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Brand Force Trauma

Today at TCJ, it's time for the latest installment in Michel Fiffe's ongoing evaluation of his inspirations: The Fiffe Files. This month's chapter is on The Flash, as depicted by a motley crew led by Mike Baron and William Messner-Loebs. 

"Random weirdness" --! His Flash is definitely a weird read, but you gotta lock into it. You have to be open to unsentimental, almost disjointed storytelling. Baron packs the book with new concepts, but not in a flimsy way, like emptily sprinkling scenes with ideas to show how clever he can be. Baron actually tries to get in there and explore some of those ideas. Having Guice be the straight man who only draws what is required with no fluff, no fanfare, no oomph is a good balance.

Our review of the day comes via Jake Murel, and it's of Nora Krug's remarkable (and demanding) new book, Belonging. Is it a comic? A visual memoir? What does all that stuff mean, anyway? Jake's on it:

But her diverse assortment of visual material raises a question about Belonging’s connection to comics and the nature of comics writ large. In short, is Belonging a “comic?” The back cover—at least of my review copy—advertises the book as a “visual memoir,” a term I initially assumed to be a semantic device for distancing an essentially comic text from the supposed low-brow, commercial escapism often attributed to comics. But the more I read, the more I wondered whether this might be a valid distinction. Is Belonging distinct from comics, not because of its content, but its form? It utilizes few structural elements typically of comics, such as panels or word balloons. Krug includes several interstitial comic sequences throughout her book, but she tells the majority of her narrative through stylized, handwritten text accompanied by an array of images. Though every page contains some sort of image, nearly all of the pages are so text dense that the singular included image could be removed and not much would be lost in the reading experience. The images become little more than decorative illustrations, a feature that opposes what most cartoonists and comics scholars consider (good) comic art.

And that's not all--not by a long shoot. Dig in, because we've got a rock solid interview with Stan Lee, from 1968, which we originally published in Comics Journal #181. There's a whole lot of meat on this one, friend. Here's a taste.

WHITE: Well, you’re getting more competition all the time, of course. New companies keep coming into the superhero field all the time. There are the Tower people … and Harvey Comics … Those are the most flagrant imitators. How do you feel in general about the imitators?

LEE: I wish they would peddle their papers elsewhere. The flattery kick — we’ve gotten over that years ago. We realize that we are rather popular now. We appreciate it. But the thing that bothers me … corny as it may sound … We really are trying to make comics as good as comic can be made. We’re trying to elevate the medium. We’re trying to make them as respectable as possible. We … our goal is that someday an intelligent adult would not be embarrassed to walk down the street with a comic magazine. I don’t know whether we can ever bring this off, but it’s something to shoot for. At any rate, we try to do this. Now when other companies come out, and they try to make their books seem like our book as if they’re all in the same class, the same milieu … and yet the quality is inferior, the art is inferior, the writing is inferior, the plotting is inferior. I feel this does nothing but hurt us. The adults who don’t read comics, but who … whose youngsters try to convince them that comics are really pretty good. You know, who may read ours and like them, say “Why don’t you read one? They’re really good.” And the people who are uninitiated but who have heard about comic and might want to pick up one of those imitations, look at them and say, “Aw, I knew it That fellow who told me comics are good is really an idiot. They’re as bad as they ever were.” In this way, I think we can be hurt by imitators.

WHITE: The imitators make themselves look so much like your line that many readers may think they’ve gotten hold of a Marvel comic.

LEE: Exactly. Now … silly as this may sound, or hard to believe as it may sound, I wish our competitors did better books … If they put out books of comparable quality to ours. Now, I don’t like this to sound as if I’m an egomaniac, but I think you see what I mean. If … if I felt myself that the art and stories were as good as our books, I would be happier because I would feel that we’re all elevating the field … and we’re all going to benefit by it.

WHITE: It would put more pressure on you to get even better …

LEE: Right. But as it is, at this particular moment, I still think that we are doing the only somewhat significant work in this field. There’s the occasional exception.

That's a great fucking interview. Thanks, 1968 TCJ contributors!

Over at Women Write About Comics, Wendy Browne has the most detailed write-up on Library Journal's Virtual LibraryCon, which took place a few weeks ago. I also attended that event, and my main takeaway was that there's probably going to be a lot more of those types of online conventions to come--the structure and interface of the whole thing has a very clear appeal to a type of fan who is only becoming more and more common. 

Over at Popula, they continue to publish comics by a murderer's row of recognizable names, like Mimi Pond, Lauren Weinstein, Meghan Lands, Tom Hart & Trevor Alixopolus.

Over at the New York Daily News, they've got the latest update on the bribery trial involving an ex NYPD officer, who recently testified he got a gun permit for Ike Perlmutter in exchange for tickets to Marvel movie premieres. I love reading about this story and don't care how true it is or not: who doesn't want to read a screwed up news story about dumb nonsense that doesn't correlate to hyperclimate chaos or hardcore alt-right racism or anything other than some rich creep allegedly getting a gun permit he couldn't possibly need from some rando goon who isn't creative enough mentally to say "give me a lot of money" but instead says "I want to be the first in my circle of friends to see a Benedict Cumberbatch motion picture". There's so many awful, upsetting reasons people get in trouble and so many awful, upsetting people who get away with trouble: it's always a treat to see assholes being roasted in public for the dopey things that assholes do. 'Nuff said!

 

Ennui

Tegan O'Neil is here with an essay on Stan Lee, using his Thor comics as an entry point.

I picked up a volume of Tales of Asgard strips, from the original Lee & Kirby run recently. Those back-ups started about a year after Thor first debuted – if you’ve read the early run of Thor, it took a bit for the character to gel. He wasn’t unusual in the Marvel stable for that, and it’s certainly true that he gelled a lot faster than Ant-Man and the Hulk. The Asgard back-ups began with adaptations of the original Norse myths, which are pretty fucking metal even in Comics Code Approved form, and they’re interesting for being a rare example of Lee & Kirby collaborating on someone else’s story.

As you might expect Kirby takes to myth like a duck to water and much of the earliest episodes are spent giving him an opportunity to draw things like Ymir roaming the ancient frozen universe with only his cow buddy for milk and company (the cow isn’t named in the comics but her name is Auðumbla). That’s in the myths, and it’s in the Marvel universe, and Jack drew that primeval cow like a motherfucker. What Lee does is translate the stories into his invented Asgardian argot, the faux Shakespearian bombast that served as one of the character’s signatures until quite recently. One of the reasons that works for these characters in particular is that gods and goddesses by their very nature have outsized motivations and personalities. Adopting a bit of that old Shakespearian rag gives them a vocabulary to describe what are some very recognizable and familiar bits of human drama, such as: my dad doesn’t think I’m ever going to grow up and he doesn’t want to give me a chance, my brother’s an asshole, and I cannot turn around for five fucking minutes without having to worry about frost giants and me-damned Geirrodur the me-damned King of the Trolls.

Today is the grand finale of Marc Bell's Cartoonist's Diary. Thanks, Marc!

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Slate has another adapted excerpt from Mark Dery's new Edward Gorey biography.

Child abuse was Edward Gorey’s métier, in a manner of speaking. Gorey, who died in 2000 at 75, was the author and illustrator of a hundred or so little picture books whose pen-and-ink illustrations flawlessly counterfeit Victorian engravings and whose lugubriously amusing nonsense verse, equal parts Edward Lear and Samuel Beckett, spins black comedy from murder, mayhem, and existential malaise. Gorey’s books look at first glance like children’s books, or at least children’s books from the Victorian or Edwardian ages in which they’re often set, and his tongue-in-cheek takeoffs on children’s genres like the Puritan primer or the 19th-century morality tale make them sound like them, too. But as with Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedies, Gorey’s darkly droll tales touch—lightly—on weighty matters: the death of God, the meaning of life, and, always and everywhere, our impending mortality. Emblems of innocence and naïveté, children make perfect victims, as Gorey told the New Yorker. “It’s just so obvious,” he said. “They’re the easiest targets.”

No title epitomizes that point better than The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Gorey’s 1963 parody of abecedaria—ABC books—that uses the deaths of 26 mites as punchlines in life’s existential farce: “E is for Ernest who chocked on a peach/ F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech … ” It’s Gorey’s best-known book, grist for hipster tattoos and for countless takeoffs, from Mad magazine’s recent “Ghastlygun Tinies,” a pitch-black commentary on school shootings, to a Game of Thrones spoof to the inevitable Harry Potter version (The Hogwarts Tinies) to a Game Over Tinies that casts video game characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Brothers in the roles of the doomed tots. A witheringly satirical version appeared during the 2016 presidential race, The Ghastlytrump Tinies, a nightmare vision of what would happen if Trump won the White House.

—And the latest guest on Inkstuds is Peter Bagge.

 

Marionettes

Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to share a new review from Matt Seneca. Last time, it was an elongated dip into Moebius--and now he's returned to these pages with a look at a different heavy hitter: Alberto Breccia!

Breccia's art just about demands cliche descriptors. It really is eye-popping. Constructed with dense gnarls of absolutely brutal, slashing brush marks, every panel manages to cohere into a piece of realistic cartooning in the Norman Rockwell mode, with faces, figures, and lighting that startle with their dead-eyed accuracy. Imagine the sober Alex Raymond of primetime Rip Kirby inked over by Bill Sienkiewicz at his most manic and you're close; but honestly, neither of those guys' best work speaks to pure drafting skills as finely honed as Breccia's. Again and again the panels' flair for expressionism carries them to the brink of what looks like chaos - ink and wite-out splatter across the pages, furiously scribbled (and gorgeously reproduced) brush marks envelop blank space with black, and texturing effects that Breccia employed toothbrushes and razorblades to achieve spackle across surfaces. Again and again that chaos reveals itself as tidily observed compositions of light and shade - a group of dry-brushed gouges resolves into a birch forest, an elaborately marked scribble into a wrought-iron sign and its shadow, obsessive masses of ink flecks into a herringbone pattern that recedes perfectly into the light source. 

We've also pulled another Stan Lee piece from the print archive--a brief recap of a panel appearance Temple University back in 1978 from Comics Journal #47.

Lee spoke with considerable candor on the subject of television shows based on Marvel characters. He opined that the Hulk series was more intelligently written than the Spider-Man series, but that the constant "message" every week might send the ratings into a nosedive. He felt that an occasional super-villain and fantastic situation would relieve the boredom of the stories told by TV writers.

And of course, today is Marc Bell's fourth installment of the Cartoonist Diary!

Over at Counterforce, Aug Stone interviewed Typex about his Andy Warhol graphic novel with SelfMadeHero.

Over at Time, Gord Hill was interviewed about the Antifa Comic Book.

Over at PopMatters, there's a review of Mickey Z's Space Academy 123.

Over at Chicago Reader, there's an all too brief excerpt from Anne Elizabeth Moore's interview with Julie Doucet surrounding the publication of Moore's Sweet Little Cunt, her in depth look at Doucet's comics work.

 

Remembering Stan Lee

Yesterday, this site's publisher Gary Groth wrote a quick note about Stan Lee.

Who —or what— was Stan Lee? Editor, hustler, hatchet man, corporate player, shill, writer, frustrated novelist, success, failure, catalyst, front man, self-parody, hack, exploiter, innovator. He was, probably, all of those things.

What he was, improbably enough, for at least one brief moment, and what he may have become if he had had the stomach for it, which he obviously didn’t, was a truth-teller.

Marc Bell is here with Day Three of his Cartoonist's Diary. Landlords and Halloween parties.

Finally, Annie Mok has a review of Kelsey Wroten's Crimes.

Crimes follows the creative and romantic exploits of Willa, a 30-year-old gay painter and barista, who has a crush on Bas, a 22-year-old poet who's dating Willa’s friend Simon. A meditation on grief, lust, point of view, and communication, the story begins with the death of someone close to Willa, with images of a coffin, and the internal monolog, “Putting people in boxes [...] and so begins my first year without you.” Confident brushwork, pacing, and writing marks this tale of loss and longing. The unruled borders underscore the sense of anxiety vibrating throughout the work.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Stan Lee. There has been an unsurprisingly and appropriately large outpouring of texts written in response to Lee's death, too many to include here. A few worth noting include Lee biographer Tom Spurgeon's initial thoughts, Jeet Heer's article at The New Republic, and Charles Hatfield's blog post.

Douglas Wolk collected some of Lee's cameos from Marvel comics, and Drew Friedman gathered the drawings of Lee he's made over the years.

—Etc. Vulture has the latest in a long line of articles about new Nancy cartoonist Olivia Jaimes.

 

Black Class

Today at The Comics Journal, we're sharing with you Michael Dean's obituary for Stan Lee, whose passing yesterday has already resulted in hundreds of articles by a multitude of publications worldwide. We will have more to come on the man, his work, and his legacy in the coming weeks.

It would be hard to overestimate Lee’s impact on the art, business and cultural image of comics. His noteworthy creative work emerged during a roughly 10-year period, but his comics career spanned more than 75 years — very nearly the life of the comics industry itself. During that time, atypical among comics creators, he had only one boss: Marvel (aka Timely and Atlas Comics). In the 1960s, Lee ignited and oversaw the greatest burst of creativity the superhero genre had seen since the invention of Superman. As Marvel’s editor-in-chief, he infused the line with a recognizable house style built upon the prolific Jack Kirby’s solidly dynamic art. As Marvel’s head writer, he created a world where super-heroic tropes stumbled ironically and engagingly among the petty details of everyday life. As Marvel’s spokesperson, he made readers feel they were part of an elite club and shepherded comics out of the kid-lit ghetto and onto college campuses.

But his willingness to toe the company line meant that his name and smiling face became corporate logos that were routinely stamped over the credits of other comics creators. Because his name became shorthand in the media for the multitude of creative efforts that had breathed life into the Marvel universe and because he allowed a “Stan Lee Presents” blurb to introduce even comics he had no involvement with, many in the fan community accused Lee of hogging the limelight and obscuring the work of Marvel artists.

We've also got Marc Bell's latest installment in his Cartoonist Diary! Airports: 'nuff said!

Our review of the day comes from Martin Brown, his first for the site. He's taking a look at Cranklet's Chronicle #1, a zine by Ellen Lindner focused on "true stories of women in baseball". 

Lindner and her mother are both Mets fans, and Mets fans occupy a very specific place within the baseball fandom hierarchy – one in which any hope for the team or joy for the players is consistently undermined by the current owners, the Wilpon family, who were famously swindled by Bernie Madoff for hundreds of millions of dollars and have seemingly been taking out their financial frustrations on the team in increasingly arbitrary and humiliating ways ever since. In an interview in the back of The Cranklet’s Chronicle’s first issue, Marisol Cruz (“a nice, normal person who likes the Yankees”) frames Mets fandom perfectly: Lindner asks Cruz what it would take for her to switch teams and root for the Mets. “There’s no chance,” Cruz responds, “I refuse to be sad.”

 

Night Deposits

Today on the site, Mark Newgarden returns with an interview with Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, granddaughter and biographer of one of the most important and colorful early publishing figures in comics, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

As Jim Steranko points out in his introduction, Wheeler-Nicholson’s heroic, larger-than-life background still left him singularly ill equipped to do battle with his business associates in the underbelly of the depression-era magazine business. How did Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz enter and exit the Major’s life — and what happened in between?

That question is worth at least two chapters in the biography! I’ve seen various scenarios posited about when Donenfeld and Liebowitz got into business with MWN, but I’m still not quite certain and I’ve been tracking every tiny clue of where they overlapped for almost twenty years. Most historians place it at the point where Donenfeld took over the printing of the magazines but I suspect it was earlier. The pulp publishing community in New York was not huge. People in the industry knew of one another and about one another. I think there are a number of factors that led to their connection. Just as today in New York City anyone who works in the business of construction knows they are going to be dealing with payoffs. It’s part of the cost. It seems from what we do know that a similar situation existed with distribution of magazines on newsstands. My guess is that MWN knew he would have to shell out cash payoffs as part of going into business.

We also present the Cartoonist's Diary of one of my favorite working artists, Marc Bell. He's currently in residency at the Struts gallery in New Brunswick, and as mentioned last week, is crowdfunding a new issue of Worn Tuff Elbow.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Alex Dueben interviews Jordan Crane.

It took many months to come up with the initial structure for the book. I didn’t set out to make it a children’s book, I wrote it as a comic trying to be as clear and simple as possible. For me that meant using pictures and very few words as a handrail to find your way through the pictures. I first made it as a little tiny 2×3 inch black and white mini comic, packaged along with a sewn patch that had the flag design on it. I gave that to friends and stapled it to telephone poles, just wanting to put it out into the world. The comic still didn’t quite feel right though. I had to rework the story a few times after that original version until I thought it expressed the idea in a very clean and pure way. Specifically, I wanted the story to not assume anything of the person reading it, for it to be a simple and truthful statement. When I finished that second version of the mini-comic, I sent one to Françoise Mouly.

—For The Baffler, Yohann Koshy writes about the republication of How to Read Donald Duck.

The Disney comics reportedly claimed over a million readers in a country of nearly ten million people. For the Chilean intellectual Ariel Dorfman and Belgian sociologist Armand Mattelart, such cultural hegemony needed to be countered. And so they wrote How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic. Its claim, delivered with rigor and irreverence, is that Mickey and Donald’s harmless fun is suffused with counter-revolutionary thought. Para Leer al Pato Donald was published in 1971 by Chile’s newly established state-run publisher Quimantú (“Sunshine of knowledge” in the language of the indigenous Mapuche people). It became a bestseller and was translated into over a dozen languages. John Berger called it a “handbook of decolonization.”

—James Sturm on the history of comics (via):

 

Quite a Doozy

Today at The Comics Journal, we're pleased to share an interview with...Warren Ellis? Well, why the hell not? Welcome our newest contributor--we've had a few this week so far!--John Maher, who is visiting from Publishers Weekly and had a chance to shoot the shit with Ellis during the window of time allotted for such shooting. They're supposed to just talk about something called Cemetery Beach, but it being Ellis, things got broader.

What do you think comics can do in today’s media-saturated climate that no other form can?

Comics, at their best, have purity of intent. There is no visual narrative form that has so few people between the creators and the audience. Depending on how you're publishing, there are few or no filters. In comics, for better or worse, what you get is what the creators intended to say to you. And you have to engage with the comics page, for it to work -- you can't just sit back and expect comics to just do it to you in the way that tv or film do.  

Our review of the day comes to us via Chris Mautner, and it's of one of the best comics you'll read this year: Lauren Weinstein's issue of Frontier

Oh, we’ve had comics about parenting before. Keiler Roberts certainly comes to mind, as does Lynn Johnston, Guy Delisle and let’s not forget Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues. But these comics tend to document the frustrations and foibles of parenting (albeit often from a humorous perspective). I can’t, however, recall any cartoonist that documented the process of becoming a mother with such love and warmth while avoiding any cheap sentimentalism.

For the first time in a very long time, i'll be missing Cartoon Arts Brooklyn, which is going down this weekend in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute. As per usual, the guest list is fierce--Olivier Schrauwen, Decadence, and Kutikuti would have been immediate stops for me, but generally speaking, it's a show worth hitting 'em all. Generally speaking, I prefer that things conclude immediately after I no longer have the ability to attend them or enjoy them, but for this year, I'll wish those of you heading over a good show. More info here.

 

Surgical Precision

Unexpected dental surgery means this blog is going to be a little no-frills.

First up, Kim Jooha is here with an expanded version of her essay exploring an artistic movement she calls French Abstract Formalist Comics.

In the mid-2010s, a group of young French artists began creating wordless comics with geometric and minimalist style and little or no narrative. What they show instead is more of a "process."

The emotionless and mechanical style and lack of narrative and words lead the reader to focus on the formal qualities and abstract concepts of comics, visual art, and printed media, such as space-time, movement, body, sign, texture, representation, transformation, repetition/variation, etc.

I call this new budding movement French Abstract Formalist Comics. They are “Abstract” Formalist comics not because they do not show representational images — they do, and this is a critical difference between them and Abstract Comics — but because they show abstract narrative and study abstract and formalist themes, concepts, and motives.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The New Yorker excerpts an upcoming book from Olivier Schrauwen.

—Nicole Rudick writes about Julie Doucet for the New York Review of Books. (I lent Nicole a few books to help research this article, and stupidly only now realize that was kind of a self-defeating move for an editor to make. But reading the essay makes it all worth it, even if it was published somewhere else.)

Each issue of Dirty Plotte occupies that peculiar nexus of cringing and giggling. At the moment when a gag comic might end, Doucet pushes further, into uncomfortable territory. The step-by-step instructions in the four-panel “Do It Yourself: Laugh!” conclude not with a lively chuckle but with an unhinged, sputtering roar. But in calling out her fantasies and fears with words and pictures on the page, Doucet uses transgression to carve out a space of power and freedom. She revels in the joy of unfettered exploration, and her enthusiasm buoys otherwise dark subject matter. A trio of strips called “If I Was a Man” begins by conjuring aggressive male sexual behavior (when male Julie muses dumbly on “the great mysteries of nature” after ejaculating on his girlfriend, it’s hard not to read it as a pointed commentary on the outsize male fantasies present in so many comics). But the series ends with idiosyncratic fantasy: the “useful” penis that can store small items like pens and rolled-up magazines and the “romantic” penis that begets flowers.

—Alex Jones and Infowars now (very implausibly, imo) claim that the Pepe the Frog character they appropriated was not the one created by Matt Furie but an obscure Argentine cartoon character named Pepe the Toad that doesn't look very similar...

—The original art for Bernie Krigstein's classic "Master Race" is going up for auction next week.