A few days ago, posts began to appear on social media reporting the death of cartoonist Michael Dougan, a longtime presence on the Seattle scene who had moved to Japan in recent years. A much-loved contributor to anthologies such as Weirdo and Real Stuff, in addition to the solo books East Texas: Tales from Behind the Pine Curtain (Real Comet Press, 1988) and I Can't Tell You Anything and Other Stories (Penguin, 1993), Dougan will be greatly missed. Below, Fantagraphics VP/Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds offers his memories of Michael Dougan.
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I was (and am) shocked to hear of the passing of my friend, the cartoonist Michael Dougan. He was a great guy, and a fabulous writer and cartoonist. I first met him in the early 1990s - he was the first professional cartoonist I ever knew who rented his own studio space outside of where he lived (in a historic building on Seattle's old Ballard Ave., no less)! He was also smart, charming, funny, and good-looking - a true inkstud! (He was even recognized in Peter Bagge's and Helena Harvilicz's 1990s fanzine, I Like Comics, as one of comics' most eligible bachelors.) Michael was so well-rounded; he was at times a cartoonist, a newspaperman, a barista, a restauranteur, a tv writer, and a great conversationalist, to name a few. His work is not as well-remembered as it should be, although his best book, I Can't Tell You Anything, was released by Penguin in 1993 and still holds up as some of the best autobiographical work of its era. Part of Michael's obscurity is because in 2006 a fire destroyed his house in Seattle, taking all of his art and archives—and in some ways his comics career—with it. He seemed to process what was a cartoonist's Worst Case Scenario better than most could have, but it also seemed to fuel a desire to move forward rather than look backward. He spent a couple of years in LA writing for television. Whenever I brought up doing a collection of his work, he was interested but ultimately dismissed it as being too much of an "epic undertaking" to find the time for. I regret not pushing him harder, but when he and his wife Chizuko moved to Tōno, Japan, circa 2018, and opened a coffee roasting business and café, we agreed to table the conversation until he felt more grounded over there. Unfortunately, the pandemic started, and we lost touch over the ensuing three or four years. Just a few weeks ago, though, my family and I visited Japan for the first time, and Michael had been on my mind as we prepped. I knew we wouldn't be anywhere near where he lived, but I reached out to him on Facebook in late November to let him know I was thinking of him and wished we could meet up. He didn't reply, and I just figured he was busy and that I'd hear back from him eventually. But now I realize that we had always communicated via email before this, and I'm kicking myself for using Facebook despite neither of us being too active on it, because I think it deprived me of hearing from him one last time.
In 2003, I was proud to have been immortalized by Michael, along with Gary Groth and Jim Blanchard, in this autobiographic strip for the Seattle Weekly (later republished in Fantagraphics' own Comics As Art: We Told You So). I'm the longhair in the strip. Yeah, I know, different times, but what a great memory. R.I.P., Michael.
Recently, the filmmaker Brad Bird contacted TCJ with this brief tribute to the animator, character designer, art director and production designer Ralph Eggleston, who died of pancreatic cancer on August 28, 2022. Bird's remarks, with samples of Eggleston's art, are presented below.
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Ralph Eggleston was a major artistic talent, a tornado of nervous creative energy that turbo-charged the engines of many animated films for nearly four decades, most notably for Pixar Animation Studios.
From the whimsical and iconic cloud wallpaper for the ground breaking TOY STORY (as Art Director) to the richly lit superhero cityscapes of INCREDIBLES 2 (as Production Designer), Eggleston supported and deepened the wide-range of storytelling visuals of MONSTERS INC, FINDING NEMO, WALL-E, INSIDE OUT among others. Ralph was a genuine multi-talent, working as an animator, story artist, writer and director before focusing on film design. His short FOR THE BIRDS, which he wrote and directed, won the Academy Award.
He was extremely passionate about the arts, both as practitioner and consumer. Ralph soaked up music, movies, books and art with an unquenchable thirst, and eagerly shared his discoveries with countless friends and collaborators. His creativity, generosity, humor and friendship will be greatly missed.
I am going to write briefly about some things I read recently, as I've been reminded that I'm supposed to be writing about comics in addition to editing articles and shouting at myself in the mirror like Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man (2002).
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Let me start by posting some art I've liked by Jade Mar, a cartoonist who does not appear to have any active social media presence right now, but has been consistently published by Deadcrow, one of the most prolific of the new small-press outfits:
Squashing and stretching bodies fit to pop in smearing color; very lush. I hope you continue.
This is the catalog for an exhibition that recently closed in Marseille, the stomping grounds of notorious image-making circle Le Dernier Cri, which put on the show. They also published this book in collaboration with the fringe culture outfit Timeless Editions and Hunting Asia, the project of abrasive musician Stephen Bessac, a French expat in Thailand. The theme of the exhibition is artworks inspired by Narokphum sculpture gardens or illustration suites, which depict the torments of Hell in vivid, bloody form on the grounds of Buddhist temples in Thailand and other nations in Southeast Asia for the edification of visitors. In 2019, Timeless published an English-language book of Bessac's photos from 13 such 'hell gardens', Narok: Visions of Hell in the Kingdom of Siam, which fell into the hands of LDC's Pakito Bolino, who assembled a crew of collaborators as familiar now as the circle of artists that used to surround Monte Beauchamp's Blab!
Perhaps some familiarity is presumed. The reader of this book is presented with an alphabetical listing of the participating artists and a map of the exhibition floor, but almost no indication of which artists are responsible for which pieces; there is, arguably, a collectivist impulse behind such lack of attribution, but I also think LDC prefers exhibition catalogs such as these to function like their other books: as a blast of sensation unbothered by the complications of attribution. A French-language translation of some text from Bessac's book appears at the beginning, along with a brief French-language descriptive statement taken from the show's webpage at the end, but otherwise the reader is zoomed in and out of portions of the exhibition, looking sometimes at full reproductions of the submitted illustrations, and sometimes at photography taken on the floor of the show:
In case you've been wondering what Takashi Nemoto of Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby is up to these days, that's your answer on the left of the above image, with a glimpse to the right at a series of digital collages from the French artist Fredox, blending genitals, faces, meat and fonts; around it you can see several of the exhibition's original sculptural pieces. LDC does put together a rightly hellish and occasionally playful atmosphere—the book is an edition of 666, folks—but there is an unusual complication present.
Also in the catalog are some photos from actual Narokphum setups on wat premises, which absolutely shake the surrounding material in terms of témérité du trait iconoclaste - this despite functioning as actual religious iconography. It may be the first time LDC is paying homage to a body of work as vivid and pummeling as its own, which puts les terroristes graphiques on a uniquely defensive footing. I can certainly see why Bolino would respond strongly to the Bessac book, which is entirely an exercise in novel aesthetics, "exotica" in the gawking manner of the old Italian "mondo" films. Bessac also provides a very limited text - the temples themselves are identified, with a general overview of what the gardens are and a partial guide to what some of images represent, but it is not long before Bessac gestures to an earlier, more detailed study, Benedict Anderson's The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand.
Released in English in 2012 by an Indian publisher, Seagull Books, this slim, essay-length hardcover adopts of the pose of a photographic memoir - a few of the pictures were taken by the filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, so the book may be known already to admirers of him. Anderson focuses on perhaps the oldest of the sculpture gardens, at Wat Phai Rong Wua in Suphan Buri province; he mentions a yet-older 2010 Japanese-language book, the photographer Kyōichi Tsuzuki's Jigoku no arukkata (which Anderson wonderfully translates as "Hells that I have Walked to"), as precedent for the international fascination surrounding the gardens. Thailand and Southeast Asia was a limitless source of grotesque spectacle for Japanese 'death tapes' in the pre-streaming 1990s; those were VHS compilations of, say, roadside accidents and murder scenes - which, at least per Bessac, enjoyed their own local popularity on Thai VDC (to say nothing of western titles like Traces of Death, which were more explicitly connected to the hardcore music and edgelord zine scenes of France, USA et al.). But Anderson's analysis is a bit broader; he profiles the wat's late abbot, Luang Phor Khom, who parlayed nationalist sentiment across government coups into a decades-long massive program of temple expansion; Wat Phai Rong Wua also features, for example, the world's largest concrete Buddha statue. But the Narokphum garden, erected in the 1970s, proved unconcerned with international emulative competition, and was locally popular - and, with its many depictions of undulating nude figures, Anderson suspects it served as a source of sexual expression for the abbot. Not that these images came from nowhere - one sculptor who worked under the abbot's direction candidly notes that some of the figures were modeled off images from Thai comic books of the time.
Thus, completing the circle, the DC Narok catalog devotes an ample section to Thai horror cartoonists of that era; they are the only artists in the book identified by name, perhaps in deference. Above we see an image by Tawee Witsanukorn, who purportedly defined the popular image of the mythological Krasue spirit as a woman's head trailed by oozing guts. The next stop in this never-ending chain of books should be Nicolas Verstappen's The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes (River Books, 2021), which I hope to get to soon.
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Mek Memoirs Facsimile Edition by Kevin O'Neill & Chris Lowder (as "Jack Adrian"); published by Dark & Golden Books
Elsewhere in comics history, we have this 1976 self-published SF item - a 12-page fanzine notable for aiding the young artist Kevin O'Neill in getting a job as an art assistant on the nascent weekly magazine 2000 AD, which launched the following year. The present Facsimile Edition is the project of two UK art comics veterans—Douglas Noble of Strip For Me and Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press—which presents the entire original comic in simple unstapled folded paper format and wraps it in an equally-simple paper cloak of supplementary materials; it is then sealed in an illustrated envelope with a small art card depicting a nude women with large breasts observing a fight between a robot and a shark, for that authentic 'comic book store' touch.
If you happen to have the 2021 expanded second edition of Cosmic Comics, the Hibernia Comics / Gosh! Comics / Treasury of British Comics collection of early O'Neill miscellany, you'll recall an anecdote in which Jan Shepheard, art editor of the weekly magazine Valiant, advises O'Neill in 1970 that it would be 10 years before he was good enough to be a proper comic book artist. I don't know if I'd go that far, but O'Neill is a bit like Mike Mignola in that it did take a while to reach the form that is characteristic of him - in this way, Mek Memoirs makes for a good companion piece to that larger volume, with the added benefit that the comic here is notably more ambitious and raw than any of the finished strips in Cosmic Comics. I mean:
While officially an unfinished serial, Mek Memoirs is notably self-contained. A distraction-prone and foul-mouthed narrator (no 2000 AD slang in here, fucker) talks along with video footage of the history of robots in combat. The footage skips around in time, relieving the young O'Neill of too much in the way of tightly sequenced images, preferring to linger instead on isolated scenes of mayhem as the Nazi-like dictator von Kruppstein pursues ambitions of conquest. But then! Upon reaching the final page, we discover that the narrator is a very dapper humanoid robot relaxing in a sort of cyber-utopia, suggesting that the meks were not just tools but sentient beings that eventually overthrew their oppressors. In its eight heavily-illustrated pages, the supplements to this edition nonetheless manage to accommodate three separate people talking shit re: the venerable UK strip Robot Archie, in which the title character is the remote slave of human operators; none of that here!
O'Neill, in truth, is still developing here as an artist, but that does allow for stronger hints of his forebears; Harvey Kurtzman registers strongly:
And so does the atmosphere of the EC Kurtzman war comics, though I'm unsure how many (if any) O'Neill had even seen by then. This is not a complicated story; every note is played big and broad, the horror of war rendered as vivid depictions of situational viciousness. The pathos of Kurtzman, though, are replaced with a very bleak irony of the sort that would soon become associated with 2000 AD in its the better strips - and, by his young lack of polish, O'Neill (but 21 when much of this was drawn) finds a vulnerable in soft flesh pressed against a jagged edge.
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Judge Dredd: The Citadel by John Wagner, Dan Cornwell, Dylan Teague & Annie Parkhouse; ongoing serial in 2000 AD, from Prog 2270, published by Rebellion
Meanwhile, in contemporary 2000 AD, the current Judge Dredd serial is set in the midst of a Russian ("Sov") invasion of a sovereign nation, in which professionals and civilians alike are made to defend a crumbling city, the moment of warfare providing an immediate justification for a stripping away of civility and morality that will damn everyone involved. This is not unfamiliar territory for writer/co-creator John Wagner—the thus far story-length flashback is yet another take on the much-revisited early '80s Dredd favorite "The Apocalypse War", which Wagner co-wrote with Alan Grant—but the horrible synchronicity with real global events is potent enough that the magazine's cartoon alien host Tharg the Mighty issues a semi-disclaimer in Prog 2273 that this doubtlessly-finished-in-advance serial "is unfortunately more on-point than I anticipated," recommending readers turn to the rest of the magazine's features for escapism. Such are the unexpected consequences of weekly serialization. Would the Vault-Keeper have had to face the public like this if EC had lived?
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"Sisters" by Kazuo Umezz (translated by Jocelyne Allen, adapted to English by Molly Tanzer, lettered by Evan Waldinger); from Orochi: The Perfect Edition Vol. 1, published by VIZ
But there's no need to be glum, chum. The most negative worldview among any of the artists in this post also belongs to its most buoyant and joyful. I can only be referring to the great Kazuo Umezz, aged 85, who recently enjoyed an enormous art exhibition in Tokyo. English translations of his work, however, remain at a trickle - VIZ re-issued his epochal The Drifting Classroom in 2019 and 2020, after many years of silence, and now brings the first of four volumes for Umezz's 1969-70 shōnen manga story sequence Orochi, which they previously tried to release in 2002 to what I can only presume was general befuddlement. These are children's comics from an era where the idea of "children's comics" was rapidly shifting to accommodate bleak and mean subjects - a situation Umezz narrates in a hysterical register, beyond the top of over-the-top, provoking a compulsive glee in the sympathetic reader.
This is inseparable from Umezz's viciousness. If there is a common theme that emerges from all of his works released in English, it is the guaranteed failure of every assurance of order in the adult world. Teachers, when placed in danger, try to kill their students. Sickly relatives curse their young caregivers. Governments facilitate ecological destruction and human exploitation, every time. Sexuality is like putting a gun to one's head, it is so laden with disastrous portent. Umezz is juvenile; his tone that of a screaming child correctly appalled at the failure of the grown-up world they are expected to inherit - so they reject everything. The idea at the center of The Drifting Classroom is that children are fated to live in the future, and its hope is that when the whole damned world is annihilated, totally destroyed, that children can build something different and better.
But us? There is no hope for us.
I am only going to focus on "Sisters", one of the two stories in this new Orochi compendium. The second, longer story, titled "Bones", concerning an abused woman's mutually-destructive distrust of her caring milquetoast husband is also good, like if the Iger Shop managed to drop an early graphic novel before the comics code came in - its disposition is very much reminiscent of Iger's writer/editor Ruth Roche and her nihilistic depiction of love and romance as a prelude to doom.
"Sisters" is more focused; the essence of simplicity. Orochi—the very amusing, supernaturally-enabled protagonist of the episodic series, who cares not for morality but can easily be moved by beauty and pathos, which she appreciates in a catastrophe-prone manner—takes a job as maid for a pair of teenaged sisters. But there is a dark secret in this house: all women of the bloodline are fated at the age of 18, the moment they are adults, to become monstrously ugly. And then, one of the sisters discovers that the other is adopted, erasing the sisterly bond in an instant and replacing it with a sort of kids' manga variant on the Onur Tukel film Catfight, where Sandra Oh and Anne Heche externalize their smothered frustrations by attacking each other to physically disfiguring and life-ruining ends. So it goes for the genetically-damned of Umezz's sisters, who understands, latently, that society will treat an unattractive woman at a disadvantage to other people, causing a complete violent break from the dull normalcy offered by her Marmaduke-like oaf boyfriend, who, when asked if he would still love his girlfriend if she were ugly, replies: "What do you mean? She's beautiful!" These gems of empathy eventually result in his lover firing a crossbow bolt into his gut, at which point Orochi must throw the man over her shoulder and walk him out of the rising action.
There is a twist at the end, which I will now ruin. It is revealed that the woman whom we thought was adopted, is actually the condemned one - she lied to her sister, knowing that she would become so hateful that she would disfigure herself through violent resentment. Such intensely misogynistic ideas; burlesque for an audience of young boys, although boys were not Umezz's only audience. Like his artistic descendant, Junji Itō, Umezz also worked extensively in girls' comics, and the sympathetic reader might take this story as an expression of socially-mandated fear of not growing into the standard of femininity, of being so ugly that nobody will ever love you (for the perspective of two woman cartoonists on this book, I would recommend the 3/28/22 episode of the Thick Lines podcast). And, there is an interesting quirk at the very end.
The idiot boyfriend returns to the heroines' house at the end of the story. The sister who disfigured herself is dead; perhaps by suicide, perhaps by sheer force of irony. Meanwhile, the condemned sister swans around the landing in a robe, glorying in her full monster form. But Umezz denies us the Basil Wolverton goods. The woman's face is completely cloaked in shadow. What she looks like, belongs only to her. Orochi approves!
I don't know if you can tell, but the cum and hairspray are both glitter.
V.A.L.I.S. is an artist I've written about before - six years ago, the Mexican underground outfit ¡Joc-Doc! put out her Lilin, a 44-page comic about a succubus dominatrix spreading sexually transmitted diseases online to horny high school boys, who then mutate into her ravenous leashed slaves. At that time, V.A.L.I.S. was known by another name - one now dead and buried by the title of this new publication from Inés Estrada's Gatosaurio. "Through Mou," Estrada writes in an introduction, "V.A.L.I.S. had already begun to explore a facet of a femininity that is now so evident to her that she embodies it completely: the power of creation." The 48-page R.I.P. Mou can be read as a transition journal, albeit one given meaning through retrospection; we are told that V.A.L.I.S. did not draw for several years while transitioning, so these pieces dated to 2014 and 2015 should be read with the circumstances of the present in mind.
Mostly this is a drawing zine, with many pages of anime-looking characters hanging around doing hot girl shit: taking selfies; eating takeout food; going down on each other; getting tied up; smoking cigs; smashing people in the face with yonic fists. But 10 pages are fully finished comics, either in English or Spanish with English subtitles, and all of them depict the profound force of bodily change. Some of these stories take the form of slapstick - a little boy puts a lost tooth under his pillow, only for the tooth fairy to eat it up and piss on his head while he sleeps. Or, a cartoonist lays on his therapist's couch, concerned about the meaning of his raunchy output - the therapist saws into his head to remove the offending part of his brain, only to find a living entity that she finds far more charming than the sad sack on the sofa. Broadly, these pieces are of a type with Lilin, in that they depict a powerful (if not supernatural) woman exacting some painful toll from male onlookers; whether or not this is pleasurable to the men is left to the reader's own interpretation and/or predilections.
But V.A.L.I.S. modifies this approach in the zine's longest comic, "Manos de alien", which evokes Charles Burns in its rounded biological forms adrift in pools of solid black. A high school boy has a terrible habit of biting his fingernails - so extreme that one day he nibbles his fingers perfectly smooth. In a twist that would please the Gō Nagai of Hanappe Bazooka, this smoothness manifests an extraordinary sexual power in the boy's fingers, making him the sex star of his school. But there is something else happening. Out of the opaque ink that is the sky of his world, a star forms, and out of it emerges an alien that declares a new form emerged from the boy, and his body catches fire as he beholds a new tendrilled self undulating before him. I think this is a universal experience. The solitude and ecstatic terror of understanding yourself as a desirable being; of anticipating the attention of others on your body, feeling that as a physical sensation. These private emotions, made manifest in stock genre transformations, are the erotic engine of this cartoonist's work.
But some bodies remain forever in flux. Bhanu Pratap has been making comics for a little while now—I recall seeing his 24-hour comic Crystalized mentioned on Zainab Akhtar's old Comics&Cola site years ago—but Dear Mother has arrived with the force of an out-of-nowhere debut, so strong are its visual ideas. I think to some extent this work needs to speak for itself, so I hope I will be forgiven a longer-than-usual excerpt, from "Life Sentence", one of five stories collected in these 52 pages. Depicting the fall of Lord Durma to Earth, I think this best encapsulates Pratap's approach:
Emerging from an abstract heavenly swirl, we see a hand, a mouth, an eye - then an allegorical, ideal figure, and then a splatter of meat on the ground. Every human in the world of Dear Mother is created in this image, the contours of their form stretched like musical notes held alarmingly long. If I am not mistaken, Pratap has a background (or at least some practical experience) in animation, and his panels seem to catch his characters perpetually in the midst of a smear frame that a commercial work might use to liven the pace - but all of life is a smear over here, which Pratap exploits for the purpose of sensuality and estrangement.
In "An Interrogation for a Man's Body", my favorite of these stories, a terrible bout of gas causes a man to die of farts, cheeks flapping from the gale force; his lover comes home and cradles his ass, wailing "How did this happen?" Meanwhile, somewhere else—in shadows—a man slips on a banana peel, which sets off a running counterpoint of wordless disasters to the A-plot of the grieving woman binding her lover with ropes, his prick erect under the coil of hemp. "He died." She is being interrogated by the police. "But his body, it stayed." Eventually, the two storylines converge to rescue the woman from police custody, at which point they combine into a sort of fugue, where the gestures of the body and the antics of knockabout comedy become a sense memory of somebody who is gone.
Crucial to Dear Mother is the breakdown of chronology, of panel sequence, whereby scenes (perhaps eras) seem to shift without warning; in this way, the constant stretching and rolling of flesh in Pratap's art speaks not only to the present-sense impressions of the body, but also the body's experience of time. The title story, "Dear Mother", is the most traditionally-styled rendition of this theme. A young mother engages in sex work with an older man who forbids her direct touch; instead, she cracks eggs between her legs and allows him to suckle on her breasts. At home, the woman insists on breastfeeding her son, although he is probably too old. Identifiable frequently by her large, protruding nipples, the woman conflates sexuality with nourishment, in the way the human body has simultaneously pleasurable and reproductive functions. Her john hates women for abandoning him - but then, perhaps he is really her son, unstuck in time, let loose to play alone on roadkill-festooned highways and tall, ominous bridges. Women suffer greatly in Pratap's book, and rarely find any resolution; read as total allegory, the restless gasping of meat that is this artist's technique for drawing people suggests a confusion of the body's purpose, caught in a loop of pleasure and agony by the demands of life.
The lettering in these stories recalls the font you see in translations of prestigious gekiga, teasing out the commonalities between Pratap's art and that of the Garo legends - perhaps most notably Seiichi Hayashi, in his own abrupt deviations from panel chronology and usage of wildly inconsistent character drawings. But in his best panels—I am thinking of the bottom-left, just above—Pratap recalls the great transgressive mangaka Keizo Miyanishi in his voluptuous curling of shadow on skin. And, there is a similar sense of annihilation waiting at the end of all this activity; that the only rest of Eros is in death. I pray this is not the end for Pratap, however - this book suggests a million ways in which he might develop.
Well, here it is: the new look for TCJ! Designed and developed by Michiko Swiggs with a fresh new look and logo by Keeli McCarthy, this iteration of the site has been a long time coming. For those of you who were looking at it on a phone (and according to the backend of the site, there were more of you than any of us believed possible), enjoy what will certainly be a thousand percent less frustrating experience.
The goal with the new TCJ was simple: get out of the way of our contributors, make it easier to search and find and immerse and get pissed off for longer periods of time, come up with a fresher and cleaner and overall bigger reading experience after clicking through to said pieces, and make it possible for articles to have a longer run of the homepage than before. (No 29,000 word interview should disappear from the main page in 2 days, and yet, that was happening every other month.) There's still kinks and bugs to be worked out right now, and the inbox is open if you've found some that we don't seem to be working on. And if you're interested in really extreme sausage machine stuff: the site is no longer hackable via the old comments server (which is why it kept crashing for multiple days last year) and the site's image server has now been....well, I don't actually understand this part, but something pretty major changed that will make it so that we aren't super fucked up every year with extensive costs relating to the way the images are loaded on the server, and we should be able to be a lot more creative with how we use images, and what resolution those images can actually be--it's something that will be a notable difference for about a week and then you'll all get used to it and we'll run an article about how comics really suck that you think is about you personally and we'll all reset to our previous feelings towards one another. Another thing you'll notice is that there's an "s" next to the http now, which means the site doesn't send out "Not Secure" warnings, which is a godsend to me personally, because I'm the guy who got the ever-more-increasingly condescending emails from people who were convinced, 100% sure, that this was problem I didn't care about and it could be easily resolved if I would just go and easily resolve it and stop saying "actually, we can't fix it for these technical reasons". See, seven completely different people who were condescending to me over the last four years? I was right! It wasn't an easy fix at all and required we redo the whole goddamned website! I hope you all get run over by a school bus, and that it's a school bus packed with your loved ones who were coming to surprise you for being the most condescending dickhead in the world, but instead it runs you down and your organs pop out of your asshole so fast that it looks like a clown making balloon animals.
Additionally, if you're an archive subscriber, you'll find the experience to be a good bit easier than before, with even more print issues now available to read, and the entire previous print archive now loaded in an Issuu format that will accommodate longer, drink-it-in style afternoons of Blood & Thunder binging. And we'll be continuing the process that Dan & Tim started, with more major print articles making their way to the site as time and human capacity permits. (For those of you who are wondering if Amazing Heroes articles might soon join their siblings--well, the answer is yes, and so I'd guess your next question is when, and my response is "soon!")
When Tim retired from TCJ, Gary and I both agreed that the site needed a redesign more than it needed another editor, and we started putting that money towards a redesign and began the process of getting to the point we are out right now. (We originally thought that solo process would last about six months, which was as much of me that people tend to tolerate.) Along the way, COVID came along and screwed our budget into oblivion, we went through five different development teams, all of whom were awesome because they were all honest enough to say "we don't want to do this project, and you should take it to somebody else", and then, in March of this year, Michiko Swiggs came along and there wasn't a bump in the road from then to now. From the very beginning, I asked her to help us find a way to show off the people who take the time to write for us. To trust that the images of the work we are speaking about will be strong enough to make a clean site look beautiful. To be able to host a history that goes back decades, and to make it possible that one could actually chase their preferred strands of that history without frustration. To be able to fall in love with one of our contributors and easily find their work. The end result is this. I hope you like it, but if you don't--well, it's not going anywhere. And I'll see you in hell, the place we both belong.
Hi everyone, it's a very busy week behind a scenes of TCJ - and you'll be seeing the results sooner rather than later. I won't keep you or me long; although, you should spare some time to read this post by Domino Books impresario Austin English. It's a tribute to the artist and publisher Dylan Williams, one of the crucial figures of late 20th/early 21st century small-press comics, who died 10 years ago last Saturday - there's a comic by Williams, an interview, and several historical and personal writings, all brought together.
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Today on the site, the artist Marc Tessier presents an obituary for Henriette Valium, a Montreal underground comics mainstay since the early 1980s, and a quintessential artist's artist. Marc has also generously allowed us to post some of his own photographs of Valium, as well as images from Valium's memorial last week; a moving tribute to a true original.
Later this week, we'll be welcoming back Michael O’Connell, who will have a piece on a topic close to my heart: the accumulation of tons of stuff that comes with being a comic book reader and general nerd, and the inevitable shedding of that stuff as one grows older and life circumstances change. Heavy stuff, but not as heavy as carrying all these books around.
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I didn't get to go to the Steve Ditko convention last Saturday, so I recorded a podcast on issues #59-75 (+ Annual 4) of ROM, the Marvel toy license book on which Ditko worked from 1984 to 1986. Owing to the license, these comics have never been reprinted, nor have their various Marvel mutant comic or Secret Wars II tie-in issues. P. Craig Russell worked on 6 of these 18 issues (he is often referred to as an 'inker' though the comics always credit Ditko and whomever as dual artists, presumably owing to the pencil layouts Ditko would contribute to these work-for-hire projects), and is often considered the star contributor, but I love this panel with Jackson Guice (from issue #61, colors by Petra Scotese), who puts a lot of emphasis on invading creatures and moments of disaster - there is a lot of doom in ROM. A lot of moral struggle, particularly later on as the titular Space Knight struggles with a younger generation of cyborg-like characters who abhor his moral code and desire only demonstrations of power. One does wonder if the writer, Bill Mantlo, introduced these familiar struggles specifically to tantalize Ditko; they are not out of line with his own auteur works and later essays, which were very concerned with the threat of anti-heroism.
Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that Helen Chazan is going to have a Ditko piece up this week, that will examine the deeper issues of *sniff* ideology.
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Ok, that's it. See you next week, unless the very fabric of reality collapses into disaster and we are all cast into limbo, or forced to get off the computer.
A page detail from Nitnit and the Pink Lambda Mystery, a 2019 book by the late Henriette Valium, published by Crna Hronika in Macedonia, which specializes in aggressive content. Nitnit takes the form of, naturally, a Tintin album, but one where several layers of images have been superimposed atop each other, transforming the clear line into an itchy relief of textures. The dialogue is a stream of invective, serving mainly to squeeze the homoerotic and racist characteristics of the children's comic favorite into a thick surface of sludge atop the visual information. Very deep into the weeds, off-putting to most - Valium is certainly an acquired taste. More on his work soon.
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Today we have veteran contributor Brian Nicholson reviewing The Hand of Black and Other Stories, a collection of comics by Martin Cendreda. There's going to be several familiar names on the site this week; it will be cozy like a roaring firepit. My Labor Day was fine. I ate really poorly, and drank a lot.
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A longtime reader mentioned this week that he hoped I would bring a blogging flavor to the website - careful what you wish for, huh? Here's something I'd have blogged about:
Yes, the new Olivier Schrauwen has arrived: Sunday 3&4, a 100-page double installment of Schrauwen's riso serial with Colorama - and by double, I mean it's two issues of an ostensibly six-issue series put together as one item, complete with the cover art for issue #4 appearing on its own glossy cover stock in the middle of the book at the appropriate place. The final two issues will apparently be published in the same manner next year, so that will be four books in total for the six chapters.
Sunday, taken strictly in terms of story, is shaping up to be Schrauwen's most 'traditional' narrative, in that its account of a single day in the life of Thibault Schrauwen, cousin of O. Schrauwen -- who is both the author of the book and a character in the book, and was also abducted by aliens in the "Greys" chapter of Schrauwen's last book, Parallel Lives -- spends some time poking at the neuroses and hypocrisies of a bourgeoise protagonist; one can easily imagine a movie adaptation appearing at a European film festival. But it is also filled with Schrauwen's fascination with language - that of speaking, of narration, of printing. There are three layers of reality depicted in the image above, denoted by different reproductive styles. The present-time images depict Thibault with crisp outlines and a predominantly blue hue. Then, there is the movie he is watching: a film he made as a typography student, involving the depiction of letters as part of the set. This also literalizes formal elements of comics, rendering them as absurd as the highfaluting motives of Thibault's film, which is really a platform for his pining over a lover of his youth, who has since left. Thus, the images from the film are very blurry and hazy. And then, there is Thibault's own memories, which render all lines and shade in uniform gold, creating images that are difficult to even read without holding the book up to a light source; you must squint as Thibault strains to remember these golden weeks.
The greater focus, however, is on the unreliability of narration. Where Arsène Schrauwen paired descriptive narrative captions with images that summarized or symbolized what was being said, Sunday locks Thibault's narration into the text captions, and then sends the images drifting luxuriously outward, often presenting dialogue between faraway characters underneath the narrator's thoughts. There is sometimes a discreet motive to this, but broadly we get the sense of lives existing beyond the self-obsession of the narrator - a typographer seeking to capture reality within his subjective descriptions, while others pursue pleasures and motivations unknowable to him. The Schrauwen to work to which it is closest is probably "The Scatman" (also in Parallel Lives), in which the protagonist's mental narration is hijacked by a nero-hacker who slathers a miserabilist internal monologue over her life. In Sunday, this SF concept is rendered more philosophical: there is the world as perceived by the self, and the world as it exists apart from the individual; words and pictures, gliding and colliding. Good jokes too, I recommend it!
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Ok, that's enough for now. See you next week, unless I wake up and find myself face to face with the big faceless glowing God on their shimmering throne.
God, this is harder than I thought. Well, my weekend was busy, so the blog is very short.
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Today on the site we have a piece by Brian Puaca, a historian whose work you may have seen at Sequart. He is going to be exploring 'chokepoints' in comics history, comparing the formation of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s and its economic impact on the U.S. comic book industry with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic - of course, many different factors, particularly the means of distribution for comic books, allowed or disallowed responses by the industry at large.
And, later, we are going to welcome another new contributor to the site - Sally Bryden, a musician and sports entertainment connoisseur who will be reviewing the new collection of wrestling drawings by Jaime Hernandez. You can hear Sally’s music in the short horror film Sungazer from last year.
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That's it. I'm sorry I tricked you all by putting a Jack Chick image on the front page for Clark's column last Friday. I thought it was dizzying, you know? Like staring down from a high place. What can I say?
See you next week, unless I am cast into the Lake of Fire.
Hi, hope you enjoyed your weekend, which is gone forever. I spent part of mine reading the firsttwo posts on The VanCAF Reader, which is the new writing-on-comics platform of the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival. Both posts are lengthy, chatty reminisces about Canadian art comics history by Robert Dayton, a writer, musician and performer with a longstanding association with comics - he was one of the principals of the Drippy Gazette back around the turn of the century. Some of the comics in these posts date back to the '60s and '70s, which, at least in the U.S. discourse, places them well outside the more recognized 'alternative' era works of Canadian genre-adjacent and memoir-driven cartooning. I recommend it!
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But what do we have on this site, the most important site? Today, Tiffany Babb -- a poet and critic for venues like The AV Club and PanelxPanel -- interviews artist Shing Yin Khor, an Ignatz winner who recently released The Legend of Auntie Po, a middle-grade historical fiction graphic novel, with Penguin Random House. Some good discussion of the outdoors, woodcarving, mapmaking, and other not-leaning-over-a-table activities.
Later this week, we will have the TCJ debut of Sommer Browning, a poet and artist who will present a reflection on the works of Belgian dynamo Olivier Schrauwen, albeit one focused on the stillness, the waiting quality of his 2014 book Arsène Schrauwen. It's a unique piece that I think you're going to enjoy!
And, we're starting a new recurring feature. Retailer and industry commentator Brian Hibbs probably does not require any introduction for many of you, but you may not know that he has been livestreaming video interviews of late with various comics figures. TCJ is going to be sponsoring some of these archived streams and posting them on the site - the first one finds Hibbs in a lengthy and detailed conversation with Wendy & Richard Pini, creators of the Elfquest series, which has seen pretty much the entire history of the comic book direct market... all of which is covered in the talk. Video! Imagine looking at me while I type this.
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Speaking of Hibbs, earlier this week he posted his annual rundown of sales data reported to NPD BookScan - which is to say, book-format comics sold in big box bookstores, through Amazon, and via some (not all, or even most) independent bookstores. It does not, in any way, give an accurate accounting of how well a comic actually sold, but it does create a snapshot of how the year went in the broad 'bookstore market', with all the biases attributable to those areas of bookselling. You sometimes see these results (with less detail than Hibbs gives it) used as a broad pick-me-up for the health of 'comics' as an art, but it is really a specific area.
And what does this area of bookselling prefer? Comics for young readers, above all else. It is interesting to me that the works at the very top of the bestsellers -- your Dog Man, your Raina Telgemeier stuff - are 'pure' comics; they are not franchise fare, or spinoffs, but comics first, which is not something that can be said for all of big sellers. The shōnen manga that rank highly -- and, I’ve noticed the more clickbait-ish recent headlines re: booming bookstore sales reporting numbers for 'adult' graphic novels that include all the shōnen manga in the count, which pumps those numbers up quite a ways -- typically have a huge clattering mechanism of television anime and merchandise built around them, although it is a little telling that the bestselling superhero comics per BookScan are, by an enormous margin, the version presented in Kōhei Horikoshi's My Hero Academia. American superheroes are represented fleetingly by a small number of YA-audience DC projects, a smattering of prestige Batman comics, and the Alan Moore perennials; Marvel, meanwhile, has apparently managed the impressive feat of not logging more than 10,000 sales for any one book in the entire year, which I think speaks to a company totally focused on (or incapable of stepping away from) the 'traditional' superhero market of periodicals to a specialty crowd, and digital editions thereof.
But if you're like me, and you want to look at the more ‘general audience’ original works: what you see is a long horizon of a mainstream. In this market, it appears the bestselling adult-oriented book is a collection of the webcomic Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, which is an Instagram comic that looks like a newspaper strip without a newspaper, though I have not read any of it. Then we have Junji Itō's seinen manga Uzumaki -- which, through ups and downs, remains Itō's signature work -- and the indefatigable March from Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin and the late John Lewis; Uzumaki and March I have read, are they are good comics, but they all have a notably strong appeal to teen or younger readers, which is generally true of everything reporting more than 10,000 sold here. This an elementary observation, but this market has developed enough to grow its own preferences and biases; it is not enough to look at brief summaries and think "wow, comics are doing great," you have to question the information you receive, and understand that all of these things are only giving you a partial idea of what comics is, as a set of particular conditions. So many licensed books in this area! Video games, television, internet personalities: the certitude that comes from something with more money than comics, than books. It does little good to appeal to a miscellaneous Comics in these situations, which is how the picture is often boiled down.
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Hmm, that was basically an exercise in automatic writing. I am continuing to explore different forms for the debutante month of the new weekly blog. Keep your cards and letters coming, and I will see you next week, unless I die.
Hi everyone, I'm moving in two directions today, because our linear perception of time is but a portal in the side of the prison of our bodies.
Last week we welcomed Natsume Fusanosuke (夏目房之介) - a cartoonist, critic, theorist and educator whose work I've seen discussed many times over the years; you may have spotted a link to his blog in Helen Chazan's Tono Monogatarireview not a month ago. I think the writing about manga on this site is generally very strong, but we've lacked the perspective of Japanese writers on Japanese comics, so Tucker and I were very pleased to present a 2018 essay on the topic of Jirō Taniguchi, an artist who's taken on several 'forms' depending on which of global comics' solitudes is translating him - as somebody who discovered Taniguchi through VIZ's 1990 edition of his and Natsuo Sekikawa's crime comics collection Hotel Harbour View, it has been striking to see his reputation in the English-reading terrains of the 21st century become that of a solemn purveyor of peaceable observational works. Natsume addresses this international identity of Taniguchi from the Japanese- and French-language comics perspectives, via the translation of Oregon-based scholars Jon Holt & Teppei Fukuda. We are hoping to see more of Prof. Natsume's work in the coming weeks!
Also last week, we posted a review by another new contributor, Edward Haynes - a writer and editor of comics, prose fiction and criticism whose work has appeared at venues such as SOLRAD, Multiversity Comics, PanelxPanel and others. They offered us their thoughts on the music and horror-themed graphic novel Blue In Green, and we hope to see them again soon.
This week, we are kicking things off with another artist-on-artist conversation, in which Joe Ollmann of the recent Fictional Father chats up Brecht Evens of The City of Belgium - both graphic novels from Drawn and Quarterly. Topics include the limited utility of art in a medical crisis, the finer points of translating one's own work to another language, and exactly how easy is it to become a controversial figure in the polite society of art comics. Read it and live it!
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Lately I've been rearranging my plans, as I'm sure some of you are - I was going to visit some friends in New Orleans in October, but that might not be a great idea anymore; I'm vaccinated, but I don't want to put anyone at risk. I was also looking forward to Ditko-Con 2021, to be held on September 11 in Steve Ditko's hometown of Johnstown, PA; it's still happening (as of today), I just don't know if I'll go. A small con that functions as a sort of meetup for mid-east coast Ditko fans is a really fun idea to me.
I became very sentimental looking at videosfrom another recent small con: the Mission Underground Comic Con, an event from last June in San Francisco, sponsored by deadcrow. You might know deadcrow as the organization behind the Tinfoil anthologies, most recently co-published with Austin English's Domino Books. The Tinfoil books are very regional, and very inclusive, in the manner of lo-fi underground newspapers, but not as frequent. It's an occasional dispatch. The item you see here, however, is not an issue of Tinfoil; it's a collection titled Speshal Comics, which was available at the show, and which I bought off the deadcrow website later on. It's sold out from them, but you can still get one from Domino. The book is a tribute anthology to Evan "Spesh" Larsen, a cartoonist and graffiti tagger who died in 2019. Though not a deluxe print object, it's a complex book, with various tipped-in minicomics; some of the on-page contributions also seem to be minicomics that have been reformatted, like the below excerpt from a piece by Mike Reger:
What we see here is push and pull of the form of art. The ascendant American artist Andrew Schoultz has invited the author and his friends to a tony exhibition; Larsen takes the opportunity to tag the glass front of the gallery, causing some upset. A later show results in work spilling out for two blocks around, and the rich guy sponsoring the event laments that it can't happen again. These are the butting forces of art as an aesthetic, a learned thing, a career path -- and a status symbol for those who patronize it -- and art as a process of living, agnostic to ideas of property rights, 'ownership' and social niceties. Art that does not desire to be captured in a book to realize itself as a true thing, but may nonetheless be memorialized as it is here: a record of a small society of people working directly with one another in the place where they live. But Reger has lived a lot, and demonstrates in his piece how this type of practice removes a great deal of the cushion from living - and nobody wants to see what little there is disappear.
The other day there was a tweet from the artist Chris Kindred that provoked some discussion: "you can't work in comics for a living and be happy at the same time. not without a massive amount of luck, privilege or generational wealth" You struggle to get noticed, to get paid, and if you have a job you struggle with the job and the art. You have a patron, a spouse, something - you struggle with the responsibility of that. The support of authority figures, of which I am one, is a fleeting and fragile thing. People tell you "just work hard," but comics can only reward a few things. I think of another late artist, Jesse Hamm, who loved comics so fervently he kept offering tips to improve the skills of cartoonists, even though comics offered him very little, because he lacked the promotional celebrity fire to sell himself and he did not want to work in those few corners of the market that paid. So he worked in illustration, pouring love into the the thing that gave him so little beyond the affection of people.
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Anyway, diary, that is all I have time to write tonight. I will see you again next week, unless I die.
Hey there, hope all of you had a great week - especially the anonymous person who accused me on Twitter of publishing CIA propaganda and then deleted their tweet, having presumably read past the title of Lane Yates' piece on Tom King. Buddy, the podcast I'm on doesn't make enough money for that.
This week we have a lot of good stuff coming up, and we're kicking it off with Ian Thomas, who's conducted quite a few interviews for us in the past year or so, among other pieces - this time, he's speaking with scholars Brannon Costello and Brian Cremins, who've edited The Other 1980s, a new LSU Press collection of essays on topics from '80s comic books -- some of them very popular at that time -- which aren't generally the stuff of academic study. I was particularly struck by a comment Costello makes about how advantageous it becomes when a particular magazine has a readily searchable database of contents; this is the sort of thing you don't always think of in terms of serving posterity (if indeed that is something you think about at all), but as years pass and the tastes of larger groups drift apart online, it becomes especially useful to have a reliable source of data. When ComicBookDB dot com was bought out by ComicBook dot com and shut down in 2019, a huge amount of issue-by-issue creator data for late 20th century self-published and small-press comics vanished from ready access. A quiet calamity for maniacs such as myself.
Anyway, much more in the interview, and much more to come this week!
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What was the last Tom King-written comic I read? My handler keeps asking.
I think it was this, from 2019's issue #9 of Superman Giant, which was one of those thick collections of mostly reprints that DC released exclusively to Walmart stores near the checkout aisles. King and penciller Andy Kubert did original 12-page stories in those, which were then collected on their own as two-in-one comic books for the direct market under the title Superman: Up in the Sky. At least in my region of online, the most-discussed of these shorts was an episode in which Superman envisions a series of awful deaths for Lois Lane -- which, though I lack a comprehensive grasp, seems to feed a recurring theme of troubled men and the intensity of their relationships with women in King's writing -- but this one has Superman in a race with the Flash that is extensively narrated by a little girl chained up elsewhere in the serial. There is no great sensation of speed to this contest - Kubert and inker Sandra Hope instead pose the characters in full-page images which, combined with the often dozen-plus captions per page, creates a sort of tableau vivant type of presentation; a Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting that is about how Superman is the mightiest and etc.
Of course, I realize that King is probably writing in this style to introduce Walmart shoppers to Superman and send them away knowledgably into reprints of Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner Supergirl comics in which somebody has retouched all of the panty flashes, but this nonetheless strikes me as part of what I will call the 'explicative tendency' in superhero comics. This is when the writer collapses the distance between their own work and the reader's interpretive role, assessing them as to the writer's 'take' on the character in plain language above the action of the story. We are all familiar with how, for example, Grant Morrison's run on various Batman-related comics served as a summation of Batman history, in which everything was ostensibly real in continuity terms, but I am thinking more of one character explaining to another, or the reader, why a character is cool, or what the societal metaphor active in a certain character might be. Geoff Johns has taken steps in this direction throughout the 21st century, and certainly one can imagine Tom King as a participant in this tradition, recalling all those pages from Heroes in Crisis where superhero characters face the reader and therapeutically detail their struggles; which are really interpretations of what these characters means. But I haven't read that comic, I just know it from social media.
I have, however, read every issue of the most conceptually advanced recent comic of the explicative tendency: The Other History of the DC Universe, a five-issue miniseries which wrapped not long ago. The writer is John Ridley, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, but wrote a number of comics prior to that (among many other pursuits) - I recall some discussion surrounding his 2006 Wildstorm superhero project The American Way (artists Georges Jeanty & Karl Story) back when that was new. But The Other History of the DC Universe is not a traditional comic; it is more a heavily illustrated series of prose stories, where the illustrations are sometimes paneled and sequential, and the text is sometimes in caption boxes. And, each issue is narrated by one or more superhero characters, none of them white, who describe their personal histories and their perspectives on various DC storylines.
This is interesting to me, because it is as much a critical essay series as it is a superhero comic. If contemporary superhero comics are sometimes derided as official fanfiction, this is a particular type of critical fanfiction (and, to be clear, I like fanfiction) that seeks to comment on the work by giving primacy to subtextual or peripheral character traits - or, simply the traits of characters made peripheral by the assumptions of salability and audience taste. The best issue is #2, a seriocomic recounting of the lives of Teen Titans supporting character Mal Duncan -- holder of various and sundry superhero titles like Hornblower and the (new) Guardian -- and his wife, Karen Beecher-Duncan, the Titans and Doom Patrol character Bumblebee. Like Morrison's Batman run, the concept of The Other History of the DC Universe is that most events in DC comics are 'real' (which places the arrival of Superman in the 1970s, to keep things on a plausible timeline), and Ridley uses this idea of continuity to tease out hidden character implications. Because Mal Duncan is an 'important' character to one creative team in 1970, and no longer so important to the creative team behind, say, the wedding of Donna Troy, Ridley can present the character's diminished presence in the wedding scene as an illustration of the callousness of the Titans characters, and the tokenized nature of Black characters in media endeavors such as superhero comic books. Arguments among fans about who is the first Black DC superhero become arguments among the characters in the comic, with charged emotions that serve to analogize the desire for representation in popular entertainment. Plus, it's funny: where Titans continuity doesn't actually make sense, Ridley inserts contradictory and unreliable narrators, and placing all of these confrontations in a row does lead one to the conclusion that the Teen Titans are honestly a bunch of assholes.
And that is part of the narrative: dealing with all these assholes. The ambivalence of a publisher like DC toward committing to Black superheroes becomes an ambivalence on the part of the characters toward being a superhero; a model minority.
It does seem like the art in this series is incidental, so intense is the focus on narration. The drawing is done by two Italian artists, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Andrea Cucchi -- Camuncoli, an experienced superhero artist, does layouts for Cucchi to finish -- as a series of monumental or metaphorical splashes or collage-type images, sometimes mimicking famous moments in DC superhero comics, and adopting to my eye the very unaffected look of model sheet or merchandising art, but just a little too ink-shadowed and vulnerable, which is fitting for this project: a sort of official criticism. Comics criticism made flesh by its assumption into the comics world. But there are limitations to this.
A few days ago, I read a really excellent critique of issue #3 written by Kelly Kanayama. That issue focuses on the character of Katana, a Japanese woman introduced by Mike W. Barr & Jim Aparo in The Brave and the Bold in the early 1980s. This issue got passed around on social medial a little upon release, because it characterized, in the official capacity of a DC comic, the 'relationship' between Slade Wilson, Deathstroke, and 15-year old Tara Markov, Terra, in the New Teen Titans era as an act of rape by a pedophilic trafficker. This is a broad-view criticism. But Kanayama goes deeper, and asks after the missing particularities of Ridley's story, which does not particularly address the racialized misogyny that follows Asian women, and does not question the details of Katana's character. If these characters exist in a political reality, then why is a twentysomething Japanese woman in the 1980s wearing a costume bearing the imperial rising sun, with no apparent concordant ideology? Why are all the Japanese characters fighting each other with swords in Shōwa 58? This is because, in Kanayama's estimation, the book assents to depictions of Japanese characters as "collections of tropes and stereotypes" rather than people.
I agree with Kanayama's criticisms, and I think it is easy to run into these problems when writing critically in an 'official' capacity such as Ridley does. When working with superhero characters, an element of fiat is presupposed: that you will, to some extent, meet the superheroes on their (i.e. the corporate owner's) terms. So, in a series that asks you consider the superhero continuity to be 'real' as a platform for commentary, there is a degree of distance you must maintain to respect this artificial realism. When Black Lightning muses on the villains of Suicide Slum, we see a character with shuriken decorating his karate gi - because that is the character (whom I don’t think even had an official name in the original comics), and that is how he dresses. When Karen Beecher-Duncan comments in issue #2 that "For an inner city in Metropolis, Hell's Corner had a surprisingly high number of white pride gangs," Ridley is poking at the pieties of how villains are depicted in these comics, but also acknowledging the necessarily reality of such in the comic book world. Kanayama reminds us that what is accepted as 'real' in these parameters, however, is not an unmeaningful choice, as much as the weight of the superhero world urges us to embrace its fake objectivity. Through the explicative tendency, you are always saying something.
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And I will say more to you next week, unless, alas, I die.
Hi, and welcome back to TCJ. I'm going to be using this space to highlight new contributors to the website, in preview of the coming week.
Today we have a nice interview with Bryan Talbot, an artist I think you've all encountered at some point. My first experience with Talbot was via the 1992 Batman storyline "Mask" (from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40) - that's the one where a doctor tries to convince Bruce Wayne that he's just imagining himself as a superhero to escape the hell of his shitty life; my Pennsylvania brother, M. Night Shyamalan, used a pretty similar concept in his 2019 film Glass, while Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo did what registered to me as an homage at the top of their miniseries Batman: Last Knight on Earth. It was the first time I can remember reading a superhero comic made by somebody with no evident sympathy or nostalgia for superheroes at all. Of course, Talbot's best work-for-hire project remains 1989's Hellblazer Annual #1, with Jamie Delano & Dean Motter, one of those classic 'fuck the plot' issues that just enunciates occult riffs above the grit bath England of yesterday and today. Such was the promise of DC Comics Suggested for Mature Readers.
This week's interview is about Talbot's extensive recent work in creator-owned graphic novels. It is conducted by Tasha Lowe-Newsome, who works in film and journalism, including writing about comics - for example, she conducted the Journal's interview with Donna Barr in issue #190 of the print edition. She also wrote the 1992-94 Cult Press comic book series Raggedyman, which was drawn by Anthony Jon Hicks, and featured cover art by Mr. Bryan Talbot. We are very happy to welcome her back to TCJ.
Later this week, we will be seeing the TCJ debut of Lane Yates, a writer who has built a striking body of criticism at SOLRAD. Lane is also the creator of the fascinating webcomic Single Camera Sitcom, and the writer of several other small-press works. For TCJ, they will be presenting a reflective essay on Tom King, who is one of the very popular superhero comic book writers of today - the type you see mentioned in media outlets that don't often cover comic books as proof that superhero comics are good. It's about really getting in to a writer's work, and then really kind of getting out of their work, while still buying and reading all of it; along the way, we learn the true allegiances of the superhero industrial complex.
Plus, great stuff by returning contributors! Merriment every day! Please look forward to it!
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There's a bit in the Talbot interview today where he mentions working with Rick Veitch on the old Tekno Comix series Teknophage. I often find myself linking these two artists together as kindred spirits - born as cartoonists in the late underground period, traveling in those spaces inside or adjacent to the 'mainstream', while working determinedly on the personal projects for which they are best known.
The two of them were actually in a new comic very recently: Last Gasp's Slow Death Zero, edited by Jon B. Cooke & Ronald E. Turner, and published just a few months ago. It's a bookshelf-ready revival of the old Slow Death Funnies (est. 1970), in which underground cartoonists published ecologically-themed short comics; the new one has one of the last new comics drawn by Richard Corben, plus pieces by alt-era cartoonists like Peter Bagge and Rick Altergott. Talbot was part of the original run of Slow Death, I believe in the late-coming final issue (#11, 1992), as was the writer Tom Veitch, Rick's brother, although I think this is Rick Veitch's first appearance on the title. Reading their new pieces, Veitch's and Talbot's, I was struck by how the two shorts illustrate the differences in perspective between these two storytellers. [EDIT: Actually, Talbot's piece is not new; see the comments below.]
This is from Veitch's story, "Tiny Dancer" - the pages are all set up so that there is a large 'low-res' background image set in a destroyed environment with sharper, smaller panels set on top, in the manner of augmented reality experiences. It's the future (just barely), and those with adequate employer-provided insurance coverage have gotten retinal surgery that superimposes a beautiful 'mind-mate' companion onto everything they see. These digital assistants provide companionship, sexual gratification, and great deals on local shopping - it's a little bit Siri/Alexa, a little bit the film Her, but the economics and mass-production evident in Veitch's story reminded me a lot of the lucrative world of gacha games, where the player's addictive tendencies are stokes so that they keep hitting the Spend Real Money button on their phone for chances at winning the rarest (and cutest!) characters to use in the game. Veitch's protagonist eventually marries his mind-mate, which analogizes to the intensity some gamers feel toward characters and rosters into which they've poured much time and cash.
Of course, such valuable entertainment also functions as a platform for nationalist and martial tendencies; that last panel above is *so* funny to me - a new skin signaling the dawn of the waifu proxy war.
This is a subject matter that greatly appeals to the childless editor of a comic book website. The central joke of Veitch's comic -- the structural joke -- is that the advertising-mandated existence of the mind-made endures a ways past everything else, inviting you to treat yourself to a restaurant in the midst of rubble. I recall the strange, paralyzed state of commercials online as COVID really broke loose in the States, and I think Veitch's vision of the end is unusually prescient.
Hell yeah, full-color thrill-power. "Memento" is a wordless story (save for a Crypt-Keeper-like intro by a cartoon Ron Turner, which also kind of messes up the visual conceit of Veitch's piece) about a hired gun blasting through a hellish underground society to deliver a special item to a client in the devastated surface world. Talbot really leans into his talent for grotesquerie, which is another trait he shares with Veitch, although I think the studied subject matter of his more recent books (and the gleaming digital façade of his Grandville anthropomorphic animal comics) gives less need for this tool in the kit.
It does make me think. Probably, I am physically closest to the guy at the bottom left of the above page, who is uncomfortably consuming things in the midst of a terrible orgy, away from the suffering of the world. Talbot's hero, meanwhile, is fit and skilled, and utterly composed. They are strong, which is something that comes up often in Talbot's work. In his Batman story, "Mask", there is a sort of Schrödinger's cat type of ending, where Batman is presented with a door that represents the weak Bruce Wayne and the strong Batman. Naturally, Batman chooses the Batman door, and he is therefore real, and Bruce Wayne is not. But - Bruce Wayne, weak and sick, is still real; we just can't see him anymore, because he did not occur, because his life cannot really exist in a corporate-owned superhero comic. Similarly, Talbot's own characters navigate the contours of power. Luther Arkwright is very powerful; LeBrock, the main character of Grandville, is a strapping and inquisitive badger. The various heroines of Talbot's collaborations with the writer Mary M. Talbot stand astride great historical moments, or encounter extraordinary personalities, or are extraordinary personalities. These are not perfect, or uncomplicated characters, but they move through their worlds with purpose, like the "Memento" hero.
Veitch, I think, presents people as much more fallible, susceptible to temptation, or fundamentally malleable. His many dream comics, lucid as the dreamer may be, force a vulnerability on Roarin' Rick, who cannot entirely control what is coming. The sidekicks of Brat Pack are seduced and exploited; the comics industry figures in The Maximortal subject to rips in history, as the all-powerful hero at the center melts and rips bodies, descending like a glowing terror, Jack Chick's God, archetypical yet not entirely unknowable. I think this is the fundamental and hopefully-illustrative difference between these two artists I associate so much with each other - Veitch floating inside the body and mind of history, and Talbot urging us to be strong and studied.
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Anyway, thank you for continuing to enjoy the blog's gradual transformation into Rorschach's journal. I'll be back in this space next week, unless I die.
Hello, my name is Joe McCulloch, and, as of today, I am the editor of this site with Tucker Stone. Some of you may not know who I am, and I congratulate you on a life well-lived. Others may remember a weekly column I wrote for six years, which I concluded in roughly the same mindset as Julianne Moore at the end of Safe. Since then, in the past four years, I've written a few pieces for this site: apair of reviews of self-published comics I really liked; twointerviews about small-press manga artists; afew pieces on 'commercial' manga that were actually about the situation of commercial manga artists, at least in my mind; an obituary; some conceptual art comics writing; and a piece on a comic from the writer of Beef Bros which anticipated this site's acclaimed outlay of Beef Bros coverage - it is wonderful to set the trends.
I have also been working in a behind-the-scenes role on this website since last April, doing proofreading, grammar checks, formatting, writing some of the little texts that go below the pictures on the front page; I was paid for this work, which very much instilled in me a sense of responsibility separate from my work as an occasional contributor. Writers count on you -- they rely on you -- when you do work such as this. With Tucker, I will now be working in an editorial capacity, directly with writers; soliciting works, etc. You can contact me at joe [at] tcj [dot] com, for all your email needs.
You are maybe wondering about my ideas for this site. In fact, I am the first of a few changes coming soon - not this week, or next week, but soon. These are ideas that preceded me, but I think they're pretty exciting, and I hope you'll all enjoy them. In a wider sense, though, I am interested in using the independent nature of TCJ, which is not reliant on access to monied cultural actors, to counteract the dominance of capitalistic 'success' in too much of the media discussion online. Perhaps it is because there are so many opinions out there -- and, to be clear, I would have been nothing if not for the latitude online discussion afforded people with no qualifications; I am wholly a creature of online -- but I have found that a lot of the talk about art recently starts from the false 'objective' basis of wide exposure and monetary success as the solemnization of what is worth talking about. If something is big, and successful, it must be discussed, because that is where the eyes go. That is where you discuss the effect on culture. That is how you build the audience to make the money. Success ensures success, so that anyone who starts ahead is assured to remain there. What an independent website can do, is offer a dedicated source for deeper thinking. The Comics Journal has been around since the 1970s; we do not need to be the introduction to comics. What we ought to be, is a place from which this vast and troubled terrain is surveyed with a sense of questioning the maps drawn by those most adept at mass appeal, because the danger today is that mass appeal is read as the sole means of getting anywhere. This does not benefit anybody that does not fall into those few categories that comics can readily award.
Of course, these are just words. I pray you will stick around to see what we do. I thank all of our writers - Clark Burscough, I want you to know I love and value you; I want to say that in public. I thank Tucker, and Kristy Valenti, our editorial coordinator, and Dr. Rachel Miller, of our print edition. Thanks to Gary Groth, for having me. And thank you, for your attention. I'll be back in this space next week, unless I die.
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All art in this post is from a 1987 episode of Section Chief Shima Kōsaku, created by Kenshi Hirokane (translated here by Wayne Lammers) - a comic about a managerial type adept at the art of ingratiation.
Recently, artist, painter and activist Carel Moiseiwitsch lost her home, her art studio and all that it contained, as well as one of her cats in the recent Lytton fire in Canada. A few of her colleagues have set up a GoFundMe to assist her at this time of extraordinary need. Links are provided to the campaign.
Patrick Dean died in the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 12 in Watkinsville, Georgia, after a long fight against ALS, a disease with which he was diagnosed in 2018. Most people who spent time in Athens during the late 90s/early 2000s knew Patrick’s work. His comics in Athens weekly Flagpole Magazine greeted readers from page three, offering a view into the alternative Athens Patrick created, one populated with singing pies, hillbilly yetis, anxious wizards, and so very many ghosts. The recently-published Eddie’s Week brought this world to a larger audience, exposing Patrick’s ability to find magic within the mundane to new readers. Patrick was dedicated to comics and, as the co-organizer of Athens’ annual FLUKE small-press festival, encouraged countless artists, exposing them to a community of like-minded weirdos with toner-stained fingers and heads filled with wild ideas.
Stubborn to the end, Patrick continued to draw even as ALS stole his ability to move. As his mobility decreased, his drawing style adapted to the changes. When he could no longer move his arms and hands, he started creating works using eyegaze technology. Quickly adapting to this new way of creating, Patrick’s eyegaze works are immediately recognizable as his own, retaining his distinct lines, heavy shadows and, above all, his sense of playfulness.
Patrick leaves behind a vast network of friends and family, a testament to his gregarious nature. His death leaves a crater in the Athens comics community, but the impact ripples out across this network as well. A GoFundMe established by his friends to assist with his astronomical end-of-life medical expenses is filled with comments from people who loved him, but all you really need to do is mention his name to anyone who knew him to get a sense of how appreciated he was.
The next FLUKE small-press festival will serve, in part, as a memorial to Patrick. More details will be available as soon as the event is scheduled (due to COVID-related concerns, the most recent FLUKE was rescheduled and eventually cancelled, but the show will return as soon as it is safe to do so). Donations for Patrick’s family are still being accepted at the GoFundMe link above.
My first interaction with Patrick was back in 2008, when a comment he made on Dirk Deppey's Journalista feature spurred a mutual shit-talking. Our email conversations were minimal, but those brief, Journalista-forged internet relationships were the first kinds of friendships in comics I had ever made online, and while that one never ran as deep, it remained burned in--here was a guy I liked from afar, and here we were, talking about the same old shit. Over the years I reverted to his reader, keeping up with him via social media, publicly and privately. I once mixed him up with another Patrick Dean and sent him random Nobrow books, trying to hustle publicity out of him--he graciously let me know that he had better things to do with his time, and the brief embarrassment only re-cemented my fondness for him. His battles with ALS, and the work that spun out of him these last few years--it cheapens them to call them inspirational, at a time when that word feels like the province of an Instagram post. But I am struck by the frenzy all the same. Look at this, his public announcement of his diagnosis. It bristles with the complicated feelings that tragedy and suffering provide: the despair, the rage, the unfairness of it all--but with that abyss, it also speaks to the stonefaced love and support, or the kind eyed family, the "everything" that is so often taken for granted and passed over. I have only the most shadowed glimpse, via social media and Dean's comics, of what the last few years have been like for him, even less of what it was for his friends and family. And that glimpse, while painfully abbreviated, is one that I will never forget.
This week at TCJ, we'll be taking multiple looks at one of the last "when the hell are they gonna reprint that" comics left: Shary Flenniken's Trots & Bonnie. To set this week's table, we're sharing the most extensive appetizer possible, Robert Boyd's interview with Flenniken, originally published back in 1991. As you can see in the comments from when this interview was first digitized in 2014, the demand for Flenniken's work has never waned. Well, it's finally here. Stay tuned for more this week.
2020 saw three articles here at TCJ about Athens-based cartoonist Patrick Dean, the most recent being an interview between Dean and fellow cartoonist Eleanor Davis--and if you read those pieces, you're aware of the impact that ALS has had on Dean and his family. After three years of ALS, his family have now entered the stage where expensive palliative hospice care is required, and Eleanor has set up a crowdfunding campaign to help offset these costs. That campaign is linked below.
Over the weekend, the passing of John Paul Leon--an immensely talented and much beloved cartoonist--was confirmed. Tributes and social media remembrances have continued since the announcement, with many of them linking to a GoFundMe campaign to help support his teenage daughter's educational pursuits. We will have more on Leon's work later this week, and link to that same campaign below:
Today at TCJ, Hillary Brown is taking a look at the oversized color and glory that isShira Spector's Red Rock Baby Candy. That book is a monster, in a good, audacious, pour-comics-all-over-the-page kinda way. Hillary likes it:
This constant revision, dragging the reader along for the ride, feels like being dipped into someone else's thought process, and it's crucial to Spector's project, in which she does something similar with her life: reexamining it like a knitter scanning for a flaw, then picking up the missing stitches and inserting fixes. It's not very linear but neither are humans. Time is real, but stories are things we make, and memories are stories we use to tell us about ourselves.
Our other slice of attention for the day is a look, via Bob Levin, at the work of John Porcellino. Specifically, the work of Porcellino as presented in three recent reissues of his work via Drawn & Quarterly: King Cat-Classix, Map of My Heart and A Perfect Example.
Given all that Porcellino experienced between the summer of 1986 and his writing about it, it was not inevitable that he would end his tale with “sunlight breaking through... darkness.” If he had written his book at a different point in this decade, the heavens might have unleashed tornadoes, hurricanes or locusts. The uplifting ending was a gift from a Porcellino who differed significantly from the Porcellino who had lived the events depicted in his book, or who had lived through the years before he sat down to portray them. Whether and in what proportion marriage, meditation and illness contributed to this shape-shift is a question for the gods.
The piece above is one that has been gestating in the back of my mind for a while, for reasons that would never be obvious from reading it, so I thought I'd put those thoughts here despite the fact that the audience for them is gone. Porcellino remains, to my mind, one of the more unique and fascinating American cartoonists--in some ways, he might be the artistic embodiment of what a vehicle like the Journal exists to look and grapple with, representing as he does the concept that comics can be used as an engine of art and self-exploration in a fashion that makes immediately clear how lacking all other forms of creative expression would be to serve the artists particular goals. As such, he's an artist the Journal has a history with, both in multiple print issues, a Cartoonist's Diary, and multiple interviews, including this career spanning two parter from Rob Clough a few years ago, all of which cover a lot of the material in D&Q's recently reissues. So while I found myself looking forward to the D&Q reissues on a personal level--my personal copy of King-Cat Classix was stolen multiple years ago--I wasn't really sure whether I could figure something out.
But then I remembered Tom.
If there was one person I had to attribute my respect and admiration for John Porcellino's work in comics, and the importance with which I regard it, that person would probably be my friend Chris Mautner. But if I was going to name somebody who I think has done the best job of making the case for Porcellino's work publicly and in a fashion that sliced through my initial ambivalence toward it (an ambivalence driven mostly by my own self-loathing, and how effectively John's work often depicts that kind of loathing as a form of destructive self-worship), it would be Tom Spurgeon, who consistently spent decades dropping Porcellino's name and spitting out one-liners about his work's value. I came around eventually, and while John's occasional mawkishness in person still makes me cringe in fear that having feelings might be contagious, I've never looked back.
The flipside to the equation of covering John was, of course, who: who do you go to? Rob Clough already did the career spanner--we're spanned out.
And then I remembered Tom, again.
If there was one thing that Tom never got tired of saying--something I sometimes saw him throw out in proximity to the oversensitive types who he must have known would assume he was saying it at them, and probably was, because it was funny--it was that the "best writer about comics working today" is Bob Levin. And from what I can remember, Bob had never written anything about John Porcellino. I confirmed that with Bob, confirmed with Bob that he was willing to take a suggestion from the office regarding a piece for us, and then set him loose.
As I mentioned above--I don't need to write this down. I'm not going to go check my old emails, but I don't think I even told Bob. And no, I don't believe Tom is paying attention--even if I believed in Heaven, which I don't, I have complete faith that one of the prerequisite components of any form of eternal rest is absolutely zero internet content, comics content especially. But if there was a standard to hold, it would be that when you have a chance to put somebody's favorite critic together with somebody's favorite artist, you should at least try, even if that somebody isn't around to enjoy the outcome.
The Comics Journal magazine welcomes Dr. Rachel Miller as the new co-managing editor! Rachel R. Miller earned her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, where she was a Presidential Fellow and served as the Assistant Editor of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society. Her writing on comics and pop culture has been published in Public Books, Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly, American Book Review, as well as many scholarly collections on comics and comics history. Last year, she co-curated the exhibit Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, which documents one hundred years of women’s work in comics and cartoon art. Her first book, An Introduction to American Comics, co-authored with Dr. Andrew Kunka, is forthcoming from Routledge.
Happy New Year. It's Tuesday: the first Tuesday in January, and you're at TCJ. If you didn't catch our contributor's Best Of lists over the holiday break, you can remedy that now. The last couple of years the list has been extremely long, which is both my preference and one with a lot of history to it--but this year, personal failings on my part left little time to assemble another 30K word odyssey, so we stuck closer to home and turned to our most frequent contributors. It's a good list of titles, that ranges all over the map, and if you're someone who has been reading comics this year, I think that's pretty much how it should be. Keeping up with "comics" is never going to be easy at the best of times, and 2020 will never be mistaken for that.
Our first new piece this year is an interview with Austin English, a contributor to this site, a cartoonist, a publisher, and a distributor. I thought it a good idea to open this year with a conversation that has a bit of a bite to it, and it doesn't disappoint.
People rely on curators, but I tend to dislike the idea of curation---probably, people view Domino as highly curated, but I try to obstruct my own curation as much as possible. With that as a guiding principle, there's quite a bit of work that becomes important to have in the store. I think a lot of people recoil at how there's such a low bar of entry in comics, the medium feels amateurish and disorganized, but I think someone photocopying their work without much of an idea who it's for or why they made it, that's one of the very important parts of comics culture that I find exciting...and I think having work like that alongside an art book by Dorothy Iannone (someone who is known worldwide but perhaps under discussed in comics, but in my view, accessible to all), well...something like that existing would be important to me. Inchoate, emerging expression next to fully formed yet maligned expression...the combination of both adds up to something very important to me.
It's very, very common these days to talk about reading outside of your comfort zone--it's not just a phrase used by older comics readers hungry to antagonize younger people with Crumb drawings anymore; these days, you're just as likely to hear a young person use a version of that old staple to antagonize an older person about their lack of familiarity with a $17 graphic novel about Batgirl going to middle school. It's enough to make someone nostalgic for the golden era of late 90s Borders, when people who read manga were sneering at people who only read super-hero trades, while people who read Chris Ware were frustrated at how rarely they could find any girls to talk to, and nobody was buying anything, and Borders went out of business. I like reading about Austin's various methods for forcing himself to read and engage with comics outside of what he might "like", because it reminds me how much fun that aspect of comics can be--that you don't have to go that far afield to get lost, because the difference between a philosophy can be the next thing on the rack. There are a lot of solipsistic tendencies in comics that I resent, and that resentment has curdled to a bitter hatred in recent months, but one of the saving graces that an oft-unprofitable artform practiced on the margins by loners has going for it is that it marches exclusively to its own drummer. A scene collapses almost as soon as it begins, and the trendchasers attempting to approximate the success of an outlier are immediately recognizable for their lack of passion.
I'm not sure what is going to happen in 2021. I wonder at how much longer certain business channels can continue onward in the face of what appears to be massive corporate disinterest in their survival, and I wonder how difficult it is going to be for certain publicly funded purchasing channels to continue to survive as well, in the face of an ongoing infrastructure collapse whose priority remains the profitability of its most toxic predators. And yet--I don't think guys like Austin are going to stop finding ways to publish comics, nor do I think that Peggy Burns is going to give up on bringing more books like The Sky Is Blue With A Single Cloud to English. 2020 made it clear that Brian Hibbs is legitimately willing to die at the register, and that for all her gadfly-ing, at the heart of Kim O'Connor you'd find a big old soft spot with the name McFarlane written all over it. Hell, there's still a cottage industry for people who want to get up every morning and write pudding brain articles about what how the Marvel movies are failing to get Squirrel Girl spinner racks back in regional gas stations. This thing we're doing is never gonna end--it it was, it would've happened by now. It's just going to change shape to accommodate the people who are taking it over and giving it a new life, a new definition.
That's it for now. Stick around this week for a Garth Ennis article, an Al Columbia review, and, if life and time allows, a monster of a conversation with a guy who drew one of the nastiest wrecking crew Batman stories ever written. And more.
On Monday, we featured a long-time favorite: an artist talking to another artist. This time around it was Joe Decie talking to Hannah Eaton about folk horror, her recent graphic novel Blackwood, and her participation in "the scene". This piece came about when Joe reached out and recommended we cover Hannah's work, and after looking into it, it made more sense to ask Joe if he'd do the heavy lifting. It's a fine, insightful interview. Check it out. I liked this riff from Hannah about social media:
And social media… I wish I could just extract the good stuff, the connectedness and the little inspiring references and pictures from other people’s worlds, but it just seems to generate envy and political division and be a way of taking people out of the place where there’s silence and birds and the sublime, and those small bubbles of creative energy that need quiet boredom to incubate themselves.
On Tuesday, Oliver Ristau returned to Bremen's 404 gallery for their latest comics exhibit, this one featuring a whole mess of Rotopol Press folks. Germany's comics scene has produced a lot of really individual, non-referential cartoonists in the last decade, and it's helpful to have somebody like Oliver drinking it in. Get some.
A completely different wave gets ridden by KIIN., the nom de guerre of sisters Kirsten Carina and Ines Christine Geißler. They successfully manage to capture the synesthesia born out of a sunny day at the sea, the distorted perceptions that come as a result of searing sunlight entering through narrowed eyes. These impressions get translated via bodies frolicking at a sandy beach, whereas swimsuits and the sand merge in yellow gradings with surroundings changing between brown and orange and finally leading to shapes getting blurred. Becoming witness to the whole scenery, you just can't help humming the tune of Surf's Up (And So Am I) while the salt of your running tears as a result of the Wagnerian rock combined with your palpebrals squinted reminds you of the taste of the sea – and if that's not synesthesia in full effect I don't know what is.
On Wednesday, we hosted a celebration of Ward Zwart, and mourned his passing. David Schilter of kuš! brought together his friends, his collaborators and his famous fans to talk about the artist we've lost. It's a beautiful piece, and I'm grateful to David for putting it together.
Our review this week came via Keith Silva, and to maintain the balance this world demands, it broke with our three day streak of comics celebration to take a look at something we weren't into: some comic by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera that sounds like Aaron rewriting his trashy (but fun!) Ghost Rider comics run without any of the gags that come with historical skeletons riding around on sharks while Aaron references side characters from old Preacher comics.
Since its debut in 2015, The Goddamned has been about four-letter-words and 4-color violence on a biblical scale. This is that old-timey religion, the old-school God of the Old Testament, the God who orders a father to kill his son as a trust exercise, a trolling God. Aaron leans into this idea, hard. What started with an unkillable killing machine in Cain and a belligerently boffo Noah in volume one has become a road movie in this second iteration. Goddamned: The Virgin Brides stars a potty-mouthed troublemaker, Jael, and her bestie, a wide-eyed innocent, Sharri. Both have been cut out for a convent of over-the-top nuns to be child brides to angels. This unholy union results in the Nephilim, which depending on your belief system could be as benign as a giant (think Hagrid) or a satanic brood of monster babies. Guess which one readers are signed up for?
The biggest comics news was going to be, I thought, the various fallout from DC's recent decision to create more fake profits for AT&T by firing longtime employees, this time being all the employees who know anything about the direct market comic stores expressly responsible for the sales of single issue comic books over the past how-many-decades, but then, on Wednesday, Penguin Random House announced their plan to purchase Simon & Schuster, thus continuing the string of corporate consolidation (which is invariably followed by the kind of house-cleaning firing currently happening at DC) that has done so little good for every other industry it has already touched. It's too early to say specifically how this will hurt comics overall, but far too obvious to say that whatever benefits it does bring will be given to an ever-diminishing number of individuals, that those individuals will promote those benefits via multiple public forums, and this information will be uncritically regurgitated by the class of people who believe that said regurgitation will bring them closer to someday snatching some of that "success" for themselves.
That being said? Good. Fuck them. The poison they chase is poison nonetheless, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you an ideology that will guarantee you a life of anguish, repulsion and soul-dismantling pain. There should always be a home within comics for those who do not want to spend their lives marketing their work, over-designing its containers, and compromising their talent, skill and dreams for ever-diminishing returns and the never-ending chase for mystical non-readers. This news doesn't change that, and no amount of mergers ever will. Happy Thanksgiving!
Today at TCJ, we're taking a look back at the life and career of Bob Fujitani. To be more specific, Steve Ringgenberg is doing that, and his obituary of Bob is here.
Among his notable achievements in comic books, Fujitani drew the first five issues of Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom (co-created with one of Dell’s most prolific scripters, Paul S. Newman), which made its debut in 1962 with Gold Key’s first original character and ran intermittently for a total of 31 issues before finally being canceled in 1981.
Fujitani was born on Oct.15, 1921 to a Japanese-American father and a German-English mother, Tom and Hannah. Born in Krippenbush, New York, the family moved to Connecticut when he was only 2 years old. He was raised in Cos Cob, where he attended elementary school. An avid artist from childhood, he was soon copying Alex Raymond’s Jungle Jim newspaper strip. The family later moved to Old Greenwich, where he graduated from Greenwich High in 1939 as class president and captain of the football team. He was encouraged as a student in both artistic endeavors and commercial practicalities by his favorite teacher, who would have him execute watercolor still lifes and then sell them. He wound up living in Connecticut for the rest of his life, along with many, many other cartoonists.
So much of your work is about observation and taking notice of small things, and in the face of all this, does it require a different way to work or think?
Yes, I’m working in the same way, but less. There is nothing inherently important or unimportant about my subjects, but it’s what I see and love about the world. Rather than any particular topic or event, it’s the quality of experience that I’m trying to portray. Artists aren’t essential workers, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the most essential work that I can do. I also know that the reason I make art is because it makes me feel better. It’s never been about addressing a need in the world. It makes me feel better, which makes me calmer and more helpful as a teacher and in all of my relationships. I don’t feel inspired, or as if I have to express some meaning. There’s no magical idea inside my head that’s waiting to be manifested. It’s much more like taking a walk. Too much thinking will ruin it, it’s enjoyable until I’m tired, and I feel better afterward.
On Tuesday, the delightful Tom Shapira took a break from waiting on me to respond to his emails to take a look at Alan Moore's final work in comics. No, not that one. The other one. The one nobody paid attention to. No, that was a novel! Okay, fine: Cinema Purgatorio!
...League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: the Tempest isn’t really the last comics work by Moore and O’Neill. In terms of publication there's another project from that particular duo: the serial Cinema Purgatorio, published in seventeen chapters of its self-titled anthology. Cinema Purgatorio, (the story by Moore and O'Neill rather than the anthology as a whole), ended only two months before the final issue of The Tempest. Yet the latterwas the talk of the town while the former was barley whispered about in the village’s drinking-hole.
Moore and O’Neill overshadowed themselves: you can’t have two swan-songs at once. It’s also quite obvious why one wouldn’t be in a rush to view Cinema Purgatorio as some end-of-era / götterdämmerung creation. In terms of construction and purpose it feels the slighter work; it’s obscure (The Tempest had 20 years of publication history and a terrible motion-picture to carry it along); it's divided in an anthology. Also? Cinema Purgatorio was published by Avatar Press.
I don’t see comics or zines as disconnected from the academic work, or my work as a teacher. I guess I feel driven by questions and then use a bunch of different mediums to try to answer those questions for myself. The biggest thing is that I’m constantly trying to juggle all the different projects I commit to, and also trying to figure out how to make a living, which before looked like being a full-time history teacher and currently looks like working on a moving truck, and in the future who knows. Universal healthcare would help.
Elsewhere, I thought Brian Nicholson's quick look on an old Milestone comic was interesting, as was his mention of the growing reappraisal of Rachel Pollack's run on Doom Patrol. I read Pollack's Doom Patrol as it was being released, and while I found the conclusion bewildering, it always felt smart, audacious, funny--they were comics that read in a fashion I honestly don't believe most single issue comics telling serialized stories utilize very often, which was that they were ambitious. There was a specificity to them, a feeling of voice and purpose--they were comics by a creator who felt a step removed from the audience, producing work that was to be put on display and experienced, but effort was expected for their comprehension. (In addition: Brian's Tumblr is a must read. I could have linked to any number of thoughtful pieces.)
I'm still catching up on the Virtual SPX Panels, conveniently located on this playlist on their Youtube page. The video of the Ignatz awards is here, and there's a list of winners here. As virtual cons go, this one seems to have gone well...but my perspective is one completely different from the type of people who would be an authority on whether it was or was not. My time with shows (which I am grateful to be done with) was a purely fiscal relationship--did it make enough money to justify me being there, or was I going to have to explain the financial loss to my employer? Was leaving my family, my life, my regular daily work behind worth the exchange? Did we sell titles that would not otherwise have reached an audience? Or did we steal sales from local retailers, local sales reps, and take income from other artists at the show who lacked the reach that distribution permits but were stuck competing with us for the limited dollars of convention goers? Removing that consideration and question, which these virtual shows do, turning the draw of them into one driven by the internet's interest in recordings of video conference calls--it's a new direction to go in, and one I have spent the last six months with a growing ambivalence for. Everyone wants to see their friends and favorites succeed. But from my perspective, I am unconvinced that this delivery vehicle--no matter what content it provides--brings either of those groups closer to any aesthetic or financial goal worth chasing. The last thing that comics needs is another way to generate content for its greediest fans, for free.
Josh Bayer, who co-founded the series with his brother Sam and co-wrote Zerosis Deathscape with Simmons (as well as contributing some fascinatingly stylized art), commented on the series by drawing a parallel with another band having fun: “These comics aren’t designed to reform or resurrect the face of superhero comics. These books aren’t gonna be the first Ramones album. They’re more like the ‘Acid Easters’ album they made in the late 80s. It’s the Ramones checking out what they sound like when they play Eric Burden songs or Pete Townsend and Beach Boys songs.”
You ever read about what Jeff Bezos does with all his money? Like the stuff he buys, the things he occupies his time with? What a snooze! You'd expect a sociopath to have more interesting hobbies. At least Bill Gates is trying to make Dune style stillsuits, so that we can all drink our urine in the future while wearing black leather in 160 degree heat.
Weston distinguishes himself here with a depth of field and eye for material texture that speaks as much to the continent as to his native tradition. Straight up I tell you true, it looks like he has spent a lot of time studying Moebius. That’s not a name I’d drop under most circumstances as that’s not really a comparison most people could weather. Weston, like Ladronn before him, proves that even just being able to draw a tiny bit like Moebius takes twice the talent as most artists in the history of the medium have ever possessed.
Check it out: Todd McFarlane bullshit with Pearl Jam bullshit! The above is coming via IDW, it's 200 pages about a twenty year old music video that, according to the press release, is more relevant now than it was when it came out. (I disagree!) Above, you can see Eddie Vedder and Todd McFarlane hanging out together. There's no link, they emailed me about this one. Hopefully they'll have a Freak On A Leash book next. Hopefully Chris Ryall wasn't the guy with all the great taste, and that chapter of of comics history will not go ignored.
Elsewhere: Here's a quirky round-up of times when hip-hop albums have enlisted comics artists to draw their album art, perfect for viral pleasures. I didn't realize how many Sienkiewicz had drawn, but the hits keep coming the more you scroll. Site is NeoText, author is Paco Taylor. Neotext is a new site that launched this week--more information on it is here. They've already got a handful of comics pieces up, including a long look at Judge Dredd and an interview with Howard Chaykin, who will be writing for the site. The sites owners include a guy who worked for NATO and the dude who produced Capone!
It's day three for Nathan Gelgud on Diary duty-today, he's grappling with what the pandemic is doing to his upcoming freelance gigs by reading a book.
Today, Helen Chazan goes long on the work of Kuniko Tsurita, whose comics have arrived via Drawn & Quarterly, Mitsuhiro Asakawa & Ryan Holmberg in the collection of The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud. Helen was originally going to review the book, but her piece expanded over the course of writing it. I'm glad that happened, as it gives us the opportunity to put out another piece on the book next week. It's excellent, fascinating work, and one of the most rewarding comics I've read this year. We should write about it every single day. Here's a bit of Helen for you:
Tsurita’s comics dwell on death and self-annihilation, isolation, dysphoria and longing. Her protagonists are often trapped in their bodies, constrained by an inner decay even as their surroundings may seem invitingly open, full of possibility and negative space. They are trapped by society, they are trapped by their partners, they are trapped by minds and bodies that cannot perform. Nonsense and Calamity both focus on men falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death, suggesting Kafkaesque parables and functioning as such in broad strokes, yet far more evocative as expressions of the panicked despair of existing in a society that vilifies people incapable of conforming to its expectations, expectations that I would note include being able-bodied, neurotypical, and not prone to suicidal ideation. Her later stories expand more overtly on this subtext as overt imagery, often of drowning -- the titular wife of My Wife is an Acrobat sinks into her bath, declaring herself “dead and pickled in alcohol”; the heroine of the adult fairy tale Sea Snake and the Big Dipper freezes to death on the ocean’s surface, content to gaze upon the constellations which she cannot reach.
Today's review is of the first two issues of Aorta, by Sarah Horrocks. Sarah's growth as a cartoonist over the last few years has been exciting to watch, and Tom Shapira's a fan:
It doesn’t really matter what genres Horrocks works in, be it the trashy melodrama of Goro or the horror-romance of “Red Medusa on the Road to Hell” (her short story from the Twisted Romance anthology, probably the standout work of that outing in the sheer craft of it). She always jumps into the deepest waters of the concept, going straight for the raw emotive core. "Red Medusa” was a stand out piece in terms of the pure poetic force of it, reading like some black metal album blasting into your soul with the howls of a thousand damned. While Aorta is slightly more normalized in terms of presentation, there’s still the same heightened quality to it; you read it and you hear the music playing the background.
Elsewhere, Graeme McMillan has a nice piece of journalism for the Hollywood Reporter on the recent Eisner voting mishaps, which should probably be an Eisner voting scandal, and, considering what some people like to do when they find other people's home addresses, could have been an Eisner voting tragedy. Initial reactions on Twitter have been pretty clear: these Eisners are always going to be suspect.
It's not comics, but one of this website's former contributors, Brandon Soderberg, has a pretty big deal book out this week. Website's here, it's a nonfiction book about a bunch of corrupt cops that actually got some level of consequence for their misdeeds, and he wrote it with Baynard Woods. I was going to ask Brandon if he'd want to review Garth Ennis' Red Team comics as a way to promote the book, but I was able to realize that was tasteless before reaching out. It'll be our little secret, blog reader!
Also, heads up:
Please stop writing "Archie is a simp" in the comments of our YouTube videos. You will receive a permanent ban from our channel. Thank you.
I've never been more interested in Archie comics in my entire life, except for that time before I edited TCJ when the site ran a giant roundtable on kid's comics that Art Spiegelman contributed to and Seth randomly started talking about how much he loved Archie rip-off comics, which is such a specific thing to be into, such a wonderfully curious thing to have awareness and affection for, that it completely changed my reading of his work. It's not hard to be a Star Trek nerd, or to know a lot about video games--being a fan doesn't require legwork anymore, you just have to be willing to stay inside and google shit. But having an eyeball that seeks out Archie rip-off comics and can tell who made them by the line of "Barchie's" spit-curl? That's deep cut shit that cannot be imitated, and I am here for it in a way I never will be for buying t-shirts. (Unless it's a limited edition Spawn The Movie Soundtrack t-shirt). Anyway: I realize that the above is just cool kid internet manipulation, and that whoever runs the Archie twitter is just working my middle-aged feelings, but this one worked for me in a way that thing where Steak-Ums pretending to be a Marxist totally failed.
I visited Saitō Pro in 2011 in order to interview Saitō. If the place looks and operates now like it did then – crowded, airless, and hyper analog – and it appears it does, disbanding the studio was indeed a wise choice. Of course, though an economic division of labor has been central to the mythos of Saitō Pro since the ‘60s, studio production methods for making manga have never been specific to “gekiga.” It is the rare manga artist today that doesn’t use some kind of studio method. “The physical presence of the staff is indispensable” to the creation of serialized manga, assert Saitō Pro and Big Comic. But ever since the advent of quality drawing and graphics programs, that is obviously not true.
These days, you have to pay good money to get a Holmberg essay (his excellent use of Instagram notwithstanding), albeit one that often comes bound with 200-300 pages of comics that are oftentimes the most interesting thing you will have read in a while. His particular career--that of advocate, translator, historian and critic--is one of the few career paths that should be worshipped and emulated.
CUT TO: the 1995 San Diego Comic-Con, where a grown Tomine, basking in the glow of the acclaim that followed his early work in minicomics, receives a rude awakening in the form of The Comics Journal #179, in which Jordan Raphael graced the magazine's "Shit List" column with a bellicose takedown of the first Drawn & Quarterly issue of Optic Nerve, written with that special blend of enormous self-confidence and just enough imprecision to assure readers that the critic has not wasted too much of his valuable time on obvious trash. CUT TO: a Comic-Con afterparty, where Tomine seeks the fraternity of fellow artists, but instead finds himself roasted by peers for the similarities of his work to that of Daniel Clowes. The evening ends with our man upbraided at length by a fellow attendee for self-interested careerism in failing to place Optic Nerve with a smaller publisher.
Outside of this, amidst the daily chaos intended to numb you into thinking there is nothing worth caring out, TCJ contributor Brian Nicholson has done as direct a job as any explaining measures you can take to combat the government's attacks on the US Postal Service, one of the few institutions that impacts indie comics publishing in such an integral way that losing them would have an immediate negative financial impact.