Welcome to the last few days of January. Today we bring you R.C. Harvey on Martha Orr, and the connection between Apple Mary and Mary Worth.
Frank Santoro's going on tour, and is drawing the comics to prove it. (Plus, a bonus autobiographical strip at the end.)
And Matthias Wivel is reporting from Angoulême for us. You can read his thoughts on the Art Spiegelman retrospective here, and on a comics art exhibit Spiegelman curated (and that Matthias believes to be one of the best of its kind he's ever seen) here. And there's more on the way.
Award winners at the festival have been announced, including Guy Delisle, Jim Woodring, and Jean-Claude Denis.
Speaking of Matthias, if you're at interested in the ongoing debate about best practices in archival comics reproduction, you'll want to see the comments thread spawned by his recent review of Carl Barks. Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, R. Fiore, Jeet Heer, Michael Grabowski, and Domingos Isabelhino all make appearances, among others.
On the site today: Matt Seneca on C.F.'s Sediment.
And online... Tim is too modest to mention this, but luckily I am not: Lauren Weinstein's wonderful comics about pregnancy and motherhood were recently profiled on Babble.com. This is really insightful and touching work -- check it out. No good transition here, but an interview with Jim Woodring is always a good thing, and here's one over at The Believer. In less "fun" linkage news, Tom Spurgeon has a sensible take on the recent kerfuffle around piracy, comics and consumer attitudes. Eric Stephenson of Image Comics, also chimes in on sales and stores and such things. And finally, we scamper down the rabbit hole into super hero stuff for a second: Publishers Weekly has a new super hero-focused column by Matt White.
As an aside, the other day, out of nowhere, I received Katz, which appears to be a compete republication of Maus (in French) only with all the mice heads replaced by cat heads. I assume it's the same dialogue because the whole project is too lazy for it not to be. In any case, as a conceptual prank it's incredibly lame (I mean, everything from the appropriation to the switcheroo. I get it. It's just dumb) and that's kind of it. Not much more to say beyond that, since it's so transparent. I suspect the historical politics of it were of less interest to the author than the prankish, look-what-I-can-do aspect, but either way it's pretty gross. I'm all for giving the canon the occasional punch on the arm, but this is just silly. There's an ISBN (2-930356-84-7) and a web site. Otherwise it's anonymous.
Perennial TCJ All-Star R. Fiore is here this morning with another spin of Funnybook Roulette. This time his topic is Michel Choquette's semi-legendary Someday Funnies. A brief excerpt:
What’s particularly striking about Someday, and what probably wouldn’t be repeated today, is the role mainstream creators play in it. Potentially you could get something very interesting from the Garth Ennis/Grant Morrison/Warren Ellis generation of big company talents working off the reservation, but I doubt it would have the same attraction. The major difference is the absence of the Comics Code. The 1960s/1970s people clearly envy the freedom the underground cartoonists have, and jump at the chance to exercise it. [...] The contributions from the mainstream world are some of the most militant and radical in the book (other than from the foreigners, for whom Marx is definitely not Groucho), and they are better prepared to do work to order than the undergrounders.
It feels like I've linked to about a million Maurice Sendak interviews during the short life of this blog, but he keeps giving them, and he's amazing at them, so I'm not going to stop now. If you didn't see his appearance on Stephen Colbert, drop everything and watch it now:
[UPDATE: Part two is up now:]
There are a lot of big-time arguments and discussions going on in the comics internet world these days, most of which we've basically ignored here due to either lack of interest or out of a possibly ill-considered disinterest in peddling gossip as news. But it isn't all petty squabbling. Jason Thompson knows his stuff, for example, and his recent essay on the dire straits facing manga publishers not only in the States but in Japan deserves attention.
There's also been a lot of argument online recently about the economic uncertainties of Western cartooning, and the impact of online piracy upon it. Heidi MacDonald has perhaps done a service by gathering a whole host of recent controversial posts on this topic, though some of the linked-to posts aren't nearly as informed or well-reasoned as Thompson's, and the comments thread that follows is a good place to avoid if you've been feeling depressed lately. The subject at hand (and the arguments on both sides) deserve fuller attention than I can devote to them this morning. That being said, people seem to enjoy a ritual flame-war teeth-gnashing effigy-burning pity-party every now and again, and maybe they should, if only for catharsis. [UPDATE: Tom Spurgeon responds to Heidi's post here.]
Why do some comics read easier than others? Is it the story, the cartooning or the page design? Frank Santoro will demonstrate how some cartoonists such as Hal Foster and Herge used visual harmonies and structures in their page designs much like classical oil painters. Discover the similarities between visual and musical harmonies and how some of the great cartoonists used dynamic symmetry like a map to organize their stories.
Also, after the talk, Frank will lead an informal FREE workshop focusing on formats available for the comic book maker in 2012. Everyone is welcome. Come see what Frank Santoro’s Correspondence Course is all about - or come on down just to argue with Frank - maybe even buy a book and get it signed.
Tour Dates - Frank Santoro Signing / Workshop Tour
This morning, we have Joe McCulloch's take on the Week in Comics, wherein he does a quick followup on yesterday's Jason Karns interview, and we also present Matthias Wivel's review of Carl Barks's Donald Duck "Lost in the Andes". Wivel is also in Angoulême right now, and we plan to begin featuring his reports from the festival later this week.
Speaking of Angoulême, Sarah Glidden will be living in the area for seven months, and recently posted a photo tour of the area.
Tom Spurgeon's got a good interview with Tom Gauld.
Milo George reviewed the Russ Cochran Sunday Funnies project that was mentioned in the comments of last Friday's post.
I am the furthest thing from an expert on issues related to SOPA and online piracy, but I found this article in the Register last week to be very helpful, in the sense that it wasn't just screeching and explained some of the complexities that have been ignored in the general clamor I've seen so far.
Not comics (or barely so): Steven Heller digs up a 1932 children's book full of very stark, black and white photographs of everyday objects, one that claims that a "baby needs to learn about things as they are, and simple, accurate pictures to help him." I don't want to come off like the dumb iPad enthusiast of yesteryear by extrapolating too far from my own experience, but I've personally been amazed to discover just how readily very young children do recognize objects from drawn and even caricatured versions of them. There's a reason Richard Scarry's still in print, and this one isn't.
Today we present Jim Rugg interviewing FUKITOR's Jason Karns.
And we have a guest blog from the great Drew Friedman, who just finished this phenomenal portrait of Harvey Kurtzman, and had this to say about the man himself:
The legendary Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993) needs no introduction. So here's one anyway. Cartoonist, writer and editor, he was the founder and creator of Mad, Trump, Humbug, Help, etc. Along with his long time partner, cartoonist Will Elder, he spent 20 years producing the lushly painted comic strip "Little Annie Fanny" for Playboy.
Beginning in 1975, Harvey Kurtzman was also a teacher at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, which is where I eventually met him. In fact, the main reason I chose SVA as an art school was because Harvey Kurtzman was listed as an instructor in their catalog. Growing up as the son of a renowned writer (Bruce Jay Friedman), encountering and meeting various celebrities, authors and performers was common for me, but I always held cartoonists on a higher level. The fact that my dad was actually friends with Maurice Sendak and Jules Feiffer (author of...The Great Comic Book Heroes!!) was just astounding to me, as my goal from an early age was to become a cartoonist, and in addition, I already knew my comics history. Attending a Playboy authors convention in the early seventies, my father posed for a giant group photo (taken by Alfred Eisenstadt) along with about a hundred other Playboy contributors. Hugh Hefner was prominently up front, with many celebrated authors and artists scattered throughout. When I saw the photo in Playboy, what impressed me the most was that my dad was standing right next to one of my Cartoon Heroes: none other than Harvey Kurtzman! I have no idea if they even spoke to each other but it was still such a point of pride for me.
As a teenager in the early seventies, I attended many comic book conventions in NYC, where Harvey Kurtzman was a frequent guest, but I never dared approach him, terrified he'd dismiss me as just another geeky fanboy. Seeing his name listed in the SVA catalog a couple of years later would finally grant me access into his world, or so I hoped.
I eventually signed up for Kurtzman's course in late 1978. When the first class was ending, and wanting to impress him with my opening line, I made my approach. He was sitting at his desk doing some class paperwork and I leaned in and awkwardly stated: "You know my father!" He lowered his glasses and looked up at me with tired, weary eyes, "Who's your father?", he asked. I answered "Bruce Jay Friedman". Seemingly unimpressed, he murmured, "Oh, the author" and returned to his paperwork. But he quietly did take note, and would always introduce me to visiting class guests by sarcastically announcing "and this is the son of the author Bruce Jay Friedman".
Harvey has been criticized by some for not being a great teacher, but never by me (after all, I wasn't a great student). It actually wasn't important that he wasn't a "great teacher" -- just being in his presence was enough. For some still unknown reason, Harvey chose to teach "gag cartoons" in his class, preparing his students for a career as, say, a New Yorker or Playboy gag cartoonist. Rarely did he bring up the subject of comics, but if a student ever did, particularly referring to his early Mad or war comics for EC, he clearly (to me anyway) took great pride that anyone still cared and was interested in that work. But most of his students just thought of him as their amiable cartoon instructor "Mr. Kurtzman," some perhaps knowing he had some vague connection to Mad and that he wrote that sexy comic strip in the back of Playboy (During one of Gary Groth's extensive interviews with Kurtzman for TCJ, he asked Harvey about teaching at SVA and what the students were like, "They don't know nuthin'!" was Harvey's dismissive reply, which sadly, was basically true). But to me and many others, he was the droopy, turtle-faced Living Legend in our midst, and once a week for 3 hours it was our ground zero, the main meeting place for like-minded young cartoonists, future humorists, comics writers and editors, plus you never knew who might drop in. A constant stream of guest cartoonists could show up at any given time, among them were Robert Grossman, Rick Meyerowitz, Neal Adams, Jack Ziegler, et al. The first time I ever encountered Robert Crumb was when he appeared at the class unannounced. Just as I had avoided approaching Kurtzman at the comic cons, I didn't dare approach Crumb.
Harvey encouraged chaos in his class. At the beginning of his course, he'd hand out balloons and ask everyone to blow them up till they exploded, simulating the "surprise" you should get from a cartoon punchline and leading to inevitable hysterical laughter from all. I've often referred to his class (and SVA in general) as "The 13th grade" or "Clown College." As the cartoonist Kaz has mentioned, "Drew went into SVA knowing what he wanted to do and left SVA the same way"; meaning, I was hard if not impossible to "teach." As far as classroom insanity, Harvey usually enjoyed and encouraged the Three Stooges noises and the endless insanity, often instigated by me. He once even quietly took me aside during class to "thank me" for keeping things so lively. But Harvey was also very sensitive and fragile, and sometimes prone to tears, especially at that point in his life when things perhaps hadn't worked out as he had hoped, and Little Annie Fanny was his main bread and butter. Some days he'd arrive at class and was clearly not in the mood for the hi-jinx that would surely ensue. Oh, and let me go on record and address one particular false rumor that has plagued me for years. I did not hurl a desk out the window during a class! It was a fellow student I hurled.
I'd like to think Harvey and I were friends, or at least as friendly as a wise-ass student could be with his teacher. I was frequently asked to join him along with class guests and certain chosen students (among them, Mark Newgarden, Dave Dubnanski, Phil Felix and Mike Carlin) at the after class get togethers at his favorite Irish bar, The Glocca Morra, around the corner on East 23rd St, where he could finally unwind and reminisce about the old days at EC, Bill Gaines, Will Elder's practical jokes, his theories about coke bottle design, politics (he admired Ronald Reagan!) and women.
I was proud that Harvey always seemed to "get" my work or at least appreciate what I was doing and the painstaking detail I was putting into it (he referred to me once as the "new Wally Wood"... Yikes!). He seemed to take pride in the fact that after I graduated I was getting attention and being printed in mainstream publications like Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and Spy. He even wrote a foreword to one of my books. After SVA, I saw Harvey only a few more times. One summer he called me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to edit a humor magazine for him. I was floored by the offer and said "Of course!!", which is when he earned one of his nicknames, "Harvey the Vague." That's the last I ever heard anything about editing a magazine for him. Harvey died in 1993 after suffering for several years from the ravages of Parkinson's disease, but his legend has by no means diminished, in fact it continues to grow. Aside from the recent coffee table book about his career from Abrams and the deluxe Humbug box set from Fantagraphics, a massive biography is in the works, which will cover in detail his SVA years, as well as a film documentary. During my recent interview (along with Gary Groth) with Jack Davis at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, Jack continually brought up Harvey as the best editor he ever worked for, giving him full credit for pushing him in artistic directions that would eventually make him one of the top commercial illustrators ever.
It was after our talk with Jack that I was inspired to create this portrait (based on a mid-seventies photo by E. B. Boatner) of Harvey Kurtzman, posed in his attic studio at his home in Mount Vernon, NY.
Today we say goodbye to Leslie Stein, with her fifth contribution to the Cartoonist's Diary column. We also present Ken Parille's newest GRID, in which he evaluates many of the comics of 2011, including Habibi, Holy Terror, The Death-Ray, and many others.
One of the comics Parille discusses is Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve 12, which I happened to finally read just a few days ago, though I purchased it the day of its release. (Not until this past year, after making a sincere effort to read as many comics of interest as possible, have I realized just how many solid comics there actually are being published, and how easy it is to fall behind. I read comics every day, and still haven't gotten to several of the books on Parille's list, for example.) Anyway, this is a very strong issue of Optic Nerve, which I enjoyed enough that it makes me want to go back and re-examine some of his earlier work—his earliest minicomics were raw and very funny, but somewhere along the way, his comics stopped clicking with me on a regular basis. Despite Tomine's obvious artistic command, his characters, plots, and situations seemed so low-stakes, yet were apparently taken so seriously, that I found it hard to relate to what was going on. I wonder now, after enjoying this last issue so much, as well as large portions of Shortcomings, if I was simply misreading him—the story I like best here, "Hortisculpture", is also sort of slight, but the character interplay and dramatic situations are handled so lightly, and his storytelling displays a subtlety so far beyond most of what's being published at the current moment, that the parts end up seeming strong enough to redeem the whole. (Of course, I've only read it once so far, and new facets may reveal themselves on a second or third go-round.)
Parille makes it a point in his column to focus on the key formal aspect of "Hortisculpture": the way its scenes are planned to resemble individual episodes of a daily newspaper strip. This is becoming an increasingly popular strategy -- Clowes did something similar in Wilson, Tim Hensley in Wally Gropius, Seth, Ivan Brunetti, David Heatley, etc. -- and it produces an interesting effect. In Wilson, portraying the title character's life in discreet strips not only allowed Clowes a formal excuse to experiment with different drawing styles at appropriate moments, but also served to recast the often disturbing incidents of Wilson's life as temporary and humorous situations. A character being sentenced to prison reads differently in the context of a long-running comic strip than it does as the middle section of a more traditional graphic novel. (Is it too early to apply the term "traditional" to graphic novels?) In Wally Gropius, it makes the often perverse goings-on even more unsettling. And in "Hortisculpture" it somehow manages to add a melancholy tone to what is an essential comedic storyline -- exploiting not only the reader's natural inclination to fill in the narrative gaps "between the gutters," but also his or her tendency (trained by exposure to so many decades-long strips) to imaginatively extend a comic strip's storyline in all directions. A more traditionally organized story would seem more settled, more complete.
These effects are everywhere in comics these days, and not always created consciously. In their most recent collected editions, Prince Valiant and Gasoline Alley and Little Nemo read differently than they used to--and we see their creators differently because of it. Frank King is revealed as an early graphic novelist; for the first time in decades, readers can begin to experience the wonders inspired by properly printed strips from Foster and McCay, published at or close to their originally intended size.
Of course, we are still not reading these strips as the original readers did. Simply being collected into books changes the strips' context dramatically. When Fantagraphics divides the constantly reprinted EC stories into artist-specific books later this year, it will undoubtedly similarly change our understanding of the work, whether we notice it consciously or not. Sometimes reading the lavish new collections of Terry and the Pirates or Popeye or Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie, I wonder what it would have been like to experience these strips as they were published, one daily installment at a time. All of these great proclaimed masterpieces were not intended to be read in large gulps, but in daily sips over decades. Barring accident or disease, I've probably got five or so decades of good vision left, so if I want to try out one of our classics the "real way," I need to get started soon.