Too Much

Alec Berry is proving his worth this week, returning to collaborate with Tucker Stone on a story about publisher Annie Koyama's decision to shutter Koyama Press by 2021.

Citing personal and professional reasons, Koyama did not characterize the coming closure as a lost financial fight, but as a return to an impetus. For more than a decade, the publisher also sponsored prominent and unknown artists anonymously, enabling specific projects she has mostly kept private. Now, she will expand and push this form of direct financial support without the responsibility of a press occupying most of her time.

“I will not tell the artists how to do anything,” Koyama said. “There are no strings attached. Once I decide to work with an artist, as I have always done with the press, I put enough trust in them and their project not to interfere. They don’t need my creative help, they need money.”

How this next venture will work is still being formulated. Though the projects she supports will not be owned by Koyama, recipients of these “micro-grants” will be expected to fulfill their end of the bargain, whether if be self-publishing the project, offering a performance, or whatever Koyama and the participating party agree to.

Additionally, the publisher expects to continue to pursue broader methods of support by hosting financial and business literary workshops and supplementing residencies. Her support will not be limited to cartoonists, either. Koyama recently supported a feature film and is already contributing support to projects with several fine artists.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Nick Drnaso's Sabrina continues to gather acclaim, and has become the first graphic novel named to the longlist for the Mann Booker Award.

The nomination marks a major breakthrough for the format.

Nick Drnaso’s “Sabrina,” a work that Zadie Smith called “the best book — in any medium — I have read about our current moment,” is the surprise name among the 13 finalists announced today.

It appears alongside Rachel Kushner’s “The Mars Room,” Sally Rooney’s much-hyped “Normal People” and Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight.”

—Interviews & Profiles. The aforementioned Drnaso talks about the nomination with Abraham Riesman at Vulture. did you feel?

It’s hard not to … It’s hard to convey it without seeming dismissive or ungrateful or something. But I kind of just glossed over the email. For whatever reason, the way I approach making art over the years has just kinda sapped any feeling of satisfaction or excitement I would have about something like that. And I don’t even mean that in such a negative way. I think I just have this wall built up of some kind of self-preservation thing where I don’t let stuff like that in too deeply.

In an unexpected development, the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter has a graphic novel coming out, and talks to Publishers Weekly about it.

Nothing is actually finished in life. In music, when someone stops writing a song, it’s not necessarily finished. The meaning goes on, more than the name, or the era, style and all that. That’s why I used the word Emanon - no name. The record itself is not a soundtrack for the graphic novel. It’s a panorama that always changes. When you keep listening to the music, the music might turn out to be the graphic novel, and the novel might turn out to be the music [laughs].

The most recent guest on the Comics Alternative podcast is Carol Tyler, and the most recent guest on Inkstuds is Paul Kirchner.

—Commentary. Liza Donnelly writes about the history of women cartoonists at The New Yorker.

From The New Yorker’s beginnings, cartoons have been an integral part of the publication, and, from the beginning, women have been drawing them. The first New Yorker cartoon created by a woman, Ethel Plummer, appeared in the première issue, on February 21, 1925. She, like many female contributors of the time, was classically trained, having attended art school to study painting and illustration. She was also active in the suffrage movement, and one can see the feminist perspective in her cartoon of an irreverent flapper. Another cartoonist, Barbara Shermund, drew in a breezier, more modern style, but, like Plummer, her ideas had a feminist bent. Mary Petty, another cartoonist, was self-taught; her drawings often ridiculed the upper classes with their dark tone and sarcastic humor. Perhaps the most famous of the women cartoonists in those early years was Helen Hokinson, whose every stroke of the pen inexplicably seemed to carry humor.

—Misc. Two comics about cartoonists' experiences in museums (to be almost insultingly reductive) have gone online this week, from Gabrielle Bell and Lauren Weinstein.

You Shall Know No Quarter

Today at TCJ, Alec Berry returns to us with an extended profile of David Brothers, who recently left a prominent position at Image Comics to join the San Francisco office of Viz as an editor.

On some Sunday morning I ask Brothers why he quit Image Comics. As the company’s branding manager, he held a desirable spot at a prominent publisher, assisting with book production; helping organize Image Expo; editing an in-house magazine (Image+); and hosting panels and events at conventions nationwide. But by the time December 2017 rolled through, after four and a half years, Brothers tweeted a GIF of Tupac throwing a peace sign into a camera lens. No explanation with it.

“Yeah, Portland sucks,” Brothers responds. “Portland is twee on a level I cannot take.”

Today's review sees the return of our stalwart German contingent of contributors, Oliver Ristau. He's here with a look at Alright, a recent release by the always intriguing Max Baitinger.

But what is Alright about? Once again relationships provide the basis for Baitinger's excursions into the things mankind is constantly struggling with, this time modern communication technology. They say a strong character cannot be bent, and remains true to itself and its shape over its entire life, but it's the opposite that's being depicted when Baitinger's characters try to stay in touch with the help of standardized interfaces – their bodies perform the oddest physical twists while being alone and on their own, only connected by devices forcing an autocratic presetting on consistently malleable personalities. The complementary words are stripped of any fillers, they evince an inborn inclination to submit one's self to an auguring stability and end the pressure of being exposed to an ever changing flow.

The sun is shining (somewhere), which means it's the right time to go over a random sampling of Trevor Von Eeden pages. If, like me, your collection of Thriller is in a box out of arm's reach, never fear: DC in the '80s has you covered with this enthusiastic sprint.

And: then there's us. Like Tim, I did not expect this site to win an Eisner award, and was actually sitting alone in the dark in a strange city, trying to catch up on some of the reviews that my recent move has put me far behind on editing when Jacq emailed us the good news. 

And you know what? It is good news. It's lovely news. I am someone who felt a real kinship for the Comics Journal when I first read it, which, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, was in 2001. I did not grow up in an environment where anyone read or spoke about comic books, and it wasn't until the early days of blogging and message boards that I actually had a conversation with another person about the things. None of my friends had an interest, my brother had stopped looking at Batman when he was 13--it was just something I did on my own. Reading The Journal--long, random articles about comics I had never heard of, which, upon tracking them down, didn't really like that much; weird, bile-filled arguments that I eventually realized were based on decades-old hurt feelings--TCJ didn't shape my taste, but it made me feel comfortable with my desire to take this whole silly thing--this "reading comics thing"--really seriously. And that's always been my guilty pleasure, that's always been the thing I get off on: taking the things I like overly seriously. It isn't a party conversation thing: I know nobody else wants to hear me talk about what I think about what happened to Jack Kirby, or why Jim Aparo's Batman has no real parallel, or how John Wagner's extended, real time run on Judge Dredd is a greater and more satisfying creative accomplishment than we give it credit for. Comics may have broken through in a very big way in the last few years, and super-hero continuity may be something that millions of people are conversant with, but talking about these things as if they "matter," or talking about ways to make them more ethically, or talking about how wild the last fifteen years has been in terms of who is making them, publishing them, sharing them, living off them, taking chances off them--those kinds of conversations are still things that the majority of the people roll their eyes at having. I'm not mad at them! I don't have any interest in how television is made, or poetry, or the machine of the art gallery world. I don't play video games or watch professional wrestling: I'm completely okay with people who dip in and out of comic books.

But that is not how I am wired. Finding The Journal was, for me, like finding an answer. It was (and thanks to Kristy & RJ, will be again) a place where you could go and rail, praise, explore and demand, and nobody ever stopped to ask you to calm down or get a grip. It's a place that took comics seriously, and when I found the site--the Dirk Deppey years--it was like a tree finding its other roots. It was how I found Joe McCulloch, always and forever our best critic, our finest mind, the model of clarity, curiosity and intelligence we are supposed to have for ourselves in life, not merely writing--and the one person, more than any other, who should have been honored alongside Dan, Tim, and I for his tireless efforts since the launch of this incarnation of the site. To have gone from reading those people, to meeting them as a fan, and to eventually join them during my time as a regular contributor, and to then return to the site as Tim's partner has been an experience that has been a real, genuine honor. I am grateful for this surprising vote of confidence at a time that, if I'm being honest, still feels extremely transitional to me. To those of you who voted for us--thank you. To those of you who didn't? Thank you too! Thank you for being somebody who cares enough about this stuff to have a fucking opinion about it. That's what this thing is supposed to be about. Thanks for giving us a shot.

Ink & Pixels

Hello everyone. Frank Young is here this morning with a review of an unusual Italian comics biography, Agustin Comotto's Prisoner 155: Simón Radowitzky.

Writer-artist Agustin Comotto has done his job exhaustively well. Packed with footnotes (most of them essential to understanding what’s going on), the book offers an overwhelm of information in telling the story of Ukraine-born anarchist Simón Radowitzky (1891-1956). Much of the book’s events occur in the early 20th century. There are inescapable parallels to our times. Mankind’s inability to treat itself with kindness, and to accept dissenting views without violence, may never be laid to rest. The struggle remains as real today as it was in the events that shape Comotto’s narrative.

We meet Radowitzky amid his long prison sentence in Argentina—a country he emigrated to, as a teenager, to escape the oppression and brutality of Eastern Europe. Radowitzky has spent most of his adult life behind bars. Much of his time outside prison has been perilous. He witnessed the slaughter of his childhood village in the hands of the Czar’s footmen (an example of the ethnic cleansing and persecution Jewish people suffered in Europe long before Hitler’s rise to power) and took part in a 1905 worker protest in St. Petersburg, Russia—a day known as Bloody Sunday, in which unarmed proletarians were slaughtered in their attempt to present a petition to the Tsar. Radowitzky, by the time of adolescence, was a hardened survivor of a brutal endgame.

A confirmed anarchist by his teens, Radowitzky sought asylum in Argentina, as a step in the process of his family’s relocation to America. At 18, he was part of an attempt to assassinate Ramón Falcón, a Buenos Aires police chief who destroyed the lives of anarchist and Communist protesters in a 1909 demonstration. For this crime, Radowitzky would have been executed, were he of legal age. Instead, he was imprisoned for over twenty years. While imprisoned in Ushuaia Prison in Patagonia, where he was beaten, starved and (in an event not shown in this book) raped by prison guards, he became a cause célebrè to those who sought freedom from political oppression.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. As I'm sure most of our readers know, the San Diego Comic-Con just ended, which means there were lots of awards handed out last weekend. That includes the Inkpot Awards (congratulations to Eric Reynolds), the Prism awards, and the Eisners. Emil Ferris won two of the top prizes (Best Writer/Artist and Best New Graphic Album) and also won Best Coloring. Frequent TCJ contributor Mark Newgarden won for How to Read Nancy (with Paul Karasik), as did contributor Anne Ishii for her recent translation of Gengoroh Tagame. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress won five Eisners, and other prominent winners include Jillian Tamaki, Tillie Walden, Tom Gauld, and Taneka Stotts.

This website won the award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. I've been nominated for that prize without actually winning it a fair number of times now, both for this site and for Comics Comics, so I more or less assumed that was going to be the way things continued indefinitely. I am pleased that we won for 2017, which both honors the work Dan Nadel put into the site for so long, and recognizes the new energy and spirit that Tucker Stone brought with him when he came aboard. I asked Dan if he wanted to make a comment, and he asked to express his gratitude to Gary Groth for the opportunity, and said it was a nice way to cap off his time at the Journal (though I will continue to commission him to write stories). I'm grateful too, especially to our readers — and all of our contributors. It's really their award. Tucker may have something to say tomorrow.

As you probably also know, this week brought the news that The Comics Journal is relaunching its print edition, with familiar faces RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti at the helm. Just as exciting, Rick Marshall is also relaunching his classic comics magazine Nemo.

—Reviews & Commentary. At the Paris Review, Yevgeniya Traps writes about Geneviève Castrée's heartbreaking children's book, A Bubble.

A Bubble, the artist and musician Geneviève Castrée’s posthumously published last work, is, in essence, a children’s board book. It begins with the caption “Maman lives in a bubble,” above a drawing of a little blond child in cat-face knee socks gazing at her mother, who floats in the titular sphere. “I love you very much,” the mother says, her freckled face anxious, her choppy hair concealed under a beanie hat. She may be unwell, sick. Indeed, the next page confirms it, the mother has been ill for some time: “It has been a while now. I no longer remember the time when she didn’t live in the bubble, I was too little.” The mother works on projects in her bubble: embroidery, reading, crafting, drawing. She gets sicker and sicker, her illness progresses, her hair thins, she starts wearing a cannula, she is connected to a tank. She cannot leave her bubble, but sometimes the little girl joins her in it. They eat breakfast together (“She doesn’t mind if I make crumbs with my toast”), nap (“a special time for Maman and me”), make art (“I draw with her, it brings her great joy”). When she goes on excursions with Papa, the little girl makes sure to tell Maman about her adventures. The bubble separates them but cannot keep them apart.

Over at Print, Michael Dooley previewed the Eisner awards, and contemplated their usefulness to readers.

Forget about who’ll walk away with Eisner Awards on Friday at San Diego’s Comic-Con. Sure, there’ll be worthy winners. In my feature on Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which garnered multiple well-deserved nominations, I wrote that it would easily top any comics and design “best of” award. More on that notion momentarily. But honestly, the Eisners are much more a popularity contest among comics industry professionals than it is any real gauge of who and what is most worthy in any given category. Simply put, personal favoritism is the dominating determinant. Nevertheless, the Eisners themselves do serve a valuable and commendable function. Truth is, it’s not only an honor just to be nominated, it’s the only worthwhile honor, inasmuch as the nominee list news we can most usefully use.

At The New Yorker, Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman discuss the work of Saul Steinberg.

Patterson Sims: Did his high visibility and great success at The New Yorker compromise his success and status as an artist in the gallery world?

FM: He talked a lot about that topic to me. He said it was his choice to do magazine covers and drawings, even if it might have done him a disservice and prevented him from reaching the height of fame of some of his friends like Calder or Willem de Kooning. He was surrounded by very famous people, though a greater number of his friends were esteemed writers rather than artists. He talked about the invention of abstract painting, in a broken-down barn by Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. He told me about how the two of them went to Long Island one summer when they were young, unknown, and had no money: the barn that they rented was about to fall apart. They went to the hardware store to buy some paint, basically to hold the planks together so that they wouldn’t blow in the wind. They started rolling on the paint and that’s where Pollock took a bucket of paint and started throwing it on the floor, inventing Abstract Expressionism. Saul said to me (and, again, I wish I could have recorded our conversations), “I could have been an Abstract Expressionist” and noted that he was married to Hedda Sterne, an abstract painter. He said, “I could have thrown a bucket of paint. I could have figured out how to play that game.” But his love of the lowly magazine prevailed.

Grudge Milk

Today at TCJ, we're very pleased to share this extensive interview with cartoonist Dana Simpson, courtesy of Alex Dueben. The passage below is from the very end of the interview, but it is a valuable sentiment worth sharing twice:

Now we’re at the point where kids can say, I know who I am, and people will listen.

I know. I’m super envious of those kids. It makes me feel like I was born thirty years too early. Not that it’s easy being a trans kid. The trans kids that I know are some of the bravest people that I’ve ever met. I’m in awe of them.

I don’t know how I would have been if that had been an option. It was not when I was growing up. Now you can say, this is me, I’m going to be me, and some people will actually listen to you. I think if I’d said “I’m a girl,” no one would have known what to do about it in 1985. Or 1995 even. Hell, in 2005, when I came out, people acted, like, very differently than I think they would act now. I know differently than they would act now. In 2005 I I didn’t know any trans people. It turned out that I did, I just didn’t know that they were trans.

I’m glad people can authentically be themselves. People are much more aware of it now in a way they weren’t. I speak at schools a lot and I usually don’t bring that up, but sometimes I do. Especially if they tell me there’s a trans kid at the school. When I do that, kids react like it’s not a big thing. Maybe that’s just the kids I’m meeting, but they always just nod like, oh, okay. This generation is great. We have to start listening to them more.

Today's review is from Tegan O'Neil, and it's on the new graphic novel from Nate Powell, Top Shelf, and the color black.

There’s a lot of black ink in Nate Powell’s Come Again. The pages are soaked, with darkness creeping around every edge, devouring each panel border and threatening every character therein. It’s a paranoid story, defined by disappearance and memory loss, as well as the fear of secrets left to fester. The bright parts aren’t any less unsettling. The juxtaposition between light and dark that recurs throughout the book is disorienting and echoes in multiple places throughout the narrative. Throughout the story characters are hiding secrets or struggling to exhume secrets, caught in some fashion between ignorance and understanding.

Abhay Khosla briefly touches upon one of comics' ever present annoyances: morons, and why it's no fun to read their reviews of comic books

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go refresh youtube until I can see the ding dang Aquaman trailer!


Piano Player

Rob Clough is here today with a review of a recent comic by the German artist Nadine Redlich.

This is her third collection of strips and drawings. Her first, Ambient Comics, established her as an artist who loves to use the grid to play with time and set up subtle jokes. Ambient music is designed to relax someone with a series of sounds aimed at different kinds of brainwave activity, and so too seem her ambient comics about following images through a grid. There's a candle melting, an inchworm moving, and a shadow moving. However, Redlich starts to slowly subvert these images in funny ways. In one, there are six panels of the earth taken from space, where there is no doubt a great deal of change going on on the planet in each of the six panels, but it's so far away that we only see the same image six times. The best example is the image of an alpine mountain peak, with an avalanche forming over the six panels. The irony of meditating and being in the present with destruction is exactly the kind of paradox that informs her work. Her second book, Paniktotem, does something similar, this time pairing extremely cute images with scenarios related to anxiety, frustration, and meaninglessness.

I Hate You – You Just Don't Know It Yet is a mixture of comics, doodles, scrawled aphorisms, and scorched earth destruction of romantic cliches.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Criticism. Jillian Steinhauer at The Nation reviews Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

Writers weighed in on all sides [of a debate on whether female literary characters needed to be likable]: The New Yorker’s ”Page Turner” blog convened a “forum on ‘likability’”; Jennifer Weiner went to bat for likable female characters in Slate; months later, Roxane Gay published an essay about the value of unlikable female protagonists in BuzzFeed. The debate dismantled the double standard that women should be pleasant and agreeable, even when they’re fictional creations. Despite being outdated, the idea was clearly still present—an old wound whose scab was due to be picked once more.

It was maddening, but also comical, to watch the argument rage on, as if the work of some of the best female creators wasn’t a ready-made rebuttal to this myth. Aline Kominsky-Crumb, for one, has devoted her career to breaking down the expectation of women’s propriety, often with humor. In 1972, she contributed a story, “Goldie: A Neurotic Woman,” to the inaugural issue of the groundbreaking underground magazine Wimmen’s Comix. Her first published work, “Goldie” is these days considered the first autobiographical comic created by a woman. The five-page piece is a sort of dreamlike narration of how Goldie—a stand-in for the author, who draws herself with a big nose and even bigger hips—rediscovers her pride after puberty and an extended period of sleeping around have ruined her self-esteem. It’s a tale that Kominsky-Crumb would go on to retell many times in her work.

—Interviews & Profiles. Newsday talks to Jules Feiffer on the publication of his third noir graphic novel.

In “The Ghost Script,” when you look at Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist witch-hunt and the fear and paranoia in American society at the time, you can't help but think about the toxic political atmosphere today. Was that parallel in your mind at all?

It was not a parallel at the time. First of all, I write the script long before I illustrate it. At the time I was writing it, I was in Berlin, at the American Academy in Berlin. It was way before Donald Trump; it was way before any speculation about Donald Trump. When I began the series, with “Kill My Mother,” I had no intention of being political. I just wrote, and let it take me where it took me, and it took me in this direction. I wanted to show that the blacklist was an attack on our entire civilization, on our notion of ourselves as a country, by people who were trying to save it for themselves and only themselves. That's the parallel to the age of Trump. But the age of Trump hadn't descended upon us yet.

Willamette Week profiles the late cartoonist John Callahan, the subject of Gus Van Sant's latest film.

For 27 years, if you opened Willamette Week, you'd find one of his cartoons, needling polite society with jokes about feminists, lesbians, nuns, doctors, lawyers, the homeless, conservatives, liberals and his fellow "quads."

Callahan pissed off many in his day. The cartoonist, who was paralyzed in a car accident at age 21, made a career of pushing buttons, testing boundaries and immolating all notions of good taste with the belabored stroke of a pen. Advertisers complained, and there were occasional boycotts. But none of that prohibited him from becoming, at one point, one of the most visible cartoonists in America.

Wander around Northwest Portland and chances were you'd run into him, or he into you, as he blitzed up the sidewalk at speeds that rendered his electric-orange hair a tangerine blur.

Hyperallergic talks to Vanessa Davis about her work in painting.

—Misc. Two comics-related publications of possible interest launched crowdfunding attempts recently. First, The Nib is starting a quarterly print version, and has already reached its $50,000 goal. On the smaller end of the spectrum, the leftist video-game podcast No Cartridge is attempting to launch a series of politically oriented comics criticism zines.

Brothers In Closure

Today at TCJ, we've got a look at Reid Psaltis' Kingdom/Order, courtesy of Ryan Carey. It's a good one:

Eric Drooker’s groundbreaking Flood comes to mind throughout this book, not only because both are entirely “silent” works, but because Psaltis often veers into Drooker-esque woodcut-style illustration, yet the focus here is tighter, although arguably no less ambitious. One could even argue that the plethora of socio-economic problems Drooker touches upon in his book all stem from the separation of man from the natural world that Psaltis explores in the pages of his. Indeed, I’m sure someone of the “Green Anarchist” political persuasion would say precisely that, and Psaltis’ thick, expressive, detailed line manages to convey a lot of the universality he’s aiming to imbue his story with. When his protagonist is curious at the outset, it shows in every facial expression, every “tic” of his body language, and the same holds true when his feelings “evolve” into fear, complacency, happiness, and finally into aggression. You know right where our man is every step of the way here, emotionally as well as physically, and that’s all down to the power and precision of Psaltis’ rich, nuanced illustration.

In satellite Journal contributions, Tom Kaczynski followed up his recent Eddy Current column with a series of tweets on American superhero comics, urbanization, architecture & more. You start here, and yes, it has numbers

While this weekend's San Diego Intellectual Property Convention is sure to release its fair share of comics adjacent news, you would have a very hard time convincing me that there will be any greater and more up-my-alley advertisement for a Marvel property than this sixteen second video of Paul Rudd & Michael Douglas hamboning back in 2015. I have liked loved hamboning far longer and with more consistency than I've loved reading, and while this video is a bit too short and would have benefited from a longer build, it's still mainstream hamboning that may introduce it to a wider audience, thus ensuring a future full of hamboning.


Tough Love

Today on the site, Annie Mok returns to interview Ronald Wimberly, the creator of Prince of Cats and Black History in Its Own Words, about his new magazine, art school, animation, and Walt Disney.

ANNIE MOK: In LAAB #0, you use Mickey Mouse a couple of times as a richly layered visual motif. On the cover, a poster in a NYC street scene shows a group of men tearing down a Mickey statue like it's a war monument. In another image, you layer Mickey's face over Jean-Michel Basquiat's, but obscure the eyes with Barbara Kruger-style typography. Can you break down why you used Mickey in this way, including how Mickey's origins and influences may have factored into your playing with this corporate icon?

LAAB #0 deals with the political unconscious in pop culture aesthetics. These images are meant to provoke thought. Honestly, they seem embarrassingly didactic as is, a bit on the nose; describing my intention defeats the purpose of looking at the work. So instead of answering your question directly I’m just going to give some more context to the information about the subjects in the pictures and let people contemplate the images.

Mickey Mouse, as readers may know, is the flagship character and brand icon of Walt Disney Corporation. Mickey Mouse is recognized around the world. Mickey Mouse was designed by Ub Iwerks; I think a lot of what Disney is can be summed up in this first relationship between Walt and Ub.

I would encourage readers to look up the Disney animators strike of 1941.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. TCJ's own Greg Hunter weighs in on one of the most acclaimed books of the year, Nick Drnaso's Sabrina.

Drnaso makes comics of acute psychological realism that approach their subjects from an almost anthropological remove. An easy comparison is Chris Ware, with his clean-lined compositions and stories of the lonely, the stunted, and the mistreated. But unlike Ware, who enacts these scenarios with complex, formally dynamic layouts, Drnaso’s stories are tidy, unadorned, and judicious in their limited emotional range. The effects of this approach, and possible explanations for it, are numerous.

An uncharitable take on Drnaso would go something like this: the distance in his comics is a way to safeguard the work, even the artist’s ego. Such a measured style reduces the risk of being perceived as sentimental. It avoids any flourishes that may be seen as overreaches or miscalculations. It’s an eminently — even excessively — adult and respectable approach to comics fiction.

And Tom Kaczynski cannibalizes what should have been his next TCJ column for a Jeet Heer-style tweetstorm on "architecture, urbanism, Capitalism, suburbanization, and American superhero comics."

8/ America has a love/hate relationship with the city. Metropolis & Gotham are the yin/yang of the city, each representing a way America thinks about New York, Chicago, etc.

9/ Noted Batman writer/editor Denny O’Neil famously said that Gotham City is New York below 14th Street, Metropolis is New York above 14th Street.

—Interviews & Profiles. Also at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Tahneer Oksman talks to Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

This collection seems very complete. I feel a great sense of relief that it exists. It covers a lot of territory, and it’s a good representation of my career as a cartoonist.

It’s not like there’s a direct evolutionary line. It goes all over the place, and keeps going back to things. There’s a period of time where you feel better, a period where you feel worse. Where you’re fatter, where you’re not in touch with your body, where you’re drinking too much, doing too many drugs, whatever it is. And I think the work reflects those different periods, but I think there’s a general trend toward fulfillment and self-awareness. Some of the early images are really out there — I was so crazy then, I was just trying to rebel against my upbringing completely. I had so much pain and so much anger. Those stories are very painful, very anger-driven. Some of the later stories are not quite so full of venom as the earlier work.

A new journalist-run website Popula launched last week, and under editors Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos already has a strong comics presence, with regular comics by Ron Regé, Lauren Weinstein, and Ben Passmore, as well as a recurring Sunday strips package featuring Steven Weissman, Karen Sneider, Jon Lewis, Megan Kelso, and Tom Hart.

To Sedate As Humour Dies

Thanks for starting off your week with TCJ: why not take a look at this roundtable conversation between Ellen Forney, Megan Kelso & Raina Telgemeier, spurred in part by Trina Robbins’ Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896–2013? Here's a taste:

RAINA TELGEMEIER: After Smile, I was really surprised by the reaction that book got. I thought it was my little autobio story and that my friends would read it, and I would get a few readers who’d nod their heads and say, “That was cool,” but, what I got was thousands of 9-year-old girls emailing me to ask me, “When’s the sequel coming out?”

I was like, you don’t understand, this was a true story and I managed to condense four-and-a-half years of my life into a package with a beginning and a middle and an end, and you can’t just do that, that has to exist, that has to be a part of your life that you feel comfortable compartmentalizing, and I don’t feel that way about any other aspect of my life. And they were like, “Well, that’s nice, but when’s the sequel coming out?”

Elsewhere, you'd be hard pressed to convince me there's a better blog post on one's influences out there then this one by Michel Fiffe.

And then there's this: Comichron & ICv2 released their most recent report on comic sales, which are down (with some caveats). You can read the report here, or watch a video of it below.


Geeks Be Gone

Today on the site, we present our usual (near-) weekly excerpt. This time, it's Kingdom/Order, the new graphic novel by Reid Pslatis.

We also have the fifth and final day of Sarah Horrocks's tenure as our Cartoon Diarist. Thanks, Sarah!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Matt Furie has continued his legal battle against white supremacists attempting to appropriate his comics work, and has now forced the Daily Stormer to remove all images of Pepe the frog from its website.

The site, which has been called the "top hate site in America," has been online and offline repeatedly lately. It was taken down briefly last year following protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. It reappeared under a new Russian domain but went offline again after internet security provider Cloudflare dropped support for the site. A version of the site then moved onto the darknet.

That made sending DMCA takedown requests to the Daily Stormer difficult, said [Louis] Tompros, one of Furie's lawyers at law firm WilmerHale. By the time their letter had gone through one web host, he said, the Daily Stormer was on to another one.

Tompros said they identified about 25 instances in which Pepe was used on the site. The lawyers never heard back from the Daily Stormer after sending their takedown requests, but kept checking the site to see if the posts were taken down. On July 2, they noticed some of the images were down. By the next day, he said, they were all down.

—Interviews. Aline Kominsky-Crumb made a guest appearance on Kurt Anderson's Studio 360.

—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Nicholson didn't much like a recent comic by Lewis Trondheim.

I understood perfectly the relationship between the two main characters: It is based on a comedy routine no one finds funny anymore, where a man’s obsessive love for a woman is undaunted by her contempt and disinterest for him. The storytelling choices are visually boring most of the time and unclear during action sequences. The coloring is overrendered, and while the art is probably printed too small in the serialization that doesn’t really matter. (The proportions of a standard U.S. comic are larger than the English-language edition of Christophe Blain’s Gus And His Gang, and while I would love to have a larger printing of that book, the small size doesn’t obscure the fact that it fundamentally works.) I doubt you would want to pay more for the larger size I assume the collections will be printed at.

—Misc. The San Diego bar The Smoking Gun accidentally upset a bunch of nerds.

It Tastes Horrible

Today at TCJ, we're pleased to share the newest installment in Tom Kaczynski's line-in-the-sand study of what he's calling "Event" comics--this column sees him focusing on Eddy Current, by Ted McKeever.

Gritty, deliberately grotesque, messy, and challenging; these days you don’t see comics like Eddy Current. Many comics from the time of the Event had this quality. It was a deliberate distancing from the dominant styles established between the 50’s and 70’s, from the tight, abstract, dynamic pulp modernism (Kirby), and the elongated slickness of pulp neorealism (Neal Adams). In the 80’s, McKeever—along with his peers from that era, Kevin O’Neil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kyle Baker, Howard Chaykin, Keith Giffen, and others—were developing new stylistic innovations that mapped closely to what was going on elsewhere in culture and art: postmodernism. Many comics of the Event share many qualities with this much maligned & misunderstood movement (whether intentionally or not). This pulp postmodernism (for lack of a better term) was still redolent of pulp and serialized entertainment, but it questioned all established comics hierarchies.

Today's Cartoonist Diary sees Sarah Horrocks dropping some sportscasting for all y'all soccer fans.

And for your daily review, Leonard Pierce is here with his take on Running From The Devil, a memoir recently published by Markosia. Lukewarm responses were had.

Steve Kissing—who, according to his biography, is a sought-after motivational speaker and public relations executive—has a similar problem in his sometimes charming but overall flat adolescent memoir, Running from the Devil. Kissing grew up in Cincinnati as a smart and determined kid, motivated to excel and dedicated to his Catholic faith. Like, well, pretty much every American boy in the late 1970s, he told wild stories, drank, and lusted after every pretty girl in his class; but unlike most kids, he was visited by disturbing and sometimes terrifying visions that only he could see. Not realizing that he was, in fact, subject to frequent seizures and accompanying hallucinations, he attributed these visions to something that made plenty of sense to his religiously trained mind: the sinister hand of Satan.

The folks at Back In The Bronze Age have another one of their cover challenges up and running: I found it very entertaining. Prior to this one, they also ran a rare (for these sorts of enthusiast blogs) post where they looked at covers they didn't care for. It's also a good time. 

While I'm randomly linking to blog posts featuring covers, Kevin Huizenga's intermittent blog happened upon a couple of good looking oldies as well. John Severin! Save that horse!

Prickly Hypersensitivity

R.C. Harvey is here today with a lengthy review of The Goat Getters, the latest book from the cartoonist Eddie Campbell, in which Campbell explores the early history of the comics strip, and makes the case that the form was born in the San Francisco sports pages.

THE BOOK IS METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED and scrupulously referenced throughout in captions and footnotes. An impressive achievement. In his final edit, Campbell was clearly working from page proofs: he alludes to other aspects of his subject by quoting page numbers fore and aft.

His purpose, Campbell says, is to show “how and why” the sports page was the logical place for comic strips to begin “and, more specifically, why San Francisco was the place it had to happen.”

Not being an American, Campbell sees things that have long evaded our attention. And that’s invaluable in an enterprise such as this. But he also sees things that aren’t worth seeing. Goat getters, for instance.

Campbell explains the book’s title: “To get a person’s goat, meaning to aggravate and upset them, originated in the custom of keeping a goat in a racehorse’s stable to calm the horse.” Unscrupulous personages, aiming to affect adversely the horse’s performance, would steal the goat and “thus unsettle the horse in order to gain a betting advantage in the next day’s race.”

The phrase, Campbell says, was coined on the sports pages where it was a fad for a few years until it eventually entered common parlance. All that is true, but I don’t think “getting someone’s goat” is as common an expression as Campbell thinks it is. Not common enough, say, so that cartoonists can be described as “goat getters”—although that is what some cartoonists assuredly do. They get the goats of those they satirize thereby unsettling them.

We also have Day Three of Sarah Horrocks providing our Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The most interesting reading I've seen yet on Steve Ditko is this unfinished Daniel Clowes strip on the artist, which was rejected by The New Yorker.

Stephen Heller writes about Tom Wolfe's side career as a cartoonist.

His pictures were inspired by the turn-of-the-century German Jugendstil (“youth style,” or Art Nouveau), graphic artist provocateurs who regularly outraged both bourgeois and aristocratic Junker classes by poking holes in their masks and debunking their pretensions in the notorious weekly satirical journal Simplicissimus (also known as Der Simpl in the 1940s). He also owed a debt to his favorite visual trickster, Ronald Searle, whom Wolfe praised as a “giant of the graphic netherworld” on the front page of a 1981 Times Book Review. Wolfe surprisingly identified as much as a cartoonist as he did a writer, and many of his drawings were captioned. In 1979, the same year that “The Right Stuff” was published, he wrote the introduction to an exhibition catalog I edited on Simplicissimus. “Caricaturists, as any caricaturist can tell you,” he wrote, “live, work and die in a shantytown scarcely visible from that monumental Brasília known as the world of art.”

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Fiona Smyth.

Children Of Cough Syrup

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got an interview with Rob Guillory, who is about to begin his newest project with Image Comics following the conclusion of Chew, a well regarded series he created with John Layman. He spoke with Alex Dueben about his new book, and why he's moved into writing as well with his new book, Farmhand.

I think I needed the distance from my work. Working solo as a writer/artist, I don’t have the luxury of having that creative partner to bounce things off of. It’s just me, my wife, and the few trusted friends I occasionally show these early scripts off to. So some of this was just me trying to get far enough from my work to see if it’s any good. And some of it was just me wanting the peace of mind that comes with having a bunch of scripts in the can. Honestly, in a perfect world, I would’ve loved to have finished the entire story before drawing one page. But that just isn’t realistic.

And that's not all. Today is also Day Two of our Cartoonist's Diary, courtesy of Sarah Horrocks. She's out there making the case for the latest show from the Ryan Murphy universe: Pose, hmm?

But of course, that isn't all: today's review is courtesy of Tegan O'Neil, who got ahold of Seekan Hui's A Projection, and she came away with some comic book criticism for all to see.

Hui’s art rests in that niche between sinister and unsettled. Her art is dominated by her expressionistic character designs. For example: Cecilia has two heads, one on top of the other. The two heads talk to each other. The other characters notice this – one of the kids asks “Y do u have 2 heads?” on a piece of toilet paper passed under the door. But it doesn’t seem any more unusual than the fact that the kids are ladybugs. Hui’s style doesn’t always work that well in some instances. It’s hard at times to follow precisely who is who when, from a distance, the children can appear as angry squiggles.

Over at The New Yorker, they've got a nice piece (with little John Elway style onscreen markups) by Paul Karasik on a rarely seen mural by Charles Addams. Why wasn't this brought to our attention by either of our two Pennsylvania based contributors? Reader, I don't know.

Over at Your Chicken Enemy, Nick Hanover delivers a deep dives into Tom Kaczynski & Clara Jetsmark's excellent Cartoon Dialectics #3, one of the strongest single issues of the year.


The Unholy Three

Steve Ditko, an American comics titan, died last week, and Michael Dean wrote our obituary for the man.

Steve Ditko, the comics artist whose vision brought Spider-Man and Doctor Strange to life, passed away at his New York City home on June 29th, 2018. Stan Lee, in his credits for The Amazing Spider-Man, called the artist “Swingin’ Steve Ditko” (issue #10) and later “Scowlin’ Steve Ditko” (issue #27), but if you had to choose one adjective to attach to Ditko’s name, it might be “Uncompromising.”

Consider these facts:

  • At a time when Marvel cultivated a house look based on Jack Kirby’s muscular explosiveness, Ditko stuck to his own style — all rubbery sinews and urban shadows. In an extreme version of the famous Marvel Method, Ditko said he told the stories visually, often with little or no input, inventing villains and situations, which Lee retroactively scripted. When communications broke down between the artist and writer, Ditko simply walked away without explanation.
  • Ditko’s independent Mr. A comics for Wally Wood’s witzend magazine in the late 1960s expressed his objectivist philosophies in bluntly abstract scenarios, even though they had little appeal for most young comics readers and were out of sync with countercultural ideologies of the time. He continued to draw Mr. A for more than 50 years.
  • When Renegade Press publisher Deni Loubert accepted an Inkpot Award on Ditko’s behalf at the 1987 San Diego Comic-Con, Ditko was reportedly outraged and insisted that she return it.
  • Plans for a late 1990s comics series to be written and drawn by Ditko and published by Fantagraphics were scuttled after the first issue when Ditko took offense at a coloring mistake on the cover. Offers to make amends by printing the art with the correct coloring in a later issue were rejected by Ditko, who refused to do any further issues.
  • In 2007, a BBC documentary, In Search of Steve Ditko, tracked Ditko down to his New York office but could not coax him to appear on camera or be interviewed. Although Spider-Man co-creator Lee made a career of being in the public eye, Ditko gave no interviews after 1968, turning down even a request from his hero, Will Eisner.
  • He declined to cooperate with Blake Bell’s 2008 Ditko biography Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, calling the book, sight unseen, a “poison sandwich,” and turned the biographer away from his door, as he had many journalists over the years.
  • When prominent novelist Jonathan Lethem asked to include a Ditko story in the 2015 volume of The Best American Comics, Ditko turned him down.
  • Despite living a Spartan existence eking out a meager living his final years, he refused to sell his original art, which would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Small-press publisher Greg Theakston told of finding the artist using original Ditko art from 1958 as a cutting board.

We also have the final installment from our 2012 roundtable about fine arts and comics, with Michael Dooley's followup interview with Joe Coleman.

MICHAEL DOOLEY: Rather than “outsider” or “lowbrow” art, the important thing for you is, there’s good art and there’s bad art. Right?


DOOLEY: So how would you define those terms, good art as distinguished from bad art?

COLEMAN: There could be a number of different qualifications for that. You know, I’m also someone who enjoys comics as well, so I don’t feel that comics are in some way an art form that is lesser. But just as there are good paintings and bad paintings, there are good comics and bad comics. In any art form, there are different criteria for what makes good and bad, as well. For instance, some works may be well executed with a formal quality that makes them stand out in a way, and with other works of art, there may be something that is very thoughtful and makes you really think. And there are other works of art that just reach you on an emotional level or hit you in the gut and your response comes from that. So, to me, it’s like the three places are the mind, the heart and the gut. And I think the works that are really successful touch on all of those, but are usually stronger in one or the other. Probably the most successful, are the ones that reach me in the gut first and then the other places later. Like if something is just, say, painted or written really well, that may be enjoyable to some degree, but it just doesn’t stay with you, or stick to your ribs. And if something is really provoking and you can’t add one thing, it kind of becomes like an infection and you’ve become infected with it and it changes your life. I remember when I read the prison diary of Carl Panzram, Killer: A Journal of Murder, it changed my life, changed the way I looked at the world. He had a certain quality about his writing. He had no formal education. But, here is a guy reading Immanuel Kant and Schopenhauer, searching for that kind of literature in prisons in the early 1900s. He spoke from his own experience. It is very profound and speaks in a way that touches anyone. He might be considered an “outsider,” but it’s powerful writing and it doesn’t need to be apologized for.  It doesn’t need to have parentheses around it saying it’s not literature or that it’s in some other category. And I think that’s true for any art form. It doesn’t have to be qualified, like the word “comics.” I have no shame in the word comics — you know how some people talk about “sequential art” or some other pretentious words.

DOOLEY: So your entry point, no matter what the medium, is a visceral one.


And finally, we have a brand new contributor to our regular Cartoonist's Diary feature this week, Sarah Horrocks.


It's Friday, and you're at The Comics Journal: I hope that's where you intended to be. Either way, why not take a deep dive into our newest installment of Retail Therapy, with Leef Smith of Mission: Comics & Art? Here he is, giving a different answer to a question that usually gets dismissed with the kind of hand waving that causes scars!

Do you keep up with the comics news--and what does the term "comics news" mean to you?

Ha! Great question! I think for me it means what comics people are working on currently and how people's careers evolve, both creators and people behind the scenes in the "biz" side of things. But the news also includes publishing initiatives and promotional efforts, and of course all the comic book related TV and film news. I tend to use Facebook as my filter for most web-based news and rarely go to the front-pages of any of the big websites. I can't really keep up on Twitter or Instagram. For me they're too much like fire-hoses of information. I regularly listen to quite a few podcasts like Comic Geek Speak, iFanboy, Wait, What?, Off Panel, PW Comics World, Word Balloon, Process Party and I just recently added Contest of Challengers to the mix. Just listening to people's voices give me a better sense of people, and where they're at.

That's all we've got for you today--the title of this blog refers to the time of the morning at which I wrote this entry, my last night as a resident of the Northeast. I'll see you next week from a completely different region of the country. Have a great weekend!




Taking the Fifth

Welcome back to TCJ. Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews two recent autobio minicomics from Goda Trakumaite about birth control and women's health issues.

Trakumaite is a multi-media artist, and she includes a DVD with the first issue that explains why she draws herself so much. It's a trippy, funny video, and her entire aesthetic reminds me a little of the sort of thing that Dunja Jankovic used to do more of, back when she was actively pursuing sequential art. She uses her drawings for a stop-motion effect, swirling them around at certain spots to indicate her desire to do abstract comics, or history comics, or something about feminism. Yet she somehow always winds up back at herself, something even her friends notice. There's a hilarious anecdote about her making a drawing for her father, him getting upset because he thought she made him look old, and them offering to pay for drawing lessons!

Even with stories with beginnings and endings, Trakumaite's work has an in media res quality to them, as we're thrown right into the middle of her swirling line and the chaos surrounding these issues, and it's the reader's job to pay attention and catch up. There aren't any good comparisons to make regarding her style, other than to say that she's in the same continuum of Julie Doucet. Both artists crowd the page, making it uncomfortable for the reader and making them read it on the artist's terms. Both are casual and unapologetic about sharing incredibly intimate details with the reader, and those details are frequently bound up in confusion and frustration. Their character designs are distinctive, expressive and even funny to look at. In Trakumaite's case, her choosing to frequently alter line weights is a big key to the success of her work. It allows her to bend reality, making it solid in one panel and wobbly in the next. When she exaggerates facial features (like giving her gyn provider jagged, monstrous teeth), it fits right into the continuum of the rest of her character designs.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Evan Narcisse at io9 talks to Evan Dorkin.

I was telling a kid at Heroes Con, I was showing him the opening pages of Dork and Milk & Cheese, and Eltingville, and was like, “Look at these!” I couldn’t even do eyeballs inside glasses. I didn’t connect lines here. My lettering was horrible. It’s not really a self-deprecation like it used to be, it was “Look what you can do even when you stink.” I was in my 20s when I did all that stuff and now you see people on the internet every day who kick your ass, you know? And they’re like 15 years old and they’re doing beautiful work in a variety of styles. There’s the most amazing artwork out there, suddenly. And I try to make my peace with my artwork. It doesn’t always work, but I made my peace with my old work.

I got in at a time when there was a lot less people in the industry. Everything you saw was in print. And with the craze of post-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, black-and-white boom, lots of people got in. And even though my stuff sucked, unlike lots of people, I managed to get my foot in the door and get my fingers in there and stay. And I got better. So, you should buy my books just to see how that works. Even if they hate the book, drop the 20 bucks. You’ll learn something else.

Juxtapoz talks to Heather Benjamin about MAIDEN FORM, her first curated group show.

Betty Friedan wrote in 1963 that the key to women’s subjugation lay in the social construction of femininity as “childlike, passive, and dependent”, and called for a “drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity”. Over 50 years later, in many ways, we have progressed past some of the “classic” stereotypes about womanhood, but in just as many ways, we still struggle to throw off the same chains – and carry new ones as well. And that struggle has never been cut and dry – we can feel pulled in so many directions as we fight to hold onto pieces of our identities and shed others, to embrace one culturally imposed facet of femininity while transgressing against another, and all this happening under the shadow of what is societally or traditionally deemed appropriate or desirable. This show is a collection of artists making work about the multifaceted nature of that struggle, which can be so different for every individual and type of woman.

The most recent guest on RiYL is Nicole Hollander.

—Misc. The New York Times is soliciting reader feedback on that Batman wedding spoiler thing...

Tim Hensley has reposted a very rare 2003 story.

15 years later, it doesn't seem any more palatable and is appearing now mostly for the purpose of cold storage. It was before I settled into my "every comic takes 7 years" phase.

The Third

It's Harlan Ellison day today on the site, as we publish Michael Dean's obituary of the writer.

Ellison is known primarily for his work in science fiction (or speculative fiction, as he preferred to call it), including the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, the novella and movie A Boy and His Dog, and his editing of two Dangerous Visions anthologies. But though he scarcely wrote any comics stories, he has long been embraced by the comics community as a kindred spirit, a challenge to the hidebound, compromised conventions of traditional entertainment. Comics fans identified with his attitude, his wide knowledge of comics mythology, and his strongly held opinions, perhaps because when it came to comics he was more fan than pro. He loved comics and he was iconoclastic enough to liberate the form from its cultural ghetto, granting comics the same respect and high standards he accorded more mainstream literature.

If one were to draw a graph of Ellison’s creative career, it would appear as a rapidly ascending line in the early 1950s, bulging heavenward throughout the following densely productive couple of decades until around 1975 (roughly from Ellison’s early 20s to his mid 40s), when it would seem to fall off a cliff. Beginning around 1975, Ellison all but ceased to be a working writer, becoming instead a re-packager, an introducer, a creative consultant, a master of ceremonies, a cameo voice in video games and animated TV shows, a guest of honor, a website commenter, and a lawsuit filer. The first half of his career alone, however, was fertile enough to leave most other professional biographies green with envy. Ellison had written so many stories, novels, screenplays, teleplays, movie and television reviews and essays, won so many awards and assaulted so many publishers, critics, professors and Hollywood producers in such a short period of time, that an early burnout would seem to have been inevitable. His persona — the young, vital, aesthetically righteous punk who did not hesitate to kick the ass of the stodgy, greedy entertainment establishment — was so indelible, that it was hard to imagine Harlan Ellison as an old man.

We are also republishing one of the most legendary articles in TCJ history, Gary Groth's 1979 interview with Ellison, to which Gary has added a new introduction.

When I arrived at the midtown Manhattan apartment Ellison was staying at, I had no idea what to expect or what I would come away with. The original impetus for the interview was a review I had published panning a collection of comics adaptations of his short stories called The Illustrated Ellison (published, again, by Byron Preiss), which elicited a screaming phone call from Ellison.

I suggested that we record an interview where he could address what he considered the review’s shortcomings and critical inaccuracies. He agreed to meet me the next time he came east. I probably also wanted to interview him because he was familiar with and loved comics but traveled professionally in circles outside of comics; because he was not beholden to the corporate interests that controlled comics production and thus could speak more freely; and because he was notoriously outspoken about his high aesthetic standards.

The interview began about 9:00 p.m. and lasted until about 3:00 a.m. As it turned out, we both spoke freely — in the opinions of many working professionals at the time, too freely — often crossing the line into tasteless disparagement of good professionals and of the values of professionalism generally.

People who were not yet born when this interview was conducted have told me that today’s young generation may well be horrified by it. Maybe so. But I believed then, and I believe now, that it was a necessary corrective to the institutionalized complacency, sterility, and code of silence that had at that time settled upon the comics industry like a shroud.

We'll see you after the holiday.

Bones Like Wax

Today at The Comics Journal, it's time for another dive into the world of comics and fine art--via Marc Bell and Michael Dooley. Besides the living expenses thing, there's a bit of history to go around:

BELL: Yeah, I think so. It was pretty exciting when Kramers 4 was happening cause it seemed like a lot of these things were connecting up.

DOOLEY: “Connecting up,” how do you mean?

BELL: Maybe just for me, well from my point of view … Wait, let me just think about this for a minute. In the ’90s, comics were mainly about stories, but then all this other crazy stuff sort of started to come in. Fort Thunder came along and sort of changed things a bit. Their comics were more eyeball-y and crazy and fantastic than what had been happening. It was a different thing that was still somehow tied to genre.

DOOLEY: Well, their idea of narrative and the comics medium, in general, was more open-ended than what had come before. Would that …

BELL: Maybe open-ended but … Ah, I don’t know. Scratch that. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not a comic historian. I’ll leave that for the academics on The Comics Journal, right?

And that's not all--today's review comes courtesy of Tegan O'Neil, who found a lot in Peow's latest Al Gofa graphic novel to talk about:

If you like extensive crosshatching merely for the sake of crosshatching, you will find much to pore over in these pages. One of the book’s strengths is the way it weaves in and out of multiple approaches to action storytelling. Although the overall mood is definitely European – and you can see the Moebius in every long shot where Gofa uses delicate stippling to indicate scale – there are specific instances throughout where he also uses cutaways like American artists would use splash pages. He even swipes a few poses just for effect (either I’m losing my mind or that’s a Wild Thing Nikki Doyle swipe in there, although the former is a definite probably given a long enough time frame). Some of the character designs seem straight out of Morrison & Case’s Doom Patrol, others Tim Vigil. The variety works.

In a repeat of a story from last week, The New York Times is at it again: spoiling super-hero comics before they're released. After months of build up and shenanigans (in the form of the one-shot, mini-series, prequel and variant covers) to this week's release of Batman #50--where Batman and Catwoman are getting married--the Grey Lady recapped the entire issue, along with images and everything, all before it hit the stands. There's a few different perspectives coming out of this one--there's retailers who feel they've been screwed over by a giant build up that they financially supported, only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the finish line, while there's also retailers who feel like this kind of press--a print article about the plot of a super-her comic book in the Sunday NY Times--is exactly the kind of "mainstream" support that has been promised, but never provided. Then, there's the readers who, anecdotally as it may be, are disappointed to have a story they've been invested in for months spoiled prior to publication. (It would be interesting to know if there's DC employees working on the soon to be released and by all accounts disappointing DC Universe streaming service who feel like a spot in the NY Times might have been better utilized to promote something with a little more fiscal importance than a single issue of Batman.)

The history of The Comics Journal includes a lot of articles and asides about the downfall of super-hero comics, which is always right around the corner, you'll see, just you wait, we're sure this time, but the two companies have always proven those naysayers wrong. This isn't one of those asides, but I will admit: I'm curious. I'm curious as to why the New York Times is choosing to repeatedly publish article length recaps of super-hero comic books that wouldn't be out of place on any number of super-hero comic focused websites, I'm curious as to whether these sorts of marketing ploys are having a genuine impact on sales, and I'm curious about whether that particular part of the industry has any tricks left that don't look the same as the bait-and-switch ones they used when I was a teenager. I'm curious in a way that I haven't been curious about the content of those comics in a very long time. I'm like a guy with a thorn in his paw: I know I could take it out, but then what would I stick into my eye?

Weird Moment

Today on the site, Frank Young returns with a review of Cathy Malkasian's acclaimed fourth graphic novel, Eartha.

Eartha was created just before a certain unrestrained egomaniac gained control of the White House. Malkasian must have sensed something in the air. Her charismatic, volatile City leader, Primus, shares some off-putting and abrasive behaviors with You-Know-Who, but is not a caricature or satire of You-Know-Who. He embodies the pettiness and self-importance of the unchecked male ego—strutting and preening, absurd in a tiara and checkered sports jacket, seemingly sure of himself as he struggles with his confused libido and sublimates it through acts of greed and violence.

Primus has hooked the City’s residents on buttery pieces of shortbread stamped with random ennui-causing phrases (FAT JACKASS OOZES CALAMITY, reads one biscuit). These fattening crumbles of blank verse have the urban dwellers in hysteria. Due to this citywide focus on the cookies and their depressing messages—to which the residents are addicted—their dreams have almost ceased to be. A metaphor for Facebook, perhaps, or for the compulsive way we ingest social media, which confronts us daily with the ugliness of the world, alongside adorable cat videos and the occasional grain of good news.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The prolific, colorful, and controversial short story and television writer Harlan Ellison died this week. The Los Angeles Times obituary is here. Ellison dabbled in comics often during his career, and longtime TCJ readers of course know of his contentious relationship with the magazine. We will have an obituary early next week, and will republish other Ellison-related TCJ material as soon as we can prepare it. He was a legendary character, alternately brilliant and infuriating, capable of both grandly noble gestures and shabby, self-centered ugliness. He was a perfect writer to discover in middle school or junior high. I hope a good biographer is on the case, because the book that is possible now that the famously litigious Ellison is gone could be a masterpiece.

—Interviews. io9 talks to a Game Stop executive about the video-game retailer's decision to start stocking comics.

[We’re] going to align with Diamond. We’re doing tremendous business with them to date, more on the collectors’ statues, action figures, and the collectible side of the business. We’re going to be [rolling comics out] in a small subset of stores, probably in the next couple of weeks on both the GameStop and ThinkGeek side.

But truly, our biggest opportunity is around Marvel. Marvel is one of our largest fandoms, but also one of the fastest-growing fandoms. It’s actually out-performing Star Wars, currently, with some of our mainstream products. But the opportunity is just opening doors around the Marvel and DC categories. We really, truly have gone after Image and Oni and Boom, as well. Those are some of the indies we’ll be approaching. But, really, I think you’ll see most of our stores cater to the primary Marvel and DC fans.

The latest guest on Inkstuds is Tommi Parrish.

Their Tragic Future

Today at the Journal, we've got a debut reviewer: Daniel Schindel, who took a break from film criticism to reflect on Gumballs, the Top Shelf published collection of Erin Nations' comic series. Here's a bit:

Nations’ drawing style emphasizes angularity and few soft curves. He names Matt Groening as a major influence, and you can see it in the lovingly ugly-cute way he depicts people. Like many graphic novelists, the cartoony aesthetic cushions some intense subject matter, from physical dysphoria to mental illness to sexual assault. It also renders the mundane and the clinical, like descriptions of Nations’ physical changes during hormone therapy, into a visually engaging format. Nations continually expresses anxieties connected to his body, and in that light the abstraction of the human form on the comics page takes on new meaning. Gumballs isn’t a retreat from the real world, or precisely a safe space, but it lets him process the messier aspects of his life through a lens he controls. The book never preaches on any subject at a volume louder than respectful assertion, but that control imbues it with some hefty inspirational power.

With the news cycle is moving at an even more rapid pace than usual, quieter stuff slips by even the best of us (and I'm not even in the top 50%), so let me throw you back to June 14th, when The Village Voice posted Steve Brodner's cartoon history of the Trump family. There's some real charm and wit to the illustrations, but the limited text feels disinterested, uninspired--as if the work was made to fit a title. 

The infamous Stu Levy was just announced as an upcoming Guest of Honor at Anime Expo. I'd recommend getting in on the ground floor of this tweet, as the responses are only just starting to heat up.

There's a solid block of time devoted to Koyama Press on a recent episode of the Comics Alternative podcast--their full spring catalog, actually.

No disrespect for the graphic novel that is currently collecting reviews as fast as Denzel collects souls in Man On Fire, but the 2018 book i'm most anticipating is starting to appear on sites: Flocks, a Secret Acres memoir by L. Nichols. Here's Optical Sloth with what I imagine will be the first of many laudatory reviews.

If you had been operating under the impression that the Harvey Awards were fully dead, following that debacle a few years ago when their notoriously who-gives-a-shit disorganization had resulted in massive ballot stuffing, well, you happen to be wrong. Despite the fact that the Baltimore Comic Con (the traditional Harvey host) are now the home of a replacement award called The Ringos, the Harveys have risen again, this time, as part of the promotional efforts of ReedPOP. It's the comeback no one was asking for or cared about, but it's here. 

The Sniveling Beings

Today at TCJ, we've got that hot George Lucas action for you. Wait, really? Yup, it looks like that's part of the story that Shawn Martinbrough has to tell in his interview with Alex Dueben. Here he is on what it's like to look at his work via the medium of picture frames:

Seeing pages in isolation on the wall at a show is a very different from seeing them printed in a book.

Preparing for this exhibit has created an opportunity for me to appreciate my past work. Too often as artists, we turn the art around, move onto the next project and it piles up in a drawer somewhere. For me, this is a really good opportunity to stop and actually appreciate the work that I’ve done. I’m usually my biggest critic so I always see the flaws. The many ways I could have done something better. It was a nice chance way to just absorb the work and appreciate how others react to it.

An interesting example of seeing art in person versus in print was seeing Mignola’s show. I was really surprised how grey the original art was. His work prints as stark black and white but the originals were complete gray washes. It creates a completely  different effect seeing it in person. It’s funny because I’m always searching for THE black ink that will create the richest, deepest blacks. It was such a stark contrast seeing Mike’s work which was almost completely gray and my work which was stark black. The Society folks were like, “How did you get your blacks so black?” and I'm never satisfied that the ink is dark enough. It’s a different experience seeing original art in person.

While the "really?" horse left the barn a long time ago when it comes to what the New York Times decides to print about comic books, this article single issue recap by George Gene Gustines feels like something that even Jonah Weiland would have sent back for another round of journalism. To top it off, the article actually ran before the issue was published, which is just pointlessly mean.

Speaking of decisions Marvel has made that I don't understand, this is the ugliest cover I can recall appearing on one of any of their comics in recent memory.

Is that a photograph of an action figure in the center? Is that Mystique drawing pulled from an old Mystique comic book? Are the characters in the top right attacking the title? Look, I get it: Greg Land (whoa that image) can't seem to make the jump to Image Comics because nobody will take him with them, and Marvel has to hang onto somebody with a connection to the time when they weren't solely dependent on variant covers and relaunches, but still-do we get embarrassed anymore? Is that no longer a thing?

Rich Tommaso, who is a funny guy and a talented artist, will be teaming up with three people who have the same last name to tell Dick Tracy stories for IDW. I wouldn't want to be outnumbered by a family on a collaborative project as they have a bunch of vested interests in always getting their way, but that's what I like about Tommaso: the dude loves a challenge.

Speaking of challenges: I bet it was hard to maintain your mettle when a swarm of these helmets were coming at you. KIRBY!


Austin English returns to once again to rethink comics cant. This time around, he wonders if Will Eisner really deserves more acclaim than Don Martin, compares Crumb's "Short History of America" to corny Green Lantern comics, sticks up for Carlos Burgos and Anke Feuchtenberger, and pans Kristen Radtke.

One of Eisner's acknowledged classic works is "The Story of Gerhard Schnobble", a Spirit yarn from 1948. Eisner said this was his favorite all-time Spirit tale, remarking, 'It was the first time I could do a story that I had great personal feelings about.' The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Book Comics selected "Schnobble" to represent Eisner within its authoritative pages.

A shame, then, that this is perhaps one of the most appallingly corny comics you'll probably ever read, genuinely creepy in its gross sentimentality. 'THIS IS NOT A FUNNY STORY!!" Eisner warns on page 1. Yeah, it's not funny, but it is laughable. The plot: a sweet nebbish (his name is Schnobble, if you didn't get the message from how he's drawn) is fired from his job. He has the ability to fly but has kept it a secret. After losing his job, to prove his self-worth, he decides to finally reveal this ability. As he jets around the city, he is 'tragically' caught in a stream of bullets that resulted from a conflict the Spirit was engaged in. But don't worry, Schnobble can still fly... as an angel!

What great personal feelings can Eisner have actually felt he was imparting us with here? I really have no idea. I can't even guess, that's how empty it feels. Even more mysterious, the world of comics continues to maintain that this story holds something mature within it. Comics self-caricatures itself as barren of thought, and then elevates attempts at complexity to the forefront. Of course, to accomplish this sleight of hand, actual expression must be either misunderstood or discarded.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Kiel Phegley talks to Mike Mignola.

But that [Parkland school] shooting piece – “Enough” – that one was really an eye-opener. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but to do a piece that doesn’t really rely on any of my usual subject matter and just funnels basically rage and horror into a piece of art? To not have to think about “Where will this be collected some day” or “Is this the part of a larger body of work”? Instead, it was just directly responding to this one incident. And in fact until you just mentioned it, it never occurred to me to ask “Will that piece be collected in a future body of work?” I guess it could be. But I’m so geared to doing stories and for everything I do being a part of something, it’s really hard to wrap my brain around saying, “I just want to do one drawing of something.” I don’t want to have to say, “If you do something, it needs to be collected. And if it’s going to be collected, it needs to have ten pieces with it in a similar theme.” I’m trying to break away from that mindset where everything is a book or is part of that larger thing and just draw, paint, whatever you want. That’s what my brain is trying to wrap around.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories show is Dave Calver.

Vice talked to Garfield creator Jim Davis:

—News. The nominees for this year's Ringo Awards have been announced.


Today on the site, we are publishing the second of Michael Dooley's followup interviews with the participants in his fine art and comics roundtable. Today's artist is Robert Williams, and their discussion is wide-ranging, to say the least.

WILLIAMS: So, Surrealism got really, really popular after the Second World War, but something that came along and stifled it was Abstract Expressionism. And so that’s where American modern art came in, and Abstract Expressionism, there was just no stopping it. It had a powerful reign for close to 30 years. But anyway, I got interested in drawing and painting at a very early age, and I loved comic books, the drawings in them. I could deal with the stories, but I preferred the drawings. Prince Valiant was the best. I liked Disney to a certain extent, but the ECs were killer. The ECs were the killer comics. Of all those that I preferred, of course, it was Wallace Wood. I didn’t have much of an understanding of fine art other than I like old Renaissance art and I liked Surrealism, especially Salvador Dalí. And I had no idea of the manifestos and whatnot, the pressures of the Second World War and stuff like that.

DOOLEY: Yeah, Dalí actually considered Disney an American Surrealist in his way [laughs]. Looking at Fantasia, that sort of transformative —

WILLIAMS: Disney started out on the right foot. He snorted coke and his buddy Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, and if you look at the very early Mickey Mouses, Mickey Mouse is making out with Minnie, and there’s stuff in there that wasn’t family rated. And that would have probably stayed that way. Early Disney would have probably had really good quality to it like Max Fleischer if they hadn’t gotten rid of Iwerks. Iwerks attempted to come up with his own studio and lost his ass and had to go crawling back to Disney and got a safe job with him. But he lost all his stock and his power and whatnot. His partnership was broken off. Iwerks’s [grand-]daughter is going around with a documentary about him. It’s really good. It’s in art museums, if you have a chance to look that up on the Internet.

DOOLEY: I didn’t mean to derail you. You were transitioning from Dalí to Abstract Expressionism.

WILLIAMS: There’s a couple of points of power with Abstract Expressionism. One, it was truly an American art form. Number two, of all the arts, it lends itself better than all the rest of the schools of art for architectural decoration. For modern art, it could not be beat. It was the best thing to go into a bank lobby or whatnot. It couldn’t be beat.

DOOLEY: [Laughs.] Is that the only benefit you see in Abstract Expressionism?

WILLIAMS: No, no, it isn’t. It is not.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. DC has announced a deal with Wal-Mart to distribute four new comics anthologies exclusively through the retailer's stores, including both reprints and new stories.

Dark Horse Comics has announced that the health insurance they offer to employees will soon begin offering coverage for trans-related services. This change came after tireless advocacy efforts from Jay Edidin (a former Dark Horse employee)
and others.

—Reviews & Commentary. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson calls the firing of Rob Rogers a dangerous omen. (Anderson himself was laid off by his Houston paper last year.)

[W]hat's missing from the situation is the outrage for the quiet firing of over 100 cartoonists around the country over the past few decades. The generally accepted number by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is that there were about 180 staff cartoonists three decades ago. Now there are fewer than a couple dozen. My state, Texas -- the second-largest in the Union -- doesn't have a single full-time cartoonist.

Newspapers get tired of the controversy that a full-time cartoonist can cause. A staff cartoonist is someone who works as a salaried employee, much like a reporter. A syndicated cartoon is distributed to hundreds of papers by a news service. Editors get tired of the complaints from readers. But those firings could easily have been masked as layoffs, especially since syndicated cartoons are far less expensive.

It's harder to kill a cartoon from your staff cartoonist -- like a writer would, they complain. They fight back. They have a voice that they can raise with you in person. It's easier to kill a cartoon from a syndicate. You just quietly discard it in favor of a less controversial cartoon. The power to select content is also the power to stifle content.

Amy Ongiri writes about the connections (imagined and otherwise) between Black Panther the comics character and the Black Panther Party.

Released in September 1974, at the tail end of the conflict in Vietnam, “Panther’s Rage” also explores the cost of warfare on both warriors and their communities. By this time the BPP had become a global movement, with organizations calling themselves “Black Panthers” as far away from Oakland as Polynesia and Palestine. It had also already helped to spawn an underground, proactively military organization called the Black Liberation Army. In a history that finds echoes in both the cinematic and comic book representation of the Black Panther, it was discord within the leadership of the party that led to the formation of the Black Liberation Army. In 1971, Minister for Information Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party over a conflict between himself and Huey P. Newton about the efficacy of armed struggle. Cleaver’s expulsion broke the party into sometimes-warring factions. BPP co-founder Newton was more much more wedded to the idea of armed self-defense and change on the local level than Cleaver, who saw armed struggle and internationalism as the way forward. There are echoes of this conflict in both “Panther’s Rage” and in the film’s representation of Erik Killmonger as a lost son of the African diaspora.

Johanna Draper Carlson points out a tacky move by Boom!

—Interviews & Profiles. Studio 360 has an episode about Nancy and its new artist, Olivia Jaimes.

—Misc. Terrance Hayes joins the small but proud tradition of poets using visual images to make something akin to comics.

The Big Sleazy

Today at the Journal, we'll launch you into the weekend with sex on the brain: courtesy of Niki Smith, who stopped by to talk with Alex Dueben about her new book with Iron Circus Comics, Crossplay.

Have you been able to step back and especially now that you’re hearing from people about the book, think about how you feel about it after all this time?

I’m really proud of how it turned out. I wanted to make a book about queer friends figuring out who they are and who they love. There’s drama, but not trauma, if that makes sense. There are so many queer stories that focus on struggle and tragedy and I wanted to make a book that celebrates us and shows the found families that we can form.

Over at The Nation, you can see some of the comics that got Rob Rogers fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette--they're being featured as part of their OppArts series.

Roger Langridge put together a glorious adaptation of a classic Jeeves & Wooster story as a proof of concept, the concept being that he'd like to do a longer PG Wodehouse graphic novel--I still can't really believe this is something I'm just linking to, that was made for free, and that there are 15 pages of it. Go get you some.

Ryan Cecil Smith's most recent men's fashion comic--which he claims is a crowded field, which I believe is a complete lie, albeit an enjoyable on--sees him doing one of my favorite things that an artist can do, which is burrow deeply into the things that fascinate them. It's what Langridge does above, it's what Niki talks about with Alex today, it's the best thing that someone can do. Find that thing, answer that question, scratch that itch. I could not be more impressed.

I got on an elevator yesterday and Brian Hibbs was on that elevator, and neither one of us were in a city we lived in: and I realized it had been a while since I checked on his video interview series, which documents the guests he has for his graphic novel of the month club. Sure enough, there's a new one, featuring Hartley Lin. The graphic novel in conversation is Young Frances, which I thought had some tremendous back-and-forth dialog scenes, images that have stuck with me since I first saw them serialized in Pope Hats, and the interview they posted only made me like the book that much more.


World Almanac

Greg Hunter's latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue features guest Laura Lannes, and in it, the cartoonist behind By Monday I'll Be Floating in the Hudson with the Other Garbage and the upcoming John, Dear discusses Laerte, Puiupo, and Sarah Manguso, as well as the uses--and perils--of humor in art.

Matt Seneca is back, too, with a review of Anthony Del Col, Geoff Moore, & Jeff McComsey's Son of Hitler.

Part of the reason it's tough to escape the WWII-story trap of glorifying US military adventurism is because that's what the familiar template for a WWII story is. In a perfect world, of course, earlier entries in the genre a story exists in wouldn't affect its contours one way or another, because the only good reason for a story to get made is legitimate inspiration. But we're talking about mainstream comics, in which the most likely cause for a shift in a writer's style is a decision to switch streaming services. A frustrating amount of scenes in this comic are visibly indebted to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds - not outright ripoffs so much as dramatic set pieces that don't seem to have had more than that one input fueling them. And this in a world where pretty much every public library has a copy of Ivan's Childhood on DVD! But oh well, better to choose that one than a Clint Eastwood movie or something.

I'd like to stay with Inglourious Basterds for just another second though, because for a name director with as underdeveloped a visual sense as Tarantino, the set pieces in that movie are pretty well put together. Not stunning, but highly functional, doing everything they need to do to set up the mechanics of their action scenes before things begin detonating, laying out everything about an interior floorplan that an audience is going to need to know ahead of time. In this comic McComsey struggles again and again with doing the same, and in a medium much more conducive to schematic views and architectural precision than movies can possibly be. McComsey has an interesting drawing style, something between Steve Dillon and Philip Bond, and flexes the same white-highlighted, straight-from-pencils approach that Connor Willumsen was recently hailed for in Anti-Gone. But his ability to create a comic in which one panel leads smoothly to the next is sorely lacking. Characters appear in-frame as if from nowhere, claustrophobic-seeming shots open onto vistas of open space that make it uncertain if a scene change has taken place, and whenever actual physical action occurs (which, for a war comic, is pretty rarely) following who's doing what and to whom is a severe difficulty that robs the book of just about all its impact and vitality.