The Moolah Tree, at one point the vagabond character makes a comment on what’s going on around him—he says “Boy, everybody is looking for something.” And everybody is looking for something, and practically all the characters find something but it isn’t the thing they were looking for.

TS: (laughs) Yeah, I think one reviewer put it pretty well how I was thinking, he said, “He’s teasing with the idea of ‘money doesn’t buy happiness,’ but he never pulls it out completely in this grand cliché,” and I’m like, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying! I’m saying, I don’t know, maybe we do need it. Maybe we don’t—I don’t know.” But this is how people are dealing with it, and that’s the fun part.

As soon as something becomes a pat answer—and this is in life, too—I have big problems with it, because it never is. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of issues, I’ve changed my perspective on love and life and family and all these things, and so if it’s written in stone, I’m there with my sandblaster. Because our perception of the past is always changing, people are incredibly fickle…. I think there are certain universal truths, but I’m sure not going to tell the reader what they are. To me it’s a conversation. The reader is putting their thoughts in my work and I am throwing out ideas, and I’m saying how about this? So, the reader has to do a little reflection…the reader has to come to a conclusion—which people love, you know, they like that closure. I try to add closure but…with a question mark.

SIDEWAYS INTO COMICS

DM: You came to comics kind of sideways, but you weren’t unaware of comics—you were not a comic book reader the way a lot of people who get into comics are, but certainly you had an affinity for the form. If I’m not mistaken you had a cat named after Ernie Bushmiller—

TS: (Laughs)

DM: —before you were making comics yourself.

TS: I was always interested in comics. My grandfather was a dentist, so we would go to his waiting room and he would have all these Richie Rich and Little Dot comics—I really liked those kind of things—and Donald Duck…I liked the funny ones. Superheroes, I read them but they weren’t a big influence on me.

DM: They weren’t funny.

TS: Yes, you’re right! After I grew out of that, I was like, “I’m a peinteur, I don’t look at comics”—(quickly smiling) no, I’m kidding, I wasn’t like that. I kind of rediscovered them later. I especially liked—now it’s almost cliché—I looked at RAW, and RAW was a big influence in my understanding what comics could be. I also discovered “Little Nemo.” That was really gorgeous stuff—I’d never seen it before, until like 1988 or something.

DM: Eye-opening.

TS: Yes. It was when you asked me to draw a comic, and I thought, “Well I definitely have to give this a try, ’cause I’ve been looking at all this stuff and I find it very interesting.”

DM: But there was also an interest in cartoons, you know, Betty Boop…

TS: Yeah…I guess I always had an interest in comics and animation, and if you look at the paintings, they’re pretty cartoony in a way—when I say cartoony, I mean, I feel like I had an attraction to bold images, something that’s almost iconic, bright colors…I guess we have to define “cartoony!”

DM: That’s why I was talking about these shapes in your drawings with an animating quality to them—these invented characters.

TS: It’s the old trope of marrying popular culture and art, I guess. But it’s so common now. I see it everywhere, I see it in art, I see it in…what do you call it, anthropomorphizing…all these animated cartoons on TV—cartoons just seem so much more pervasive now. Back then, I wanted to really marry cartooniness with  traditional art forms, and today we would say “big deal, what’s new about that?” But back then, back in the early eighties, I thought it was kind of an intriguing idea. I wanted to not be precious and artsy, I really dislike that. That’s one reason I got into comics, I guess. I felt like the art world that I had come to understand was this whole game, and there was a lot of money in it and that kind of tainted it, and the thing I liked about comics was: one, there’s no money in it—

(Both laugh)

TS: —and two, it felt like a frontier, I felt like, “Oh, look at the possibilities!” Now it’s totally different.

DM: Sure. Things have really changed.

TS: When I came up with Fuzz and Pluck, I was thinking of an anti-hero, a paradoxical hero, or something that kind of answers the cutesiness of Disney in the seventies and eighties, and that’s what I was used to. But now I feel like the meaning is kind of lost because [cutesy Disney animals] isn’t really the culture right now. I wanted to do something that was anti-mainstream culture and now I feel like a conservative in some ways—which is scary enough for me—but I don’t feel like I’m on the frontier of anything right now. That makes me confused as an artist. I’m not sure what my next step is.

FEAR = HUMOR

DM: Before you were making comics did you have an interest in telling stories?

TS: No! I’m a terrible storyteller.

DM: I’ll disagree with that.

TS: Well, it’s a lot of work for me. It’s not something that comes naturally. The way I construct a story is just taking different elements and putting them together. I want to keep playing with the reader’s expectations, not just of the plot but of the actual storytelling—and that’s really tricky (laughs). Because a story is built on certain clichés that we’ve built up over the ages—

DM: Let’s call them “conventions.”

TS: Yeah, that’s better—and I became especially exposed to these because I was working in animation where we come up with certain conventions to explain quickly—as in, “Okay, we’re gonna have a scary shot! Okay, we’re gonna look up at the door, annnd the character’s gonna come in and open the door and it’s gonna be a low angle shot and the lighting’s going to be behind him…” These kind of shots that we had to come up with, and they still come up with over and over again, they just got me thinking a lot about how much I despise (laughs), how much I despise clichés because they don’t really come from a genuine place anymore. They’re xeroxes of xeroxes. We don’t realize how conditioned we are to act and react, like, “Okay, this is gonna happen next…” So I see it a lot. “Go close up to show them looking. Don’t show what they’re looking at yet.” And then my favorite is “waking up from a bad dream.” (Leaning back in his chair) There they are in bed having a bad dream, they wake up, (jolts forward) they do a sit-up! Like who ever does a sit-up waking up?

DM: People do it all the time—I’ve seen it in the movies!

TS: Exactly! So, this kind of lack of originality, um, it’s partially laziness, partially habit, because it “works.” And I think that’s based on fear, we’re afraid to go outside of a certain convention, because we don’t really know, it’s uncharted territory. So, when I’m thinking of a story, usually the first idea is gonna be pretty cliché, so I have to go beyond that and that’s the scary part, because it’s like, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen if I try this. Will it work?” Whereas, as you know, the cliché will “work” in the conventional sense.

You know the farting donkey [in The Moolah Tree]—

DM: The flonkey.

TS: —the flonkey—I had a dream. I kept picturing Fuzz and Pluck on a Pegasus, like a flying horse. And I was thinking, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna do a flying horse, Pegasus, no way, I can’t do it.” So I tried to think of things that will serve the same purpose but will be a surprise, will be funny, will be more interesting than the same old thing. That’s what I do with almost all my characters, like the pirates—they’re never called pirates, they’re not dressed like seventeenth-century swashbucklers or something, that’s, aaugh, I could never do that. Anyway, I had a dream about riding a horse with flowers all over it. And I thought, this is really interesting, and so I built the backstory about the flonkey based on that dream and the idea that I wanted a flying horse. Of course, I didn’t want her to just fly—

DM: She had to be propelled somehow.

TS: Yes, we don’t give that away! So that’s how I’m constructing these things, I’m trying to do something that’s never been seen before.

DM: It’s interesting that that’s something you dreamed, because some of the most harrowing moments in the Fuzz and Pluck stories are dream sequences, or hallucinations, and they really take the reader into a much darker place. You also made a few short comics called “The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef,” and the logic in those comics is definitely a kind of dream logic.

TS: Well, usually I don’t remember my dreams. I would stress this to anyone who’s an artist out there: stop thinking about the subject, and think about the feeling you want the reader to get. Many dreams happen to have that dimension. The fact that it’s a dream or not a dream doesn’t matter, but the effect that I wanted in those cases—I was expressing something and I wanted a certain emotional quality. That was my aim, it wasn’t so much what it’s “about,” that was all secondary. There’s fear and uncertainty in them, but to me… I know what you mean about the dark side and stuff like that, but to me it has to be funny as well.

DM: Absolutely—and they are.

TS: Well, I don’t know. But to me, the absurdism of whatever I’m doing and the feeling that I want to get, it kind of reflects how I see the world, ’cause I think everything in this world is weird and funny.

DM: Sure.

TS: I don’t understand books and stories that don’t have any funny in them, I mean… the world is so absurd and funny to me! I can’t take those comics to an even darker place and have something truly horrible happen, ’cause I see it as the intersection of funny and scary. In 1991, I guess, when I was in my studio, I put a sign up that said “Fear and Humor are Synonyms.” I want it to be creepy and I want it to be funny and I think that’s a paradox within itself. Because if you just go creepy it’s just sad and you wanna take an antidepressant, and that’s not really my point. And if it’s just funny then it’s goofy, silly, weird for the sake of weird—that’s not where I want to go either. I like a little bit of both, I think it makes a nice balance.

DM: The first “Melancholy Chef” comic, which is one of my favorites, where the chef is cold and hungry—even though there’s food right in front of him—and this woman comes out of the sky and says “I’ll take care of you,” and then on the second page there’s this boxer defending him, saying “I’ve handled worse than this” as we see that woman leading a giant toward him—that is the perfect combination of fearful, funny, absurd. But the dream in Splitsville that Fuzz has of sawing up the ferryman—that one is a little less funny.

TS: (Laughing) Yeah. Actually I did think it ended up funny, the way he ends up all cut up, his legs are sticking up…

DM: You’re right, the drawings are painfully funny.

TS: I guess I mean more subtle, coming up with images that are for whatever reason humorous or odd and not dark and heavy. I’m not into dark and heavy. One reason that I started doing comics in the first place is I really couldn’t find what I liked, I couldn’t find that unique feeling that I want the reader to get.

FUZZ & PLUCK

DM: In Splitsville it’s explained that Fuzz and Pluck have ended up together by an accident of circumstance, but then you separate them.

TS: Because you can find out who a character is. A character is primarily a character when they are interacting with another character.

DM: They are of course brought back together by the end of that story, and that tells us why they’re together at the start of The Moolah Tree. But, Fuzz and Pluck are together pretty much because they’re together, right? They don’t have any necessary reason to be together…

TS: Yes. I love it when I read a review and it says, “These two friends, they’re best friends,” and they’re not friends. They’re not. For Fuzz it’s kind of a parental thing: he needs Pluck because he can’t see what to do. He’s not sure, he’s very fuzzy about a lot of things. And Pluck needs Fuzz…as a moral compass, in a way. Well, not so much a moral compass, but to balance his selfishness and “I’m number one” kind of survival mode. But they definitely are the crux of all the ideas I was talking about before. They kind of need each other, but not just because they’re nice. To me that doesn’t work, I think we all kind of use each other. If you read all three books, Pluck is always trying to get away from Fuzz.

DM: He is, and yet he somehow can’t.

TS: Exactly.

DM: And yet he seems to in a certain sense accept his role—

TS: Yeah…

DM: —a little bit—

TS: Yeah, he needs someone to boss around. Fuzz is perfect for that. I mean, it’s not a new formula. It’s Gilligan and the Skipper…

DM: They’re co-dependent!

TS: …it’s Laurel and Hardy, especially. And I wasn’t even really thinking about them, but…the only difference I would say really is that Laurel and Hardy actually call themselves friends. I haven’t gotten that far yet. I feel like it would just ruin everything if I did that, it’s just not working for me.

DM: No, there has to be this strange…

TS: Tension.

THE WORLD OF FUZZ AND PLUCK

DM: There are a lot of what looks like hand-made vehicles and machinery in Fuzz and Pluck’s world. There’s a low-tech quality—I don’t think there’s any technology after like 1970—

TS: (Laughs) Well, I would say that after 1970, many people didn’t understand technology—I mean, they knew what it was, but they didn’t know exactly how it worked.

DM: From your drawings, it looks like you can really understand the technology, and how to fix the thing (both laugh), just from being the reader of the comic.

TS: Part of the influence was making those sculptures. I’m thinking, okay, so-and-so needs this kind of instrument—it’s almost like I’m in my studio building that instrument for them. And it also reflects on my conscious idea of not referencing the outside world as much as possible. It’s almost like they’re in this place that has certain things that work certain ways, no computers, nothing too complicated, because I think the reader actually can relate to it better. I don’t want to reference any company or current event or anything that would make it part of our world.

DM: Also [in Fuzz and Pluck’s world], animals and toys can speak and move as humans do, until the most recent book. Fuzz and Pluck are the only characters who are not human who act like humans. In the previous one, Splitsville, there’s a cast of animal characters, and toy characters, who interact with each other and with humans, and in more cases than not, seem to be in service roles…

TS: Well, I think that’s consistent—animals and whoever’s not human are subservient to humans, and so I kept that. As for the flonkey—she just doesn’t speak English.

DM: (Laughs) But there’s another dog in the comic that just acts like a dog. He’s only in a couple of panels. Was that a conscious decision?

TS: No, I remember putting that in and I thought, “Oh, this kind of breaks my whole—“ Which dog is this?

DM: Just in the background of a scene—

TS: He’s pooping on one of the bills and then walking around. I saw that and I thought this doesn’t really break the rule because…he could talk—

DM: (Laughs) He could, he has nothing to say.

TS: Right! He’s just walking on all fours. No problem there. But that’s very much a part of the world, there’s a subservience going on. I think we feel that way as children, so I’m kind of relating to the child in me. You don’t have your freedom, you have to work for it (laughs) and you have to answer to other people, (shrugs) stuff like that.

DM: In Splitsville you’re very explicit about that with the whole gladiatorial combat thing, which I’m tempted to read as a metaphor for the freelancer’s life.

TS: It’s definitely a metaphor, but I don’t want people to get the idea that I’m telling them this is what it’s about—

DM: Certainly, it could be read as more than just that.

TS: —but basically it’s from working in an animation studio. We all had to work together as a group, and yet we were all competing for the next job. There’s a paradox. So, that’s one issue from my life that I brought in. It has to do with being a freelancer—you’re constantly looking for the next job and you have to be nice and you have to jockey up…uuughh. I’m still doing it. And also, I wanted to show some gladiators, I liked that with some cute little animals.

DM: Well, you draw good animal violence. And when you think about the history of comics—

TS: Well, you did a lot of violence.

DM: I did lots of violence, but the violence I drew was more…bare-knuckled.

TS: Very elegant.

DM: (Wincing) Well…it started off being a kind of…abstracted sense of violence that is more like showing bodies moving at angles across panels, and it turned into more of—

TS: I think of it almost as looking at a choreography of dancing.

DM: But the later stuff that I did turned into drawings of people really slamming their knuckles into other people’s bones. What I’m talking about in yours is a kind of history in comics of people bonking each other over the head with big mallets, that kind of—

TS: It’s called slapstick.

DM: —slapstick, exactly. It’s hilarious.

THE MOOLAH TREE

DM: When you came up with this story, were you thinking more about what you wanted the characters to go through or where you wanted to send them, or were you thinking about what kinds of events would be interesting, or were you thinking about “what kind of things do I want to draw?” Or all of the above?

TS: In all the stories I think about what would be fun to draw, and what—nobody else, just me—what would really be fun to sit and look at and read. So, I think of certain scenarios, really generally, and I came up with this one because I was having a lot of trouble getting work, and I was bleeding money, and, uh, I was kind of scared and nervous, like the characters are. And there was the whole housing crisis—I was actually looking for a house just while the whole thing was crashing (laughs). So I think I wanted to take the idea of economic insecurity and have a fresh take on it. I didn’t want to do something that was too “real” or too dark and sad, I just wanted to play with that desperation that I felt at the time…and I still do, now and then, when I’m unemployed.

Pencils for The Moolah Tree.

Other things like “why pirates?” I think because I really like that lawless adventurer aspect, so I wanted to take that and make that something we’d never seen before. One of my favorite characters that I’ve created is the captain, Dunderhead. He’s pretty complex, he’s not simple. He’s not evil but he’s presented as a “bad guy,” but he’s not, really. He’s just desperate.

DM: He also has a bit of a sad story with a dog who doesn’t speak in this comic, but perhaps can. (Both laugh) You actually do talk about the housing collapse by having the three bankers who show up on Segways. That becomes one of the main lines of the story, that [the character] Despera is losing her house.

TS: Right. Well, it has to do with the theme of money. But every issue or storyline or plotline, they’re kind of McGuffins. What concerns me is how the characters react to issues, not so much what the issue is. And that’s really what’s fascinating to me about people, and how people are so blinded by their beliefs, and they feel strongly about certain things that aren’t true—which, you know, I’m number one guilty of that, but anyway the politics of how people relate to each other and how they relate to issues and problems and making decisions and figuring out who they are—that’s more interesting to me than the housing market. The housing thing is a McGuffin, it’s something they can dance around. The same thing with the money tree, the money tree is of course a symbol. But it’s how they react that I’m interested in, not so much “the issue of greed,” it’s how they deal with greed and selfishness and are they doing the right thing, are they doing the wrong thing? How are they acting? If I can have a very real character—and I don’t mean realistic, I mean a very well-rounded character—then we’re more invested in how they’re gonna act, we empathize with them more.

I was just thinking, one of my favorite comics of the nineties was Hate. I liked what Peter Bagge did. He always had really interesting, complex characters for comics, and it was funny, too. It’s kind of the same thing. I’ve become very interested in the personal politics. In fact my next book, it’s going to be more…it’s gonna have a lot of…personal politics in it (laughs).

DRAWING

DM: Your drawing is beautiful. How do you feel about the drawing and what you’re trying to do with it and what you’re trying to say with the way you depict the world that you’ve created?

TS: Well, I think there are some obvious influences. I like a lot of older comics, like from the turn of the [previous] century, and how they use pen and ink, that kind of thing. The drawing is really fun, because it’s like making music to me. It’s very important for every panel and every page and everything to balance and relate to each other.

A lot of people say “Why do you work in black and white?” I like the electric energy I get from the vibration. I remember I did one comic with some gray backgrounds. But for me, I don’t know, I wanted that vibration for my stories. I missed all the lines (laughs).

DM: All the lines come to the surface more equally in black and white.

TS: I don’t know why I prefer this way I’m drawing, ’cause it’s kind of time consuming, and I could do it much simpler, I could draw little lollypop trees in the background and—

DM: No no no.

TS: Okay, I won’t do that! I could simplify it drastically, but then the world that I’m creating becomes a little bit of a cardboard cutout. And what I love, always loved, is being able to enter into a place, like what you touched on earlier. “Krazy Kat” does that, you know, Herriman does it with…much more economy than I do. I’m like nnnhhh (knocking on his head), how does he do that?

DM: Me too.

TS: I remember reading Stendhal’s The Red and the Black…there are all these people pursuing things. That was an influence on [The Moolah Tree]. They were all in this beautiful Swiss landscape and it was described by the author, but they were oblivious to it. So that’s kind of what I was thinking: nature is beautiful to me, so I’m going to make just a gorgeous place, it’s beautiful and it’s complete but…everyone’s blind to it. For one panel Captain Dunderhead reflects on it, but then he’s back to his own selfish thing. So that is one aspect of how I approached drawing this particular comic. I really enjoyed drawing this comic, I hope it shows.

DM: Absolutely. It’s a real pleasure to go through page-by-page. You flip through this book and you want to read it.

TS: My mom started halfway and read it to the end, she said “I just kept turning the pages!” Well, she doesn’t read comics! (Imitating his mom) “I kept turning the pages, I wanted to get to the end.” I said, “That’s good but start at the beginning, not in the middle.”

HOW TO LOOK AT THINGS

Pencil drawing for The Moolah Tree.

TS: I want to contest one of these ideas that a comic panel should be drawn as fast as it’s looked at. There’s this other idea that you go to a museum and on average one artwork is only looked at for thirteen seconds, which implies we’re not looking long enough. That may be true, but I’m putting it in my memories. I walk away from it, I can remember it for years afterward.

DM: (In “teacher” mode) What you’re talking about is the idea that a comic is not an accumulation of single images that should be looked at equally; it is a flow of images, and so you don’t want the reader to slow down by stopping at each one, or stopping at an inappropriate one; so the drawings have to have a degree of—

TS: Yes, you’re right…

DM: I’m saying, this is the theory: that information has to be taken in quickly enough that you can go to the next panel, except where you want the reader to stop and stay for a while. Of course, no one complains that it takes a year to make a movie that you only watch for ninety minutes.

A sketch for The Moolah Tree.

TS: Yeah, and I think that’s where the actual drawing becomes very much integral with the comic, you have to have it working as a read, and as a flow, definitely. Who did that, um, Laurence Sterne, I think—he just sticks this marbled page, or a squiggly line, and a few others, in the middle of the novel, for sometimes clear reasons, sometimes for mysterious reasons. So I want to put up a couple of dams and say, “Stop and look at this, then keep going.” I also like going back and contemplating, almost like a “Where’s Waldo” thing where you’re just looking at this whole world.

DM: You and I would probably agree that even something that looks simple is much more effective and much more beautiful when you can sense there’s an underlying structural thought given to it in order to place that thing right there.

TS: I try to do that. It’s all planned. Like your Asterios book—every time I go back and look at it I find something different or there’s something that I missed or, I know there are layers in there…so that’s what I’m interested in storywise and visually, and marrying it all together. When it’s successful all the aspects should be inseparable.

DM: How did teaching comics affect the way you thought about making comics? Or the way you thought about teaching?

TS: I taught comics and storyboarding from 2001 to 2004 at Savannah College of Art and Design. I enjoyed teaching immensely, it was never boring. I don’t think it affected my comics much, as I was pretty set on who I was as an artist and what I wanted. One thing I learned from teaching is I shouldn’t get specific about “good” quality and “bad” quality. For example, I don’t care for standard Manga style, but I never let that on, because, as in any style, there is really no applicable criteria to approach why it is or is not “good” quality. So one student was a fantastic Manga artist, not because she drew Manga or not, but because she had a great sense of design and following a narrative. Was it original? Not really, but that’s not really what she wanted. So I tried to develop a criticism technique that applied certain conditions to any style, such as composition, narrative flow, strong drawing, stuff like that. This allowed the student to improve, but kept the elusive “style” issue out of it. I also tried to stay neutral about general impressions of quality, like, “it works,” or “it’s beautiful,” or “it’s weak.” I insisted the students had to articulate why. Sometimes I forgot this myself and didn’t do this! But usually I did try to guide the students to think for themselves.

TENSION

DM: Working as a storyboard artist, you get a script and some notes, and you have to follow that exactly. When you’re making your own comic, (shaking his head) you don’t write a script and then draw it?

TS: I do [write a script], I actually do. But I’m thinking about it, so I’ve kinda got the movie in my head. I do write it all out, and it’s almost backwards though, because I see the characters and what they’re doing and I know visually what’s going on, but I’ll just write it out ’cause—

DM: It’s quicker. Sometimes.

TS: Yeah, it’s quicker, I guess. I want that rhythm of words­—that’s important. But storyboarding has helped me communicate visually more effectively. When I started doing storyboards I was unsure of how to communicate, how to express something—I think that’s just natural—but it was my job to communicate. We had to communicate something really succinctly and quickly and easily in a way that was really readable. At the same time, though, I definitely don’t want to be didactic at all [in my stories]. And I want to ask questions, I don’t want to give answers, I hate stories that give answers (laughs).

DM: They’re the worst. But you’re very conscious of  “I’m gonna set it up so that when the readers get to this panel or this page or this sequence, they understand it in the way I want them to understand it.”

TS: Well, the way I want them to understand it is not one way. It’s kind of like you’re holding the reader’s hand and you’re taking them through a house and you walk into a room and I might see a lamp and a table and ten books, and they might see the dresser and the rug or something. When I’m taking them through, I definitely want them to come into that room but I don’t want to put blinders on them and say “You can only see it this way.” I guess that’s a kind of weak metaphor, but that’s what I’m trying to do, so there’s a balance between giving too much information, being too didactic, and then there’s the opposite problem, which is also common, where the reader really doesn’t know where we’re going. The reader at least needs to believe they’re going in a certain direction, or have some general idea, and when it’s just, you know, one sequence after another—it has to have tension. And I bring that up because I’m a big believer in visual tension, too. It’s Hans Hofmann’s favorite subject. He talks about how all great art must have tension, so I expand that in different directions: everything, even the compositions have to have tension, the character interactions have to have tension. And tension is opposites pulling at each other, or pushing at each other.

That’s just one aspect of what I want in a comic, or almost anything else in art. You have to be really honest with yourself and say “What do I really want to look at? What would really be fun to look at?”—not just draw, but to look at, and read. When I was teaching I always used to think about that. I’d say, in so many words, “We don’t even know it, but we’re so scared to find out who we really are and what we really want.” Because it’s reflected in the work. If the work is completely safe and it’s conventional and it’s got all the bells and whistles of convention, then you’re afraid of something, you’re not really facing who you are. So whenever I see myself going in that direction, going in this kind of safe place, I challenge myself, I think, “Sorry. Come up with something better.”

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/18/17 – The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States of America) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11817-the-inauguration-of-donald-j-trump-as-45th-president-of-the-united-states-of-america/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11817-the-inauguration-of-donald-j-trump-as-45th-president-of-the-united-states-of-america/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98107 Continue reading ]]> Recently, I’ve been looking at a lot of pornography.

I was asked to appear on a podcast to discuss the re-release of a 1980s pornographic manga, Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend; it’s an adjacently notorious work, the inspiration for a similarly explicit anime which, through the caprice of cultural moment and accessibility, became emblematic for a time of anime as a whole. I know you’ve heard of “tentacle sex.” Legend of the Overfiend is the anime that seared the idea onto the minds of westerners, eager to draw exotic conclusions about deliciously inscrutable and dangerous foreigners.

The thing is, the “tentacle sex” idea was only one manifestation of a very specific, pragmatic idea: that you could both circumvent the censorious regulations on image-making in Japan and add a great deal of visual novelty via phallic substitution. Penises, engorged and unobscured, are obscene; tentacles, arguably less so. I found a great resource in an unusual 2016 publication: The Hentai Manga Scene: Pirate Edition, a 90-page zine by one Kimi Rito (translated by Makoto Schroeder), consisting of interviews with various ero manga personalities, Legend of the Overfiend creator Toshio Maeda among them. There is even a sidebar on the history of ‘tentacle’ sex in comics, from the suggestive ’70s works of smut pioneer Hideo Azuma to variant manifestations of living wires and metal tendrils, concluding with the recent ‘monster girl’ trend in nerd-focused media.

But that’s important: tentacles are not a mainstream taste. They were never even a dominant favorite, and the fortunes of the fetish declined as its moment passed in the Japanese ’90s, only resurfacing periodically in specialist venues. You still hear jokes about it in the west, though. Some promotional efforts are just too effective, and what starts as a titillating joke becomes an undulating live illusion. It’s not too far removed from how the early days of manga in English nurtured this idea that ‘manga’ was something not totally removed from the dense, detailed work in favor among comic book aficionados. The salad days of Masamune Shirow, creator of the endlessly adaptive likes of Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, and, more recently, a terrific amount of porn.

Here is some tentacle sex as assembled by Masamune Shirow in 2013.

If you decide to click that link — and, in recognition of the fact that some people probably want to read about upcoming comics without having hardcore porn shoved in their collective face, I will be securing all of this week’s images behind optional links — you will notice a few unusual traits of Shirow’s latter-day work. First and most obviously, the humanoid female character looks like she’s been sent careening down a slip ‘n slide coated with baby oil, a tendency of Shirow’s color work so evident that the artist and his publisher gleefully promote it: the work I am excerpting is from a series known as “Galgrease”, specifically from the W・Tails Cat line of books in the “Galhound” subgroup of SF-themed works. God, this is already convoluted; just know that while much of Shirow’s erotic works fall under the penumbra of pin-ups or illustration, the W・Tails Cat books blur the line between illustration collections a la Shirow’s Intron Depot and ‘full’ SF comics such as Ghost in the Shell.

Another illustration will help, published this time in 2016.

What’s evident from the W・Tails Cat line is that Shirow is pursuing a type of collage, albeit of a very different sort than your Jess Collins or Julie Doucet. Where in Intron Depot Shirow might display all of the color variations he made for a particular drawing of a tank, in W・Tails Cat he offers bodies in differing states of dress, limbs manipulated, cut and pasted and pasted and pasted to create a mass of gleaming flesh, often in outright defiance of narrative eye-guiding; this is not a march, it is a wallow in glistening, taut goo. An artist of my acquaintance once referred to this stuff as the visual equivalent of a urinary tract infection, and indeed while these images give the signal of indulgence in luscious blossom, there is something almost viscerally unhygienic about them, like a thick bacterial heat rising and tickling your face.

You might ask yourself “why?” Then, you might stop yourself, because the foremost answer with erotica is always “because the author finds it sexy.” Yet as I read further into The Hentai Manga Scene, I was startled to find an interview with “K-iwa” and “O-gawa”, editors at the publisher GOTcorporation, and purportedly the very people who introduced Masamune Shirow to pornographic illustration. Their objective was to find a well-known artist who was unfamiliar to readers of ero manga as a ‘hook’ for launching a new magazine, Comic Canopri; Shirow had already done some sexy pin-up works in mainline venues at Kodansha, so they were able to pique his interest. GOT remains the publisher of books in the W・Tails Cat series today, along with porn manga periodicals like Comic Anthurium, and digital magazines such as Comic Grape, a portmanteau of “Good rape,” as K-iwa cheerily informs us: these are comics about rape, intended for sexual gratification. Indeed, much of the ‘sexual’ content in Legend of the Overfiend is really sexualized depictions of rape, as is, we might guess, a great many works of the tentacle ‘sex’ type.

The GOT editors laugh freely throughout their interview; I think their attitudes are not atypical. Throughout The Hentai Manga Scene — which also features a long interview with a younger ero artist, “Yamatogawa”, and a very brief comic by “Kamitani”, the only woman included among the artists — the predominant impression is one of craftsmen plying their trade. Perhaps you went into porn manga because the bar for entry is lower, and you can make money faster. Perhaps you started drawing long tongues and tangly tails and tentacles because it allowed you to depict women suspended in mid-air, giving your work a needed novelty. Perhaps you set Masamune Shirow down the shiny path because you were tasked with launching a new magazine. Fantasy is fantasy: entertainment, product, consumption.

We can read Shirow by these terms too.

When you’ve read a few of these books, you quickly pick up on the fact that the women always have a much lighter complexion than the men; further, while the women are of Shirow’s usual ostensibly international type, their facial features and body shapes hew to the ‘classic’ style of Shirow’s manner of drawing cute girls. The men, meanwhile, have wildly differing body types and facial features, often with readily apparent ethnic characteristics. I wonder if Shirow thinks about the racial dimension of these works. I wonder, because I think what actually interests him is the play of color and texture. Oh lord the textures. The surface – the play of light on water and oil. In his mainline SF works, Shirow often suggests that bodies can be augmented or totally replaced, that bodies are but vehicles for the self. In his porn SF, the vehicles are washed and waxed, and arranged across the showroom floor.

It reminds me a little of death. In 1971, the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage assembled one of his greatest masterpieces, The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes – for half an hour, we are witness to soundless footage of forensic pathologists at work in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania morgue, with special emphasis given to the state of cadavers. In the absence of consciousness, this is what all of us are: meat and bone. What Brackhage does is not totally unlike what Shirow does: he considers the play of illumination of skin. He delves into textures: ashy burns, the rubbery quality of entrails, the ripple of blood in wounds. It is of no bother to the dead; now, their bodies are only materials, silently contemplated as if hovering just above, painless and newly free. Brackhage depicts the surface of corporeality; the viewer assumes the depth of sentience. It is a supremely calm film.

What is different about Masamune Shirow’s work is that his curation of surfaces is meant to excite. Look again at the links above. Look closely. If you squint, you’ll notice that in every one of the pages I’ve shown from W・Tails Cat, some of the bodies are accompanied by date stamps. Shirow is not an arbitrary collagist; some figures may date from 2003 on one side of the page, while others originate in 2008. Turn to the back of these books, and you find out that some of the images have been snipped from other Shirow publications. The dating scheme is identical to that used in Shirow’s recent Intron Depot art books, where the notional purpose is to catalog variant forms of images on their way to completion; in W・Tails Cat, different variants are jammed together to form the illusion of life at its most flush.

Because the illusion is often too transparent, what we get is the eros of accrual. To be an otaku is to be obsessed with specialized information; with these works, Shirow imbues the organization of his own product with an unusual passion, as if the pleasure of knowing the erotic potential of all these collected digital files is a necessary patch to the bluntness of mere sexual release. Gaudy and awash in promises, these surroundings revel in horded treasure, a livid hell of luxury spit.

And is this not the sex we are ready for today?

***

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Zonzo: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #1 – the bleak and violet comedy of Spanish artist Joan Cornellà, in which grinning characters suffer and enact hateful ironies in a universe devoid of compassion. No words, all color, the 56-page second in a line of hardcover Fantagraphics releases; $14.99.

Officer Downe: VIABLE OFFENSE IN 2017 #2 – buoyant, boyish ultraviolence with a wink and a grin, courtesy of writer Joe Casey and artist Chris Burnham. Originally from 2010, this supernatural lawman one-shot is now a feature film from director and Slipknot co-founder Shawn Crahan, which makes Image’s new 192-page edition a veritable celebration of itself – the comic is paired with Casey’s complete screenplay for the movie, along with “hundreds” of production photos; $19.99.

PLUS!

Last Sons of America (&) Wires and Nerve: Two bookshelf-ready releases about which I know absolutely nothing, though they may be interesting to flip through. Last Sons of America was a 2015-16 series from writer Philip Kennedy Johnson and artist Matthew Dow Smith (colored by Doug Garbark), a speculative thriller about adoption agents sweating through a world where Americans have been made infertile and business is cutthroat. BOOM! publishes the collected edition. Wires and Nerve is the comics debut of YA fantasy writer Marissa Meyer, working with artist Doug Holgate on a 240-page piece about a lady android battling wolf-people in space, a scenario apparently in conjunction with Meyer’s prose works. Macmillan publishes; $19.99 (Sons), $21.99 (Wires).

Dorohedoro Vol. 20: Your manga pick of the week is an increasingly common sight – a long series nearly caught up with the Japanese editions. Specifically, this popular Q Hayashida grimy fantasy opus releases collected editions on a more-or-less annual basis in Japan, with its 21st number arriving last September. So, try and savor it while VIZ has it here; $12.99.

The Complete Scarlet Traces Vol. 1: Interesting history behind this longstanding collaboration between writer Ian Edginton and artist Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker – an original sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the Scarlet Traces serial began as a feature on the short-lived UK web entertainment portal Cool Beans World, eventually finishing its first series in Judge Dredd Megazine in 2002. A creator-owned work, the pair then brought the project to Dark Horse, which published (among other things) a formal adaptation of the Wells novel, again first as a webcomic, then in a print edition. Later, Rebellion purchased the rights to the property from the creators, who just last year created new stories for 2000 AD. This 144 page Rebellion paperback should collect the earliest (2002) work, along with the Dark Horse Welles adaptation, but *not* the other Dark Horse material or the more recent 2000 AD stuff, presumably saved for later volumes. D’Israeli puts together some nice-looking comics; $19.99.

The Kamandi Challenge Special: Due to begin later this month, DC’s Kamandi Challenge is an exquisite corpse-type experiment where various creative teams will create a serial featuring Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic cult favorite, each team supplying a cliffhanger the subsequent team must somehow resolve. This comic, however, is a 64-page reprint of 1975’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth! #32, written and drawn by Kirby, with inks by D. Bruce Berry, with some other vintage materials relating to the upcoming project. It’ll probably be fun to pick up a big, fat Kirby Kamandi comic book; $7.99.

The Complete Chester Gould Dick Tracy Vol. 21: 1962-1964: Finally — and no, there’s not a lot that caught my eye this week, thank heavens for porn — please enjoy the uneasy advance of Chester Gould’s hard-nosed detective into the era of new freedoms, by which I mean he totally visits the Moon and meets the Moon Maid, a lady from the Moon. Still against crime, tho. As always, an 11″ x 8.5″ landscape hardcover from IDW, 272 pages; $44.99.

The front page image this week is from the hand-scratched title cards to Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, the perfect accompaniment to any existential crisis or uncomfortable gathering that warrants dispersal.

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Sara Lautman: Bonus Day http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-bonus-day/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-bonus-day/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98136 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Football or Single http://www.tcj.com/football-or-single/ http://www.tcj.com/football-or-single/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98111 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site: Joe McCulloch bring us some on-topic comics. 

Elsewhere:

The only upside of the President-elect’s recent behavior is that March sold yet more books. 

Here’s a review of the new Alan Moore collection/critical text published by Uncivilized Books.

Comic art auctions are increasingly frequent and with an increasingly far ranging selection of material. So, setting aside the commercial aspect for a second, check out this Sotheby’s auction of mostly European comic art. The Chaland, Doury, and Kiki Picasso pieces alone are such unusual things. Chaland because he’s so loose while still working within that Atomic style. Doury because graphic reproduction can’t do justice to the physicality of rendering; Picasso because, again, the technique itself is beautiful, image aside.

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Sara Lautman: Day Five http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-five-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-five-2/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:00:53 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97956 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Gosh Goodniss http://www.tcj.com/gosh-goodniss/ http://www.tcj.com/gosh-goodniss/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98003 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Sara Lautman brings us the final installment of her tenure creating our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The e-book subscription service Scribd is no longer offering access to comics, apparently due to lack of reader interest.

In a statement to PW, Scribd confirmed that the comics subscription access has ended:

“We launched comics in 2015, and while we were excited to bring new content to our readers, few actively took advantage of them. We will be focusing our efforts on enhancing the experience surrounding our other great content types including books, audiobooks, magazines, and documents.”

[…]

Initially Scribd called the launch of the comics subscription category “explosive for us, with the biggest response and fastest adoption we’ve ever seen.”

This year’s nominees for inclusion in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame have been announced. The four judges’ choices, who are automatically inducted, include Milt Gross, H.G. Peter, Antonio Prohías, and Dori Seda.

—Reviews & Commentary. For the New York Times, Nelson George offers a positive but measured notice to Michael Tisserand’s Krazy.

Though Tisserand does a truly exhaustive job detailing Herriman’s private and public lives, the promised analysis of race in his vast catalog of “Krazy Kat” cartoons is more fleeting than intricate. It feels scattershot even when he identifies potentially relevant material, as with a cartoon published on April 18, 1937, in which Krazy Kat encounters a “pale, even unearthly white” baby bear. “Krazy and the bear talk,” Tisserand writes, “and Krazy grows confused as to the bear’s identity.” Krazy discovers the “equatorial bear” has a mother from the South Pole and a father from the North Pole, and that his parents met halfway at the equator. Krazy’s parting line is “Happy mittin’ on the equator — is all I can say.”

For LARB, Daniel Worden reviews a new collection of stories and comics by Nick Francis Potter.

Many of the most exciting and prominent comics creators today have used Tumblr or other digital tools. Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant; Eleanor Davis’s How To Be Happy; Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree; and Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente’s The Private Eye are just a handful of the most notable works in recent years to have originated entirely or in part on the internet. This digital renaissance of self-published, independent comics and zines has no doubt contributed to the increasing visibility of comics as an aesthetic form. In Potter’s New Animals, one sees the influence of comics artists like Lynda Barry, Sammy Harkham, Jason, Gary Panter, Johnny Ryan, and Dash Shaw, to name just a few. It is where the influence of these creators mixes with prose fiction that the collection has its most impressive effect, blending the intimacy of hand-drawn lines with the cool detachment of minimalist prose.

For Comics Workbook, Juan Fernandez profiles Rachel Masilamani.

An accomplished story teller, Masilamani is hard pressed to categorize her work. Endlessly fascinated with people, Masilamani draws inspiration from her own life and the behaviors of those around her to create stories that burrow themselves deep into the minds of her readers. Her stories elegantly blend naturalistic storytelling with expressionistic visual representation.

In much of her work, Masilamani explores notions of local and universal truth by blurring the line between fact and fiction. In so doing, she makes her inner life palpable. She walks this tightrope in ways similar to the memoir work of Carol Tyler, Mardou and Gabrielle Bell.

—Misc. PEN America has published a post-election feature called “State of Emergency”, curated by Meg Lemke, Rob Kirby, and MariNaomi, which includes comics by TCJ contributors Kirby, Whit Taylor, and others.

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Sara Lautman: Day Four http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-four-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-four-2/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97953 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Happy Driver http://www.tcj.com/98005-2/ http://www.tcj.com/98005-2/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=98005 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Cynthia Rose reports from the Grand Palais Hergé retrospective. 

Although it is worshipped as a “ninth art” in France, the Grand Palais has never before dealt with the bande dessinée. Here their explicit intention is to elevate Hergé and place him alongside Vélasquez, Warhol and Picasso. Critics have made a lot of this but the show was tailored to justify it. Every day, as soon as it opens, the place is packed with crowds aged “from 7 to 77” – Tintin magazine’s summary of its target audience. Yet the show isn’t describing merely a master storyteller or a titan of the bande dessinée.

Its portrait is that of a royal figure, an authorised and reified Hergé. A true peer of the very artists he collected, he is seen as a great whose drawing merits comparisons to Dürer and Da Vinci. For brilliance, scope and artistry, the art on show is indeed singular and it can certainly withstand a little overzealousness. In 450 original pieces from all stages of Hergé’s life, a visitor gets both the creation myth and apotheosis of his ligne claire. As a bonus, he or she also sees private paintings plus an illuminating survey of Hergé’s graphic design.

And Sara Lautman comes in for day four of her diary.

Elsewhere:

-RESIST! is now available for pre-order and pick-up. Here’s all the info.

-I love this article on correspondence course work by the little-known cartoonist Elizabeth Stohn. 

-Michael Cavna at the Washington Post writes briefly and well about George Lucas’s forthcoming museum.

Tom Gauld and Ben Katchor each offer cartoons for coping. 

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Tintin and the Curse of Clarity http://www.tcj.com/tintin-and-the-curse-of-clarity/ http://www.tcj.com/tintin-and-the-curse-of-clarity/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97887 Continue reading ]]>
A virtuoso draftsman with an imagination to match, Belgium’s Hergé (Georges Remi, 1907 – 1983) is Euro-cartooning’s nonpareil. Having sold over two hundred million books in a hundred languages, his creation Tintin is known around the world. Hergé’s fame, however, exceeds even the world of comics. When they reach the auction block, his originals now fetch fantastic sums. In 2014, going for €2.65 million, a double-page Hergé spread broke the existing record; last November, a single page went for €1.55 million.

Scrutinized by an army of “Tintinologists”, Hergé’s work also enjoys an impressive bibliography. Expanded yearly, this can range from PhDs to tomes such as last year’s Dictionnaire Amoureux de Tintin. This volume, not atypical, clocks in at 785 pages and features everything from how the artist saw roller skates to his “most overlooked” inheritors.

So how does Paris’ Grand Palais picture the subject of Hergé? Amidst so many competing theories, where does the blockbuster stand? Strictly speaking, it’s a hagiography traced in la ligne claire. Yet by assembling so many riches, they unwittingly let the work speak for itself – and it proves a disquieting tattle-tale.

Although it is worshipped as a “ninth art” in France, the Grand Palais has never before dealt with the bande dessinée. Here their explicit intention is to elevate Hergé and place him alongside Vélasquez, Warhol and Picasso. Critics have made a lot of this but the show was tailored to justify it. Every day, as soon as it opens, the place is packed with crowds aged “from 7 to 77” – Tintin magazine’s summary of its target audience. Yet the show isn’t describing merely a master storyteller or a titan of the bande dessinée.

Its portrait is that of a royal figure, an authorised and reified Hergé. A true peer of the very artists he collected, he is seen as a great whose drawing merits comparisons to Dürer and Da Vinci. For brilliance, scope and artistry, the art on show is indeed singular and it can certainly withstand a little overzealousness. In 450 original pieces from all stages of Hergé’s life, a visitor gets both the creation myth and apotheosis of his ligne claire. As a bonus, he or she also sees private paintings plus an illuminating survey of Hergé’s graphic design.

But all this is deployed in a curious anti-chronology. The expo introduces Hergé via a wall of his paintings, all of which were done during a year in the 1960s. Under the tutelage of abstractionist Louis Van Lint, the artist poured his energies into this different discipline. But the results, while honourable, have little to recommend them. As an abortive outing and a probable source of frustration (if not deep disappointment), they are an odd lead-in.

The paintings introduce a one-room mini-museum stocked with some of the modern art Hergé collected. The contents include six prints by Roy Lichtenstein (an Hergé fan), Jean DuBuffet’s La Cafetière, a Great American Nude from Tom Wesselman and the portrait of himself Hergé commissioned from Warhol. Bolstered by other pieces, including a portrait bust by Tchang Tchong-Jen, the dim room exudes a dusty and dated ambiance. Its real energy comes from the artist’s own work: Hergé’s riveting sketches for the unfinished Tintin and Alph-Art.

The expo has ten rooms in all, each with a theme like “The Curious Fox” (Hergé’s Boy Scout name) or “Lesson From the Far East” (the story of the artist’s friendship with Tchong-Jen, how it informed The Blue Lotus and transformed his life). At numerous points in many places, Hergé himself pops up on film. He is always modest, jokey and self-effacing; never does he answer a question with any depth. Whether Hergé is asked about the cinema, his work or his art, he remains anodyne. Yet his diffidence masked a sharp and probing mind. The artist was fascinated, for instance, with Balzac’s Human Comedy – as well as inspired by its recurring characters. He loved reading Simenon and Dickens but also Stendhal and Proust. In 1971, he famously exclaimed to the interviewer Numa Sadoul, “Tintin (like all the others) is me, in exactly the way Flaubert said ‘I am Madame Bovary!’… “.

Yet with regard to the public, as in the lines of his work, Hergé made himself a master of control. Just like his private feelings, the sharpness of his thinking was kept carefully under wraps. The same way he refined his line over and over, so it conveyed only what he wanted, the artist refined and guarded that face he showed the world. This is a tension palpable throughout the show, one that powered his art and helped to forge his style.

What work, however – and what a style! In so many ways, Hergé’s sketches, scribblings and storyboards are magical. At the height of his powers, they simply radiate invention. Hergé kept his energies harnessed via an extreme, labour-intensive process. Once he had decided the basis of a sequence, said the artist, “I use absolutely all the energy in my possession. I draw wildly, furiously, I erase, I scratch things out, I’m full of rage, I swear…I try to give each character’s expression and their movement as much intensity as I can “.

Out of “all these lines that blend, cross, run over and under each other” he refined and re-refined until he chose “the one that looks at the same time the smoothest and the most expressive.” Above the samples, as a wall text, hangs another quote: You can’t know the extent to which all this is long and difficult, it’s truly a manual labour!…It’s as painstaking as a watchmaker’s job. A watchmaker or a Benedictine monk. Or a Benedictine watchmaker.

The resulting line is astonishing in its fluid ebullience and its roots are inspiring. For Hergé was an autodidact with no formal training at all. As a youth who loved images, he explored, imitated and then discarded voraciously. Early on, the artist soaked up everything that attracted him – from children’s illustrators like Benjamin Rabier, Christophe and Oncle Hansi (Georges Colomb and Jean Jacques Waltz) right up to Picasso.

Employed towards the end of his teens by the Catholic paper Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), Hergé also fell in love with task after task: photo-engraving, lettering, photo-montage and page composition. The list of contemporaries whose styles intrigued him was just as varied. Some of them were poster artists, like Léo Marfurt, Cassandre (Adolphe Jean Marie Mouron) and Jean Carlu. But René Vincent –  who had the same Art Deco smoothness – worked in the world of fashion.

Remi already signed himself “Hergé”. From 17, he used this, the French pronunciation of his reversed initials (G.R.). But the man who helped him consolidate the identity was an outspoken, right-wing Catholic priest.

The Abbott Norbert Wallez stood 6’2″ tall and weighed 242 pounds. An imposing figure, he was the head of Le Vingtième Siècle’s publisher. Energetic, opinionated and a fervent fan of Benito Mussolini, the enterprising clergymen had actually managed to meet Il Duce. (He was the proud possessor of an autographed portrait). Hergé, who was a quarter-of-a-century younger, found himself impressed by the worldliness of the voluble priest. Asked by the Church to reinvigorate Le Vingtième, Abbott Wallez was bursting with schemes. One of these was a youth supplement, Le Petit Vingtième. In 1928, he asked his young employee to edit it.

No sooner was the magazine established than Wallez had yet another idea. Remi had drawn a boy and his dog for the Catholic Le Sifflet (The Whistle). Could he not turn them into a series for Le Petit Vingtième? The priest even supplied an idea for their début – a trip to Soviet Russia that would show the horrors of communism.

Soon, he had a keen Remi working twelve-hours a day. In addition to the new Tintin strip, Hergé had responsibility for his supplement’s covers, layout, typography and illustrations. Yet even on the days he needed to skip lunch, the artist made sure he popped in to see the priest. Wallez, he later said, made everything about their daily discussions interesting. “He was the first person who showed me what intellectual life could be”. In 1932, Hergé married his secretary.

Right up until his death the priest would remain a father figure. Wallez served time in prison for collaboration but, to Hergé, he was always a trusted counsellor. Hergé remained grateful for his first vote of confidence. But, says the artist’s biographer Pierre Assouline, he also saw in Wallez, “a spiritual father. Not spiritual in religious terms, but in the deepest sense.”

During the 1930s, as well as postcards and stationary, Hergé frequently designed advertising. From 1931, he signed all such efforts “Hergé Studios”. Then, in August 1933, after a contretemps with the city’s Public Works, Wallez was forced to resign his position. Without his mentor, Hergé became doubtful about Tintin’s future. Instead, he looked to advertising and took action to make Hergé Studios legal. Works from its brief existence – which officially lasted less a year – are lavishly displayed.

But Hergé’s promos for toys and travel prove revealing. Their lines are controlled and clean, their compositions neat and minimal. But, stripped of their period context, they lack genuine punch and brio. Rather like Hergé’s paintings, they are casualties of a missing ingredient: narrative.

One key to this may lie in Hergé’s childhood, wherein art played a slightly unusual role. Dutiful at school yet difficult at home, he was a rambunctious child who often needed “calming down”. His parents learned to accomplish this by giving him tools to draw. (If somehow that failed to work, their next choice was a spanking). In the end, the family communicated largely through drawing.

As an adult, Hergé would say he looked back on childhood “with sadness, morosity and, sometimes, even disgust”. The Remi home lacked colour; it had no music, few books and little overt affection. There was also a secret buried at the family’s heart: Remi’s father and his uncle – twins – were illegitimate. Neither had any real idea about their paternity. Young Georges learned about this mystery only as an adult. As a child, he was simply warned never to ask about or speak of his grandfather.

Remi’s mother was always fragile. Suffering blackouts and depressions, she was frequently hospitalised. Since his business called for travel, Remi Senior charged the young Georges with watching over her. Years later, when she had died in psychiatric care, Hergé was surprised to feel he had never known her. He was 39 at the time and her death triggered the first of several breakdowns.

All Belgian artists of Hergé’s generation endured not one but a pair of world wars. They had been born into an ultraconservative, mainly Catholic country – a colonial power that enjoyed a certain prestige. But in 1914, when Hergé was seven, that world was commandeered by the German Army. Their presence lasted four years, a cold, frightening, hungry period. Even when the occupation ended, shortages continued.

If none of this offered a recipe for happiness, neither did it make Hergé into a rebel. As visitors discover in the expo’s many photos, he always had the appearance of a model character. Every snap shows him as rigid, reserved and smartly dressed. But even a glance at his working pages will disclose another story. Hergé’s drawings are dark with battling versions of even the smallest gesture. Their action spills over boundaries, their faces melt from one emotion into its opposite and the frames are filled as much with hesitations as with decisions.

The art reveals what the exhibition doesn’t state: this was a Boy Scout who slept around on his (first) wife, a writer of adventures with no time to spare for travel, a self-promoter who – even under the Nazis – kept his eye on the main chance. All this and more is present in the work, which suggests the price Hergé paid for all that discipline.

There have been many theories about Tintin’s “adolescence”: an existential form of youth untroubled by sex or family. In the view of Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters, the artist added “very adult qualities to his own vision of childhood”. For the psychologist Serge Tisseron, author of Tintin chez le psychanalyste (loosely, “Tintin on the couch”), “His books are the history of a child who tells you how he sees all the adults around him and who reconstructs how they speak… Even his vistas are seen from the height of a child.”

The artist himself defined Tintin’s status more cryptically. He liked to paraphrase Jules Renard and saying, “Not everybody can have the luck to be an orphan!”.

Two things brightened Hergé’s own childhood: the cinema and the Boy Scouts. Taken from his earliest years to see silent films, he loved losing himself in their mute, alternate world. As an artist, he cited the significance of Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton. But Hergé was also influenced by early Westerns and by the likes of criminal mastermind Fantomas. The silent screen helped Hergé learn how to advance a narrative and he always remembered its protocols and etiquette.

If his family were fallible, the boy scouts brought him “camaraderie, nature and adventure”. For Hergé, scouting always remained “the great memory of my childhood.” It gave the artist precepts he felt he should always value, especially those which had to do with friendship and loyalty. After the Occupation, they were his rationale for supporting collaborationist friends.

Was Hergé – as so many critics insist – a Fascist and a racist? Was he anti-Semitic? At Hergé, all such questions go unaddressed. Fourth in the show’s ten rooms is one entitled “Success and Torment” which concerns the artist’s wartime work at a pro-Nazi paper. For Hergé’s career, this choice was critical. During the Occupation, with its controls, restrictions and paper shortages, it kept him visible and enabled his books to appear. Plus (as the artist joked to a friend) right after he joined, the paper’s circulation doubled.

But with the Liberation, things changed radically. Arrested four times and subsequently investigated, Hergé was ruled an “incivique” – a proscribed non-citizen. He was barred from ever again practicing his profession.

It was the lowest point of the artist’s life. Yet, unexpectedly, Tintin came to his rescue. The character, as Pierre Assouline has observed, saved Hergé twice. In the first instance, Tintin kept him out of prison. Many of the artist’s friends and colleagues received serious sentences, others had to flee and a few – like the editor Paul Herten – were put to death. Yet, says Assouline, “You simply couldn’t put Tintin in prison. Anyone who did that would have been covered in ridicule.”

But Hergé’s humiliation was total and public. One resistant weekly, La Patrie or The Homeland, even ran a parody of his strip called “The Adventures of Tintin in the Land of the Nazis”. This pictured his characters rejoicing at their freedom, with Tintin’s faithful dog boasting that Hergé never made him into a German shepherd.

Privately, the artist said death would have been preferable.

The second time, what saved him was Tintin’s market value. One of the character’s lifelong fans was a former resistant named Raymond Leblanc. With a spotless war record, Leblanc found success launching movie and romance magazines. He wanted to enter the youth market, for which he had conceived a weekly called ‘Tintin’. Leblanc searched out Remi and outlined his project. The artist, at an all-time low, was extremely doubtful. But a determined Leblanc soon succeeded in clearing his name. When they launched the magazine in 1946, a grateful Hergé even let him license Tintin products.

The rest of the Tintin saga is history – but its author never recovered. Hergé underwent years of recurrent depression and breakdowns. There was also a certain freedom, a singular spontaneity, that his art could never recapture.

The essence and heart of Hergé’s oeuvre, his most extraordinary achievements, were put in place during the ’30s and ’40s. In the exhibition’s rooms, “A Family on Paper” and “A Myth is Born”, the great treasures are his works from those decades. As the great bédéiste Jacques Tardi maintained, “Nothing has ever been drawn more beautifully than the first black-and-white Tintin books. The soft sensuality of the lines continues to move me.”

Hergé’s best trait is indeed peerless. As his colleague Edgar P. Jacobs observed to Benoît Peeters, ” What always struck me about Hergé’s drawing was the extraordinary vibrancy of his line… a good part of his genius resided in those lines that never stopped moving, whether he was drawing a plan, a piece of furniture or the fold of a garment.”

Yet the universe they delineate is, in many ways, not one for children. Recently Benoît Peeters, speaking on French radio, drew attention to the work’s darker side. “Hergé’s world is also a universe filled with terror… the alcoholism of Captain Haddock, the kind of dreams Tintin can have, the Yeti, the mummy, the suicides, the opium den…” Children can sense, he added, that Hergé never takes them for babies. “As a child, I was terrified by Tintin! I would often skip over pages to avoid a shock.”

Underneath that beautiful line and its pursuit of clarity, the fears one cannot help but sense were Hergé’s deepest. His drawings are explosive; they absolutely erupt with conflict. It’s an intensity best summed up by Remi’s friend Marcel Stahl, who knew him from the 1930s up until the end of his life. “Georges had a kind of anxiety… He didn’t have the knack for happiness. He never knew how to experience life like a normal person. There was always some problem, a well of dissatisfaction that affected everything in his life. And fame changed none of this.”

The Grand Palais blockbuster finishes up with a giant room, a “salon of the selfie”. It’s a space created especially for guests, a backdrop against which they can immortalize the visit. The room is covered by an enormous mural which, in 1973, appeared on the New Year’s card of Studios Hergé. Here are the boy reporter and Milou, Haddock, Thompson and Thomson, Castafiore and Calculus, with all the villains they fought and many of their compatriots. Some hold placards or banners emblazoned with positive sentiments. “Peace”, they read, and “Merry Christmas”, “Control Violence”, “Protect the Environment”. It’s a fixed pantheon, with all the reference points of an exemplary childhood.

Yet Tintin, just like Hergé, was never wholly exemplary and never really a child. Perhaps that’s why, despite the crowds, the room remains empty.

Hergé runs through 15 January at the Grand Palais in Paris; for Tintin fans, the catalogue is a treat

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Giggles http://www.tcj.com/giggles/ http://www.tcj.com/giggles/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97960 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Sara Lautman continues her week’s tenure creating our Cartoonist’s Diary.

And yesterday, Joe McCulloch delivered his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics! Spotlight picks this time include new books by Eleanor Davis and Juan Gimenez.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Global Journalist talks to the political cartoonist Ako Eyong, who was forced to flee his native Cameroon after drawing a cartoon unpopular with the authorities.

I got out of my own country using a false passport… Now of course, when I got to America, I had to regularize my situation, I explained to the U.S. government how I got out of Cameroon using a false passport and how I was looking for political exile.

I went through a lot of interviews, and eventually after a year, I got a work permit and social security number.

Brian Heater’s RiYL podcast features Al Jaffee.

The Process Party podcast talks to our own Joe McCulloch about, uh, hentai.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For The Smart Set, Chris Mautner writes about Julia Gfrörer’s Laid Waste.

The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them.

Rob Clough writes about Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts.

This book is a work of meta-journalism, as she followed members of the Seattle Globalist to Turkey, Kurdish Iraq and Syria and documented their process. Throughout the book, there are two separate dynamics: the dynamic between the Globalist crew and the people they interview and use as contacts, and the dynamic between Sarah Stuteville of the Globalist and her friend Dan, an ex-marine who saw time in Iraq who happened to be one of her oldest friends. Glidden stood as an outsider in both sets of dynamics, in part because she didn’t want to interfere with the work the Globalist journalists were attempting to accomplish. While Glidden was obviously a character in this book, she very pointedly noted that this wasn’t a memoir. She got to shape it the way she wanted and wasn’t obligated to share her feelings about anything in particular. As such, we never hear Glidden’s feelings about being an American in the countries they traveled to, nor how she felt as a Jewish person in those countries. Indeed, her ethnic background wasn’t brought up a single time in the book. Glidden the person in this book is a very intelligent and perceptive cipher, and that’s as it should be.

—Misc. A young Ed Piskor tries out for Extreme Studios.

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Sara Lautman: Day Three http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-three-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-three-2/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97946 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/11/17 – I Never Sleep) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11117-i-never-sleep/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-11117-i-never-sleep/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97962 Continue reading ]]>

Above we see “Me & My Brother – One Summer”, a new comic by Keigo Shinzō, who came to semi-prominence among English-dominant manga deep-divers a few years ago when a roundtable interview surfaced in which he played the role of “wait, who?” to Taiyō Matsumoto and Inio Asano; his mere proximity to such hugely popular artists stoked some interest, which was only amplified in my case after I got hold of a special all-Gojira edition of the mainline seinen magazine Big Comic Original in the runup to the 2014 Gareth Edwards film. The standout contribution (NSFW!) to that anthology was Shinzō’s, depicting an amorous young couple banging away with explicit enthusiasm while the town gets flattened around them – definitely the hottest Godzilla has been since his nuclear-grade tension with Dum Dum Dugan.

Anyway, it seems Shinzō (credited as “Keigo Sinzo”, which conflicts with some other official versions of his name) has now made his English debut, but not in anything published in the west. USCA English Edition Vol. 1 was debuted by DIORAMABOOKS last October at the Tokyo International Comic Festival; it’s a variation (via translators Hana Ikeda & Stuart Walter Kuentzel) on the publisher’s Japanese-language USCA, a rather new indie manga anthology comprised of self-contained short stories. You can buy a copy stateside here; a friend very generously mailed me the one I’m using now. Keep an eye out – S[h]inzō’s piece is a sweet little vignette about hazy angst and drunken abandon on a long summer’s day, but the 14 other contributors range from indie musicians to webcomics people to moonlighting mainline magazine pros to one guy who claims to draw everything on the commute to and from his day job. I’ll write more about this in the future… manga is a big scene, but Japanese small-press comics remain associated primarily with fanfiction; that’s certainly not everything out there.

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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!

Libby’s Dad: A very slim week from my perspective, but that affords you certain opportunities. For instance, you could catch up with possibly the most acclaimed short-form comic book of 2016 not to have yet seen release via Diamond-serviced shops. I refer to this 40-page latest from Eleanor Davis, she of five separate appearances on this site’s Best of compendium last week, depicting a world of young girls adjacent to the adult realm of domestic strife, something both curiosity-stoking and terrifying at once. A 7″ x 8.5″ Retrofit/Big Planet release in full color; $8.00.

The Fourth Power: The Argentine-born artist Juan Giménez is probably best known as a collaborator of Alejandro Jodorowsky on the generation-spanning SF action serial The Metabarons, but he’s done a good deal of solo genre work as well, most extensively on this 1989-2008 space war project (which, truth be told, was a 1989 one-off expanded to a series circa ’04). Actually one of the earliest titles selected for translation by the nascent Humanoids waaay back in 2000 — its sexed-up and explosion-prone blend of ESPer licks and broad media-political satire fits tidily with Heavy Metal-fed expectations for BD — but never collected in its entirety until now. I recall Giménez coming off a bit like Masamune Shirow with his convoluted whirl of technical detail amid restless plotting, though his art remains disarmingly fleet and cartoon-y under its lacquer of paint. A 256-page, 9.4″ x 12.6″ hardcover; $39.95.

PLUS!

Octavia Butler’s Kindred: The late Butler is highly respected as one of the literarily prominent SF/fantasy prose authors of the second half of the 20th century; a MacArthur Fellow, her works frequently traveled beyond simple genre categorization, as was the case with her 1979 novel Kindred, a time-travel scenario concerning the lasting pain of the U.S.’s slave-holding past. This 240-page hardcover comics adaptation comes from writer Damian Duffy and artist John Jennings, notably paired before in the assembly of a 2010 anthology, Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture. Your bookstore-focused release of the week, from Abrams; $24.95.

Beowulf: You may recall Spanish artist David Rubín from a pair of spinoff books related to Paul Pope’s Battling Boy project a few years back. Around the same time (2013), Astiberri Ediciones released this collaboration with writer Santiago García, a very lush and striking rendition of the epic poem. An English edition was announced two and a half years ago without publisher placement, so know that Image is formally handling this 200-page, 8.7″ x 12.3″ hardcover. By omission and implication I am under the impression that García himself translates, though I can’t seem to find specific confirmation. Samples; $29.99.

(Re) Assignment #1 (of 3): This new comic book series is also a supplemental Eurocomics… highlight(?), reuniting writer Alexis “Mats” Nolent and artist Jean-François “Jef” Martinez, who’ve been seen in English quite a few times now. This is the duo’s second album made from a scenario by the filmmaker Walter Hill, a 2016 crime thriller about a contract killer subjected to forced gender reassignment – a much-derided movie of the same title was also released last year, starring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver. I’m mentioning it here largely out of fascination that there even *is* an official comics adaptation of this film. Titan has broken the French original up for its translation; $5.99.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 11: Freezing dead-of-January manga pick – this warm and lovely cooking comic from Fumi Yoshinaga, following the lives and meals of a gay couple. Vertical is now more-or-less up to date with the Japanese ongoing; a 12th volume was released at home back in October, but Yoshinaga only releases between one and two volumes per year (it’s an irregular feature in a weekly magazine) so I’d expect some distance between this and the next one; $12.95.

The Million Year Picnic and Other Stories: Finally, from among the week’s various reprint compilations, I give you the latest in Fantagraphics‘ hardcover line of uncolored, artist-focused EC reprints – 216 pages dedicated to the great Will Elder and his extraordinary versatility. Indeed, the 1953 title story was created in collaboration with John Severin, adapting Ray Bradbury, though be aware that the heart of this tome is Elder’s complete works for Panic, editor Al Feldstein’s variation on Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad. A 7.25″ x 10.25″ release, with various text supplements; $29.99.

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Sara Lautman: Day Two http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-two-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-two-2/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97941 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Sara Lautman: Day One http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-one-2/ http://www.tcj.com/sara-lautman-day-one-2/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97927 Continue reading ]]>

Sara Lautman‘s drawings have been published by The New Yorker, Tablet, The Pitchfork Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent collection, The Ultimate Laugh, is available from Tinto Press and through Birdcage Bottom Books. Her sketchbooks are on Instagram and her tweets are on Twitter.

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Car-Copter http://www.tcj.com/car-copter/ http://www.tcj.com/car-copter/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97925 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Sara Lautman returns with another week’s tenure creating our Cartoonist’s Diary. In Day 1, she confronts a dilemma at a karaoke bar.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The well-known historian (Men of Tomorrow) and comics writer Gerard Jones has been arrested on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography.

Gerard Jones, 59, was arrested after a police investigation and ensuing search warrant at his residence in the 600 block of Long Bridge Street in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood turned up a host of electronic devices storing more than 600 images and videos depicting child pornography, police said.

[…]

He was arraigned Thursday and entered a not guilty plea on charges of possession of child pornography and distributing child pornography, a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said.

—Reviews & Commentary. For Le Monde Diplomatique, Jonathan Guyer writes about the connections between Arab comics and fine art.

Arab comics began in Cairo in the 1880s with karikatur (political cartoons) and with Yaacub Sanua, whose periodical Abu Naddara (The Man with the Glasses) and later spin-offs lambasted Egypt’s khedive, Ismail Pasha, in drawings and texts. Sanua’s anti-establishment, anti-imperial view led to his publications being banned (1). At the same time, Ottoman publications, influenced by French and British caricatures, took off in Istanbul and travelled across the Ottoman empire, aiming at those in power. Sanua’s caricatures and Ottoman works, among them Hayal (daydream) and Istikbal (the future), both founded in 1875, were strikingly similar to contemporaneous drawings in Europe such as those by James Gillray and André Gill (2).

We just passed the second anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the thinkpieces still show no signs of ending, though long ago we stopped linking to very many of them. With that anniversary in mind, here are two more intelligent essays, taking opposite sides on whether Charlie‘s artists use of satire is effective and whether it should be defended or condemned.

First, Magnus McGrogan makes a harsh political critique of the weekly for Jacobin:

The Paris massacre was a trigger for the intensification of French bombing of ISIS positions in Syria. At home it involved the imposition and extension of a state of emergency, with a nationwide crackdown on “radicalized” elements in the Muslim community and beyond. One might expect critical left journalism to focus on the social causes of Islamist radicalization in France, or to situate the phenomenon of jihadism relative to the West’s geostrategic goals in the Middle East. Instead, Charlie tends to react against extremism within the discursive framework of the “war on terror” in an echo of Val’s earlier polemics against “Islamic totalitarianism.”

Islamophobia has continued unabated in France. The summer of 2016 witnessed yet another assault on female Muslim dress codes, this time a burkini ban imposed by thirty Mediterranean municipalities, and endorsed by Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls. Shocking images of armed police ordering a Muslim woman to strip on a public beach did not appear to register with Charlie, whose front page response appeared to add insult to injury: Muslims were jokingly urged to “loosen up” and take to the beaches naked.

Then for the Los Angeles Review of Books, the initially Charlie-skeptical Jacob Hamburger explains why he changed his mind:

So when I was offered the chance to do some translation work for Charlie Hebdo last year, I had my reservations. But I was curious, and as a graduate student, happy to have another gig. As I learned more about Charlie Hebdo’s history and came into contact with their surviving staff, I discovered how far off the mark my reservations had been. France’s historical and legal traditions of free speech create an important niche for satirists that Charlie Hebdo has long filled. Despite the rebellious attitude of a paper that has called itself a journal irresponsible, its staff has been constantly attuned to the responsibilities that their role demands. Its confrontations with Islam, as well as with Catholicism and the Front National, were an attempt to fulfill these responsibilities. And in a time when the ideal of free speech is in danger of losing its meaning, Charlie Hebdo sets an increasingly rare example of a commitment to defining and defending its bounds.

The paper is an example of what an authentic commitment to free speech looks like in practice. Recognizing this can help us distinguish responsible and intelligent satire from its many sorry imitations today — the internet trolls and the self-proclaimed “provocateurs” like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos who glorify nastiness for its own sake. Of course, my discomfort with some of what I had seen them print has not gone away. As with all good satire, it isn’t supposed to. Understanding Charlie Hebdo in context does not mean always liking it, but for those struggling to affirm their commitment to free speech in today’s climate, the paper’s example is worth exploring and, yes, celebrating.

Finally, Abhay Khosla is not impressed by DC’s response to last year’s Orlando Pulse massacre.

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Lox and Eggs http://www.tcj.com/lox-and-eggs/ http://www.tcj.com/lox-and-eggs/#respond Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97915 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, R.C. Harvey writes about the life and work of Jerry Dumas, who passed away at the end of last year. 

Jerry Dumas was a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Specifically, he was a life-long associate of Mort Walker’s, a member since 1956 of “King Features East,” as the Walker “studio” was sometimes called when Walker and his partners produced several comic strips simultaneously. Dumas was a part of the team that met weekly to propound jokes for both Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois—and other strips as Walker came up with them—and he also drew some of the product from time to time. Dumas died November 12 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, from neuroendocrine cancer. He was 86.

Since April 18, 1977, Dumas had been producing a comic strip of his own, Sam and Silo, a reincarnation of one of the medium’s most eccentric creations, Sam’s Strip, in which the title character was the proprietor of his own comic strip that he ran like a business. Sam frequently encountered characters from other strips, tried to hire some of them, stored unemployed speech balloons in a closet against the day they might come in handy, palled around with John Tenniel characters from Alice in Wonderland, kept arrow-pierced hearts and shining light bulbs in a handy prop room with a supply of labels (“desk,” “table,” “phone”), and watched out constantly for disappearing border lines and characters with erasers.

Dumas’ handiwork extended far beyond the funny pages: he was a gifted writer, an insightful poet, raconteur, painter, athlete and essayist. He was a storyteller with words alone as well as with words and pictures combined. In quiet unassuming prose, he recorded his apt observations of the follies and frailties of human nature in articles for The Atlantic Monthly, The Smithsonian and the Washington Post. He wrote a weekly column for Greenwich Times, the last of which appeared a few days before he died, titled “Ageless Tips That You’ve Reached a Certain Age.”

More and around:

Robyn Chapman’s annual micro-press survey is now online.

R. Orion Martin writes about Ronald Wimberly’s work for Hyperallergic.

Hey, wanna see a good comics-adjacent art show in NYC? Well, I co-organized one on Elizabeth Murray’s drawings. Here’s the NY Times on it.

 

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Jerry Dumas, Cartoonist and Poet http://www.tcj.com/jerry-dumas-cartoonist-and-poet/ http://www.tcj.com/jerry-dumas-cartoonist-and-poet/#respond Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97742 Continue reading ]]> Jerry Dumas was a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Specifically, he was a life-long associate of Mort Walker’s, a member since 1956 of “King Features East,” as the Walker “studio” was sometimes called when Walker and his partners produced several comic strips simultaneously. Dumas was a part of the team that met weekly to propound jokes for both Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois—and other strips as Walker came up with them—and he also drew some of the product from time to time. Dumas died November 12 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, from neuroendocrine cancer. He was 86.

Since April 18, 1977, Dumas had been producing a comic strip of his own, Sam and Silo, a reincarnation of one of the medium’s most eccentric creations, Sam’s Strip, in which the title character was the proprietor of his own comic strip that he ran like a business. Sam frequently encountered characters from other strips, tried to hire some of them, stored unemployed speech balloons in a closet against the day they might come in handy, palled around with John Tenniel characters from Alice in Wonderland, kept arrow-pierced hearts and shining light bulbs in a handy prop room with a supply of labels (“desk,” “table,” “phone”), and watched out constantly for disappearing border lines and characters with erasers.

Dumas’ handiwork extended far beyond the funny pages: he was a gifted writer, an insightful poet, raconteur, painter, athlete and essayist. He was a storyteller with words alone as well as with words and pictures combined. In quiet unassuming prose, he recorded his apt observations of the follies and frailties of human nature in articles for The Atlantic Monthly, The Smithsonian and the Washington Post. He wrote a weekly column for Greenwich Times, the last of which appeared a few days before he died, titled “Ageless Tips That You’ve Reached a Certain Age.”

“Cartooning is a great American art form and Jerry was one of the people who shaped it,” said Greenwich Times Managing Editor Thomas Mellana, “But people didn’t love and respect Jerry because of his accomplishments. They loved and admired him because he was such a good man, and such a great guy. He was someone who took genuine interest in others. A phone call to the newsroom from Jerry was never just about the business at hand. It was a conversation. And your day was made better by it. Every single time. We at Greenwich Times were extremely fortunate to be able to call him one of our own. We will miss him greatly.”

“Many people claimed to be, or are honored as, ‘Renaissance Men,’ but Jerry simply was,” said comics historian Rick Marschall, quoted by Robert Marchant in his Greenwich Times obit. “And the artwork he did on certain of his own strips—  especially his Sam and Silo Sundays— were masterpieces, utter masterpieces, of detail, ‘feathering,’ visual substance and plain inky love.”

Here are samples of Dumas’ Sam and Silo Sundays. I’ve admired Dumas’ work on his strip for a long time: sometimes he produces visual symphonies of texture and shading just for the sheer fun of it—that is, neither the gag nor the pictures conveying it require the embellishment he so happily lavishes, sometimes, on the strip. He was drawing for the sheer sake of making a drawing.  samsilo1 samsilo3 samsilo2

Marchant quotes Bill Janocha, a Walker assistant who worked with Dumas on Beetle Bailey since 1987. Said Janocha: “Jerry was a great story and joke teller, with a seemingly unflagging memory for details and color in his tales…. He spared nothing in his descriptions of past interactions, personalities and commentary on the beauty he saw in his surroundings and the quirks in humanity.”

Gerald John Dumas was born on June 6, 1930, in Detroit to Frieda Holm, a nurse, and Floyd Dumas, a firefighter and aspiring boxer. Jerry started drawing cartoons when he was only nine years old and continued through high school, when he started selling them.

“I used to get on the bus and go into downtown Detroit and sell cartoons to Teen magazine for $2,” he said during an interview in the National Cartoonist Society newsletter. “I really thought I had it made. I was aiming for The New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post.”

He finally realized his dream, but not until he was twenty-six when he was published in the Post; getting into The New Yorker took a little longer—until he was twenty-nine.

Dumas served in the U.S. Air Force and later enrolled at Arizona State University; he graduated with a degree in English in 1955. Wrote Marchant: “A painting teacher, recognizing his ability, suggested he move to New York City and study with the Abstract Expressionist school then in its ascendancy. But Dumas, who had a childhood fascination with comics and had already drawn a paycheck for his early cartoon work in Phoenix, chose the path of an ink-stained gag writer over the fine arts.”

He moved to Greenwich, Connecticut in 1956. On June 21, 1958, he married the former Gail Gaskin. She survives and lives in Greenwich.

“It was in June of 1956,” said Marchant, “that Dumas rolled down the Greenwich driveway of Mort Walker’s studio with an introduction from a friend.” Walker liked what he saw in Dumas’ portfolio. “How soon can you start?” asked Walker, to which Dumas replied, “Right now,” according to an account provided to Marchant by Dumas’ son, Timothy Dumas.  “Dumas and Walker embarked on a fruitful collaboration on the funny pages.” “We had a lot of fun together,” Walker recalled, “He was very good at nostalgia, the good old days. So pleasant to be with. I’m really going to miss him.”

Dumas was “the creative force behind Sam’s Strip,” said Marchant. “An early post-modern take on popular culture, the strip’s central character, Sam, runs his strip like a television show and brings on guest cartoon characters from other strips— Krazy Kat, Dagwood, and Charlie Brown. Dumas meticulously drew every character in their original style without assistance.”

Self-referential and high-concept, “the comic about comics,” as it came to be known, was a big hit among cartoonists and cartooning afficionados like me, who could appreciate the insider-comedy that laced it through and through. Starting October 16, 1961, it proved too far ahead of its time and ended June 1, 1963 after only 20 months. But it was an unadulterated joy while it lasted.

The work was later collected and republished by Fantagraphics.  Here are a few samples of this famously in-joke epic.  sam1 sam2

In the book collection, Dumas wrote about how the strip came about:

“All through the late 1950s, Mort and I worked together three or four days a week, however long it took, doing the artwork for the daily and Sunday Beetle Bailey strips. At that time and on into the 1960s, we were the only writers for both strips. …

“We both had a fairly thorough knowledge of comic strip history, so just for fun, just for each other, we began doing gags about comic strip characters. … The idea soon came up: what about having a guy who ran his own comic strip as a business? … But what should this character look like?

“One day Mort was doodling around and I was looking over his shoulder. He drew a face that looked roughly like the short character, Mac, in Tillie the Toiler. I said that he didn’t look different enough, didn’t look unique. We both stared at the paper for a minute or two. I said, ‘Draw a line across the middle of his face. Let’s see what that looks like.’

“Mort penciled a line from Sam’s ear to his nose, cutting off the whole lower half of his face [which was suddenly hidden behind Sam’s shirt collar]. Now he looked different and that’s the way, for better or worse, he stayed. …  sam3

“Mort and I split the gag writing, and I did all the drawing, except for the lettering, which Mort did. …

“When Sam’s Strip started, there were no copy machines, or no good ones anyway. All the Sam’s Strips were drawn from scratch, laboriously penciled and inked, and research took a great deal of time. I took pride in copying an artist’s work exactly—even Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland drawings.”

“The intriguing concept,” said Marchant, “ — and precise execution — was typical of Dumas’ work. Dumas collaborated on other enterprises, too—with Mort Drucker on Benchley and with Mel Crawford on Rabbits Rafferty and McCall of the Wild.

“Wonderfully gifted, he could make a line that was beautiful and crisp. And he was a master craftsman and a good ‘ghost,’ someone who is capable of taking on a number of different styles, and do it with aplomb. And among his peers, he was intensely respected,” said Brendan Burford, general manager of syndication for Hearst’s King Features Syndicate, quoted by Marchant.

“In person, he was quick witted and funny and incredibly well-read—he seemed to know everything. An amazing athlete, too. He was one of those men you ask— how did he even fit this much into his life? Really versatile as a human being,” Burford finished.

“In the end, humorists write about humanity, as they see it,” Dumas wrote in an essay published in the Washington Post in 1993. “If a cartoonist is to write about human nature, he must people his comic strip with every facet of human nature he can think of: the sensitive and the insensitive, the lazy and the energetic, the smart and the stupid, those in authority and those who have none.”

“A serious athlete, Dumas earned a New England and Connecticut handball championship in the doubles category,” Marchant said. “He also cultivated four vegetable gardens he maintained at his backcountry residence, one for four different kinds of onions, another for garlic and carrots, a third for spinach and arugula and a fourth for a wide variety of tomatoes. He gave away much of the produce to friends.

“Beside toiling in the earth,” Marchant concluded, “— Dumas was often pondering the larger questions in life, and the pleasures it offered — even a small laugh at a well-executed gag.” And he quotes Dumas quoting Nabokov: “Nabokov said, ‘Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ That’s the big picture. But the small picture is the one we gaze at most, and it is a picture of lovely and infinite variety.”

 I met Jerry several years ago when I was visiting Mort Walker to interview him for The Comics Journal. Walker took me to lunch with his sons and a couple friends, including Jerry. A week or so after our lunch conversation, Dumas wrote me (in italics, forthwith):

Even Mort and I can’t believe how long we’ve been together. Just think, I’ve been writing Beetle gags for all but the first five-and-a-half years of its existence. We started working and playing ping pong together when he was 33, and now he’s 85. We had ferocious games in the basement after lunch each day—he was good—and I would spray sweat all over my side of the table and some of his, and I would go through several shirts and t-shirts. Mort would joke that I was the only cartoonist he knew who went to work each day carrying several changes of clothing.

This was true, but one of his inaccurate memories is when he claims that I never took up golf because the first time I played, in a big cartoonist gathering, I got the booby prize for the worst round of the day, and I was so angry I swore never to play again. The real reason, of course, was because I was already a champion four-wall handball player and would soon be Connecticut state champ (twice) and New England champ (once), and it was the game I loved, and there wasn’t time to do everything. A handball match takes about two hours, and I would lose up to six pounds, while golf took six hours and you gained two pounds.

Did Mort tell you this one?  Early on, I wasn’t making that much money, but I had managed to invest, all by myself, astutely in the stock market, and had built it up to where my holdings were worth a considerable sum. All blue chip stocks. Then a so-called stockbroker friend convinced me to put the whole thing into one stock that was going to go through the roof. It turned out that the chairman and president [of that company] were crooks, and the stock fell through the basement. One day I complained to Mort that I didn’t know how it could have been fraudulent because, after all, the company’s accountants were considered the best in the country—Ernst & Ernst. Without looking up from his drawing, Mort said, “Well, Ernst is okay, but Ernst is a crook.”

The humor in that line has to do with the exact wording. I’ve heard other people try to tell the story by saying, “… but the other Ernst is a crook.” And that, of course, screws it up.

The column I write is published every Thursday in our daily paper, Greenwich Times. Nobody in town talks to me anymore about Beetle or Sam and Silo, but they talk all time about the column, strangely. I can write about anything I want, and it can be humorous, poignant, topical, historical—anything. A few times I’ve been able to make readers laugh and cry during the same 500-700 words, which is satisfying. I just hope they weren’t crying at the funny bits and laugh at the tearful parts.

If I had to choose, I’d pick writing over drawing. I’ve been happiest seeing my stuff published in The Atlantic, The New Yorker and especially Smithsonian (they bought a great many pieces). I had appeared in Smithsonian’s pages for several years before I realized their circulation (then over 2,000,000) was a great deal more than the other two esteemed publications.

I do all my reading in bed between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., for some unknown reason. It doesn’t bother my wife: if I’m quietly turning pages, it means I’m not loudly snoring.

One of Dumas’s pieces for for The Atlantic Monthly (June 1997) was entitled “Visitations: The Graveyards of a Lifetime.” To quote it (as I’m about to do) in an obituary about the writer seems a little grotesque perhaps—the coincidence of the occasion and the topic doesn’t quite justify its inclusion—but Jerry loved cemeteries, so he’d allow it. Besides, it’s another example of Dumas’ dexterity with words and gentle humor, so here it is (in italics)—:

I am drawn to cemeteries. I’ve enjoyed them since childhood. I have no wish to be placed in one anytime soon, of course, but I am lured by their green serenity, riveted by all those shimmering echoes. … I like the look of the cemetery, with its calm, endless rolling hills, all the gravestones, the weeping willows, and the ponds, so different from the scraggly, screeching, monotonous streets that encircle it. ...

With his wife while on their honeymoon, traveling from Phoenix, where they married, to Dumas’ apartment in Connecticut, he stopped en route to visit the grave of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), and Jerry noticed the adjacent grave of Clemens’ daughter, Susy.

            I bent down a little [he wrote] and read aloud the inscription beneath her name—:

            Warm summer sun shine kindly here,

            Warm Southern wind blow gently here,

            Green sod above lie light, lie light—

            Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

Tears came to my eyes; I turned away so my wife couldn’t see, and found myself face-to-face with two elderly women. One of them said to me, with some anxiety, “Are you all right?”

            “I’m fine,” I said. “I’m on my honeymoon.”

On another occasion, he went to the funeral of the highly regarded and widely loved pastor of a local church, Nate Adams. Dumas saw the man in his coffin, and then he decided to go to the interment. Dumas arrived late—

            Most people were just leaving [he wrote]. I parked and went over to the grave site and started talking to a man in a blue serge suit. We looked down at the green fake-grass fabric that covered the grave. Others drifted over to listen to us. We spoke about what a good, kind person [the deceased] was, and how he would be missed.

            Finally, I said: “What’s that bulge there under the covering?”

            My companion said, “Why, that’s the urn with the ashes.”

            I said, “I just saw Nate Adams. He wasn’t cremated.”

            The blue serge suit said, “Nate who? This is Bill Gilman, from Westport.”

            I got in my car and drove away. They all watched me go.

            That keeps happening, but it’s all right. Someday it’ll stop.

Dumas wrote a column one time about jokes that didn’t go over; here’s one—:

            I told this one to my wife:

            A man asks a passerby, “Do you speak Yiddish?”

            The man shakes his head.

He asks a second man but gets no answer. He stops a third man and says, “Do you speak Yiddish?”

            The man says, “Yes, I do.”

            “Good. Could you please tell me the time?”

            My wife said: “Have you reset the upstairs clock since the last time the electricity was off?”

(She would never quite understand Jerry’s fascination with cemeteries either.)

Dumas had a keen sense of cartoon comedy. And every once in a while, he’d write me about something he’d particularly enjoyed. (I don’t mean to suggest that we were constant correspondents; we weren’t. Jerry might write once a year—at Christmas or soon thereafter, to thank me for sending him a Christmas card.) Here’s a sample (in italics)—:

One of the smartest and best-drawn cartoons I ever saw: a small, pompous king has emerged from a grand doorway and is strutting down a walkway to his royal carriage (or limo). Right in front of him, two little guys are unrolling a red carpet (if the drawing was black and white, I must be imagining the red), and behind the king, two other little guys are rolling the carpet right back up. No words. The idea says a lot about the condition of man.

Once Jerry sent me a copy of one of his rough gag idea for a Beetle Bailey Sunday; I’m posting it near here—with another scan of a Dumas Christmas card, featuring Sam and Silo from 1980. The members of Walker’s gag-writing team meet once a week, and they all brought in their gags sketched out like this one.  dumasrough

 

Dumas was a cartoonist, although he might prefer “humorist.” He was also a thinker and a ponderer of all things. And he wrote a book-length free verse poem derived from his youth in Detroit, An Afternoon in Waterloo Park. He called it a “narrative poem.” It is about a family, his family—a story of life, daily life, and change and death. It starts with the death of his mother, but Jerry contemplates three generations of his family—his, his parents’ and his grandparents’.

The book jacket reads: “It is in the complex story of this family, recollected from the surface of childhood, pondered from the depths of mature experience, that the author achieves his strength.” I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve dipped in here and there over the years since I acquired it, and I’ve found, here and there, things I like a lot. Here, I’ll show you some of them.

About the Supreme Being, Jerry wrote:

I wonder how many people in this church believe in God.

Really believe.

Half? Three quarters? The same proportions, perhaps,

As for all people everywhere

Outside these walls.

Faith, hope, reason, and the easiest of these is reason. …

And what is true of what the Planner wants of you and me?

We do not agree on that. There are conflicting thoughts. …

Has the message as it’s been passed been garbled,

Due to mumbling? …

In the meantime there exists among believers

A bothersome mist of fine confusion here;

So a lot of people are simply being kind

And figure to play the rest of it by ear.

Once Jerry watched his grandmother as she watched her just departed husband being lowered into the earth.

They had been together fifty-five years.

Oma [the grandmother] said later she would gladly

Have died the same day. She had eleven years to wait,

And all the winters were in Detroit.

I learned that day that all marriages end sadly.

In case that one slipped by you: marriages end sadly because they end in the death of one of the partners.

In another place in the poem, Jerry writes:

 I see in mind’s eye an epitaph

For a gravestone—not hers—mine, perhaps.

The bottom line reads:

Well, That Didn’t Take Very Long.

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The Amazing “True” Story of a Teenage Single Mom http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-amazing-true-story-of-a-teenage-single-mom/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-amazing-true-story-of-a-teenage-single-mom/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:00:18 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97886 Continue reading ]]>

Originally published in 1998, Katherine Arnoldi’s The Amazing “True” Story of a Teenage Single Mom is packaged and blurbed in a manner that reflects the “Wham! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Kids Anymore” narrative that still afflicted comics at the time. The cover features the artist in a flying pose and a blurb from Entertainment Weekly says that she’s “a superheroine for our times.” To be sure, 1998 was a fallow period for long-form comics, and it was surprising at the time for a big publisher like Hyperion give this book a chance. Though theoretically aimed at that lucrative young adult audience, this book has a remarkably harrowing quality to it, rendered in a style closer to Aline Kominsky-Crumb (by way of Hans Masereel). It’s amazing how noncommercial this book really is and how viscerally powerful Arnoldi’s storytelling is on page after page.

This is an autobiographical comic that has the word “true” in quotes because the author shaped the actual events of her life into a slightly smoother narrative and altered the identities of key individuals. The book starts off very matter-of-factly, as Arnoldi simply states that she had a kid as a teen and she wasn’t about to get help from her mom or sister. Even at that time, Arnoldi dreamed of going to college and making something of herself, a goal that seemed impossibly distant at the time that she started working a dreary surgical glove factory. The factory she worked in was all women, and it’s implied that this was the case because the owners thought that women would be more compliant and complain less about the awful conditions. The women did eventually strike against the hazard of talc being everywhere, which led to a long layoff. She lied about her age and picked up a job as a waitress, and then added the factory job when it was time to return–with things worse instead of better.

Up to this point, the comic is episodic, with most of the art raw and cartoony. Every panel has its own decorative framing, done in wobbly freehand. Arnoldi draws herself with dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. Inside each panel, however, Arnoldi creates immersive environments dense with hatching, cross-hatching, heavy blacks, and even stippling. The contrast to the happy, simple figures of herself and her baby is striking. Arnoldi details a sequence where a factory worker she was supervising eyed her up and down, and he is depicted as a monstrous, smiling ghoul in an oppressive, linocut style. This is the first time the reader learned that she became pregnant after being raped. Nonetheless, she eventually goes out with this co-worker, and they move in together after she helps bring down the factory by passing on documents that proved its hazardous working conditions.

She and her boyfriend then moved to Arizona, and there is a remarkable two-page sequence where he tells her that he is going to start carrying a gun as part of his job as a roofer. That sketchy notion is explored in densely stippled and cross-hatched detail as we see his hand hold a gun in various positions, ending with a close-up of his hand on the trigger. This foreshadowed his explosive temper, and his abusive qualities come to the fore soon after, when he forbids her from going to college. Arnoldi draws him as a terrifying monster that chokes and punches her and essentially dares her to speak up. When she realizes that she had trusted him with all her money and she had nothing once again, she goes into survival mode: leaving him behind and literally walking into the desert with her baby.

At this incredible low point, Arnoldi finally reveals her backstory: her mother didn’t love her and sent her off to live with her sister, who had an abusive husband. He assaulted Arnoldi as well, in another terrifying sequence where he is depicted as a monstrous, laughing ogre. When Arnoldi intervened when her brother-in-law was beating her nephew (by smashing him with a chair), her sister simply threw her out. Her mother wouldn’t take her, so she walked around town until someone offered her a ride. That someone turned out to be her rapist. Her life was nothing but a series of traumas, yet she recounts that in the desert that night, looking at the vast dark sky, she understood how small her tormentors were and how vast her own future could be.

As bad as her luck had been before with supposed loved ones, strangers helped her until she reached her goal of trying to find her father. When he was just another disappointment in a series of disappointments, a detached & small-time hustler, she went to stay with a friend in Denver. That’s when the support system she had needed all her life emerged to help her with basics like how to apply for financial aid. When Arnoldi is accepted to college, there’s a four-page, psychedelic sequence depicting the pure joy she felt and shared with her toddler daughter; that joy wasn’t even dampened when she was told that the community college had open enrollment. She was able to go to college, engage in a work-study job that had meaning and value to her (scientific illustrator), and become a part of a wider community. That is the message at the heart of the book: it is a public good to help young people in need achieve their dreams, because doing so will allow them to become good and caring citizens, and will allow them to contribute to the public good in turn. The book also notes that trauma and abuse don’t have to define one’s life, if one can find his or her own community of choice.

The starkness of the book’s events feel real, earned, and painfully familiar. Exploitation of the poor and uneducated is a de facto part of society that enables abusers to hold power over their victims and corporations to hold power over their workers. What Arnoldi suggests is that her story of survival should not be seen as remarkable, but rather that she was an ordinary person who summoned strength when she needed it, and that she was lucky to stumble on to a support system that was able to help her flourish. Luck is the operative word here, which is why she urges others to seek out opportunities to help young people in need, because not everyone is able to escape abuse or trauma with their lives or sanity intact. Arnoldi is able to get this across through a style that seems naive on the surface but in reality is enormously sophisticated and complex in its ability to convey emotion.

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Slalom http://www.tcj.com/slalom/ http://www.tcj.com/slalom/#respond Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:00:12 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97884 Continue reading ]]> Robert Boyd reviews Inés Estrada’s Impatience and Lapsos.

Inés Estrada is a 26-year-old Mexican cartoonist currently living in the USA. According to her blog , she makes a living “making whatever the fuck I want,” and that includes self-publishing  Impatience, a beautifully printed and designed book. The cover is outlined in intense red which carries over to the edges of the pages and the back cover, which is printed in silver ink on a red background.  Impatience is an anthology that includes comics in English and comics in Spanish featuring simultaneous translation into English.

“Traducciones” (“Translations”) is one of the translated stories. Estrada handles translating her own work in an unusual way—instead of replacing the original Spanish language balloons with English, as is usually done with translated comics, she places the translation at the bottom of the page, typeset with slashes to indicate a new balloon or caption. It is easier to read than you might expect—no more difficult than watching a movie with subtitles. Easier even—you don’t have to read them in a hurry like you do with movie subtitles or opera surtitles. It also means that the translation doesn’t have to be in any way abridged. I’ve only seen this before in poetry books. As an undergraduate I read Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Songs and a Song of Despair in parallel translation. The Spanish original poem would be on the left-hand page and the English translation on the right.

And Rob Clough writes about the reissue of Katherine Arnoldi’s The Amazing “True” Story of a Teenage Single Mom.

Originally published in 1998, Katherine Arnoldi’s The Amazing “True” Story of a Teenage Single Mom is packaged and blurbed in a manner that reflects the “Wham! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Kids Anymore” narrative that still afflicted comics at the time. The cover features the artist in a flying pose and a blurb from Entertainment Weekly says that she’s “a superheroine for our times.” To be sure, 1998 was a fallow period for long-form comics, and it was surprising at the time for a big publisher like Hyperion give this book a chance. Though theoretically aimed at that lucrative young adult audience, this book has a remarkably harrowing quality to it, rendered in a style closer to Aline Kominsky-Crumb (by way of Hans Masereel). It’s amazing how noncommercial this book really is and how viscerally powerful Arnoldi’s storytelling is on page after page.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Toni Aireckson writes a short piece on Resist!, the political comics anthology edited by Françoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman, and Gabe Fowler, which will be released in conjunction with Trump’s inauguration.

After the three collaborators settled on their idea, a website was launched and a call for submissions was put forth. Within a few days, they received over 1,000 comic submissions and over $4,000 in donations — enough to print over 30,000 copies.

Nadja Spiegelman told Red Alert that they were “originally planning on publishing 30,000 copies, but with the awe-inspiring financial support we’ve received from hundreds of people ordering advanced copies from our website, we’re now hoping to print as many as 50,000.”

—For Vulture, Abraham Riesman writes about DC’s dumb idea to bring back “the Watchmen” and integrate them within the DC universe. (It’s a mostly good piece, though Riesman exposes his fanboy inner self when he calls Rebirth “one of the smartest and most forward-thinking initiatives in DC’s history.”)

So what happens when those earnest do-gooders meet the tragic idiots? There are only two possibilities that I can imagine. One is an extremely metatextual satire that finds humor in the eye-rolling notion of such an encounter. But that’s about as likely as Batman adding a tutu to his costume. Much more probable is a story that crassly capitalizes on 30 years of enthusiasm for and familiarity with Watchmen’s characters by throwing them into a serious, high-octane adventure alongside the kinds of figures they were designed to mock. The idea is perverse in its misguided, more-is-more shallowness.

Duck Edwing, RIP.

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Impatience and Lapsos http://www.tcj.com/reviews/impatience-and-lapsos/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/impatience-and-lapsos/#respond Wed, 04 Jan 2017 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97575 Continue reading ]]> Inés Estrada is a 26-year-old Mexican cartoonist currently living in the USA. According to her blog , she makes a living “making whatever the fuck I want,” and that includes self-publishing  Impatience, a beautifully printed and designed book. The cover is outlined in intense red which carries over to the edges of the pages and the back cover, which is printed in silver ink on a red background.  Impatience is an anthology that includes comics in English and comics in Spanish featuring simultaneous translation into English.

impatience-cover“Traducciones” (“Translations”) is one of the translated stories. Estrada handles translating her own work in an unusual way—instead of replacing the original Spanish language balloons with English, as is usually done with translated comics, she places the translation at the bottom of the page, typeset with slashes to indicate a new balloon or caption. It is easier to read than you might expect—no more difficult than watching a movie with subtitles. Easier even—you don’t have to read them in a hurry like you do with movie subtitles or opera surtitles. It also means that the translation doesn’t have to be in any way abridged. I’ve only seen this before in poetry books. As an undergraduate I read Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Songs and a Song of Despair in parallel translation. The Spanish original poem would be on the left-hand page and the English translation on the right.

The obvious advantage of this kind of translation is that an artist avoids many of the compromises one must make when translating in the word balloons and captions. Not only do you lose the original language when you re-letter the balloons, but whatever phrases you replace them with must be made to fit into the old balloons. With Impatience and Lapsos, you can read Estrada’s original words and her own translation of them. But it does mean that the reader’s eyes are always bouncing up and down the page in order to take it in.impatience-64-65-tradduciones

The main character in “Traducciones” is Lucía who works as a freelance translator of medical and academic documents. She is in love with a man named Felipe (who lives in Chile) and sleeps with a man named Foco whom she doesn’t like. Lucía has strange dreams. In one dream, she finds her house infested with “cockroach mice” and follows them into a small dark portal which takes her into another world. This ends up being a common occurrence in Estrada’s stories. It happens in the wordless story “Cenote” (the title of which refers to naturally occurring ponds in the Yucatan that were often used by Mayans as sacred sites). In “Cenote,” the portal is the protagonist’s own vagina.  Travelling through tiny portals to parallel dimensions happens repeatedly in Estrada’s graphic novel Lapsos.impatience-133-pachecomics

As “Cenote” suggests, Estrada is not afraid of sexuality and the body as subject matter. “Skunk Girl” is the story of a young woman who has since childhood had a disgusting smell. She finally learns to suppress and control it with mind-power, but she finds it sometimes useful to turn on—to make herself smell bad to dangerous people, but to also to lovers who happen to find that smell a turn-on. “Pachecomics” is an anthropomorphic strip featuring a turtle named Moco, a cat named Akram and a raccoon named Tencha. In one episode, Tencha buys a cucumber, “The only veggie you can east . . . and fuck!” She does use the cucumber as a dildo but it breaks off in her vagina. Her protagonists are usually young women who are horny and on the prowl for “hot boys.” Her frankness and her drawing remind me a little of early Julie Doucet.

Her subject matter revolves around hard partying young people in Mexico City—lots of drinking, pot-smoking and punk rock. One story, “Sindicalismo #89”, seems particularly anchored in a real place. The title refers to an address of a shabby apartment building and the people who live in it, including (not surprisingly) two young hard-partying women, Pau and Mecha. In her interview with Greg Hunter,  she said that she used to live there, but the story was “not autobiographical at all.”

lapsos-coverLapsos (“Lapses” in English) was originally published in 2014, but a new edition by Spanish publisher Ediciones Valientes was published in September of this year. As with “Traducciones” and many of the other stories in Impatience, Lapsos features a simultaneous translation.

The story starts off with several germ-like entities having an encounter that seems simultaneously sexual and like a shared drug experience. It lets you know right away that you aren’t entering a naturalistic story, but it launches quickly into a more-or-less realistic story about the main character, a semi-irresponsible young man named Roque. This is makes it distinct from the stories in Impatience which invariably feature female protagonists. Roque has a job as a bus-driver (which he only got because he was the grandson of someone his boss really respected); he is separated from Ceci who he got pregnant in high-school—they have a son named Cometa—and like the typical Estrada protagonist, he likes drinking beer, getting high and going with his purely platonic female roommate Mayra to see punk rock bands.  Things start getting weird for Roque when he runs over a two-headed Siamese cat. The cat who appears in his dreams making weird, unpleasant music.lapsos-75

That sound is also made when a one-eyed denizen of another dimension finds a “monochord”, a musical instrument that when played opens a door to our dimension. One-eye comes through the portal here while Roque and Mayra are simultaneously sucked into another dimension. Roque and Mayra have numerous adventures traveling from dimension to dimension. In each dimension, they encounter strange creatures, including a four-eyed wolf-like critter that explains to them how the dimensions work and how to travel from one to another.lapsos-126-127

Meanwhile, in our dimension, the one-eyed creature encounters Cometa, who mistakes it for a cat, and Roque’s grandmother, who thinks he may be death coming for her (the creature is a black shape). He finds these encounters with the “biclops” disturbing and heads out of the city into the wilderness to avoid them. Roque and Mayra hear the song of the two-headed cat and use that music to reenter our universe through the body of the one-eyed creature. They end up far from the city where they find a new appreciation for our world, especially in its natural forms.lapsos-117

Lapsos doesn’t add up to much in the end. It’s best seen as a series of bizarre adventures along with some flashback to Roque, Mayra and Ceci’s school days. But Estrada’s art is excellent—the book is printed in blue ink (except for a certain number of duotine pages), and the drawing seems to combine pencil and ink. It is pleasingly hand-made and her designs for the extradimensional creatures are simple and effective.

Impatience is the more satisfying of the two books—each little story packs its own punch in a way that you don’t get with Lapsos, even though they overlap quite a bit in subject matter. The story in Lapsos doesn’t feel like it requires a whole book to tell. But the art—the design of the characters, the expressive style Estrada employs, the imaginative page layouts—is stronger in Lapsos. It has a visual unity that Impatience, by virtue of it having been published over the course of 3 years in a wide variety of formats, lacks. Both books are excellent in their own ways.

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New Days Now http://www.tcj.com/new-days-now/ http://www.tcj.com/new-days-now/#respond Wed, 04 Jan 2017 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97859 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site:

We present a many of our contributors’ best-of-2016 lists. We sent out a call and we are so grateful for so many great responses. So have at it.

Elsewhere:

I read a few comics over the break. Can’t quite remember what, but something. Spent a long time looking at Virgil Finlay drawings online. Those are really good. Is there something substantial out there about the great artists that emerged from the very early fandom? Finlay, Bok, Manning, Crumb… so many. Too many to list, probably. It seems, at least looking back now, that the fans in the 1930s through the 50s were really onto something … before superheroes kinda took over? I don’t know. Just some thoughts. Speaking of which, Richard Corben book covers from the 1970s: Really good. 

Anyhow, also, our own Robert Boyd is now serializing the underrated 1996 comic strip Mysterioso, by Scott Gilbert.

That’s all for today, folks.

 

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The Best Comics of 2016 (According to Some) http://www.tcj.com/the-best-comics-of-2016-according-to-some/ http://www.tcj.com/the-best-comics-of-2016-according-to-some/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97531 Continue reading ]]>

We asked our contributors to send us their Best of 2016 lists. Many obliged! Thanks to all for doing this. Now onto 2017. -Eds.

Walter Biggins

1) Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian (IDW)

2) Tom Hart, Rosalie Lightning (St. Martin’s)

3) Ben Katchor, Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (D&Q)

4) Michel Rabagliati, Paul Up North (BDang)

5) Moebius Library: The World of Edena (Dark Horse)

Honorable mentions:

John Porcellino, King-Cat #76 (John Porcellino)

Gilbert Hernandez, Garden of Flesh (Fantagraphics)

Lewis Trondheim and Keramidas, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures (IDW)

Julie Doucet, Carpet Sweeper Tales (D&Q)

Notes: 3 of my 5 are reissues. Apparently, no women or no nonwhites made my cut until the honorable mentions. I suck. I’ll do better next year. 

Robert Boyd

2016 Favorites

My favorites from 2016. There are still a few on my “to read” pile that might make it—for example, The Greatest of Marlys would almost certainly have made it if I had read it in time.

They are in order from smallest to largest.

Endless Monsoon IV: Very Pleasant Transit Center by Sarah Welch. 56 pages, two-color risograph, 5” x 7”. This is a very slow-moving series about two young women trying to make their way in a world of somewhat straitened circumstances. The art is transmits the humid, sweaty feel of Houston very well.

Blammo number nine by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books ). 44 pages, black and white comic book. The two long stories in here are classic ’90s-style alternative comics stories—one is autobiographical (Van Sciver inadvertently offends a sensitive soul at the Center for Cartoon Studies and flashes back to his Mormon childhood) and the other a short story about a museum guard who starts to paint paintings in the style of long dead abstract painter being shown at the museum. Both stories are really good, and I liked especially have despite working in the museum, the museum guard is clearly doesn’t know the social etiquette of being in the art world. Van Sciver shows how difficult it is to cross the class divide because one must know the rules of the other side—it’s like a mini-lesson in Pierre Bourdieu.

What is Obscenity? The Story of a good for nothing artist and her pussy by Rokudenshiko (Koyama Press) 178 pages, 6” x 8.5” squarebound book combining color and black and white pages. This book combines articles and comics to tell the first-person story of a Japanese artist who spent time in jail for producing obscene art—specifically for providing digital file of her pussy for 3-D printing in a crowdfunding campaign. The comics here are straightforward and highly amusing, and her story is utterly incredible.

American Blood (Fantagraphics Books) 208 pages, 5.9” x 8.6” squarebound paperback book printed with purple ink. This book collects various self-contained stories that Marra self-published in his Traditional Comics line between 2009 and 2013, including The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd. I had never read these comics before but they were an eye-opener. Funny, satirical, etc.—if someone could take the best drawings that male high-school stoners from 1976 until now drew on their desks and make comics out of them, they would approach this book in sheer awesomeness.

Scorched Earth by Tom Van Deusen (Kilgore Books ) 82 pages squarebound, 6” x 9”, black and white). There is a long tradition in narrative art of having utterly reprehensible cads as protagonists: Sebastian Dangerfield in The Gingerman, Harry Flashman in the Flashman books, Withnail in Withnail and I. And now in Scorched Earth, Tom Van Deusen can be added to that immortal parade of assholes. His genius twist on the time-honored genre is to make himself the hateful but hilarious protagonist.

Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics Books) 160 pages, full-color, hardcover. There seems to be a theme with my choices this year—books about self-absorbed partiers. The trip to Amsterdam happens only at the very end, and it’s not any different from their current existence—just colder and wetter. Werewolf Jones descends to new levels of depravity, including making money of his 10-year-old quasi-feral son’s cam shows. But the real annoyance is Owl, the only one who seems to have a job. I find this book repeatedly hilarious.

Demon volume 1 by Jason Shiga (First Second) 176 pages, black-and-white, paperback. The incredibly bloody story of Jimmy Yee, a man who commits suicide over and over. At first it reads like an epic case of gaslighting, but the actual explanation is weirder than I expected. A bizarre concept taken to a logical extreme in a very amusing, violent way.

Founding Fathers Funnies by Peter Bagge (Dark Horse Books) 86 pages, color and black and white, hardcover, 6.5 x 9 inches. I’ve loved Peter Bagge since Neat Stuff (see below) and loved these strips when they first appeared as back-up features in various Bagge comic books. They work best as short stand-alone stories, but I’m very glad to be able to read them collected into a book.

Blubber #2 by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphic Books) 25 pages, 6.5 x 9 inches, black and white. Blubber is Gilbert Hernandez’s one-man anthology of superheroes and monsters fucking. When I read it, I wonder—why hasn’t this been the dominant genre in comics for years? It is my favorite comic book of 2016. I haven’t read issue 3 yet, so I have that to look forward to.

Nod Away by Joshua W. Cotter (Fantagraphics Books ) 240 pages, 7.8 x 10.2 inches, black and white. This ambitious science fiction story (it’s meant to be the first volume of seven) is packed full of ideas and characters and great artwork. Unfortunately it ends on a cliffhanger. Now I kind of wish I had waited until all seven volumes were out before I read it!

The Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin  (Dark Horse Comics ) 144 pages, black and white and color, 8 x 11 inches. These stories have appeared in various anthology comics, including Dorkin’s one-man anthology Dork, since 1994. The Eltingville Club started at the high tide of Wizard magazine, which at the time seemed like the ne plus ultra of degenerate fandom. Dorkin captured that vibe in his dense, hilarious comics. But fandom, if anything, managed to reach new lows, particularly regarding women fans—see “fake geek girls,” Gamergate, and incessant online and IRL harassment—and in bringing his Eltingville Club members to the present, Dorkin drags them even lower than where they started. It’s cruelly fun to read.

Peplum by Blutch (New York Review Comics ) 160 pages, 8.7” x 11.4”, black and white. A picaresque adventure story set on the frontiers of the Roman world, it makes me imagine what David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life would have been like if drawn by Frank Robbins or Alberto Breccia. Peplum is the mysterious story of a young imposter pretending to be a Roman nobleman Publius Cimber is part of an expedition that has recovered a woman frozen in ice. The ice miraculously does not melt despite its long, eventful journey. “Cimber” loves her, which is the source of all his misadventures. Blutch’s chiaroscuro style is breathtaking

Sir Alfred No. 3 by Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press) 40 pages, 9.75 a 13 inches, color. The Adventures of Bob Hope comic book lasted 18 years, and Tim Hensley has aped its format to tell a series of anecdotes about Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of them are familiar stories if you know your Hitchiana, but Hensley rarely just gives you a straight-ahead retellings of them. His humor is oblique; it’s not about a series of gags. That, combined with his pastiche of Harvey Comics drawing style, make this one of 2016’s best.

Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books).  488 pages, 9” x 11.6 inches, two volumes, hardcover. This one doesn’t completely count since I read every single issue of Neat Stuff when they came out. Bagge describes his readership as falling in the “lone weirdo” demographic. It has his immortal characters, Girly Girl, Goon on the Moon, Studs Kirby, Chet and Bunny Leeway, Junior and the Bradleys. But it also has a bunch little masterpieces that people may have forgotten, like “Do You Know Where It’s At?!?” and like “The Fall and Rise of Zoove Groover.”

The Nib , edited by Mat Bors, featuring a large variety of cartoonists including Tom Tomorrow, Matt Lubchansky, Emily Flake, Rich Stevens, Jen Sorensen, Keith Knight,  etc. These are all clever, funny political cartoonists, but what makes the Nib great are its journalistic comics such as Jess Ruliffson’s stories of life in the military, Kate Moon’s story on the Great Barrier Reef, and Ben Passmore’s first person “Letter From a Stone Mountain Jail”. Day after day, the Nib provides amazingly good political and journalistic comics. It’s a brilliantly edited site.

Pat Palermo’s Galveston Drawing Diary by Pat Palermo. Daily comics blog. Pat Palermo is a Brooklyn artist who is currently doing a residency at the Galveston Artists Residency in Galveston, TX. Since he arrived in August, he has been drawing a page of comics every day in pencil on lined yellow paper, scanning them, and posting them on his blog. They started off being about a fish out of water—a Brooklyn guy on a sub-tropical Texas island—and that is still a theme he returns to frequently. But his coverage of the presidential campaign and its aftermath slowly grew in importance as time went on. His drawing is fantastic but also has an appealingly casual quality.

Jessica Campbell

Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Someone Please Have Sex With Me by Gina Wynbrandt

Pioneering Cartoonists of Color by Tim Jackson

Libby’s Dad by Eleanor Davis

Epoxy Cartoon Magazine by John Pham

RJ Casey

What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean  

Unwell by Tara Booth  

Blammo #9 by Noah Van Sciver

She’s Done It All! by Benjamin Urkowitz 

One-pagers by Gizem Vural 

Rob Clough

1. Rosalie Lightning, by Tom Hart
2. Blammo #9, by Noah Van Sciver
3. Someone Please Have Sex with Me, by Gina Wynbrandt
4. The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, by Luke Healy
5. Exits, by Daryl Seitchik

Anya Davidson

This is random smattering of books and zines I liked in no particular order. Can I say that I think these kinds of lists are arbitrary, because there is a dizzying number of brilliant books out there that I haven’t read, so this is more of a “list of things I read that I greatly enjoyed” than a best of? 

a) Dias de Consuelo by Dave Ortega #’s 2 and 3

Beautifully executed serialized biographical comic about Dave’s grandmother.

b)Perfect Hair by Tommi PG

Dark and funny painted short stories about sex and loss

c) Crim Coblend’s Garage Island #3 by Max Huffman

Snappy strips drawn inventively. Shades of Daniel Torres and Lale Westvind

d) Almost Completely Baxter by Glen Baxter

This is a reprint by New York Review Comics. Absurd and transcendent gags.

e) Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Nick has an uncanny ear for dialogue and is finely attuned to the beauty and pain of the mundane.

Andrew Farago

Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart 

March, Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Demon, Jason Shiga

Power Man & Iron Fist, David Walker & Sanford Greene

Hot Dog Taste Test, Lisa Hanawalt 


R. Fiore

New Comics:

  1. King Baby (Kate Beaton)
  2.  Patience (Daniel Clowes)
  3.   Sir Alfred (Tim Hensley)
  4.   Peplum (Blutch)
  5.   The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke)
  6.   The Boys of Sheriff Street (Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal)
  7.   Nicolas (Pascal Girard)
  8.   The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Sonny Liew)

Old Comics:

  1. What Am I Doing Here? (Abner Dean)
  2.  Trump: The Complete Collection (Harvey Kurtzman et al.)
  3.  Mandrake the Magician: The Sundays Volume 1 (Lee Falk and Phil Davis)
  4.  Tim Tyler’s Luck (Lyman Young and Alex Raymond)
  5.   Moebius Library: The World of Eden
  6.  Complete Crepax Volume 1: Dracula, Frankenstein and Other Horror (Guido Crepax
  7.  Robert Crumb Sketchbook 1964 to 1968                                                                                   *.  Raymond Pettibon: Homo Americanus

In gathering my personal nominations I came across a couple of Amazon orders of forthcoming and just released books I’d made in April that illustrate the sheer profusion of notable comics that came out in 2016.  One was for The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen (Jorge Zentner), Providence (Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows), The World of Edena (Moebius), and Alack Sinner: Age of Innocence (Munoz and Sampayo, still forthcoming); the other was for Red Barry Volume 1 (Will Gould), Mandrake the Magician Dailies Volume 1, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian (Hugo Pratt), Tim Tyler’s Luck, and Dirty Duck (Bobby London, still forthcoming); not to mention another order I made a couple of weeks later including numbers 1, 5 and 6 on my new comics list and number 1 on my old comics list. 

The ask was for a Top Five, but I stretched it out to encompass what I consider the First Division; books that stood above the rest, that had some quality of revelation to them.  My ground rules were that anything that had its first publication in English in the United States in 2016 was a new book. Numbering is in order of preference, but in the old comics category the order of finish is arbitrary after the top two. The Pettibon is not ranked because quite frankly though I have this brick on the shelf I haven’t tackled it yet, but I can’t imagine this comprehensive retrospective of the Posada of the Los Angeles telephone pole couldn’t be one of the major books of the year.

Getting down to individual cases . . .

Hundreds of discrete choices each made for its own reasons coalesce one on top of another until they form a way of life, one that none would have imagined if they had set out to design a way of life, and yet compliance is nearly universal. One unit of the crowd sidesteps into an alleyway and says, What Am I Doing Here? In his collection of psychic vignettes Abner Dean blazed not a trail but a road not taken. He turned the cartoon caption from a joke into a poetic provocation that interrogates the image. Drawing his characters naked serves to impose awareness that they are creatures from a natural world, inhabiting their own artificial creation. With no intention to that I can discern he also portrays a segregated society, which only admits one kind of person. Dean doesn’t imply that this is a society on the brink of a social revolution, and yet 30-odd years a pop band would be rephrasing the question: “My God, what have I done?”

I lead with my top vintage pick because my top contemporary pick, Kate Beaton’s King Baby, is very much in the Abner Dean tradition. As it deals with happy things Beaton’s book lacks Dean’s sense of quiet desperation, but it has the same quality of seeing commonplace things with eyes both unsparing and enchanted. Where Beaton’s first venture into children’s picture books The Princess and the Pony seemed to strain a bit to bend its tale to its moral, King Baby is a perfectly executed little gem of observation, capturing something fundamental about the strangeness of infancy in an affluent society, from its say-it-all title to its elegant punchline. I think it can be assumed that any expectant mother with a comics-conscious friend can expect to be receiving this book as a baby shower gift for the foreseeable future. They’ll read it themselves and then read it to their children when time comes.

Running quickly through the rest, Patience turns the wish-fulfillment tale on its head with a passion that disintegrates irony, Sir Alfred is another example of perfect execution of a concept on multiple levels, Peplum is as slashing in its narrative as it is in its artwork, The Twilight Children left you wishing that its creators had just had more time, The Boys of Sheriff Street was a prime slice of Charyn American mythopoetics, Nicolas showed the enduring appeal of the Blechman fleck better than Blechman himself, and Charlie Chan Hock Chye was just a shock in its Maus-like encapsulation of an era.

When the modern era of classic comics reprints began you wondered when the bubble would burst. Was there really a readership for all these fifty dollar books, you’d wonder. Now we are coming to the point where we’re running out of classic comic strips. The Complete Peanuts is complete. Mickey Mouse has donned the Bing Crosby hat, which means the good times are just about over. In Dick Tracy we see the first glimpse of Moon Maid over the horizon, which means it’s about to go out in a blaze of lunacy. Little Orphan Annie is still more or less in the middle of its run, but you feel like you’ve seen about every move Harold Gray has, several times. The number of comic strips with wide name recognition and a ready contemporary readership is quite limited, and it remains to be seen whether a readership can be found deeper dig into the likes of Abbie an’ Slats or Barney Baxter. At the same time the addition of Dover Graphic Novels and New York Review to the ranks of retrospective publishers seems to have been a tipping point, and we’ve never had a wider range of comics of the past at our ready disposal. This does not even take into account the print-on-demand samizdat that is bringing us the high-quality likes of Kim Weston’s The Unavailable Carl Barks.

The icing on the cake of 2016 was the long-promised Trump: The Complete Collection (though a more honest title might have been Trump: Both Issues). It’s an exquisitely produced look at a road not taken, Harvey Kurtzman’s dream of a humor magazine with the full production values of a slick magazine that would be fulfilled fourteen years later by the National Lampoon. It is perhaps more notable for what it promised than what it delivered, but what it promised was tantalizing. I ordered Mandrake the Magician: The Sundays in a spirit of speculation, half expecting a mediocrity on the level of Lee Falk’s other strip The Phantom. Fortunately Phil Davis turns out to be a sort of Alex Raymond Light, and the absurd premise of a stage magician operating in the real world as a genuine wizard, evening clothes and all, in practice turns it into a kind of comic strip Weird Tales.

Do you suppose I might get by with endorsing Mandrake without dealing with Lothar issue? Didn’t think so. Racially demeaning characters might be divided into active and passive. The actively demeaning character acts out racially stereotypical traits, as it might be cowardice, ignorance, hedonism, sloth or superstition in such a way as to imply that they are characteristics of a race. In a passively demeaning character the demeaning characteristics are implicit, and depend on the assumptions of the readership. Mandrake’s enforcer Lothar is of the passive variety. He is capable, courageous, and loyal, yet he is a servant and refers to Mandrake as “Master” for no other apparent reason than that it is the “natural” order of things. Since Americans do not normally require their paid servants to address them as Master, the implication is that it’s Lothar’s idea. Lothar’s speech is pidgin, and yet English is not his native language. His adherence to a comic strip version of native dress could be taken as demeaning, and yet it does have some relation to actual African native dress. Namely, to wear a leopard skin is the particular privilege of a Zulu chief. So, potential dignity points for that, but it raises the question, why is this leader of a fiercely independent people calling this fop Master?

Finishing out my list, in Tim Tyler’s Luck you got to see Alex Raymond become Alex Raymond, The World of Edena is as much a feast for the eye as it is a famine for the mind, Complete Crepax Volume 1 is most notable for giving the first long look at Valentina I’ve been able to get, and Taschen’s Robert Crumb Sketchbook 1964 to 1968 presents these seminal early pages without the reproduction limitations imposed on them the last time around. The coming year has a hard act to follow.

Craig Fischer

In the documentary Cartoon College (2012), Scott McCloud argues that comics is now too vast a world for any single person to understand, metaphorically noting that “parts of comics have dipped beyond the horizon line.” And I’m one person presuming to name The Very Best Comics of 2016. My vision is flawed, I can’t see beyond the horizon, but here’s a handful of books from last year that I found moving, significant, funny, and/or edifying, in alphabetical order:

House of Women #3, Sophie Goldstein (self-published). In bringing her science-fiction rewrite of Black Narcissus to a lusty conclusion this year, Goldstein shows off her growth as an artist beyond The Oven and her other previous comics. When the three issues of House of Women are collected into a single volume by AdHouse, Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly—it’s only a matter of time—will the publisher replicate the attention to design and printing (those lavish die-cut covers and molasses-thick spot blacks) that Goldstein put into her self-presentation of the material? I hope so. 

Providence #7-11, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar). Almost a year ago, I wrote a long TCJ article analyzing the first six issues of Providence, and now I’m including the five issues that came out during 2016 on this Best-Of list. It’s remarkable, a deep dive into H.P. Lovecraft that also shows off Moore’s ability to structure a dense literary story in visual form. Providence #11 switches time and space between panels as much as Gilbert Hernandez’s most experimental work and still provides a carefully-planned, satisfying conclusion to the tale of protagonist Robert Black. One final issue awaits us in 2017, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I wish I could say that about other comic books.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, Sarah Glidden (Drawn & Quarterly). Very early in Blackout, Glidden asks an independent reporter (also named Sarah) to define journalism, and she replies, “anything that is informative, verifiable, accountable, and independent.” Makes sense, until the rest of the book reveals how messy and complicated the practice of journalism can be, in ways that are bracing, mature correctives to simple-minded Trumpist post-factualism. Further, Glidden’s tight focus on a tiny cadre of reporters allows them to emerge as fully-formed characters, especially a veteran and defender of the Iraq War who confronts people and places forever changed by 21st-century American foreign policy. “Maybe the question really is: what is journalism FOR? What’s the point?”

Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart (St. Martin’s Press). Obviously, the drama of Lightning circles around the incomprehensibly sad death of Tom Hart and Leela Corman’s three-year-old daughter, but it has so much more to offer than tragedy and despair. As I re-read the book, I found myself warmed by the gymnastics Tom and Leela go through to sell their New York apartment—they function as a close-knit, loving unit before and after their disaster—and the cascade of allusions (to The Vault of Horror, Louis, Astro Boy, My Neighbor Totoro) Hart uses to represent and process his feelings testify to the power of art to give our lives meaning and hope.

Sick, Gabby Schulz (Secret Acres). I have a friend named Toney who’s a horror film connoisseur, who’s brought movies like Audition (1999) and Martyrs (2008) into my life. When I gave him Schulz’s Sick for a Christmas present, he replied, “This book is almost too pessimistic and grim, even for me.” I get that. It’s harrowingly painful to watch Schulz’s physical illness—his unrelenting fever, his bloody shits—spiral into mental illness, into an anhedonia so black that Sick reads like (to paraphrase Cioran) a barely postponed suicide. But boy, can Schulz cartoon. His drawings of a child choked by a ghoul (a metaphor for domestic abuse) and a tableau of “all the beautiful people enjoying this beautiful world” (a Hell worthy of Bosch) are beautiful in their craft and directness of purpose. Toney again: “It is a singular example of an artist’s angry fist-wave at the cosmos…a totally original work.”

Best book about comics: Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins, Scott Bukatman (University of California Press). Hellboy’s World is an examples of academic comics criticism that is both full of intellectual insight and a blast to read. In lucid, often funny prose, Bukatman describes Hellboy as “a Howard Hawks movie set in an H. P. Lovecraft universe with art direction by Jack Kirby”; traces Mike Mignola’s love of literary occult investigators and characters who deny preordained destinies (like Pinocchio’s refusal to be a puppet); and discusses how Mignola’s bibliophilia influences Hellboy stories and the packaging of those stories into gorgeous library editions. (Bukatman even fruitfully compares Mignola with Yasujiro Ozu.) Hellboy’s World is pretty lavish itself, with full-color illustrations that raise the bar for future scholarly monographs.

Runners-Up:
Bacchus Volume Two, Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf/IDW) / Casanova: Acedia # 5-7, Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon, Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá (Image) / Comic Book Creator #11-13, edited by Jon B. Cooke (especially #11, devoted to Gil Kane) / Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image) / Critical Chips: 10 Contemporary Comics Essays, edited by Zainab Akhtar (self-published) / Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian, Hugo Pratt (IDW) / Epoxy Cartoon Magazine, John Pham (self-published) / Frontier #11 (“BDSM”), Eleanor Davis (Youth in Decline) / Hellboy in Hell #10, Mike Mignola (Dark Horse) / Laid Waste, Julia Gfrȍrer (Fantagraphics) / Patience, Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics) / Sir Alfred #3, Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press) / Talk Dirty to Me, Luke Howard (AdHouse) / The Weight #4-5, Melissa Mendes (serialized online/self-published).

Shaenon Garrity

1. March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

2. Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

3. Demon by Jason Shiga

4. Otherworld Barbara by Moto Hagio

5. Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat! by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams

Richard Gehr

Der Räuber, Tilo Steireif & Robert Walser (Haus am Gern)

Smoke Signal #25

Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories, Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics)

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood, Kaz (Fantagraphics)

Patience, Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

R.C. Harvey

Best comics-related (history, biography) books: Tim Jackson’s Pioneering Cartoonists of Color, a much-needed resource; The Life and Art of Wesley Morse, the “lost” artist who produced engagingly rendered 8-pagers and nightclub illustration.

Comics collections: Gag on This: The Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues.

Graphic novel: Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (shows how the form can be expanded and exploited).

Best comic books (in descending order, so you can use the first, which is 5th on my list, and drop the rest; or not): Cage (revitalizing and re-energizing the drawing part of comics), Strange Fruit (no lines in the art; just color—a painted book), Lady Killer (simply outrageous but superbly drawn).

Biggest Disappointment: Tokyo Ghost (brilliantly drawn, but the story is tepid stuff)

Anne Ishii

Bas Jan Ader by Kevin Czap, Ley Lines 8 (Czap Comics)

Fatherson by Richie Pope, Frontier #13 (Youth in Decline)

Yes, Roya by C. Spike Trotman and Emilee Denich (Iron Circus)

Gorgeous by Cathy G. Johnson (Koyama)

Libby’s Dad, Eleanor Davis (Retrofit)

Monica Johnson

1. Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart

2. The Complete Wimmen’s Comix

3. Disaster Drawn, Hillary Chute

4. Blackbird, Pierre Maurel

5. Don’t Come in Here, Patrick Kyle 

John Kelly

 We Told You So: Comics As Art, by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean

Krazy: George Herrriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand

The Complete Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge

More Heroes of the Comics, by Drew Friedman

Underworld: From Hoboken to Hollywood, by Kaz

Robert Kirby

1. Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (St. Martin’s)
2. Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (2dcloud)
3. Our Mother by Luke Howard (Retrofit)
4. Band for Life by Anya Davidson (Fantagraphics)
5. Wendy’s Revenge by Walter Scott (Koyama)

Fave self-published minicomics are (a tie) The Warlok Story by Max Clotfelter & Zebediah Part III by Asher Z. Craw

MariNaomi

Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

Trying Not to Notice by Will Dinski

Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

Virus Tropical by Powerpaola

Handbook by Kevin Budnik

Chris Mautner

Sir Alfred #3 by Tim Hensley

Peplum by Blutch

Laid Waste by Julia Gfrorer

Big Kids by Michael DeForge

Ganges #5 by Kevin Huizenga

Joe McCulloch

10. Hellboy in Hell #10 (Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Clem Robins)
9. Puke Force (Brian Chippendale)
8. š! #25 (eds David Schilter, Sanita Muižniece, Berliac)
7. Ding Dong Circus (Sasaki Maki, Ryan Holmberg translation)
6. Ganges #5 (Kevin Huizenga)
5. Laid Waste (Julia Gfrörer)
4. Carpet Sweeper Tales (Julie Doucet)
3. Peplum (Blutch, Edward Gauvin translation)
2. Sir Alfred No. 3 (Tim Hensley)
1. Rosalie Lightning (Tom Hart)

 Jason Miles

These are the 2016 comics that hit me hardest, stayed with me, nagged me.

In no particular order:

Blubber by Gilbert Hernandez

What me worry? These have been the most important comics to me. 

Patience by Daniel Gillespie Clowes

Painfully good. 

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Annie Murphy

Annie does that Alan-Moore-thing; illuminating the most curious and the most common injustices… crimes that we’re all vaguely aware and actively ignoring. Elemental detective work at its finest.

The Future of Art 25 Years Hence by Gary Panter

Beautiful, beatific absorbant. Humbling.

Love and Rockets vol. IV #1 by Beto + Xaime

Love and Rockets is my favorite thing made by humans. It’s more than that. The characters are real. I’m constantly wondering what Hopey’s up to or if I’ll ever find Palomar. Sometimes I hear people complaining that they don’t know where to start. Just jump in! Keep going if you like it and fuck off if you don’t. This is comics.

Providence by Alan Moore + Jacen Burrows 

Brilliant unpacking and resetting of H.P. Lovecraft, trauma, denial and xenophobia.

Urstory by Amy Kuttab

Conjures the timeless dustlight of childhood.

Late Bloomer by Maré Odomo

Holistic record of life. Euphoric.

Ancestor by Malachi Ward + Matt Sheean

Turned me inside out.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto

Heartbreaking.

Super Powers by Tom Scioli

Comics and psilocybin. What’s the difference?

#25 and Mr. A #18 by Steve Ditko

New Comic Day.

Scab County by Carlos Gonzalas

I love the way this guy tells a story.

Mostly Saturn by Michael DeForge

I think this may be the first DeForge comic I’ve read all the way through. Obviously his stuff is visually brilliant, but to my eyes, all his comics (the ones I’ve tried to read) amount to a chromatic tribute to ennui… which isn’t my thing. I may reread Mostly Saturn and see it as another tedium trophy, but honestly I’ve been too scared because the result of that first reading was ecstatic! I feel this comic is the first true “Literary Comic.” It’s got this braided, experiential abstraction thing going on that transcends all the usual comic language bullshit. This may be a complete game changer.

Brian Nicholson:

Top five comics of 2016, offered unranked

Big Kids by Michael DeForge, Drawn And Quarterly

There are a couple of things that reoccur in Michael DeForge comics. The first is plots about bodily transformation. The second is that, from story to story, there are changes in the formal language, not just of the storytelling, but in the approach to a figure, working through new ways to cartoon that most identifiable form. Even though the overwhelming majority of these comics have been very very good,  the minor breakthrough of Big Kids is that, by focusing on a narrative of the transformation of the narrator’s perception, the trend in DeForge’s art, towards a more two-dimensional sense of the picture plane, away from depictions that feel grounded in three-dimensional space, can here dive even deeper into abstraction while the narration remains present in intimate emotional reality.

If DeForge’s other comics can be considered body horror, or likened to early Cronenberg, this comic is more like a queer take on the 1998 film Pleasantville, by way of They Live. While those films use color and black-and-white to refer to different levels of “reality,” DeForge sticks to color throughout, but instead uses a more distended and abstracted cartooning of the human figure as a metaphor for coming to terms with a deeper and stranger world. It’s a narrative of self-acceptance, about growing into a mature person rather than remaining a stunted child. While the narrative feels like a metaphor for hallucinogen-induced revelations, drugs, alongside sex and anarchist anti-cop politics are present as plot elements from the very beginning. The arc doesn’t begin at a place of presumed “innocence,” but rather an adolescent’s cynicism. The shift in the drawing is about going beyond the recognizable, the understood and agreed upon, to depict fresh feeling, a new awakening. Through the narrator’s lens, we see things we haven’t seen before, and are told they are depictions of everyday occurrences. It’s a new way of being alive to the commonplace. The conclusion of the book, the narrator’s caption of “I felt a lot of things,” should be echoed in the understanding reader.

Band for Life by Anya Davidson, Fantagraphics Books

One of the immediate pleasures of comics is their accessibility, both in the easy understanding they offer to a reader, and for how the cheapness of the materials needed to make a comic allows for underrepresented viewpoints to be heard. Occasionally, a comic comes along that is funny and true in a way that nothing else has been allowed to be, depicting a worldview unarticulated elsewhere. Anya Davidson’s Band for Life is both indebted to her own autobiography in the noise-rock underground and extends a deep literary and comedic empathy towards all marginalized people. The cartooning language is rooted in John Stanley, Milt Gross, Archie comics, the most accessible work there is. It’s a character-driven comedy for people who are not going to see themselves and their struggles depicted anywhere else.

In collecting a strip originally serialized online, it becomes clear how many characters there are in the narrative, how distinct they are from each other, and how much thought has been put into giving everyone a consistent backstory, and showing how these fully realized figures can be in conflict but still be depicted sympathetically. Using a Simpsons-like approach to building strips around people previously depicted as incidental supporting characters, in time it depicts a world of music-making more inclusive than most arts scene within the real world, an act of utopian idealization that’s a testament to Davidson’s imagination in the face of a widespread lack of it.

Shortly after publication, the way of life the book depicts would begin to feel actively endangered. In a 2016 where the awful outcome of Trump’s election was followed by the tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, and the white supremacist alt-right mobilized themselves to use complaints about fire codes to target live-art spaces to evict people from homes on the premise that these are places where radical leftists congregate, this book documents the way people’s everyday lives can be an act of resistance, even if they are primarily fighting to have the energy to make music against all the other pressures in their lives. The climax of the book, an extended sequence that didn’t previously appear online, shows how the band came to initially form. By using this flashback structure, the point is larger than just “life goes on.” The comic’s talking about a noise-punk band, rather than activism, and is a comedy rather than a political tract, but the book’s world building-via-digression allows the book to make the cogent point, denied by the self-interest-obsessed we must collectively overcome, that disparate people can come together to organize into a unit more powerful than themselves individually.

Pushwagner, Soft City, New York Review Comics

This is a gorgeous visionary work, initially drawn in the 1970s, then lost, only to be rediscovered a few years ago, and now finding publication through an English-language publisher. The drawings are massive, composed around repetition, grids, a depiction of a mechanized world. The line flickers with the inconsistencies of real human life. Adults are drawn in a simplified manner, redolent of children’s drawings, while the infant child is rendered deeply enough for us to know we are seeing this doomed world with its eyes. It has this wide-eyed view of the world, taking in cityscapes in all their dehumanizing detail. It’s insane that this book exists, as everything that makes it remarkable, how fraught and anxious it feels, the scale of it, the ambition of it, how much energy is being dedicated to the capture of tedium, feels like it should work against the artist having the focus to complete it. There’s a tension created between seeing some of the best drawings you’ll see all year and becoming bored at seeing page after page depicting long sequences of nothing happening, reminiscent of the way that humans becoming bored of the beauty of the natural world led to a desire for the comforts of technology which then constitute the soul-deadening effect the book describes. It feels remarkably ahead of its time, its masterful one-point perspective and slightly quivering line feeling like a mixture of alien observer, infant child, and security camera shooting in 70mm. Filmic analogies would compare it to 2001, Jacques Tati, or Koyaanisqatsi. The pages create their minimalist score out of the reader’s gasping. Ah. Ah. Awe.

Abner Dean, What Am I Doing Here, New York Review Comics

When this book was first published in 1947, it spoke a recognizable language in an unfamiliar way. There would’ve been some precedent, at least, to those familiar with gag cartoons. The lines are smoothly swooping, the black and white shading done with graceful wash. Still, the characters are naked, but without genitals. The worlds depicted in each panel have no grounding in recognizable situations. The punchlines offer explanatory context only by the fact that the set of feelings they refer to seems to be illustrated by the drawing. There was nothing like it then, and nothing like it followed. It feels like fine art speaking a gag comics language. It ends up aging better than any gags from that era I’ve seen. If the gag panels in a 1950 or 1960 Playboy cartoon feel dated in their gender politics, the naked-but-without-genitals figures here seem to speak only a language of romantic intrigue defined by longing and loneliness, and feel profound and timeless.

Eleanor Davis, Libby’s Dad, Retrofit Comics

Working with the single issue format for a short story, rather than contributing to an anthology, Eleanor Davis stretches out here in ways that allow for changes in tone larger than in any individual story she’s told before. There is a subtle, pitch-perfect control in the way the pages here slowly fill up with the color blue, depicting the shift from day into night by delineating more and more of the characters’ surroundings. The world becomes more defined by darkness, the young characters idyll being disturbed by the reality of the world they’re living in insinuating itself. The things that can be accepted in daylight can become utterly horrifying once the sun sets. The tension and sense of unease that develops is stunning. It’s not a horror comic, but the book hinges on a moment where Davis communicates her characters’ fear, and so demands a level of control from her over her audience that her previous work, based more on a sort of affectless tone of neutrality, didn’t. However, that moment of terror is only used to get to the conclusion, where this open-ended voice returns, and we are meant to read against the characters’ interpretation of events. We’ve been shown that the sense of safety felt in the daylight isn’t necessarily true, because living with fear every night slowly takes it toll, and just because we survive doesn’t mean the darkness should be denied as a force that defines people’s lives.

Tahneer Oksman

There were many books published this year that I loved and that I couldn’t fit onto a top-five list. Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this end-of-year exercise I decided to include works that I know I will return to again and again, and those that in some way (formally, emotionally, intellectually) surprised me.

Becoming Unbecoming. Una. Arsenal Pulp Press.

First published by the UK’s Myriad Editions in 2015, Una’s Becoming Unbecoming tells the story of a young girl growing up in Northern England in the late 1970s against the backdrop of the brutal murders of thirteen women (including many sex workers) by a serial killer eventually dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper. The book carries its central themes–of epidemic violence against women and the growing pains of adolescence–over a gently narrated landscape that continually changes shape to accurately capture how the personal and political always dynamically interact.

We All Wish for Deadly Force. Leela Corman. Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics.

Like the gorgeous and painful image gracing its cover, Corman’s We All Wish for Deadly Force packs an extraordinary emotional punch. The autobiographical pieces contained in this slim volume, adapting, at times, mythical, biographical, and surrealist slants, tell of longing, loss, rage, and bemusement, all from an incisive, capacious narrating point of view. It would be difficult to overstate the emotional grace of these short comics.

Gulag Casual. Austin English. 2D Cloud.

English calls this book his “first real stab at making art in comics,” and it is quite a tour de force. Reading through Gulag Casual is something like a cross between flipping through an exceptional artist’s private, experimental sketchbook and looking at pieces of art hung up in a Chelsea gallery. The colors, shapes, textures, and narrative snippets are unexpected, and the images and moods depicted throughout somehow appeal through their gruesomeness.

After Nothing Comes. Aidan Koch. Koyama Press.

After Nothing Comes includes a selection of six zines composed by the artist between 2008 and 2014, appended by a brief interview between Koch and Bill Kartalopoulos. This is another collection of experiments: landscapes, geographic and bodily, are pieced together by an artist dabbling in both naturalistic and abstract drawing styles. The pieces contained are image-word play, briefer and longer poems and narrative bursts examining the nature of disconnectedness and loneliness.

The Arab of the Future 2. Riad Sattouf. Metropolitan Books.

Like the first collected volume of his series, Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future 2 is a chronologically narrated story of a recalled upbringing. In this book, Sattouf describes a single year in his life (1984-1985), when he was just six and living in the small Syrian village of Ter Maaleh. Through his careful selection of detailed scenes from childhood shaped by sudden shifts in coloring, Sattouf viscerally evokes everything from the moments of first learning to read the words in his beloved Tintin comics to early imaginings of the sounds his toys made as they moved around at night.

Joe Ollmann

Here’s my list, in no particular order, probably forgetting stuff I loved.

All of Jillian Tamaki’s work on the Hazlitt site.
Patience  by Dan Clowes
Crickets #5  by Sammy Harkham
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Beverly by Nick Drasno 

Sean Rogers

I filed a top five for 2016 with the Globe and Mail, where my picks were Blutch’s Peplum, Chester Brown’s Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus, Anya Davidson’s Band for Life, Julie Doucet’s Carpet Sweeper Tales, and Aidan Koch’s After Nothing Comes. Here are another five that are every bit as good:

Love Nest by Charles Burns (Cornélius). Burns perfects the comic strip as virus—the idiom itself seems infected, contagious, incurable. Like Jack Kamen boiled down and made black and hard as obsidian.

Red Red Rock and Other Stories 1967-1970 by Seiichi Hayashi, edited and translated by Ryan Holmberg (Breakdown Press). Even with Holmberg’s best-in-the-game contextual notes, I’m not always sure what’s going on in Hayashi’s elliptical allegories and psychodramas at any given moment—but, my God, those moments. Some favorites: a rural community sprouting sleek skyscrapers, a girl’s small feet in a faceless man’s brogues, the silhouettes and snow as a woman pleads with the ghost of her husband, all of it haunted and corrupted by memories of war.

Sir Alfred No. 3 by Tim Hensley (Pigeon Press). Along with Deitch’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Blutch’s So Long Silver Screen, and Oshima’s Ninja, this is one of the great cross-pollinations between comics and cinema. Hensley’s limber wordplay is largely absent (though on location in the Alps, Hitch retches: “Pabst!”), but his cartooning and joke-telling have never been more tightly controlled.

Ganges Number Five by Kevin Huizenga (self-published). This one’s about everything—work and death and love and religion and the origins of the Earth—but it’s still remarkably humble and patient and curious and kind. Huizenga maps out what it feels like inside your head better than anyone.

“Kanibul Ball“ by Lale Westvind, from Kramers Ergot 9 (Fantagraphics). Westvind locks onto the maniac frequency that was humming away through the Golden Age, Kirby, the undergrounds, Pettibon—some Jungian, cosmic shit that rips out again here, resplendent and brutish and powerfully American.

James Romberger

Tim Hensley, Sir Alfred #3, Fantagraphics Books

Dan Clowes, Patience, Fantagraphics Books

Kevin Huizenga, Ganges #5, Fantagraphics Books

Mike Mignola, Hellboy in Hell, Dark Horse

Anya Davidson, Band for Life, Fantagraphics Books

Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese: The Ethiopian, Eurocomics/IDW 

Chester Brown, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, Drawn & Quarterly

Kelly Sue DeConnick/Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly, Image Comics

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Love and Rockets #01, Fantagraphics Books

John Arcudi/Tonci Zonjic, Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown, Dark Horse

Katie Skelly

Let’s start with Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen by Moyoco Anno. There’s always an element of humanity removed from Anno’s characters. Somewhere in her super deliberate line that gives way to sharp ribcages and scalpel-precise haircuts, there’s also a ravenous urge to consume and fuck. Anno is never really one for middle ground, although it doesn’t rob her stories of personality. Every now and then some funny or playful sensibility can sneak its way in, but to see Anno only for this would be a massive oversight. Speaking of bobbed hair biches, The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Other Horror Stories (Volume 1) is the book of revelations. (Full disclosure, I wrote a short essay for this book!) It’s an amazing excerpt from the breadth of Crepax’s career, and a clever move to start with his sojourns into (and perversions of) the horror genre. Like Crepax, Sarah Horrocks works in a language wholly her own and wholly alien to today’s comics tendencies in her series The Leopard, issue 3 of which came out this year. Forgive me, as I know she’s my dear friend and podcast partner, but who else is doing straight body count murder comics right now? (Note: please don’t actually tell me.) Nasty stuff. Conversely, Gina Wynbrandt serves up soul-murder with her humor compilation Someone Please Have Sex with Me, most impressively, resisting the self-affirmations most of the mills crave. But who knew the most life-affirming work this year would be (a) from Julia Gfrörer and (b) about kissing your loved ones goodbye in the plague? It’s there in Laid Waste: see if you don’t come away with a smile after that one, in the same way you feel a wash of positivity after seeing a film like Martyrs. And finally – give me some leeway on this one as I know it came out in late 2015, but my love of it carried through 2016 and nothing else has struck me the same way since: “Queue” by Dilraj Mann (Island #3, ed. Brandon Graham & Emma Rios). Mann swaddles his gelatinous figures in giallo gel lights as they maneuver through the tedium of hookup culture. I like how Mann does alienation through color rather than dialogue or emotional expression, and I love how his figures dominate the panels. There’s a thickness to his figures reminiscent of Jonny Negron but an agency that’s his own. And that was my year!

Leslie Stein

Last Look– Charles Burns

Beverly– Nick Drnaso

Disquiet – Noah Van Sciver

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus – Chester Brown

Nicolas – Pascal Girard

Tucker Stone

5. Red Team Double Tap Center Mass #1 by Garth Ennis

Dude finally changed his haircut, nice

4. Johnny Red #6 by Garth Ennis

Who is that weaseling over there by my garbage cans OH SHIT IT’S HITLER

3. Six Pack and Dog Welder Hard Travelin Heroez #1 by Garth Ennis

Oh man, his kid’s faces are so jacked up

2. World of Tanks #1 by Garth Ennis

“Cor blimey”, a spot of tea, AND a fucking tank?? ’nuff said

1. Red Team Double Tap Center Mass #4 by Garth Ennis

“Shoulda cleared the room, cuz here comes the boom” —Billy Joel.

  

Whit Taylor

This is a list of my favorite comics and minicomics from 2016.

Dad’s Weekend, Pete Toms (Hic & Hoc)

Blammo #9, Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books)

House of Women III, Sophie Goldstein (self-published)

Burrow, Marnie Galloway (self-published)

Self, Meghan Turbitt (self-published)

The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest, Luke Healy (self-published)

Summerland, Paloma Dawkins (Retrofit)

Diana’s Electric Tongue, Carolyn Nowak (Shortbox)

Your Black Friend, Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket)

Over Ripe, Sophia Wiedeman (self-published)

Our Mother, Luke Howard (Retrofit)

Frontier #11, Eleanor Davis, (Youth in Decline)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
, Annie Murphy (self-published)

Sir Alfred No. 3, Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics)

Paul Tumey

My Favorite Thing is Monsters – Emil Ferris

A complex, wrenching, beautifully drawn magnum opus from a gifted and experienced artist new to the scene — worthy of the “graphic novel” label in all senses of the word. Delayed until February, 2017, this was supposed to be a 2016 book — and for me, it was: I was able to get a review copy in late October, and was blown away. I reviewed it already  here. You’re gonna love this one when it comes out.

Si Lewen’s Parade: An Artist’s Legacy – by Si Lewen, introduced by Art Spiegelman

Soldier-artist Si Lewen’s 1957 wordless story about the glorification of war and the cost to humanity is timeless and speaks to us as much, if not more, today than ever. Art Spiegelman discovered and befriended Lewen through his work on his 2014 “Wordless!” slide lecture/jazz performance tour. This edition presents Lewen’s story, with newly discovered “outtakes,” in an accordion-fold format, perfectly mirroring it’s content. This edition is really two books in one. On the reverse side of the work, Art Spiegelman has written a lengthy, fully illustrated introduction and interview that expands our understanding of Lewen as a warrior turned artist, bravely committed to his art and vision. The color images of his paintings included in the “ghost book” on the reverse side of the accordion book are simply stunning. Lewen died, at 97, a few days after Spiegelman presented him with one of the first copies produced. Ultimately, this book offers a parade of at least three compelling stories: Lewen’s parable, his life story, and the touching friendship between him and Art Spiegelman.

Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand

The first full-length biography of the artist who many, including me, consider to be the greatest comic strip creator in Western culture. In addition to learning the fascinating details of a major cartoonist’s life and career in this superbly written narrative, I came away from the book with a much deeper grasp of Herriman’s work, especially the monolithic Krazy Kat.

Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s, edited by Peter Maresca

The first years of the landmark, super-bizarre comic strip are surveyed in sumptuously restored color Sunday pages reproduced in their original size and colors. The spot-on curation selects four different continuities, and a fascinating selection of other pages, all buttressed by clear-eyed, rigorous scholarship. I would place this volume among my favorites even if I wasn’t a contributing writer, in a small way, to the introductory material. The importance of reading the great American newspaper Sunday comics in their original sizes and colors cannot be overstated — it is essential for gaining the true experience as the artist intended. In this carefully composed book, we get to see Gould’s signature visual style and bizarre vision of the world take shape in front of our eyes, which is thrilling.

Highbone Theater by Joe Daly

Daly did it again. I regard his Dungeon Quest series and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book to be among the funniest, most engaging modern comics I’ve read. Highbone Theater, a modern day, slacker magical realist version of the hero’s journey, delivers the goods again. I laughed out loud many times, and I wasn’t stoned. Like the herbs and chemicals so many of his character’s imbibe to attain mystic visions, Daly’s books take my mind to new places, and I love that about his work. 

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/4/17 – With You) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-1416-with-you/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-1416-with-you/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97793 Continue reading ]]>

Another January has dawned, which means that it’s time to revisit the great year of 2016 and all of the comics we’ve missed. For instance, did you know that a new translation of work by Chantal Montellier is now available? Maybe not, since it isn’t in print – only through the Europe Comics digital portal can you obtain Lara Vergnaud’s English edition of 2011’s Marie Curie: The Radium Fairy, a split-format educational album pairing a 24-page illustrated timeline of the titular scientific icon by Renaud Huynh of the Musée Curie with a 20-page color comic by Montellier. It’s the comic with which we will concern ourselves, accepting for now that these biographical projects seem to be the only avenue by which Montellier is allowed into English anymore; indeed, we may even find contentment in our reading 2008’s Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, an English original authored with David Zane Mairowitz, that Montellier does unusually interesting work with flatly declarative or pedagogical books.

The above image is Steve Ditko-like in its unsparing dichotomy — Montellier notably worked in political illustration before her entry into extended narrative comics in the 1970s — but especially vivid in its absolute disregard for visual harmony; the extreme foreground figures on the left not only seem to have been digitally enlarged, but give the impression of having been outright cut and pasted from some unknown and considerably pulpier, more generic source than the rest of the milling accusers. Such recontextualization was at the heart of Montellier’s The Trial, in which she re-drew portions of applicable works by Robert Crumb, Jacques Tardi et al. into her own narrative for the purposes of allusion and irony.

But then, Montellier has always been dedicated to graphic dispassion, her crime, mystery and science fiction works often providing depictive gestures toward violence and sensational passion while never ‘correctly’ delivering the thrill. There is frequently an awkwardness to her drama that is a product of deliberation, drawing attention to the mechanics of what she is doing to assemble the page and thus demanding the reader pivot to an analytic state; to connoisseurs of genre, weaned on comics’ fury of line and simulacrum of movement, this also imparts a distinctly surreal texture. Yet there can be a genuine disquiet to her comics, a deep and unnerving sense that something has gone completely wrong with the seeming order of the world – this page is extremely odd, and also menacing, its historical figures’ faces reproduced at times from what looks like archival photographs and pasted atop taut bodies, the wheels of their bicycles like clip art, like something from a hellish episode of Wondermark, uncoupling and tilting, enlarging, juxtaposed against a similarly reproduced human image and a scanned(?) drawing of a horse-drawn carriage: the equation of a historical figure’s death, perfectly ascertainable in hindsight. And god, her Lurid Tears!

This, granted, is nobody’s idea of a major work; Montellier deserves a much larger translation push – a New York Review Comics edition, for example, of her acclaimed 2005 true crime album Les damnés de Nanterre, or her 1990s Julie Bristol series of art world thrillers (her most traditionally ‘beautiful’ narrative pages), or the early SF comics collected by Vertige Graphic under the omnibus title of Social Fiction in 2003, including some pieces familiar to readers of the early Heavy Metal magazine. Marie Curie, in comparison, serves primarily to illustrate the intellectual communion between Marie and her husband, Pierre, and how it is weaponized against the former upon the death of the latter by the social expectations in place – all this amidst a cascade of historical facts. Still, all of these pages are good, odd or both, and their unusual quality again commends more from this rare master.

***

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!

King-Cat Comix and Stories #76: Ooh, and speaking of works just now appearing in this column – the new comic book from John Porcellino is now available in stores serviced via Diamond. The small-press institution’s latest promises lists, small stories, and lots of correspondence – very pure, communicative expression, as I think you’d expect. Distro by Alternative Comics; $5.00.

Six Days in Cincinnati: And then there’s the world of explicit reportage on a historic event, here a survey by artist Dan Méndez Moore of unrest in Cincinnati following the 2001 killing of an unarmed black man by police: “A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter”, per the Microcosm release’s subtitle. Originally released in 2012 under the title Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnatti Riots, if I’m not mistaken; $11.95.

PLUS!

A Mysterious Melody, or How Mickey Met Minnie: Another in Glénat‘s 2016 line of unusual Disney comics to see release in English via IDW, this 64-page release finds the veteran Swiss-born cartoonist Bernard “Cosey” Cosendai centering Mickey Mouse in a historical fiction as the scriptwriter for proto-Disney protagonist Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unlike the series’ previous number, the Lewis Trondheim/Nicolas Keramidas collaboration Mickey’s Craziest Adventure, this one looks to hew very closely to an on-model period style, albeit washed in autumnal coloring. A 9″ x 12″ hardcover. Preview en français; $14.99.

Box Office Poison Color Comics #1: Speaking of IDW and vintage materials, here the publisher begins an ambitious re-serialization of the 1996-2000 name-making comedy/drama from Alex Robinson, a blend of pop-culture reference-dabbled urbanite struggles and inside-comics politicking launched by Antarctic Press into the dead zone of a post-crash industry and collected by Top Shelf just in time for the dawning of graphic novels in wide exposure. One Pat N. Lewis will be handling the colorization process that affords this project its reason for being. Samples; $3.99.

The Ring of the Seven Worlds: Chemists? Mickey Mouse? Bah! How about a big space war serial created by Italians, published in French, and now translated to English? Written by Giovanni Gualdoni (a Dylan Dog regular) & Gabriele Clima, with art by Matteo Piana (colored by Davide Turotti), this 2014 series promises manga-informed voyaging across 244 pages. Published in English by Humanoids; $24.95.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 28: In which the the future lawman grimaces his way through a good portion of 1998, as written by co-creator John Wagner throughout, with a solid chunk of work by fellow co-creator Carlos Ezquerra on a 72-page serial that I think is the longest thing in here. It’s 305 pages in total, courtesy of Rebellion; $24.99.

Vinland Saga Vol. 8: Mostly continuing series among Japanese comics this week, so I’ll highlight this ongoing and very attractive viking adventure series by Planetes creator Makoto Yukimura, its continued translation not always assured. Now that Kodansha is up to its eighth two-in-one hardcover packaging, I believe the project is only one release away from parity with the shorter Japanese collected editions; $22.99.

Chris Samnee’s Daredevil – Artist’s Edition: Presumably one of the benefits of doing a super-deluxe original-art-in-color presentation for newer work — here a quintet of 2013 issues from a popular run on the Marvel superhero by Samnee and writer Mark Waid — is that a good number of production materials are still readily available. Hence, this 12″ x 17″ endeavor is actually two books in a slipcase: a 160-page hardcover offering both the original art and scans of Samnee’s layout drawings, and a 60-page softcover collecting the artist’s hand-annotated copies of Waid’s complete scripts, across which he assembled his page breakdowns. From IDW; $146.99 (or so).

David Bowie: Color the Starman: Finally, your not-a-comic release to comic book stores for the first week of January, 2017, is a Feral House entry into the presumably lucrative adult coloring book market sweepstakes. I’m making note of it here because the contributors include such alt-comics names as Mike Diana(!!) and Tony Millionaire, as well as folks from the wider art and illustration world. An 83-page, 8.5″ x 11″ softcover; $15.95.

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Welcome Back http://www.tcj.com/welcome-back-2/ http://www.tcj.com/welcome-back-2/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97766 Continue reading ]]> Joe McCulloch is here to inaugurate the new year with a new installment of his invaluable column examining the Week in Comics! His breakout picks this time include new works by John Porcellino and Dan Méndez Moore. He also writes a bit about Chantal Montellier:

Another January has dawned, which means that it’s time to revisit the great year of 2016 and all of the comics we’ve missed. For instance, did you know that a new translation of work by Chantal Montellier is now available? Maybe not, since it isn’t in print – only through the Europe Comics digital portal can you obtain Lara Vergnaud’s English edition of 2011’s Marie Curie: The Radium Fairy, a split-format educational album pairing a 24-page illustrated timeline of the titular scientific icon by Renaud Huynh of the Musée Curie with a 20-page color comic by Montellier. It’s the comic with which we will concern ourselves, accepting for now that these biographical projects seem to be the only avenue by which Montellier is allowed into English anymore; indeed, we may even find contentment in our reading 2008’s Franz Kafka’s The Trial: A Graphic Novel, an English original authored with David Zane Mairowitz, that Montellier does unusually interesting work with flatly declarative or pedagogical books.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—A/V: The Process Party podcast has an end of the year episode featuring many guests discussing their favorite comics of 2016, including the aforementioned Joe McCulloch, plus artists including Josh Bayer, Leela Corman, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Sarah Glidden, Sammy Harkham, Jim Rugg, Josh Simmons, and Gina Wynbrandt.

The RiYL podcast has recently interviewed both Dame Darcy and MariNaomi.

Virtual Memories talks to George Herriman biographer Michael Tisserand.

—Interviews & Profiles.
Tom Spurgeon has posted his annual series of holiday interviews, including such guests this year as Tony Millionaire, Sammy Harkham, and TCJ contributor RJ Casey.

—Reviews & Commentary.
For Deadspin, Tom Scocca writes about the final joke of Momma creator Mel Lazarus.

For nearly 35 years, Mell Lazarus knew exactly how the end would go for Momma. In 1982, when the cartoonist began dating Sally Mitchell, who would become his second wife, he confided to her that he had already decided what the final installment of his comic strip would be, and he told her the idea.

Lazarus did not share the idea with the comics syndicate, Mitchell recalled in a phone conversation, nor with his daughters, nor even with his brother, Herb, who was his best friend.

“We never talked about it again,” Mitchell said, “but I always had it.”

For LARB, Osvaldo Oyola writes about Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreze’s Black Panther.

Coates seems committed to doing for his readers what his professors did for him, disabusing them of a “weaponized history.” In the slowly (sometimes too slowly) building story that first appeared in four issues of the comic book and is now collected in the first trade paperback collection of Coates’s Black Panther — the first part of a 12-issue arc entitled A Nation Under Our Feet — Coates breaks “the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere” as they exist in the Marvel Universe through a critical investigation of the title character’s African nation of Wakanda.

John Porcellino picks his favorite comics of 2015.

They say that timing is everything, and in this age of nanosecond attention spans and constantly refreshing newsfeeds that’s more true than ever. So it’s with great delight that I present here a brief and certainly incomplete list of Some of My Favorite Comics of 2015.

Every year more and more cool comics are released in droves, and every year I have less time to read them. But I buy them, and they stack up in boxes and overflowing shelves waiting for that moment when I can retire from the daily grind and sit down and read all those DeForge books. And mark my words, friends — That day shall come.

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Year’s End http://www.tcj.com/years-end/ http://www.tcj.com/years-end/#respond Tue, 20 Dec 2016 19:02:55 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97734 We’ve gone fishing until January 3rd. Here’s our year in review to keep you busy. See you in 2017.

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2016 Year in Review http://www.tcj.com/2016-year-in-review/ http://www.tcj.com/2016-year-in-review/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 19:01:19 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97721 Continue reading ]]> Illustration by Mike Reddy.

Illustration by Mike Reddy.

 

We don’t need to tell you what a year it’s been. So let’s get right to an accounting of what you need to read of The Comics Journal from 2016. Certainly there are omissions and mistakes here, but such is life.

Here are some reviews to revisit:

Sarah Horrocks on Peplum.

Monica Johnson on Blackbird.

Nicole Rudick on Carpet Sweeper Tales.

Robert Kirby on Wendy’s Revenge and Trashed.

Kramers Ergot 9 by Joe McCulloch.

Bob Levin on Gulag Casual and Robusto. 

Robert Boyd on Cometbus #57.

Sir Alfred #3 and The Greatest of Marlys by Chris Mautner.

Katie Skelly on Gorgeous,  Queen Emeraldas, and Someone Please Have Sex with Me.

Richard Gehr on Peter Arno.

Greg Hunter on Dream Tube.

Annie Mok on Soldier’s Heart and The Greatest of Marlys.

Rob Clough on 4 Panel Vol. 1, Rosalie Lightning, and Sisters.

Rachel Davies on After Nothing Comes.

For in-depth looks at a variety of topics, we offer you the following:

Joe McCulloch is the true hero of this and every year with his This Week in Comics column, filled with digressions, deep cuts, and great wisdom. Catch up on 2016 right here.

The great Ken Parille on Abner DeanBlack PantherSir Alfred #3, Patience, and comic book editing. 

R.C. Harvey, here on Al Smith and here on Alex Raymond.

Rob Clough on Retrofit Comics and the 60th anniversary meeting of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

Annie Mok interviewed Michael DeForge, Eleanor Davis and Julie Doucet.

John Kelly delved into the early work of Peter Bagge.

Frank Young on the madness of Chester Gould.

Abhay Khosla really summed up 2015 earlier this year. We miss him this year.

Monica Johnson on contemporary feminist comics and Paper Girls.

Alex Dueben conducted a massive oral history of Wimmen’s Comix. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Anya Davidson on Brian Chippendale’s Puke Force.

A Colorist’s Roundtable by Andrea Fiamma.

Peter Bagge interviewed Kaz and Chester Brown, and then J.R. Williams discussed the old days with Bagge.

Noah Van Sciver chatted with Tom Gauld.

Tim interviewed Richard Sala. 

Sarah Lautman, Ginette Lapalme, Jen Lee, Dash Shaw, and Aidan Koch all contributed excellent installments of our Cartoonist’s Diary.

Bob Levin wrote insightfully about Jack Jackson.

RJ Casey interviewed Nick Drnaso.

Kevin Huizenga talked to Ben Katchor.

Todd Hignite caught up with Daniel Clowes.

Robert Kirby talked with MariNaomi.

Ryan Holmberg looked at nuclear manga here and here.

Jeanette Roan went in-depth with Jason Shiga.

Dan got into it with Anya Davidson.

Greg Hunter talked to Gilbert Hernandez about the cartoonist’s incredible recent output and his podcast featured the likes of Gabrielle Bell, Ines Estrada, Anna Bongiovanni, and Eddie Campbell.

Robert Elder chronicled the many appearances of Ernest Hemingway in the comics. Part 1 and 2.

Emily Flake talked about the funny with Glen Baxter.

Ron Rege interviewed the great Dame Darcy.

Paul Tumey delivered a compelling deep dive into the work of Gus Mager, (twice!), a two-part revelatory look at White Boy cartoonist Garrett Price (1 and 2), a look at the early days of minicomix and a twopart chat with George Herriman biographer, and he reviewed the forthcoming My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

And there were sad passings:

Geneviève Castrée

Jack Davis

Richard Thompson

Jack T. Chick

Alvin Buenaventura.

See you in 2017. 

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Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White http://www.tcj.com/reviews/krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white/ http://www.tcj.com/reviews/krazy-george-herriman-a-life-in-black-and-white/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?post_type=reviews&p=97578 Continue reading ]]> krazykoverOf all the cartoonists in our starry firmament, Herriman is undoubtedly the one who has received the most attention over the decades. By itself, the introductory matter in the volumes of the Fantagraphics collection of the complete Sunday pages, by Bill Blackbeard and others, could be arranged to form a voluminous and comprehensive biography. And there was also the lovely biography/art book by McDonnell and O’Connell (1986). The sweet and poetic genius of George Herriman has been extolled, described, explained and “doped out centrifugally, centripedally and in the fourth dimension,” to lift some of George’s own words from an unrelated situation. The continuous exposure of the last five decades has in no way dimmed my own certainty that he was the finest and most near perfect of our pantheon of cartoonists. The poetic world of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse remains as beautiful and haunting to me today as it was when I first peeped into it one day in 1970 (I’m recalling the three Sunday samples in the Penguin Book of Comics By Perry and Aldridge). Is there anything remaining to be uncovered? Is there any corner into which we have not already turned the beam of our searchlight? It turns out there is.

George Herriman’s biography, in contrast to those of his contemporaries among the fraternity of newspaper cartoonists, has long been ripe for mainstream publication for the way it can be framed against the backdrop of identity politics. Herriman’s New Orleans birth certificate, discovered only as late as 1971 and showing the abbreviation “col.” for “colored,” showed that he had “passed” for white his whole adult life. Herriman’s granddaughter said ‘I was delighted when I found out the news. It made him even more fascinating.’

I have tended to the opinion that Herriman’s racial origin was unimportant in a consideration of his body of work as it neither informed or explained it in whole or in part. His ethnic types, at a time when ethnic stereotyping was the basis of American humor, allowing for a range of feeling between hateful and genial, were much like any other genial cartoonist’s ethnic types. An average person might need an ethnographic anthropologist to explain the humor of ‘Musical Mose impussinates a Scotsman,’ but knowing that the artist was “colored” could not add to the illumination. However, Tisserand’s book, in which race is the theme throughout, convinces me that it is worthwhile to read the whole story through that lens.

The part with the most new information is the first part, what Holden Caulfield called “all that David Copperfield kind of crap,” the stuff prior to the birth of the subject. For this Tisserand undertook searches through the “records of slave transactions, bound in heavy volumes in the New Orleans City Hall, nearly indistinguishable from the records of property sales,” and he wades through the bewildering complications of the hierarchies of caste in old New Orleans, “a cultural landscape as strange and restless as the Coconino County…” (of Krazy Kat). I was pleased to find that I could disentangle the threads of three generations of Herrimans (with three Georges) on the second go-through on account of Tisserand’s always-clear organization of his material.

Tisserand avoids unnecessary flourishes of writing style. He doesn’t allow himself to get in the way of the recounting of the facts, which make compulsive reading all by themselves. He doesn’t feel the need to make the other artists around Herriman feeble to make the main subject look mighty. He is also, thankfully, not a comics formalist out to feed us his theory of the medium. To Tisserand a comic is simply a funny picture, as it was when Herriman was starting out, and as it should always have been. For example, at the beginning of Herriman’s career we find him at the Los Angeles Herald, tasked with breaking up the densely packed page of classified ads with a humorous image: “No artist has ever done more with such a meager assignment. From June to October Herriman contributed nearly fifty signed, single-panel comics…” The author almost spoils this a little when it comes time inevitably to talk about “sequential art” and he goes around genuflecting at the shrines of Hogarth, Töpffer and the rest, but thankfully again, he gets over that very quickly and gets to the Yellow Kid. I like to think he just consulted the wrong expert.

Another example of the new research that has gone into this book is Tisserand’s account of Herriman’s four-month spell, mainly as the sports page cartoonist, on the New York Daily News (not related to the current paper of that title). It was in 1904, between a stretch on Pulitzer’s World and Hearst’s American. I myself have been immersed in the writing of a book about sports page cartooning and this is news to me. I was in the New York Public Library, dammit, I could have looked it up in the microfilm. I’m such a “gazoony”! No pictorial evidence is shown, but that’s fine. It’s good to know that we can look forward to seeing that phase at a later date. I remember how Bill Blackbeard raved about Herriman’s LA Examiner work (1906-1910) in an article in the first issue of Nemo magazine in 1984, amazed at the riches that had not yet been republished. We didn’t get to see that stuff until thirty years later when Alan Holtz started putting it on his blog every Saturday. It’s good to know that the well is still not exhausted.

As to images generally, there are the obligatory sixteen pages of photos, only one of which I already knew of. And of cartoon samples specifically, Krazy has more than you would expect in a biography and far less than you’d want in an art book, but the stuff can be found in glorious reproduction elsewhere, indeed Herriman has been more thoroughly reproduced than just about any other of the old masters of comics. You can  begin with Fantagraphics as mentioned above, and Pete Maresca’s Sunday Press Books has published a goodly selection of those Sundays at full size. We really have nothing to complain about.

Tisserand’s book of Herriman’s life is the perfect shelf-companion to all of that. It is the context, as life is the context of the best cartooning. The biographer’s art lies in the choice of telling moments that stand for a great deal in ‘the life,’ the line that traces, or meanders, from ‘the womb to the tomb.’ In a way a biographer tells the story of all life using the one as an exemplar. Often it is about the cultivation of hope and, in the end, the crushing of it. Herriman died in 1944, having outlived most of his fellows, including his wife Mabel, his former LA editor and silent movie card writer, Beanie Walker, cartoonists Tad Dorgan and Ralph Springer. Herriman’s daughter Bobbie was an artist in her own right, and was 31 when she died in 1939. I cannot get past Tisserand’s description of the Sunday page Herriman drew following her death without being overwhelmed.

[Editor’s note: Eddie Campbell is currently at work on a book about the beginnings of comics. He spoke with Greg Hunter about it for this very site right here.]

 

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Choppy Waters http://www.tcj.com/choppy-waters/ http://www.tcj.com/choppy-waters/#respond Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97562 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, we are pleased to present Eddie Campbell’s review of Michael Tisserand’s much-discussed new biography of George Herriman, Krazy.

Of all the cartoonists in our starry firmament, Herriman is undoubtedly the one who has received the most attention over the decades. By itself, the introductory matter in the volumes of the Fantagraphics collection of the complete Sunday pages, by Bill Blackbeard and others, could be arranged to form a voluminous and comprehensive biography. And there was also the lovely biography/art book by McDonnell and O’Connell (1986). The sweet and poetic genius of George Herriman has been extolled, described, explained and “doped out centrifugally, centripedally and in the fourth dimension,” to lift some of George’s own words from an unrelated situation. The continuous exposure of the last five decades has in no way dimmed my own certainty that he was the finest and most near perfect of our pantheon of cartoonists. The poetic world of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse remains as beautiful and haunting to me today as it was when I first peeped into it one day in 1970 (I’m recalling the three Sunday samples in the Penguin Book of Comics By Perry and Aldridge). Is there anything remaining to be uncovered? Is there any corner into which we have not already turned the beam of our searchlight? It turns out there is.

We also have the second part of another excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. This section’s topics include uncanonization of a direct sales manager, criticizing Will Eisner, the mole in the Journal, Fiore vs. Pekar, and Capital City vs. Diamond.


Ilse Thompson:
The first collection of The Complete Crumb Comics that I edited started the first years of American Splendor. Because Crumb and Harvey Pekar both own the copyright on their collaborations, we had to get permission from Pekar to publish the work. He was against it. He wouldn’t. Crumb eventually persuaded him, and I got a memo from Gary saying that he had relented. When the book came out, I was arranging for complimentary copies to be sent to contributors, and calling people to confirm their addresses. I called Pekar, who popped a cork when I told him that American Splendor had been reprinted. He had forgotten that he’d OK’d it. “Gimme Groth! I’m going to sue him!” He demanded to speak with anyone in a position above me. I was afraid to tell him that I had edited it, and told him that everyone else was at lunch, because I didn’t want anyone to know I’d pissed him off.

The next morning, Kim told me that Pekar had called to apologize to me, and that I should expect a call from him. When he called, we spent an hour on the phone. He gave me a lesson in Russian literature.

Groth: At first, Pekar refused to give permission to reprint the strips Crumb drew from his scripts. I had to call Crumb and ask him to call Pekar and intercede, which he did. My impression was that Pekar refused permission either because of some feud he was having either with Bob Fiore at the time or an argument I had with his wife Joyce Brabner, but which I remember thinking was a petty reason to deny his collaborator the right to include those strips in his complete works.

R. Fiore: The Harvey Pekar business was one of the more idiotic episodes I’ve ever been involved in. One thing to remember was that it came during that whole period when the move was being made and my return from Seattle, and if you read anything I was writing at the time you’ll see that I was just in a foul mood. You could see it in that ridiculous feud we were carrying on with the Comics Buyer’s Guide, overheated rhetoric mostly provided by me, as if we were in a death struggle with Don Thompson for the soul of the comics, (a) as though they had one and (b) as though it would have been worth having. I am put in mind of Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Falkland Islands War: Two bald men fighting over a comb.

Thompson: The Fiore/Pekar feud highlights one of the problems, which is that people would inevitably take the writing of one person in the Journal as a company-wide broadside, and generalize their dislike of that person into a loathing for the Journal and Fantagraphics as a whole. So a lot of people hate Gary for nasty reviews of their work that Gary may not agree with, or even have read.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Reviews & Commentary.
In the wake of the recent tragic Ghost Ship fire, Brian Chippendale writes about artists and DIY living spaces, including Fort Thunder.

Far from the neighborhoods behind brick two feet thick, we could be anyone and do anything we wanted. Fort Thunder was my first zone, starting in 1995. By 2002 we were evicted by fire marshals and the building was razed for a shopping center. We had over 100 shows during the six years of the Fort’s lifespan, not a huge amount compared to other art spaces, but it was plenty. We didn’t pay the rent with parties; we paid the rent by cramming in roommates. Paying the rent using money the shows generated never really dawned on us since we made the shows super affordable, keeping only the change in the bottom of the donation bin. We had the Fugazi mentality: keep things cheap and do it for the people.

Our lease-free month-to-month 7,000 square foot space had a large cavernous side where the shows happened and bigger projects could be worked on, plus a music practice space, silkscreening area, kitchen, and a bike repair zone. The smaller side contained the library and living quarters where most of the six to twelve roommates built their rooms. The rooms were crafted from whatever we and the cats dragged in; found wood (mostly pallets), paper, cloth, cardboard, plastic. Anything that was cheap or free. If there is one thing that every broke warehouse dweller knows it’s that wood pallets are the cheapest wood you’ll find; available and plentiful.

Via an excellent, thorough interview, comics scholar Hilary Chute names and explains her five favorite comics of 2016.

One of the things that [Nick Drnaso] captures so incredibly in this book is that it’s not just a ‘slice of life’ look at suburbia. There are a lot of comics like that, capturing the texture of everyday life. Chris Ware is the master of that form. This book is about really dark things, from the very first, fascinating and incredible story about race to the story that feels really relevant right now, about a teenage girl who fakes an abduction and says that she’s been abducted by an Arab man. The community starts producing this anti-Arab sentiment. There’s the story about a child named Tyler, who has a form of OCD. He has these unwanted thoughts so that everywhere he looks, he sees people being killed and dismembered. I actually found that hard to look at.


—Interviews & Profiles.
The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Jessica Campbell.

For BBC.com, Cath Pound writes about Tove Jansson’s career as a painter.

The daughter of Finnish sculptor Viktor Jansson and his Swedish artist wife Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, known as Ham, Tove Jansson grew up in an environment where art, work and life were inseparable. By the age of 14 her work was already appearing in print and she soon followed her mother to the satirical magazine Garm. At art school, where her early work had a mystical, fairytale quality to it, she was considered a bright and promising student. The self-portraits she painted in the 1930s and ’40s reveal her development as an artist and, thinks art historian Tuula Karjalainen, are among her strongest works.

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Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part Two) http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-two/ http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-two/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97573 We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books, the topics covered include: the uncanonization of a direct sales manager, criticizing Will Eisner, the mole in the Journal, Fiore vs. Pekar, and Capital City vs. Diamond. Continue reading ]]> The following is an excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. The uncanonization of a direct sales manager; criticizing Will Eisner; the mole in the Journal; Fiore vs. Pekar; Capital City vs. Diamond.

(continued from Part One.)

Thom Powers at his Journal desk, 1993.

Thom Powers at his Journal desk, 1993.


Lighting the Feuds

Powers: There have been so many feuds it makes you wonder if there’s something peculiar to Fantagraphics that causes this pattern. I’m not sure I have an answer for that.

Groth: The Comics Journal was in a particularly contentious period in its contentious history by the beginning of the 1990s. We’d just gotten off of our campaign to shame Marvel into returning Jack Kirby’s art; we’d just won three libel suits in a row; independent publishers were gaining traction; the self-publishing movement was afoot; Marvel and DC were still dominant, of course. I saw the Journal’s mission as continuing to be a provocateur, to shake things up, to continue to challenge the status quo.

A microcosm of the public outcry following Gary's essay, "Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish".

A microcosm of the public outcry following Gary’s essay, “Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish”.

I wrote a couple pieces that caused a surprising and to my mind inordinate amount of controversy and condemnation. I wrote an editorial about the public response to Carol Kalish’s death, something I’m still pleased with. I was chewing off my lips for something like two months, because I didn’t want to write what I eventually wrote. Every week, I would get The Buyer’s Guide, and every week I would read these preposterous hagiographic letters and essays about Kalish. They became more and more attenuated reality. There were eventually letters from people who had never met her or even knew who she was, but who were praising her based on previous letters from people praising her, which were based on something Peter David said a month earlier. So, eventually, I decided that the context required me to try to redress the balance. And my objection was less toward Kalish herself than toward these mindless, over-the-top panegyrics about her, unrelated to her real contribution to comics or even who she was. I think that she got more ink after she died than Kirby, Hogarth, Caniff, Kurtzman, all these great artists, did.

I think the reason for that was probably because she was a professional networker. People get praised more because of their networking skills than because they’re great artists, and that offended me; it seemed like an utterly lopsided set of values at work. Fewer people knew and liked Burne Hogarth, so he got virtually no coverage, but because Carol Kalish was the friend of all retailers, she was smothered in praise. So anyway, I don’t know, it seems ridiculous in retrospect, because my piece was like what, 2,000 words, or something like that? It was a short, succinct piece. And you know, the ironic thing is it might have even created more of a shitstorm than my piece on Eisner.

Gary Groth, “Lies We Cherish: The Canonization of Carol Kalish,” The Comics Journal #146 November 1991:

Of course, her job was to sell as much semi-literate junk to a gullible public as humanly possible. Her gift — or genius — was exploiting markets, manipulating public taste, pandering to the lowest common denominator. She was, in an odd sort of way, forthright about the crassness of her employer’s marketing methods. Once I witnessed a retailer timidly question Marvel’s strategy of filling their comics with sex and violence: Kalish’s reply, which was almost refreshingly free of the specious nod to morality to which less assured marketing tacticians would resort, was that little boys liked sex and violence and Marvel was in the business of selling comics to little boys. Hence and therefore.

Thompson: I understand why people were offended by Gary’s piece, but a lot of the criticism was off base. First, that it was written “too soon” — it was months after Kalish’s death — and second that it was an attack on Kalish herself. I suspect that to this day a lot of people who bear a grudge toward Gary never read the original editorial, just other people’s interpretations of it … or if they did finally read it, their perception had already been so colored by the outrage.

Groth: I reread my Eisner piece not too long ago, and it wasn’t bad. I stand behind it, but my God, it created another shitstorm. Even Jules Feiffer raked me over the coals for it in my interview with him. No one was allowed to say anything critical about Eisner then. I think that’s changed since, but in 1989, he was critically inviolate.

Gary Groth, “Will Eisner: A Second Opinion,” The Comics Journal #119, January 1988:

There are, it seems to me, two Will Eisners: The populist who defends mass-market junk and the elitist who champions comics as a form of literature; a shrewd businessman who prides himself on deal making and market savvy and an artist whose aspirations rise above the marketplace; an artist who uses his (and others’) gifts to package utilitarian products-to-order and an artist who strives to duplicate the human condition.

Feiffer: I thought Gary’s essay on Will Eisner was quite harsh. What was refreshing was that he was one of the few people not enamored of Eisner and didn’t genuflect, but at the same time I thought he went overboard in his judgments. There were all sorts of criticisms of Eisner’s work that I thought were legitimate; I didn’t feel like Gary in some instances was on the money here.

Groth: I wasn’t rabid about Eisner, particularly, but I couldn’t understand why no one else noticed that his graphic novels were really lousy, and lousy in an obvious and pronounced way. It pretty much shot my relationship with Eisner, who never forgave me — another example of naiveté on my part, though I probably never even considered that aspect of it when I sat down to write it.

Gary Groth, “Will Eisner: A Second Opinion,” The Comics Journal #119, January 1988:

These observations were prompted by my reading of The Building, and two blurbs from Don Thompson and Max Allan Collins that Kitchen Sink is using to advertise the book. Uncle Don thinks The Building is “inspirational” and “outstanding,” while Collins thinks it’s a “brilliant, graceful graphic novel” that brought tears to his “cynical eyes.” In fact, The Building may be Eisner’s worst book, a menagerie of clichés and an embarrassingly strident use of a hoary, heavy-handed literary device that could be productively employed in schools throughout the country as an example of how not to write a story, but which wouldn’t fail to impress our average comics reviewer as an example of High Art.

Groth: So again, I wanted to introduce a contrarian point of view to the public discourse. There’s nothing that comics fans hate more than something that upsets their little critical apple cart. I got hell for it; I think Don Thompson said I wrote it out of jealousy. But looking back on it, I would fine-tune it a little bit, but I think I was pretty accurate. God knows, considering what he’s done since then, I think it was probably pretty lenient.

Dave Sim and I went ’round and ’round. My disagreements with Dave — and this is long before he wrote that deranged anti-woman screed — were many. One, I remember, was his adoration of self-publishing irrespective of the quality of the self-publisher. I guess I thought that there was something about Dave’s worldview that was skewed and defective and fundamentally amoral … although I didn’t know how skewed at that time.

Gary Groth defends distributor Bud Plant from Dave Sim.

Gary Groth defends distributor Bud Plant from Dave Sim.

I haven’t looked at this in ages, but I think we had a back-and-forth where I wrote a couple of pieces about him, and he wrote a big piece about me in Cerebus, and naturally I wrote a response and so forth. It was one thing after another. I remember Dave also attacked Bud Plant over some utterly specious nonsense, and I mean Bud is probably one of the few fucking saints in the comics industry. So they had this big brouhaha, and not too long after that, Sim was palling around with Steve Geppi and lifting brewskis and watching football games with him. Earlier he had taken this exhibitionistically moral stance about what an unethical person Geppi was, and then shortly thereafter he’s buddying up to him. So I think he was displaying signs of neo-Ayn-Randian economic models back then that were sort of seeping out of his writing, which I thought were morally dicey. I think I went after that too.

At the time, these were like life-and-death issues and I wrote with that kind of urgency. Looking back, perhaps that was naive, but I wouldn’t mitigate that passion, in retrospect, for anything.

One day someone from Capital City called. I forget the guy’s name, but he was an executive at Capital, and I guess I wrote an editorial where I specifically referred to him as a schlockmeister. So, one day someone who answered the phone in my office buzzed me and tells me, “There’s a call for you.”

I said, “Who is it?”

And he said, “Well, he just said, ‘It’s the schlockmeister.’” So I took the call and this guy just yelled at me for five minutes. He was right in the sense that the reductio ad absurdum of my argument that he was responding to was that he probably shouldn’t have a job, and that 90 percent of the comics that Capital was distributing shouldn’t exist. But he was really personally, deeply offended by this.

That kind of conviction about art and what culture ought to be, and what excellence is and what we should be devoting ourselves to was beginning to be sidelined by an overwhelming commercial ethos.

Image probably had a lot to do with that — empowering mediocrity. That was a revolting spectacle, honorable men running to Image because Image suddenly had lots of money and power and clout. And because it was run by creators and creators were intrinsically the good guys.

I haven’t read the Creator Bill of Rights in a couple decades, but as I recall, I was somewhat skeptical of whether this was going to enhance the art form — and that’s what I wanted to do, that was my primary interest, that’s what I thought it was all about. I found a lot of these reformist or semi-reformist agendas, like Scott McCloud’s and Dave Sim’s, were more about giving shitty artists a bigger cut of the pie than anything having to do with art. In a lot of instances, I was not railing against the corporate mentality as embodied by corporations but the corporate mentality as it had been internalized by the more vocal creators.

I was banging my head against that wall, and the wall was winning. Apathy had taken the place of a more activist kind of agenda on the part of creators.

I couldn’t in good conscience champion the guy who pencils and inks Justice League of America. I mean, he probably makes a very good living. He doesn’t own the work. He knows that going in; it’s all work for hire, I think that you can make an argument that work for hire is intrinsically bad. It is just part of this whole commercial culture that encourages people to divorce themselves from their own work in any meaningful way. But you know, nobody’s going to listen to that argument.

Powers: There was a big break between Gary and Denis Kitchen.

Thompson: Kitchen Sink was falling apart, and not only was it falling apart, there was some weird stuff going on in its relationship with Tundra, with which it was merging. It was the big story at the time, and Gary was adamant that it should be pursued in the Journal, as well it should. Kitchen saw this as an attempt to sabotage him, and his paranoia was exacerbated when the Journal editor of the time, Carole Sobocinski, decided to become a mole for him inside the Journal.

Groth: I had what I would characterize as a collegial relationship with Denis Kitchen through the ’80s. We weren’t close friends, but we both suffered the same tribulations as marginal, alternative comics publishers, and we’d often gossip and commiserate at cons and at parties, and over the phone. I certainly considered him a collegial friend or a friendly colleague. He was always supportive of the Journal’s journalistic mission — he had been a journalist himself briefly — and he often complimented the magazine on its hard-hitting news coverage.

In the early ’90s, Kitchen Sink Press was going through he same miserable financial contractions we were. I think he was circling the drain just as we were. We solved our problem by starting Eros Comix. Kitchen tried to solve his by merging with Tundra, the alternative publishing company Kevin Eastman founded in 1990 and sunk his millions in.

Kitchen issued a press release in 1993 announcing Kitchen Sink’s purchase of Tundra. This was suspicious on the face of it; companies on the brink of bankruptcy don’t buy companies who are three or four times their size. My journalistic bullshit detector went off. This made as much sense as Fantagraphics buying Random House. We proceeded to do our job, which was to dig up the truth, and this put us in direct contention with Kitchen who did his best to prevaricate and hide the truth. As it turned out, according to what Eastman subsequently told me in his Journal interview, he, Eastman, has initially owned 51 percent of Kitchen for a while, and even financed the merger or acquisition to the tune of 2 million dollars — the opposite of how the transaction was portrayed by Kitchen. It became more personal when, during the course of our reportage I thought we were being stonewalled, I had a conversation with Kitchen and he told me he would answer our questions honestly or tell us when he couldn’t answer them, but insisted on the subterfuge that Kitchen had purchased Tundra. All this time, unbeknownst to me, our news editor and news writer were in cahoots with Kitchen to suppress the story.

Roberta Gregory characterizes the state of creators' rights in The Comics Journal #137 (1990).

Roberta Gregory characterizes the state of creators’ rights in The Comics Journal #137 (1990).

Powers: I visited Denis Kitchen back when Kitchen Sink was in Wisconsin, back when I was briefly the executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I visited Denis, stayed at his place, and on the way over people were saying, “Happy birthday, Denis.” In this low-key way he hadn’t bothered to disclose, it was his birthday.

Later that trip he said, “I started a publishing company to control my own work, but now this company controls me.” And I think that’s true for so many entrepreneurs and small businesspeople.

Marc Arsenault, designer and former Tundra employee: 
[Gary] called me up one afternoon, and what he had to say was a bit of a shock. He apologized to me. Apparently, a couple of members of The Comics Journal staff decided that what I and other former employees and associates of Kevin Eastman’s Tundra Publishing had to say about our time there was so horrendous, that — journalistic ethics be damned — it would be a good idea to let Denis Kitchen know what was up, off-the-record comments recorded without my permission or knowledge [in the course of their alleged news writing], and all.

Groth: Over the course of several months when this story was hot, I was increasingly frustrated because the Journal’s news writer simply wasn’t getting the story. He would submit drafts that were woefully feckless and evasive, I would return them for a rewrite with specific notes as to whom to talk to and what questions to ask, I would get another half-assed draft and this would go on and on. The managing editor kept telling me she was on the news writer and couldn’t understand why he was doing such a poor job either. What I didn’t know is that they were both in constant touch with Kitchen, had agreed to sabotage the news story and were feeding him information about how successful they were in undercutting the story.

I only learned about this when an intern working under them whom they had taken into their confidence came to me and confessed the whole cover-up. When I called Sobocinski at home and told her I wanted to meet with her, she never came back to work, and the next thing I knew Kitchen had hired her as his assistant.

Ilse Thompson:
The first collection of The Complete Crumb Comics that I edited started the first years of American Splendor. Because Crumb and Harvey Pekar both own the copyright on their collaborations, we had to get permission from Pekar to publish the work. He was against it. He wouldn’t. Crumb eventually persuaded him, and I got a memo from Gary saying that he had relented. When the book came out, I was arranging for complimentary copies to be sent to contributors, and calling people to confirm their addresses. I called Pekar, who popped a cork when I told him that American Splendor had been reprinted. He had forgotten that he’d OK’d it. “Gimme Groth! I’m going to sue him!” He demanded to speak with anyone in a position above me. I was afraid to tell him that I had edited it, and told him that everyone else was at lunch, because I didn’t want anyone to know I’d pissed him off.

The next morning, Kim told me that Pekar had called to apologize to me, and that I should expect a call from him. When he called, we spent an hour on the phone. He gave me a lesson in Russian literature.

R. Crumb's cover to the first American Splendor collection (Doubleday, 1986).

R. Crumb’s cover to the first American Splendor collection (Doubleday, 1986).

Groth: At first, Pekar refused to give permission to reprint the strips Crumb drew from his scripts. I had to call Crumb and ask him to call Pekar and intercede, which he did. My impression was that Pekar refused permission either because of some feud he was having either with Bob Fiore at the time or an argument I had with his wife Joyce Brabner, but which I remember thinking was a petty reason to deny his collaborator the right to include those strips in his complete works.

R. Fiore: The Harvey Pekar business was one of the more idiotic episodes I’ve ever been involved in. One thing to remember was that it came during that whole period when the move was being made and my return from Seattle, and if you read anything I was writing at the time you’ll see that I was just in a foul mood. You could see it in that ridiculous feud we were carrying on with the Comics Buyer’s Guide, overheated rhetoric mostly provided by me, as if we were in a death struggle with Don Thompson for the soul of the comics, (a) as though they had one and (b) as though it would have been worth having. I am put in mind of Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Falkland Islands War: Two bald men fighting over a comb.

Thompson: The Fiore/Pekar feud highlights one of the problems, which is that people would inevitably take the writing of one person in the Journal as a company-wide broadside, and generalize their dislike of that person into a loathing for the Journal and Fantagraphics as a whole. So a lot of people hate Gary for nasty reviews of their work that Gary may not agree with, or even have read.

Powers: For years I made pitiful attempts to get Bob to write in other venues. I published my own paper in Detroit in 1993, and I got Bob to write a column for me. Unfortunately, I only published three issues. I once gave copies of the papers to Christopher Hitchens and Hitchens asked me later, “Who’s Bob Fiore? He’s a great writer.”

Fiore: The biggest problem with the position I took with Pekar [re: the reductive use of animals in Art Spiegelman’s Maus] was that Pekar had a point, in that characterizing a people as pigs does have a certain connotation. The real answer to this is that, while it is a problem, Spiegelman defuses it by portraying Poles in a multidimensional way. The thing is, right at the time I was writing that column, I had heard this thing on NPR about Polish collaboration during the Holocaust, and I made this dumbass comment to the effect that, in making them pigs, Spiegelman was being too kind. Needless to say, this was not the way in which Spiegelman wanted to see his work defended. Anyway, having climbed out on this limb, I proceeded in the finest Field Marshal Haig fashion to defend it. What the episode proves is that the things that are most likely to make you look foolish in an argument are ego involvement and emotional involvement.

What impressed me about Pekar is that he actually went out and read The Lost Steps, much more of a commitment than I would have made in the same circumstances. (It actually is a book about a modern man who discovers a primitive society that he finds superior to the modern world and all its conveniences, but Pekar did some selective quotation that made it look otherwise. The dirty cheat.) What burns me up is that I found a quote from Orwell that said that Animal Farm was an allegory of the Russian Revolution, but it was too late. This was the sort of absurd point we went round and round on; Pekar would take a position that was objectively wrong but because of my ego involvement I kept trying to make him admit it, and that’s something he wouldn’t do. And you really have to wonder if someone who can’t see the difference between Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler has any genuine understanding of literature at all. The perverse thing is while artists always complain about being judged by people who couldn’t create art, when artists themselves try to judge a work of art they are immediately subjected to invidious comparisons or accusations of professional jealousy.

Groth: I remember Pekar telling me that he would never, ever allow Fiore to have the last word in that argument and that he would argue for the rest of his life if necessary and that if I ever stopped the argument and gave Fiore the last word, Pekar would continue it in the pages of the Comics Buyer’s Guide. It rampaged over many issues of the Journal and Pekar did indeed get the last word. Until now.

(continued on next page)

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Whipped Nog http://www.tcj.com/whipped-nog/ http://www.tcj.com/whipped-nog/#respond Thu, 15 Dec 2016 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97581 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site we have another excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, this one entitled, “Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part 1).

The Comics Journal vs. The Comics Industry

Barry Windsor-Smith, cartoonist: In the early 1990s, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and I were traveling to a downtown restaurant. We were crowded in the back of a yellow cab, and the chat was inevitably about the world of comic books. I wasn’t interested, so I was tuned out, thinking of things other than comics.

But then, the mention of The Comics Journal caught my attention and I briefly tuned back into the conversation as Bob snorted, “Fuckers!” with Jim concurring — “Those bastards.” It’s rare for Shooter to curse. I guess he reserves his expletives for The Comics Journal.

Chiming in, I said, “The Journal is the only real magazine we’ve got.” In that context, where Jim and Bob were openly hostile, my use of the term “magazine” implied an arbiter of taste, criticism and intelligence, like The New Yorker, for instance. They both looked at me briefly, and, turning away, Shooter’s ass tightened so fast that it almost overtook the speed of Layton’s gall bladder stricture — what little air was in the back of the taxi was immediately sucked into each of their lower guts with a thunderous stereophonic whistling sound. Following through, I said, “Damned good thing they keep us on our toes, right?”
The rest of the short journey down Broadway passed in silence. Staring out the window while returning to my private musings, I coined the ungainly term Reverse Fart.

 

Steven Grant: We felt all the comics-news outlets, not just the Journal, weren’t really serving the needs of the comics-professionals community, and there was really no reason to expect them to. We [WAP!, the freelancer’s rights newsletter] never really conceived ourselves as being in competition with the Journal in any way, though I heard rumors the Journalthought we were positioning the newsletter that way. But there was a general sense of outright hostility from the Journal toward the rank and file of comics professionals — which isn’t to say a lot of the Journal’s assessment of the business wasn’t accurate, just that they often professed their views in ways that were perceived as elitist and confrontational — and there were a lot of professionals who didn’t feel comfortable discussing their issues with the business with the Journal.

Gary Groth: The “industry” at large, of which 90 percent or more consisted of Marvel and DC (and Archie), had schizophrenic views of us. In the early days, we would give Gerber and Thomas and Englehart space to rant about Marvel and Jim Shooter, which they appreciated insofar as comics creators had never had a public forum available to them to voice their grievances; it was really the first time that a magazine would give them that kind of space and allow them to express themselves uncensored. Before that, fanzines toed the company line and the vast majority of creators were frankly too feckless to speak out. And to be fair, the Journal could be perceived as schizophrenic: We’d often run negative reviews of their books while championing their rights as artists. So there was always a tension there. Some comics creators respected our willingness to uphold artistic standards and give even creators we didn’t necessarily believe maintained those standards a place to speak out, and there were other comics creators who despised us for our “attitude.” Our attitude was a big problem.

Kim Thompson: That was the point, I think, at which the unity of alternative-minded mainstreamers and alternative cartoonists started to fray. It was a relationship that just couldn’t hold. They were based on improving the mainstream model, and we were based on bypassing it — or smashing it. There was also a residue of hostility because of all the mean things we said in reviews.

Groth: By the time WAP! showed up, I think the scales had been lifted from our eyes — or my eyes — and I realized corporations like DC and Marvel were not reformable and the only moral option was to not work for them — which was not something the Journal could effect. WAP! was interested in improving conditions so that artists could make more money producing crap rather than get fucked over for producing crap. I saw it as a venue confirming the work-for-hire status quo, which I was increasingly uncomfortable with. I came to the conclusion that producing crap was the problem, not how much one gets paid for it. Of course, self-publishing and indy publishing wasn’t the answer either, but I didn’t think it through that far. If I had, I would’ve realized there was no answer and slit my wrists.

Joe Sacco: I remember meeting Jim Shooter at one of the San Diego conventions and asking him for a quote about something or other, and him telling me, “I don’t talk to that rag.”

And more:

Tony Millionaire is ending his long running comics strip, Maakies. It began in 1994 and is ending now. The artist’s announcement is here. Tom Spurgeon has some thoughts about that.

R.C. Baker on the Philip Guston’s magnificently vicious Nixon cartoons.

Here’s a very nice tribute post to the great Richard Kyle, including scans of many pages from his magazines. 

Jane Mai adapts a portion of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s novel The Return of Münchausen over at the Paris Review. 

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Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part One) http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-one/ http://www.tcj.com/fantagraphics-vs-everyone-part-one/#respond Thu, 15 Dec 2016 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97570 We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited and exhaustive oral history of Fantagraphics Books. This section's leading characters include Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Shooter, Helena Harvilicz, Frank Young, Eric Reynolds, and Tom Spurgeon. Continue reading ]]> The following is an excerpt from We Told You So: Comics as Art, the long-awaited oral history of Fantagraphics Books put together by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. A tumultuous magazine for a tumultuous industry; Barry Windsor-Smith troubles Jim Shooter’s lower gut; the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest; Helena Harvilicz blows up; Frank Young melts down; and Eric Reynolds and Tom Spurgeon: the non-sociopath years.

Summer 1995 backyard party at Peter and Joanne Bagge's house, names tagged by Jim Blanchard and featuring a cross-section of lcoal comics, music and media folk.

Summer 1995 backyard party at Peter and Joanne Bagge’s house, names tagged by Jim Blanchard and featuring a cross-section of lcoal comics, music and media folk.

The Comics Journal vs. The Comics Industry

Barry Windsor-Smith, cartoonist: In the early 1990s, Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and I were traveling to a downtown restaurant. We were crowded in the back of a yellow cab, and the chat was inevitably about the world of comic books. I wasn’t interested, so I was tuned out, thinking of things other than comics.

But then, the mention of The Comics Journal caught my attention and I briefly tuned back into the conversation as Bob snorted, “Fuckers!” with Jim concurring — “Those bastards.” It’s rare for Shooter to curse. I guess he reserves his expletives for The Comics Journal.

Chiming in, I said, “The Journal is the only real magazine we’ve got.” In that context, where Jim and Bob were openly hostile, my use of the term “magazine” implied an arbiter of taste, criticism and intelligence, like The New Yorker, for instance. They both looked at me briefly, and, turning away, Shooter’s ass tightened so fast that it almost overtook the speed of Layton’s gall bladder stricture — what little air was in the back of the taxi was immediately sucked into each of their lower guts with a thunderous stereophonic whistling sound. Following through, I said, “Damned good thing they keep us on our toes, right?”
The rest of the short journey down Broadway passed in silence. Staring out the window while returning to my private musings, I coined the ungainly term Reverse Fart.

Bill Williingham's inspired, Steadman-esque portrait of industry villain Jim Shooter for The Comics Journal #171.

Bill Williingham’s inspired, Steadman-esque portrait of industry villain Jim Shooter for The Comics Journal #171.

Steven Grant: We felt all the comics-news outlets, not just the Journal, weren’t really serving the needs of the comics-professionals community, and there was really no reason to expect them to. We [WAP!, the freelancer’s rights newsletter] never really conceived ourselves as being in competition with the Journal in any way, though I heard rumors the Journal thought we were positioning the newsletter that way. But there was a general sense of outright hostility from the Journal toward the rank and file of comics professionals — which isn’t to say a lot of the Journal’s assessment of the business wasn’t accurate, just that they often professed their views in ways that were perceived as elitist and confrontational — and there were a lot of professionals who didn’t feel comfortable discussing their issues with the business with the Journal.

Gary Groth: The “industry” at large, of which 90 percent or more consisted of Marvel and DC (and Archie), had schizophrenic views of us. In the early days, we would give Gerber and Thomas and Englehart space to rant about Marvel and Jim Shooter, which they appreciated insofar as comics creators had never had a public forum available to them to voice their grievances; it was really the first time that a magazine would give them that kind of space and allow them to express themselves uncensored. Before that, fanzines toed the company line and the vast majority of creators were frankly too feckless to speak out. And to be fair, the Journal could be perceived as schizophrenic: We’d often run negative reviews of their books while championing their rights as artists. So there was always a tension there. Some comics creators respected our willingness to uphold artistic standards and give even creators we didn’t necessarily believe maintained those standards a place to speak out, and there were other comics creators who despised us for our “attitude.” Our attitude was a big problem.

Kim Thompson: That was the point, I think, at which the unity of alternative-minded mainstreamers and alternative cartoonists started to fray. It was a relationship that just couldn’t hold. They were based on improving the mainstream model, and we were based on bypassing it — or smashing it. There was also a residue of hostility because of all the mean things we said in reviews.

Groth: By the time WAP! showed up, I think the scales had been lifted from our eyes — or my eyes — and I realized corporations like DC and Marvel were not reformable and the only moral option was to not work for them — which was not something the Journal could effect. WAP! was interested in improving conditions so that artists could make more money producing crap rather than get fucked over for producing crap. I saw it as a venue confirming the work-for-hire status quo, which I was increasingly uncomfortable with. I came to the conclusion that producing crap was the problem, not how much one gets paid for it. Of course, self-publishing and indy publishing wasn’t the answer either, but I didn’t think it through that far. If I had, I would’ve realized there was no answer and slit my wrists.

The "I Am Not Terry Beatty's Girlfriend" Contest call for entries.

The “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest call for entries.

Thom Powers: One thing that I think was notable when I was managing editor of The Comics Journal was that it did mark a particularly nasty streak for the magazine. It was issues #117 to maybe #124. It included the apotheosis of our attitude then, the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest, which kind of represented a split between Gary and Kim. I think Kim was really wary of our doing this. Gary and I were giggling over the opportunity.

Joe Sacco: I remember meeting Jim Shooter at one of the San Diego conventions and asking him for a quote about something or other, and him telling me, “I don’t talk to that rag.”

Powers: There are some things that I look back on during that period where I think they were a little too personal, and it doesn’t get any more nasty than the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest. But I have no regrets. We started the Swipe File then. That I feel a little bad about in retrospect.

Thompson: I thought some of it was pointless bullshit and served no purpose other than to undercut the Journal’s reputation and create additional enemies for no good reason. But I had enough of the same inclinations and history that I had no moral high ground from which to speak, so all I could do is grouse about individual instances, to little effect. Thom and Gary tended to reinforce each other.

Groth: Thom edited the Journal briefly and even wrote news. We were very much in accord, editorially and philosophically, in that we wanted to use the magazine to confront entrenched attitudes in the profession and attack the whole ethos of hackery, and we were willing to use ridicule and humor to make our point. Nothing, I should add, was done frivolously. The whole point of the “Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest was to underscore how fatuous it was to defend drek. I still think that was pretty inspired, if I may say so. Although Kim’s own comics criticism could be devastating, he was always a little queasy about such tactics.

Thompson: There was always a lot of hostility towards The Comics Journal and Gary, and it tended to divide itself pretty cleanly. Those who liked and regarded as valid the model and aesthetic of mainstream comics didn’t like us, and those who didn’t like the model and aesthetic liked us. There were people on both sides who went the other way, but that’s kind of the way it broke down.

Thom Powers and Gary Groth, circa mid-1990s.

Thom Powers and Gary Groth, circa mid-1990s.

Groth: I was given more shit for the “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend” Contest than anything else we did — at least until I wrote an editorial about Carol Kalish. Even in retrospect, I think the “Contest” was pretty editorially inspired. The fact of it, but also the fact that it took balls to do it. One of the criticisms often leveled against us was that we were humorless and stuffy — yet this was about as funny and as incendiary as you could get. It was freewheeling, more in the tradition of, say, The Realist. I wish we did more things like this today.

The “Contest” came out of a predictably negative review of some short-lived and now-forgotten DC comic called Wild Dog written by Max Allan Collins and drawn by Terry Beatty. The only two people who wrote in attacking the review and defending the comic were Terry Beatty and his girlfriend (in two separate letters). Before we got their letters, though, Beatty called me up and literally screamed at me for five minutes — livid. The letters were brimming with indignation. I thought this was so funny that I initiated a contest, open to Journal readers, to write in defending the comic; the winner would get a subscription to the Journal. The only criterion was that the contestant couldn’t be Terry Beatty’s girlfriend. We received a lot of entries, as I recall.

The Comics Journal’s Revolving Door

Dale Yarger: Comics Journal editors were a strange breed, as you probably know — they went through like three or four a year for a long time. At least it seemed like that.

Groth: If one of the skills I was looking for in a Journal editor was sanity, I should generally be considered a pretty dismal failure at hiring Journal editors.

Thompson: Some were pretty good but slightly neurotic editors who just eventually snapped, like Helena Harvilicz and Frank Young, whereas others explored the outer limits of office sociopathy.

Robert Boyd: It was a fucking stressful job. Gary was really unhelpful — certainly one of his weaknesses. He was totally hands-off unless he had a problem, then he could be kind of an asshole. I think if he had been a little more helpful and positive when people were doing a good job, they could have accepted his occasionally harsh criticisms a little better. But it was such a difficult job, and people would do it without ever getting a pat on the back. I mean, editors just killed themselves to get this magazine out.

Helena Harvilicz: I used to read The Comics Journal, and I found an ad for the managing editor job in The Comics Journal, and I just sent them a résumé — it was actually a really goofy cover letter that I wrote. I think I tried to impress them with how funny I was, or something. I got quotes from people who knew me, about how great I was. I think it must have impressed them, whatever it was. I’d been out of school a couple years and I had worked in restaurants, and at that point I was working at Georgetown University as a secretary.

Thompson: Helena is a totally hilarious writer, a skill she was never able to really use in the Journal. She later did her own little fanzine, Nut Magnet, which was a masterpiece. She was also a character and a bit of a flake — this tiny, tiny woman who looked like she had barely hit puberty. My wife Lynn told me that she spent one of the first Fantagraphics parties she attended, when she didn’t know too many people, horrified that there was this 13-year-old girl drinking and smoking. “Is she someone’s daughter? Who brought her? Why isn’t anyone stopping this?”

The Comics Journal #132 (1989), cover by Lynda Barry.

The Comics Journal #132 (1989), cover by Lynda Barry.

Harvilicz: I had to fly out and buy my own plane ticket, because they wouldn’t pay for me to come out — at that point they were in L.A. I went out there and I just really hit it off with those guys. It was weird — like coming home in a weird way. We just had the same sensibility, and they just seemed to really like me and I really liked everyone. And then Gary offered me the job, which I was kind of shocked about, and then the salary was so poor he couldn’t convince me to do it. So they hired someone else, I think. I forget how much it was, it was pathetic — I think like $11,000 a year.

And then they hired this guy, Greg Baisden. He went up to Seattle with them, and then I guess as it often happens with Comics Journal editors, he lasted a very short amount of time. I thought Greg was kind of an idiot when I met him.

Groth: Greg Baisden moved up with us from L.A. Greg was an extremely good editor as well as a good news writer, but he also had a mercurial temperament — almost the stereotype of a “good” Journal editor. You had to take the good with the bad and I was willing to do that. Greg’s work habits were extremely erratic, but he was extremely committed to The Mission and that meant a lot. But he was unstable and had a temper, which proved problematic.

Thompson:
Greg wasn’t a bad editor, but he had what one might call anger-management problems. I once saw him throw an entire completed issue of Comics Journal paste-up boards across the room at Dale Yarger, but they fell apart like a poorly-packed snowball and Greg had to pick them all up again.

Groth: Once he even threw something at Dale Yarger’s head. I’m not sure if that or something subsequent was the last straw, but he left the magazine. Helena Harvilicz, who was working in tandem with him, took his place.

Thompson: He went on to work for Eclipse and then Tundra, and we would hear amusing reports from his tenures there.

Boyd: What would happen is that an editor would melt down mid-issue. This happened three times while I was there, first with Greg Baisden. I can’t remember what triggered it, but it had been building for a long time. That was the Kirby issue, and I basically finished it and started the next issue until Helena came on board.

Groth: I had been the primary editor of the Journal for the first eight or nine years (with, first, Mike Catron, then Kim Thompson), but at that point I had to devote more and more of my time to the company’s other publishing efforts and had to hire a managing editor to run the Journal on a day-to-day basis. Basically, the editorial template was there and I was still involved to greater or lesser degrees, depending upon how much time the rest of the company sucked out of me or what was going on in my personal life; sometimes I was very hands-on and sometimes not.

Hiring a new managing editor was always difficult. It requires a set of skills that are, if not unique, pretty rare, and I would often have to compromise because few applicants had them all. If I had to choose between someone with zero social skills and a broad knowledge of the history of comics and someone with excellent social skills and a spotty knowledge of the history of comics, I’d choose the former and reap the consequences in consequent office disruption. The people I eventually hired were usually intense, independent, focused and driven. And eccentric.

Harvilicz: They had remembered me for whatever reason and called me up again.

And at the time, I came across the country with this other guy, Thom Powers, and while we were driving he mentioned that I was going to be editor of The Comics Journal, which I was completely shocked about! I thought I was just going to be a reporter. I was working there for like two or three days, and Gary’s giving me all this stuff to do.

Frank Young: To succeed as managing editor of The Comics Journal, you need the skills of a samurai warrior and the fearlessness of an animal trainer. I doubt there are many people on this planet with both those skill sets and editorial and decision-making abilities. The job asks a lot of anyone.

Harvilicz: I went into his office and it wasn’t a breakdown, but I just looked at him and said, “Gary, I have no idea what I’m doing.” Because I had no experience. And he just looked at me and said, “I don’t want to hear it.” That was his training. At that point in my life it was perfect for me. Nowhere else was I going to get a job where I was going to be given so much control over anything.

Groth: I was still deeply involved in the Journal on a day-to-day basis then, conceptualizing the editorial lineup for each issue, conducting a lot of interviews, determining which books should be reviewed, going over the current possible news stories and determining which ones were important enough to pursue and so forth. Once those decisions were made, the managing editor had to make them happen. It was a dream job if you were so inclined, not so much if you weren’t.

Thompson: We always had a real sink-or-swim approach to employees, particularly the Comics Journal editors. I think in part because that’s how Gary and I had done it, although of course in our case we hadn’t been responsible to anyone else who might come down and yell at us. It was rough on some of them, but the ones who worked out always seemed grateful for the experience, and the ones who didn’t usually seemed to collapse because of character flaws or neuroses that had little to do with the actual skills.

Groth: I was stretched pretty thin by 1992 or 1993 — 15 years after I’d cofounded the magazine, and what I needed was a competent managing editor who could manage. I was still doing a lot of interviews at that time and I was writing for the magazine pretty often into the mid-’90s, but I couldn’t handle the day-to-day flow of … managing. So, the managing editor and the news writer and I would meet formally a couple times a week to discuss the forthcoming issue, and I’d answer questions, give marching orders and let them have at it. I would always give them a lot of latitude, but I have to admit that I felt the need to stand behind whatever feature or review or interview subject they suggested or I just couldn’t approve it. So, I was a little dictatorial that way, I guess, but I didn’t want the editorial core of the magazine to change.

Young: My story with Fantagraphics starts in 1990. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, I was 27 and I was taking care of my mother, who had cancer. It was a pretty grim year for me, and I was feeling kind of trapped. Just for the hell of it, I sent a review of one of the Carl Barks Library sets to The Comics Journal. I had been reading The Comics Journal since I was in high school and I never had any idea that I would be affiliated with the company. By that time, I had 10 years experience as a published writer and editor, for a variety of newspapers and magazines, all in the Southeast.

Thompson: I remember when we interviewed Frank Young he went into great detail about how all his previous jobs were horrible and all his previous bosses were assholes. The ultimate fate of his Fantagraphics employment was laid out right there for us to see and we didn’t put two and two together.

Harvilicz: Gary never did anything with the magazine, except hire that idiot to write those horrible columns! Who is that guy — Ken Smith? You know, I went to Johns Hopkins, and I had a philosophy degree and I couldn’t read that shit. I tried to cut it every issue! Gary was evasive about it, completely. He would never ever answer the question of why is this in here?
I always wanted to make the magazine more lighthearted and funny. And the interviews were great, but they were way too long.

Groth: I’m not sure there was a single Comics Journal editor who didn’t hate Ken Smith’s philosophy column, which made me all the more adamant to run it, of course.

Eric Reynolds' logo for one of Kenneth Smith's occasional forays into column writing at The Comics Journal.

Eric Reynolds’ logo for one of Kenneth Smith’s occasional forays into column writing at The Comics Journal.

Young: I wrote this article basically to take my mind off this miserable situation I was in. I got a letter back from Helena saying that she liked the article, and it got published. I did four or five things for them over the next few months.

Groth: Frank Young — very smart guy who knew comics, had taste and appreciated the form, perfect Journal material. But there was the temperament issue again.

Young: A thing I noticed right away was what a combative and mutually abusive relationship Helena and Gary had. They were meant for each other, because they both could push each other’s buttons. I think to each other they were just giant consoles of buttons that would get reactions. They would have screaming matches. About anything. Helena would just fly off the handle. She was a very competent person, she knew what she was doing, but she had a very chaotic personality at the same time. She would get into arguments with Gary about very trivial things that didn’t really have any importance. And he would just keep pushing her buttons until she would explode. And she would just freak out, and I think it was just great entertainment to him. He didn’t have any emotional investment in it.

Groth: I liked Helena. We had a volatile relationship, but I never took our arguments personally, and I didn’t think she did, though I could be wrong about that.

Harvilicz: I had no friends, I knew no one and I lived in the attic at the office at one point. It was really a crawlspace that I lived in for a couple months.

Groth: At one point, Helena asked me if she could crash in the attic for a while. I said, “Are you sure?” I mean, it was an attic on the same level as the Journal office on the second floor of the house, but the roof slanted down and you literally couldn’t stand up in it. Well, Helena could probably stand up on the far side against the wall, but then she’d have to crouch down if she moved a foot into it. I shrugged and said OK. She lived there for a couple months — rent free, of course; it was, I thought, a temporary measure. She’d make jokes about how any guy who came into her “home” had no other option than to get on his knees immediately.

Boyd: Then Helena quit suddenly.

Harvilicz: As much as I loved working there, mentally I was all over the place back then, and I felt like I’d learned the job. It wasn’t like I was the best magazine editor ever, but I understood it, and I was like: OK, what else is there? I really wanted to move into doing something else for Fantagraphics. Like being an editor — I was sort of lining up do that, and he’d given me a book to work on. And then we had that blowup.

Thompson: Gary and Helena were a volatile combination. Helena was a pretty good editor but she’d have these blind spots and sometimes not think things through, and Gary would get legitimately annoyed with her and call her on the carpet, and he’s not particularly gentle as a reprimander and she was fairly sensitive and argumentative. I could hear them screaming at each other in Gary’s office since we shared a wall.

I remember we were at a San Diego convention, Lynn Johnston was attending, and Gary told Helena to go introduce herself, give Johnston a copy of the magazine and ask if we could do an interview. Of all the issues to give this nice middle-aged Canadian newspaper cartoonist, Helena gave her the recently released “sex issue” of the Journal, which was totally filthy, full of hardcore porn images. Miraculously, Johnston weathered the blow and did eventually agree to the interview, but it led to one of those “Why did you do that?” colloquies in Gary’s office.

Helena Harvilica and Tony Millionaire, circa late 1990s in New York City.

Helena Harvilica and Tony Millionaire, circa late 1990s in New York City.

Harvilicz: Gary and I had a pretty weird relationship. I was always frustrated. People thought that I was attracted to him sexually. They did, because he has this weird magnetism for some women, but that really wasn’t the case. I was very frustrated in the relationship because I did want some kind of, something more from him — I had these really intimate, like, platonic relationships with men, and I knew he wasn’t willing to go there with me. And that was always frustrating for me. Later on, when I lived with Pat [Moriarity], I sort of had that with him, I had a close relationship with him. And then when I moved to New York, I lived with Tony Millionaire, and that was it! It was the perfect relationship I had been looking for with a man. We lived together, there was no sex whatsoever, but it was this intense relationship where we were really close. He’s a wonderful guy.
I really wanted Gary to be kind of like a mentor to me, which was just never ever going to happen. I was a little disappointed. I think Kim was a little more nurturing than Gary — I really liked Kim.

Thompson: Helena and I got along great, but then, I didn’t have to deal with her professionally. I don’t know if I’d have handled the Helena problems better than Gary. I had a mild crush on her, actually, which I confessed to her years later in San Diego when we were both drunk off our asses, and she said she’d had one on me too, but in her case it may have been the liquor talking, or she was just being nice. I don’t know. Of all the oddballs who trooped through the Fantagraphics offices, she’s one of my favorites.

Groth: I really liked Helena, but she was such a goofball that I may not have taken her as seriously as I should have. She would do a very competent job and then make a decision or say something so absurd or foolish or ignorant that I would go crazy and that would stick in my mind more than all the rest of her professional engagement.

Harvilicz: You know, I was feeling like I could take so much shit from Gary, and I really just did not let it bother me at all — a lot of it was shit I deserved. I remember one time he called me in his office after I’d done this interview, and he said, “Sit down — I want you to hear something.” So then he starts playing the tape back of me interviewing this guy — and this goes on for like five minutes. And he goes — “Now, did you notice that every time this guy started to say something interesting, you had to open your mouth?”

Young: Helena quit on Labor Day of 1991. We had just finished issue #144 and something happened over the weekend and she just exploded for the last time. She left a resignation letter that just said, “I have quit. Sincerely, Helena Harvilicz.”

Harvilicz: I remember going into that office and leaving a note — “I’m quitting, I’m going out to get drunk, this is my two-week notice.” And just put it on Gary’s desk. Because of the nature of who he is, or our relationship or whatever, he didn’t really even bother to follow up on it. He was like, “Fine, you quit.” OK. I think maybe if he would have apologized, I probably would have stayed.

You know, he’s one of those people who has to win, no matter what it is. He doesn’t really want to talk about it. He’s right, and whatever. On the one hand, though, it was like that’s great — I never had a boss before that I could go up to and say “fuck you” — you know? At least he takes it. He won’t admit he’s wrong, but he’ll at least listen to you give him shit.

In some ways I kind of regretted [quitting Fantagraphics], because I felt like at that time, I loved comics so much, and I just loved the company and everything.

The controversial "Sex Issue" of The Comics Journal (#143, 1991), with a cover by R. Crumb

The controversial “Sex Issue” of The Comics Journal (#143, 1991), with a cover by R. Crumb

Groth: I remember that Helena and I had an argument over some decision she made or was about to make, and I was frustrated because the decision seemed to me mistaken because it reflected an ignorance of comics history. At one point, she told me she didn’t know shit about comics, and I told her in that case she shouldn’t be editing a magazine about comics and she quit on the spot.

Harvilicz: I got drunk one night after I quit or was fired, I don’t remember what happened. And I called him up and said, “Uh, Gary — I want to come back and edit the Journal.” And he was like, really? I think he was like considering it. And I was like, yeah. And then the next day I sobered up and thought, “I don’t know why I did that, I’m never going back there!”

Young: I was helping someone move that day and afterwards I came into the office and there was a typed note from Kim Thompson on my desk that said, “Congratulations, you’re now the managing editor of The Comics Journal.” Without even asking me. It was quite the promotion.

I definitely had an agenda of making the magazine less threatening to the comics world. I was really excited to come out here and meet all these cartoonists, and as soon as anyone found out I was associated with The Comics Journal they would clam up. It was a little crushing, because, at the time, I had been making comics and was entertaining the thought of taking it seriously, and here I found myself at the epicenter of it and the only person that was really accepting was Pat Moriarity. Of all the people in the Fantagraphics world at the time, he was the most unguardedly friendly. He was interested in seeing the work I’d done and was very encouraging.

But the work schedule I had at the Journal left me with no energy to do anything else anyway. It was an extremely labor intensive magazine because everything was done by hand — all the graphics, color separations and typesetting. They processed photographic material with these foul-smelling chemicals, which gave me some chronic health problems for several years after. I was hoarse for two years afterwards and never have gotten my speaking volume back completely. There were people there like Dale Yarger, putting in these 20-hour days, who used to sleep at the office. That was the one thing that I wouldn’t do, even if I was working till 4 in the morning, I would go home to the insane Greenhouse in Ballard, where I lived with Tom [Harrington], Pat and Helena — the Fantastic Four. Helena began to see me as an old grouch, because I would complain about her ranting and raving at all hours — whooping it up and banging pots and pans and screaming like a gibbon.

Despite all the crazy stuff, I was actually very excited about working on The Comics Journal, but it had gotten a bad reputation as just a soapbox for Gary’s whims, to the point where if I had to do a news story and had to call someone, I’d get hung up on. I wanted to improve that somehow and I know that Gary didn’t like that — he made some passive-aggressive comments.

I have to say, I do like Kim, and of the two of them, I would say he’s the more levelheaded, business-like. He has some real problems with being passive-aggressive, and if Gary would get him going, he would just go along with things. I think Gary’s self-image was like Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. This zany guy that was sticking it to the establishment. The witty, charismatic guy that was putting the screws to the man, and Kim would get caught in the undertow of that sometimes. But on his own, Kim could also be, if overly harsh and critical, also very helpful.

I wasn’t very happy and I wasn’t getting paid very well, but I did like what I was doing on the magazine. It was getting at the idea I had, which was a magazine that was still part of Gary’s psyche, but was not something that people would hang up the phone on.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was the aftermath of the infamous Todd McFarlane issue, the mainstream issue. Dale and I had just busted our butts to get this issue out for San Diego. It was a tall order, but we dug in and delivered the goods on time. After the issue came out, and everyone else was having fun in San Diego, I took four days off — I was putting in 70, 80 hours a week, and just not getting anything back in return.

Gary and Kim called me into Gary’s office and proceeded to play this game of good cop/bad cop with me. Despite the fact that I had done what I thought was superior work for them for lousy pay, it was just the ultimate “fuck you” from both of them. I was just sitting there feeling so shocked and mortified I couldn’t say anything. Basically, they were telling me that I was doing a rotten job, and the Journal really sucked, all of which I knew wasn’t true. And the bottom line was that they wanted to finish up this special Harvey Kurtzman issue I was working on — a pet project of mine I’d been assembling for a year — they wanted to just slap it together as quickly as possible. Most of it was completed, or in the editing stages, but I wanted to finesse it. I just remember feeling so crushed, because they were basically telling me, well you poor pathetic schmuck, you’re just completely worthless and untalented, but no one else is dumb enough to take this job so we’re going to let you keep it. But you’ve got to work even harder and put less care and quality control into your work. And I did something I’ve never done before and never done since — I didn’t even clean out my desk. I just walked out of the place and never came back.

Thompson: The Frank Young thing was weird. The Comics Journal was always battling scheduling problems, but Frank had gotten fixated on the Kurtzman issue and it looked like it was going to take forever, just fuck up the schedule beyond its normal state of fucked-upness, mess up cash flow, advertisers, subscribers … It was like Michael Cimino edits a Comics Journal. We had some sympathy for him wanting to really bust his ass on it, but we weren’t in a position to let it slide for as long as it looked like it was, and we had a meeting where we told him he had to get it out. So far as I remember it was perfectly amicable, which just goes to show you: His perception was that we raked him over the coals for two hours. He sat there and looked at the floor and said “OK,” and the next morning there was a five-page single-spaced letter from Frank, which amounted to, “How dare you ruin my magazine, fuck you, I quit,” and that was the last we saw of him. He’d clearly been saving up his grievances.

Frank ended up working, at least for a while, as an usher at one of Seattle’s main movie theaters, so that was a little awkward, but we’re OK now.

A quintessential Journal issue from the early '90s, which featured the last of several Harvey Kurtzman interviews he gave the magazine over the years before passing away in 1993.

A quintessential Journal issue from the early ’90s, which featured the last of several Harvey Kurtzman interviews he gave the magazine over the years before passing away in 1993.

Groth: Frank was very proud of the issue that preceded the Kurtzman issue, and somehow thought that he earned the right to spend twice as much time on the Kurtzman issue because Kurtzman deserved more time and attention. That’s true, in theory, but you can’t run a magazine that way, so I explained to Frank that, no, he had the usual five to six weeks to put the Kurtzman issue together. The Journal was supposed to be monthly, but it was never monthly, and came out nine or ten times a year. You know, the editor of The New Yorker doesn’t get to put out the next issue two or three weeks later just because the issue he just put to bed was really good. Frank nodded and seemed to accept the logic of it, left and never came back.

Young: I was really upset and I wrote a scathing letter to Kim and Gary. If I had to do it all over again, I would have said these things in person. It was just a year’s worth of bottled-up frustration and rage. I found out later that some of the stuff I said about Kim and the way he treated people had some positive impact — I found out that he was being a lot nicer to people. I regret the harshness of the tone of that letter, but it was the best I could do at the time.

Groth: It’s always the delicate flowers who insist on their sensitivity in the face of the relentless negativity of the Journal office who write the bitter, five-page letters of resignation dripping with venom and bile. Frank Young’s ex post facto letter of resignation was a masterpiece of the genre.

Harvilicz: Then this Carole Sobocinski was hired, and that was like some nightmare that happened with her.

Yarger: Even when we were putting the Journal out weeks and months late, generally editors were a pretty devoted bunch, so I was used to a high level of commitment. They weren’t all as organized as they might have been, but they were committed. And Carole didn’t seem to have that same approach to the Journal, so it made my job a lot harder.

Boyd: I left right before Carole Sobocinski melted down. At first, we really got along, but after a while, I felt kind of used by her. We were barely speaking when I left. I wrote her a memo saying I wanted to keep writing Minimalism. She wrote back a terse note saying, “No, I’m taking it over. Give me all the minis you have to review.” I guess I could have gone to Gary or Kim and asked them, but I thought, “Fuck it.”

I had a huge box of unread minis that I put on her desk. She came down and said, “What do you expect me to do with all these?”
I said, “These are all the minicomics that people sent me. I think some are good enough to be reviewed, but it’s up to you now.” She told me to pull out the ones I thought were good. I laughed and said, “You have got to be kidding. I quit. I don’t work here anymore. You wanted this job, you’ve got it.” Then she gave Minimalism back to me — with a note saying I could continue writing it.

Later, when the whole Sobocinski thing exploded, Kim called me up and said, congratulations. You were the first person here that Carole hated.

Thompson: I’d grown to loathe Carole for several months before the blowup — I thought she was deceitful, lazy and self-serving — and had been urging Gary to fire her, but he stuck with her for some reason. He and I were having some of our periodic issues at the time and I have this suspicion she was playing those. She was very shrewd. What a horrible woman.

Eric Reynolds: I literally started at TCJ the day that Carole Sobocinski cleared out her desk, if memory serves. I may have even taken over her desk. Although we never worked together, her presence loomed that entire summer, as all of her subterfuge slowly came out and into focus.

K. Thor Jensen, cartoonist: I applied for the managing editor position at The Comics Journal in, I think, 1994. Might have been 1995. Of course, since my résumé was a paper route, opening mail on the night shift at the phone company and digging ditches for Labor Ready, I didn’t even get a call back. Prodded by my housemates, I called Fantagraphics and asked to talk to Gary.

When he wasn’t there, the receptionist — I forget who it was — asked if I wanted to leave a message, which I did. As best as I can remember it, it was, “This is K. Thor Jensen and you’re going to regret not hiring me as managing editor of the Journal because I can out-fight, out-fuck, out-type and out-proofread any of the fat-ass Colin Upton wannabes on your staff.”

A few months after that, when I had a strip published in the Journal, I used that as my biographical note.

Young: I don’t know everyone who’s edited the magazine since but I know a lot of people have gone through the same cycle of being the wonder boy or girl at first, and then at the end of their run they’re just the lowest form of scum on the earth and everything bad for the next six months is blamed on them.

Reynolds: The names of TCJ editors who left their position on good terms is a pretty small list.

Groth: I have to admit that I probably didn’t have much patience then — or now, for that matter — for Journal editors retroactively whining over how much work it was to edit the magazine. Was it a lot of hard work? Damned right it was. Is there anything worth doing that isn’t hard work? I don’t remember anyone I interviewed for a managing editor position telling me that the reason he (or she) was applying was because he wanted to put in a minimal effort and have an easy, cushy job. I would be very up-front about it: I told anyone who applied that it was a lot of work, a lot of hours and required a lot of dedication to the mission of the magazine. To me, devoting full time to editing the magazine would be a dream job. You’re given enormous (but not complete) autonomy, you have an opportunity to shape every issue, it’s intellectually stimulating, journalistically courageous and enormously rewarding. Financially, it was admittedly lousy, but it’s not like the magazine was ever a moneymaker and it was an opportunity you’re not going to find much in the real world to exercise your critical and intellectual faculties with few compromises or corporate considerations. Anyone who found this too much of a hardship wasn’t cut out for the job.

(continued on next page)

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Impossible Dream http://www.tcj.com/impossible-dream/ http://www.tcj.com/impossible-dream/#respond Wed, 14 Dec 2016 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97513 Continue reading ]]> Rob Kirby talked to Talk Dirty to Me creator Luke Howard about what it’s like to teach at CCS, growing up with a mother diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and his creative process.

How is teaching at CCS for you? How does it aid or influence your own comics? Or does it hamper your process? 

It hampers my process in the way any full-time job hampers comics-making. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and a big chunk of energy and time is being eaten up by something that isn’t comics. So what’s the solution? Either make less comics, or work two full-time jobs – your day job and your comics job. For the time being I’ve gone down that second route. It’s rough, maybe not even sustainable in the long run. But there are things about my job at CCS that really keep the fire lit. My two years as a CCS student were the hardest and most productive work years of my life. As a faculty member, being around a tribe of young cartoonists that are going through the same things—pushing themselves to be stronger cartoonists with every assignment, and the constant flow of self-improvement—can be an incredible boon to my own productivity. And I think especially since I’m still relatively wet behind the ears when it comes to comics, being at the epicenter of an education system keeps me hungry for furthering my own education. Heading into my third year as a faculty member, I feel like I’ve almost been through four years as a student, if that makes sense. It’s funny, though, you mentioning that it seems like I’ve found my niche. That doesn’t feel all that true from my perspective. Not to say I haven’t been lucky to have the opportunity to make books with both AdHouse and Retrofit—maybe that is a niche of sorts. From my side of things it all still feels very precarious, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like maybe the next time I sit down to make a comic it’ll be like I’m 10 years old again, and what comes out on the page will feel unacceptable—the spell will be broken. I still feel a lot like Emma does at the end of that story, the future is unclear.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Jason Lutes.

—The most recent guest on the RIYL podcast is Kyle Baker.

—The film rights to Daniel Clowes’s Patience have been sold.

—Sarah Cowan writes about Philip Guston’s Richard Nixon drawings.

“A lot of work after the election looks very different,” I overheard someone say in Hauser & Wirth as we followed the saga of Poor Richard, Philip Guston’s satirical drawings of Richard Nixon’s rise to power. The show had been installed on November 1 as a last minute idea; on opening night it drew an amused crowd of boomers and millennials, the distance in their experience bridged by the convincing sense of security many of us had that doomed week. When I returned to the show less than a month into the Trump transition, the drawings had turned on us: a joke at the expense of our smugness.

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“A Fair Bit of Alchemy”: A Q&A with Luke Howard http://www.tcj.com/a-fair-bit-of-alchemy-a-qa-with-luke-howard/ http://www.tcj.com/a-fair-bit-of-alchemy-a-qa-with-luke-howard/#respond Wed, 14 Dec 2016 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=96384 Talk Dirty to Me and Our Mother talks about teaching at CCS, anxiety disorders, and his creative process. Continue reading ]]> lukephotowb

Luke Howard is a 33-year-old cartoonist and faculty instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, where he received his MFA. I first became aware of his comics in 2014, when I read his Ignatz-nominated mini, Trevor, in which he displayed his skill with playful, reality-bending narratives. This spring, AdHouse Books published Luke’s first graphic novel, Talk Dirty to Me, a quirkily funny, melancholy character study about a young woman at a crossroads (my TCJ review is here). This fall his newest comic, Our Mother, was published by Retrofit, and it’s his best work yet: a formally inventive, unique blend of bracingly honest autobiography and fanciful science fiction, imparted with equal doses of humor and sorrow. Spoiler: Our Mother has already made my Best of 2016 list. I interviewed Luke via email in late October and I’m very much looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Kirby: Can you tell me what roads eventually brought you to the Center for Cartoon Studies? (Basically, I’m looking for your cartoonist origin story.) 

Howard: Just like every human being on the planet, I was a cartoonist until I was about 10 years old. I truly believe that cartooning is an inevitable stage of childhood. But somewhere along the way we get too self-conscious and for most of us the cartooning stops. Lynda Barry wrote a whole book about that, right? Well, I was one of the unlucky kids who stopped. I wanted to be either Bill Watterson or Gary Larson when I grew up, and when I was around ten I asked my parents for a real cartooning desk with real cartooning tools. I figured as soon as I got the tools the professionals used I would become a professional and draw like one. So Christmas of 1993, my parents pull out all the stops and get me the real deal: a serious cartooning setup. The desk even angled the way I knew cartoonists desks were supposed to. I was all set to embark on my new career as a professional comics-making machine. But when I sat down for the first time to use it, I was devastated by the fact that my drawings didn’t look as good as Calvin & Hobbes. Somewhere in my stupid, ten year-old mind, I thought having the right tools would mean my artwork would instantly be on par with that level of cartooning. I couldn’t figure out why my drawings still looked awful; my brain neglected to see that I would have to actually practice to get better. So I came to the conclusion that I must not be destined to be a cartoonist and never touched the desk again.

In school I avoided any opportunity to make art and felt completely ashamed about my perceived lack of innate talent. Instead, I focused my creative impulses on film. Filmmaking became my passion and it was what I pursued all the way through college and into the working world. I made short films, I did commercial work, I edited, and I ran cameras. I was making a comfortable living in the film industry when the 2010 flash crash went down, which resulted in the demise of the company I was working for. Suddenly I was unemployed and having a hell of a time finding work. Somewhere in that depression of job-hunting and being creatively impotent my wife Abigail suggested that we try doing a comic-a-day project; she grew up loving manga and wanted to try her hand at it. I agreed to go along, making shitty gag comics each day. At first it was unbelievably painful, I was instantly 10 again and hating what was coming out of my pen. But I pushed through and after a month found myself actually enjoying some of the things I was making, even being proud of them. Here I was, 27 years-old, and I couldn’t get enough of drawing comics; I was neglecting to hunt for a new job because I was so fixated on making my daily comic. I realized this was an impulse I should be listening to. Then I heard about the Center for Cartoon Studies. Three months later we were moving our entire lives up to Vermont so I could attend the school. Man, it still sounds insane when I lay it all out like that. What a ridiculously irresponsible life choice. But it couldn’t be helped.

I have to say that reminds me quite a bit of your protagonist Emma’s struggles to figure out her life path in your book, Talk Dirty to Me. Was that meant to be autobiographical? 

That’s interesting. I never really thought about it in those terms before. I guess in the end it’s impossible for our comics not to be autobiographical to some degree – we’re always drawing from our own emotional experiences in one way or another. If there’s something autobiographical about Emma’s journey in that book it’s probably the fact that she’s so held back by a lack of confidence. Even as a young kid she has a lot of shame and self-doubt that keeps her from being the kind of person she imagines she could be. That resonates with me, even today. And whether that’s me feeling shamed by my shortcomings as a young artist, or Emma feeling shamed by her inability to blossom into somebody who is more secure, it certainly boils down to this idea that often we have a difficult time seeing value in ourselves. So when these liminal situations present themselves, that struggle is definitely what’s at the heart of things. Can you dig deep and find enough value in yourself to push forward? Is your confidence going to be what carries you over that hurdle, or is it ultimately going to be the thing that keeps you down?

Unlike Emma, whose future is still unclear by the end of Talk Dirty to Me, you seem to have found your niche. How is teaching at CCS for you? How does it aid or influence your own comics? Or does it hamper your process? 

It hampers my process in the way any full-time job hampers comics-making. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and a big chunk of energy and time is being eaten up by something that isn’t comics. So what’s the solution? Either make less comics, or work two full-time jobs – your day job and your comics job. For the time being I’ve gone down that second route. It’s rough, maybe not even sustainable in the long run. But there are things about my job at CCS that really keep the fire lit. My two years as a CCS student were the hardest and most productive work years of my life. As a faculty member, being around a tribe of young cartoonists that are going through the same things—pushing themselves to be stronger cartoonists with every assignment, and the constant flow of self-improvement—can be an incredible boon to my own productivity. And I think especially since I’m still relatively wet behind the ears when it comes to comics, being at the epicenter of an education system keeps me hungry for furthering my own education. Heading into my third year as a faculty member, I feel like I’ve almost been through four years as a student, if that makes sense. It’s funny, though, you mentioning that it seems like I’ve found my niche. That doesn’t feel all that true from my perspective. Not to say I haven’t been lucky to have the opportunity to make books with both AdHouse and Retrofit—maybe that is a niche of sorts. From my side of things it all still feels very precarious, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like maybe the next time I sit down to make a comic it’ll be like I’m 10 years old again, and what comes out on the page will feel unacceptable—the spell will be broken. I still feel a lot like Emma does at the end of that story, the future is unclear.

Man, how depressing was that answer? Maybe you can tell confidence isn’t my strong suit. But I’m really trying to work on that. As a teacher I get down on my students about being self-deprecating. I give them guff when they’re not being better champions for themselves. Sounds like someone’s not practicing what he preaches. Get it together, Howard.

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A scene from Talk Dirty To Me (AdHouse Books)

Well, maybe now you can direct your students to this interview! Since you mentioned it, let’s talk about your new comic with Retrofit, Our Mother. I was very impressed with your humorous approach to the material. It really heightened the heartrending reality of your mother’s situation. Can you tell me about your process for writing & drawing it? 

I knew I wanted to do a humorous comic about what it felt like growing up with a mother that had an anxiety disorder. It had a big impact on me as a kid and having inherited the disorder from her later in life, I’d hoped that maybe unpacking that a little might be therapeutic. But I also wasn’t sure I would be able to tackle it in autobiographical form – I’ve always found autobio to be especially challenging—I enjoy the emotional barrier fiction allows. I also knew I wanted to tackle this story through disjointed narrative. I’m really interested in the power of nonlinear storytelling. Authors like Italo Calvino, Virginia Woolf, and Kurt Vonnegut have always drawn me in with that kind of writing. Something about the abrupt jumping from one thing to the next feels challenging and rewarding. I think it also does a good job of mimicking what life and memory feel like. I mean, whose life actually feels like a three act structure?

I’ve never been really good at sitting down and writing out a whole comic ahead of time. My comics feel more successful (or maybe just more honest?) when I’m doing a lot of the writing as I’m drawing. I tried to come up with some humorous vignettes that weren’t literally a depiction of anxiety, but instead just really felt like that anxiety. What does it feel like to have an anxiety disorder? Maybe it feels a little like being trapped in a giant robot with a guy named Kevin that just won’t shut up and refuses to die. What does it feel like to be going through the stressful process of finding the right medication? Maybe a little like experimenting on a caged animal. What does it feel like to inherit a familial disorder like this? Maybe a little like your family has put a hit out on you. This was how I boiled down the ideas. And after I had the vignettes that I felt best served as a skeleton for the story, I was able to start roughing out my pages and playing around with things as I went along. There’s a fair bit of alchemy in the process for me—like the story starts telling itself as I dig into it. There are a lot of half-penciled pages that get tossed when a certain direction leads to a dead end, and a fair bit of improvisation and unexpected pivots as well.

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I like to pencil on crappy typing paper so that things don’t get too precious. For this project I was working relatively large – I think each page was about 19″ x 28″ or something close to that. I try to pencil through the whole story before I move on to inking. I don’t thumbnail, so the pencil stage is the most difficult link in the chain (and the longest). Sometimes I’ll find that a page I’ve penciled later in the story will require me to go back and re-pencil some previous page. I’m always carving out room in the process for that – it’s almost like a rewriting stage that happens along with drawing. I try to have the entire story locked down in pencil before I move on. I pencil really tight so my pencils usually look fairly close to how the final inks will look. To ink I’ll tape a piece of Bristol paper over my typing paper and use a lightbox to let the pencils shine through. With this particular project I wanted to try inking with radiographs (I’m usually using some kind of nib) and I was happy with the quality of the line.

Finally, I do all my color work in Photoshop. But really, more important than anything else in the process is making sure the story is feeling true and honest. I’d find myself stopping along the way and asking myself “does this feel true? Does this feel honest?” And whenever I could answer “yes” to that question, I knew I was taking the story in a good direction. Anytime I felt unsure or knew the answer was “no” was when I would start throwing away pages. All-in-all this ended up being a really rough story to tell. I mean, it seemed to come out of me relatively easy, but the emotional fallout of having to immerse myself in what these feelings actually feel like made for a very stressful spring. But in the end I found the process to be rewarding because of that. It actually forced me to deal with some deeper things I was doing a good job of avoiding.

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Do you think that it’s harder/more time-consuming to work in this more instinctual way? Does your work with your students include honing their individual work processes? 

Like anything, I think different approaches work for different people. But, yeah, I do think there is something about the approach that you and I are talking about that transfers some of the heavy lifting to further along in the process. I may be getting into the drawing more quickly, but I think it also means I’m more subject to having to edit or even redo pages. Theoretically, fine-tuning a script and really nailing the thumbnails should protect you from as much editing later. But it just doesn’t feel like the right approach for me. I seem to need that spontaneity and surprise to last a little longer. I have trouble slogging through the drawing if I feel like I’m just copying all the decisions I’ve made in an earlier stage – I’d start to feel like a studio assistant to myself. And then I’d get mad at how little I’m paying myself—suddenly I’m going on strike, it’d be a mess.

As far as working with my students to hone their individual work processes? I’d like to work more with them on this sort of thing. Currently I co-teach a course called “Publication Workshop” with Cartoonist Jon Chad, which focuses on the more technical aspects of comics, things like Photoshop, InDesign, bookbinding, cover design, etc. So our class is really about learning all the tools that assist our stories, rather than the writing or drawing of those stories themselves. That said, I like to think the way we structure our class—with some of the philosophies of design and composition—ends up having an effect on how they approach their pages. Since design and narrative are intrinsically linked in comics you end up thinking about all of those things in tandem.

Speaking of design and narrative, I wanted to ask about the section of Our Mother in which you incorporate old family photos instead of drawings. Did going all fumetti come as a sudden inspiration as you were working, or had you planned it ahead of time? It’s one of my favorite sequences in the book. 

 

That is one of the sequences I am most proud of. Originally I had planned to have some sort of scene where a mother character and a child character have a more matter-of-fact conversation about everything that’s going on. Much of the book is more obscure or metaphorical, and I liked the idea of hitting this section and suddenly laying it all out there more directly—I liked how jarring and uncomfortable that could feel. But there was no intention originally to place myself or my own mother into the scene. After all, this was meant to be self-exploration behind the veneer of fiction, right? But just like how it happens in the story, I really did hit a wall when I was trying to conjure up how to end this story. I really did have this conversation with my mother, and I recorded it hoping that maybe some idea might shake out as we were talking. After that conversation I was struck with the strong feeling that I needed to break the fourth wall somehow. It felt like the right choice in that moment.

Throughout the making of this comic I had been spilling over old photographs from my childhood, texting family members, just trying to put myself back there. Now that I was faced with this strange decision to suddenly break out into non-fiction for two pages, it made complete sense to me that the photography would serve as the best indicator that not only is this something different from the rest of the book, but that it is closer to reality than the rest of the book. I also think there is something about old photographs that can be incredibly disarming. Maybe it’s that nostalgia is like the cousin of melancholy. I can’t help but feel a little emotionally exposed when I’m looking at old photos or old home movies. I feel lucky that I was able to stumble onto what this sequence ended up becoming. I mean, without getting too philosophical, it does seem like these things are sometimes given to you from the universe as much as you yourself are conjuring them up (he said, oh so ostentatiously…).

You said earlier that working on the book forced you to deal with things you’d been avoiding. Do you mean it was therapeutic?

Maybe not initially. Initially it was a bit devastating to work on. I don’t even think I realized how much stuff it was going to bring to the surface. After I handed in the final book, I hit a kind of emotional low point. Part of that may have just been the post-project blues, but a lot of it was spending so much time thinking about and digging up the past. My brain wasn’t going to let me turn that off when I was done with the comic – I couldn’t just put the genie back in the bottle. It was clear that I needed to start dealing more with some of the things that I was uncovering. So that’s when I started trying to see a therapist more regularly for a while – as much as I could afford, anyway. Maybe the book itself wasn’t therapeutic while I was making it. But it certainly was the catalyst for something therapeutic. I think making that comic lead to some really important personal growth. It’s funny to admit that a story with giant robots, a talking ape, and a farting hot dog had such a significant role in improving my mental health. But then again, maybe it’s fitting that way.

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So what’s your followup, got anything on the horizon yet?

I have a few small things that I’m working on for the spring – shorter comics in the 24- to 48-page range. There is a longer project that I’ve been tossing around for a bit that I hope to start drawing this winter. It’s got a loosely sci-fi bent and it tackles a lot of the issues that I started getting at with Our Mother. I’m not done exploring mental health in my comics yet.

I also hope in the years to come to tackle a memoir about my childhood, growing up with a father who was in the Air Force and then ejected from the military when he came to terms with being gay. The impact of that situation on my parent’s marriage, the difficulties my father faced as he was forced to abandon his dream of becoming an astronaut because he couldn’t hide who he was anymore, and the trauma that was leveled on my mother as this all started to come out—our inability to accept homosexuality for so long in this society has ruined and/or messed with so many lives. At the same time, if my father hadn’t had to repress his homosexuality for so long, my parents wouldn’t have ever married, and this chubby ginger would never have been born. Anyway, as you can see, there’s a lot to unpack about my familial history. I’m just waiting for the right time.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (12/14/16 – Branches) http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-121416-branches/ http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-121416-branches/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97519 Continue reading ]]> rlmount0001

It’s the time of year when a lot of media outlets are releasing their Best of lists, and I admit to feeling a little perturbed that I haven’t seen more of this work: Rosalie Lighting, a St. Martin’s Press release from the artist and educator Tom Hart. I think it’s the best comic of 2016. Maybe it wasn’t helped by its January release, though I mean this strictly in terms of retrospective list-making; we are talking about a work with a #1 New York Times hardcover graphic books placement with five consecutive weeks in the top ten, warmly reviewed by the generalist book publications that concern themselves with comics from generalist book publishers.

Still, there’s a depth to Rosalie Lighting that I don’t feel has been addressed in reviews of the book, which (understandably) tend to focus on the specifics of its story – it is a memoir about Hart and his wife, the artist Leela Corman, mourning the sudden death of their young daughter. Know however that on its title page Hart credits both Corman and Rosalie, his subject, as co-authors, along with various residents of the places they visited and several dozen additional cartoonists, filmmakers, musicians, painters, and miscellaneous creatives, all of which are mentioned somewhere in the story itself.

This is not an affectation, or a simple gesture of kindness. Above we see what I consider to be the most crucial page in the book, where Hart describes the process of creating the book as an act of violence, of pounding the mountain – what he is getting at is a crucial metaphor underpinning his book’s map of grief. Its tree.

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The image of a tree appears on the cover of Rosalie Lighting; there is no other drawn object, just the title. It is quickly explained that the image of a tree comes from the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro, which Rosalie enjoyed watching, and which features a magical sequence where characters grow buried acorns into trees by sheer force of will. This is what Hart does with his book, his grief. The child, Rosalie, becomes a tree, its branches explored in significant part through the media Hart encounters. Significantly, this is a book of re-drawing. Miyazaki’s films, Osamu Tezuka’s manga, the comics of the Scottish duo Metaphrog, the American newspaper strips of Frank King – all are incorporated into the book by Hart’s redrawing of certain sequences, and these appropriations are accompanied by Hart’s detail of the meaning he came to take from them, given the situation of his reading.

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Most striking to me is a series of brief evocations of Jack Davis and Johnny Craig horror comics from the famous E.C. titles of the 1950s. Removed from their original context, the menace of isolation drawn to the surface from the elements of their construction: rolling masses of ink; sharp lines. A blade drawn across the surface. Violence; there are many drawings elsewhere in the book where Hart himself seems a living corpse, his vehicle barreling through the same rain – to read a comic’s art is to accept the basis of the world it creates, and thus to incorporate parts of one comic into another in this matter, the original becomes the stuff of visual subtext. Ironically, so much of the E.C. ‘influence’ on new art comics is tied to the specifics of their historical place: the controversy, the transgression character. Hart does something deeper and more interesting – to my mind restoring the value these works can have as potent inspiration.

Know however that Hart does not stop there. Later in the book, he observes that he has begun, by chance, to ‘collect’ stories of children who have died from the people he meets. This ties into another of the book’s primary concerns: the value of community, and the means by which grief can be negotiated by commiserating with others. Much of the second half of Rosalie Lighting finds Hart and Corman traveling from place to place, unstuck from the New York home that’s become too expensive to maintain – this is also a book about the economics of living in this decade. It is not a book of tight A-to-B-to-C plotting, instead choosing to hover and circle its settings, its author darting back and forth in time, obsessing and reflecting. But what he is doing is pounding the mountain, and from the pebbles dropped from the works he has read and the narratives he has collected, he wills the rise of the tree that is Rosalie, that is his memory, and the drawing of the tree is his drawing of the book.

He does not, cannot escape the grief in its pages. He is not here to triumph; this is humble work. He is here to understand, and in drawing he can begin, though the ink is black, black.

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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The One Hundred Nights of Hero: This is the new book by Isabel Greenberg, an ascendant talent of UK mainline book trade comics; it was a Jonathan Cape release overseas a few months ago, and now it arrives in North America via Little, Brown. “[A] beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world,” the 224-page hardcover looks to continue the emphasis on built history from the artist’s prior The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (2013), but purportedly with more emphatically feminist and queer interests; $25.00.

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Brighter Than You Think: 10 Short Works by Alan Moore: And this represents an earlier generation of UK-born talent, though it is not just a collection of brief comics. Rather, each piece is accompanied by an essay from Marc Sobel – a Journal contributor and author of 2013’s The Love and Rockets Companion, among other endeavors. Indeed, the whole 160-page affair is formally part of the “Critical Cartoons” line of writings-on-comics from Uncivilized Books, though I should emphasize that all of the stories will be presented in their entirety. Artists include Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch, Melinda Gebbie, Mark Beyer, Peter Bagge, Oscar Zaraté, John Totleben, Don Simpson and Bill Wray. The title comes from one of two included Gebbie collaborations, on which Sobel has written before – you can check a full list of contents here (big fan of “Love Doesn’t Last Forever”); $22.95.

PLUS!

Georgie: The Story of a Man, His Dog, and a Pin: Pretty relentless week of veterans down here, so I’ll start with a new Dover reissue of a story from longtime cartooning and animation presence R.O. Blechman – it was previously seen in Drawn and Quarterly’s 2009 Blechman collection Talking Lines, but now has been oriented as a standalone 112-page hardcover, I *suspect* in line with a 2011 French-language release from Delpire. Not having read the story, I trust it will be as emotionally complex a tale of parenthood and pet ownership as the publisher suggests; $16.95.

Art & Beauty Magazine #3: Speaking of excerpted reissues, this 40-page collection of life- and photo-drawn images of women from Robert Crumb was first released earlier this year as part of an omnibus volume from David Zwirner, though only now is the individual publication available via Fantagraphics to anyone who already has the other three magazines. Ruminations from the artist and quotes from learned and venerable sources accompany these often highly-detailed, yet very ‘Crumb’ images; $7.99.

Shadows on the Grave #1 (of 8): Continuing on the underground kick, here is something all-new from writer/artist Richard Corben, whose horror and fantasy stories have long populated anthologies from the head shop likes of Fantagor and Slow Death to popular magazines such as Creepy and Heavy Metal. This Dark Horse series finds Corben returning to black and white for a potpourri of short shockers and a continuing serial featuring “Denaeus”, a Grecian warrior patently evoking the artist’s Neverwhere series of past years. Samples; $3.99.

Goliath: Speaking of contributors to Heavy Metal and the Warren mags — but with a far more mainstream genre path diverging into ’70s Marvel — here we have a new illustrated book from Mike Ploog, presumably connected to a 2012 Kickstarter campaign (which, judging from the comments, went somewhat awry) and written by Michael Friedlander, head of the Pittsburgh-based fantasy art book publisher FPG. An 11.5″ x 11.5″, 88-page hardcover, the all-ages story of a prehistoric clan getting into trouble seems to heavily emphasize Ploog’s painted color art, its comparatively scant text looking more like scene-setting comic book narrative captions. A long time in the making, this; $24.99.

New Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 11 (&) Showman Killer Vol. 3: And now we have a pair of concluding volumes from recent-ish series by writers now in their eighties. New Lone Wolf and Cub is Kazuo Koike’s 2003-06 follow-up to his signature ’70s swordsman serial with artist Gōseki Kojima. Since Kojima died in 2000, however, the sequel is drawn by Hideki Mori; the show closes across 232 pages, published by Dark Horse. Showman Killer is a 2010-12 series from writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Nicolas Fructus – an interstellar assassin scenario with not-unfamiliar-sounding parental and mystic themes, published in English by Titan; $13.99 (Lone Wolf), $16.99 (Showman).

Night of the Living Dead Vol. 1: Sins of the Father (&) The Attack: Two unexpected Eurocomics releases from Firefly Books, an Ontario-based purveyor of mostly nonfiction and educational material; both books seem to slip neatly into popular categories for a non-specialist publisher. First there’s a greater media tie-in: Night of the Living Dead, a Jean-Luc Istin/Elia Bonetti album from 2014, presented as a 56-page, 9″ x 12″ hardcover. Note that the colors appear courtesy of Digikore Studios, the Indian FX outfit that handles many titles for Avatar Press, itself a former rights-holder with this seminal zombie property. Second, we have a work of literary pedigree on a political topic: The Attack, a 2012 comics adaptation of a Yasmina Khadra novel by Loïc Dauvillier & Glen Chapron. The plot concerns a Palestinian-Israeli surgeon on a journey to discover the reason why his wife apparently executed a suicide bombing. It’s a 152-page hardcover at 8.25″ x 11″, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger, who’s also worked on various IDW French comics releases; $19.95 (Dead), $24.95 (Attack).

We Told You So: Comics As Art: Finally, your book-on-comics and consummate conflict of interest for this withdrawing grip of seasonal shopping days could only be a 696-page(!!!!) oral history of Fantagraphics, storied publisher of comics and criticism, and, as if you don’t fucking know, the entity behind the website you are looking at right now. Long in the making, this 8″ x 10″ all-color bone-breaker comes from former Comics Journal print edition editor Tom Spurgeon, he of The Comics Reporter, “with” subsequent Journal editor Michael Dean, chatting up all sorts of people involved somehow in the great eon. I was an irregular contributor to the Journal print edition in the ’00s, even running a column for exactly one issue (#276, please don’t everyone rush your copies to CGC) before I flaked out and disappointed everyone — Dirk Deppey, I’m sorry!! — but Spurgeon nonetheless asked me for an anecdote during the preparation of this book; my understanding is that I was cut at some point, perhaps due to the story being completely inessential in every way. Nonetheless, in the interests of perfecting the historical record, I will recreate my exciting tale below – payment will be necessary for better content; $49.99.

My 21st birthday was in July of 2002; I was working an unpaid internship for the summer in the hopes of gaining valuable experience for the working world, but my employers knew better and told me to just leave early and enjoy the day. I walked straight down the road to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a sake for my first certified legal drink, but to my great frustration I wasn’t carded, despite looking all of 16 years old. I tried again to no greater luck, but before long I felt a lot better about myself.

Stumbling out into the city, knowing I couldn’t drive for a few hours, I made my way across town to a fabulously shitty comic book store with which I was familiar. It was not my usual Wednesday place; the selection of new titles was slim, the organization of back stock was lacking, and in general the place seemed less a functioning business than a hangout for cliquish regulars. In other words, a ‘classic’ comic book store.

I remember two of the comics I bought that day, plucked from a pile of recent releases strewn across the open tops of yellowed longboxes, because both of them were third issues. There was issue #3 of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, a Frank Miller/Lynn Varley superhero miniseries of some notoriety, and issue #3 of Mystic Funnies, a Fantagraphics spotlight series for Robert Crumb, not unlike the various ad hoc titles he’d employed for his various works throughout the years. I’d read The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book, so I knew a little about him. I’d also started reading The Comics Journal roughly eight months before, having plucked it off a rack at Borders, diligently parsing its esoteric script of references to unfamiliar traditions until I felt damn near an expert.

So I took my selections up to the clerk. DK2 went over pretty well, Varley’s controversial digital coloring notwithstanding, but Mystic Funnies got me eyed up. I was pretty visibly buzzed.

“How old are you, kid?” the clerk asked.

“Twenty-one,” I replied, to immediate laughter. Not a single member of the Eltingville Club believed me, which made perfect sense given their source was an obviously drunken child.

“Do you–” the clerk began, waving Mystic Funnies #3, trying to stifle his mirth, “–do you know what’s in this? Do you know what this is?”

“It’s Robert Crumb,” I said, and the clerk’s laughter stopped.

My heart leaped. Comics were going to succeed where booze had failed; I was finally going to get carded.

But the clerk just smiled.

“Hell,” he told me, “if you’re old enough to know who that is, you’re old enough to read him!”

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Wonder Stories http://www.tcj.com/wonder-stories/ http://www.tcj.com/wonder-stories/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97502 Continue reading ]]> Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings in some of the last comics of the year. 

Elsewhere:

Retired comics critic and TCJ-contributor Matt Seneca is making some of his best writing available in printed and bound form.

A local neighborhood story on SF and comics writer Otto Binder.

Leela Corman’s We All Wish for Deadly Forced is reviewed here.

Check out some images from the great Ara Peterson’s (Paper Rodeo, Forcefield) new exhibition over at the Paris Review.

Finally, Richard Kyle passed away last week. He was 87 years old. He edited and produced one the greatest magazine about comics until TCJ, Graphic Story World (also called Wonderworld) and contributed to Graphic Story Magazine . His taste was prescient in the extreme, running from Red Barry, Howard Nostrand, Jesse Marsh, and Osamu Tezuka as well as many other (especially European) artists who would not gain recognition until much later (if at all). It remains one of the great resources of comics history, and it was published in the late 1960s and early 1970s! Kyle is also generally credited with coining the term “graphic novel”. In 1970 he founded and ran the Graphic Story Bookshop, where he imported and sold European and Japanese comics before, I think, anyone else. I remember him telling me he’d proudly sold a Druillet book to Jack Kirby in the early 1970s. Makes sense. Speaking of Kirby, it was Kyle who solicited and published Kirby’s Street Code in 1983 (it was only published in 1990 in Argosy), and insisted on doing so as a pencil-only piece. A first for the great artist. Kyle also had a second career as a pulp crime novelist under a few different names, none of which he would divulge (and nor have I been able to discover them). Kyle was a man way ahead of anyone else. I spent a wonderful afternoon with him in 2010, and then lost touch. I hope to pull together the interview I conducted… soon.pages-2-and-3-graphic-story-world-2_-1971-july

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It’s in the Headline http://www.tcj.com/97485-2/ http://www.tcj.com/97485-2/#respond Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97485 Continue reading ]]> Greg Hunter is here today with his latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue, in which he talks to Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) about the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Angouleme festival has made its official selections for 2017.

—Reviews & Commentary. Edwin Turner reviews the latest book from Roman Muradov.

It’s tempting to read perhaps too much into Jacob Bladder’s metatextual self-reflexivity. Here is writing about writing, art about art: an illustrated story about illustrating stories. And of course it’s impossible not to ferret out pseudoautobiographical morsels from the novella. Roman Muradov is, after all, a working illustrator, beholden to publishers, editors, art-directors, and deadlines. (Again from the end notes: “DEADLINE: A fictional date given to an illustrator to encourage timely delivery of the assignment. Usually set 1-2 days before the real (also known as ‘hard’) deadline”). If you’ve read The New Yorker or The New York Times lately, you’ve likely seen Muradov’s illustrations.

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So what to make of the section of Jacob Bladders above? Here, a nefarious publisher commands a hapless illustrator to illustrate a “career ladders” story without using an illustration of a career ladder (From the end notes: “CAREER LADDER: An illustration of a steep ladder, scaled by an accountant in pursuit of a promotion or a raise. The Society of Illustrators currently houses America’s largest collection of career ladders, including works by M.C. Escher, Balthus, and Marcel Duchamp”).

Glen David Gold writes about Michael Tisserand’s George Herriman biography, Krazy.

Herriman had a longer apprenticeship than most, working on dozens of strips that never caught fire during the spectacular publication battles between Hearst and Pulitzer that led to the birth of full-color comics such as “The Yellow Kid” and “Little Nemo. ” He was learning his form at the same time that jazz, animation and slapstick comedy were likewise getting their cultural feet under them. Also boxing. Boxing had obeyed “the color line” until 1910, when, in defiance of racist attitudes, the country demanded that black Jack Johnson and white Jim Jeffries finally take the ring. (It’s of course ironic that overcoming racism involved allowing people of different races to beat each other up, but such is our way.)

Michael Dooley writes about the cartoons from Paul Krassner’s satirical journal, The Realist, the subject of a new collection, and republishes a 2000 profile of Krassner.

Among the countless others for whom Krassner has been an important inspiration, the strangest may have been Andrew Breitbart, despite their diametrically opposite worldviews. Breitbart is the founder of Breitbart News, notorious for using fake news sites to source their dishonest and deceptive “journalism.” When Krassner interviewed Breitbart for Playboy in 2011, he said he admired Krassner’s “trailblazing and causing mischief and mirth and effecting the type of political and social change you were attempting.”

And now the Chairman of Breitbart Media is about to become the new President’s chief strategist. So, despite a somewhat tenuous relationship to design, it appears timely to revisit that AIGA Journal profile I wrote, “Here Lies Paul Krassner.” Among several other stories, I discuss the time the FBI anonymously distributed leaflets in black neighborhoods that called for the “elimination” of Krassner and other Jews. The headline was “Lampshades!” repeated four times. Fortunately, he’s still with us at age 84. But so’s the FBI: two weeks prior to last month’s Presidential election the FBI Director’s public, vaguely worded, announcement of a tenuously-related email investigation did manage to shoot down some potential votes for candidate Clinton. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Episode 16: Eddie Campbell (Part I) http://www.tcj.com/episode-16-eddie-campbell-part-i/ http://www.tcj.com/episode-16-eddie-campbell-part-i/#respond Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97398 Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. Continue reading ]]>

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On the sixteenth episode of Comic Book Decalogue, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more.

Previous Episodes

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-16-eddie-campbell-part-i/feed/ 0 0:41:25 On this episode, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. On this episode, Eddie Campbell (Alec, Bacchus, From Hell) discusses the March trilogy, the early sports-page cartoonists, and much more. Mike Dawson no no
Recent Reading http://www.tcj.com/recent-reading-3/ http://www.tcj.com/recent-reading-3/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.tcj.com/?p=97423 Continue reading ]]> No links today. Instead, here are some scattered thoughts on comics I’ve been reading. I suppose it’s a somewhat conservative list, but it’s what is at hand at the moment, and what I felt like writing about. There are lots of things missing but, y’know, I only get this energy going every so often,  so here goes…

Charles Burns: Last Look

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

Vanessa Davis: Summer / Autumn Hours (online only)

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

Steven Weissman: Looking for America’s Dog

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

 

Ted Stearn: Fuzz and Pluck: The Moolah Tree

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

Lynda Barry: Greatest of Marlys

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Chandler: You Are Crumbling All My Jonathans

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

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

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

Stef Sadler: The Kimberly Toilet Files

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

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

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

Wally Wood Department:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

Ben Navotny profiles Laurenn McCubbin.


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

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

Steven Cuevas profiles Steven Weissman.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW DIGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE FIRST EMPLOYEE: PRESTON “PEPPY” WHITE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GIL KANE’S FRIENDSHIP


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

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

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

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

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

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

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

Burne Hogarth and Gary Groth, circa 1984

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

Gil Kane, circa 1971

Gil Kane, circa 1971

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

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

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

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

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


CLICKING WITH ART SPIEGELMAN AND FRANÇOISE MOULY


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PUBLISHING COMICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad copy for The Flames of Gryo, 1979:

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

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

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

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

(continued on next page)

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

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

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

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

Some links:

Glen David Gold reviews Michael Tisserand’s Krazy.

Leslie Stein perfectly sums up the holiday spirit right here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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

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

PLUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

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

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

—Interviews & Profiles. Robert Newman profiles Drew Friedman.

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

The New York Times interviews Zunar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Ooops, that wasn’t quite ready yet).

At the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Boxer reviews Krazy.

Great interview with cartoonist Laurenn McCubbin over at the LARB.

The great French cartoonist Gotlib has passed away.

 

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

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

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

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

So you had Paul and then gave him a sister.

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

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

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

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

Marie:  Thank you.

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

Elsewhere:

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

My pal Anya Davidson gets the Inkstuds treatment. 

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

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

 

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

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