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Savor The Selections

Today at the Journal, we've got the first column from cartoonist and publisher, Tomasz Kaczynski--it's titled Event Horizon, and while it isn't going to be a textual analysis of the picture starring Laurence Fishburne, he has assured me that he will get to said film after he's finished covering the 80's comics in question.

Your second must read of the day is the inimitable Joe McCulloch on Shiver, the Junji Ito collection we posted an excerpt of last week. Besides being an excellent review of the book, Joe grapples with the mutanting nature that digital delivery--both legal and not--have had on Ito's work and how critics are left to interpret that work.

This is both good business, and maybe just good. I think having Itō himself front and center can counteract the phenomenon of his works merely existing as pluckable digital fruits, although the book's setup is admittedly not ideal to that end. For one thing, there's no explanation as to when any of these comics were originally published - I'm not blaming VIZ here, since the Japanese edition doesn't have any information like that either, and for all I know they might be contractually prohibited from adding editorial material to the original work, but it does limit the book's usefulness as a retrospective. Upon digging around, I was able to find a Japanese blog purporting to list the original publication dates of everything in the book down to the month, the information presumably coming from other Itō collections or the author's experience; the actual sources, though, are never disclosed. If this information is accepted as accurate, it is noteworthy that the selected stories are arranged in chronological order, starting in 1990 (three years after Itō's professional debut, and the first year he spent working on manga without a day job) and concluding in 2003, a year after the serialization of Gyo, one of the longform works that helped make Itō's name in western environs.

ELSEWHERE

I was elsewhere, via a plane. As such I didn't catch the comics news, but I did see these two lists that I found interesting. I also finished the book I was reading on the flight out and thought I'd buy a graphic novel at the airport. But it was impossible to do that, because the adult selection was totally insane DC garbage that I just refuse to spend money on, the fourth and seventh volumes of a handful of Image series that I can't imagine would have made sense, and some of those horrible "educational" titles that PRH creates by breaking the hands of high school students before forcing them to draw pictures of Eisenhower. In a way, that's actually kind of a good thing, not seeing any comics you care about in an airport--Hudson News has a 97% return rate, so most of those books are screwed--but I was in a spendy mood that probably isn't going to return. Anyway, here's the lists I liked. The CBC did a best Canadian comics & graphic novel list, and with the exception of Jeff Lemire (he's not going to stop churning that one thing he does out if people keep pretending they enjoyed it, CBC!), every book on that list is as stable as a table, to quote from the book I read way too fast on my flight out. The other list has only one graphic novel on it and no real blurb (although it does link to an interview), but I still thought it was worth linking to, because I'm 39 years old, which means I have been reading comics long enough to know that it is still a big deal that a graphic novel aimed at teenagers from a Big Five publisher dealing with queer issues came out and had the kind of response Spinning has had. It hasn't been taken on as a success with its LGBTQ as a crutch to overlook aesthetic shortcomings, it's been successful on its merits, soley. I'm glad that we can finally expect more out of comics than Greg Rucka's alcoholic lesbians & their struggles to be drawn competently.

 

Final Countdown

Today on the site, we have another anniversary-year piece, R.C. Harvey's column on the 60th anniversary of the hard-to-believe hit import from the UK, Andy Capp.

ON THE FACE OF IT, the Andy Capp comic strip ought to have failed the moment it arrived on these shores in 1963, continuing its six-year run in England. The strip’s eponymous protagonist is a good-for-nothing lout, a layabout with a passion for a pint, and for the attractive unescorted woman at the end of the bar. He’s a working-class man with no work and no desire to work. His entire unemployed life transpires between the neighborhood pub and the couch in the living room at home where he sleeps off his indulgence. He would be unfaithful to his long-suffering wife Florrie (Flo) if he weren’t so lazy. In his occasional active moments, he sometimes beats his wife, whose strength of character makes her the real star of the strip. In short, there is nothing likable about Andy Capp—and certainly nothing admirable.

[...]

Andy Capp is the creation of Reginald Smyth, who added a final -e to his last name by way of adopting a pen name. Smythe drew Andy Capp from his first published appearance in 1957, until he, Smythe, died in 1998, leaving a year’s worth of unpublished strips for his successor; he was that far ahead of his publication schedule. After the stockpile was exhausted, Andy Capp was continued by writer Roger Kettle and cartoonist Roger Mahoney. In about 2011, Kettle quit and was replaced by Lawrence Goldsmith and Sean Garnett, while Mahoney continues to draw the strip.

Smythe grew up in Northern England under conditions that made Andy Capp seem like a kindred soul if not an alter ego. “He was my best friend yet,” Smythe once said. Growing into manhood, Smythe was often jobless for long stretches, making him sympathetic to Andy’s situation (which, in Andy’s case, is self-inflicted by preference).

Born July 10, 1917, Smythe grew up in Hartlepool, County Durham. Although in a coal mining district, the town was a port, and Smythe’s father was a shipyard worker, who was often unemployed because demand for ships slacked off after the Great War, 1914-18. In consequence, the family was very poor. Smythe described himself as “a canvas shoes kid”: the only poorer class of youngster was barefoot. Richer kids had leather shoes or boots.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Jonathan Lethem picked How to Read Nancy as his book of the year for BOMB:

[It] is a sublime object, a book that’s simultaneously a sensual pleasure to handle; a genius compilation of technical interventions for would-be cartoonists, practical jokers, and literary critics; a bundle of belly-laughs as delightful as a new puppy; and a kind of ontological “mise en abyme” which threatens to topple your sense of reality if you gaze into it too sustainedly.

—Interviews & Profiles. Sarah Rose Sharp profiles Laura Park at an exhibition of her work.

When I met cartoonist Laura Park for a walk through her exhibition connected to her three-week residency at the Columbus Museum of Art, she had recently emigrated to France, together with her native French boyfriend.

“I did that both because I love him, but also I have some worries about what is happening here — like, healthcare, Korean War? Don’t know what’s happening,” said Park, whose comic narratives fluidly incorporate autobiographical daily chronicles, magical realism, memory, and exhaustively researched hidden histories. “It’s interesting, because my parents are immigrants, and when I told them I’m going to do this — I never thought of them as very optimistic, but they are,” said Park. “They’re like, ‘You’ll be fine.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t speak French,’ they’re like, ‘Eh, you’ll figure it out.’ And realizing that was their attitude when they came here — we’ll figure it out. Because in that stereotypical way, they’re kind of dark people, but I’m like, you’re optimistic!”

Tom Heintjes talks to Reed Tucker, author of the new DC vs Marvel book, Slugfest.

Heintjes: When you approached creators and company executives to talk about the rivalry, what kinds of reactions did you receive?

Tucker: It was mixed, honestly, as you might expect. When I started the project, I compiled a huge list of people I might want to talk to. It skewed more towards editors, company executives and writers, because I thought those people probably had a better grasp of what was going on inside the companies than, say, a freelance artist might. So I just started reaching out, emailing them or writing them actual paper letters. I also went to a couple comic cons and tried to meet some creators in person. Generally, people were pretty receptive. A couple people declined nicely. One or two were kind of nasty. More than a few just ignored me. Fair enough. I can understand that the topic might be somewhat touchy, but I thought and still think that you have to have your head buried in the sand to dismiss the rivalry or its effect on superheroes and contemporary pop culture. I think it’s a worthy topic for discussion, not something that’s simply petty or gossipy.

AJ Frost talks to Ed Piskor about his new Marvel project, X-Men: Grand Design.

And as much as I’ve read all the [X-Men] comics, I do not consider them to be infallible. I always had some idea about making them all work together as a unit. I can sell water to a whale, so I make it sound it so cool. A lot of people who know me know that I like X-Men and, very often, a girlfriend will try to relate in some way. When people ask me “What should I read? What comics should I read?”… I frankly can’t point them to any X-Men comics because no matter which one you give somebody, there’s so much baggage that comes along with it that can leave a casual reader in the dust. It occurred to me that there should be an X-Men comic that one can point to highlight all the cool stuff that the series has to offer.

The latest guest on the RiYL podcast is Janelle Hessig.

—Misc. Tom Spurgeon is asking people who are able to consider giving to Cartoon Crossroads Columbus.

 

In the Screaming, In the Godhead

Today at TCJ, we've got the latest installment in Ken Parille's Grid column. The subject at hand is the 20th anniversary of Ghost World, one of the seminal American graphic novels of the 90's, with a specific focus on the comic's use of dialog.

Like Maus, Ghost World was a revelation in part because its characters spoke like actual humans rather than the cardboard types that had long populated comic books. “For once in a comic,” the Post said of the graphic novel, “people are portrayed as they really talk and act.” Ghost World’s naturalistic, unfiltered dialogue was especially unusual for female characters, not only those in comics, but in film, television, and novels. Two decades later, readers are still drawn to the characters’ astute, acidic, and ever-relevant profanity-laced observations about the media, advertising, neo-Nazis, “pseudo-bohemian art-school losers,” and all forms of faddishness.

Then we've got a look at John Arcudi's Rumble #1, relaunched last week with new artist David Rubin. Geoff Lapid provides the requisite hot takes:

The story starts at the beginning, or at least somewhere near it, in a cave with an old man and his boy, sitting by a fire and paintings on the wall that tell the story of when the world was overrun with savage monsters. The old man explains that Rathraq was sent by the gods to end the violence with more violence, thus clearing a path for the early humans like them. We're treated to a few pages of brutality, where Rubin does his best Geof Darrow impression, but ends up giving us something that looks more like John K. making Conan comics. Which… isn't bad? Limbs are getting hacked off, monsters are getting stabbed dynamically, there are some fun texture patterns to evoke bloodstains-- it’s all very macho and stylized, and you get all the consequence-free saturday morning cartoon gore you need.

News. Mad had its last NYC party this past week, and Tom Richmond wrote about it, his history with the magazine, and what he thinks of the future. I hope to have more about Mad's transition to Burbank in the coming months, because I really like the comics Noah Van Sciver did about that unlucky bear.

This opinion piece about the supposed diversity problems at Marvel Comics is almost indistinguishable from any particular blowhard in an internet comments section, but I'm linking to it anyway, because for some reason it's being published by a subsidiary company of News Corp. It exemplifies one of the core disabilities at the heart of comics, which is that websites and publications with actual money and reach hire people who are little more than fans, and those people go on to dictate the sort of coverage that maintains a status quo of almost preternatural stupidity. Is it possible that Marvel's diversity choices have done something to their business? Sure. But this article doesn't examine that question with any level of serious inquiry. It merely states that the comics market is having a major financial crisis, talks about one particularly ugly bit of behavior on the part of a few bad actors at a comic book convention, trots out a bunch of dog whistle type phrases to amp up the two sides of a cultural argument, grabs a quote from Milton Griepp to make it appear justified, and tosses it out there on a finance site powered by the same billion dollar corporation that owns The Wall Street Journal. 

Reviews & Sundry. Tom Baker's review of I'm Not Here for Broken Frontier gets into that book's specificity of design, and how that specificity is used to compensate for the minimal dialog.

After the soft peach background of the cover, the rest of the book is all whites, greys and the occasional heavy black (for the eyes and hair of the characters, buildings in the dead of night, the darkness around the sights she captures in her camera’s lens), fading away further during flashbacks. An absence of colour is often said to signify an absence of feeling, and a book the main character reads suggests that “feeling is impossible if we feel today as we did yesterday; to feel today the same thing we felt yesterday is not to feel at all…”

 

Today's featured image is Chris Cooper from the film Money Train.
 

Arghggh

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose reports from the Paris comics festival, SoBD, which is run by Stripologie.

Almost any Parisian will tell you that comics and graphic novels are serious stuff. Here, the "BD" or bandes dessinées are not just in bookshops. They're all over the place: in train stations, supermarkets, museums and the news kiosks found on every street. During 2016, the country's residents bought more than eight-and-a-half million BD – so we're talking about 15.5 % of the whole French population. What's more, those statistics seem to be increasing.

This omnipresence, however, has a down side. With new volumes appearing weekly, few books get more than a fortnight on display. Blockbusters such as Asterix are different but, even for mainstream publishers, this poses a serious problem. When it comes to collectives, independents, and books about comics, that problem is a crisis – and it's one Amazon hasn't helped.

Parisian Renaud Chavannes is doing something about it. Chavannes, a journalist and digital entrepreneur, also authored Composition de la bande dessinée (Editions PLG). A thoughtful history and analysis of page layout, it took him a decade – and he wasn't prepared to see it simply appear and vanish. So he fought back by designing a shop of his own, an online boutique called Stripologie.com. Open for business since 2012, Stripologie sells books over the internet. But it's dedicated just to books about BD, to special editions and volumes on the history, art, and theory of comics.

And Frank Young has reviewed Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's How to Read Nancy.

“You can’t teach genius,” my friend and colleague Glenn Bray quipped in a recent email exchange. As an after-school teacher of comics, cartooning, and storytelling, I must bow my head and agree. One out of 50 of the middle-school kids I teach has the bonafide comics bug—that burning desire to draw and tell sequential stories. The rest do their imitation Sonic the Hedgehogs, Wimpy Kids, and Bendys, despite my invitations to create new characters instead of expending their energy on fanfic.

Some of the subtleties of How to Read Nancy—and its wry humor—may be lost on the age-group I teach, but this book has the potential to inform and inspire, by example, the process of comics-making to anyone willing to lend an ear and focus. It’s the best thing to happen for comics in a long time.

To make comics, one must study comics—just as a filmmaker watches movies and a novelist reads other writers. No art exists in a vacuum. We get the occasional void-artist (Henry Darger, Fletcher Hanks, Rory Hayes) but they’re a rare exception. With its focus on the most mainstream cartoonist of the 20th century, authors/theorists Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden expose the self-evident truths hidden in plain sight in three panels of a comic strip that came and went in a blip in the summer of 1959.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Brian Nicholson has written recent posts about Gabrielle Bell and E.A. Bethea

Her pages are uniform, six square panels to a page. Most panels feature Gabrielle in them. The square is a stage, you generally see her full body, taking up most of the height of it. She is skinny, there is room enough for backgrounds and other characters. Room enough also for a good amount of text. Usually this is dialogue, sometimes it’s more caption-driven. Sometimes the captions will accompany a drawing where Gabrielle has thought balloons going as well: The captions relaying an after-the-fact storytelling, while her thought balloons convey her thoughts at the moment being depicted. The desire for ink on the page results in marks that seems like they are meant to delineate folds in fabric, but there are more of them then there would be folds on fabric. The overall effect is anti-glamorous.

—and his disinterest in recent superhero comics:

DC currently has an imprint edited by the singer of the emo band My Chemical Romance, that’s clearly designed to be something of a throwback to the early days of Vertigo. I love a lot of those comics: The Peter Milligan Shade The Changing Man, the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol. My interest in reading the revivals falls apart on flip-through. The difference between the nineties iterations and their contemporary revivals is that, if the older audience identified with the label “alternative,” the ideal audience for these Young Animal comics are people who would describe themselves as “adorkable.”

—At Vulture, Abraham Riesman interviews Charles Burns.

The series took about a decade to complete. When you started with your notebooks and sketchbooks, did you know what the last page would look like?
Probably not right at the beginning, but I had a core idea. I knew what that last page was gonna be for, let’s say, seven years. At the very beginning, we’re floundering around trying to find a way in to tell the story, and to tell it the way that feels right. There’s a lot of missteps. I did maybe three pages of like a first version, and I was writing it and drawing in the way that I had kinda worked previously, and I realized I had to step away from that.

—The latest guest on the CBLDF podcast is R. Sikoryak.

 

We Are The Children of Dog

Today on the Journal, we've got a preview of the next Junji Ito book. Then next week we'll have a review of it. You see how this thing is starting to work? Yeah you do.

ELSEWHERE!

News. We here at The Journal didn't have time to get into the nature of Patreon's recent fee changes and the vocal outcry that followed in its wake before Patreon announced that they weren't going to change the fee structure after all. They're still going to have to do something--you know, to make that money--but what that is will be determined at a later, unspecified, date.

Reviews & Sundry. While Scott Adams stopped being a joke worth making a long time ago, I'm a sucker for didn't-see-that-coming thinkpieces on comics from publications that don't normally do them, and this Awl piece on Dilbert doesn't disappoint.

Somewhere along the way, Scott Adams became incapable of seeing the world clearly. He cannot see that he has made the antagonist of his cartoon the protagonist. He cannot see that some of the reasons that he thought Trump would be a good president—i.e., could become a thorough expert on any geopolitical subject after an hour-long briefing—are some of the exact same barbs that he launched at management culture in the legacy-building peak of his satire. He cannot see the irony in suddenly yoking his reputation to a man whose signature move—before, during, and probably after his presidency—is abusing and then firing his own employees.

One can't, in good conscience, mention Dilbert with throwing out a plug for this old back and forth between Kim Thompson & the rest of the world regarding Dilbert--so here that very plug is

There's only 145 of us reading the Noah Van Sciver's serialization of Fante Bukowski comics on Twitter at the time of this writing, which means there's only 145 people keeping up with some Mech-level funny. You know what to do.

I hadn't seen all these fake comic covers by Alex Degen before, maybe you have, but you didn't tell me about them, so nice job being a friend.

 

Slash

Today on the site, Frank Santoro is writing about the latest book by Lala Albert:

If Lala Albert's previous book, Janus, was about drawing people and interiors of the real world, and the "interiors of the self," then this book is about not drawing people or interiors. It is not about artificial interiors or artificial people. It is a book of exteriors, of the natural world of trees, and birds, and life free of artifice. It is a book of "nature" drawings and one which uses an avatar of a tiny elf-like humanoid to guide the reader through this wordless graphic novel.

I must admit, I am not usually a fan of stories or comic books which feature supernatural elves or faeries. While Wet Earth is more like a television nature show which just happens to have elves in it, I had to suspend my disbelief by imagining that this was the next chapter of Janus. At the end of Janus, the protagonist looks at a seashell and speaks to it. I imagined the protagonist fell asleep and dreamed Wet Earth, and by doing that I could get over the elves frolicking around with the animals and birds and insects in the beautifully rendered Wet Earth.

And then Tegan O'Neil is here to talk about "the Latest Hit Comic from Image," Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, which I am happy to say I haven't read.

Shirtless Bear Fighter bored me. It bored me because not only have I seen the movies and TV shows that gave rise to the action movie formula that the book exploits, but I’ve seen the parodies of same, and the parodies of the parodies, and the neo-classical reclamation projects that recycle the hoariest old clichés as sincere homage. Shirtless Bear Fighter embraces the formula with a cheek that borders on arrogance. They’re not really doing anything with these old forms, they’re not making any kind of clever point. They’re literally just giving us the same old story with winking ciphers, and expect the audience’s respect for the trappings of parody to cover up the fact that it really is just a bog-standard revenge story told with hipster memes.

I don’t understand, really. I’ve tried throughout this piece to avoid being mean-spirited. Shirtless Bear Fighter was co-created by writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner and the artist Nil Vendrell. It’s a very competently produced comic and that very competence works against it. Vendrell’s art takes the material more or less at face value. It reads like any mainstream comic produced in the last ten years, with thoroughly competent and agreeable art that fails to make any impact. The book just doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, which seems problematic. A book about a guy who punches bears should have some kind of personality, right?

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Two excerpts from Hillary Chute's new Why Comics? have been published. At LitHub, you can read from her chapter on Gary Panter, Matt Groening, and punk comics.

Panter, whose own self-published comics Groening had read and admired, wrote him a fan letter in 1978. (Leonard Koren, who published an avant-garde lifestyle magazine called Wet, first showed Panter Life in Hell.) Groening describes being actually “frightened” by Panter’s handwriting—today still known, which is to say admired, for its scratchiness and intensity—but he wrote back. The two met and became fast friends, plotting how to make art people would pay attention to. Groening recalls how they would “scrape coins out of the carpet of our crummy little apartments and split burgers and then scheme about how to invade pop culture.”

The Paris Review has a section from her book on the "rise of queer comics."

The history of gay comics, however, doesn’t start with Bechdel. It has roots that go back at least to the underground comix movement of the 1960s and ’70s—and even earlier, too, if one considers classic comic-strip characters like George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, one of the most celebrated characters in the history of comics. Krazy Kat (1913–1944) which debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, featured a famous love triangle: The mouse, Ignatz, hates the cat, Krazy. Krazy, however, passionately loves Ignatz; even though the mouse throws bricks at Krazy’s head, they are received affectionately. Offissa Pupp, a dog, adores Krazy and hates Ignatz as a result. Krazy is androgynous, a “kat” with a fluid gender that seems to shift and is never actually meant to be conclusively verified (sometimes the narration refers to Krazy as a “he”; largely, however, Krazy has been interpreted as female, including by superfan E. E. cummings). In an exchange from a 1915 Krazy Kat daily strip, Krazy complains, “I don’t know if I should take a husband or a wife,” to which the indifferent Ignatz responds, “Take care,” and hurls a brick. That a syndicated strip published in a mainstream Hearst paper—Hearst adored the strip’s artistic merit and gave Herriman a lifetime contract—had such a conspicuously “genderqueer” star at its center indicates that queer comics, even if not hailed as such, have been lurking in plain sight for over a hundred years, at least. We might even consider queerness part of the DNA of comics.

—Interviews & Podcasts. The latest guest on Virtual Memories is Cullen Murphy, and the latest guest on Process Party is Jeffrey Brown.

 

Please Buy A Different Moisturizer

Today at The Journal, we've got two buckets of sauce for you. First, dip yourself into a pool an interview with cartoonist Tim Lane, who is out there holding the line for single issue comic books for more than just nostalgic reasons. The second bucket is to come!

That’s something I’m interested in at least stating an argument for: the resurrection of the traditional comic book. There’s such a rich and and colorful history of the traditional comic book and how it developed in America. I’m a strong proponent of it – both for philosophical reasons but also for very practical reasons. From what I can see, comics is in a place where graphic novels are what’s most popular. They’ve grown to become quite exquisite art books. The only complaint I have is that for people like me – I have a son and I have a wife and we have bills to pay – it’s very difficult to to be able to spend a couple hundred bucks to buy, let’s say, four graphic novels. It’s getting to the point where it’s so expensive to get your hands on the material. The great thing about comic books is that they are, and always have been, inexpensive and for the average person. It started with kids, you know, for a dime. I’d like to see that come back because it’d be nice if comics were more affordable, and I think the traditional comic book is one way to make that happen.

 

ELSEWHERE

News. Some of the bigger infrastructure news of late was announced last week--Meg Lemke has taken over as Graphic Novel Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly, a role previously handled by Heidi MacDonald until Lion Forge's acquisition of The Beat. Lemke has a ton of experience, and it's a smart hire. 

I checked in with our very own Joe McCulloch on this link here, and he said that it's a "pleasant, general audience-oriented profile of Frederik L. Schodt, one of the key figures in the gradual introduction of manga to English-language readers. This is a guy who personally knew Osamu Tezuka, to give you an idea of how far back we’re going. Gently touched upon are the myriad issues implicit to the idea of ‘localization’ — still a piping hot topic if you have offended the wrong demon and therefore become party to video game discourse — but couched in an aging soul’s contemplation of time’s passage and stuff. I’d like to hear somebody ask him about translating Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, which is barely in English *in English*, if you know what I mean."

Reviews & Sundry. Abraham Riesman's list at Vulture has a lot of the right books in the right places, but he's also the latest in a year long string of people who have filed to convince me to take a chance on Tom King, the emptiest suit in an overflowing closet. Who would have thought that 2017 was the year all the comics critics fell in love with the Deep State? They're gonna kill y'all first, ya dummies!

The YALSA Great Graphic Novels For Teens list is here, and the breadth of it is an excellent indication of which publishers want to make money selling books to libraries, and which ones think it's better to send their review copies exclusively to websites that no one capable of self-love will ever pay attention to.

 

 

Master Whiner Myself

We've got a double feature for you on TCJ this morning. First, Greg Hunter has released the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast. This installment features Emil Ferris; the My Favorite Thing Is Monsters creator talks superheroes and dada, politics and accessibility, Will Eisner, Ted Leo, and more.

And then we have an excerpt from the latest work by Tim Lane, Happy Hour in America. Look for more about Lane tomorrow.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The New York Times released a lot of comics content lately, including Garry Trudeau reviewing former Prince Valiant writer Cullen Murphy's memoir of cartooning in Connecticut.

As Cullen Murphy admits in his warm and graceful memoir, “Cartoon County,” comics creators have long been among the most dimly perceived of celebrities, and when they venture out into society, they are usually sized up as dentists or insurance adjusters long before the awful truth comes tumbling out.

Fortunately, this is not a significant problem, since the syndicated cartoonist is rarely spotted at large. The deadlines and hours are brutal, and too much involvement with the real world takes time away from the alternate universe the artist must ceaselessly oversee. Newspaper comics are regarded as a kind of public utility — a reliable, 365-days-a-year source of light entertainment. For those whose weekly transmissions keep the machine up and running, every Friday deadline can seem a freight train bearing down, threatening to overwhelm their creative capacity and self-confidence. A few careers have ended in drink, but more typically the rolling dread keeps cartoonists home and out of trouble. Only one of our number has ever been drummed out of the National Cartoonists Society for “conduct unbecoming a member.” (Don’t ask.)

Also, Manohla Dargis reviews two new books on comics, Hillary Chute's anticipated study Why Comics? and Reed Tucker's less-significant-looking Slugfest, a history of Marvel vs. DC.

Untethering her book from linear history frees Chute up, allowing her to leap from idea to idea, rather than simply from one period to another. She fills in the basics, introduces foundational artists and sketches in some of the medium’s industrial history, though largely as a departure point for her discussions of independent artists like Robert Crumb, a leading figure in underground comics, a.k.a. comix — the “x” indicates adult content. (Chute doesn’t go into the legal obscenity fights over comix in detail, which I mention only because in 1969, my father, then working in an East Village bookstore, was arrested for selling a Crumb comix. My dad went free; Crumb kept on outraging.)

Finally, Gilbert Hernandez reviews J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, in the form of a short comic.

On the less establishment side of the comics internet, here is a very thorough bibliography of "alternative" manga published in English.

I love underground manga but it’s too hard to find good suggestions and updated lists. And with “alternative manga” I mean those really different, obscure, weird, extreme and experimental japanese comics that only a few non-japanese people from all over the world will ever read and appreciate.

These are surreal avant-garde manga such as the ones published in alternative japanese magazines and anthologies like Garo, AX and COM. Even a few Gekiga artists could be still considered alternative today.

—Interviews. On Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed the aforementioned Cullen Murphy.

Murphy: ... So this is a conversation between Curt Swan, who drew the "Superman" comic, and Jerry Dumas, who with Mort Walker produced "Sam's Strip" and "Sam And Silo." And the conversation opens with with Jerry Dumas. They're at a diner. And Jerry says, why does Superman have a cape? And Curt says, I don't know, Jerry. Dumas goes on, why does Superman's cape swirl around him even when he's standing in an office? I really don't know, Jerry. When Superman undresses in a phone booth, how does he know his clothes will still be there when he gets back? I haven't the faintest idea, Jerry. Can Superman fly when he's wearing his business suit on the outside with the costume underneath? Pauline, could you put a little brandy in this coffee?

—R.I.P. William Gass

Sunny Murray.