Lumpin Day

Well. It's Wednesday and Dapper Dan still hasn't seen Green Lantern. It's not looking good, and Tim thus far has refused refused Dapper Dan's requests for a "man date" to go see it together, even though I've promised to buy him nachos. So, you readers may have to live without a Dapper Dan special on this one.

On the site:

Today we present part one of Jeff Trexler's investigation into what exactly became of the record of the Comics Magazine Association of America:

Understanding how the CMAA worked–and why it failed–can provide vital clues for helping today’s comics business adapt.

And Mike Dawson brings us TCJ Talkies focusing on four graduates from The Center for Cartoon StudiesLucy KnisleyMelissa MendesJoe Lambert, and Steve Seck. Here's an aside: True story -- I've had to cancel three different trips to CCA for various stupid reasons, entirely my fault, but James Sturm still talks to me. That's what a nice man he is.

In the "man, they just don't get it" department: One Robert Greenberger cold lifted Eddie Campbell's heartfelt obituary yesterday, changed around a few words, added a quote, some sloppy analysis, and slapped his name in it. He even used the same art. There's no excuse for swiping, Robert! We're watching. Not all of you (we have limited resources). But some of you.

Anyhow, elsewhere:

Our fearless leader, Gary Groth, is interviewed over at CBR. He's very kind to us, and has fine things to say, like this, about the DC renumbering, which pretty much explains why we can't be bothered to cover it, though perversely I'd like to lock someone in a room and make them read it all and explain it to me:

I'm not even sure what that's supposed to accomplish. It seems like a pitiful attempt to con more people into buying the same old shit. I probably shouldn't be so cynical. I'm sure that some brilliant talent could breathe some life into this stuff. Like I said, I'm not one to talk. I haven't read this stuff, but it just seems so completely uninteresting to me, and in a way, it's idiomatically alien to me.

Over at the Mindless Ones, the, uh, ones are beginning a discussion of bullshit and John Constantine. So far, so good. This I can read.

Speaking of reading, I'm currently immersed in Stephen Bissette's Teen Angels and New Mutants. It's a phenomenal read. Really great, and the kind of book I always hope will be written about comics. Bissette wisely does not separate art and commerce, and is no bullshit about the complicated life of a comic book. Grant Morrison's Supergods, on the other hand... let's just say it takes a very uncomplicated view. Time permitting I hope to write about the two books in a single essay. Why? Because the culture is still interesting, even if the product is not.

Incidentally, back 'round to that complicated view. Many have linked to Brian Chippendale's latest text, but my favorite bit is Brian questioning, via Twitter, various comics writers about the renumbering of X-Men. Jason Aaron, who Chippendale goes on to praise, says it's the contents that count, not the number. And that's fair, but I think Brian made a good point that the number does count -- that it signifies both a reader-publisher bond and a chain link back through history. It's also a kind of sign that the publisher doesn't think you're an idiot. Commerce and content are really inseparable, is one thing I think Brian drives home. That's comics for you -- and renumbering sends a signal to readers clear as day: Fuck you.

The Ghost Artist

Lew Sayre Schwartz, most well-known in comics circles for the many pages of Batman he drew as a ghost artist in the "golden age," has passed away at the age of 84. In a tribute to his friend, Eddie Campbell writes: "Lew was my rainbow-bridge connection to the great age of American cartoonists, a world full of larger than life characters, who all seem much further away now that Lew has gone."

Also new to the site, another excerpt from the long awaited (and nearly mythical at this point) issue 301, this time Tim Kreider's essay on Dave Sim's Cerebus. That's right. Gary made him read the whole thing. This is really great stuff. Here's a taste:

Dave Sim is the single most passionate and outspoken advocate of his own work, and also its most reductive and unreliable interpreter. Having finished his magnum opus, he seems unable to let go of it, and continues to hand down authoritative misreadings of the work that do it a serious disservice. He tries to rationalize the kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions that are only inevitable in a work that was written month by month over 30 years; he issues contemptuous dismissals of (female) characters who might have seemed to the reader to have had some depth and complexity; and he sometimes makes assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text. It raises the troubling possibility that what seemed like Cerebus’s literary quality may only have been so much projection on the part of its readers. What’s more likely is that Sim, like a lot of artists, is less than fully conscious of what he’s doing and is the last person who should be consulted about the meaning of his own work.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is here with the latest installment of This Week in Comics—this time taking a detour to study José Ortiz and Bruce Bezaire (I've never heard of him either).

Elsewhere:

After a year's hiatus, Brian Chippendale returns with superhero comics analysis. This time, he's mostly worried about renumbering, and the X-Men.

Douglas Wolk writes about the iPad's possible threat to the print comics market's bottom line for Wired.

Journal reviewer Tucker Stone, Abhay Khosla, and a bunch of the other writers at the Savage Critics are discussing the big "summer events" at Marvel and DC.

Somewhere in your internet browsing recently, you probably came across the story about medical researchers counting the number of head injuries found in Asterix. And then, if you're anything like me, you probably thought, that's kind of a stupid thing to count for a medical study... could there possibly be a legitimate scientific reason to do that? Then you started thinking about what you'd get for lunch. Anyway, it turns out that me and you aren't the only ones to doubt that medical paper's importance. One guy's even angry about it.

The Greatest!

Welcome back. It's summer, things are slow. My sleeping patterns are changing. And thus we bring you some fresh content.

We lead off today with Warren Bernard's epic tale of a 1917 baseball game played in Chicago by some of the world's greatest cartoonists:

The “home team” for this game was deemed to be the Chicago Herald. Pitching for the home team was a young, raw talent (both baseball and cartoon-wise), 22-year-old Elsie Crisler Segar. Segar joined the Herald staff a few years prior to the game, following an introduction by the famed Richard Outcault. In March 1916, he began his run as the cartoonist for Charlie Chaplin’s Comic Capers, the strip by which the audience at the game would have recognized his name. In 1917, he was two years away from starting Thimble Theater and a dozen years out from creating his character masterpiece, Popeye.

There are a trillion amazing things about Warren's discovery (and, as far as we know, it really is his discovery -- this game has gone unmentioned): First, cartoonists once played baseball. Second, it says a lot about the lives these guys led in relation to the public -- they were actually celebrities in a sense. Third: Holy shit, Frank King and E.C. Segar played baseball together. Anyhow, besides this amazing bit of archeology, Warren is the co-author of the upcoming book Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising, and Mail Order Geniuses, covering the old correspondence courses. He's also the executive director of SPX. That Warren: A man of many talents.

And Frank Santoro manages to squeeze in his third color workbook between traveling and exhibiting and everything else.

And elsewhere:

I, like everyone else, love these short self-interviews by Kim Thompson. Here's one on an upcoming Tardi book.

Finally, Myron Fass, the much maligned maniac behind some of our goriest, gnarliest horror comics, also made some pretty good ones himself.

From Page to Screen

First off, no Dapper Dan this morning. Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping he would tell you whether or not the new cinematic superhero extravaganza was worth watching, but somehow the publicity department neglected to send him screening information. (I wonder why?) So you'll have to make up your own mind.

But here's another comics related film worth watching. I'd seen links to it going around all week, but didn't think the concept (Ken Burns meets the history of comics) sounded very promising—or at least I thought what it promised was not the kind of humor I'm interested in. But after Jeet e-mailed it to me last night, I finally took the plunge and watched it, and it's pretty funny. (TCJ.com columnist R.C. Harvey is a prominent figure.)

Today on the website, Kristy Valenti reviews Jess Fink's Chester 5000 XYV. It's an, um, erotic robot comic book.

Frank Santoro rules.

Jeet Heer reminded me of a quite nice short profile he wrote in 2004 about John Gallant, Seth's late father.

Not comics: For the Walrus, Jeet has also written an appreciation of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, with a special emphasis on the man's Catholicism.

I never would have guessed that Marjane Satrapi was such a big Sin City fan!

Patricia Mainardi writes about the transition between popular prints and early comics here. (via)

The New York Times is apparently planning to start publishing comics again soon.

And an argument that cartoonists write the best culture diaries. (Don't say it.)

Haircut Day

Oh well, ok, it's Thursday.

On the site today:

The third and final part of Amy Poodle's epic study, Hauntology and the Invisibles. A taste:

Over the course of these essays I've talked about how The Invisibles returns time and time again to the metaphor of things lurking on the outside as a stand in for the denied and forgotten in our own lives and how these things, while alarming in the first instance, can't be ignored because they give shape to our world.

And elsewhere, internet fiends:

-In case you somehow missed it, Life Magazine has a photo history of Mad on its site. Awfully fun stuff.

-Here's a fine, slightly, but lovably, awkward Atom-age SF British comic strip. Those elements can only add up to something worth viewing.

-Over on my own PictureBox, Beth Kleber has posted a fine appreciation of West covers by the great James McMullan, an illustrator who, while not in comics, has taught many a cartoonist, and whose evocative sense of line and color should be an inspiration to anyone drawing.

-Can I ever have too much Steranko? No, I cannot.

-I don't entirely understand this, but this blog will chronicle one man's recreations of Miller/Janson Daredevil comics, along with commentary. I will check that out again for the sheer obsessiveness of it.

-I love reading comics gossip of bygone days and Greg Theakston's new blog is no exception.

-And finally, fans of Jacky's Diary (featured in Art Out of Time) should be sure to check out the new Alter Ego, which has the first part of an interview with Jack Mendelsohn, whose comics career has run the gamut from anonymous funny animal work to his own strip to... much more.

Smorgasbord

Today we introduce a new column, Mad About Music: My Life in Records, which is more or less what it sounds like. The surprising part is its author, one of the greatest working cartoonists alive, Kim Deitch. This should take some unexpected twists... First installment here.

Also, we have a review of Sam Kieth's Arkham Asylum: Madness, written by a new reviewer, Nicholas Gazin. You may know him from his regular comics column in Vice.

We have missed sending you to many, many links lately. Here are a few of them.

The Paris Review stole our concept! (Don't say it.)

Rob Clough supplements his TCJ 301 article on the Center for Cartoon Studies with a couple of online spinoff pieces on visiting artist Eddie Campbell, and some of the school's more offbeat advisors.

Marc Sobel makes a case for Emmanuel Guibert's The Photographer.

James Romberger makes a case for the really late Jack Kirby stuff. I love the man's late work, but this is around when I start to lose interest.

If you follow all the links in a typical Mindless Ones blog post, you can lose days of your life. So beware this one on Mark Millar.

They also have an interview with Chris Burnham, a new superhero artist whose work is actually worth seeking out.

Michel Fiffe is an under-appreciated comics blogger. This is funny.

I haven't read this whole Chris Claremont interview yet, but I like anecdotes that include Al Jaffee and Stan Lee.

We've barely begun to get good critical work done on Harvey Pekar.

The skeptic PZ Myers recaps a recent Alan Moore appearance at the Cheltenham Science Festival, in which Moore explained his views on magic to a group of scientists. Essential for Moorologists. (via)

Finally, two convention reports from this year's HeroesCon, one from Shannon Smith, and another from former organizer Dustin Harbin. I've only been to one of the HeroesCons, but it was one of my favorites, and I like keeping up with the event's evolution.

Finally, this doesn't sound like a good idea, but somehow I doubt it will happen. Dapper Dan is already contacting publicists.

Know Your…

Today on the site:

Richard Gehr returns with his third installment of Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists, this time with the great Roz Chast. If you haven't been following Richard's journeys into New Yorker country, you better catch up! It's best ride. Next up is Lee Lorenz.

And elsewhere, in case you missed it:

-Over on Daniel Best's blog he has the filing papers for a since-closed 2004 lawsuit by Carmine Infantino, claiming ownership over some characters. The most interesting aspect in the post is a letter from fellow old pro (and now deceased) Mike Esposito. All these lawsuits, all these claims. All the hoopla around the relaunched DC, in all its silliness, just makes me think about lawsuits.

-Speaking of which, Tom Spurgeon interviewed Archie's Jon Goldwater on Sunday about the publishing company's new initiatives.

-And finally, David Apatoff asks if it's OK to like pulp art. I'm going to give this one an enthusiastic yes.

 

The Pandemonium Shadow Show

Welcome to the working week. The rolling wave of previews from our long-awaited issue 301 continue this morning, with an excerpt from a conversation between the legendary Mad and Humbug artist Al Jaffee and the Tales to Thrizzle cartoonist and funniest man on Twitter Michael Kupperman. Gary Groth moderates.

Also on tap this morning, TCJ.com's Star Reporter Sean Rogers reviews the new Jim Woodring graphic novel, Congress of the Animals. Here's the first paragraph:

Have we ever been asked to actually root for Frank before? As the star attraction in Jim Woodring’s oddball menagerie, the purple-furred, minstrel-gloved naïf is usually just a little shit. Whether he’s stabbing the craven Manhog in the ear or apprenticing himself to the diabolical Whim, Frank is often little more than a dastard, a rogue, a loafer with a blank stare. Despite the occasional glimmer of fellow-feeling, Frank pursues his desires and exacts his revenge with few pangs of conscience and little concern for the future. Strange, then, that with Congress of the Animals, Frank has for once become our hero, our champion, our semblable.

If you were on the site this weekend, then you already saw Frank Santoro turned in one of his inimitable and highly entertaining travel reports, this time documenting his time visiting Kevin Huizenga, Dan Zettwoch, Ted May, and Sacha Mardou in St. Louis. As is Frank's wont, the piece also includes an elegy to the pre-internet minicomics world, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at art methods behind Huizenga's new Ganges issue, and a seemingly unending stream of recommendations for comics and art tools. In other words, it's a good one.

Last Friday, we invited 4CP's John "The Scan Master" Hilgart to provide our daily blog post—you read that, right?—and so it falls to me to make sure you didn't miss the fifth entry of Michael DeForge's Cartoonist's Diary, this time with Risograph images. Thanks, Michael!

Also on Friday, in easily one of the best essays I've read on Chester Brown's Paying for It written thus far—well worth checking out even if you're sick of hearing about that book—Ken Parille splits himself into three and argues amongst himselves. You kind of have to read it to understand.

Superman’s Face

Superman’s problem is that no one can see him. Trapped in the premise of secret identity without a disguise, he becomes by necessity the invisible man, unrecognizable to his closest friends, all of whom he has held close on countless occasions as both Superman and Clark. He is the world’s most generic man, unidentifiable as himself.

It’s no wonder he’s fought so hard, for so long, to foil plots aimed at discovering him. He’s waiting for Lois or Lana or Jimmy or Lex to look into his eyes one day and say, “Jesus, Superman, you’re Clark,” or vice versa.

The Superman comic book is the visual paradox of Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe” turned into an identity crisis that never ends. Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, the problem metastasizes into narrative fixation, with countless panels containing both Clark and Superman, or two Supermen, or two Clarks, or a dozen identical Superman robots.

Like a Warhol series out of control, Superman’s face is a single photograph iterated into infinity, until it is no longer individual or even iconic, but instead a cipher that is wholly without visual interest. Lois Lane can’t really see that face, and neither do we, except perhaps when it is defaced.

Superman was a perfect superhero for exactly as long as he was the only superhero. He created the category - it's named after him - and in doing so, he rendered himself generic, redundant: He's the super superhero man. He went from being unique, to being the Platonic form, to being the boring one. Batman is a super man, but with more bat. The purity of Superman's conception meant that every subsequent superhero was Superman with an interesting twist, or at least some additional visual interest.

And then there are the things that could only be learned after 100 stories and the birth of 100 more superheroes. Masks are really cool, and very handy in a secret identity scenario that is going to continue for 70 years, especially if it’s going to revolve around a love triangle in which the superhero plays two of the three roles.

It’s an Archie scenario in a superhero comic, a whole world that springs from and depends almost completely on a single, absurd suspension of disbelief. Archie can’t decide. Clark and Superman are different people. Archie’s version burns with the power of a million yellow suns; I can buy his comics in my grocery store checkout line. Superman, however, lost his struggle against the narrative kryptonite inherent in his original conception.

Having your superhero's head look less interesting than that of his boring civilian alter-ego probably isn't the best idea. Creatively and conceptually, undressing to become a superhero is brilliant. It’s sexy, for one thing, but putting on a different face has proved to be the most convincing way to “change an identity” – in both the reader’s and the character’s minds. Imagine Batman without a mask, or The Hulk with Bruce Banner’s face. Batbruce (The Dark Playboy) is a joke, whereas Superclark is an apt summary of the problem around which Superman revolves. You can see it written all over his face.

And this is why Superman actually remains unique. He is the unfinished and irresolvable superhero. There have been debates about which of his aspects is the ego, and which is the alter ego, but really it’s a chicken and egg scenario; neither had priority. He arrived as an infant, tabula rasa, and the very first time his adoptive parents concealed his super-baby traits, he was split in two by a super-secret concerning his identity. He was always both Superman and Clark, or he is forever neither of them, two possibilities that are equally chilling.

As an adult reading those mid-century comic books, I am torn between campy amusement and a horrified sympathy for the poor guy. When I encounter all those stories that turn out to be “what ifs,” dreams, imaginary weddings, and events that might actually have happened in an alternate reality, I should see generations of comic book writers struggling to overcome the inherent narrative kryptonite. Instead, I like to imagine that these stories are Superclarkmankent’s desperate, blissful, and surely inevitable fantasies of a self who can finally come to rest.

A Pack of Them!

Michael DeForge is back again this morning (or the Michael DeForge from March is, anyway), this time with a look at a Toronto-based psychoanalytic group, the kind they don't make 'em like anymore.

Also, the indefatigable Rob Clough reviews the latest volume of Joann Sfar and Louis Trondheim's Dungeon Monstres.

Elsewhere:

*When I saw who was involved with the Paying for It critical roundtable over at the Savage Critics (part one, part two), I got pretty excited. Up to this point, it's been a lot more dismissive of Brown's work than most reviews have been, and the participants are perhaps just a bit too in sync in their views (at least so far) for this to be quite as much fun as roundtables sometimes can be.

Based solely on the subject matter, I expected there to be a lot more angry denunciations of this book than have appeared so far. Responses have been unusually measured in general. I also expected at least a few reviews to be entirely positive, extolling Brown's politics as obviously correct, and so far I haven't read any at all. They've got to be somewhere right? On a libertarian blog somewhere, or a prostitution website?

*Seth's father, who wrote the memoir Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea, has passed away, and the cartoonist wrote a tribute to him on the D&Q site.

*You should really look at these excerpts from Roy Crane's scrapbook, which also includes working notes and layouts for a strip he was developing in 1977.

*The great Arnold Roth has started a blog.

*Kim Thompson and translator Jenna Allen talk Gil Jordan, Private Detective. I am very interested in reading this book.

*Via Tom Spurgeon, a pretty great message-board appearance from Walt Simonson, who shows up to respond to a poster's complaints about his Thor run.

*Matt Thorn does some tour-guide work regarding Takako Shimura’s new web comic.

*For lettering and design obsessives: D. B. Dowd talks wordmarks.

Biking with the Stars

On the site today:

-Patrick Rosenkranz returns with a rare profile of Diana Schutz, who has had a fascinating career in comics and, as Patricks susses out, an also intriguing career as a teacher.

-TCJ Talkies gets the great cartoonist Howard Cruse on the line. I've admired Cruse's comics for a long time. I remember going to a signing for Stuck Rubber Baby in St. Louis many years ago and still think of that book as a landmark in ambition and execution. Cruse is a true trailblazer, and I greatly enjoyed and heartily recommend his recent book from Rizzoli, The Complete Wendel, which collects his longtime comic strip, Wendel, which was published in the Advocate. Besides featuring Cruse's excellent, lush cartooning, the book is one of the only records of the gay community in the 1980s in comics form. Don't miss it.

-And Michael DeForge's week in March continues.

Elsewhere: Things I've seen and enjoyed lately:

* A Raymond Pettibon film.

* I loved Richard Merkin's wonky, heartfelt artwork. It used to appear in the New Yorker before his death. Evocative, blurry images. He was also a prolific collector, and some of his fabled accumulation is now up for auction. Here is a 1910 Tad Dorgan advertisement up for auction. Beauty itself.

* Tom Spurgeon on the late Lee Ames.

* Via Will Sweeney: Hawkwind on the Marc Bolan TV show. And no, I didn't know such a thing existed.

What did Hawkwind have to do with comics? Barney Bubbles, man! What did Barney Bubbles have to do with comics? Well, he did some good Druillet swipes and...Uhhh, I'd hazard a guess that the future 2000 A.D. blokes kinda liked this:

and this:

Not to mention this:

* Oh, and don't forget about Forcefield. Seriously.

What Gives?

Michael DeForge returns, with another diary entry from back in March. This is his punishment for being punctual.

And Joe "Jog" McCulloch offers his usual Tuesday morning installment covering the week in new comics. This time around, he also takes the time to slaver over an obscure manga find he stole at a church-basement sale.

In our Archive section, we've resurrected Michael Dean's cogent 2002 report on the battle for Jack Kirby's Marvel art. This is important history, and important context for the interview we published a couple weeks ago.

*Elsewhere, since I indulged in a bit of doom n' gloom on the blog last week regarding DC's digital-strategy announcement, it probably behooves me to mention that DC has since announced the price point they will be setting for new comics. (The DCU Source site seems to be down for some reason this morning, but you can read about it secondhand here.) Basically, they plan to sell digital comics for $2 or $3, the same prices as their print comics. Last week, I suggested that same-day digital sales would likely cannibalize the direct market, but I doubt too much of that will go on at this price point. I also doubt that DC will maintain this price point forever, but until they change it, this isn't quite as apocalyptic a deal as I made it out to be.

*Fan favorite comics blog Dial B for Blog returned this week.

*Paging Joe "World's Biggest Smurfs Fan" McCulloch: Your little blue friends are being attacked by French academics for their political system.

[Antoine Buéno] points out that the Smurfs live in a world where private initiative is rarely rewarded, where meals are all taken together in a communal room, where there is one leader and where the Smurfs rarely leave their small country.

"Does that not remind you of anything? A political dictatorship, for example?" asks Buéno, going on to compare the Smurfs' world to a totalitarian utopia reminiscent of Stalinist communism (Papa wears a red outfit and resembles Stalin, while Brainy is similar to Trotsky) and nazism (the character of the Smurfs' enemy Gargamel is an antisemitic caricature of a Jew, he proposes).

Actually, as that link in Jog's name will indicate, some of this analysis is old news, but you've got to generate media hype for a new movie somehow...

*Finally, Grant Morrison obsessives will garner much material for future comic-book annotations in this genuinely fascinating biography of his late political activist father, Walter Morrison. [via]

Taking Things Too Seriously

Hi there,

On the site today:

* Frank Santoro's latest Color Workbook focuses on the use of gray and color layering:

The reason for studying gray and how it relates to color is rooted in grisaille painting. Most traditional oil paintings before the 20th century were painted in gray first – then the colors were glazed over in very thin, transparent layers.

* Hayley Campbell reviews Even The Giants and finds it a mixed, but mostly good bag.

* Michael DeForge begins our cartoonist diary challenge! Well, he took it on early, and so we present a week in this whipper-snapper's life back in March.

* And finally, did you hear that TCJ 301 is coming out? I bet you did. It's been having what we like to call a "rolling release." You can pre-order it here. Should be in all stores in early July. And it's a doozy. So anyway, throughout June we'll be posting excerpts from the issue, starting today with a selection from Gary Groth's Joe Sacco interview.

On another subject... Harry Mendryk posted a response to James Van Hise's comment on our Fighting American post, and it kind of triggered some thoughts of my own. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Harry's dedication and am thrilled that the Titan Simon & Kirby Library even exists in the first place. These books are really the best reprints ever done of this seminal material. But something struck me about Harry's post. He writes:

Readers of my previous posts on the subject of restoration should know that I do not recreate line art (a process that Marvel still continues to use for their reprints of golden age material). However the end result of my restorations is by no means just a scan. I have no problems with describing what I do as “touch ups” only not in the manner that the TCJ commenter uses the term. Frankly the original printing used in these comics was pretty poor. Now as far as I am concerned reprints of just scans is far superior to art recreation however I prefer to try to correct some of the printing flaws.

What's interesting here is the notion of "printing flaws." He's undoubtedly right that the printing was hardly technically precise, and could obscure the line work. But nevertheless, there is real beauty in those "flaws," and character, too. The old hand-cut separations and absorbent newsprint was the form for which these comics were made. The final art was not the line art on board, but rather the comic book itself. I know, this is basic stuff, but somehow we get lost trying to find the "perfect" form for things when, really, the form itself exists.

I should be clear that I'm not arguing against Harry's process: It's one of the best options for this work, and and in terms of showing us crisp linework with an approximation of the intended color, it's by far the best, and it is historically invaluable because it allows us to really see the mix of line and color by a master, as rendered now, in a world of technical precision.

But we also lose a lot with this process: We lose the essence of the object itself, and all the unintentional, accidental information that object contains. And the fact is, that information was a big part of how these comics were read and absorbed. It is a kind of ghostly soul...  Over the last year or so John Hilgart has made a pretty convincing for this information, this soul, particularly in his "In Defense of Dots: The Lost Art of Comics Books":

In the mid-20th century comic book, millions of details undermined sequential art time by making readerly time infinitely variable. Details – along with the color process – provided textures, way stations, and destinations for the eye. Choose your own adventure. Find your personal fetishes in the nooks and crannies. Comic book art’s backwater of purely instrumental and often arbitrary visual information was the horizon of meaning, the place where the reading experience became most individual. The tightly controlled wish fulfillment strategies of plot were unhinged by free-floating objects of desire – the details just out of reach, gazing back at us through the electrical field of process printing.

More recently, in an FAQ, he writes:

I believe that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Jack Kirby developed an opposing meta-aesthetic of comic books. He embraced the underlying chaotic, radioactive dots and force fields of the printed page, and he enlarged them into entire galaxies and negative zones. When the Fantastic Four dove into another dimension, they were diving into comic books themselves, shooting past four-color planetoids and through the wavy energy of bleedy black ink. Kirby’s cosmic crackles are benday dots that have gone supernova and collapsed into black holes.

I can leave the theory there, as John nails it better than I can. I'm not posing this as the "right" way, just another way, and a way to remember. I respect what Harry is doing -- it beats anything else out there for restoration work, but there is this other thing, which is being done well in the Fletcher Hanks and Ditko books published by Fantagraphics, or the John Stanley Library by D&Q. Those pages, noise and all, are more alive and more representative of the comic book itself. It may not be representative of the art as it left the drawing board, though, and that's where Harry comes in.

I should note that this is a thing apart from the IDW "Artist's Editions" and recent Toth book, which present the original art as drawings first, rather than comic-book pages. Or even the old Russ Cochran E.C. and Stanley editions, which were shot from stats and presented the cleanest view possible of the line art -- not the comic books, but the line art itself. And there's much to be said for both of these approaches. The former allows us to view the work as the artist did, and to understand more about the process, marks, smudged and erasures and all. It's invaluable to deepening our understanding of what drawing consists of in comics. And the latter can be crucial to getting at the formal properties of comic book storytelling: Stanley's rigorously structured stories and meticulous layouts are best understood this way. Likewise, Wally Wood and Graham Ingel's horror vacui approach to drawing made color an intrusion, rather than a companion, and their work really is best seen with the color removed.

That's the beauty of all these options: There's no Platonic ideal for this work -- just choices (some, of course, are flat out misguided, like the Marvel "restoration" process, which involves re-drawing) along a continuum populated, at last, by people intent on achieving one goal or another. Harry has his very noble, highly informed goal, Hilgart has his, I have mine, etc., but where they all intersect is a deep respect for the art and the artists rather than the properties or the merchandise. It's this "art first" (however you define it) approach that's made the last 6 or 7 years so exciting for comics scholarship.

Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

That's right, I'm continuing my pointless quest to see every super hero movie this summer. So no links today. And anyway, what would you want to know? The sky is falling, so let's go watch the real reason Marvel and DC keep publishing comics. Tuesday night I made Tim come with me to see a preview of X-Men: First Class because Dapper Dan sees these movies so you won't have to!

As you may know, this installment in the X saga is a prequel. Or a pre-boot. Whatever, it takes places in the early 1960s and shows us young Magneto and Professor X becoming the mutants that they are later on. It also introduces a ton of characters for, I assume, future sequels. What at first seems like it might be a kinda cute movie about two opposing mutants set in the groovy 1960s (by the way, the '60s stuff is done so badly that you gotta wonder if anyone even bothered to try google images or something. It's all mini-skirts and turtlenecks, but none of the visual inspiration, which is kind of a shame. In other words, there's no style in this thing.) just expands and expands like a checklist: The Holocaust, the Cuban Missile Crisis; go-go dancing; the CIA; The origin of Cerebro; the origin of the fancy plane; the origin of the Mansion; the origin of Magneto's helmet; the origin of the costumes. I'm almost surprised they didn't throw in a quick lesson on human reproduction ... wait, they basically do! And then all around these bits there are submarines and planes and missiles and Russian hideouts and even a scene in a bar in Argentina that seems like a direct homage (too soon?) to Inglourious Basterds. Oh man, it's endless.

It balloons so much that we even get an A-Team-esque (lord of prose forgive me for that) split screens of mutants training and high-fiving, frequent cuts to an enormous map of the world with cute little missile and tank symbols assembled to show the Cold War positions, and even this scene, which reminds me of the 1960s Batman TV show:

Yes, that's a guy in red make-up named Azazel, a la the TV show Angel, and poor January Jones, absolutely wooden as Emma Frost, steering a submarine. There are lots of shots of them steering a submarine. Hilarious. Couldn't Sebastian Shaw hire qualified submarine people? Like so much of the movie, it's incredibly goofy, but not intentionally. I mean, I wish it had been goofy and fun, but there's too much "Mutant and proud" talk and all together too much on the "tragic" bro-mance between Professor X and Magneto to really make it all together tongue-in-cheek.

There are some requisite crises, but there's no time to actually focus on anything because the director, Matthew Vaughn, keeps moving us from origin/set-piece/set-up to another. For example, the three images below, all shot the same way, recur throughout the film: Two people talking earnestly to each other. This gets old, since the dialogue is so cheesy.

Matthew Vaughn and co. just couldn't decide where to focus, and so the focus is nil. Couch talking to missile launching to beer drinking, all played the same, with no sense hierarchy. Just endless stuff thrown at us.

It's funny, at least the Iron Man-model films, including Thor, as well as the first two X-Men films, have a clear dramatic arc and a central narrative, but here there's just factoids. X-Men: First Class might be fun for trivia buffs, or if you have a macabre interest in "spot the swipes" but for the rest of us it's a bit of a chore. But, I will say I was relieved to note that I didn't spot a Stan Lee appearance. Tim says he will probably pop up in Green Lantern. Here's hoping! See you next time, faithful readers.

From a Point Between Rage & Serenity

Good morning, boys and girls. I'm filling in for Dapper Dan this morning, as he's busy prepping a review of the latest superhero movie extravaganza. I guess he's doing to do this all summer...

Today on the site, Chris Mautner interviews Leslie Stein, the young cartoonist behind the recently released Eye of the Majestic Creature.

In other news, I don't think I can bear to read or write any more about the DC renumbering/digital announcement, but it's probably worth noting that Dark Horse has released a few details of their new digital strategy, which is clearly intended to appear more direct-market-friendly.

Other than that, there are a lot of artist interviews and profiles this week.

First, a Gary Panter video interview with French Vogue!

TCJ.com contributor Matthias Wivel has posted a 2004 Louis Riel-era interview with Chester Brown, which has never previously appeared in English.

There are two recent Ivan Brunetti pieces going around, one an excellent profile from the Chicago Tribune, the other an audio interview with someone named "Mr. Media."

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but Tom Spurgeon posted a long, sure-to-be-worthwhile conversation with Ed Brubaker on Sunday.

Also, in big news that didn't make as much of a splash as I would have expected (maybe some magic spell fogged the public consciousness): The real life alter ego of Doctor Strange was revealed last week.

Finally, the 2011 Reuben Award winners were announced this weekend. Congratulations to TCJ.com diarist Joyce Farmer for winning the graphic novel award. Alan Gardner rounds up info on the event here.

Is This Crisis Infinite or Final?

This morning we have an exclusive preview of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Fighting American. As Dan writes in his introduction to the excerpt, Fighting American was "Simon and Kirby’s Cold War parody of their own Captain America, in which they still had some stake—though how much, and when they realized that, is a little unclear."

And Joe McCulloch has his report on the week in comics, as always. Despite the Memorial Day holiday, comics shops should be selling new titles today, but some stores may be waiting until tomorrow.

The Countdown is Over!
There probably isn't a comic book store in North America that isn't anxiously awaiting August 31, after yesterday's announcement about changes at DC Comics—namely, a "historic renumbering of the entire DC Universe line of comic books with 52 first issues," and "day-and-date digital publishing for all these ongoing titles, making DC Comics the first of the two major American publishers to release all of its superhero comic book titles digitally the same day as in print."

This is potentially a very big deal, and all of the usual suspects have commentary on the announcement. Tom Spurgeon's initial reaction: "This sounds completely idiotic." The prominent retailer (and one of Spurgeon's frequent debate opponents) Brian Hibbs, on the other hand, believes that it is "FUCKING insane." Hibbs doubts that the market can handle a move of this magnitude in the current economy. Fellow retailer Mike Sterling is similarly worried about the impact, but cautions that it is "a bit early to enter panic mode." Tim O'Neil is organizing drinking games.

And there's a lot more of course. I'll just point out a few landmarks of possible interest. JK Parkin at Robot 6 wraps things up here. TCJ columnist Sean T. Collins writes about the pros and cons, and says that "the most important question to [him] is 'Will this yield more good comics?'" [My guess: not likely.] Jim Smith ponders the same question. The Beat collects various creators' reactions on Twitter here, and an updated roundup of media speculation here. Elsewhere, Graeme McMillan catches a particularly pointed tweet from Brian Michael Bendis. That's probably enough to get you started. I am sure there will be further updates and discussion in all of the normal places, so if you want to spend a lot of time thinking and arguing about the comic book business, the next few days are going to be heaven for you.

I don't make any claims for myself as an industry analyst, but to my thinking, the "historic renumbering" of DC's superhero titles (which seems to have garnered the lion's share of commentary) isn't nearly as big a deal in the long run as the announcement that DC will be selling all of the titles digitally on the same date as their print publication. It is hard to believe that this isn't going to be a huge blow to the direct market's sales. On the other hand, this development has seemed more or less inevitable for a few years now, and while people may not have expected the switch to day-and-date digital to happen this summer, everyone knew it was coming eventually. I guess I'd say to you that if you really like your local comic store, now is the time to frequent it -- before it goes the way of your favorite local record shop.

But I'd like to be wrong.

Slow News Day

Welcome back. It's been a relaxing weekend.

On the site Frank Santoro's Color Workbook series is off to a bang-up start. Do your homework!

A few quick links and then we're outta here.

-Contributor Joe McCulloch looks back on his own recent work.

-While we were reclining, Tom Spurgeon brought it! He's got a great interview with Ed Brubaker and his annual, awe-inspiring guide to Comic-Con.

Frank Young finds some more hitherto uncredited John Stanley stories, and elaborates a bit on his search methodology.

And finally, Despot of The Fletcher Hanks Fan Association Paul Karasik wrote in last week with following argument, buttressed by visual evidence:

I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree with Ken Parille's assessment that Chris Ware is the heir to Jack Kirby, whose, "Allegories of creation often involve the rhetoric of sexual reproduction". This torch has been passed to Sammy Harkham.


Viva!

Hi there.

On the site today:

* Shaenon Garrity on Wandering Son Vol. 1.

* And note: We're taking the long weekend seriously. Posting will resume (except for Frank, because he can't be stopped) on Tuesday.

Elsewhere:

-I just recently came across this excellent overview of Zap by Steve Heller. Remember, New Yorkers, the Zap show is still up at Andrew Edlin and the catalog is available from yours truly.

- Sean T. Collins reviews the latest book from the Closed Caption Comics crew, whose work is always worth keeping up with. Rumor has it they're soon releasing a porn comic compilation, which I look forward to.

This week's TCJ Talkie interviewee, Jessica Abel, presents an interview with Howard Chaykin on teaching comics at Marvel itself.

Image from Pravda by Peelaert

Conflict of interest, but fuck it: I'm thrilled that mother company Fantagraphics is releasing two graphic novels by the great French artist Guy PeelaertThe Adventures of Jodelle (1966) and Pravda (1967). Peelaert's books are part of an underexplored genre of European cartooning in the late 1960s: Pop-inflected, often psychedelic comics with female leads.

From the article at Previews:

The Adventures of Jodelle, whose voluptuous title heroine was modeled after French teen idol Sylvie Vartan, is a satirical spy story set in a Space Age Roman-Empire fantasy world. Its then-revolutionary clashing of high and low culture references, borrowing as much from Renaissance painting as from a fetishized American consumer culture, marked the advent of the Pop movement within the nascent “9th art” of comic books, not yet dignified as “graphic novels” but already a source of great influence in avant-garde artistic circles. Visually, Jodelle was a major aesthetic shock. According to New York magazine, its “lusciously designed, flat color patterns and dizzy forced perspective reminiscent of Matisse and Japanese prints set a new record in comic-strip sophistication.”

Guy Peelaert, circa Pravda-era, late 1960s. Courtesy Dan Donahue.

Peelaert later adopted a photo-realist style for album cover work, but in these two books and countless illustrations he was right in line with Peter Max, Heinz Edelmann, Keiichi Tanaami, Tadanori Yokoo and even Milton Glaser in his clean-line, pop style. Here we had the more traditionally rendered adventures of Phoebe Zeitgeist, Little Annie Fanny, Wicked Wanda, and a couple others, but nothing like the pop/psych explosions in France (Barbarella, of course), Italy, Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere. These comics even sometimes crossed into groovy fashion spreads, like this one:

Image courtesy Dan Donahue

Well anyway, should be interesting to see these books come out, and I hope to see more!

A Light Day

This morning on the site we have Jeet Heer's interview with the important animator and cartoonist, R. O. Blechman.

But before you get to that, there's some important news on the print front for the Journal, namely, that the legendarily elusive issue 301 is finally about to ship, and is available for pre-order now. As I've actually held a copy in my own hands, I can vouch for the physical existence of the issue. Very soon, you will see for yourself. Here's a video with more proof:

And here's some interior photos.

Elsewhere:

The late, great Bill Blackbeard wrote a memoir of his experiences with comic-strip preservation in 2003 for the International Journal of Comic Art, which has just republished it.

In a much-linked piece for the Guardian, the political cartoonist Steve Bell reflects on his own thirty-year career with the paper.

And here's a video for that:

In response to to Frank Santoro's many writings on color, Ed Piskor posts an old-school color chart.

Here We Go

It's the mid-week break:

On the site today we bring you:

-Mike Dawson talks to cartoonist and educator Jessica Abel via TCJ Talkies.

-Hayley Campbell reviews Victor Kerlow's Small Victories, starting with the envelope it arrived in.

-Sophie Yanow's interview with Brecht Evens on his work and geography. Here's a taste of what I think is a fine contextualization of Evens:

Evens is hesitant to call himself a part of a “scene,” citing his international outlook. However, this outlook seems to characterize a group of young, upcoming Belgian cartoonists, whose work is cross-pollinated by many art forms and locales: Evens’ former classmate and friend Brecht Vandenbroucke has found an international presence online and in various publications through the likes of England’s Nobrow Press and the Latvian anthology KUS!

And elsewhere:

Tom Spurgeon contributes a thoughtful obituary of the French comics giant Paul Gillon, and provides a link to a fine appreciation, to boot. I can't figure out how Tom writes these things so well and so fast.

TCJ contributor Chris Mautner scoops us with this incisive interview with Dave McKean on the artist's new book, Celluloid. We'll have a review soon, just you wait. I've read and puzzled over the book. I'm curious what readers will make of it.

The New York Times on Paying for It, or as Jeet wrote to me, "The NY Times referred to Chester Brown as looking like 'a praying mantis with testicles.' That has to be the first reference in the Times to a cartoonist's genitals." I hope it's not the last!

I'm very pleased a book is being planned about the great Don Donahue. There aren't really any comparable figures, and he sure was involved in a lot of important culture outside of comics.

Over on his own site (sniff, we miss you), Dustin Harbin expands on his thoughts about comic book awards, sparked by his Cartoonist's Diary stint last week. The comments here have some good back and forth.

The New Yorker has a video up of someone you never hear much about -- Tom Bachtell, who does the Talk of the Town spot illustrations. It's a pleasant diversion and insight into a very specific craft.

And, just for kicks, here's an article I enjoyed about the Warhol market at New York magazine.

The Morning News

Good morning. Today we present an obituary of the much-admired artist Jeffrey Jones, as well as Joe McCulloch's latest column on the week in comics.

Elsewhere:

Jean-Christophe Menu, outspoken co-founder of the prominent French publisher L'Association, has apparently left the company. Tom Spurgeon and Bart Beaty have the available information and a bit of analysis here and here.

Robert Crumb gives a weird interview to his own website, in which he briefly comments in sometimes surprising ways on various public figures, such as Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick, Obama, Bob Dylan, and Tommy James and the Shondells (he's a fan!).

Bill Rechin, creator of the comic strip Crock, has passed away.

The eminent British comics critic Paul Gravett picked his top five political graphic novels for CNN. None of them are bad books, but a few of them don't strike me as very political, except in the broadest sense.

Our own Rob Clough writes about the minicomics of Susie Cagle.

Sometimes I read Tucker Stone's column and I am so so glad that I have no idea what he's talking about.

We Survived

Nice to see all of you.

So, on the site today:

* Ken Parille writes on Jack Kirby and Chris Ware:

As allegorical fantasies, Kirby’s galactic operas were as interested in 1970s America as in imaginary goings-on in deep space. Yet Kirby’s greatest theme was even closer to home: his own power, his imagination, and his process of creation.

* And in that spirit, we present the complete text of Gary Groth's 1989 interview with Jack Kirby. This was quite controversial at the time of its publication, with many complaining that Gary had let Kirby talk too much, and make overreaching claims. But to my mind, it's a fascinating record of the artist in twilight, weary of his battles and fed up with getting so little credit. If he overreached in places, one can hardly blame him. In any case, here it is, and it's worth reading in light of this summer's movies.

Elsewhere:

Interesting exhibition opening this week curated by William F. Wu: Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in American Comics, 1942-1986. The curator notes:

I themed the collection around a set of eight Asian archetypes — the ones that remain most iconic and resonant with perceptions of Asian Americans even today... The archetypes are obviously negative ones, given the timespan of the archive. But their repeated appearances in the comics ends up being an amazing launchpad from which to explore the historical pressures and precedents that led to their inception.

Jeffrey Catherine Jones' passing has been noted several places. The best piece I've seen is Tom Spurgeon's, in which he examines the larger context for Jones' life and work. Here's Tom on the "Studio" period:

The legacy of that much talent doing what was collectively very good work at a point of almost monolithic and degrading corporate influence over the kind of art they wanted to do has provided The Studio with a legacy that can be embraced even by those that didn't particularly care for the artists' output.

And David Apatoff takes a close look at a single painting.

One More Day

I heard from this guy on the subway that May 21 is the day the Y2K bug finally strikes. I may be a pessimist but I don't think our new robot rulers are gonna let us spend much time sitting around reading about comic books (was Monday's outage a preliminary attack?), so get your kicks in now. We'll all be working in the coltan mines soon.

Some ways to while away your final hours:

Dustin Harbin says goodbye to the Doug Wright Awards with one last diary entry. It has been fun to see the rolling waves of pleasure and argument getting started after each entry went up.

And Richard "Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists" Gehr weighs in with a review of Leslie Stein's new Eye of the Majestic Creature.

Oh, and did we forget to mention that issue 301 made New York Magazine's Approval Matrix? It did.

Elsewhere on the internet:

A great profile of Richard Thompson from the Washington Post. (Bill Watterson alert.)

Video footage has arisen from the 2010 APE interview Dan Clowes gave to Dan Nadel. (One of the reasons I like this interview is that before the show, Frank Santoro and I send Dan our most shameless comics-fan questions, and then he actually asked most of them.) [via]

TCAF has been getting all the glory, but Eric Reynolds went to the Swedish SPX festival in Stockholm, along with former TCJ.com diarist Vanessa Davis, Gabrielle Bell, Trevor Alixopulos, Dash Shaw, Brent Warnock, and many others. Check out his photos here.

Tom Devlin, Chris Oliveros, and John Porcellino took a trip with Chester Brown to visit his childhood environs. Tom Devlin Chris Oliveros has the photos (and their comic-panel equivalents from Brown's work) in a great post over here.

Joakim Gunnarsson didn't like the reproductions used in the recent Buz Sawyer book, and explains why here. The book's editor, Rick Norwood, shows up in the comments to defend himself.

Conflict of interest alert: Sammy Harkham announces the next edition of Kramers Ergot, and Dan's his new publisher:

Mondo (Alamo Drafthouse) is releasing a limited-edition screen print of Chris Ware's poster for the film Uncle Boonmee, going on sale this morning.

Finally—and "not comics"—an item for those into hand-wringing discussions about criticism only: This post about the lack of negative jazz criticism is really interesting for the way it corresponds (and doesn't) with the state of comics criticism. (It was more interesting before that site switched to TypePad last night and lost all its comments in the process.)

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 1944-2011

We've just learned that painter and cartoonist Jeffrey Jones has passed away. According to a post on the artist's Facebook page:

JEFFREY CATHERINE JONES passed away today, Thursday May 19, 2011 at 4:00 am surrounded by family. Jeffrey suffered from severe emphysema and bronchitis as well as hardening of the arteries around the heart. Jeffrey's dear friend Robert Wiener reported that there was a no resuscitation order as Jeffrey was weak from from being severely under weight and had no reserves with which to fight. In accord with Jeffrey's wishes Jeffrey will be cremated. We have yet to hear details for a memorial service. Jeffrey was one of the greatest talents and sweetest souls we have ever been blessed to know. Rest in Peace, dear friend.

We'll have a formal obituary online as soon as possible. For a brief biography, click over here. My favorite work of Jones' remains the comic strip Idyll.