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Frying

Today on the site, Tucker Stone makes good on the week, this time with extra back issue reviews, his usual guest news column from Abhay Khosla, and other delights. And Ryan Cecil Smith wraps up his stay with us as diarist.

And elsewhere:

-Comic book writer Chris Roberson announced that we would no longer work for DC because “I don’t agree with the way they treat other creators and their general business practices.” I wonder if this is an isolated incident or if it’ll be a trend. I’d love to think it would be a trend, and that more creators from within the DC-Marvel nexus would step up and say something about the way these companies are behaving. Who knows.

-And while I dither, Tom Spurgeon came up with the best response yet: Posting about Spain Rodriguez instead. His latest is a great one.

-Here’s a three part industry wrap-up style interview with Mike Richardson, CEO of Dark Horse. There’s some stuff in there about manga and Dark Horse’s digital efforts.

-Over at D&Q, Tom Devlin previews Anna & Froga, a groovy looking French graphic album.

-Hey, Kim Thompson is looking for Pogo original art for upcoming volumes of the reprint series.

-And finally, the current New Yorker has a profile of Alison Bechdel (warning: pay wall). I was brought up short in the middle of it when the author, Judith Thurman, cited Hillary Chute citing Justin Green as the originator of “graphic narratives for adults”. Thurman confuses some things and has some terminology problems, but I can’t help but think that that citation is some kind of victory. That is, for years the hoary old Will Eisner creation myth has hung over sophisticated comics, so it’s a relief to see someone else, particularly someone as deserving as the great Justin Green, given some credit. No one will ever agree on a “first”, and such discussions are pointless anyway, but on an aesthetic and intellectual level Green’s 1972 Binky Brown is vastly more important than Eisner to the development of autobiographical and literary fiction comics. Good for Chute, too, for getting so much play in the piece. Her conference, Comics: Philosophy and Practice, which has the single best guest list I’ve ever seen and is itself a statement about the medium (one I hope she or the participants will flesh out, as it’s balanced toward literary fiction/non-fiction models), is happening in May.


27 Responses to Frying

  1. Jesse Post says:

    I always understood the Eisner creation myth to mean that he first used the term, “graphic novel,” not that he was the first to make serious comics for adults. Is that right? Weren’t there Kurtzman and Lynd Ward books much earlier than the ’70s?

  2. Dan Nadel says:

    Hillary Chute, via email, offers a correction to the New Yorker article: “My book states that specifically *autobiographical* comic books started appearing in the 1970s, but Thurman just wrote comic books for adults and attributed it to Graphic Women.”

  3. Michael Grabowski says:

    I recall reading many years ago about the New Yorker‘s aggressive and renowned fact-checking practices. I guess quote-checking isn’t the same thing, or that was too many editors ago.

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    Format, content, and presentation are all being conflated here. The term “graphic novel” has always been blurry around the edges, but it’s generally taken to mean a work created to be a singular book-length piece of fiction or non-fiction in comics form — and even though it’s not explicitly stated, “for adults” (or at least “not specifically for children”) has always been implied. (There are obviously plenty of comics for adults pre-1970s, including a big stack of American undergrounds, any number of satirical French comics, etc…) Lynd Ward’s oeuvre and Kurtzman’s JUNGLE BOOK are clear precursors, as Jesse says (to say nothing of Milt Gross), and make nonsense of the lazy claim (not one Eisner himself ever made, I believe) that A CONTRACT WITH GOD was in any way the “first graphic novel.”

    If you’re going to be picky about Ward’s and Gross’s work being wordless and Kurtzman’s JUNGLE BOOK being a suite of short stories (although that would also eliminate CONTRACT), a case could certainly be made for Guy Peellaert’s THE ADVENTURES OF JODELLE (published by Eric Losfeld in 1966!), which was a non-serial, long-form, adult-oriented single work released initially as a hardcover book (BARBARELLA, whose Losfeld book edition preceded JODELLE by a couple of years — and in fact was a major inspiration for JODELLE — was a compiled serial). Because it has been out of print for so long (although that will soon change) and because Peellaert’s stay in comics was so brief, JODELLE has been somewhat forgotten, but it’s a huge touchstone for any number of French graphic novelists — including Jacques Tardi, who cited it in the interview that I did with him for this year’s COMICS JOURNAL.

    So…. Ward, Gross, Kurtzman, Peellaert, Eisner seems like a reasonable partial list of parents. (Like Freddy Krueger, the graphic novel is the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.) It would have been interesting if Bernard Krigstein had found a taker for his proposed adaptation of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. Or if Kurtzman’s JUNGLE BOOK had been such a huge success that Kurtzman could have continued in that vein (with or without Will Elder). Or if there had been an American equivalent to Losfeld who in 1964 had called up Robert Crumb and asked him if he had anything book-length and Crumb had said, “Well, there’s this YUM YUM thing I just finished…”; he might have snuck in even ahead of Peellaert (although he still beat CONTRACT by a couple of years when YUM YUM was finally published in the mid-1970s).

  5. Jack says:

    You know, that conference is happening at the same time the NATO summit, a planned storm of protests, and a likely overreaction by Rahm Emmanuel are coming to Chicago. I’m kind of tempted to take off work and go.

  6. Nate C. says:

    What about “Lust in the Dust” by Arnold Drake? Wasn’t that even earlier?

  7. Dan Nadel says:

    Yep, my blurb is garbled. What I meant to say was simply that from the point of view of how history gets written and how it’s fed to us — I found the mention of Green, rather than Eisner, significant. It signals an attention less to format and audience and more to content. Green made a sustained, sophisticated narrative from autobiographical material without market restrictions. Giving it a place at the table, so to speak, seems like a step up to me. His precedent is what’s important — it’s a different beast than all the others. But of course, yes, we can leapfrog around various books, discovering new ones as we go, for a long, long time.

  8. Kim Thompson says:

    Exactly right, Dan.

    IT RHYMES WITH LUST (1950), yes, Nate. (You’re likely thinking of LUST IN THE DUST, the 1985 movie starring Divine.) And in terms of Americans who came before CONTRACT, we certainly shouldn’t forget 1971′s BLACKMARK. And despite its serialization, Jack Katz clearly intended THE FIRST KINGDOM, which started in 1974, as a single graphic novel-type entity.

    I think it’s safe to say that the idea of long, non-child-oriented narratives in comics form was floating around for many decades, with periodic odd, usually failed attempts creating a somewhat confounding history, and thus the term “first graphic novel” is close to meaningless. Especially if you start to agonize over the word “novel” (with CONTRACT and JUNGLE BOOK being collections of short stories and Justin Green’s work being nonfiction).

  9. Nate C. says:

    D’oh … and I even looked up the title for the graphic novel (“It Rhymes With Lust”), and STILL typed in the wrong title (the title of a movie, as Kim points out below). Sigh … getting old kinda sucks sometimes! Not ready to be having “senior moments,” as I’m only 44!

  10. R. Fiore says:

    I think you might consider the Tintin stories to be at least graphic novellas. At a certain point they became single narratives of a proscribed length being created with an eye toward eventual book publication, as opposed to the daily comic strip adventure that can potentially continue indefinitely. The extended Barks duck stories are something of the same kind.

  11. Derik Badman says:

    Since no one else has, I feel morally obligated to mention Töpffer.

  12. Kim Thompson says:

    Although Barks never envisioned book publication, and the length of his stories (32 at the very top end) falls short of novel-length by any stretch of the imagination, I would think.

    If the “serial’ nature (continuing character) doesn’t disqualify them you have literally thousands of French and Belgian graphic novels from the 1930s on and the term becomes sort of meaningless.

    To further muddy the waters, the great Joseph Gillain did a book-length (chose to 100 pages) biography of the founder of the Boy Scouts Baden-Powell in comics form in 1950 that, which serialized, was clearly intended to end up as a book and was (obviously) not part of a series of books starring Baden-Powell like, say, the Tintin books. If Wilfred Santiago’s 21 is a graphic novel then Gillain’s BADEN-POWELL is too. Right?

  13. Jeet Heer says:

    The old Comics Comics post I did on the “proto-graphic novel” seems relevant: http://comicscomicsmag.com/2009/10/proto-graphic-novel-notes-on-form.html

    The way I like to think about it is that prior to 1987, the graphic novel was a Phoenix art form: going through a constant cycle of birth, short life, death and rebirth. The idea of doing a book length comics story made sense to many people, so artists kept trying their hand at such books. But because they came out so sporadically, it was impossible to think of them as a coherent form. But in 1987 with the publication of Maus, Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, the graphic novel achieved enough of a beachhead to coalesce as a form and (perhaps more importantly in commercial terms) as a marketing category. Now we can go back and see those early works as forerunners of the graphic novel.

  14. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    What Derik said. Also, I would say, depending on which definitions you want to fulill, several dozen, or hundred, or even thousand Japanese works would qualify as well. In fact, I would think that Japanese comics culture would make this kind of argument irrellevant at this point….

  15. R. Fiore says:

    I did say novella, not novel.

  16. Scott Grammel says:

    I still like to think, because it would be so completely discomforting, that Nick Meglin and Jack Davis’ Superfan should hold pride of place.

  17. Kim Thompson says:

    Hogarth’s TARZAN OF THE APES adaptation was 1972, come to think of it.

    Joseph Gillain did other, earlier biographies too. In fact he turned over SPIROU to a reluctant André Franquin in the 1940s so he could work on one of them.

  18. patrick ford says:

    Hal Foster’s adaptation of the first Tarzan novel was done in 1929. It was composed of 300 panels each captioned by a large block of the original Burroughs text.

  19. Kim Thompson says:

    This seems more like an illustrated book than a graphic novel. Without getting into the whole tedious do-you-need-panel-continuities-and-word-balloons slugfest (“Are you saying DENNIS THE MENACE isn’t a comic strip? PRINCE VALIANT?”) I’d give it a “marginal precursor” grade at best.

  20. Dan Nadel says:

    is that in print these days?

  21. Briany Najar says:

    1929:
    La femme 100 têtes

  22. Kim Thompson says:

    Not that I know of. We’re thinking about it.

  23. patrick ford says:

    Well, The Foster Tarzan adaptation is arguably (and these days what isn’t…a flat Earth?), the closest Foster ever came to a sequential narrative. Joe Kubert openly (as in he said so in interviews) swiped many of the panels for his DC adaptation. Seemingly half the panels in Frazetta’s Thunda are dead swipes from it. Russ Cochran reprinted it way back in the ERB Library of Illustration (Angela Meyer could probably find one or two copies tucked away for cover price). It is at Golden Age Comic Book stories. Digging out my copy of the Cochran book I could point at several sequences right away which are close panel to panel sequences. Strip #12 is a real good one….still looking. Yeah, there’s no doubt Foster’s first try at a comic strip is more what people think of as comics than most of Prince Valiant.

  24. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    I get a little thrill every time I see Ernst’s books referenced in comics circles….

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