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The Ballad of Axe-Faced Anne: Comics, Criticism, Contexts

1.

Reading a comic book once made me sick. Like other Baby Boomer kids, I fell in love with Silver Age Marvel Comics, especially the Kirby/Lee/Sinnott Fantastic Four. I was imprinted by Lee’s narrative voice (simultaneously melodramatic and folksy) and Kirby’s visual imagination: the Marvel aesthetic became my be-all-and-end-all, my standard for quality comics. One day, though, a friend left some comics at my house, and the next morning I casually picked a non-Marvel from his stack to read at breakfast. I started eating and reading: the comic was a weird pre-Code horror anthology, and the first story featured inky, crosshatched illustrations (a lesser artist channeling Creepy-era Reed Crandall, maybe) for a disturbing story about a woman who turns herself into a leopard. I hated it because it wasn’t a Marvel comic. I glanced at panels where the woman, with a human head and leopard’s body, prowled over her unconscious lover. I felt nauseous. I threw the comic and my cereal away.

Why did I get sick? Why was I so invested in Marvel, and why and how did this leopard-woman horror comic upset my tastes so traumatically? What does it mean to read a new comic?

2.

I’ve been thinking about these and other questions, mulling over how my personal responses to comics (nausea or otherwise) inform the criticism and research I write. I’ve realized that the idea of newness is important to me. I read for those moments where I have my preconceptions upended, my notions of what comics do irrevocably altered. The leopard woman jerked me out of Marvel complacency; Crumb’s Homegrown Funnies (1971) introduced me to the Id-fueled underground; Kramers Ergot #4 (2003) uncoupled me from narrative, leading me to attend to the formal qualities (the colors, shapes and forms) of comic art. It sometimes takes a while for my paradigms to shift—it took several re-reads before I saw that Kramers #4 was something more than a collection of self-indulgent doodles—but shift they eventually do, and that shift is, for me, the most exciting result of following an art form closely.

One of the aesthetic theories that best captures that sense of expanding perceptions is Hans Robert Jauss’ idea of the horizon of expectations. Jauss (1921-1997) was a German literary scholar who argued that both readers/spectators and works of art are influenced by material, aesthetic and political contexts. These contexts create a “horizon of expectations,” a baseline against which the art in question stands as conventional, amateurish or innovative. (Kramers #4 was a paradigm-shifter because eight years ago, almost all comics, mainstream and alternative, prioritized narrative.) This emphasis on context may seem obvious, especially in our Po-mo, theoretically savvy culture, but it still informs the criticism I write, especially my belief that critics should go beyond simple “bad/good” evaluations (“This issue of Batman sucks!”) and position the comic against the broader backgrounds of aesthetic and ideological norms.

3.

In his seminal essay “Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory” (1967), Jauss develops his arguments about the horizon of expectations by talking about time. He points out that changes in society and the zeitgeist create ever-shifting horizons of reception and analysis. Readers of Kramers #4 in 2003 interpreted the anthology differently than those who read it today, because Kramers #4 was followed by other significant books (later issues of Kramers, as well as Abstract Comics [2009], and Yuichi Yokoyama’s Color Engineering [2011]) that cultivated a wider acceptance of comics that emphasize the qualities of the picture plane. For Jauss, the meaning(s) of a text are in large measure determined by colliding discourses and forces from both the past and present:

The quality and rank of a literary work result neither from the biographic conditions of its origin, nor from its place in the sequence of the development of a genre alone, but rather from the criteria of influence, reception, and posthumous fame.

When studying an older text, the critic should consider both the environment of initial reception (I bought Kramers #4 at the 2003 San Diego Comicon, oddly enough) and how discourses of “influence, reception, and posthumous fame”—including coverage and commentary from the Journal—have molded our reception of the text since. And then our hypothetical critic writes a review or article that becomes part of the cloud of interpretations swirling around the text, influencing future readers and critics.

All this happens on a personal level, especially in our 21st-century saturated media landscape. Back when I was reading those Kirby/Lee Fantastic Fours, I felt like I was keeping up with most comics, and with the broader currents of comics culture, but I’ve since been humbled. I’m unable to keep pace with the flood of comics and graphic novels currently being published, and I understand that though I’ve been reading comics for over 40 years, I’ve inadvertently ignored hundreds of key creators, genres and companies. The history of comics is deep and vast, and I’m a haphazard disciple, which is why Jauss’ theory of the horizon of expectations, his stress on how past and present discursive contexts create the meaning of a text, is useful for my dives into comics’ oceanic past.

4.

Early in February 2011, I met my friend Toney Frazier for our weekly lunch. Generous about sharing his enthusiasms (offbeat ‘70s music, the horror genre, underground comix), Toney often loans me books and brings me gifts, and this time he gave me a copy of Stephen Sennitt’s Ghastly Terror: The Horrible Story of the Horror Comics (Headpress, 1999) that he’d found at a used bookstore. Ghastly Terror is a lively, opinionated survey of the history of American horror comics, from ACG’s Adventures into the Unknown (1948) to the nine-issue run of Stephen Bissette’s Taboo (1988-1995). Sennitt’s approach isn’t academic: he doesn’t interview writers and artists, or research the business practices of publishers like Warren and Eerie. Rather, his focus is almost exclusively on gut-level aesthetic evaluation, on whether or not particular titles and individual comics deserve to be read. In my opinion, Ghastly Terror is most fun when Sennitt delivers judgments that run contrary to fanboy canons—as in his denunciation of the ECs as “too repetitive and unadventurous” (57)—and when he offers up consumer-guide checklists with titles like “Top Ten Warren Mags” and “The Ten Best Horror-Mood Magazines.”

The title of that last list, about the “Horror-Mood Magazines,” refers to the comics (Nightmare, Psycho, Scream) written and edited by Alan Hewetson and produced by Skywald Publishing between 1971 and 1975. Skywald, founded by Marvel Comics production manager Sol Brodsky and investor Israel Waldman in 1970, began by churning out black-and-white horror magazine in imitation of the Warren titles Creepy and Eerie. Sennitt argues, however, that black magic bubbled forth when Hewetson was hired as associate editor of Skywald in 1971: “Under Hewetson’s editorship the Skywalds would develop into the most unique and disturbing horror comics of all time, generating their own particular, coherent world-view which would at least put them on a ‘philosophical’ par with the ECs and the early Warrens” (151). Hewetson himself called his approach the Horror-Mood, described by Sennitt as “a miasmic evil” (151), a “kind of decaying atmosphere” (153) created by the heady mix of Hewetson’s ornate, pseudo-Lovecraftian prose style, and the unsettling images conjured up by Skywald’s stable of artists, many of whom were foreign artists willing to work cheap.

When I first read Sennitt’s description of Skywald’s Horror-Mood, I was intrigued, because I’d never seen or read a Skywald magazine in my life. I’d only read brief mentions of Skywald in the fan press, though somehow I was familiar with the title of one of the most notorious Horror-Mood stories—Hewetson and Ramon Torrents’ “The Filthy Little House of Voodoo” (Psycho #8, September 1972)—even though I hadn’t read the story itself yet. (I suspect that I saw the title in some Comic Reader or Comics Journal article, and then tucked it into my permanent memory because “Filthy Little House of Voodoo” is a great name for a blues band.) But Sennitt’s high praise (“The most unique and disturbing horror comics of all time”!) made shopping for some Skywald magazines a priority for me.

5.

Cut to June 2011. Armed with various Sennitt checklists from Ghastly Terror–“The Ten Best Horror-Mood Magazines,” sure, but also “Ten Essential Tales by Archaic Al [Hewetson],” and a catalog of the stories in Skywald’s “Saga of the Human Gargoyles”—I walked the aisles of the dealers’ auditorium of Charlotte’s Heroes Con with Toney, sniffing at every magazine longbox for hidden caches of Nightmare and Psycho. There were only a few booths that had any Skywalds, however, and most were, by my tightwad standards, outrageously overpriced. I didn’t buy any, although Toney lucked into a dealer who sold him a small stack at a volume discount. I’m tempted to describe the dealer in comically exaggerated terms, as an eldritch presence resembling EC’s Crypt-Keeper, but that would be false and unkind. The guy had long gray hair, but no hood or cloak.

At our next lunch, Toney had another surprise for me: his stack had included two copies of Scream #5 (April 1974), and he gave me one. I was immediately struck by the lurid vibrancy of its cover:

Even before I opened that cover, though, I thought: This is a comic I know very little about. Could I meta-blog my first experience of reading a Skywald, and chronicle both my immediate responses to the comic and the horizons—of expectations, of interpretations— that I brought to Scream #5?

6.

Scream #5 is approximately 8 ½ x 11 in dimensions and is 68 pages long, counting the front and back covers. The cover pages are in color, and the interior is in black-and-white. On the inside front cover, there’s an ad for “Horror-Mood Characters, ” such as the Human Gargoyles, Frankenstein and the Heap, who appear in stories serialized in Nightmare, Psycho and Scream. The ad promises a “blockbuster character being created expressly for our upcoming fourth magazine…Tomb of Horror…you gotta SEE ‘it’ to BELIEVE ‘it.” But this strikes a poignant note: very few saw “it” because Skywald collapsed before Tomb of Horror was published. Facing this ad, on the first interior page, are panels borrowed from each of Scream #5’s stories, alongside the titles of the stories (including “The Conqueror Worm and the Haunted Palace” and “Shift: Vampire”) in handwritten lettering, and typeset text that lists contributors’ names. The kerning of the typeset words is a bit askew.

On pages 14-15, Hewetson includes “A Corrupt Collection of Lunatic Letters from the Macabre Scream Mailbag,” featuring readers feedback, an ad for a future story (“Coming Up Next in the Monster, Monster Saga”), and a bizarre column by Skywald writer Augustine Funnell, who denounces fanzines and the writers contributing to them. Specifically, Funnell is bothered that fans talk more about other fans than the work of comics professionals:

Now before anyone accuses me of hating fandom (which I don’t!), I’ll make my single point. Any professional, whether his name is Hewetson, O’Neil, Smith, Ditko, or Archie Bunker is more important than any fan! Why? Because it’s the pro who’s doing the entertaining! It’s the pro who deserves the credit—not the fan who only reads what the pro does. If the fan was worthy of the professional’s praise, he’d damn well be a pro!

Fans have forgotten their roots. They’ve forgotten who the true heroes are. In a word, fans have become arrogant. (14)

There’s a curious tension among these texts from Scream #5. In Ghastly Terror, Sennitt mentions that Alan Hewetson began his career as an assistant to Stan Lee at Marvel, so it’s no surprise that Hewetson’s bonhomie in the ads and letters pages mimics Lee’s 1960s hype, right down to the nicknames (Archaic Al Hewetson, Awkward Augustine Funnell, etc.) given to every Skywald staffer and freelancer. With his swingin’ prose style, Lee (deceptively) defined the Marvel Bullpen as a rollicking clubhouse that readers could join simply by buying more Marvel comics, and Hewetson sought to build the same playful (and commercial) rapport with fans. Funnell’s screed against fanzines and fans, however, builds a curiously elitist wall between “arrogant” fans and “important” professionals. Why didn’t Funnell realize that most fan publications, especially Amateur Press Associations, were as much about creating a community as they were about reviews of professional comics? Further, history hasn’t upheld Funnell’s implicit comparison of Hewetson with creators like O’Neil, Smith and Ditko; did Funnell believe that Psycho and Scream should be praised as much as key 1970s comics like O’Neil and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Thomas and Smith’s Conan? Whatever the motivation, I can’t imagine Funnell’s jeremiad sat well with either hard-core fans or casual readers looking for a fun horror mag.

7.

I’m also not convinced that any demographic slice of readers would find the comics in Scream #5 worth their money either. The biggest problem is that Hewetson is incapable of dreaming up an original plot. “Get Up and Die Again” is a riff on The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)—where a mad scientist named “Ingles” (wink, wink) bluntly exclaims “This is part of a Frankenstein movie plot…I will engage in so [sic] such melodramatics”—while two of the other stories are Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, another is a version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and “Shift: Vampire” combines horror and science fiction in a way reminiscent of (but inferior to) the Archie Goodwin-Gray Morrow tale “Blood of Krylon!” in Creepy #7 (February 1966). Based on Scream #5, Hewetson doesn’t so much write and edit stories as he set-arranges swipes and familiar horror tropes into simulacra that almost pass as stories—until you realize that the catharsis and sense of aesthetic form traditionally associated with storytelling is utterly absent from Hewetson’s “scripting.” (As horror fans know, vampires and zombies lack that essential spark of life that defines the truly alive.)

Hewetson’s work is lousy on the panel-by-panel, caption-by-word-balloon micro level too. He labors under the Lovecraftian misbelief that scary writing should be a pile-up of adjectives, as in this panel from Scream #5’s first story, “The Autobiography of a Vampire (Chapter Two)”:

The vampire has just murdered the woman he loved, but we don’t see his face, and Hewetson and artist Ricardo Villamonte never visually illustrate the character preying “on poor, innocent girls” and sleeping “in filthy crypts.” Everything is described rather than shown. Contrary to Sennitt’s feeling that the Skywalds carry “a decaying atmosphere,” I found Hewetson’s storytelling dull and distant rather than lurid and loathsome.

8.

The art in Scream #5 is all OK, although several of the artists exhibit strange stylistic tics. In his work on the adaptation of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” Maro Nava cuts his spot blacks with filigreed white lines, and draws faces with googly Marty Feldman eyes.

Artist Ricardo Villamonte begins and ends “The Autobiography of a Vampire” with panels that place the drawn central character against photographic foregrounds and backgrounds.

And in “Get Up and Die Again,” Alphonso Font uses manic crosshatching and sculptured negative space to create a convincing, moody gothic atmosphere:

There’s an illustrative density to this art that reminds me of the Filipino cartoonists (Alex Niño, Alfredo Alcala, Rudy Nebres, Tony DeZuniga, etc.) who drew for DC anthology titles and Marvel magazines at roughly the same time that Skywald was in business. Many of the foreign artists who worked for Skywald and Warren, however, were Spanish, and often associated with the Selecciones Illustradas studio in Barcelona. At the conclusion of his essay on “The Spanish Invasion” in Comic Book Artist 1.4 (Spring 1999), David A. Roach argues that although much of this work was accomplished (“the highest expression of a nation’s artistic tradition”), the “invasion” itself was short-lived and influenced few—if any—contemporary comics artists. Scream #5 is a tomb for the ornate Spanish style, for a forgotten visual approach.

9.

Let’s go back in time again, back to the mid-1970s: what is the state of horror in American popular culture at the time of Scream #5’s release? In film, this was an unstable period, as leering vampires and haunted houses were replaced by a “New Horror” (to use Ron Rosenbaum’s term) of greater psychological and visual verisimilitude. The movies of England’s Hammer Studios, especially the entries in their Dracula and Frankenstein series, were widely distributed in the U.S. and represented the most successful example of old-style horror in 1960s cinema. But by the early 1970s, Hammer bottomed out, turning to unregulated sex and gore, and bizarre genre combinations to juice up box office. Personally, I like the Hammer films of this period—I’m still infatuated with Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers (1970), and inexplicably fond of the Hammer-Golden Harvest co-production The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), a woebegone attempt to cash in on the Kung-Fu craze—but the Hammer movie monsters were quickly displaced by rawer, more viscerally unsettling movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Last House on the Left (1972).

In Shock Value (2011), his recent history of “New Horror,” Jason Zinoman characterizes the emerging post-Hammer aesthetic thusly:

In the late sixties, the film industry was changing. Rules about obscenity and violence were in flux. The “Midnight Movie” was reaching a young audience that embraced underground and cult films. Starting in the second half of 1968, the flesh-eating zombie and the remote serial killer emerged as the new dominant movie monsters, the vampire and werewolf of their day. A new emphasis on realism took hold, vying for attention with the fantastical wing of the genre. Just as important was how the writers of these movies shifted the focus away from narrative and towards a deceptively simpler storytelling with a constantly shifting point of view. Movies were more graphic. The relationship with the audience became increasingly confrontational, and that was a result largely of the new class of directors who were making low-budget monies for drive-in theaters and exploitation houses across the country. (6)

Zinoman then offers up a litany of auteurs who reinvented horror both outside and inside Hollywood: Roman Polanski, George Romero, William Friedkin, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and others.

10.

Did the “New Horror” infiltrate comics? The color mainstream comics of the era were too constrained by the Comics Code to emulate The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and the Marvel black-and-white magazines always seemed to me a slightly naughtier version of the mainstream stuff, complete with the same continuing characters (Conan, Dracula, the Hulk) and creators (Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, John Buscema). And I don’t see any traces of New Horror in Scream #5, just Poe adaptations and Frankenstein monsters.

The only publisher that dips into New Horror during the 1970s is Warren. Although Warren was the best of the black-and-white publishers, its quality is maddeningly inconsistent; Archie Goodwin’s terrific tenure as editor-in-chief and primary writer of the Warren line (1964-67), for instance, was followed by a lackluster, financially unstable period when Creepy and Eerie were rife with reprints from the Goodwin era. Luckily, the emergence of the filmic New Horror coincided with a renaissance at Warren, as Louise Jones Simonson edited the comics (1974-79) and with art director Kim McQuaite modernized the look of the magazines.

Simonson’s skill as an editor, along with Warren’s status as the premiere horror publisher, kept major talents at Creepy and Eerie, talents more in sync with the innovations of New Horror than Hewetson and the Skywald stable. Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson’s classic “Jenifer” (Creepy #63, July 1974) isn’t about vampires and werewolves; Jenifer is a new breed of monster that unsettlingly combines hideousness, cannibalism and overwhelming sex appeal, and the story unfolds in naturalistic locales (day-lit woods, a suburban house, a run-down motel) rather than in gothic castles and haunted houses. Another New Horror Warren tale is Jim Stenstrum and Neal Adams’ “Thrillkill” (Creepy #75, November 1975), which emulates Peter Bogdanovich’s film Targets (1968) in taking inspiration from Charles Whitman’s real-life sniper rampage at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. It’s stories like these that we remember from the 1970s black-and-white magazines—because they represent peak work by important creators, and because they bring the violent, transgressive, experimental vibe of New Horror into comics—while virtually all the Skywald material is forgotten.

(Continued)


60 Responses to The Ballad of Axe-Faced Anne: Comics, Criticism, Contexts

  1. Andrew Mansell says:

    Terrific article Craig

    Homegrown Funnies and Kramer’s Ergot #4 WOW–in addition to those gems, I’d be interested to know what films and prose novels you feel were responsible for expanding your perceptions

    Personal aside: –I’ve always associated the old universal horror films and the Comics together.
    My all-time favorite memories of youth were the Winter Saturday nights when my father would spring for snacks, all four Sunday papers and after a night of comic strips and noshing (that’s Mr. Salty to you!), I would get to stay up late to watch Creature Features on WGN.

    And once again– terrific article

  2. Good article, Craig. Some of the “stylistic tics” you note seem to be the result of a heavy Alberto Breccia influence, especially in the page by Alfonso Font.

    • Joe McCulloch says:

      Reading any of the Spanish-powered b&w horror mags is kind of a trip in that way; suddenly you’re in a world where Breccia is Jack Kirby…

    • patrick ford says:

      Anyone know what kind of page rates the Spanish artists were paid in the ’70s?
      It’s well known the artists from the Philippines were getting really low page rates, at least at the start.
      I recall Mike Kaluta mentioning in an interview he was told by DC he could finish the ERB story he’d been working on, but only if he accepted the same page rate being paid for the stuff being packaged in the Philippines.

  3. Craig Fischer says:

    …and of course Breccia is one of those “blind spots” I talked about in the essay. Time to read more…

    Pat, I wonder what the wages were too–pitifully low, no doubt, and I’ve seen references here and there (mostly in COMIC BOOK ARTIST) that the middlemen who brokered the transactions between Spanish artists and American publishers took an immorally large cut.

  4. patrick ford says:

    It wouldn’t seem possible the Spanish artists were working for the same low rates as the artists in the Philippines.
    This is just a guess based on Spain being a Western European country.
    Several of the most prominent artists from the Philippines moved to the United States in short order, and continued to get work, but did any of the Spanish artists move here?

    • Jeet Heer says:

      Spain in the early 1970s was a relatively poor country, although not as poor as the The Philippines. It was definitely not up to Western European living standards and wouldn’t in fact be integrated into the European economic system until Franco died. So I can imagine these artists getting a lower page rate. The whole outsourcing of cartooning jobs in the early 1970s is interesting and worth exploring in greater detail. Carmine Infantino really pushed this during his tenure at DC.

      • patrick ford says:

        Several of the Spanish artists who worked for Warren had already been working for French and English publishers. José (Pepe) González did a lot of work for English publishers including the comics version of the AVENGERS television show. It’s just hard to imagine they were working for the same crap page rates being paid for the packaged stuff from the Philippines. Mike Kaluta said he was told the rate for a penciled, inked, and lettered page was twenty-six dollars.

  5. Mike Rhode says:

    Exellent essay, Craig. Although I enjoyed hanging w/ you and Toney at that HeroesCon, I’m GLAD I didn’t get any Skywald comics for myself.

  6. Briany Najar says:

    Blog about Spanish comic artists:
    http://deskartesmil.blogspot.com/

  7. patrick ford says:

    Tom Spurgeon pointed out today Craig’s piece is less about Skywald than it is about what Jeet called “readerly expectations.”
    A person’s formative experience always leaves deep marks, and an interest in comics is something almost always rooted in childhood.
    One example of expectations I’ve seen expressed quite a few times is: “Frank Robbins wasn’t right for superheroes.”
    Enid Coleslaw: “What does that even mean.”
    One expectation is it means, “This doesn’t look like the rest of the houses on my block.”
    Another expectation would be, “Yes, it’s a shame the adventure strip market in newspapers is drying up, and Robbins has to go write and draw for the “Big Two.”

  8. Chance Fiveash says:

    Nice article, I agree with most of what you’ve written. Saying that, I’ve always had a softspot for Skywald magazines. Jeff Jones drew one of his best stories there imo (Psycho #9). Also, just a minor correction, but Bill DuBay was the editor at Warren from 1974-1976 and Simonson from 1976-1980. Both did a great job and I actually prefer the stories under their tenure than the Goodwin era.

    Again, very nice article.

  9. ryanholmberg says:

    Why is “tell, don’t show” a bad thing? Is it because you find the writing poor? Or there something else?

    Working on Japanese comics from the 50s and 60s, in which so much of the narration is conducted through visuals and speech balloons, and visuals that are often totally instrumentalized for the purpose of pushing the narrative forward, I have to say I find the format you are talking about here a joy and relief. The drawing for me is detailed enough with its own internal “events” (pen flourishes, added emotional expressions, eros) that there is a nice balance, like I am getting a story in a picture and a story in writing, back and forth. The entire story (Black Orchids) is, after all, like you say, being told by someone inside the story, so the format seems appropriate.

    Anyway, I feel like I hear this criticism a lot, also in Japan, that a comic relies too much on the words to tell the story. It seems like a legitimate criticism to me only if either the artist’s intention was to tell the story primarily through pictures (which doesn’t seem to be the case here) or the pictures add nothing to the aesthetic experience beyond what has already been imparted by the words (which also is not the case). It seems to me that if the reasons for aesthetic judgments like this “anti-verbal bias” (which may be putting it too heavily, if it’s just an anti-bad writing bias) are made clearer, you might be able to move beyond the good/bad impasse you mention at the beginning, but then I think you end up repeating through much of your essay with like/don’t like.

    • DerikB says:

      I agree with Ryan in general, there is often a great strain of “anti-verbal” bias in comics. Too many words and it’s not good comics or it’s not comics at all.

      That said, it is often a case that the writing (the actual language, not the plotting/story/etc) is bad in comics, so it’s certainly understandable where the bias comes from.

  10. Craig Fischer says:

    @Chance: Thanks for the Bill DuBay correction. I think I got confused because Jones Simonson was DuBay’s assistant editor during the 1974-76 period. (What did you think about DuBay’s second tenure as editor?)

    @Ryan, Derik: I’ll definitely admit to a personal “show, don’t tell” bias, though I can appreciate what Ryan says about the pen-and-ink aesthetics of the Skywald images providing a nice counterpoint to Hewetson’s prose style. (In fact, in an earlier draft of this essay, I acknowledged an explicit “Kurtzman over Feldstein” prejudice—and now I’m sorry I took that line out.)

    I do think that Hewetson is a bad writer—hence my comment about his “pile-up of adjectives”—but my antipathy to SCREAM #5 is a combination of my personal tastes and my perceived limitations of Hewetson’s writing.

    That said, there are many comics works I love that are more prose- than picture-focused. The first example that comes to mind is Eddie Campbell’s GRAFITTI KITCHEN, where the captions move the story forward and express the interiority of the central character (“Alec,” Eddie), even while in several places the images are indiscriminate sketches, vibrant pen lines and little else. So the quality of the writing certainly matters to me.

    About the like/dislike issue: my essay does wallow in judgments, but I hope it’s also clear that I greatly prefer criticism that goes beyond simple judgment. I’m not crazy about SCREAM #5, but I can learn from it. I can use it to probe the difference between film and comic-book horror in the 1970s, and I can talk about how captions and pictures clash to create unsettling, innovative uncertainty. Using individual comics–bad or good–to broach larger questions about the medium and the industry is what I’d like to read more of–more essays, in fact, like Ryan’s great piece on the Shitgrin Mask manga.

    • Chance Fiveash says:

      I’ll be honest with you, my interest with Warren post Simonson is limited. I DO think that Vampirella was good toward the end, that title was reprinting a few European strips such as Torpedo and others was good. Overall, DuBay’s second tenure was cut short. I DO think that, overall, his last run was very flawed.

  11. ryanholmberg says:

    Another question, this one based on my ignorance of everything non-Japanese. I think you only mention two examples of “New Horror” in these comics (maybe three if you include Black Orchid). Is there a Cronenberg of horror comics, a De Palma? Or did these directors really emerge too late (late 70s) to have an impact on the publishers you are talking about.

    I ask because if they exist I want to read them.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      @Ryan: I think Joe McCulloch might know this better than I do, but I don’t think that there are equivalents to Cronenberg and De Palma… that might be happening now (maybe) via anthologies like “Weird”, which just came out. But certainly comics didn’t have that kind of contemporaneous sophistication in the horror genre in America.

  12. patrick ford says:

    I don’t know anything about De Palma or Cronenberg, but maybe Ryan would be interested in things like Slow Death, Insect Fear, and Skull, Thrilling Murder, Up From the Deep, Fantagor, Real Pulp, Tales of Sex and Death, Tales From the Plague, Deviant Slice, Death Rattle, Brain Fantasy, Bogeyman, Anomaly, Grim Wit, and Philip Jose Farmer’s The Image of the Beast.
    In mainstream comics many people are high on several things published by Warren. In particular JENNIFER written by Bruce Jones with art by Wrightson.

    • Chance Fiveash says:

      I own pretty much most of the comics you listed…and yet, you really know nothing about Cronenberg?

    • Tim Hodler says:

      Oh yeah, some of the Greg Irons/Tom Veitch stuff probably qualifies.

      • Dan Nadel says:

        Of course, Charles Burns. I was thinking more 1970s. I dunno if Irons/Veitch qualifies, though I like it a whole lot. When I think of Cronenberg and De Palma I think of conceptual and technical sophistication, which you don’t see much of in American comic book horror until… someone will correct me here, but Tim, Charles Burns seems about right. R. Hayes is a whole different thing, as is Corben, et al.

      • Tim Hodler says:

        Right. Well, “New Horror” doesn’t include just technical masters like Cronenberg and De Palma. Generally, it’s considered to start with Romero and Night of the Living Dead (which is amazing in many ways, but not particularly polished) and then to continue through Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wes Craven, etc. Irons/Veitch’s Too Many Charlies seems pretty Romero-esque to me…

  13. patrick ford says:

    Here’s an adults only bit of Tim Boxwell’s adaptation of PJF’s IMAGE Of THE BEAST.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctor_noe/6599058275/in/photostream/

  14. patrick ford says:

    This is a nice story which was published in a Warren magazine.
    http://web.archive.org/web/20071009234526/http://www.ulster.net/~jonesart/coldcuts1.html

  15. ryanholmberg says:

    Checked out the links. Both Jennifer and Cold Cuts are stupendous. Especially Cold Cuts. The ellipses inside the writing (the dots, the slip between panels) and drawing (the slip between positive and negative space, between characters) and also between the writing and drawing, totally heightens the horror and suspense. The inability to distinguish between characters (which Craig talked about in a different way for Black Orchids) seems to me a plus not a minus – in a general way given the genre, not just because they work for the motif of the love triangle. Good horror works on anxiety rather than fear, on disturbed emotional states around the unknown rather than the known. Someone might want to see the ellipses as “poetic,” creating an “open text” et cetera, but for me they are strong mainly because of how they heighten anxiety.

    It’s really telling and unfortunate that North America needed the “graphic novel” and its sentimental I Love My Main Street (whether it’s the Upper East Side tenements, Chicago, or some small town in between) and narcissistic Listen to My Absolutely Common Life Story obsessions for the “literary” merits of English-language comics to be recognized. It’s likewise telling that you needed Raw or Kramer’s Ergot – both of which I like, but basically Comics After Abstraction – for them to accepted as art in the mainstream. The tastes of the New York Times book review and arts page have really won the day.

    So you North American “guys” need to fight back and stop writing about this stuff through the lens of your childhood or in a Tarentino vein as crazy fk’d-up genre material. The material is worth much more than that. Hitchcock, Kubrick ala Shining, Argento, Cronenberg: these are the master artists of the second half of the 20th century. Looking around photography and video art these days – not just American or European, but also Chinese, Korean, and Japanese – they have also clearly become major reference points for Contemporary High Art. No one else is going to write about this stuff seriously. The world needs a good antidote to the Graphic Novel and Art Comics camps.

    That said, here I will indulge myself in some comics autobiography, which I don’t like doing. This material reminds of something I loved as a kid: Savage Sword of Conan. Soft porn for kids is exactly how I read it when I was ten. When I turned sixteen or so, my dad gave me a couple of carefully preserved copies of early Zap he had hidden in his dresser since whenever, saying something like “Son, I think now you are old enough to . . .” I was like “What is this? Joe Blow? Plugging your dick into the electric socket? Is this supposed to be racy?” Dad, check out at THIS medieval babe and Conan’s muscles. That baby boomer generation obsession with Uh-Oh, Sex in the American Dream, still does nothing for me. Underground comix look so dated and conservative against 70s comics magazines. Because of the bodies and emotions involved, Sex and Horror are meant for one another.

    • DerikB says:

      “stop writing about this stuff through the lens of your childhood or in a Tarentino vein as crazy fk’d-up genre material”

      But, Ryan, without those two styles there’d be almost no comics criticism at all!

      • ryanholmberg says:

        I know you are being sarcastic. And what I said was a cliche. But I really think comics critics need to learn how to leave their selves at the door, like critics in all other fields. After all, there is art criticism without reference to finger painting Cezannes in first grade, movie criticism without sitting on dad’s shoulders at the back of the theatre, and literary criticism without flashlights under the bedsheets. I understand that since comics are directed (traditionally) mainly at kids and adolescents, there might be a natural tendency to think about that fact through the lens of our own childhood, but even that can be de-personalized.

        The “crazy comics” part doesn’t really apply to the present post or discussion.

      • DerikB says:

        I wasn’t being sarcastic.

      • Craig Fischer says:

        I agree that autobiographical criticism dominates comics criticism, and sure, “Axe-Faced Anne” is one example, though I went personal for what I thought were good reasons: to chronicle my journey from Marvel zombie to a (hopefully) more eclectic reader, and to establish the preconceptions and ideas I brought to my first Skywald magazine. Maybe it worked in my essay, maybe not. I’m too close to tell.

        I do think, though, that every example of criticism should be evaluated on its own merits, and not dismissed because it’s “fannish” or “autobiographical.” I teach Film History, and when I talk about the rise of the auteur-driven Art Cinema of the ‘50s and ‘60s (the “Golden Age” of Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, the French New Wave, etc.), we read academic, “professional” dissections of the Art Cinema (David Bordwell’s article defining the mode is one) but we also read Philip Lopate’s introductory essay to his collection TOTALLY, TENDERLY, TRAGICALLY, because it’s written in the first-person by someone whose life was changed by NYU film societies and visits to the Thalia theater. Bordwell tells us what Art Cinema is; Lopate tells us why it matters.

        That said, I’m hard pressed to list autobiographical criticism of comics that run as deeply (for me) as Lopate’s essay. I like the way Bob Levin brings subjective elements into everything he writes, and I found Tom Spurgeon’s “Comics Made Me Fat” touching…other examples?

        Incidentally, Ryan, if Scarlet Fever kills me, I’ll still post replies to this thread. What could be more appropriate to the spirit of EC/Warren/Skywald?

      • patrick ford says:

        “crazy fk’d-up”
        I see that all the time associated with Kirby. Even most people who like his work think they need to add the “crazy” tag, or some limp variation of it like “exuberant.”
        My thought is always “compared to what?”
        The same thing on a slightly different level infects much of the commentary I’ve seen on the Gilbert Hernandez goes to the Drive-In material he’s been creating over the past few years.
        I have the sense of people who are ashamed of comics, what they really want is for people to take their hobby seriously.
        ”This super hero is serious. You can tell because he sounds like a guy on a TV show you’ve seen, and he looks serious. Plus he kills people, and can split in half and get into a three-way. So you see this stuff has “adult content” and it’s serious. This other stuff, it’s just goofy, weird, I like it because it’s like some crazy outsider art.”

      • James says:

        Kirby used the lateral expansive storytelling he learned from Caniff to make comic books that interconnected. He wasn’t overmuch of a stickler for details, though—half the time he couldn’t be bothered to make the costumes exactly the same on every page—but who cares? I had a bit of a problem with Marvel at the time: as a kid I lived in a rural area and had no consistent access to comics, so what I had was a lot of Marvel comics where I didn’t have the last part or several parts of a multi-issue storyline—frustrating and off-putting. Then, a bunch of semi-literate fans got jobs in comics as writers and took that interconnected “continuity” to the extreme, they made it be the most important element in mainstream comics and thusly made it so one couldn’t read a single issue and have any idea of what was going on. There was now hardly ever any single-issue stories, complete in themselves, no entry point for casual readers—and in my opinion this is where comics lost the larger part of their audience.

      • James says:

        Anyway, the connection here is that when I lost interest in regular comics because of their impenetrable continuity obsession, I would buy things like the Warren mags which had complete short stories, by a lot of artists who were obviously putting their best efforts in. Unfortunately, though I prefer anthologies, everyone in comics publishing has determined that they don’t sell and if they are done, they are often edited by committee, so cohesive anthology titles are rare birds indeed. That said, I recall that there was something sleazy and unpleasant about Skywald’s publications, so I avoided them.

  16. Craig Fischer says:

    Sorry I’ve been out of the discussion for a bit. I’m on heavy medication for (of all things) Scarlet Fever, an experience that’s a bit Cronenbergian itself…

    Anyway, thanks to everybody for answering Ryan’s question. I’d agree that it’s underground material (Irons, Veitch, Jackson, etc.) that’s much closer to “New Horror” than what appeared in the B & W magazines. On occasion, Warren could traffic in disturbing “New Horror”—we’ve listed “Cold Cuts,” “Jenifer” and “Thrillkill,” to which I’d add “Excerpts from the Year Five” (CREEPY #67), Corben’s JAWS riff “In Deep” (CREEPY #83), and others—but since Warren was unstable during the ascension of “New Horror,” I personally don’t see so much overlap. (That’s not to say that the Warren material was bad, though—note Chance’s fondness for it above.)

    Incidentally, here’s a link to “Thrillkill”:
    http://grantbridgestreet.blogspot.com/2010/08/thrillkill-by-jim-stenstrum-and-neal.html?zx=5b7165336bc31e09

    I question, though, Ryan’s argument that an arid division between Graphic Novel and Art Comix sensibilities has “carried the day.” There’s a segment of American comics fandom that’s still interested in (for instance) the black-and-white magazines, and has done excellent work on them in the Warren issue (#4, 1999) of COMIC BOOK ARTIST and Jon Cooke’s subsequent WARREN COMPANION. TCJ has devoted some attention to the B & Ws too, including an article about Skywald in issue #127 and interviews with some of the major B & W contributors. And if we’re looking for comics that carry a pulp charge and illustrative excellence, what about the E.C.s—and all the E.C. scholarship that’s followed since, most notably in the pages of SQUA TRONT? We can always do more, we can always dig deeper, but these comics haven’t been ignored. (Case in point: Sennitt’s book.)

    Funny you should mention SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, Ryan. I’ve been thinking about writing a column about issue #200, which features Robert E. Howard himself, a giant sombrero, and a giant bat. My visceral response to #200 is, I confess, something like “This is so fucked up…!” but if I do write about it, I’ll try to express something beyond nostalgia and incredulity.

    And unrelated, but I have to say it: is there a contemporary North American director with a more diverse and artistically accomplished career than David Cronenberg?

  17. patrick ford says:

    Ryan for the mix of heightened sexuality and horror you’ll find plenty of it looking through the undergrounds above.
    Your mention of Savage Sword causes me to think of Corben’s Rowlf:
    http://cloud-109.blogspot.com/2010/02/rowlf-corbens-mini-epic.html
    and also his graphic novel Bloodstar published by Russ Cochran in 1976.
    Do look into Boxell’s adaptation of Farmer’s “The Image of the Beast.”
    That particular story isn’t just taking the fact sex and horror were made for each other (Browning’s DRACULA), and heightening the sexuality as you would see maybe in a modern horror film which is “R” rated; it’s a story which couldn’t be told without Johnny Ryan-like transformations of X-Rated body parts.
    http://www.pjfarmer.com/boxell.htm
    I don’t know how current that link is but it mentions Boxell has all 33 pages of original art for sale.
    http://comixjoint.com/imageofthebeast-sample1.html

  18. ryanholmberg says:

    Scarlet fever, yipes! But the internet is such a physically undemanding activity, only death should keep you from keeping in touch.

    I know comic fandom has supported this material, as has the market. I am wondering about its presence now in criticism — as part of the core of how we judge and understand comics — and in new art “pushing the envelope.” Like, can you imagine if autobiographical graphic novels took Warren as their departure point? Or if political graphic novels approached their subjects with the impact of Thrillkill? Correct me if I am wrong, but recent graphic novelists dealing with social issues of a personal or historical sort don’t generally call this sort of material home. And I think that’s too bad, and I think it has something to do with what sorts of styles that are acceptable as “literary” or “artistic” in the narrow senses, and the priorities of today’s graphic novelists and their critics. Today, “self expression” is a matter of showing-the-self or saying-whatever-I-feel-like before it is one of I-have-mastery-and-am-capable-of-achieving-whatever-I-wish (the latter seems to be the case for the horror comics in question). Even many of the graphic novelists today who do have technical mastery still seem to get caught up in prizing skills for their ability to cultivate their own little worldviews and personal signatures.

    I think less obsession with the self would be good for everyone, comics artists and critics alike. The content and technical level of the Warren and Skywald material really ask for a different approach. They are not saying hi it’s me the artist what do you think of my drawing and life, tell me about yours. They offer only their professionalism, and we should respond in kind, like beginning with the sorts of questions that you did Craig regarding voice and face in Black Orchids. There’s a system in these comics, and it’s really smart.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      @Tim: Good call. I don’t know enough about horror, etc., to really be commenting. But the mention of De Palma means (I hope) that Kim Thompson will magically appear to school us.

      @Ryan, over the last few years there’s been a sharp uptick in the kinds of comics you’re asking for, and I’d say Sean T. Collins and Joe McCulloch have probably chronicled them the most. Kramers Ergot 8 is deeply embedded in those non-self (or whatever) forms.

    • Joe McCulloch says:

      If you’re asking about the critical standing of the b&w horror magazine era, I’d say it’s virtually non-existent, and the reason for that is because Warren and Skywald “lost” history. By which I mean they were very mainstream comics that unfortunately existed in exactly as ephemeral a manner that used to be presumed of all comics; they never built up the never ending soap opera that’s been the continued engine of superheroes for the last 30 years, and they weren’t, in general, of the type of distinction that early ‘alternative’ comics were interested in promoting. After a few years, it had all vanished into the bins, and most of it’s still only accessible today by finding original copies or buying into expensive comprehensive collections – I don’t even know if anyone’s scanned these things to pirate.

      It’s funny, in a way, because the Warren magazines in particular were grown from the same soil as the ’60s underground; the Archie Goodwin issues were direct continuations of the pre-Code genre style, specifically EC-derived horror comics and (for a short while) Kurtzmanian war comics. Truthfully, I find a lot of these issues boring, with the often lovely art carrying around slavish, off-the-shelf imitations of a style from years prior. Yet just as the undergrounds built up from EC’s influence — and indeed, how Warren itself intersected directly at times with the underground, be it through several underground artists’ appearances in Kurtzman’s own pre-Creepy Warren project Help!, or the horror line’s early adoption of Richard Corben, who himself was arguably part of a schism in the underground between the Greg Irons-ish genre-y guys and the more humor/satire-based confrontation of Zap and later Arcade and later Raw — the Warren magazines under DuBay and Jones developed into an odd, adventuresome scene for violent adventure serials and random acts of darkness informed by a horror genre heart; this was the true, active division between Warren and Skywald to me, as the latter pursued the grimy, lingering horror-mood, while Warren sought to become a darker counter-mainstream to comics at large. I know Dark Horse is going to start putting out serial-based collections of the Warren stuff soon, so maybe the understanding of them will shift a bit.

      There was a lot of crap, though. There always is. I don’t think anyone was quite approaching the better horror movies of the time; one of the reasons Taboo started, if I’m remembering correctly, was to try to put the genre-in-comics on the level of other media formats, though when I think ‘horror’ comics I mostly see literary influences, like Clive Barker or the ‘splatterpunk’ wave of a while back (which is kind of still where publishers like Avatar are at, although there’re always the odd exception like Ennis’ & Burrows’ 303, which actually is a screaming political tract in the Thrillkill mold, if not nearly as compressed as Stenstrum would make it)…

  19. patrick ford says:

    Ryan really should look into Gilbert’s KING VAMPIRE.
    Gilbert is doing, and has been for some time, maybe what Ryan is looking for.
    Roy Crane said (paraphrased): “A cartoonist who doesn’t use caricature isn’t using the best tool in his bag.”

    • ryanholmberg says:

      I will do my best to dig through your mountain of recommendations.

      But about your last comment. Coming from art history myself, I only recently learned that people in comics oftentimes use the word “cartoonist” to mean “someone who draws comics.” So you want to avoid the word “artist.” I sympathize. But is every who draws comics really a “cartoonist,” considering what “cartoon” suggests since animation? And therefore, is caricature really the best tool for every job? I feel like you are talking about a different tradition and different set of aesthetic concerns than the horror comics Craig introduced . . . or at least the linked Warren comics. I thought that part of Craig’s initial point (or maybe this is just my feeling for the fumetti and goofy Poe panel) was that Skywald comics generally fail because there is too much caricature and 60s-early 70s camp in an age in which new horror movies redefined the genre.

      • patrick ford says:

        Ryan, No it’s not the best tool for every job. I do think cartooning is the thing comics has to it’s advantage. As you know much of Manga fully embraces cartooning, even in the midst of otherwise “formal” content. Tezuka does that constantly in his work, I’m not so much talking about his cartoonized figures as the many “out of the blue” cartoon asides and interjections in his work. Of course abstacted (cartooned) reality is deeply rooted in Japanese Art forms like Prints, and the Noh Play.
        I’ve read when “realist” Western art was first introduced into Japan one of the reactions was it was seen as vain, or disrespectful to try and capture reality.
        I like all different kinds or art from Hans Holbein and Alex Kotzky to Pieter Bruegel and S. Clay Wilson, but I do favor late period Picasso over the stuff he was doing when he was 16 years old.

        http://home.comcast.net/~the.idea.orchard/Firstcommunion_picasso4by6.jpg
        http://cache2.allpostersimages.com/p/LRG/21/2148/APGCD00Z/posters/picasso-pablo-figure-by-the-sea-c-1931.jpg

        Diversity is always good.

      • patrick ford says:

        Oh, and as to using the word cartoonist rather than artist. I like to use the word cartoonist because it implies (I hope) a writer/artist. If you use the word artist in a comics conversation it can be confusing, and many people will take it that “artist” isn’t being used in the same way Bergman could be described as a “Film Artist.” In comics if you call someone like Jack Kirby an “artist” most people read that as “penciler.”

      • James says:

        “Cartoonist” is a valuable term to distinguish the comics artist from the illustrator, who, as I have had to tiresomely reiterate, is somone who provides a visual accompaniment to a text that that stands as complete in and of itself, a text which can function completely without the presence of the illustration. By contrast, a cartoonist provides visuals that are integral to the narrative, most often in the form of multiple sequential panels, that contain narrative information that is not in the text on the page, nor redundant with the text, and often far in excess to that which is explicitly demanded by the script. In comics, the text and art interweave to provide a complete narrative experience; they are a true collaboration where neither writer nor artist is the predominant creative force, although since the art often takes more time and effort than the text, artists have traditionally been paid more for their part. Writer and artist are thusly co-authors of any given comic in question, even when the artist is bringing more to the table than the writer, as was the case in most of the comics drawn by Alex Toth, for example, or if the writer is more famous, like Neil Gaiman, for example. And so, any books done by Toth with a writer, even a shitty one, should be credited as co-authored by Toth and the given writer, in case anyone is wondering.

      • james says:

        Another thing, the usage of the word “cartoon” did not always denote Bugs Bunny and caricatures. Maybe someone will have other examples, but “cartoon” referred much less recently to a part of the process of the ancient art of fresco. The painter would make a linear contour drawing of a given composition and then poke holes along the lines and blow or rub charcoal or a similar medium through it to transfer the drawing onto the wet plaster to be painted. The difficulties involved in the Sistine Chapel come to mind. The use of similar linear contour drawings in comics was originally done to facilitate printing; thick holding lines were intended to contain the badly registered color of high-volume newsprint presses. Of course, now we have extremely tight registration so such thick lines are not really needed, but I prefer the look of comics where line contains color—and I am also at this point quite comfortable with “cartoonist” as a descriptive of what comic artists do.

  20. patrick ford says:

    Not only frescos, but tapestries. Here is Sarasota the Ringling Museum has five cartoons created by Titian’s workshop, and the tapestry based on one of them.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/arts/artsspecial/18RINGLING.html
    It seems “cartoonists” were always getting the short end of the stick.
    Wiki:
    “The Raphael Cartoons are seven large cartoons for tapestries, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, painted by the High Renaissance painter Raphael…
    Tapestries were enormously prestigious; the Sistine set cost at least five times as much as Michelangelo’s ceiling. Most of the expense was in the manufacture: although the creation of the tapestries in Brussels cost 15,000 ducats, Raphael was paid only 1,000.”

    • ryanholmberg says:

      C’mon, this is getting way off point. What “cartoon” meant in the Renaissance is hardly relevant to what it came to mean in the twentieth-century. I will accept that it’s a convention — like “comics” for things that aren’t funny — and leave it at that.

      My question was the relevance of the Roy Thomas quote to the specific topic of 70s horror comics, and the status of “caricature” in the work Craig introduced in his essay and the Warren comics linked early on. Obviously, forms of stereotypical facial deformation is happening in a work like “Jennifer” to accentuate the horror the male character is feeling. In “Cold Cuts,” however, the effects of suspense are achieved through different means, forms of abstraction that are not caricature, like the use of the snow setting — vast areas of white — to create a world in which identities are unclear and bearings are slipping — which to me is really smart . . . it’s like flipping the old “danger lurks in the shadows” to show that white and negative space can create a much more direct and fresher effect.

      For something like “Black Orchid,” I feel like it might be useful to differentiate between caricature and stereotyping — these beautiful women who look just one like the other even if their personalities are opposite. The point of Craig’s reading was that we cannot read the differences of personality through their faces, which seems to me to argue against reading that work through caricature, since a basic principle of caricature is the legibility of personality (or social status, or moral character) through exaggerations of external physical features. That was one of the contributions of Freud, no? That nineteenth century physiognomical science was bunk, that you cannot tell criminals and degenerates and the insane from the shapes of their skulls. Not knowing the material well, I cannot say for sure, but maybe one can make an argument that horror comics for a long time depended on caricature for its meanings and effects, and thereby remained committed for artistic economy to a pre-Freudian worldview. Maybe those better Warren or Skywald works can be used to mark a turning point to something finally more “modern.”

      • patrick ford says:

        Yet in fine art it was the turn away from the representational which is identifuied with “Modern.” Even people like Duchamp, Pollock, and Modrian began as “representational” artists. Photo-realism began in comics long before the “Spanish Invasion” and can hardly be seen as modern even in the comics context. Al Williamson, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, and on occasion Russ Heath were already masters of photo-realism in the ’60s.
        The roots of photo-realism are even deeper in comic strips.
        http://web.archive.org/web/20070720184845/http://profmendez.tripod.com/
        It’s interesting that during the ’60s you had popular photo-realist commerical artists like Bernie Fuchs and James Bama along side cartoonists like Frank Frazetta, and Jack Davis. In fact Fuchs, Bama, Frazetta, and Davis are possibly the four most prominent commercial illustrators of the late ’60s early ’70s.
        BTW? Has there ever been a single Manga artist who was oriented towards photo-realism?

      • Thales says:

        Well, it comes to my mind the works of Takehiko Inoue, Hiroya Oku and Jiro Taniguchi.(http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-92111-cant-miss/)

  21. Jeet Heer says:

    “That said, I’m hard pressed to list autobiographical criticism of comics that run as deeply (for me) as Lopate’s essay. I like the way Bob Levin brings subjective elements into everything he writes, and I found Tom Spurgeon’s “Comics Made Me Fat” touching…other examples?”
    Craig: a lot of the essays in “Give Our Regards to the Atom-Smashers!” book edited by Sean Howe are autobiographical. It’s an uneven collection but has some outstanding pieces, notably the Lethem piece. And Lethem and Chabon have had done autobio comics criticism elsewhere.
    Having said that, I’m not so sure that the autobiographical strain in comics criticism is so strong, as against say pop music criticism or film criticism. Having co-edited two anthologies of comics criticism and been part of a third such volume, my sense is that most of the worthwhile comics criticism out there is formalist or historical/sociological in method and not autobiographical.

  22. Shaenon Garrity’s piece about her mother and Cathy is pretty great, I think. Dirk Deppey’s piece about Boy’s Love manga is amazing. Tom Crippen’s piece about being a superhero fan is really good.

    There’s a ton of autobiographical comics criticism out there; whether it’s the most important or the best depends on who you ask, I suppose. Formalist criticism and historical criticism are also well-represented. Theory-based approaches probably less so.

    The greatest autobiographical film criticism is James Baldwin’s “The Devil Finds Work.” Damn it.

    • Jeet Heer says:

      @Noah. Those are all good examples of autobiographical comics criticism. But by comparison there are many more examples in pop music and film criticism. Virtually every rock critic of the 1970s and 1980s was writing his or her autobiography. Pauline Kael once said that she was asked to write her memoirs but realized that her film criticism was her true autobiography. As Robert Warshow once wrote, “A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man.” The language (from the early 1950s) is a bit dated in its gender assumptions but the larger point remains that autobiographical honesty seems to be a precondition for a great deal of film criticism.

  23. Well, there’s more of every type of criticism than there is of comics criticism, surely? There’s just not that much comics criticism in general.

    Kael’s stuff never struck me as super-autobiographical..? Maybe I’m forgetting pieces, but she didn’t usually talk about her childhood watching films that I remember…. It seems like that comment may have been more metaphorical than to be taken quite literally…?

    There’s certainly a fair bit of autobiographical music criticism. I really like Ellen Willis’.

  24. ryanholmberg says:

    There’s a few, kind of. They are mainly ero-gekiga artists from the 70s. Try Ishii Takashi, but I don’t know what you will find online. But it’s different, not really “photorealistic.” The printing of Japanese magazines doesn’t allow for the kind of grey tones you see in Jennifer or Thrillkill. I think mainly because of the paper. So it’s flatter, and more dependent on line. Then again I would only use the term photorealistic for certain panels in Thrillkill, not for anything else shown here.

    No horror comics of this sort exist in Japan as far as I know . . . but am sure something will come to mind as soon as I push “post comment.”

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