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Lava Man Protects Normals

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey continues his epic history of the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. He's still warming up at this point, with an introduction to the work of Ham Fisher.

In his own account of his life, Fisher was profuse in thanking “a good and gracious God for letting me be on my way at last.” He produced a daily column (“Cousin Ham’s Corner”) with caricatures of local celebrities and drew a cartoon or two, sports or political. After a year, he left the Record to join the staff of the city’s other paper, the Times-Leader, because, he explained, “they let me put my name bigger on the cartoon. That’s a fact. All we cartoonists are hams and my name especially fits me. But boy, it was great. I was a personage in our city. If I hadn’t been a cartoonist do you think that judges, mayors, the governor — well, in fact everybody — would have sought me out? I had a position of influence and power, but not too much affluence. Soon I was toast-mastering at banquets, getting good money as an after dinner speaker with nice little political plums thrown my way."

He confessed that he even drew political cartoons for both the Democratic and Republican parties. And then, he said, “came a mistake.” He joined a friend in launching a new newspaper. It lasted only about a year, but its collapse (due to the effects of a strike in the local industry, coal mining) was undoubtedly a blessing in disguise for Fisher. A couple of years before, in about 1920, he had been smitten with an idea for a comic strip, and if the newspaper had succeeded, his comic strip might never have germinated, and the pugilistic world would have been poorer.

We also have Josh Kramer's review of Vagabond Valise.

The Vagabond Valise, just out from Conundrum Press, is a new entrant for admission into the canon of very sad nonfiction graphic novels. It follows Chick-o, a stand-in for Canadian author Siris, through a long, disparate series of grievances and injustices in and out of the foster system in 1960s and ‘70s Quebec. There’s no question that it is sad: gross food, emotional and physical abuse, losing an adolescent crush when her house burns down. There is some rough stuff. But even though the contents sufficiently sad, I’m not sure that’s enough to make Valise good.

Siris has a scratchy line, likely from a nib pen, but it’s not super variable. There are few small details (forks on the dinner table are little tridents, backgrounds are sparse) and a loose hatching permeates nearly ever panel. This wobbliness can be endearing, and the art is on the more cartoony end of the spectrum, like Rocko’s Modern Life. There is a low-simmering magic realism a la Pee-wee’s Playhouse — Chick-o is a Lewis Trondheim-esque bird boy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Over at the Beat, Alex Dueben talks to James Romberger about his new book on James Steranko.

I did the interview with Jim intending to make it the main focus of the 3rd issue of a comics zine that Marguerite Van Cook and I were doing for fun, Comic Art Forum. But then it felt like it was so significant, and presented such a good opportunity to establish language for comics scholarship to be able to talk about the dovetailing relationship of art and text in comics, that I thought I’d try to get it done by a major publisher as a book. It seemed to need a biographical intro, which at the time I didn’t have the writing chops to do properly. At that point, one thing led to another and I returned to college at BMCC, then Columbia and CUNY Graduate Center. I spent a decade and a half completing my masters because I drew five books worth of comics and a few gallery shows in that time. Drafts of both of the essays in the book were originally done as papers for classes. The critical analysis training I got led me to writing for Publishers Weekly, The Comics Journal, etc. – and to teaching. So it has been a journey that took me to some unexpected places.

Just to note, I had originally counted 200 unique graphic and storytelling devices for our “Innovations” list that runs through the interview, but between Jim and I, we weeded out around a quarter of those as having been previously done by others – so Steranko was quite active in trying to not take undue credit for himself. And I retained my independence in writing the essays and assembling the book so it would have critical validity, rather than being an “approved” publication.

Also at the Beat, Romberger himself interviews Jim Woodring.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about that… what would have happened if my folks had sent me to a late 50’s-style child behaviorist? Christ. I’m sure they thought about it. Probably the stigma of having a certified nut for a kid prevented it. But the truth is that these visions and things were peripheral to an innate and intense metaphysical longing, that well-known nostalgia for the infinite that drives so many of us, which was and still is at the forefront of my consciousness. So I’m glad I didn’t get diagnosed, held back, drugged, shocked or subjected to whatever other barbarous rehabilitation techniques they used on wayward children in the Beaver Cleaver era.

At Paste, Hillary Brown talks to Ariel Schrag.

Paste: Is it hard for you to be so open about your life or does it come naturally? Has it gotten easier or harder over time?

Schrag: As a teen, I mostly wrote whatever I wanted to about myself and other people, which was freeing, but led to a lot of personal complications. Now, I’m more careful about not exposing others, which is its own relief, but can make the writing more difficult. Disguising people or fictionalizing autobio is just another layer of work. There is a sweet spot where you say what you want and it feels like the truth and no one gets hurt or feels exposed, but that spot is hard to come by.

The Comics Alternative podcast has two recent interviews up, a new one with Bill Kartalopoulos and another with Tom Hart.

—Reviews & Commentary. The Paris Review has published Harold Rosenbeg's essay from the new NYRC collection of Saul Steinberg's The Labyrinth.

Both because of his superb penmanship and the complex intellectual nature of his assertions, I think of Steinberg as a kind of writer, though there is only one of his kind. He has worked out an exchange between the verbal and the visual that makes possible all kinds of revelations. For instance, there is a drawing in which a triangle on one end of a scale weighs down an old, patched-up, decrepit question mark on the other. Axiom: A NEAT FORMULA OUTWEIGHS A BANGED-UP PROBLEM.

To build his labyrinth, Steinberg had only to draw a line from A to B on the principle that the truth is the longest distance between two points: the result is an enormous scrawl within which the original two dots appear as the eyes of the Minotaur.

As if the relations between words and objects weren’t complicated enough, Steinberg has thrust between them the illusions of the drawing paper. “There is perhaps no artist alive,” E. H. Gombrich testifies in Art and Illusion, “who knows more about the philosophy of representation.” A long straight line keeps changing its pictorial functions—first it represents a table edge, then a railroad trestle, then a laundry line, until it ends up in an abstract flourish. Steinberg is the Houdini of multiple meanings: the line with which he creates his labyrinth and entangles himself in it is also the string that leads him out of it.

The much-missed podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell (featuring TCJ all-stars Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Matt Seneca, and Tucker Stone) has finally dropped a new episode.

—Misc. Courtesy of Sean Howe, I recently learned about two YouTube videos of interest to old-school fans. First, an interview with Jack Kirby:

And then a "debate" between Todd McFarlane and Peter David.


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