Book of Life

Today on the site, Arthur Lortie and Michael Catron report on the life of the colorful comics writer Michael Fleisher, a well-known figure to longtime TCJ readers.

Michael Lawrence Fleisher, an often controversial and polarizing comic-book and comic-strip writer, died February 2, 2018, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in Beaverton, Oregon, according to his half brother, Martin Fleisher. He was 75.

Fleisher is perhaps best remembered in comics for his groundbreaking work at DC Comics on The Spectre and Jonah Hex, the authorized encyclopedias he wrote on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and a libel case he doggedly pursued and lost against The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics, Inc.), Journal editor Gary Groth, and the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Though comics would dominate the first part of his professional career, in later life Fleisher proved himself to be a dedicated researcher, scholar, and humanitarian.

Charles Hatfield is here, too, with a rave review of John Porcellino's latest King-Cat collection, From Lone Mountain.

John Porcellino, cartoonist, memoirist, poet, and zinester, is one of our greatest comics artists. Many know this; many more should. He remembers places and people beautifully—that is, he does a beautiful job of remembering through art. Increasingly, I find myself drawing an improbable sort of joy from Porcellino’s art, the more improbable because of what I used to think was a great gulf between his experiences and mine. His work has crossed that gulf, in fact persuaded me that it wasn’t there to begin with. That may sound facile—and why shouldn’t art be about the strange and unknown, as well as the worn comforts of the familiar? Actually, Porcellino offers both; he wonders at the world. I suppose that’s what we mean by art making the world larger.

From Lone Mountain, just out now, is Porcellino’s fifth book from Drawn & Quarterly, and the third in a D&Q series reprinting work from his near thirty-year-old, still-ongoing zine King-Cat Comics and Storiesfollowing King-Cat Classix (2007) and Map of My Heart (2009). I am most thankful for it: as good and beautiful a volume of comics as I hope to see this year.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Commentary. Michael Kupperman writes about sentimental death-tribute cartoons for The New Statesman.

The death tribute cartoon is different from simple tribute art, in that it uses a visual format designed to amuse, but to be maudlin instead. As near a perfect description for the death tribute cartoon as I can find is German writer Winfried Menninghaus summary of the concept of kitsch: “A simple invitation to wallow in sentiment.”

Every celebrity’s death is treated as an occasion for cloying fantasy or impossibly awkward visual metaphor.

The most common death tribute cartoon trope shows the celebrity arriving in heaven, most often encountering St Peter. It doesn’t matter what religion the celebrity actually practised (as with Steve Jobs, a Buddhist, who was placed in this context at least ten times, including on the cover of The New Yorker).

Rob Salkowitz writes about the current market for digital comics.

If you’re a sharp-eyed shopper, you’ve probably noticed that Marvel has been running some crazy deals on digital trade collections for Kindle and comiXology, blowing out collections for 99 cents that are list-priced at $19.99. Other publishers run the same kind of doorbusters on a regular basis, and subscription programs like comiXology Unlimited or Marvel Unlimited offer access to thousands of titles for a single monthly fee.

All this discounting means the effective price of digital back issues has crashed way under the "magic number" of 99 cents, the price point that everyone in the industry seemed fixated on just a few years ago. [...]

New release digital issues have, for the most part, held the line at the cover price of print editions. But with so much cheap content floating around out there, including a lot of stuff from the last year or two that is still being talked about and is still relevant to continuity, how soon before we start seeing price cuts on new material that has to compete with the publisher’s own recent backstock?

And more fundamentally, is the current shape of the digital market a sign of health, maturity and evolution, or should we be concerned that the model is failing?

At Slate, Marissa Martinelli makes the case that new (and old) readers should follow the recently begun annotated republication of Meredith Gran's Octopus Pie.

If you’ve already read Octopus Pie, the re-launch isn’t just a chance to experience it all over again (although it is that, too). You could easily zip through the archives at your own pace if you wanted to, but the daily schedule offers a unique opportunity to watch Gran’s art and storytelling change, if not quite in real time, then at least spread out over the two-and-a-half years or so it’ll take to get from start to finish—ten years worth of Gran’s work condensed into about a quarter of that time. The most obvious shift is the evolution of Octopus Pie’s art, especially the gradual creep of color into the comic before taking the complete plunge, with help from colorist Sloane Leong and, later, a lush palette by Valerie Halla.

—Interviews. The most recent guest on the Process Party podcast is Box Brown.