Today on the site, Sloane Leong is back with a second round of Comics Dragnet, gathering up webcomics and genre adventures and critiquing them with an artist's eye. One of the comics this time is The Firelight Isle:
A fantasy coming-of-age story set in a pseudo-South Asian-ish culture that follows a pair of childhood friends undergoing their first adulthood rites. It feels like I've been checking in on this webcomic for over a decade but its only been around for a handful of years in existence. Sixteen chapters have been drawn but the story doesn’t seem to have progressed beyond an unaffecting first act. I'm all for taking your time with your work but that remoteness, especially online, can take a heavy toll, both on the reader and the comic itself with the energy waning into a dull fizzle despite Firelight just hitting its first larger narrative development recently. The idea of perfection in comics is often a creative red herring, something to distract you from getting to the truth of your story. If you don’t have truth or beauty, then what is there? I don’t inherently dislike all meticulously rendered art in comics but something about succinct, vivacious, definitive linework has always translated truth and beauty better in comics than micromanaged complexity, which usually falls short of the baroque, and ends up in some awkward in-between state.
And Leonard Pierce is here, too, with a review of Tommi Parrish's The Lie and How We Told It.
The Lie and How We Told It draws its name from a song by Yo La Tengo, and the comparisons kept nagging at me while reading the book: with that particular band, you were always taking a chance whether, in performance, you would get them at the height of their expressive powers or a night of feedback-drenched noise that was only enjoyable to them. This was especially pronounced by the 2000s, when they settled into a comfortable haze of soundtrack albums and cover songs, some of them made for the film genre suitably known as mumblecore. For those who don’t remember that particular eructation of American cinema, it mostly revolved around middle-class white people who had a very difficult time making their feelings known to one another, to the detriment of everyone else around them. Despite it being a decidedly acquired taste, the genre has been oddly persistent and has lately turned up in quantity on second-tier television networks.
Reading through The Lie, it’s almost impossible not to notice its deeply 2000s-ish feel, and while it dresses up its relationships in the complexities of a genderqueer woman and a man in deep denial about his own conflicted sexuality, it’s still that same old story of people who spend all their time not being able to say what’s on their minds.
—Reviews & Commentary. Paul Morton writes at length about Jules Feiffer and his editorial relationship with Hugh Hefner.
Hefner, himself an aspiring cartoonist in his youth, had wanted to make Playboy a showcase for cartooning talent comparable to The New Yorker. Still, Feiffer’s work didn’t fit with that of other artists Hefner was recruiting at the time. A typical Playboy cartoon featured an unattractive male and a cartoon version of a Playboy model. If the reader recognized himself, he recognized his imperfect body. On the one hand, the cartoons poked fun at the reader’s low physical status. On the other, they indulged his fantasies, his belief that beautiful women were a right to enjoy as much as good food, books, and music. The magazine’s bullpen in the late 1950s included Jack Cole, most famous as the creator of Plastic Man, and the Mad genius Harvey Kurtzman. Cole and Kurtzman’s lusciously colored cartoons for Playboy indulged their adolescent souls. Their work had little in common with Feiffer’s black-and-white sequential narratives, energetic dialogues, and twisting monologues.
From Hefner’s letters, it seems Feiffer was a hard get. The magazine celebrated a materialist, swinging culture that divorced aesthetics from morality. Feiffer’s work did not. Hefner assured Riley that Feiffer would not have to change his point of view. He only asked that Feiffer agree to not publish at any magazine that could be considered a Playboy competitor. He could keep his strip in the Voice. Feiffer agreed.
Brian Nicholson reviews Rich Tommaso's Spy Seal.
Rich Tommaso has been publishing comics for over twenty years, but by his own account, he never got as strong and immediate a response to his work as he did when he posted a little sketch of Spy Seal, a character he had created as a child, to social media. Fans did cosplay, animation studios offered development deals if a comic could demonstrate proof of concept. Tommaso launched the series through Image Comics, who had previously put out the crime and horror comics he had made, and pretty immediately a panic set in, as serialized installments did not actually sell that well. There was a discrepancy between the “popular demand” as the author imagined it and what the Image audience was willing and prepared to pay for. People assured him: It’s not a book for the comic shop market. It’s a comic that, when completed and in bookstores, would find its ideal audience. That book now exists, printed at the dimensions of a Tintin book, and we can now all collectively discover what it is that Spy Seal actually is: The comic is an outgrowth of a sketch, which seemed to imply a world and a tone, but how exactly do those things manifest in an actual narrative with a beginning, middle, and end?
Local man Jeremy Land reportedly voiced his preference Thursday for comic books that don’t insert politics into stories about people forced to undergo body- and mind-altering experiments that transform them into government agents of war. “I’m tired of simply trying to enjoy escapist stories in which people are tortured and experimented upon at black sites run by authoritarian governments, only to have the creators cram political messages down my throat,” said Land, 31, who added that Marvel’s recent additions of female, LGBTQ, and racially diverse characters to long-running story arcs about tyrannical regimes turning social outsiders into powerful killing machines felt like PC propaganda run amok.
—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on the Library of American Comics podcast is the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library's Caitlin McGurk, and the latest guest on Inkstuds is Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics.