Seattle Bon

Today at The Comics Journal, we're sitting down with Sarah Horrocks, the prolific cartoonist (who also writes comics criticism on the side, including some that she writes with us). She's here to speak with Helen Chazan about her most recent work, an adaptation of Euripedes' Bacchae

Is this more textured style something you’ve always wanted to achieve in your art? Is there anything particular to this work that prompted these stylistic changes?

I’ve always been interested in more textural work. It was work like Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters that made me want to be a comic artist in the first place--and Alberto Breccia is a huge influence as well. I love texture because it gives you more dimensions to work in, and allows me to communicate my emotions as an artist behind the story or page. And I just think it looks cool.

I also had a revelation while reading Zanardi by Pazienza, that no matter what style I worked in, it would always look like me, so the coherency of a page can just simply be my inclinations as an artist. What communicates the emotion of this panel, of this page; what makes this composition right--and not: “well I drew that character like that in the previous panel, so I should keep with it”--to me the consistency is that it’s all coming out of my pen/brush. 

As for anything prompting any change. I think Bacchae looks how it looks, because I’ve been working in black and white on Goro for a year, and wanted to do something in color again.  But also that’s just kind of how I saw it in my head. Each comic should look the way that works best for what it is.  So across Leopard, Goro, and Bacchae my style shifts wildly--but you can see this in my old old anthology work too where styles would shift radically between stories.  I always see these things, and then do my best to put them out in front of me, even if it requires me to work differently than I ever have previously. If I had a comic that I thought I should do in watercolors, I would just learn how to do watercolors. That’s my approach to comics as an artist. I’ll never limit the stories I can tell by what I think I can or can’t achieve as an artist, for better or worse.

Our review of the day comes to us from Ryan Carey, who has been keeping up with the Black Hook releases of Dokudami Tenement, and has some thoughts on the third volume.

It’s not enough, however, to propel it beyond the realm of the ultimately exploitative, and playing a lot of Franky’s mannerisms and modes of self-expression for laughs certainly doesn’t help, but the character is at least allowed the dignity of being something other than a simple one-note cipher, and there is an acknowledgement on Fukutani’s part that their struggle for acceptance (both from themselves and others) is not only valid in a more general sense, but also crucial to their emotional and psychological survival. Unfortunately, Fukutani has a persistent habit of trying to pull  cheap and easy punch-lines out of Franky’s trials and tribulations, and this consistently pushes the proceedings back down to something just slightly above gutter level --- but there’s an attempt at something more here, even if the narrative can never seem to allow itself to achieve it.

Multiple comics sites published articles in the last couple of days regarding DC Comics, which has begun the process of firing people in an attempt to restructure the company into one that appears more profitable via the easiest method possible. This round up of reactions to Mark Chiarello's firing is pretty spot on--regardless of my continued middle-aged spurred disinterest in basically everything DC publishes that isn't a reprint of something from the 1980's, Mark did good work at that company. (Here's an old Comics Alliance article by some familiar names on one of the best pieces of that work.) The past few weeks have seen more than a handful of concerned to furious articles about the current state of this part of the comics business--which is not to say that there haven't been some pretty hopeful ones too--but the timing of these firings, and the lack of any concrete sense that DC has any real plan doesn't instill a lot of confidence. Hope ain't a tactic, y'all.

Ring Ring

Today on the site we have the final (for now?) episode of Greg Hunter's excellent podcast, Comic Book Decalogue. Appropriately, he goes out with an important guest, Carol Tyler. Greg plans to continue contributing to the site from time to time, but his podcast will be much-missed.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—As mentioned last week, John Porcellino has launched a new weekly strip at The Chicago Reader. Melissa Mendes has started one, too.

—The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced. One of the contenders in the autobiography section is Nora Krug's Belonging, and, refreshingly, I haven't noticed anyone making a big deal about a comic being named.

—Gordon Dahlquist recommends Walt Kelly's Pogo.

The material is both arrantly silly and satirically sharp. Walt Kelly’s insistent lampooning of McCarthyism takes a place next to The Crucible as far as artistic stands of the American 1950s, but political commentary is only a grace note to the fullness of this world. The detail and depth of the art, the whimsical quasi-Southern dialect (and spelling, and lettering), and the expansive range of characters (and characterizations) are equally singular. Kelly lays out a crackling music-hall sensibility of routines, equal parts word-play and slap-stick, self-consciously old-fashioned and slyly up to the moment. Though it’s impossible to imagine strips like Doonesbury or Bloom County without it, Pogo is like nothing before or since in the newspapers.

Whoopsy Hate-sy

Today at TCJ, we've got a nice, deep dive into...The Teen Titans? Yup, you read that correctly. Michel Fiffe's Fiffe Files returns with its monthly does of dusty longbox-ing. But..the Titans?

Aw, but that's too many comics to look for and collect and read. Who has the time? C'mon, it's not that much to collect... at least it's not Claremont-written mutant titles. Well, I just cleared 5 longboxes full of unread stuff from my studio... it got overwhelming and literally in the way. Okay, but this would only be one longbox, tops. Yeah, but I know Teen Titans is gonna disappoint me, though... it's not their fault but it will fail to deliver what I need at this moment. I know it will. It happened with John Byrne's Namor, Jim Valentino's Guardians of the Galaxy, Dwayne McDuffie's Deathlok (that one kinda broke my heart), Firestorm/Hawkworld/Eternal Warrior by John Ostrander, New Warriors by Nicieza and the Bag Man... it goes on and on. As if binge reading automatically unlocks magical qualities. Is it a quest for exciting new stories that drives me, or is it just an excuse to nurture this neurosis? Might be both! I hate this habit of mine, this hungry and impatient consumer-monster with an optimistic streak driving my decisions. Clearly, the rush is in the hunting, the amassing, the checklist fetish, the sense of completion. But it's never complete, is it? That hole you want to fill just keeps getting as big as your tolerance lets it. Hey, maybe if I stuff this terrible meal down my throat I'll grow to love it. It never works.

It. Never. Works.

Our review of the day comes to us from Chris Mautner--he's taking a look at Tinderella, M.S. Harkness's debut graphic novel, which was published by Kilgore Books last year.

The most interesting thing about Tinderellais its sudden and sharp shift in tone about two thirds of the way through. Prior to that moment, the book appeared to be an entertaining if rather familiar look at the trials and tribulations of modern dating. But Harkness reaches for something deeper and more emotionally resonant towards the end, both strengthening the book and suggesting that she is a more thoughtful author than first glances would imply.

Over at The MNT, there's a solid interview with a couple of comics retail mainstays, James Sime & Ryan Higgins. 

Walk Away and Leave

Welcome back from the three-day (US) weekend. Robert C. Harvey is here today with the fifth installment of his series on the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. This week, World War II begins, and shots start flying at home too.

Fisher’s actions speak volumes about how unsure of himself he was. He sought the company of famous people. He went to great lengths to associate himself with them. He courted celebrities by depicting them in the strip. He recognized consciously that he too was a famous person, but unconsciously, he wasn’t sure. He had to be convinced. To shore up his own opinion of himself, he needed the reassurance he could feel if he were in the company of the people he regarded as famous. If he associated with famous people, surely he too was famous. His vanity — not to mention the very vitality of his self-esteem — was fed by his proximity to the famous.

And Fisher was unquestionably vain. He tooted his own horn. He carried around lists of all the newspapers that subscribed to his strip and would proudly produce them at the slightest provocation. Few major figures in cartooning ever make an exhibition of themselves like Ham Fisher did — proclaiming his own greatness to his peers, who all knew, as no other assembly of persons could, just how great he was.

They didn’t need Fisher to tell them about Fisher. They knew and appreciated his achievement. But they were turned off by his loud and boorish displays of self-adulation. And they saw through his obsequious servitude in the bar of the Illustrators clubhouse: They knew he was courting the favor of those whom he regarded as great. The rest of the company — the cartoonists whom Fisher did not see as very famous — Fisher ignored. And those cartoonists resented it. Resenting it, they were receptive to tales that revealed Fisher as they saw him. The story of Fisher’s treatment of Rube Goldberg, for instance.

At one of the early meetings of the Society, Weiss said, Fisher buttonholed Goldberg, telling him how much he, Fisher, admired his work, how great Goldberg was, and so on. Later, Fisher confided to another cartoonist that it was “too bad” about Goldberg: The man was a has-been, he opined, over the hill. Goldberg heard about this. And it galled him. And it irked others who learned of it. The episode confirmed them in their low opinion of Fisher. Fisher, they could see, was a self-serving blow-hard, willing to advance himself at everyone else’s expense whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Tahneer Oksman talks to Julie Doucet.

I quit comics, but I kept on drawing. Drawing and making all sorts of different things. And then I did this project with Michel Gondry [My New New York Diary, a book accompanied by a short film on DVD, published by PictureBox in 2010]. I love his films and all that, so I just said yes. But I was already not that much into drawing. And it was quite a lot of work. It was really just supposed to be a tiny project, like trying something, but it ended up being, not big, but quite a lot of work.

That’s when I had burnout, and after that I just couldn’t draw anymore. Because the film with him involved drawing and at that point I didn’t really feel like drawing, but it was just impossible to say no.

I had burnout, and I just couldn’t draw anymore. Or, I could draw, but it was really on automatic pilot. Not really anything creative.

The latest episode of RiYL is Georgia Webber.

—News. Four new members have been selected for the Eisners Hall of Fame: Jim Aparo, June Tarpé Mills, Dave Stevens, and Morrie Turner.

—Reviews & Commentary. Prominent retailer Brian Hibbs thinks the comics direct market is finally really dying.

Really, there aren’t a ton of “name” retailers, stores that might register with an average comic book reader, but I think Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics might be one of them. Chuck posted to Facebook “I fervently believe that the economics of comics publishing simply no longer allow smallish neighborhood comics shops to be successful”

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, Chuck went on in his recent newsletter that Mile High, one of the largest and most successful retailers in the country, was reacting to the new realities of publishing in the DM with this: “If you are a fan who wants to just browse the racks in our stores each week, however, you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed if you do not come in to one of our locations on Wednesday morning. We will definitely still be ordering copies of many new releases for speculative sale on the racks in our retail stores, but in such small quantities that we will be almost certainly sell out by the first weekend”

One of the most successful stores in the world is saying that they’re cutting bait on most new releases because they can’t stock them profitably. Think about that a second.

Secret Briefings

Today on the site, Annie Mok returns with a very fun email interview with Space Academy 123's Mickey Zacchilli.

I think a lot of burgeoning cartoonists see you as something of an artistic hero. Have you seen or heard about your influence on other cartoonists and their work? Are there artists you, in turn, have work you’ve been influenced by?

Uhhh I haven't heard this, about me being an artistic hero haha. There are a lot of artists and works I'm influenced by, of course! Jillian Tamaki and CF, as I mentioned above. Brian Chippendale has certainly been an influence on me but please don't ever talk to me about Fort Thunder. I'm always inspired by Michael DeForge (SA123 wouldn't exist were it not for Leaving Richard's Valley, which was Michael's daily Instagram comic that inspired me to start my own) and lately I've been reading the Naruto manga which has been really inspiring, for like, life in general haha, also watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (about to start Legend of Korra) which has been similarly inspiring and energizing in lots of ways. It feels stressful to make a list of people who inspire me right now because I'm really bad at recalling things off the top of my head and might forget to include a person that is particularly inspiring to me or something!!! So i'm not gonna do that. But there are so many amazing cartoonists working today! I feel inspired just thinking about reading comics. I just really like comics right now I guess!

One of your signatures is speech balloons with the tails connecting right to the speakers’ mouths, and hand-lettering with a lot of flair and personality. The decision, of course, makes no more or less sense than any other of the visual languages comics has developed over the last century, but it’s striking. When I read your comics, this touch makes me think about how the characters are communicating, how they may sound when they talk, in a way I may not get from more traditional speech balloons and lettering. How did you come to these approaches to balloons and letters?

I started doing the word bubbles that way because I used to not be so good at anticipating the layout, so I would just have to squeeze the bubbles in wherever, and sometimes it would be really confusing as to who was speaking if the bubble didn't connect directly to their mouth haha. So, it came about out of necessity. I still do it because I think it's way easier to understand that way, and it always felt kind of weird to me that the word bubbles are often added after the drawing is done, just overlaying the drawing, like they aren't an integral part of the comic?

Also I found I could break up the bubbles (sometimes a character will have two or three bubbles coming out of his mouth in the same panel) which allowed me to control the pacing of the speech -- so I was able to deliver it to the reader in a more specific manner, like in a movie! Hope that makes sense. I guess you can do that with regular word bubbles too!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Hannah Berry talks about the financial difficulties of life as a graphic novelist. (Via The Beat.)

Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? We’ve come this far together, let’s not get all coy about the financial side of things:

As a comicker I’m extremely fortunate to be published by Jonathan Cape, who as part of Penguin Random House are able to afford a bigger advance than a lot of other publishers of graphic novels. Specifically, for Livestock mine was £10,000. (NB never ask a prose novelist about their advances at similar points in their career because it will keep you up at night.) You only get a portion of this advance on signing the contract, though - the rest you get on delivery of the final thing and on publication. My editor is a kindly man, and so he arranged for the portion on signature to be £5,000.

Fortunately the Arts Council also offer grants under their Grants for the Arts scheme, and I made a successful bid (fourth time lucky) for just over £10,000. The various bits of freelance work I did on the side amounted to maybe another £9,000. Altogether that makes an income of approximately £24,000 over three years.

—Angouleme has named its Grand Prix nominees: Emmanuel Guibert, Rumiko Takahashi, and Chris Ware.

What About The Feelings

You may think you're at The Comics Journal, but that's where you're wrong, Buster. Today, you're at the Ariel Schrag Journal. We're starting things off with a nice long interview, courtesy of Schrag Superfan, Noah Berlatsky. In this section, Ariel talks about some of the complaints she faced after the release of her novel, Adam.

So I guess the thing after- after that was Adam, which we talked about a little bit. I guess I was curious with Adam, what kind of feedback you’ve gotten from trans readers.

Well I’ve gotten- well there’s personal feedback I’ve gotten from friends of mine who are trans and then there’s the internet, which is a whole other level of feedback.

Were people very critical?

Are you not aware of the extreme backlash that the book received?

No, I’m not.

Oh, yeah. There was a lot of criticism of it. For various reasons. It kind of turned into a bit of a wildstorm where many people who just hadn’t even read the book but just didn’t like the premise, you know, would go online and be like “this is the worst book I’ve read the synopsis of."

So, the book isn’t perfect or anything and if somebody is pissed off or reads it and has a critique then I’m interested in that but it’s kind of hard, at least on the internet- it’s kind of hard to find that within the barrage of people who haven’t read it or who skimmed it or who just want something to be angry about.

But most people- I have a lot of trans friends who have read it, and there are a lot of reviews by trans people that were positive and some that are negative. As long as somebody put thought into it I’ll pay attention. But, the main thing that people took issue with were that they don’t like the idea that a lesbian would date a trans man because that means she’s not a lesbian. Which is the point of the book.

There's also a lot of difficulty with people understanding the difference between showing a character doing something bad and condoning that behavior. But they also don’t like it because it promotes incest, because Adam watches his sister have sex. It’s just weird to me. It’s not how I’ve ever experienced media-

You didn’t get these kinds of criticisms for Awkward and Potential?

No, but I don’t think as many people have read those so maybe they would- there’d be more-

Let's not stop there. Move right on into our review of the day, which is of the Parts of It collection mentioned by Ariel in the interview. Helen Chazan, take the wheel:

Autobio comics trick you into having empathy. When we read comics, we articulate voices and imagine their utterance, and on some level I think we convince ourselves we understand the emergence of thoughts and feelings onto the page. In autobio, our reading enters us into role-play as the author, and without realizing it we begin to view their perception of the world as normal. The talented artist of autobio have the power to make something particular appear universal, to make us take the truth of an experience for granted before we even construct it as an experience. (This power can also be abused -- the reader of recent Chester Brown or an irritating self-help webcomic[1] alike will often find themselves asking, “who let you into my head?”)

Over at The Guardian, you'll find an extensive look at the 2019 comics most likely to be reviewed by major media outlets, courtesy of that white guy with the beard who wears sweaters and handles basically 94% of comics related publicity

Over at The Beat, they've got their final installment in their annual Creator Survey results, which focuses on their Comics Industry Person of the Year. (You get one guess, although you'll need two). The survey goes on past the top line to touch upon various creators and titles, with special admiration reserved for the Publisher of the Year: Annie Koyama.

Meat-Heavy

Today on the site, Rob Clough's High-Low column returns with a look at the comics of E.A. Bethea.

E.A. Bethea's comics read as detailed, confessional fever dreams. Her comics have the cadence of poetry, the text and images coalescing into commentaries on visual detritus, hilarious observations, charged and frequently sexual memories, and fascinating personal and cultural details. She's been fairly prolific of late, and Domino Books published a collection of her work titled Book of Days Daze. It is unfortunately printed on cheap newsprint instead of the thicker paper stock she's used in self-published comics like Faded Frankenstein and All Killer, No Filler. That said, those latter two comics had limited print runs, so the Domino edition is most people's best chance to read Bethea's work. Despite its limitations in this format, it is my choice for the single best single-issue minicomic/zine of 2018.

Faded Frankenstein, from 2016, is my favorite of her collections. Bethea ranges from nine to twelve panels per page, shakily hand-drawn as though she had no time to indulge in precision. There's a furious flow to her writing that makes it seem as though it's bursting out of her pen, each page a separate explosion of images and memories that demand to be expressed. Sometimes a page will have a single image. Other pages are illustrated text in an open-page format. Some of her stories have a conversational feel, as though she was confessing them to the reader at one of the hole-in-the-wall bars that she favors. Others are directly poetic, didactic or purely observational. All of them are dense and immersive, demanding a reader's full attention.

We also have a preview excerpt from Alexander Utkin's The Water Spirit.

Finally, one correction. As a reader kindly pointed out, an apparent excess of eggnog and fruitcake during the holiday season led to tabulation errors when we tallied votes from participants' lists of the best comics of 2018.

The actual combined votes lead to the following consensus list for 2018:

1. Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), 16 votes
2. Julie Doucet, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly), 13 votes
3. Eleanor Davis, Why Art? (Fantagraphics), 12 votes
4. Lauren R. Weinstein, Frontier #17: Mother's Walk (Youth in Decline), 11 votes
5. (tie) Tommi Parrish, The Lie and How We Told It (Fantagraphics), Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam (First Second/Avery Hill/self-published), and Lale Westvind, Grip Vol. 1 (Perfectly Acceptable Press), 9 votes each
8. (tie) Yvan Alagbé, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (NYRC), Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (D&Q), Hartley Lin, Young Frances (AdHouse), Olivier Schrauwen, Parallel Lives (Fantagraphics), Noah Van Sciver, One Dirty Tree (Uncivilized), and Jim Woodring, Poochytown (Fantagraphics), 8 votes each

Note: If all votes for works by Olivier Schrauwen, Noah Van Sciver, and Lauren R. Weinstein were added together (each artist received multiple votes for multiple works), the list would have been somewhat different. The top 13 artists of 2018 would then be 1. Lutes, 2. Van Sciver, 3. Weinstein, 4. Doucet, 5. Davis, 6. Schrauwen, 7. (tie) Parrish & Walden & Westvind, and 10. (tie) Alagbé & Drnaso & Lin & Woodring.

Apologies to all affected artists and publishers.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. David Foster Wallace biographer D.T. Max profiled Nick Drnaso for The New Yorker.

Drnaso is as composed as his panels, which are rendered in crisp, almost rigid lines. He had only complimentary things to tell me about other cartoonists, and insisted that he wasn’t bothered by the fact that Drawn & Quarterly, which specializes in indie comics, had greatly underestimated the demand for “Sabrina.” “I don’t care in the least,” he said. “I never thought there was some sales goal I needed to hit.” He is so modest that, at one point, he offered an apology for his modesty, observing that “self-deprecation can be a little bit overbearing on the person who is forced to listen to it.” The only time I saw him express an impolite emotion was a few weeks after the book fair, when we were in a minor car accident on Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago. He was taking me on a tour of Logan Square, a fast-gentrifying neighborhood about which he has “mixed feelings.” It is not far from where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their three cats. We had just eaten a meat-heavy breakfast at a favored diner—“It does the job,” he commented—when a minivan rear-ended us. Drnaso’s car had barely budged, but he was clearly upset. “What the fuck was that?” he said.

The most recent guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is Peter Kuper.

—Reviews & Commentary. Gary Panter celebrates the comics of Gene Ahern.

Some things don’t become particularly interesting until they’ve survived their own era, outlasted the competition; they’re bizarre remnants. In the early ’60s, among the Sunday comic strips abandoned at the local laundromat that I most enjoyed reading were reprints of Gene Ahern’s Our Boarding House (1921–1936) and Room and Board (1936–1953). I found the prehistoric quality of these strips, both of which were set in dumpy boarding houses featuring patched couches and worn-out lamps, and a cast of layabouts who looked like beaten boxers with misshapen noses, very compelling.

Brian Nicholson looks back at the Batman comics of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle.

The Breyfogle stuff is so dynamic, and the plotting is so straightforward that publishing it alongside an annual by different people and a 16-page “Bonus book” that tried out new creators is basically only useful as a point of contrast, but everyone reading this collection will be immediately aware of much better the Grant/Breyfogle stuff is compared to pretty much everything else without needing any help. (Good lord, imagine someone who willingly reads the Batman comics DC currently puts out monthly reading this!)

—Misc. John Porcellino has launched a new weekly strip at The Chicago Reader.

And Michael Kupperman gave a presentation for Google:

Glue For Ghoul

Today at TCJ, we've got the latest installment in R.C. Harvey's most recent adventure spelunking into the past, which is currently being published in a serial format popularized by podcasts and other transmedia properties. 

That Fisher’s obsession about Capp had become utterly shameless can be deduced from the venue of the essay — an instruction booklet for a correspondence course in illustration and cartooning. Rather than supply a drawing lesson, Fisher was asked by Coulton Waugh, the author of the course, to tell how he had become successful: Waugh’s expectation was that Fisher’s story would be inspirational to aspiring young illustrators and cartoonists. The hillbilly origin tale is wholly extraneous to the essay’s ostensible purpose — and to its running argument. But it is integral to what had, by this time, become Fisher’s absorbing preoccupation: that the hillbillies who were making Capp rich and famous appeared first in Joe Palooka.

And Fisher was right. In Al Capp Remembered, published in 1994, fifteen years after Capp’s death, his brother Elliott wrote: “Alfred never quibbled about the obvious relationship between Big Leviticus and Li’l Abner. He freely admitted that his hillbilly was germinated in the Sunday pages of Joe Palooka.”

The essential fact was never in dispute. At issue was who created Big Leviticus. If Capp created Big Leviticus, he could scarcely be accused of “stealing” the hillbilly idea.

We’ll probably never know, with certainty, the truth about who created the hillbillies in Joe Palooka. But it is more than probable that each of the participants in the dispute has a piece of the truth on his side. Take the question of the “creation” of a comic-strip character. In his mind, Fisher could legitimately claim to have created Big Leviticus and his obnoxious family even if all he actually did was give Capp instructions to do a sequence about Joe Palooka fighting a roughneck hillbilly. The concept, as they might say these days in Hollywood and other suburbs in La-la Land, was Fisher’s. The execution might have been left entirely to Capp. And if Capp fleshed out the idea — gave personality to Big Leviticus and his entourage — he could legitimately claim to have “created” the character, too.

Our review of the day comes to you from the land of Germany--written by a German, and about a German's work. One of those people is Oliver Ristau, the other, of course, is Anna Haifisch.

While Drifter took pleasure in mostly recapitulating color schemes already proven in predecessors like Von Spatz or The Artist series, The Mouse Glass focuses on establishing harsh contrasts, for example between the luminously bright fires in yellow resulting from the attacks of marauding street fighters and the environment surrounding them, laid out in large green and orange flats on the cover. In times of war, the light flair of her former works has to step aside for a kick in the eye.

And meanwhile, there's a delightful conversation with Katsuhiro Otomo up as part of a Kodansha promo piece on the book.

Q. It’s said in France—and in the West in general—that Akira depicts your concerns about political issues, especially nuclear power. Do you think that’s an erroneous interpretation, brought about by cultural differences between Japan and the West?

KO: I’m aware of this line of thinking, but it’s because France takes a philosophical view to everything, distorting it. It’s not how it’s seen in Japan, and it’s not what’s depicted in the comic. I have no intention of expressing my political views or philosophical opinions. I’ve said this often before, but one of my influences as I made Akira was Tetsujin 28-go. This was a manga series meant for kids, with numbers applied to the cast of characters, and I wanted to make an homage to this series. I also wanted to depict the later Showa period (postwar Japan), including preparations for the Olympics, rapid economic growth, and the student unrest of the 1960s. I wanted to recreate the assorted elements that built this era and craft an exciting story that would seem believable enough in reality.

Looking at the world now, I wonder how it wound up like this. Looking at issues like wars/conflicts and organized crime, I can feel the world slowly fall out of balance, and I hope we can improve on that. Basically, though, Akira was heavily influenced by the manga I read as a child, and it portrays this kind of brilliant force that you see in people around the world in their younger, purer years. That’s the simple theme preached by Akira; it’s a tragedy depicting people destroying the world’s balance amid this era that I wanted to recreate.

 

Pacific Ocean

Today on the site, Michael Dean has our obituary for Supernatural Law creator Batton Lash.

Wolff & Byrd creator Batton Lash died Saturday at the age of 65 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. Though he was never a star of the comics mainstream, the announcement drew a surge of web posts from fans and independent comics creators who knew Lash as a friendly and supportive presence at comics conventions.

Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Lash attended New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he studied under comics legends Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. After graduation, he did illustrations for such publications as Garbage magazine and the book Rock ‘n’ Roll Confidential and worked as an assistant for comics artist Howard Chaykin. Invited in 1979 to contribute to newly launched newsweekly Brooklyn Papers, Lash noted that the area where the broadsheet was distributed included a concentration of courts and law offices: a prime audience for a humorous strip about the law. His Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre followed the case files of Alana Wolff and Jeff Byrd, whose legal practice specialized in supernatural and super-powered clients. Both gothic and cartoonish, Lash’s art reflected the influence of his mentors by combining realistic detail with expressive caricature. The strip ran in Brooklyn Papers until 1996 and, in 1983, was picked up by the National Law Review, where it continued until 1997.

Edwin Turner is here, too, with a review of Paul Kirchner's Hieronymus & Bosch.

Paul Kirchner's Hieronymus & Bosch collects over eighty comic strips that riff on the afterlife of a "shameless ne'er-do-well named Hieronymus" and his faithful wooden toy duck, Bosch. The hapless pair are trapped in Hell, the primary setting for most of the strips (although we do get a bit of heaven and earth thrown in here and there). Kirchner's Hell is a paradise of goofy gags. The one-pagers in Hieronymus & Bosch cackle with burlesque energy, propelled by a simple plot: our hero Hieronymus tries to escape, fails, and tries again.

And what sins have damned poor Hieronymus to Hell? When we first meet the cloaked miscreant he's passed out, drooling all over an altar, clearly having enjoyed too much communion wine. An annoyed bishop prods him awake and kicks him from the church doors and into the village, where he proceeds to sin his ass off. Kirchner's Hieronymus doesn't quite fit all of the seven deadly sins in this morning (those same sins that the historical Hieronymus Bosch captured so well in his famous table), but he comes pretty damn close. Notably, he steals his comrade Bosch--a toy duck--from some poor kid. The wages of sin are death though, and poor Hieronymus, in a fit of wacky wrath, slips in some shit, falls on his toy duck, and careens into death.

Bad news: He's in Hell, where hope is strictly prohibited.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Maria Bustillos reconsiders what is possibly Saul Steinberg's most famous images (and interviews David Remnick about it).

I was looking into this drawing because it had dawned on me recently that I’d never quite understood the joke. Was it “Oh New Yorkers! they think they’re the center of the world!”?? Or was it, “Well, it’s funny that they think that but also they are, right? ha-ha!” I saw in it a poking fun at the paradox, the small-mindedness of “cosmopolitanism.” Maybe, the artist’s little joke against himself.

Was I ever wrong! Not one person whom I’ve asked about this drawing understood what Steinberg meant by it, even though the answer is written plain as day in the weird and excellent 2012 biography by Deirdre Bair—and still more clearly in the image itself, once you know how to look. It turns out the answer matters, too; it matters a lot.

Brian Nicholson looks at Alack Sinner.

In the story “Life Ain’t A Comic Book, Kid,” two comic creators, Muñoz and Sampayo have discovered that there’s a real detective who shares a name with their fictional detective character, so they visit New York to meet him. It’s for comic relief, mostly, but crime fiction doesn’t really traffic in this level of fourth-wall breaking. There are arcs of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal and Rich Tommaso’s Dry County that work the job of a cartoonist into a crime plot, but that’s those works being beholden to the tenets of realism, and using autobiographical lived experience for verisimilitude, which isn’t the goal here. Instead, it creates a space for the cartoonists to say, explicitly, to their main character: “Yeah, you’re an honest man and you don’t kill people, but you’re still an American, and so complicit in a system that exploits the rest of the world, so we are not cool.”

Dana Forsythe revisits the well-trod but always worth revisiting story of Love & Rockets.

Groundbreaking, epic, and heartfelt, the quintessential indie comic Love and Rockets is as relevant today as it was when Mario, Gilbert (aka Beto), and Jaime Hernandez self-published the first issue in 1981. A blend of sci-fi, telenovela, superhero tales, comics, jokes, and short stories, the magazine was worlds away from anything anyone, especially Marvel or DC, was publishing during those days.

Not only did Love and Rockets usher in a new age of independent comic books, but it also broke ground with stories featuring marginalized voices and characters from the LGBTQ and Latinx community. By the time DC and Marvel had introduced Latinx characters like Sunspot, Firebird, and Bushmaster in the early '80s, Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo, Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass and the fiery Luba were living out real lives in the fictional towns of Hoppers and Palomar in Love and Rockets.

—Crowdfunding. Carol Tyler has launched a Patreon.

Blood on the Tarmac

It's Friday, and we're pleased to be sharing the final day of Ellen Lindner's Cartoonist Diary. In today's installment, she fucks with her hair. When you're young, this is something you do because you claim you're trying to express yourself, but it's actually an attempt to discover yourself via a means of expression. When you do this during adulthood, then it becomes more of a means of enjoyment and pleasure. I just made all that up, but I bet it's true for somebody! Ellen is a pal from a ways back, and I like her more than I like most people. And I like people a lot: they're my favorite!

It's also time for some more pals--hell, i'm gonna call this a Conflict of Interest Friday! Why not. It's Joe "Jog" McCulloch and Matt "Ezekiel" Seneca, taking a look at Parallel Lives. Longtime fans of TCJ will know that these two powerhouses only team up on the most important of topics, unless they're teaming up with me, in which case we talk about late period Garth Ennis comics. Get your Schrauwen on!

Yeah - Arsène Schrauwen, especially, spun comedic gold out of what we in the present inevitably see as the banality of the past… but that stuff is still banality. Even toward the end of that book, its artist seemed decidedly tired of the period drag he’d draped his story in, pivoting first into fantasy with an attack of half-human leopard men, then into a very specific quasi-futurism with the construction of a technological wonderland deep in the African jungle. The past is pork and beans, the future is whatever you want it to be. Maybe Schrauwen just didn’t want to hold back his prodigious ability to invent from whole cloth anymore! His vision of the future is basically a point-A-to-point-B extrapolation from our own present - or just the intensification of a culture shift that’s already begun, as you suggest. But powered by Schrauwen’s unique creativity, which forgoes the big sweeping visions sci-fi usually affords and focuses in instead on the ins and outs of leisure, it feels novel.

This is in part due to Schrauwen’s switching up the structure of his pages. Where his previous work mainly used a gridded structure seen in any number of comics (usually a 6- or 8-panel page layout), here he scales up to a 6x4 24-panel grid, usually broken up slightly by one or two larger keystone images. The grid will get even denser in subsequent stories. This obviously enables Schrauwen to pack more information into less pages; “Hello” and later chapters of Parallel Lives could have filled out album-format graphic novels if they’d been illustrated more expansively. But it also forces Schrauwen into a highly elliptical visual treatment of the future, with the technophilic landscapes we expect from sci-fi comics relegated to a few geometric shapes and bold colors in the backgrounds of tiny panels. Schrauwen is focusing on people, using the futuristic setting not as a character itself (as we see so often in comics), but only the push that puts the personalities he’s playing with in motion.

The narration in Arsène and “Greys”, as well as all the other comics in this volume, is absent from “Hello”, robbing it of some absurdity and giving it a cracked sitcom feel. I didn’t enjoy returning to the story as much as I thought I would: put in context among other Schrauwen works rather than Mould Map, it feels a little less distinct. Still, as the only story here to straddle our world’s past and its future, it’s an important piece in the puzzle Parallel Lives presents, acting as a pivot point for the book’s subject matter.

Did I say it was conflict of interest Friday? Big surprise: this artform has less people participating in it than my high school has who participated in breathing, while the business division lacks the numbers to fill out a bowling league. The question isn't whether or not you know the people involved, it's whether or not you check your spelling. That being said: I love Michel Fiffe, and I'm becoming deeply invested in winning Austin Price's approval. Here's your Bloodstrike Brutalists review!

Ready

RJ Casey is here today with an interview with a young cartoonist named Katie Fricas, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and Hyperallergic, among other places.

I was going to bring up those [Blabbermouth] comics because they seem especially like a way to excise humiliating memories.

I’m never going to do something like those comics again. I was actually reading the journals of Paul Klee and his journals are really good. They are all these short paragraph snippets that are like arbitrary memories. Have you ever read Andy Warhol’s journals?

No, I haven’t.

His journals are like what he ate and who he hung out with. They are more like lists. Paul Klee’s journals would be like him looking into his brain for memories and pulling out anything and writing it up in three sentences. At the end of the paragraph, he would put how old he was. It was like, “Went to the market with Mama. Seven years old.”

OK.

I was reading those and having some depression issues. I was trying to pull myself out, so I was just like, “Let me just do this exercise where I just think of everything I can and put an age on it.” I was going to write it in short snippets too. That’s what turned into Blabbermouth. I noticed as I was doing it that a lot of the memories were kind of sexual. Then I was starting to think of things that were related. Then the memories stopped being like random grab-bagging.

Connections were being made.

Yeah. They all connected into this TMI comic. It was like an exorcism in a way. I wanted to confess, move on, then start hitting the pavement. I’ve been making comics forever, but I’ve only been sort of an “art monster” about it for the past four years. That’s when I really started being thirsty for blood.

And, of course, Ellen Lindner is here with Day Four of her Cartoonist's Diary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Colin Beineke talks to Now editor Eric Reynolds.

Given Fantagraphics’s access to the market and reputation within the field, when you select what to include in issues of Now what sort of responsibility do you feel to your readership and to new artists? In a sense, editing an anthology like Now is a gatekeeping position.

I do feel a genuine responsibility on that front. You’re trying to thread a needle of quality but also trying to provide a gateway drug for comics fans into other stuff. But you have to balance that with the type of work that you’re running. There’s a lot of work that I like but I wouldn’t necessarily run in Now: a lot of more outré, avant-garde, more transgressive, more provocative stuff that I genuinely get off on as a fan of comics, but I wouldn’t necessarily think would be the best thing to put in Now. You’re constantly, whether you want to admit it or not, balancing aesthetics and common sense and market considerations. Not just because you, as a publisher, want to make money, which is invariably true, but also because you want to be a good ambassador for the work.

Abraham Riesman talks to Nnedi Okorafor.

When Marvel asked if I wanted to write T’Challa, I hesitated, and it was because of my issues with Wakanda. I had serious issues with Wakanda. And also a lot of my comics friends were like, “You need to do this.” I was like, “Well, okay, if I have these issues with Wakanda, I can address these issues by writing it. I can expand things.” I think it was Stan Lee who created it.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby together, yeah.
How they created it and their limited ideas and understanding and knowledge of Africa, that’s really what it is. And it’s no judgment on them, but that’s really where I think its issue came from. Because having a country that is the most technological and wealthiest nation in the continent, and then have it hide itself and keep all of its technology to itself from the rest the continent of Africa, with everything around them. They’re landlocked, so that means all the countries around it were having different types of issues, and Wakanda just kinda stayed quiet with all of its technology and wealth. The excuse is, Well, if we let people know, they’ll consume us. I get that, but it’s still problematic.

Rather Like Fairy Land Isn’t It

It's Wednesday here at TCJ, probably means it's Wednesday wherever you are: that's how days work, most of the time. Today, we've got our last look back at 2018 before committing ourselves fully to 2019. It's a special edition of our Retail Therapy column, with a whole mess of retailers swinging by to let us know what a "Best of" means to them as readers & retailers.

It's also time for day 3 of Ellen Lindner's Cartoonist Diary. In this installment, she's getting her Instagram on.

Our review of the day is of the most recent Street Angel release, from Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca. Courtesy of Marty Brown, it continues the Journal's tradition of liking Rugg related items.

In fact, some of the most fun Rugg and Maruca have is when they’re cheekily referencing an elaborate backstory for Street Angel that never gets shown in the books. Each successive volume seems to push the boundaries of what is possible in Street Angel’s world, and vs. Ninjatech is perhaps their most delightfully bonkers hardcover to date, going deeper into the Shiraz Thunderbird Expanded Universe than we’ve seen before. Typical Street Angel encounters tend to happen at, uh, street level: she gets into a fight after school or rescues a dog or goes trick-or-treating or finds a dead body in an alley – all things that could reasonably pop up in a homeless girl’s periphery on a given day. In Ninjatech, we start to see the larger infrastructure (“the ninja industrial complex”) of the world she inhabits. It’s like Rugg and Maruca’s season 3 of The Wire.

Ramble # 3: I watched that scene at the end of Sully that's made up, the one where he makes people feel bad by being the best dad with the second best mustache (Aaron Eckhart has the best mustache), and at the end, the Breaking Bad lady apologizes to him on behalf of America for not giving him the Best Dad award earlier. Clint Eastwood made all that up, apparently. I'm in Austin, what do you want from me. I found some deal to rent a tiny shitbox car for 7 bucks a day, but they didn't have any shitboxes, and the guy behind me in line was being a real Charlie Asshole to everybody, so the dude at the counter said "lemme help you out here". His "help" turned out to be a giant red pick up truck. It's great! I keep accidentally driving over curbs because the fucking thing is huge, I love it. Great food out here, FYI. I'm no foodie--my doctor actually told me i'm in the minority of the population who has no emotional attachment to food, that I view it purely as fuel--but I can tell the difference between good and great. Great stuff here!

I'm in Austin for a show, and I got to see a whole big presentation on the history of graphic novels, but it was a history that starts in 2006, because it was a history on making lots of money in graphic novels--so you can skip past all that stuff about underground comics and zines and what not, get right to the kids stuff they're now doing million count print runs on. It was interesting in a way, seeing how much of the financial legs of this thing has been built off of basically five people (3 creators, one marketing director, whoever the buyer was at Target back in 2010), a giant entertainment conglomerate that prints comics as an afterthought to their global movie empire, and a huge, never-ending beating stream of goodwill. But it was also a reminder that progress doesn't necessarily take everybody with it, which is painful. 

Like everything else, the most exciting parts where the tinier revelations, about how the mechanics of a basic panel to panel transition becomes so useful in a classroom, or how the experience of personal expression that eludes some children falls immediately into perfect flow when comics are touched upon. It's nice, after so much time in 101, to hear a conversation getting taken past the introductory stage. It's not the conversation I had expected, but the older I get, the less my hunches are turning out to be correct--i'm starting to develop a taste for surprise. Luckily, as my doctor said: that shit is just fuel.

Indispensable

Everything's back to normal here now. First, R.C. Harvey is back with the third installment of his multipart series exploring the legendary feud between Ham Fisher and Al Capp. In this section, Fisher meets Capp and things start to take off.

Fisher’s self-aggrandizing embroideries betray his version as somewhat fictional — his generously offering lunch to an impoverished stranger, Capp’s naming Joe Palooka his favorite strip, Fisher’s taking pity on the poor lad and creating a job for him. Later in the article, Edgar quotes Fisher claiming to have “started the trend of comic strips away from vaudeville skits toward continuous adventure stories”; in fact, by 1930, Roy Crane at Wash Tubbs was well into telling adventure stories that continued from day to day. Fisher also told Edgar that he “innovated the use of current events as story backgrounds”; I suspect Caniff was a little ahead of Fisher with Terry and the Pirates set in China.

According to the Capp clan’s version of the events of his employment on Joe Palooka, Fisher, after a few months, went off to London on a trip with Flagg — just disappeared, Capp said. Interviewed by Carol Oppenheim at the Chicago Tribune on the occasion of his retiring from Li’l Abner in November 1977, Capp said, while Fisher was gone, the syndicate phoned and asked for four more weeks of the Sunday strip.

“Out of loyalty,” Capp said, “I didn’t mention Fisher’d vanished. I wrote the strip myself. But I wasn’t going to have anything to do with that stupid prizefighter; so I put in my own characters — the hillbillies. They were hilarious. But when Fisher came back, he fired me.”

Capp maintained that he’d conjured up the hillbillies from his memory of those he’d seen in his youth on that fabled trip through the South; he took Joe Palooka into the hills and staged a match between the champ and the meanest of the hillbillies, a ribaldly uncouth character named Big Leviticus. This episode became the bone of contention between Fisher and Capp, giving rise eventually to the most scandalous incident in the profession’s short history.

Ellen Lindner is back, too, with the second day of her Cartoonist's Diary.

And we also have Jason Michelitch's review of Tommy Redolfi's biography, Marilyn's Monsters.

Marilyn's Monsters is a new book trapped by old ideas, and Tommy Redolfi is an artist overpowered by the myths he seeks to manipulate. Redolfi's book is an attempt at a dark allegorical fantasy version of the life and death of Marilyn Monroe. While effectively creepy at times, with a few intriguing conceits within its nightmare vision of Hollywood, mostly it seems that the energy of Monroe -- her particular mixture of power and tragedy -- proves too wild and elusive for Redolfi to know what to do with. He ultimately falls back on cliches, both in his understanding of Monroe and in his use of genre tropes, and for all the Lynchian dread and ghostly weirdness Redolfi can muster, the book doesn't really deliver much more complex a take on Marilyn than Elton John does in "Candle in the Wind."

The story follows Norma Jeane, soon to be Marilyn, as she travels from Nowhere, America to the land of Holy Wood, a magical forest settled by vaudeville performers and transformed into the source of the world's movies, which are sent hither and yon through a complex system of iron pipes. Here, Norma will be scouted by the shadowy, eldritch powers-that-be, and transformed from a human woman into the ethereal, glowing icon of Marilyn Monroe. It's a weirdly charming plot conceit that places us firmly in the realm of allegorical fable, and Redolfi's art presents almost all the human characters as something akin to grotesque New Yorker caricatures. Everyone and everything is a little (or a lot) unsettling to look at, which makes the eventual introduction of Marilyn as a literally glowing beauty queen all the more pronounced.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Oni Press has named a new editor-in-chief, Sarah Gaydos.

Gaydos joined Oni in April last year as editorial director of licensed publishing, following a multiyear stint at IDW Publishing, where she was group editor of titles that included Star Trek and Jem and the Holograms. At Oni, based in Portland, Oregon, she was responsible for existing titles such as Rick and Morty, as well as acquiring and developing new projects based on existing intellectual property.

In a blog post, John Porcellino announces that he will be pulling back on his work providing comics distribution through Spit and a Half.

Like all of us I'm sure, I grow more and more alienated from the modern world with each new day. I'm broken down by the constant cycle of bad news, horror, stupidity, greed, anger. In the pre-Distro days, if I was overwhelmed like that, I'd be able to retreat for a while, hide for a bit, regroup. Draw, think, walk in the woods, heal. But with the Distro that's an impossibility. There's always another email, always another order. PLEASE don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly humbled by and grateful for the support the Distro has gotten from the community. It's an honor to serve you all! But the time has come for me to pass on this mantle to the next generation. It's just not a job one old dude can do on his own anymore.

—Reviews & Criticism. Jeet Heer reviews last year's consensus pick as comic of the year, Jason Lutes' Berlin.

Still, in reading the whole of Berlin, the immersion in a historical urban environment is secondary to the political dilemma that confronts the characters. Berlin features a large and diverse cast: workers and plutocrats, communists and fascists, bewildered liberals and political activists, Jews and anti-Semites, pacifists and street fighters. What unites them is the shared experience of living in a crumbling democracy, where economic chaos, distrust of the established order, and rising violence all work to destroy social cohesion. On a personal level, this means the characters are all tested, again and again, to show empathy, and even the best of them sometimes fail these tests. But the redemptive thrust of the book comes from the resilience of solidarity and hope even in the darkest times.

For the New York Times, Robert Gottlieb reviews Mark Dery's Born to be Posthumous.

There are mysteries within the mystery, and for Dery the mystery that matters most is that of Gorey’s sexuality — he gnaws away at it relentlessly throughout the 400-odd pages of his narrative. Was Gorey straight? Not very likely. Was he gay? Probably, but not actively. Did he have any sexual life at all? Was he asexual? Gorey himself addressed the question in an interview he gave to Boston magazine late in life. “I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something. I’ve never said that I was gay and I’ve never said that I wasn’t.” Responding to the direct question “What are your sexual preferences?” he replied: “Well, I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly. I suppose I’m gay. But I don’t identify with it much.” Dery makes much of the fact that when the interview was reprinted after Gorey’s death, the final two sentences were suppressed, but by the time this particular reader had reached Page 410 of “Born to Be Posthumous,” he was so tired of the endless speculation that he wouldn’t have perked up if it turned out that Gorey’s interests lay in extraterrestrials.

Robert Boyd reviews a selection of various comics, from recent Shortbox output to Noah Van Sciver and Johnny Ryan.

Noah Van Sciver is an extremely talented alternative cartoonist probably best known for his hilarious series of books about his poet-manque character who calls himself Fante Bukowski. One Dirty Tree is about his growing up in a run-down rental house in New Jersey. the street address was 133, and it had a dead tree in the front yard which lead one of his brothers to name it One Dirty Tree. He was from a Mormon family with 7 brothers and sisters, including Ethan Van Sciver, who has become one of the faces of Comicsgate. Ethan is a very talented artist who was quite successful for a while drawing mainstream superhero comic books. But he drifted over into far right politics and online harassment, burning many bridges. Noah never mentions this aspect of Ethan's life in the book, but he does depict Ethan as a budding comics artist creating his character Cyberfrog while still a teenager. Amazingly (or maybe not), Ethan is still trying to make a go of Cyberfrog, crowdfunding it to self-publish it. To me, these two brothers are exemplars of the difference between mainstream and alternative comics. Not because of Ethan's politics (although there has always been a whiff of the fascist in superhero comics), but in that Noah has advanced to a much more subtle and adult type of storytelling while Ethan, a 44 year-old man, is still drawing fucking Cyberfrog, a character he made up in high school.

At Jacobin, Imen Neffati argues that the Charlie Hebdo of recent decades is a betrayal of its original leftist ideals.

Created in 1969 by François Cavanna and Georges Bernier (alias Professor Choron) — both from working-class backgrounds — Charlie Hebdo began as a weekly supplement to another magazine, Hara Kiri, which had established itself in 1960s Gaullist France as an anticapitalist, anti-consumerist, alternative, avant-garde, and counter-cultural form of journalism, reliant on parody and surrealist content. Habitual objects of Charlie Hebdo and Hara Kari’s attacks included powerful institutions such as the advertising industry, the army, and the Church.

The project took a particular turn in the 1990s. Charlie Hebdo had been discontinued in 1981 just a few months after the election of France’s first Socialist president, François Mitterrand, and Hari Kiri followed suit at the end of that decade. When Charlie Hebdo was resurrected under the editorship of Philippe Val in 1992, a specific fraction of the working class — immigrants — and a specific fraction of immigrants — Muslims — became its targets.

Martin Dupuis looks back at Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

Miller’s contour lines are thinner than [Klaus] Janson’s, they have less thick and thin contrasts and make for a flatter result when looked at in black and white. But the restraint seems like a deliberate choice that allows Varley’s colors to play a significant part in the image making instead of it being an afterthought. It’s subtle, and in no way am I saying that Janson’s inks are bad – its just a slight difference that has recently been made apparent to me after years of feeling that some panels were slightly different than others. Below is Janson on the left and Miller on the right:

Janson’s rendering is slightly more “realistic” looking, Miller more caricatural. Janson inks the shadow on the bridge of the nose, Miller leaves it open for Varley to sculpt. Look at the thicker brush strokes used on the left in comparison to Miller leaving shapes empty and letting Varley use color to create definition.

Min Hyoung Song reviews Yeon-sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily.

To be candid, I struggled to get into this book. The title Uncomfortably Happily is awkward, suggesting perhaps that something idiomatic failed to translate from the original Korean. (I speak Korean like a five-year-old, so don’t ask me if this is the case.) It’s also very long — almost 600 pages — and dense, full of smallish panels and a lot of text. The images themselves are drawn in a rudimentary style, to the extent that it can be hard at times to differentiate between Hong and Lee.

Moreover, the book presents Hong as highly irritable and full of complaint. At the start, the copyeditor of the press he works for calls to request revisions on the comics series that Hong is writing for them. Hong resents being called so early. He resents requests in general. He resents having to work. All of this resenting doesn’t make Hong a likable person.

But as the story progressed I began to appreciate its willingness to let Hong’s flaws show.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Virtual Memories podcast interviews Kriota Willberg.

Dawg, In Furs

It's 2019, and you've arrived just in time for our first Cartoonist Diary of the year, from Ellen Lindner! She'll be here all week. Today, she's starting things off with a look at some idiosyncrasies that you might identify with: an ear for confusing accents, and a love of public transit.

Our review of the day comes to us from H.W. Thurston. This time around, H.W. is looking at one of the best looking books of recent memory, Roman Muradov's Vanishing Act. Are looks everything, though? Let's see what the review has to say:

To be honest, I’m still not sure whether I liked it, or whether I thought it was smart or merely clever. Part of that is due to the fact that it is often esoteric and hard to follow (I had to actually write down the story as I read it in order to keep track of what was happening)--though not in a way I take issue with, exactly. It feels deliberate. But it’s a bit like trying to decide whether or not I like Ulysses. To judge whether an obscure thing earns its obscurity, you have to find a way to clarify it in the first place.

And today, we've got another chapter in the history that was Stan Lee for you: a giant interview from a college visit, first published in an issue of The Journal published back in 1978. There's a decent amount of meat in here, but it also features a handful of very specific questions from college students...and those kinds of questions weren't any better in the late 70's than they would be now. Dig in!

EZRA GOLDSTEIN: Well, the obvious follow-up to that is, “Yeah, but is it art?”

LEE: None of us are going to live long enough to really come to any conclusions about what art is. I've been arguing that subject, or discussing it, all my life. I don't have the remotest idea, really, of what art is. I don't think that any two people have the same concept of it. Maybe the only thing you can discuss is, is it good art or bad art, and that of course is subjective also. I would say, though, and there's no way I'm going to convince anyone who disagrees, but I do feel that comic books are art, just as plays are art, and movies, and television, and sculpture and ballet and dancing are art. Maybe playing the Jew's harp and the kazoo are art. I think that anything you do that is creative is art. Whether it is good art of not depends on how well you do it. I think, for example, certainly comics presently do not enjoy the prestige of opera. But, I think there can be good comics, there can be good opera, there can be bad comics and there can be bad opera. I'd rather read a good comic than listen to a bad opera. I'd rather listen to, or see, a bad opera than read a bad comic. I think that quality is the big determination for any form of the media. I think, again, anything really can be an art, and anything virtually can be art, depending on how it's done.

And then there's this, rolling around in my head: While Aftershock has gotten off to a rough start, mostly because it uses the publishing model of taking comics writers who have been hitless for multiple years and partnering them with artists who often lack talent, energy and craft (you need at least one of the three to coast)--which, when you say it out loud, should probably just be called "the Dynamite model"--at least one of the more recent Aftershock books is as compelling as the "it's late, let's watch this" entertainment they're most similar too. That aside, their most recent advertising campaign is maybe the most embarrassing one I can remember, and I'm saying "maybe" because a more definitive answer would require looking at other advertising campaigns for the other comics publishers whose publishing model consists of trying to turn mediocre television scripts into more colorful mediocre television pitches at a rate of speed faster than comics retailers can realize they need to cut their orders. Calling the sorts of comics Aftershock publishes--which are aesthetically indistinguishable from many comics published by IDW, Image, Dynamite and whomever else there is currently churning this stuff--"dangerous" and "edgy" is only mildly less embarrassing than that IDW comic they have that talks about punk rock in a fashion that makes me feel like i'm 14, being embarrassed by my father attempting to rap at a summer camp skit night. Does no one want to age gracefully anymore? While writing this, I thought to myself that Aftershock's advertising campaign does actually do an excellent job of letting me know what the actual comics are like by calling them "dangerous" and "edgy", and by the same token it probably repulses younger people who wouldn't like those comics, so maybe it's a great idea after all. Point taken, Aftershock! Ramble #1 over.

Ramble #2: the other thing that I had to roll my eyes about was this particular news: Greg Rucka's gonna write Lois Lane? I have no allegiance to any particular portrayal of Lois Lane, although I do think that the old post-Byrne 80's/90's one depicted her pretty well as a tough, smart lady with a unique personality, and I dug the comics after she found out Clark had been lying to her for so long although that particular thread should've have run longer--but can there be a worse choice for a Lane comic? Rucka's bonafides as a guy who isn't totally gross seem to be legit, but he's got another set of bonafides, which are that the only way he has ever known how to write a powerful female character is to A) make her a drunk, B) make her a depressed, sour drunk and C) give her all the traits of a depressed, sour drunk but not depict the alcohol or depression, which means she's just angry and fucked up all the time with no convenient explanation. I guess you could count his run on Batwoman as breaking the mold, but is it really replicating the mold when you copy Bruce Wayne's backstory entirely, staple some Alice In Wonderland schtick to it, and let JH Williams draw a bunch of pinwheels? C'mon, son. There's gotta be a better way!

Tally Time

And we're back!

This is the time of year when we ask all of our contributors and other comics figures to send in lists of their favorite comics of the year. We got an even bigger response this year than last time around, so these lists should keep you busy for a while.

For most of the titles there wasn't much consensus, but when all of the votes are tallied, here is the TCJ Top Thirteen of 2018:

1. Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly), 16 votes
2. Julie Doucet, Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly), 13 votes
3. Eleanor Davis, Why Art? (Fantagraphics), 12 votes
4. Lauren R. Weinstein, Frontier #17: Mother's Walk (Youth in Decline), 11 votes
5. (tie) Tommi Parrish, The Lie and How We Told It (Fantagraphics), Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam (First Second/Avery Hill/self-published), and Lale Westvind, Grip Vol. 1 (Perfectly Acceptable Press), 9 votes each
8. (tie) Yvan Alagbé, Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures (NYRC), Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (D&Q), Hartley Lin, Young Frances (AdHouse), Olivier Schrauwen, Parallel Lives (Fantagraphics), Noah Van Sciver, One Dirty Tree (Uncivilized), and Jim Woodring, Poochytown (Fantagraphics), 8 votes each

Note: If all votes for works by Olivier Schrauwen, Noah Van Sciver, and Lauren R. Weinstein were added together (each artist received multiple votes for multiple works), the list would have been somewhat different. The top 13 artists of 2018 would then be 1. Lutes, 2. Van Sciver, 3. Weinstein, 4. Doucet, 5. Davis, 6. Schrauwen, 7. (tie) Parrish & Walden & Westvind, and 10. (tie) Alagbé & Drnaso & Lin & Woodring.

We also published Edwin Turner's review of the new edition of Steinberg's The Labyrinth.:

Steinberg's Labyrinth is a maze of aesthetic transfiguration. His illustrations show a full command of brush, nib, ink, and the various qualities of paper itself. Steinberg's lines course through the wordless novel, tangling the reader into cartoons and cubisms and caricatures, blemishes and brushstrokes, dots and loops that simultaneously satirize and substantiate mid-20th-century modernist art, when commercial illustrations and comics were transmuted into Pop Art. Under each seeming squiggle is an assured hand and an even sharper mind.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The tally above has been corrected, after a few errors in tabulation were brought to our attention.]

Another Cheater

Today at The Comics Journal, we've got that giant interview you've been craving: it's Sean T. Collins & Phoebe Gloeckner, talking about what went into her selections for the most recent edition of The Best American Comics. And speaking of that word "best"--

To get deep in the weeds a bit, when you’re selecting the best comics—

Okay, get rid of that word. Get rid of that word, because it’s not possible. OK, yeah, you’re choosing the “supposed best” or “so-called best comics,” right, yeah?

Mmhmm.

What is your responsibility to your leadership? What do you think when you’re possessing them? Well, I don’t fucking know. [Collins laughs.] No, honestly! I’m not thinking I’m choosing the best because I know I am the filter. What matters to me is, Do I like it? Did I like it more than a number of other comics? If the answer is yes, maybe I’ll include it, because what else do I have?

Our review of the day is by our own Matt Seneca, who took a look at another recently translated monster of a work from New York Review Comics--it's Edmond Baudoin's Piero, recently translated by Matt Madden.

The superstructure of Baudoin's story does not differ much from the average memoir. Beginning in early childhood with a few scraps of pastoral reminisce, it proceeds through school days and adolescence to a conclusion at the cusp of adulthood. In its particulars, however, Piero is a radical book. The scattershot quality of the earliest impressions Baudoin shares remains even as the memories described move closer and closer to the present. Scenes whisk by in a panel or two, not leading into one another so much as they are placed in proximity. Transitions that jar at first come to feel downright liquid after awhile, with Baudoin's casual narration building up something that feels more like a museum exhibit than a novel, with each individual fixture to be left behind for the next at the moment one's interest is diverted.

Are you ready for the holidays? As both the father of a young child and a guy who is about to officiate a wedding ceremony in the part of the South where they talk about God like, a lot, I can guarantee you I am not! However, The Comics Journal does have one tradition left before we disappear up our respective chimney: our annual look at the Year In Comics! After you've finished today's reading, please return on Monday to find out what the luminaries, malcontents and professionals thought 2018 had to say for itself. (The comics, at least!)

Bizzy Times

Wotta rotten holiday season so far. But not here at the Journal, where the Quality Content keeps on coming. Today, we have an excellent report from Cynthia Rose of a Paris exhibition on Victor Hugo that tunes into something much more ambitious: a short history of French cartooning.

If French press cartoons are unashamedly rude, what's at the heart of such a caustic culture? To find out, you just need to meet its great practitioners. Some of their names, albeit dusty, are still revered: Honoré Daumier, Nadar (Felix Tournarchon), and André Gill. But many more – once celebrities with powerful pens – are now obscure. Outside of experts, who mentions crazy guys such as Henry Monnier and Jean-Pierre Dantan?

I found the answers in a current Paris exhibition, Caricatures: Victor Hugo On Page One. It's a show focused on the man who wrote Les Misérables, but one that tells his story wholly through caricature. In the exhibition are almost two hundred drawings, many rarely if ever shown, that take you straight to the art's historic heyday.

To revive that era, Hugo is a perfect choice. His eighty-three-year life (1802–1885) coincided with both technological change and huge events. A supersized ambition kept him at their centre and, being a Royalist who defected to socialism, every sort of detractor got to take a shot at him.

No human life supplies the satirist's every need, but that of Victor Hugo certainly came close. Hugo was a prolific, epic intellect and also an epic over-achiever, braggart, philanderer, self-promoter, schemer, liar, and nostalgist. His modern legacy may be the Les Misérables musical but the author's stardom was already global during his lifetime.

We also have a review from a new contributor Toussaint Egan, who takes an enthusiastic look at Ronald Wimberly's LAAB #0.

As a sequential media text, LAAB is a narrative of sorts, though not framed around the actions of any one fictitious character, but rather a discourse centered on the sordid history of an aesthetic entrenched within the complementary forces of racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Per the issue’s opening essay, Wimberly cites theoretician Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" to outline how the anti-semitic caricatures created by the Führer cult to lull the German populace into stupefying docility during WWII were preceded nearly 200 years by the racial capitalist aesthetics of Thomas “Dartmouth” Rice’s Jim Crow character, the archetype of what Wimberly calls “the Nigger Aesthetic.” As he describes it, the Nigger Aesthetic refers to the "representation of the Black body, Black life and the corresponding way of seeing and thinking about the Black body, as informed by white supremacy’s stigmatization of the Black body and Black life.” Wimberly proposes that, in order to meet and nullify this pernicious strain of systemic defacement, artists must consciously prefigure the black body and its ontological history within the Western cultural imagination at the forefront of attention so as to eclipse the dangers posed through the tacitly unconscious consumption of these aesthetics. “I believe the presence of Black personhood itself erodes the lie of white supremacist aesthetics.” Wimberly writes. “The juxtaposition of the Black body and its inherent personhood with the reductive Nigger Aesthetics activates a political subjectivity. Like seeing, touching, smelling a human body vs. seeing a drawing of a human body. The presence of the body and its personhood is a material anchor to reality and therefore acknowledges the aesthetics and the political constructs relative to that reality.”

Ghost Roper

Today at The Comics Journal, it's time for Michel Fiffe's monthly look back, The Fiffe Files. This time around, he's got George Freeman up on the whiteboard.

George Freeman always comes to mind when I think of comic book powerhouses who can do it all. Freeman's got the goods: killer drawing chops, excellent timing, a sharp sense of design, and he gives his work enough of a cartoon shine to make it look fun and alive. He's like Michael Golden as inked by P. Craig Russell. It's exceptional work, but due to his erratic résumé, Freeman's never been closely associated with any one major title or character and thus, his work is easy to miss.

Our review of the day is also a dip into super-hero obsession: Noah Berlatsky, who remains on brand by shaking his head at the latest attempt by DC Comics to get Wonder Woman right

Usually when people discuss "adult content", they mean sex. But the original Wonder Woman comics by were saturated with themes of lesbianism, bondage,and cheerful eroticism intended to thrill and entertain children of all ages. Marston, who in his personal life lived in a polyamorous relationsip with two bisexual women, believed that loving submission to eroticized female authority led adults and children of every gender to peace, happiness, and matriarchal utopia.

Morrison and Paquette aren't quite true believers, but they obviously enjoy pretending. Volume 2 kicks off with Nazi superwoman (and Marston creation) Paula Von Gunther  invading Paradise Island with a battalion of storm troopers during World War II. She's quickly subdued (in various senses) by Queen Hippolyta and her warriors, who fire orgone blasts that convert Nazi soldiers to love as each cries out with an ecstatic "yes!" Paula herself realizes that she should submit to the love of women, rather than to the hate of man, and falls in infatuation in quick succession with Hippolyta and with Diana, aka Wonder Woman. Paquette's drawing of Paula's moment of transformation— eyes wide, expression rapturous—would please Marston mightily. That's exactly how he wanted his readers, girls and boys, to look at Wonder Woman—as a love leader who will restrain us, retrain us and lead us all to kink and virtue.

Over at The Scores, Varun Nayar has delivered a fine review of Sabrina.

Much of the story takes place in Colorado, occasionally flickering back to Chicago, where Sandra, equally listless and confused with the grief of Sabrina’s disappearance, spends most of her days indoors. Drnaso’s storytelling style excavates his characters context; his illustrations, reminiscent of airport security pamphlets from the early 2000s, scrub faces of expressiveness. The physical spaces, too, are equally nondescript: most rooms are under-furnished; beds lack frames; not a picture-frame in sight; and the only words that appear on the page are pieces of dialogue in speech balloons.

Over at The Montreal Gazette, Ian Mcgillis has the latest in Julie Doucet profiles, and it's one of the more involving ones so far.

As for a possible return to comics, she doesn’t rule it out. Nor does she seem especially bothered either way.

“Who knows? Not me. It would have to be something completely different from what I used to do, and right now I don’t feel I have any stories to tell. Besides, you go to a store like Drawn & Quarterly now and you open a few books … there are just so many amazing things being done. I tend to get discouraged when I see stuff like that.”

Over at BOOK RIOT, S.W. Sondheimer gets very specific about how the way the publicity department at DC Comics handled the Eric Esquivel fallout has impacted the way that site will be covering DC and Vertigo titles in the future.

Lava Man Protects Normals

Today on the site, R.C. Harvey continues his epic history of the legendary feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. He's still warming up at this point, with an introduction to the work of Ham Fisher.

In his own account of his life, Fisher was profuse in thanking “a good and gracious God for letting me be on my way at last.” He produced a daily column (“Cousin Ham’s Corner”) with caricatures of local celebrities and drew a cartoon or two, sports or political. After a year, he left the Record to join the staff of the city’s other paper, the Times-Leader, because, he explained, “they let me put my name bigger on the cartoon. That’s a fact. All we cartoonists are hams and my name especially fits me. But boy, it was great. I was a personage in our city. If I hadn’t been a cartoonist do you think that judges, mayors, the governor — well, in fact everybody — would have sought me out? I had a position of influence and power, but not too much affluence. Soon I was toast-mastering at banquets, getting good money as an after dinner speaker with nice little political plums thrown my way."

He confessed that he even drew political cartoons for both the Democratic and Republican parties. And then, he said, “came a mistake.” He joined a friend in launching a new newspaper. It lasted only about a year, but its collapse (due to the effects of a strike in the local industry, coal mining) was undoubtedly a blessing in disguise for Fisher. A couple of years before, in about 1920, he had been smitten with an idea for a comic strip, and if the newspaper had succeeded, his comic strip might never have germinated, and the pugilistic world would have been poorer.

We also have Josh Kramer's review of Vagabond Valise.

The Vagabond Valise, just out from Conundrum Press, is a new entrant for admission into the canon of very sad nonfiction graphic novels. It follows Chick-o, a stand-in for Canadian author Siris, through a long, disparate series of grievances and injustices in and out of the foster system in 1960s and ‘70s Quebec. There’s no question that it is sad: gross food, emotional and physical abuse, losing an adolescent crush when her house burns down. There is some rough stuff. But even though the contents sufficiently sad, I’m not sure that’s enough to make Valise good.

Siris has a scratchy line, likely from a nib pen, but it’s not super variable. There are few small details (forks on the dinner table are little tridents, backgrounds are sparse) and a loose hatching permeates nearly ever panel. This wobbliness can be endearing, and the art is on the more cartoony end of the spectrum, like Rocko’s Modern Life. There is a low-simmering magic realism a la Pee-wee’s Playhouse — Chick-o is a Lewis Trondheim-esque bird boy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Over at the Beat, Alex Dueben talks to James Romberger about his new book on James Steranko.

I did the interview with Jim intending to make it the main focus of the 3rd issue of a comics zine that Marguerite Van Cook and I were doing for fun, Comic Art Forum. But then it felt like it was so significant, and presented such a good opportunity to establish language for comics scholarship to be able to talk about the dovetailing relationship of art and text in comics, that I thought I’d try to get it done by a major publisher as a book. It seemed to need a biographical intro, which at the time I didn’t have the writing chops to do properly. At that point, one thing led to another and I returned to college at BMCC, then Columbia and CUNY Graduate Center. I spent a decade and a half completing my masters because I drew five books worth of comics and a few gallery shows in that time. Drafts of both of the essays in the book were originally done as papers for classes. The critical analysis training I got led me to writing for Publishers Weekly, The Comics Journal, etc. – and to teaching. So it has been a journey that took me to some unexpected places.

Just to note, I had originally counted 200 unique graphic and storytelling devices for our “Innovations” list that runs through the interview, but between Jim and I, we weeded out around a quarter of those as having been previously done by others – so Steranko was quite active in trying to not take undue credit for himself. And I retained my independence in writing the essays and assembling the book so it would have critical validity, rather than being an “approved” publication.

Also at the Beat, Romberger himself interviews Jim Woodring.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about that… what would have happened if my folks had sent me to a late 50’s-style child behaviorist? Christ. I’m sure they thought about it. Probably the stigma of having a certified nut for a kid prevented it. But the truth is that these visions and things were peripheral to an innate and intense metaphysical longing, that well-known nostalgia for the infinite that drives so many of us, which was and still is at the forefront of my consciousness. So I’m glad I didn’t get diagnosed, held back, drugged, shocked or subjected to whatever other barbarous rehabilitation techniques they used on wayward children in the Beaver Cleaver era.

At Paste, Hillary Brown talks to Ariel Schrag.

Paste: Is it hard for you to be so open about your life or does it come naturally? Has it gotten easier or harder over time?

Schrag: As a teen, I mostly wrote whatever I wanted to about myself and other people, which was freeing, but led to a lot of personal complications. Now, I’m more careful about not exposing others, which is its own relief, but can make the writing more difficult. Disguising people or fictionalizing autobio is just another layer of work. There is a sweet spot where you say what you want and it feels like the truth and no one gets hurt or feels exposed, but that spot is hard to come by.

The Comics Alternative podcast has two recent interviews up, a new one with Bill Kartalopoulos and another with Tom Hart.

—Reviews & Commentary. The Paris Review has published Harold Rosenbeg's essay from the new NYRC collection of Saul Steinberg's The Labyrinth.

Both because of his superb penmanship and the complex intellectual nature of his assertions, I think of Steinberg as a kind of writer, though there is only one of his kind. He has worked out an exchange between the verbal and the visual that makes possible all kinds of revelations. For instance, there is a drawing in which a triangle on one end of a scale weighs down an old, patched-up, decrepit question mark on the other. Axiom: A NEAT FORMULA OUTWEIGHS A BANGED-UP PROBLEM.

To build his labyrinth, Steinberg had only to draw a line from A to B on the principle that the truth is the longest distance between two points: the result is an enormous scrawl within which the original two dots appear as the eyes of the Minotaur.

As if the relations between words and objects weren’t complicated enough, Steinberg has thrust between them the illusions of the drawing paper. “There is perhaps no artist alive,” E. H. Gombrich testifies in Art and Illusion, “who knows more about the philosophy of representation.” A long straight line keeps changing its pictorial functions—first it represents a table edge, then a railroad trestle, then a laundry line, until it ends up in an abstract flourish. Steinberg is the Houdini of multiple meanings: the line with which he creates his labyrinth and entangles himself in it is also the string that leads him out of it.

The much-missed podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell (featuring TCJ all-stars Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Matt Seneca, and Tucker Stone) has finally dropped a new episode.

—Misc. Courtesy of Sean Howe, I recently learned about two YouTube videos of interest to old-school fans. First, an interview with Jack Kirby:

And then a "debate" between Todd McFarlane and Peter David.

We’re Back?

Last week, some adjustments to the TCJ website made the backend of the site unusable for a time, which is why you did not see a blog post. Previously scheduled posts did appear that day. Since then, we've worked with the website programmers so that we'll be able to return to regular posting, and it is our hope that the upgrades we were in the process of setting up will appear without issue in the coming weeks.

On Friday, we featured Greg Hunter's most recent episode of Comic Book Decalogue, this month featuring Ben Passmore. In it, the BTTM FDRS creator discusses the impact of Prince of Cats, shelving a post-collegiate magnum opus, and when leather jackets and moshing came to hip-hop. (As observant readers will note, Greg refers to this as the podcast's penultimate episode. More about that later...)

Today's feature comes to us from the sorely missed Ng Suat Tong, who goes into great detail to refute recent criticisms of Mort Cinder that have focused on the book's plot and narrative mechanics.

There have been suggestions that Oesterheld dragged out and improvised the introduction of Cinder because of Breccia’s difficulties with finding the right look for the character—hence the strangely meandering first chapter (“Lead Eyes”). Yet whether this forced discursion truly affects the narrative as a whole is difficult to determine.

While the construction of Mort Cinder has been noted to be a flexible and collaborative effort between Breccia and Oesterheld, there are distinct and recurrent motifs in it which suggests it was not put together for reasons of mere entertainment or with little forethought. If anything, there is a coherence and depth in its plotting which suggests a steady hand at the tiller.

Last Friday's review came to us from Rob Clough, who took in Robert Dayton's Empty Bed and came away laughing.

Robert Dayton's The Empty Bed is a long howl and a laugh up his own sleeve. This is the multidisciplinary artist's first long-form comic, and its mixture of word and image has more in common with Ray Fenwick's typographical comics than anything else. This is a dense, splotchy pen-and-ink affair about a devastating breakup. Actually, it's not so much about the breakup as it is the long, long aftermath. That aftermath, featuring the dreaded "I love you but I'm not in love with you" rejection, is interminable, self-indulgent, self-pitying, and frequently hilarious.

Today's review comes to us from Tom McHenry, and it's of one of 2017's more inventive works, Sophia Foster-Dimino's Sex Fantasy.

Foster-Dimino excels at taking the fantastic and anchoring it to earth with well chosen details and physical stuff. Too much whimsy and nothing connects, but too much reality and nothing delights. With the right mix, though, the emotional stakes of every mode get raised for the reader: the comic, the tragic, the erotic.

The past week saw a flurry of action involving DC Comics, sexual harassment and online activism. As covered by comics websites like Bleeding Cool & The Beat, the general story followed what is now becoming standard operating procedure: a victim's public proclamation of harm, support from major industry figures boosting the story's profile, websites & social media users deducing and publicly declaring the name of the alleged predator, and then the firing of the individual. It took less than a week for this situation to reach that conclusion. One would hope that kind of pace will eventually find its way towards curtailing the abuses described in the first place. 

No Loss There

Today at the Comics Journal, we're spending our morning--and a healthy portion of our afternoon--drinking in Matt Seneca's epic column on the comics he found in France. You'll want to make sure you've got a fine relationship with a good comics importer for this one, friend.

In America, filling in a comic store's worth of shelves with anything besides every Batman trade inevitably becomes both a guessing game and a referendum on a proprietor's personal taste; the American comics industry just hasn't produced enough books that can be relied upon to sell over the long term for it to be anything else. France doesn't have the same problem, which is awesome! But the cloud hiding underneath the dazzling silver lining is that retail backed by a successful industry can become classic rock radio: a predictable parade of solid selections. 

What France has is better than what we have here (BD Fugue in Nice is an incredible store, FYI), but my meanderings on the Riviera felt a bit like a negative image of the shitty retail experiences I wrote about earlier this year.  Shopping for comics is fun, and one of the reasons why is how variable and random the experience is. It's not like going out to get office supplies! The same-y feeling I got from comic shopping in France wasn’t unpleasant - it was nice to see books that had something to recommend them enjoying unambiguous commercial success - but it was there. Nothing’s perfect, man - not when you’re engaging in late capitalism, but especially not when you’re buying comic books.

Our review of the day comes to us from industry stalwart, Ryan Carey. I couldn't remember the last time we reviewed some yaoi, and Ryan was happy to oblige. Coyote: how is that thing?

The tone Zariya establishes here is basically one of “YA minus the Y,” as we are introduced not so much to a pair of characters as caricatures, titular protagonist Coyote being shy, nervous, stand-offish, perhaps not entirely comfortable with his emerging sexuality, while the object of his affections from afar, piano player Marleen (I guess Coyote isn’t too introverted to avoid spending most of his nights hanging out in bars), is the stereotypical “dreamy” sort, all smooth confidence with just enough sensitivity to make him less out of reach than he at first appears. He’s Edward, only human, while Coyote is a lycanthrope Bella.

Did you catch Tim's not-so-subtle dig at me for linking to online comics? I sure did! In response, here's Kevin Huizenga's Instagram, which includes some recent hot fire, some pages from Emil Ferris next volume of Monsters, and Lauren Weinstein's latest Normel Person, which he should be linking to all the time, even on days when it is my turn to blog.

The best of list season is truly upon us, with a whole bunch of sites getting into the action. Meanwhile PW is shouting out the big books of Spring 2019, three of which are definitely pulsing with great Satanic power. But when it comes to best of lists, I, like Dominic Umile before me, have long since reserved my greatest excitement for this one: Adrian Curry's. It ain't comics (even if cartoonists do occasionally show up), but hey--we got a lot of those already.

Balance

We've got two reviews for you today. First, Tucker Stone himself writes about M.S. Harkness's Dxpx Dxxlxr.

A collection of minicomics by M.S. Harkness, D*P* D**L*R is aggressive, confident work by a cartoonist whose obvious affection for boldness and speed conceals a methodical structure and pacing. Comics that in other hands would have allowed for an exercise in crude mark-making so as to complement narrative tempo here play out with an eye towards broader legibility--this, more than other comics playing in the here-is-some-gnarly-shit-I'm-into genre, is a comic that won't seem foreign to a broader audience less willing to engage with obfuscation.

The three stories here all seem to be drawn from Harkness's life, or at least, from how Harkness chooses to present her life to others. (Harkness uses the same stand-in throughout, an angular character who also served as lead in her previous book, Tinderella.) Opening with a fast paced karaoke take on SZA that sees its protagonist tearing through enough life experiences to fill a whole shelf of comics from more sedate storytellers, this first tale features a bukkake sequence, a boot-removing assault as response to street-side cat-calling, a jail-bound musical, and a monster truck rally that makes it to outer space. Harkness shows no loyalty to any particular layout, going from one-page splashes to jam-packed micropanels, often toying with the style in which she depicts her lead. The flexibility allows for odd flourishes that give the story a wry humor that might not otherwise come across with the song lyrics that stand in for actual text.

Greg Hunter is here, too, with a review of Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno's Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling.

Professional wrestling's relationship to the truth has long been a part of its appeal. Performers play heightened versions of themselves; matches have predetermined outcomes but take legitimate physical tolls; and the pleasure of suspended disbelief accompanies the thrill of an in-ring comeback or betrayal. Documenting the tradition’s history means contending with its layers of artifice—not just the competing accounts of various musclebound egomaniacs but also wrestling's stake in an embellished understanding of itself. So it's perhaps not just for brevity's sake that Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno's new book settles for something short of history in its title. Their Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling recognizes wrestling’s complications but isn’t always a match for them, offering critical insights and fannish boosterism in equal parts.

Sitterson, the book's scripter, locates pro wrestling's origins in carnival athletic shows that crossed the country following the American Civil War, then follows its transformation into a worldwide phenomenon at the turn of the twentieth century. Here and elsewhere, Sitterson has a weakness for excessive bolding ("Catch wrestling allowed holds below the waist, mitigating the Russian Lion's power, but he proved indomitable and was soon recognized as the world champion in England"), and his constructions are often clunky ("Much like in the carnival days, it would seem there was too much money on the table not to start at least partially compromising legitimacy for entertainment."). Even so, he makes these pages count, exploring the shady inheritances of wrestling's carnival pedigree and explaining how the tradition came to optimize its entertainment value.

Any credible understanding of wrestling is an international understanding of wrestling, and here too, the book delivers. Before surveying more recent figures and trends, Sitterson devotes a chapter to Japan's wrestling culture, from its growth after World War II to the divergent histories of storied promotions All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. For the curious but uninitiated, Sitterson also clearly defines terms common to Japanese pro wrestling, e.g. "strong style" (a martial-arts-influenced tradition favoring strikes and kicks), and explains Japanese wrestling's less rigid face-heel (good guy-bad guy) binary.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. IDW president Greg Goldstein is stepping down, and being replaced by the returning Chris Ryall.

Ryall will step into his new position on December 10. Earlier this year Ryall left IDW, after 14 years, eventually taking a position at Skybound Entertainment, a comics and graphic novel imprint at Image Comics founded by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.

In a press release, Ryall said IDW is "where I’ve spent the majority of my career and I consider the company and its employees like family, so I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to return.”

—Reviews & Commentary. The annual Publishers Weekly critics poll has chosen Michael Kupperman's All the Answers as its comic of the year.

—Interviews & Profiles. At Smash Pages, Alex Dueben talks to Sophie Campbell.

You’ve drawn a lot of different kinds of work, but are those the kinds of stories you like reading and watching? Or just the ones you’re drawn to telling?

It depends. I usually don’t watch or read a lot of slice-of-life stories, I watch mostly horror movies and for shows my favorites are Grey’s Anatomy and The Flash, and when I read prose it’s almost always nonfiction (I read a lot of true crime stuff), and when it comes to comics I don’t see a lot of stories similar to how I write but I’d like to read more like that. I can’t think of any truly plotless slice-of-life comics off the top of my head.

Maybe Ariel Schrag’s old books, like Potential and Likewise, which I love, they’re slice-of-life-ish but also autobio so it’s not quite the same. So I guess to answer your question it’s for the most part the type of stories I’m drawn to telling, rather than the types I read or watch. Mostly I just like stuff with monsters and serial killers in it. [laughs]

Kriota Willberg talks to Ellen Forney.

One of my points in Marbles is (the discovery) that I am more creative stable. Stability is good for my creativity. Self-care and balance is a way to be more creative and innovative. Creativity is not necessarily fueled by mood swings. Passion doesn’t necessarily come from being off balance.

The most recent guest on the Comics Alternative podcast is Noah Van Sciver, and the most recent on Virtual Memories is Bill Kartalopoulos.

The Mumbler’s Rage

Today at The Comics Journal, R.C. Harvey returns to with the first in a series of columns looking at the relationship, the careers, and the fall of Al Capp and Ham Fisher. We hope you'll join us for the duration! It's rip-snorting--and here's how it starts:

The story of Al Capp and Ham Fisher, two cartooning geniuses, their rise to celebrity and their furious interactions with each other, is the stuff of epic adventure fiction, but here, it is fact.

At the peak of their careers, in the 1950s, they were superstars: Capp reached 90 million readers and earned $500,000 a year ($4 million in today’s dollars); Fisher, 100 million readers and $550,000 (over $4.5 million in today’s dollars).

Their creations were in movies and on stage.

Shamed by his colleagues at the height of his career, Fisher died by his own hand; Capp died in obscurity, disgraced by sensational news of his sexual scandals.

Today's review comes to us from Leonard Pierce, who leapt back into the trenches to review one of the multiple comics that Noah Van Sciver put out this year. It's One Dirty Tree, from Uncivilized Books. 

When you’re dealing with biographical comics, anything goes, as long as it feeds the story. Noah Van Sciver, probably best known for his sharp Fante Bukowski: Struggling Writer series, was raised Mormon in suburban New Jersey, a fact which, standing alone, gives his new book, One Dirty Tree, a strange cultural frisson to me. While intellectually, I’m aware that Mormons exist in every county, city, and practically every country, it’s hard for me to square the idea of this reserved, rule-bound, exceptionally fertile religion existing outside of my low desert youth, marked as it was there by a uniquely Western libertarianism and almost entirely absent of any kind of bohemianism. Such was not the case with Van Sciver’s family; his father was a temperamental but curiously artsy man who encouraged his kids to develop their individual talents and himself forsook the money he might have otherwise made as an attorney frittering away his time on an epic poem about his religion.

Whole Bunch of Sickness

Today on the site, Frank M. Young completes his two-part examination of the unfairly obscure midcentury cartoonist Cecil Jensen. This time, he focuses on the cartoonist's post-Elmo career, particularly in his Little Debbie strip.

With this change, Little Debbie became Bizarro Peanuts, or Little Debbie Minus Little Debbie. The adult Debbie teaches a quartet of preschoolers who bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Charles Schulz's mega-popular characters. Unlike Linus, Lucy or Schroeder, these kids are so out-there that it might be a willful satire. Jensen was entitled to say “what the hell?” and try anything at this point.

In place of Charlie Brown is George Green, a ball of neurotic uncertainty with huge glasses. Standing in for Lucy, Violet and Patty is the brutally frank and aggressive Matilda Jones. In the most out-there twist, twin boys collectively named Barney Jones speak and act as one.

[...]

Jensen had, arguably, been doing a Peanuts-like strip before Charles Schulz. By the time of Peanuts' October 2, 1950 debut, Little Debbie had been in all-kid mode for two years. Both strips show children acting unlike children and exposing the foibles of adult life. Where Schulz's strip feels restrained and college-educated, Jensen's seems the work of an autodidact—a man who has been exposed to the same intellectual ideas, but through his own study and observation rather than university courses.

Jensen's humor is brainy and earthy. Like E. C. Segar, he seems at home in a rowdier world. Thus, this late Peanuts homage/satire is darker, harsher, and wackier than Schulz ever was in his work. This was a fitting end-game for the strip. It started as a sort-of knock-off/parody of Li'l Abner, which went places Al Capp avoided. So why not bring down the curtain as it first rose? This 11th-hour new direction is bracingly funny, once the reader readjusts their expectations.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Comics Alternative podcast talks to Conor Stechschulte.

—I don't link to online comics often, but Popula publishing new work by Ulli Lust is worth an exception.

—RIP. Pete Shelley.