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Strange Days

R.C. Harvey writes about George Herriman, and Michael Tisserand's widely acclaimed biography of the artist, Krazy.

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.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—News.
Tisserand's book was already nominated for an NBCC award, and it is now also officially a nominee for a PEN award.

—Interviews & Profiles. AJ Frost talks to Françoise Mouly, Nadja Spiegelman, and Gabe Fowler about their Resist! anthology, just released.

In all my professional life, forty years in comics, I realized printing something—an artifact—is something I understand. It’s a way for me to remember my past. I can remember when my children were born… I can remember which book I printed/published when. I have a way of mapping out my history through publication. And that felt right to have such a publication as my way out of some insurmountable moment. For me in a way, it was a little bit of a replay of September 11th when I couldn’t figure what to do and I eventually came up with this New Yorker cover of black-on-black from [Art Spiegelman’s] suggestion that this was a way to show that there was no solution. Similarly, Gabe’s offer felt like this would be a printed artifact that will catalyze and focus a complex and inarticulate response.

Rob Vollmar talks to Alan Moore.

My friend Adam Curtis, who is an excellent documentary filmmaker, did a wonderful film called The Power of Nightmares, which suggested that previously our political leaders sold us dreams. They would promise us, if we were to elect them, that they would give us this, this, and this. We believed them and we elected them. Then they would say, “Yeah, actually, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to follow our own agendas but thanks for electing us.” They kept doing that until, even as stupid and often subservient as we are, we eventually saw through that. We started saying, “No, you’re not actually going to do the things you said you were going to do, are you? These were just dreams you were selling us. So we are going to stay away from the polling booth in our thousands, in our millions, because we feel disenfranchised from this political system.” Of course, that’s a problem. What kind of mandate have you got if 90 percent of your population are not turning up at the polling booth?

So, if dreams aren’t working anymore, let’s sell them nightmares. This is particularly applicable to the world post-2001 with the spectre of the jihadist, which is our new cultural bogeyman. It was the slack-jawed Russian back when I was a boy and presumably the square-headed German shortly before that.

Alex Wood talks to Robert Crumb.

All I can do is just pile onto what everyone else says [about Donald Trump], you know? It's all people talk about. It's an endless subject of conversation and has been since he started running for president. The media of course loved him -- loved him! They couldn't get enough of Trump. He really shot their ratings up. People were either morbidly curious, or outraged, or they supported him–all of 'em. All the people I know that despised him, they just couldn't help but watch him and gasp in indignation at his latest outrageous statement. "Did you hear what Trump said yesterday?" [laughing] That sort of thing. And of course his supporters just lapped it up. The more outrageous the better, as far as they were concerned.

—Reviews & Commentary. For The New Yorker, Gabrielle Bellot writes about gender fluidity in the work of George Herriman.

In the years following [Arthur Asa] Berger’s initial reporting, a number of writers have grappled with [the racial] aspect of Herriman’s work. “In the comics page no less than in social life, the opposition between black and white can be redefined but not abolished,” the journalist and comics scholar Jeet Heer has written. As Michael Tisserand points out in his new biography, “Krazy,” Herriman might have lost his job as a cartoonist had he been outed as black. When Herriman worked at the Los Angeles Examiner, as a staff artist, the paper published multiple articles about light-skinned African-Americans who had tried to pass as white and were subsequently “exposed.” But “Krazy” also helps to expand the meaning of the comic’s subversive play with identity beyond race. In an era when books depicting homosexuality and gender nonconformity could lead to charges of obscenity, “Krazy Kat,” Tisserand notes, featured a gender-shifting protagonist who was in love with a male character.

At Print, Michael Dooley presents art from Ho Che Anderson's King.

The incoming U.S. President was responsible for skyrocketing sales of March, the graphic novelization of the life of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. Inadvertently responsible, to be sure. Nevertheless, it gained an incredible bump of more than one hundred thousand percent. And any escalation in literacy is cause for celebration these days. Especially when it encompasses visual literacy. And even more particularly so when the book pays tribute to someone who continues stand up against racism more than 50 years after having been beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting. So it seems time to revisit a related graphic novel bio, groundbreaking and critically acclaimed when first released, on the life of Lewis’s mentor and marching buddy. I’m referring here to King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.


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