It’s always a good day when a new Ken Parille Grid column shows up, and today he’s got a long look at that most underappreciated and unusual cartoonist, Abner Dean, whose example is if anything even more instructive and relevant today. Here’s how Ken’s column opens:
After years of reading Abner Dean, I still can’t answer a fundamental question: Are the drawings in the books he released from 1945 to 1954 cartoons? In one sense, of course, what we call them is irrelevant: they are beautifully drawn, thought provoking works of art. Yet the question gets at issues central to Dean’s philosophy and the trajectory of his career. Prior to releasing It’s a Long Way to Heaven in 1945, he had worked for over a decade as a commercial artist. Having drawn countless ads for products like crackers, cereal, and insurance, as well as hundreds of cartoons for popular magazines, he felt burdened by the limitations of contemporary cartooning formulas. Looking to create complex works of lasting value, in the early ‘40s he took the vocabulary of the single-panel gag cartoon — a genre he had long since mastered — and began producing “drawings” (his preferred term) that he thought of as something original, even “striking.” These innovations expressed his belief in the power of images, not simply to get a laugh, but to get readers thinking about themselves in new ways. The typical gag asks only for a quick chuckle at how we — or, more often, other people — act. But for Dean, the combination of image and text could stimulate a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses: delight, frustration, provocation, bewilderment, sadness, or illumination. To bring about such reactions, Dean created “cartoons” (a term he also used) that placed a greater demand on readers than typical gags and generated more questions than answers. Take Dean’s “Opportunist in a Strange Land”:
What’s the opportunity presented the protagonist? (To be a voyeur who can’t be caught looking?) Why don’t the others just remove the sacks from their heads? (Are they content in their blindness?) Why is he wearing a hat? (After all, no one can see it). But most importantly: What’s in the bag he’s carrying?
We also have Rob Kirby’s review of Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer:
In this follow-up to his acclaimed The End of the Fucking World (a/k/a TEOTFW), Charles Forsman introduces us to a new pair of alienated, apathetic teenagers, Mike and Wolf. Wolf, an awkward, taciturn lump of a boy with a Mohawk who lives with his grandmother, has just graduated from high school and is quietly freaked about what’s next. Mike – lean, lank-haired and a bit older – is more established and outwardly sure of himself. At the outset of the story, the boys drop acid and, like Fucking World’s James and Alyssa, take to the road, heading no place in particular. Thus begins their “celebrated summer,” a reference to the Hüsker Dü song that gives the story its name: “It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around.”
Rather than finding the life-changing transcendence or groovy adventure depicted in acid trips of movies and other popular media, the boys – particularly Wolf – turn inward. Their ambivalence towards each other and their lives fuels the narrative. Celebrated Summer is a quiet, funny-sad character study in which what isn’t said speaks volumes; its broader subject is the liminal state of teenagers standing uneasily on the cusp of adulthood and responsibility, anxious or just plain numb at the prospect of leaving the “carefree” days of childhood behind forever.
—Reviews & Commentary. Edie Fake reviews the new Mould Map 3. Brian Cremins reports on the Chicago performance of Art Spiegelman’s Wordless! Greg Hunter on Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. Rob Clough reviews MariNaomi, Sean T. Collins & Julia Gfrörer, and Spencer Hicks. Wim on Olivier Schrauwen’s My Boy.
—News. Paul Karasik is reporting from Angoulême. Uncivilized Books has announced its spring 2014 lineup.
—Spending Opportunities. Here’s a Kickstarter for a new Kim Deitch collection that hits its funding goal almost immediately.