Ashes of American Gags

Well, the week is out here at TCJ: but the geek culture behemoth that is San Diego Comic Con has already begun. That Cats trailer really is as bad as they're saying!

This week at The Journal, we finished out a week of cartooning with two more pieces by Elizabeth Beier, covering her time at the Queers & Comics Conference. Along with the giant line-up for the "Long Form Comics" panel, Elizabeth also delivered her take on the well received "Non-Fiction Comics & Comics Journalism" panel. It looks like we've already locked down our next one of these, so stay seated!

On Tuesday, Matt Seneca took a look at the tenth volume of Kramers Ergot, and spoke with editor Sammy Harkham as well. The book itself is an excellent collection of comics, with Sammy's extensive centerpiece one of the strongest of his career. 

Kramers Ergot 10 makes things plain as can be from its indicia on in, proclaiming debts in bright red capital letters to RawWeirdo, andThe Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a holy trinity of American anthologies. Weird shit in their time, in combination these titles laid out a rough playbook for the alt-comics style of the '80s and '90s - one that Kramers would provide a necessary pivot from a generation later. The name-drop opening of this volume suggests a circle closing, that focusing on differences between canon and challenger ignores their fundamental connection. "I felt like this issue could be the one where we make it explicit," Harkham told me in an Oakland alehouse on the eve of the book's release, "the relationship Kramers has always had to the history of comics. When issue 4 came out everyone was like 'oh, it feels so cutting edge and new, blah blah,' but the reason they're feeling that way is because it hearkens back to the last one hundred years of comics. There is a lineage that it's connected to. And in this one we just make that more explicit."

Since the pieces publication, the ongoing conversation regarding how its creators are compensated for their work in Kramers has returned in full force, primarily on social media (both public and private), while some have also brought up a lack of diversity amongst the book's contributor list. Both are serious subjects that deserve attention and conversation, and we will speak more about them soon.

But that's not all that went down this week--we're pleased to welcome two new TCJ contributors to these digital pages this week. The first is someone comics criticism readers will be well aware of: Hillary Brown! She's been assembling her first array of pieces for TCJ for the past few month, and the first appeared this week--a review of Tonta, by Jaime HernandezHere's how she opens that one up:

It seems like the abiding conception of Jaime Hernandez’s Tonta is that it’s a minor work of his, a sort of tossed-off compilation of stories focusing on a character who’s more an Io than a Jupiter, a character actor rather than a leading lady. But the fact is that reading it, for me, produced the same rush of blood to the brain and almost dizzying happiness as his “major” Maggie and Hopey stories. It’s not quite Stendhal Syndrome, but it’s close. Experiencing work that you love so completely is a sort of out-of-body experience, which is what Stendhal was getting at, whether or not he actually became physically weak by hanging out around various Florentine masterworks. Philosophers have been trying to unpack the idea of the “sublime” for centuries, so it’s unlikely that I’m going to put my finger on it here, but the general point is that it’s something that makes you feel small, as though dwarfed in the presence of a god or godlike force. So how does a comics nerd from Oxnard do that once, much less over and over again?

Our other new teammate is Ryan Flanders, formerly of MAD Magazine. While the unfortunate timing of MAD's transition towards the grave (a mostly reprint magazine selling only via Diamond is not MAD Magazine) forced the initial topic of Ryan's piece for us, he somehow managed to deliver something a lot more positive than one might expect. He'll get his venom on soon enough, one hopes.

To open an issue of MAD Magazine, from any point in its history, is to encounter an assemblage of many of the most brilliant writers, artists and satirists working in that era. It is a whole package you can hold in your hands, an ensemble of voices echoing out as one, an orchestra of insanity, hilarity, and cultural acuity. Though it’s had its imitators, and influenced many successful comedic endeavors, there is truly nothing else like MAD — a regularly-produced menagerie of carefully crafted, intertwining words and visuals. Within the staff, we were never satisfied if an issue was just okay — we always wanted the damn thing to be good. And good takes time. 

And then there's Brenda Dales! Another new contributor? We're not sure yet, as Brenda's main interest was in one book, and one creator, and now that she's delivered her interview with Wilfrid Lupano--whose A Sea of Love was released in the US via Lion Forge, after finding initial success in a Dargaud edition in Europe, and heads into the weekend with three Eisner nominations to its name--time will tell if she wants to go for round two.

In late June of 2019 I met up with Wilfrid Lupano in Washington, D.C. at an event connected with the American Library Association annual conference, and we had a conversation that navigated throughout his creative process for the book. Here I follow up with him in an intercontinental email exchange in early July of 2019 about this maritime masterpiece (he’s now in France, and I’m not).

And finally, this week's reviews were both returns of sorts--a new book by Max de Radigues, which is probably his fifth in the last twelve months--reviewed by Rich Barrett,  and the latest installment in the Brubaker/Phillips Criminal series, the cheekily comics-focused Bad Weekend, reviewed by Sean Witzke. (He seemed to like this one.)

Next week, we'll aim to find something at San Diego worth jawing about, review some comics, interview some cartoonists, and find some decent drawings to look at.