Years and Years Ago

Today we bring you the tangled tale of the invention of that now utterly outmoded icon of patriotism, Uncle Sam. RC Harvey brings you the goods.

“Uncle Sam” meaning the United States appeared in newspapers from 1813 to 1815; in 1816, he appeared in a book in that symbolic role. By the 1820s, “Uncle Sam” was often being used as a term for the United States. The Sam Wilson connection seems a little shaky to me, but Congress passed a resolution in 1961 that recognized “Uncle Sam” Wilson as the namesake of the national symbol.

The visual representation of Uncle Sam, a tall man with a white goatee wearing a top hat, swallow-tail coat and striped trousers, evolved from pictures of an earlier symbolic figure—Brother Jonathan.

Until the Civil War, goateed and top-hatted Brother Jonathan in striped pants often stood for the United States even though the cartoon character initially represented just New England. The term Brother Jonathan originated across the Atlantic during the English Civil War (1642-1651) between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and the Royalists (“Cavaliers”) as a somewhat derogatory name for the Puritan Roundheads, and then the name was also applied to the New England colonists, who were also mostly Puritans who also supported the Parliamentarians in the mother country. By this route, Brother Jonathan became a stock character that good naturedly lampooned Yankee acquisitiveness and other crafty peculiarities attributed to citizens of the region. 

Elsewhere:

I always like to see more Jim Flora. 

Little Orphan Annie and Banned Books Week.

 

Choose Your Own Apocalypse

Today on the site, Alex Wong talks to Tillie Walden about her new memoir, Spinning, her relationship with figure skating (the book's subject), the importance of representation in the comics industry, and her affinity for Studio Ghibli movies.


Have your parents read Spinning and what’s been the feedback and conversations you’ve had?

I get that question a lot. I get a lot of questions about how people in my world have reacted to the book, and I always have the same answer, which is, that is between me and the people in my life. As a memoirist, people are very eager to hear more about my story. There’s a lot of my story that I’m willing to talk about, but I have to draw clear lines to keep some of my life to myself, because so many people think that just because you’re a memoirist, you’re a very public person. In reality, I think I’m a pretty private person, and I control what I let out about myself, and in this book, I obviously let out a lot.

There is often this expectation from people that when you do something personal, they just expect you to be an open book.

I find that a lot of people expect it to be a continuing conversation, and in my mind, it’s like, no, everything I had to say about my life and my story is in that book. Outside of that, sure, there’s tidbits I’d be happy to talk about, but no, it’s not a continuing conversation. That book is it. That’s what I’m putting out, the rest of my life is for me and my loved ones.

I always use Instagram as an example. People can share personal things on there, but they’re not there to have a conversation about those moments.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by like-sharing, especially with social media. You really have to control your own flow of information.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Rebecca Shuh talks to Eli Valley (Diaspora Boy) about making political comics in the Trump era.

RS: You talk in the book about backlash you got at different points for the comics. Do you have any memorable stories about an incidence of that backlash?
EV: There were so many. The main one that changed a lot of things for me was the one where I positioned Abe Foxman as an anti-semite. I talk a lot about how he waged this war on The Forward until they stopped running me. The Forward didn’t want to make an immediate cut because they didn’t want to make it look like they were bowing to McCarthyite pressure, so they did a slow, don’t accept his pitches, we’ll take a smattering, but it’s over. I was able to get in three or four over the course of the next year, I don’t remember exactly how many, but…it really left me…it wasn’t a great experience.

—News. Ramón Esono Ebalé, a political cartoonist in Equatorial Guinea, was arrested two weeks ago and remains detained without charges today.

Human rights advocates initially feared that authorities intended to charge Ebalé with criminal defamation for his often-lewd caricatures of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Obiang, who has ruled the small country on the west coast of central Africa since 1979, earning a reputation for brutal repression of journalists, dissidents, and political activists. In recent years the crackdown has also spread to artistic domains including theater and popular music. Reports that they instead appear to be drumming up charges of money laundering against him are likely even worse news for Ebalé, who could be sentenced to many years in prison.


—Misc.
Best American Comics series editor Bill Kartalopoulos has published the list of "notable comics" that came out during the period covered by the latest volume. This is always a reliable, thorough guide to noteworthy work.

Even the Losers

The country/world is going to shit, and I'm pretty sad about Tom Petty's passing. I saw him play in July and it was a great, rave-up style concert. Just phenomenal. 

And today on the site, we have Annie Mok interviewing Iasmin Omar Ata’s on her debut graphic novel Mis(h)adra.

MOK: So the story follows Isaac, this young man who’s in college, and you said the story is semi-autobiographical? How would you categorize it as, what’s its relation to your life story?

ATA: It’s very similar. Pretty much everything that’s happened in the book, with some exceptions and rearranging has happened to me. This is all sort of a re-versioning and in my own way a processing of these events that have happened to me. Some details are changed, and some characters represent people but aren’t real people in my life, represent concepts and things I’ve interacted with. It’s just in the avatar as Isaac.

MOK: What was it like to go with Isaac and to kind of repurpose your life into this other purpose.

ATA: I’m not actually very good at talking about myself directly, so it was really hard for me to try and figure out a way to process all this stuff through art. I felt that to have it go through a character who isn’t quite me, is very similar, in that way I was able to distance myself. Get a perspective on events that I was writing, not be 100% in my own head to have a character that was representative of me. Look at things in a new light. That was helpful to recontextualize things I was going through, but also help me get comfortable writing about things that happened to me. Because it wasn’t just my face looking right at the reader, it gave me a safer or more comfortable place.

Elsewhere:

Roz Chast on NPR yesterday.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCBsY-EnC7U

Beam Forming

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews the latest from Jeff Lemire, Roughneck.

In Roughneck, the latest graphic novel from Jeff Lemire, violence begets violence, the sins of the father are visited upon the son, and various other truisms apply. Lemire has returned to rural Ontario, but he’s visiting harsher places than those found in Essex County, his series of understated, beautifully rendered portraits of working-class life. Few of Lemire’s stories in the years since Essex have had the same poignancy, and while the environs of Roughneck are dingier, the book doesn’t cut as deep. Lemire’s lead, Derek Ouelette, is an ex-hockey player and a small-down nuisance. He spends his days drinking and fighting until the reappearance of his sister, an Oxycontin addict with an abusive partner, forces him to face his demons. The book is well intentioned but obvious; it has the ambition of a great work but a fixation on familiar tropes.

Roughneck seeks to examine the effects of violence—how it travels down generations, how violence directed outward also impacts oneself. Derek’s father pushed a toxic notion of manhood on Derek the youth, encouraging an aggressive streak that eventually caused the end of Derek’s NHL career. Derek spends his life after hockey being provoked and lashing out, again and again. It’s worthwhile subject matter, and the book would be a welcome addition to the literature of masculinities—especially given Lemire’s parallel career as a writer of superhero books, a comics tradition that tends to depict violence without so much ambivalence. But from beginning to end, Roughneck is too formulaic to shake up anyone’s preconceptions.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Buried in the Paris Review's weekly staff picks, Nicole Rudick reviews Patrick Kyle's Everywhere Disappeared.

In some stories, Kyle marries geometric precision with surrealist accumulation (and occasional painterly marks), meaning that those panels are disordered with orderly elements. That appealing chaos creates a unique architecture within and between pages and gives an elasticity to the way the narratives progress. Often, those narratives involve circularity or refraction: one story proposes the idea of art as “a communicative invention used to encourage the layman to feel” and then offers a white painting that allows one “to look into nothing and forget.”

At Comics Workbook, Bill Boichel reviews John Hankiewicz's Education.

A tour de force of comics formalism, John Hankiewicz’s graphic novel, Education is a bolt from the blue. Hankiewicz’s comics work is perilously difficult to describe, but we’re going to take a moment to get our thoughts in order here at Copacetic… and make an attempt to back up our encouragement to any and all takers to tackle the challenge proferred by Education, through highlighting its artistic virtues, as it is a work that will offer rewards more than commensurate with the efforts made to come to terms with it.

At LARB, Nathan Scott McNamara writes about Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim's Poppies of Iraq.

The rich effect of Poppies of Iraq, written and co-illustrated by Findakly and her husband Lewis Trondheim, comes from the manner in which the sweet and domestic rests alongside horror. The book is packed with reminiscences that are part wholesome — playing on ancient monuments and going on class field trips — but that are scorched by political violence. ISIS soldiers destroyed those ancient monuments with dynamite and bulldozers. On some of those field trips, students were persuaded to publicly cry for dead generals, or to salute new ones. In 1964, Findakly’s nine-year-old brother and his classmates were taken by bus to see the hanging dead bodies of Baathist militiamen.

—Interviews & Profiles. Xavier Guilbert talks to Ed Piskor.

I’m really fascinated by just the stories of actual human beings, who do amazing and interesting things. That excites me. It’s kinda hard to stay in the drawing chair all day, grinding away, making these pages, so I’m a constant junkie for inspiration : I need it, every day, I need to see that there are people out there doing really, really cool things. These works that I made with Harvey Pekar, I would consider those to be some kind of informal art school, or comic-book-making school that I went through. In fact, Macedonia, I would call that like a “army book camp”, because after — I did some American Splendor stuff, and Harvey asked me if I wanted to do a bigger work. I said “absolutely,” then he kinda explained that it was Macedonia, and I thought it was going to be about like Alexander the Great conquering the world, or whatever. And he’s like : “no, it’s about the geopolitical destabilization of the Balkan region, and its relationship with the ethnic minorities, etc.” So I was just like : “Okay, I’ll draw that. Sure.” I learned a lot from the way that he paces his stories, the way that he structures the stories, and I do not see him as infallible, and I saw flaws in the structure, so I wanted to — very often, you could learn what not to do from somebody as well, you know.

Shea Fitzpatrick talks to Kim Jooha of 2dcloud (and sometimes TCJ).

After I joined 2dcloud, and after I started thinking about asking artists [to publish with us], I realized that a lot of artists I want to contact don’t have enough material for hundreds of pages of books or graphic novels. And lots of great publishers, like Koyoma or Fanta or us, are focusing on publishing books, not zines. Also, some of [the artists] I like, but I think their next works would be better. They’re in their growth. I was trying to contact this artist, [and I thought], maybe I should contact this artist when their really great work comes up next year or month, because this artist has been getting better. But at the same time, I worried, what if this person leaves comics? That’s happened so many times before, and so many artists I discovered recently left comics a year or so ago, and I didn’t want that to happen. That’s the reason why I wrote that Instagram post.

The most recent guest on Virtual Memories is Shannon Wheeler.

Let the Poison Out

Tim has told me at least once, but it feels like more than once, though it's probably just once: Let the poison out. And I infer his meaning to be: just say the bad thing you need to say so that it doesn't poison you. Now, of course, Tim is a nice man and isn't encouraging bad behavior. I, as many of you know, am not as nice a man as Tim. And so: I lay on my couch on Tuesday, home from work with a nasty cold, and read Last Girl Standing, the new memoir by Trina Robbins, the longtime artist and advocate for female cartoonists.  I'd looked forward to this for a while, because, while I've found her to be a sloppy historian (at best) and a mediocre cartoonist (ditto), she is a "figure" in comics: A survivor who carved out a place for herself in a medium and a business that was and (a few pockets of the biz aside) remains inhospitable to anyone who is not white and male. Surviving is not nothing.

But this book is, I'm actually sad to report, barely a book at all. More like a loosely ordered collection of memories that haven't been interrogated and display a startling lack of self-awareness, There is information here, but it's buried and mostly lacking dates. Some figures appear without explanation (Fascinating cartoonists like Sharon Rudahl, Lee Mars, Willy Mendes, et al, come in and out, but we never know anything about their backgrounds or existence outside of passing in front of the author's eyes) while others are given far too much time (pages are dedicated to Robbins' affair with Jim Morrison, which reads not like her "friend" Eve Babitz consciously fucking her way to fun and writing beautifully about it, but rather like someone who was lost and just getting fucked). There was so much room to go into the chronological details of Robbins' publishing career, but instead just five pages are devoted to Wimmen's Comix. Fewer still to It Ain't Me Babe and other fairly legendary titles. That's less space than is given to Jim Morrison, and fewer than to making clothes for celebs on the Sunset Strip. And none of this would be a big deal in a book by a different author, except that lots and lots of people made groovy clothes and fucked rock stars. That part of Robbins' story is categorically generic and dull. But very, very few women had solo underground comics and edited anthologies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

There is much score-settling here, all of which makes Robbins look petty. There is a list (seriously), of all the men Robbins could have, but did not, "sleep with." There is a desultory mention (and reprinting) of Robbins' brief career in nude modeling for men's magazines. There is a bizarre recounting of her 40 year-long non-friendship with cartoonist Diane Noomin, which culminates in a cringe-inducing confrontation; much saber rattling at Aline Kominsky-Crumb; a raw and vicious chapter on her relationship with Kim Deitch; and an accounting of every time Roger Brand slighted her. Roger Brand! And there is a steady drum beat for every time Robbins was not included in various anthologies. Good lord. What's lacking entirely is any serious reflection on Robbins' life in the medium, or those of her colleagues. It's just list after list; lament after lament. 

I mentioned all of this to a friend and realized that Robbins' book is essentially like a TCJ message board thread, or a Dave Sim editorial. So, read that way -- as the ramblings of someone you're stuck in an elevator with -- it's grotesque fun! As a memoir by someone who lived through and participated in underground comics, it's a startling disappointment. This book is just inconceivably sloppy. It reads like an unfinished book proposal that someone accidentally printed. Ironically, but perhaps not coincidentally, this is not dissimilar to what happened with the recent S. Clay Wilson book. There is art throughout the book, placed in proximity to the text it refers to, but no dates or captions, so we are left to puzzle out when/where/why any given thing was made/published/printed. The front cover photo is pixelated and then printed in reverse in the interior of the book. There is no bibliography or even a modest list of the books Robbins has published. There is no timeline. What a missed opportunity this is. As the baby boom generation gets older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to chronicle their history. And in this case, all it would have taken is a dogged editor to take some time and ask details, dates, etc. And short of getting all of that, said editor should have saved Robbins the humiliation of this book and simply not published it. But so it goes in comics. Still. 

For a sunnier view of the book, here's Paul Buhle's review.

That's what I have for the day. Have a great weekend!

Who Knows?

Today on the site, Annie Mok interviews Sofia Foster-Dimino.

ANNIE MOK: The title Sex Fantasy seems a little bit like a feint, because the book is kind of about sex and kind of not about sex.

SOPHIA FOSTER-DIMINO: Yeah, for real [laughs].

MOK: How did you come to this title?

FOSTER-DIMINO: When I picked the title, I didn’t even know I was gonna make it a series. But I wanted something that was striking and intriguing, and maybe a little misleading. People who have read my work closely and have followed along with the whole series are like, of course it is about sex fantasies for sure, even the non-explicit ones. And there are undercurrents of that, like issue 5 is about two women going on a date for maybe the second or third time, so there’s tension and then issue 8 is sort of this intense sexualized dominant-submissive dynamic between two people in a grocery store. And then in the last issue, I wanted to full-on address the concept of sex fantasies, so that’s probably the most direct take on the concept. For the other ones, that are more subtle, I wanted to explore ideas about self-expression and identity. How people change the way they conceive of themselves whether they’re alone or with people they trust, people they just met or people they know really well… So those pressures can change how we see ourselves, which ties into those sex fantasies. The idea of a sex fantasy is you’re imagining a person who you might not know very well and what they’re like and how they get along with you, but you’re also imagining a more perfect embodiment of yourself, a scenario where you can be the person that you truly want to be.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Hugh Hefner, the Playboy founder and failed cartoonist, died yesterday at 91. Through his magazine and various other ventures, he published many of the best comics artists of the last century, including Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman, Gahan Wilson, B. Kliban, and many others, though few of them did their best work under his patronage. It's an undeniably important but contested legacy. The New York Times obituary is here.

As a child, Mr. Hefner spent hours writing horror stories and drawing cartoons. At Steinmetz High School, he said, “I reinvented myself” as the suave, breezy “Hef,” newspaper cartoonist and party-loving leader of what he called “our gang.” At the University of Illinois, after serving in the Army, he edited the humor magazine and started a photo feature called “Co-ed of the Month.”

[...]

Meanwhile he was plotting his own magazine, which was to be, among other things, a vehicle for his slightly randy cartoons. The first issue of Playboy was financed with $600 of his own money and several thousand more in borrowed funds, including $1,000 from his mother. But his biggest asset was a nude calendar photograph of Marilyn Monroe. He had bought the rights for $500.

—Interviews & Profiles.At du9, Xavier Guilbert interviews Simon Hanselmann.

You know, I’m still learning, I still feel like a terrible cartoonist. A few months ago, I had a big artistic crisis, and just thought all the Megg, Mogg and Owl was shit and just like garbage. But you know now I am back to thinking like “it’s okay, it’s fun”. But I think that’s death for an artist when you say : “yeah, this is awesome, I’m the best, you know, this is perfect.” You always need to grow and change and try to be better.
I should point out, I don’t use tumblr anymore, really. Tumblr’s garbage now, it really is — tumblr’s dead. I use Instagram, that’s much better, everyone migrated to Instagram. I feel guilty that I don’t update my tumblr much anymore. But you know, it was a good tool, and Instagram now is a good tool for just, like you said, throwing out sketches and different shit. I like to try and post something everyday, if I can, just to keep people interested. A long time ago, American cartoonist Sammy Harkham told me just this : you’ve gotta take every interview, keep on getting shit out there, keep in the public eye, because otherwise people will just forget about you (laugh). So there’s that paranoia in me that just has to keep producing, I have to keep putting this out. And I make a living from this now, I used to scrap birdshit out of aircraft hangars and work at McDonald’s — I don’t want to do that anymore, I’m very selfish and I just wanna draw comics all day. I wanna do what I wanna do, and the rest of the world can just fuck off (laugh). So, you know. You just have to keep pushing it, you can’t be lazy. If you wanna be successful, you can’t be lazy. This applies to anything, just like being an electrician, or being in the Navy or whatever. If you wanna have success, you have to work hard, you can’t fuck around.

WBUR talks to comics scholar A. David Lewis about Muslims in superhero comics.

There have been many, going as far back as our research finds to 1944, a character who's dear to me, Kismet, Man of Fate, first appeared in Bomber Comics, No. 1 in 1944. He has slight, small premonitions of the future, and he uses that to fight Nazis in wartime France.

This is your good Muslim, and you get the sense that absolutely no Muslims were involved in the writing or illustrating of this character, not surprising, this was 1940s New York.

The Deconstructing Comics podcast talks to Derf Backderf.

—Reviews & Commentary. In a review of three recent books on Korea, Charles Montgomery writes about Yeon-Sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily.

The artwork, which the back cover describes as ranging “from the gently pastoral to the surreal and harrowing,” has similarities to that of Lynda Barry in its simple depiction of people and Shigeru Mizuki in its mix of realistic and impressionist elements in the landscape and background. The translation, by Californian cartoonist Hellen Jo, is perfect for the cartoon format. Uncomfortably Happily is clever, charming, and worth a look if you are interested in a droll family story, graphic novels, or an introduction to a wide range of Korean modern culture in a primarily visual format.

—Not Exactly Comics. At 4Columns, Ed Halter writes about the pornographic art of former underground cartoonist and filmmaker Mike Kuchar.

Here, in a show simply titled Drawings by Mike!, are twenty-two neatly framed ink-and-felt-tip-pen cartoons of tousle-haired Caucasian bohunks engaged in a variety of joyously, nakedly homoerotic situations: skinny dipping, crotch grabbing, pec rubbing, tit sucking. Their bare asses are, without exception, spheric and shiny, like the juiciest apple you’d ever hope to bite. Their sparkling eyes appear glazed over, staring into daydreams even as the men lick and paw at one another’s brawny bodies. Their expressive dicks are thick and veiny: some half-tumescent flesh-tubes flop lazily downward; others stab at the air, yearning toward some object of desire, dribbling semen like a salivating predator.

And J. Hoberman writes about a show featuring Peter Saul's new paintings about Trump.

Saul, now eighty-three, has been categorized as a political pop artist and a proto-punk neo-surrealist, although he has as much in common with the grotesque Mad magazine cartoonist Basil Wolverton as with any American painters. He’s done Nixon and Reagan (both as governor and president) as well as George W. With candy colors placed in the service of gross physical distortion and blandly offensive savagery—crucifixions are common, the electric chair is a frequent prop—his unnaturally festive work would scarcely seem out of place on the wall of a Venice Beach tattoo emporium. “Not to be shocking means to agree to be furniture,” he once said. Still, Saul’s portraits of Trump are relatively naturalistic—though the impossible settings in which the president is placed are not.

—Misc. New York readers of this site might want to go to Desert Island tonight for the release party of Mirror Mirror II, the anthology edited by two frequent TCJ contributors, Julia Gfrörer and Sean T. Collins. Several artists from the book, from Aidan Koch to Al Columbia, will be signing.

Some Guys

Today on the site, Alex Wong interviews Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim about their collaborative book, Poppies of Iraq.

 

In the book, you convey very well the overall experience of growing up as an Orthodox Christian in Iraq. How would you describe that experience now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on it?

Brigitte Findakly: I didn’t think about it. I just grew up thinking I was a normal little girl. Life in Mosul was very calm. Our neighbours were our best friends and they were Muslim. When there was a coup d’etat, the only perceptible consequence was that we wouldn’t have to go to school the next day. I never saw hangings, dead bodies or any sort of war scene. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this book, to show that Iraq in the 1960s was different from the place we’ve heard about on the news for so many years.

There’s a lot in the book about the history of Iraq juxtaposed against your own experiences living there.

I learned Mesopotamian history in school by heart. For the book, I really wanted to juxtapose my family’s personal history with the larger sweeping headlines from political and historical events. I was hesitant to delve too far into the past. I wanted to stay in my area, beginning in the 1950s. I would have loved to be able to talk about other older facets of history in Iraq. I think Americans would see a different side of the country if they knew that it was the birthplace of beer (Not Budweiser, of course, but just beer in general).

I especially loved the “In Iraq” interludes in the book where we get to learn about traditions and customs of the country.

Brigitte Findakly: Those pages gave us the chance to talk about the culture of Iraq and things that were true to most people who grew up there. It was important to me that this could be seen as a history of many of the millions of Iraqis who exist, and that I wasn’t just telling my story.

There are social customs in Iraq that are specific and different from many other cultures. Specifically, you mentioned in the book about marriages and relationships, that 95 percent of marriages in Iraq are arranged. Did that shape the way you approached relationships at all growing up?

My parents did not have an arranged marriage so I knew I wouldn’t end up in one, even before we left for France. I think my parents were much braver than I was when it came to this. I am and have always been puzzled that my family continues to believe in the practice of arranged marriages. I’ve become pretty fatalistic about this position, though of course everyone is certain their way of being is the right and only way.

Elsewhere:

Hey, the CXC festival starts tomorrow. That's a thing I'd like to attend sometime. 

Sometimes I get excited about some new comics release. Such is the case with D&Q's upcoming Anna & Froga collection. These comics are so sturdy and enjoyable.

Great book over here.

You Varmint

Today on the site, Greg Hunter returns with the latest episode of the greatest comics podcast available, Comic Book Decalogue. This time, his guest is Gina Wynbrandt, and Someone Please Have Sex with Me creator talks Phoebe Gloeckner, Truth Zone, Chewing Gum, and more.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Steven Heller interviews Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden about their long-awaited and highly anticipated book, How to Read Nancy.

You have an incredibly smart way of deconstructing the comic by breaking down the three panels into major themes like Gag, Last Panel, Dialog, each character (Nancy and Sluggo) and many, many more attributes and props, then you define each into Context, Text and Moral. How does this deconstruction work? Why does it work?
Some people like to take apart car engines. Some people like to take apart strands of DNA. We like to take apart the Saturday, Aug. 8, 1959 episode of Nancy.

Where did this insane quest begin? We originally met as students of Art Spiegelman at SVA in the early 1980s. Through our continued association with Art and RAW magazine we were exposed to a mind-altering frame-by-frame deconstruction / analysis of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe by experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs—that literally lasted for weeks. This event provided the impetus for our original short essay in Brian Walker’s essential 1988 book The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Decades later, as our essay found its way into comics curriculums around the globe, we decided it was time to take a look at how much was left in that randomly chosen strip to deconstruct. And we wanted to learn more about the man behind the work.

For du9, Mola Lontes talks to the Swedish cartoonist Max Andersson.

I was a socially inept and shy teenager, compensating by drawing, living in my own world a lot. I went to high school in a small town on the Swedish mainland, where anything out of the ordinary was treated with suspicion or outright contempt. As soon as I could, at eighteen, I moved on my own to Stockholm and got a job in a hospital. When I worked in the hospital at 18, I was mainly in the cancer ward, where I had to deal a lot with death. Often patients died alone, with no relatives or friends present, and it was part of my job to keep them company. Afterwards I took care of the corpses, cleaning them and preparing them for autopsies or transportation. It was all very physical and practical, no big mystery at all. Mostly through my interest in punk and post-punk music I met people who were involved in bands and alternative culture in general. I soon learned to embrace my own “strangeness” instead of struggling unsuccessfully to fit into the norm, and ever since then I’ve been quite happy with myself.

The most recent guests on the Virtual Memories podcast are the political cartoonists Ann Telnaes and Matt Wuerker.

Pastel Cookies

Today on the site, Matt Seneca visits us with a review of Windowpane 4. 

With this year’s Windowpane 4, Kessler trains his newfound sense of narrative focus on a higher plateau. Tipping the scales at 82 pages, the issue could easily have been marketed as a complete graphic novel, but Kessler retains his admirable commitment to the single-issue format, complete with staples and everything. The untitled story trades in the quotidian world of “Goodbye Strongbody” for something more akin to a modern fable, in which a lone man seeks shelter and escape from societal oppression. Is he a criminal? A dissident? A heretic? A minority? We never find out, and it doesn’t make a difference. The story is about repression in general, about the other shoe dangling and then dropping, about the difficulty of life on the run. It is split into three parts, the breaks telegraphed by changes in the risograph printing process.

Elsewhere:

The great Marc Bell has started a Patreon.

Noah Van Sciver interviewed Peter Bagge over at Comics Reporter.

 

Oy

Today, Frank Young is here with an extended look at the most "meta" sequences of Chester Gould's career.

The Gravies appeared only in the Tribune through its six-year run, which ended January 26, 1964. At first signed “Chet,” the early run of the strip is often solo Gould, with loose-limbed linework, sloppy lettering and other evidence of a tightly wound cartoonist blowing off steam and amusing himself. Gravies later credits the first names of Team Gould: Al Valanis, Chester's brother Ray Gould, Dick Locher, Jack Ryan and Rick Fletcher. The single-tier strip grew in 1958 to a double-decker approximately a third of a page in size.

Skewed comedy was hard-wired into Dick Tracy from its 1931 start. Gould’s fight-and-flight narratives of doomed criminals, hurtling toward claustrophobic doom, can be gripping, grotesque and deadly serious. Humor elbowed its way into the darkest storylines. Eccentric supporting characters, settings and casual commentary on current fads and foibles informs the strip. Post-war Tracy, until the end of the decade, stressed comedy over crime-solving. The popularity of the hillbilly family of B. O. Plenty, his wife, Gravel Gertie and their daughter, Sparkle Plenty (the focus of a merchandising blitz in the late ‘40s) threatened to crowd the no-nonsense Tracy out of his own strip.

The hit-and-miss humor of The Gravies was no surprise to Tracy’s Chicago readership. In the past year, they’d read a long narrative with the enigmatic Mumbles, a revived villain from a 1947 sequence, paired with a physical-culture fanatic and his feral offspring—acrobatic twin tots who vex the criminal with their anarchic slapstick mayhem. And though 1956’s Tracy narratives (which I wrote about in this essay) represent a peak year in the strip’s darkness and drama, there are also occasional moments of screwball comedy.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. For The Paris Review, Trina Robbins writes about Neil the Horse.

Unique among the black-and-white comics of the 1980s and, in fact, unique from any comic ever published, Neil the Horse is the world’s first and only all-singing, all-dancing comic book. Each issue includes sheet music and lyrics—you can play the songs on your piano!—and along with the lyrics, some evocative poetry that is not set to music, all by Arn, who truly lived up to Neil’s motto: “Making the World Safe for Musical Comedy.”

Anders Nilsen writes a personal, persuasive essay on the importance of access to affordable health care.

This afternoon I wrote postcards to seven US senators asking them to vote NO on Graham-Cassidy, the latest Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare and rob people of their health care. I'm not usually that vocal in public about my politics. Social media generally makes me slightly queasy, even if it is the water we all swim in these days. But the issue of health care feels urgent to me.

—Interviews & Profiles. Pádraig Ó Méalóid finally publishes the third part of the enormous "Christmas" interview with Alan Moore, in which among other things, he reveals his recipe for rarebit pasta.

...Mix the breadcrumbs and the extra grated cheese together, and then cover the top of the pasta and sauce with the resultant crumbly mixture. Dot the halved baby plum tomatoes over the whole surface area, stick the casserole dish into the moderate oven, and then go and smoke the joint while reading, say, a short David Foster Wallace essay or story, and by the time you’re done with that your dinner should be ready.

—Misc. Lynda Barry has inaugurated an advice column at The Paris Review.

Dear Pissed,

Pee hoarding isn’t as uncommon as one may think. Type that term into a search engine and be amazed. It’s not about being too lazy to pee in the toilet. It’s about something else that usually has long roots going back to childhood. I knew kids who did this, who saved jars of pee and lined them up in corners of garages or in bushes. I’m sure pee hoarders have their reasons. ...

Happiness Pursuit

Today on the site,  Robert Kirby reviews Language Barrier.

Language Barrier is a collection of four one-off full-color zines that Hannah K. Lee, a talented Korean-American Brooklyn-based artist, created from 2012 to 2017. Each of the zines has a different focus, though all carry Lee’s playfully ironic aesthetic. The zines are presented in the following, non-chronological order: Hey Beautiful (2017), Shoes Over Bills (2012), Everyone Else is Younger and More Talented (2014), and Close Encounters (2015). There’s a nice trajectory from the relatively straightforward comics that open Hey Beautiful to the typography-based poster-style visuals of Close Encounters. Thoughtfully curated and presented, Language Barrier is a groovy, pocket-sized little handbook for self-doubting, conflicted artists (and other assorted human beings) everywhere.

Elsewhere:

Alex Dueben has taken on a regular feature at Smash Pages. Here's the lot, which is a good bunch.

More on the Village Voice -- this time a history of its art direction, which was crucial to comics and illustration. 

And a remembrance of Greg Escalante.

I Hope They Ask for a Lot of Money

Today on the site, North America's favorite manga scholar Ryan Holmberg returns with the second part of his essay on Yuichi Yokoyama and "audiovisual abstraction" in comics.

When it comes to figures of size, Yokoyama clearly favors bigness. His earliest manga, the building narratives in New Engineering (2004), feature gigantic landworks and monumental fantasy structures. Travel (2006) promises an entire long-distance train trip. Garden (2007) features hallways that extend into infinity and giant maps that describe an entire territory in detail. After Garden, I recall Yokoyama saying he wanted to make a 1000-page book depicting war, though he never did.

In all such cases, however, Yokoyama packs bigness into smallness. His books are rarely longer than 300 pages, and often much shorter. Like any comics author, he has to work with a finite number of small panel frames – which would be a meaningless observation were there not indications that Yokoyama has been interested in this aspect of comics-making on a figurative level. For example, the endless hallway in Garden turns out to be a library filled with wordless picture catalogues, suggesting that the entire universe can be condensed, quasi-wordless comics-like, into an accumulation of printed pictures without help of the written word. The horde of photographs dropped from the air and assembled into a map in Garden suggest a similar idea: when a large set of pictures/panels is properly ordered, they can recreate, even if the individual units are small, the world in near whole. Likewise, Travel might be ambitious as a comics project, but it also harbors within it the humble desire of the armchair traveller that the world be adequately contained and enjoyed vicariously through books, screens, and other domesticated media. As encyclopedias are vast by virtue of being compact, so Yokoyama has explored monumentality, infinity, and comprehensiveness through figures and practices of miniaturization, division, and containment.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The Chilean cultural critic and playwright Ariel Dorfman writes about the origin of his famous 1970s critique of Disney comic books, How to Read Donald Duck.

If there was a single company that embodied the overarching influence of the U.S. -- not just in Chile but in so many other lands then known as the Third World -- it was the Walt Disney Corporation. Today, in addition to the many amusement parks that bear its name, the Disney brand conjures up a panoply of Pixar princesses, avatars of cars and planes, and tales of teen-age angst and Caribbean piracy. But in Chile, in the early 1970s, Disney’s influence was epitomized by a flood of inexpensive comic books available at every newsstand. So Armand and I decided to focus on them and in particular on the character who then seemed to us the most symbolic and popular of the denizens of the Disney universe. What better way to expose the nature of American cultural imperialism than to unmask the most innocent and wholesome of Walt Disney’s characters, to show what authoritarian tenets a duck’s smiling face could smuggle into Third World hearts and minds?

We would soon discover what an attack on Disney would be met with -- and it wasn’t smiles.

—News. As reported in Vice, Matt Furie is stepping up his legal actions against the rightwing provocateurs coopting his Pepe the Frog character.

Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has made good on his threat to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property."

The artist's lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right. They have served cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement. The message is to the alt-right is clear—stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Mimi Pond.

J.A. Micheline talks to Tillie Walden.

“I thought about my own memories,” Walden says, “not necessarily in terms of content but in terms of the space. Where I was when something happened and how did my emotions affect how I remember that space? In certain instances in the book, I would realise: ‘OK, during this competition, I was feeling horrifically restricted and sad and that emotion was growing inside me.’ So I would have this space that would suddenly grow bigger and become more cavernous.”

—Misc. Juan Fernandez writes about a fascinating old French television show based on the idea of the exquisite corpse game, and featuring artists such as Jean-Claude Forest, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, Moebius, and Johnny Hart(!), among many others.

The concept was simple, efficient, and allowed for many variations: A huge, blank white page and cartoonists equipped with just a simple marker. A theme was proposed (ex. invasion or pursuit), sometimes a visual starting point (simple line, spiral, circle), and the authors improvised, either collaboratively with their peers, or in a duel facing off against their opponents. The result was often far more than a juxtaposition of drawings, it was often a real visual dialogue between cartoonists.

Class Trip

Today on site, perhaps inspired by the comments section on this very site, Matt Seneca returns to review PayWall:

In his new graphic novel PayWall, Kelly pays down the promissory note of that Mould Map piece. Handsomely printed by Mould Map editor Hugh Frost’s publishing boutique Landfill Editions, it is work so relevant and contemporary that it seems to belong in a completely different ballpark than the rest of what comics has on display right now. Set in an English coastal city ten years from now, PayWall depicts a society in which rising seal levels threaten human survival, parking lots full of live-in port-a-potties are replacing apartment blocks, and the federal government and military have been torn to pieces and swallowed by a rabid pack of competing corporations. 

At its heart, this is an entry in that most recognizable of comic book genres, the hero’s origin story. Rather than create his hero as a slightly more ridiculously costumed version of a police officer, though, Kelly looks for inspiration at the real heroes of today’s world: the scared, angry young people pulling on masks and taking to the streets to put their bodies on the line against governmental and societal oppression. PayWall‘s hero team is a cell of militarized anarchists, its villains a loosely knit cabal of rich corporate dickheads who have reformed the world in their image, and its protagonist a regular working dude who is radicalized by the radical situation he finds himself in.  

Elsewhere:

Here's Steven Heller interviewing Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik on their upcoming book, How to Read Nancy.

Another deep dive into the data of cartoonists -- this time one of my favorite categories: Letterers.

And there's an SPX wrap-up over at The Beat.

Lotsa Stuff

Today on the site, Brian Nicholson reviews the second collection of Farel Dalrymple's Pop Gun War.

Farel Dalrymple is treated as an eccentric within the mainstream comics industry. His most high-profile work within the realm of work-for-hire was illustrating Jonathan Lethem's revival of Omega the Unknown for Marvel Comics. His style telegraphs traces of the 1970s house style of John Buscema's How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way while still having enough arthouse quirk that it can be sold to a New Yorker-reading audience interested in learning more about graphic novels. He also drew a few issues of Brandon Graham's revival of the Rob Liefeld character Prophet: When prevailed upon, his work is capable of maximalist detail, and can conjure up the same drawing-centered approach to science fiction found in the pages of a vintage issue of Heavy Metal. These disparate skills are all on display in the comics that Dalrymple writes for himself, which do not fit nearly as neatly into any preexisting box. They are nuts. They are busy with ideas and activity, maximalist with kitchen sink detail and clutter, alive with consciousness.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. At this weekend's SPX, the Ignatz Award winners were announced, with Emil Ferris picking up two of the biggest prizes (Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel), which Ben Passmore winning Oustanding Comic.

The longtime comics review site run by retailer Brian Hibbs, Savage Critics, has closed shop.

Savage Critics started back from the old CompuServe days, where I would read an entire week's worth of comics, and give one word (or up to a sentence, maybe) reviews. I was young, and (well, I thought) very clever, so making snap judgements publicly seemed entertaining to me (at least). Once gated communities like CompuServe became passe (well, until Facebook, at least), I thought it might be cool to do the same thing on the internet as a stand alone blog. It was the Wild West back then, and this was an early blog (I think Tom Spurgeon called it "foundational" at one point?) of commentary and criticism.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Sophia Foster-Dimino, and the most recent guest on Process Party is Jesse Moynihan.

—Reviews & Commentary. The NYRB excerpts Elke Schulze's afterword to their new collection of Erich Ohser's fascinating Father and Son.

Erich Ohser became internationally famous for his comic strips in the 1930s, but the carefree world of his Father and Son gives little hint of the fate that would be suffered by its creator. After Ohser was driven to take his own life, his friend Erich Kästner wrote: “We’re going to mourn him by celebrating his drawings.” Ohser was a passionate graphic artist whose versatile talent spanned many techniques: pencil, India ink, writing ink, watercolor, and colored pencil. Along with his journalistic cartoons and illustrations is a large body of work ranging from freehand portraits and landscapes to nudes and studies of people observed in cafés.

At LARB, Daniel Worden reviews Gary Panter's Songy of Paradise.

Panter’s new comic, Songy of Paradise, brilliantly elaborates his aesthetic. The comic both comments on our world and disavows everyday concerns in exchange for the pleasures of thinking along under-traveled paths. While only 40 pages, the book is large in size — about 11-by-15 inches — so it feels like you are looking at Panter’s original pen-and-ink drawings themselves, rather than reproductions of them. This quality lends the book a hand-drawn, intimate feel, making its pages feel not only like original comic book art but also like the leaves of an illuminated manuscript. In any case, the artist’s hand is always very near. This makes sense, given that Songy of Paradise describes itself, on its title page, as a story “Wherein Satan And A Hillbilly Re-Enact The Temptation Of Jesus In The Desert, Hewing To John Milton’s Epic Poem Paradise Regained But Without Milton’s Verbosity.”

At Public Books, Gordon Douglas writes about the recent revival of and reevaluation of H.P. Lovecraft's work, particularly through Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows's Providence.

If primarily an inquiry into Lovecraft’s writing and literary influence set in 1919, Providence is an ideal engagement with the author for today’s America. It is fitting, for one thing, that the story begins actually in New York, with a Jewish gay protagonist named Robert Black exploring the city of immigrants as a journalist. (In earlier, related work by Alan Moore to which Providence serves as a sort of conclusion-by-extended-prequel—The Courtyard and Neonomicon—protagonists include a woman and a black man, while the villains are racist psychopaths devoted to Lovecraftian cosmology.) As Black encounters characters and events from Lovecraft’s stories, Moore and Burrows continue to introduce themes and personalities that Lovecraft would have been uncomfortable with, including the sympathetic portrayal of many whom the writer vilified as monsters in his stories. The “unusual colony of unclassified slant-eyed folk” in “The Horror at Redhook” (1927), for instance (implied to be Kurdish Yazidis, today under persecution by ISIS), are subtly humanized in Burrows’ illustrations. In exploring Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931), Moore and Burrows draw out its anti-immigrant and anti-miscegenation sentiments by showing explicit acts of prejudice and discrimination faced by the fish-faced townspeople (ultimately presaging World War II-era interment and genocide) as an oppressed minority. Providence likewise makes graphic the “unnamable” and “unspeakable” horrors to which Lovecraft alludes, including incest and rape.

Alternate Route

Hello from Los Angeles, and more specifically Sammy Harkham's dining room table, with TCJ #40 by my side. Cover image by Mike Nasser and Bob Layton of Starhunters. Interview with Jim Shooter. And of course John Benson profiling Art Spiegelman. Hilarious. I am reminded that Mike Nasser worked Ms Mystic, and that character design blew my mind as a kid. And still looks OK. The void body. That sword. 

Anyhow,  today on the site we have the 1979 TCJ interview with the late Len Wein by Roger Slifer. Here's a bit:

SLIFER: When did you start writing for comics regularly?

WEIN: For the most part, I started doing a little fiddling around early on. I think about the fifth story Marv and I wrote was a Teen Titans we did together. We started to gain a little ground at DC at that point. They liked the first one we did. We tried an issue of Teen Titans — it was the second Titans story we did — that introduced a black superhero. I think we called the character Jericho. It was a beautiful job. Nick Cardy was drawing the book at the time. He did an absolutely lovely job on the art. And, apparently, DC didn’t know there was anything but white Anglo-Saxon Protestants appearing in comic books, and the introduction, in our story, of a black character was apparently frightening. Nick Cardy, who was part of the old school, brought that job to Carmine, and asked him, “Do you think we’re going too far? Should we be doing this? There’s a black character in here, God help us!” And, Carmine panicked, went, “Oh my God! We’re doomed! We’ll never sell our magazines in the South, anywhere south of Toledo!” They scrapped the issue, they completely scrapped the story. Neal Adams came to our defense, as Neal is so wont to do, and tried to convince Carmine that it was a good story and it didn’t need to be scrapped. And, it was a beautiful art job, one of the best things Nick ever did. I don’t think he ever really matched it. The fact that the story would not see print struck me as a real shame. But, Carmine would not be swayed. Carmine had made up his mind. It was set in cement once he made up his mind. In fact, it probably still is.

Neal ended up rewriting — over a weekend — an entirely different story featuring a character that was no longer black. He wrote it, penciled it, inked the entire 19-page story over a weekend, proving that, yes, he could make deadlines. But, it didn’t help my situation. And this happened just when I had started to gain some inroads.

DC was revamping the Metal Men at that point. I had come up with a whole new concept for the Metal Men for Jack Miller, working Marvel-style. Mike Sekowsky was penciling it, I was going to dialogue it off the finished pencils. And, Carmine, of course, decided, “No, you can’t write. Things aren’t working out,” based solely on the fact that I had introduced a black character in the Teen Titans. He took back the artwork I had just gotten my hands on — the Metal Men pages. In fact, I wrote the first 10 pages totally on speculation, like, “Please look at what I’ve done at least and see if it’s good.” But in the end, he gave the story to Denny O’Neil, who took it reluctantly, knowing the circumstances. After he had written his own, and I showed him my script, he said he thought it was a better job than he had done. It was simply Carmine’s reacting rather than acting.

Murray Boltinoff got a little shy over several plots I had approved for Tomahawk and Challengers of the Unknown. Suddenly he had no use for either. Marv and I were abruptly non-entities for six months or more and started to look for work elsewhere.

SLIFER: How did you finally make your inroads back?

WEIN: Good question. I’m not sure if I remember. We started doing stuff elsewhere. Marv sort of faded out of comic books. He moved out to Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island.

SLIFER: What year was this?

WEIN: This is 11 years from ’79 … it was about ’69. I didn’t do a whole lot of work in my first year. I think I only managed to make as much at my old $10-a-page rate in my entire first year as I make on a single issue-and-a-half of Superman right now. A big difference in the rate. I started looking elsewhere. Marv got out of comic books. He had a degree as an art teacher. He taught school for a while. I sort of wandered around. I found some work at Gold Key. I started doing mystery stories for them. I ended up doing Hot Wheels and Mod Wheels and Star Trek comics. Anywhere there was some place to go I went. I did mystery stories for Marvel, for Roy [Thomas]. I learned most of my training on mystery stories. Most of the people now don’t have a chance to learn on them. Mystery stories require you to create an entire entity in seven pages, a cast of characters, personalities, problems, and resolution. It’s great training.

That is all from here. I'm opening this exhibition on Saturday night, 6-9 pm. I'll be there and always enjoy talking about Hal Foster.

Blursday

Today on the site, something great: Mark Newgarden speaks to Glenn Bray and Frank Young, the editors of the essential new book on Art Young, To Laugh That We May Not Weep.

Frank, your concentration has been in the field of comic books: as a writer, editor and scholar. But you’ve also written extensively on newspaper strips and Hollywood animation, especially on the work of Fred “Tex” Avery (and in my estimation, you are the absolute go-to guy on everything John Stanley.) Can you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in Young and involved in this ambitious project?

Frank Young: Art Young was on that list in my head called “Great Cartoonists Whom I Admire, Based on Two or Three Images I Keep Seeing Over and Over Again.” I saw these images in older books about comics history, poorly reproduced but visible enough to give me the idea that this fellow was important. I also aligned him with Harvey Kurtzman. There’s a similar life in their ink lines. But as with so many towering figures in an ignored art form, there wasn’t any Art Young to pore over as I developed my critical and thematic eye towards comics.

In the 1990s and 2000s, I served my infamous term as managing ed on The Comics Journal, begun comics scholarship blogs, and came into contact with some great people. My work on John Stanley led me to meet Art Spiegelman, Michael Barrier, Glenn Bray and you, to name a few. While David Lasky and I worked on our graphic novel The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, Spiegelman invited me to be on the board of advisors of The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. My involvement in that project led to many good things.

Visiting the home/museum of Glenn Bray and Lena Zwalve in summer 2013, through our mutual friend Carol Lay, was a religious experience. The first thing Glenn showed me was the original art for the cover of Mad #11. From there on, it was a staggering tour of his extensive collection of original art, comics, artwork, books, etc. I wonder if Carol realized how much of an impact this visit would have on my life...this kid was in the candy store by which all candy stores are judged. I flashed back to my one visit to Bill Blackbeard's chaotic den in San Francisco. Glenn's collection is organized, curated and attractively presented. From bound volumes of 1940s comics to impeccably stored originals to shelves of work by cartoonists familiar and unknown to me, this is the best hoard of significant comics work I've yet encountered.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. For LARB, Anthony Loewenstein writes about Eli Valley's controversial Diaspora Boy.

DIASPORA BOY is the work of an artist who aims to challenge the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish-American community, not least its at times slavish love for Israel. Cartoonist Eli Valley — who grew up in New York and New Jersey, the child of a rabbi and a social-worker-turned-lawyer — is unafraid to celebrate the noble tradition of secular Judaism while still despairing at what Zionism has become, and arguably has always been, in its repression of the Palestinians. In this lavishly produced book, Valley includes his own commentary alongside his comics, which are clearly inspired by the underground commix movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the iconoclastic Jewish-American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Valley’s political framework is never far from the reader’s mind, but it is his art that is central to every page.

For Vector, Christina Scholz has written an academic article on trans identities as represented in superhero comics.

Since the comic book industry still only seems to be discovering and cautiously exploring transgender issues, this takes us back to one of the beginnings. Should characters like Lord Fanny from The Invisibles be included in categories and ‘boxes’ of trans* characters in comics? Are ‘boxes’ helpful at all, seeing how complex and diverse and dynamic identities are? My stance on this is based on my quantum theory of identity as well as Antke Engel’s concept of ‘queerversity’, and implies that superhero_ines with their history of being Other can be read as inherently queer, always standing outside the established norms and always implicitly questioning (and hopefully undermining) them. Thus characters like Lord Fanny shouldn’t be excluded from this article (and technically can’t be, according to the all-inclusive nature of queerversity), since Morrison is making some valuable points about identity and reality in The Invisibles, and gender identities are varied, diverse, heterogeneous, and dynamic.

Nicole Rudick writes about a new show of the comics-influenced painter Karl Wirsum's paintings and drawings.

A dozen of Wirsum’s paintings and drawings are on view at Derek Eller Gallery, in New York, in the show “Mr. Whatzit: Selections from the 1980s.” Each work is a portrait of a single character, and the backgrounds, in the case of the paintings, are monochromatic: flat fields of red, teal, ochre. Whether alien, mechanical, or human, each character appears as a kind of totem of their own world, like the corner boxes on the covers of classic comics (those small rectangles in the upper left corner that show Superman or Spider-Man or Hulk on a solid field of color). Mr. Dry Iced “T” is part hulking Jack Kirby creation (too many fingers, too many knuckle joints), part mystic oddity rising out of a blue ether, his hands like two hamsas. The Mesoamerican Shower Girl performs under a showerhead-cum-stage-light in the semiprivacy of her shower-curtained stage. The half-human, half–jet pack figure in If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Nairobi Except in Nebraska shoots diagonally across a Joan Miró–inflected cosmos.

—Interviews. The CBLDF podcast interviews comics translator Anne Ishii.

Topics include: yaoi / BL, Osamu Tezuka, Detroit Metal City

Not Totally There

Today on the site, we have the TCJ obituary for Len Wein. We'll have some archival material later in the week. 

Wein was no auteur or stylist along the lines of a Stan Lee or an Alan Moore, but he worked smoothly with a wide range of talented artists at both Marvel and DC. As a result, he kept busy in every corner of the mainstream comics industry in the 1970s and 1980s, and was present at several significant creative moments. Wein was instrumental in the rebooting of the X-Men with Dave Cockrum in 1975, transforming the original Lee/Kirby misfire into something like the multi-ethnic mutant collective that we know today. In Incredible Hulk #180 in 1974, he and artists Herb Trimpe and John Romita introduced stout, Canadian brawler Wolverine, who would become a key element of the revived X-Men.

In 1971, Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson created Swamp Thing, an atmospheric DC monster series that worked its way through unusually mature themes, as it observed society through the eyes of its profoundly alienated antihero. The series went on to capture the imagination of some of mainstream comics’ best writers and artists — including Alan Moore, who created Watchmen in 1986 under Wein’s editorial guidance.

No links today -- no dice here. Off to LA now. 

Nuh-uh

Today on the site, Greg Hunter reviews Warmer, the climate change-themed anthology making its debut at this weekend's SPX.

Climate change, when it’s not visible in a sweeping, violent fashion, can be difficult to perceive, more present for some people as a looming abstraction than a felt, measurable thing. This might be why, during the last two decades, few depictions of climate change in the arts have captured the cultural imagination, despite its planet-wide implications. This absence informed the Kickstarter campaign for Warmer. Editors Andrew White and Madeleine Witt told visitors to the campaign page, “We both spend a lot of time thinking about climate change. [...] And we haven't always found art that reflects that.” An anthology of comics about the climate crisis, Warmer at least fills a void within alternative cartooning, exploring personal experience within a global phenomenon.

Warmer is about as cohesive as anthologies get in terms of tone and sensibility. It includes, for instance, multiple past contributors to the Comics Workbook Tumblr, multiple six-panel grid compositions, and multiple works of colored-pencil cartooning (though without full overlap among these categories). Consider it the hazard of a coherent editorial vision—a sense of monotony might set in if a person reads too many pieces in one sitting. A spirit of contemplation characterizes many of the comics, which often feature soft colors and other formal choices that convey quietness, perhaps at the expense of other sensations (e.g. outright panic). Even so, this is a result of Warmer attempting something challenging.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Reviews & Commentary.
Emily Gosling writes about Charlotte Salomon.

If all the world really is a stage, the production created for it by Charlotte Salomon is one of the darkest tragedies imaginable; a story of suicide, Nazism, illness, and a poisoned omelette.

Salomon was born in Berlin in 1917, and during the war her Jewish family—like so many others—was persecuted by the Nazis, resulting in her fleeing to France. After war broke out, she was sent to Camp Gurs in the Pyrenees with her grandfather; later allowed to return to Nice due to her grandfather’s age. It was there that the artist, who’d previously been admitted to the Art Academy in Berlin, started making images again.

Felipe "Feggo" Galindo remembers his hero, Rius.

A typical Rius production, Discovering Columbus tells the other side of Columbus’ official history, narrating and illustrating his rapacious conquest of the new lands grabbed from the natives. Rius’ narrative portrays him as the perpetrator and initiator of one of the largest genocides in human history. I had read about Columbus before, but Rius' take took me by surprise. In a concise, humorous and simple manner he opened my mind to new interpretations of history, something similar to what I experienced after I read him for the first time some 45 years ago when I was in middle school, with his comic book series “Los Agachados” (The Stooped Ones, a word used in Mexico to refer to those who don’t assert their rights or don’t “rock the boat.” It also refers to the labor performed by migrant farmworkers.)

The issue of Los Agachados I remember best was a behind-the-scenes take on Coca Cola, Mexico’s favorite drink, and how U.S Empire had used this drink along with many other products as another form of colonialism. It blew my innocent mind back then. I thought, “How can this guy say all those things against such a powerful company and with facts and humor!” It felt like the day when you find out Santa doesn’t exist. After that I became an avid reader of his comics and a fan of his cartoons.

Paul Buhle writes about that other great socialist cartoonist, Art Young.

NEARLY 80 YEARS AGO, one of the sweetest books in the history of American radicalism appeared: Art Young: His Life and Times. A wonderful memoir in every sense, it encompassed and expressed the beloved socialist artist’s saga, from Midwestern small-town boy suspicious of radicals to the greatest of all radical cartoonists in the English language. He hated the spoils of capitalism and war with a ferocity scarcely to be equaled in art anywhere, Picasso or John Heartfield or Spain Rodriguez notwithstanding. But beneath Young’s rage, evident to any reader, could also be found a deep sense of sorrow at the outcome of civilization at large. A popular favorite, his drawing of a caged lion dreaming of free life in the jungle captures the aphorism of philosopher J. J. Rousseau, that “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Young would have added, indeed did add more than metaphorically in his many drawings over 50 years of work, that the rich and powerful did not seem to suffer so greatly, but nevertheless bore the scars of meretricious lives.

Craig Yoe is NOT MAD.

—Misc.
Interested readers can follow along with Lynda Barry's University of Wisconsin comics class online.

The winners of the annual Comics Workbook Composition Competition have been announced.

Showing up with Steve

Today on the site, Bob Levin reviews Chester Brown's mini-comic, The Third Remedy. Bonus interview with the artist included!

The addressees (neatly hand-printed) in the center of the tiny envelope were Adele and I at our home in Berkeley. The addressor (also neatly hand-printed but tinier) was the cartoonist Chester Brown from his apartment in Toronto.

 Inside was a black-and-white comic, 37 pages, four-by-five-inches.

The title was The Third Remedy.

In a box centered on the back cover it said “This story was originally published in 1949 in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories number 101 (Volume 9, Number 5) February.” On the title page, in a larger box, it said, “Story written by Carl Barks. Artwork drawn by Bob Kane.”

There was no price, no copyright notice, no identification of or information about the publisher.

The principal characters were Batman and Robin.

Huh?

Elsewhere:

Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein died over the weekend. Paul Levitz paid tribute to him on Facebook.

The Juxtapoz co-founder  and "lowbrow art" champion Greg Escalante has passed away.

The tributes to the Village Voice continue, with this report on a reunion party.

Basking in the Warmth

Today on the site, Rob Kirby reviews Michiel Budel's Francine.

Dutch cartoonist Michiel Budel’s wildly idiosyncratic webcomic Slechte Meisjes stars a rotating cast of Lolita-esque girls in surpassingly strange, hilarious, often Sapphic adventures that are mixed with political allegory. The comics first made it to U.S. shores in two full-color comic books, Wayward Girls and Wayward Girls 2, published by Secret Acres in 2012. Since then, Budel has honed his cast down to one main character, the tempestuous Francine, and her circle of friends and enemies. This new eponymously titled book collects eight issues of Budel's self-published Franzine, with a few extra one-off strips thrown in. While Budel's comics are perhaps known and discussed mostly for their seriously pervy qualities, they should also be appreciated for their great humor and wonderfully wrought, even lyrical, dream logic. Many folks will immediately correlate Budel’s work to artists like Henry Darger and Balthus, who also trafficked heavily in pre-adolescent sexual imagery. But like Darger himself, Budel has a guilelessly bonkers sensibility that keeps itself to itself.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Paste, Seth Simons writes a detailed story about the decline of the Cartoon Bank, the online marketplace for New Yorker cartoonists' work.

New Yorker cartoonists are paid in two tiers. More established artists receive $1,450 for a cartoon, while the rest receive $700. The sales of original artwork bring cartoonists some of their largest one-time payments, often as high as $2,000 or more. Until January 2017, sales made through the Cartoon Bank were split 70-30 between cartoonists and Condé Nast. In December, cartoonists were sent a contract revising that split to 50-50. Condé Nast also recently stopped warehousing original artwork, leaving that responsibility to the cartoonists themselves. “They just, like, fired all their archivists,” said one cartoonist. “There was no place to put it. People who were trying to reclaim their archived cartoons were being told that they had been lost. So now we’re at a place where it’s just, ‘Make your own high-res scan at home, email in the high-res and that’s what we’re going to run in the magazine. You’re responsible for storing and archiving your own artwork. We will let you know if a collector wants to buy your cartoon.’”

—Dan Gearino interviews longtime comics retailer Dick Swan, about the comic shop he co-owned and opened in 1969, Comic World.

DG: How old were you?

DS: I was 15. We opened on June 26, 1969 and I turned 16 a month later on July 28. The other guys were all 17. We got the stock from the HoustonCon which ran from June 20-22 in 1969. We drove home, went out and rented a store the same week.

—At Quill & Quire, Andrea Bennett checks in with Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on its 10th anniversary.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly opened in 2007, nearly 20 years after the press was founded in the same Montreal neighbourhood. Staff had noticed that English stores in the city carried mostly English comics, and French stores carried mostly French books. “At each store, there was a little lonely shelf that would be like, ‘Local Publishers,’” says Peggy Burns, D&Q’s publisher. D&Q’s goal was to open a store where readers could find not only their books, but also titles from other popular independent presses, like McSweeney’s, that were hard to find in the city. The timing was unfortunate – right before a recession, and just as Amazon’s influence was rising – but the staff felt confident. “It was a crazy time to open up a bookstore,” Burns says, “but we always just felt that there were books here that we wanted to read and other people wanted to read.”

Sun and Set Tower

Hey, today it's yours truly on the late Richard Kyle, who commissioned Jack Kirby's "Street Code", which Matthias Wivel wrote about on Tuesday.

I became fascinated with Richard Kyle sometime in the mid-2000s because of his writing and his own publication, Graphic Story World (later called Wonderworld), and because it was clear that he was both prescient in his vision of the medium and keenly aware of the nooks and crannies of its history. Even more unusual, he had a novelist’s approach to that history and its personalities. He always managed to suss out the humanity of the creators and publishers he was discussing – an approach that only a few writers have really grasped, Tom De Haven and Gerard Jones perhaps first among them. This began with his very first contribution to a fanzine: “The Education of Victor Fox” for Dick Lupoff’s Xero #8, 1962 (and recently reprinted in Alter Ego, vol. 3, number 101, May 2011).  “The Education…” looked at the early 1940s output of Fox Publications and its infamous proprietor Victor Fox, through an interpretive reading of the comics, from cover to story to advertisements. In 1964 he wrote “The Future of the Comics” in which he coined the term “graphic novel” (he would later publish the first self-identified graphic novel,  Beyond Time and Again by George Metzger). Kyle later had a column, Graphic Story Review, in Bill Spicer’s brilliant Graphic Story Magazine and contributed other texts, including co-authoring the wild, sprawling interview with Will Gould in issue 11, 1970. That interview, which he and I spoke about below, was one of the very first of its kind for comics. 

Elsewhere:

The new editor of the Paris Review Daily is memoirist, comics writer, and editor Nadja Spiegelman.

The New Yorker profiles Instagram cartoonist Arianna Margulis.

Andrew White writes about his time at Frank Santoro's Rowhouse Residency. 

 

Not Worth Dwelling O—

There is no way to adequately replace Joe McCulloch's This Week in Comics! column, and so we will not try. While we figure out what to do, Dan and I (and possibly others) will still provide the buyers' guide portion of the column, spotlighting the most interesting-looking comics new to stores each week. This particular week is pretty skimpy, unfortunately. (I'm sure few of Craig Yoe's defenders will take any note of the Fantagraphics pans, either...)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:


—Podcasts.
Joe McCulloch hasn't vanished completely, though, and will hopefully return to this very site in some form or another. In the meantime, he's still one of the regular hosts of Comic Books are Burning in Hell, and their latest episode attempts to replicate the This Week in Comics! magic in audio form.

Other recent podcasts of note include Jerry Moriarty on Inkstuds, Jeff Smith on Process Party, and Kathy Bidus on Virtual Memories.

—Reviews & Commentary. Sarah Chihaya reviews Jillian Tamaki's Boundless.

The easiest way to read Tamaki’s title is formally: Boundless is a book that plays with the malleable conventions of graphic storytelling. The portrait orientation of its first piece, “World Class City” — a dreamlike semi-narrative that slips back and forth between pop lyric and lyric poem — demands that the reader turn the book sideways, while the abstract bodies and plants it depicts bleed across generous two-page spreads and, in a couple of cases, over page turns. The final section, “Boundless,” mirrors this vertically oriented, panel-free format, as a menagerie of urban animals flit and swoop across its sparse pages, narrating their nonhuman lives with deadpan panache. The stories contained between these bookends require the same readerly dexterity. Even when she works within the constraints of panels and gutters (which she often abandons in favor of borderless panels, backgrounds that are either overfull or hauntingly vacant, and splash pages), Tamaki’s layouts are kinetic, fluid, and unexpected. Her style is similarly mobile, as each of these nine stories articulate their own distinct idioms of color and line.

Joe Riaola, senior editor of Mad magazine, writes about the most recent Charlie Hebdo controversy, and what he considers the limits of satire.

The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” would probably say that they were making a broad point about what they view as the prevalence of white nationalism in Texas. However, connecting white nationalism to random deaths caused by a hurricane is not only nonsensical, it makes light of the suffering of those who died. Newsflash: The editors of “Charlie Hebdo” don’t care. This is their brand, it’s what they do. We are just paying more attention now, because they are offending Texans instead of Muslims.

Robert Boyd rounds up his summer reading, including various prominent comics by Emil Ferris, Ron Regé, Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver, Mimi Pond, Jason Shiga, and Seth.

The end of Clyde Fans is kind of an epochal event in Seth's career as a cartoonist--the ending is very contemplative and somewhat melancholy. But the other story, "Nothing Lasts," is really good, too. A great work by one of comics' greatest artists.


—RIP.
John Ashbery was happy to plunder comics and comics-related imagery and themes for his poems, such as Henry Darger in his 1999 book Girls on the Run and Popeye, in "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape."

The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant
To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched
Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
“M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.”
[...]

Also Walter Becker

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0QhaBW73Sk

And Holger Czukay

Back to School

So, a quiet weekend on this site, huh? Gee. I've learned so much. I learned that I miss Matt Seneca very much. Wait, what else did I learn? Oh yeah: Nothing. RJ's piece remains dead-on. But, I want to note a few things, which no doubt will be misconstrued, read in bad faith or otherwise distorted:

First, as a point of whatever shred of pride I have left: The idea that TCJ is a house organ of Fantagraphics is ludicrous. Tim and I live on the east coast and haven't met officially with anyone from Fanta in maybe three or four years, or even heard from anyone aside from the usual PR stuff, image requests, and the odd bit of "hi, how ya doing?" Not on purpose, but because everyone is busy and work is work. Maybe one phone conversation in between? Maybe? We are freelancers. It is equally ludicrous if not insanely naive to think that Fantagraphics is trying to "hit" a competitor. TCJ just published a far more damning review of a brand new Fantagraphics book, one written by a TCJ contributor. I have written in praise of IDW books many times. We don't care!

Then again, there's never any point defending TCJ or Fantagraphics because people who imagine TCJ to be a "house organ" or Fantagraphics to be some elitist cabal are obviously not looking at either with any seriousness. It shows an astonishing level of willful ignorance and bad faith—every single page of the site has this text written on the bottom-right: "PUBLISHED BY FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS"—and there's no point engaging with that kind of thing since there's nothing substantive to engage with. Life is too short.

Yes, RJ works for Fantagraphics. Comics is a tiny community -- he is a human with opinions first. Institutionally, comics and every other art form is a nest of conflicts-of-interest. Be thankful you’re not in the poetry world! In a comment on RJ's piece, Carol Tilley, without an ounce of irony, writes, "I am friends with Craig, was a member of the Eisner judging committee during 2016 when Yoe Books was nominated for and won an Eisner, wrote an introduction for one of the Weird Love collections, and provided advice on a couple of other titles." Hilarious!  

Anyhow, RJ's piece isn't going to dissuade anyone from buying those books. Gimme a break. Both here and at Comics Comics we've run negative reviews of Yoe books that, in retrospect, are probably (and wow, what a low standard) the best things he's done. Most humans don't buy books according to who published them. They buy according to subject. All the more reason for those subjects to be handled with care! RJ articulated exactly what every sophisticated reader and historian (especially the latter) knows about the problem of making considered and informed publishing decisions. Finally, it's an understatement to note that it's important to advocate for a more considered approach to comics history. 

Anyhow, that’s it. Today Matthias Wivel writes about Jack Kirby's late foray into autobiographical comics, Street Code.

Late in life, Jack Kirby returned to his youth. After a long, distinguished career he drew his first unequivocally autobiographical story, "Street Code", in 1983 (published 1990). In it, he remembers the dreary tenements on the Lower East Side of New York that he called home during the Depression, the unspoken love between he and his immigrant mother, the way his American identity was defined along ethnic fault lines, and the gang violence that became a constant, socializing factor for him.

It is an intensely sensed story, as always more or less improvised on the page. It ends abruptly with a sharply brooding self-portrait of the artist as a young man. He stares directly at the viewer with the glare of someone beyond his years, disgusted by the way of life he and his peers are forced to adopt. Kirby thus offers us a key to the art that led him out of this misery and with which he here brings that former reality to life. He aspires toward the arch-American narrative of social transcendence, ubiquitous not least in popular culture – and at the time he drew this story expressed most potently in New York’s still youthfully burgeoning hip hop culture.

Speaking of good books on comics, here's the story of how Jerry Lewis wrote a foreword to Karask and Newgarden's 150 years (give or take) in the making How to Read Nancy.

I love well-researched obscure comics history, naturally. Just like some of you. Here's some raw data on the great H.G. Peters.

 

Honestly

Today on the site, for your Labor Day Weekend reading pleasure we have RJ Casey with the case against Craig Yoe.

We are at peak reprint. Because of this, the only worthwhile publishing projects reissuing old comic strips or books need to be either uncovering hidden gems and critical missing links to bygone eras, or repackaging material in a way that makes it more historically relevant or capital-I “Important.” Craig Yoe does neither.

The hardcovers discharged monthly by the IDW imprint Yoe Books have varying themes and subject matters, ranging from wacky horror stories and wacky romance stories, all the way to wacky funny-animal stories. Yoe Books look like they’ve been put through the Print Shop Deluxe ringer. They are all faux-sturdy, piss-poor print jobs, and committed to a cookie-cutter 9”x11” template, no matter the size or layout of the original material. This is because Yoe is the Spencer’s Gifts of archivists—forever more interested in novelty than preservation.

Eyes that go googly over nostalgia are often clouded by it as well. That can be the only reason these books look like they are assembled from color Xerox copies. It appears that the pages were scanned from the original comic book, blown up, and then that enlargement was shrunk down again to fit the book’s page size.

Elsewhere:

This is a wonderful and amply illustrated memoir by the illustrator Brad Holland, who was hugely influential in the 1970s and 80s.

Frank Santoro and Comics Workbook are hosting workshops at the upcoming SPX