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Monster Party

Today on the site, the comics scholar and radical-politics historian Paul Buhle reviews the controversial Diaspora Boy, by Eli Valley.

Eli Valley has been torturing tribalist, Occupied Territory-seeking Jewish neoconservative and neoliberal hawks for about a decade now. His art style is utterly unique, a combination of cartoon and comic art all mooshed together, with odd items galore. If many readers miss a detail or two (or three) in this delightfully oversized volume, it must be on account of the dense content and story line, ruthlessly moral in an immoral world. Peter Beinart, a Jewish commentator who moved leftward after becoming famous, says in the preface that if the cartoons in this book are “outrageous and absurd,” it is because we are living in an “outrageous and absurd moment in American Jewish life.” That is: the language of American Jewry remains overwhelmingly liberal, but the silence over the cruel reality of the occupation of the West Bank is deafening.

Beinart calls Eli Valley’s work a “searing indictment of the moral corruption of organized American Jewish life in our age,” on the face of it a pretty shocking observation. With a kicker. The book is also... the Eli Valley Story. As you might have guessed, reader, Valley is the son of a rabbi, who grew up with all the imagery of the Jewish diaspora, imagery full of righteous suffering and return to the homeland in apparent triumph, ever-insecure triumph.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
The Hollywood Reporter talks to Tom Gauld about his latest book.

I almost always make these cartoons in a bit of a hurry, generally in a blank panic wondering how I've managed to do five hundred of these cartoons without it getting any easier, so I'm focused on the mechanics of making a joke that works on the page, rather than trying to express how I feel. But I think that the way I feel gets in there anyway and, when I look back on the cartoons, either once they appear in the newspaper or when they are collected in a book, I can see themes and ideas more clearly than when I'm actually making them. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I am probably cynical about the forces of the market and optimistic about the possibilities of the art.

Vice talks to Sheena Howard, co-author of Black Comics, and author of the Encyclopedia of Black Comics.

I think there are a few things going on. It's hard as hell to break into the industry. Forget race, it's a male-dominated world. When you're in the comic industry as a woman, even when you're doing your own thing, the cultural barriers can be very discouraging if you're a woman of color in the industry because of course, you're going to start publishing on your own, and then you try to build up and make connections. But it's a male-dominated world so there's sexism there and that is very difficult. I think too, you've got to stay consistent over a number of years if you really want to break into the comic book industry and do it full-time. Honestly, as an artist, I don't think people even have the income to even keep pushing over long periods of time to get to a place where they can do this work full-time and actually sustain themselves.

The latest guest on the Virtual Memories podcast is New Yorker artist Barry Blitt, and Slate's Working podcast talks to the Billy Ireland librarian Caitlin McGurk. And McGurk and Jim Rugg are both guests on Process Party.

—Reviews & Commentary. Science fiction novelist Ada Palmer writes about the ghosts and monsters of Shigeru Mizuki.

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.

 

Now That That’s Over

Today on the site, RJ Casey returns with a review of Connor Willumsen's very strange, very rewarding Anti-Gone.

Spyda has terrible tattoos, wears a visor, and lives on his refurbished-couch-like sailboat. He can only relate to other people through movie quotes, but don’t worry, he’s getting professional help for that. Lynxa is his shipmate, sporting long finger nails, who seems to be jadedly reading and bronzing her life away in slow-motion. We know people like Spyda and Lynxa. They’re people we went to school with, old friends from back home or past lives. They’re here now, a fair-weather couple on an indifferent quest to get high, have sex, play hide-and-seek.

Willumsen sets Anti-Gone in a post-global-warming event society, fittingly neither completely depleted nor fully stable; cities are under water, but the economy is still humming. After being given free tickets to the luxury movie house, and obtaining nostalgia-expanding hallucinogenics, Spyda and Lynxa take in a violent, existential superhero flick. Outside, and intermittently during the course of the book, a battle between a large group of protestors and police who are exploiting their sadistic authority comes to a head. Just like the inattentive duo, we’re kept in the dark as to what this oncoming riot is ever about. The chemical-steeped trips the pair are on leaves them separated, and they never reunite. The sun rises, the sun sets. They go on, alone, trekking for distraction. Leisurely delights or anxious grievances — any sensation will do. This is what Anti-Gone is about. At least I think so.

But the big news on the site is of course what Dan posted about yesterday: Dan's leaving the site after today, and I'll be joined by a new co-editor, Tucker Stone, who will be starting in November. I don't have much to add to what Dan already wrote, but I do want to say how much I've enjoyed working with him. We've been editing together since the first issue of The Ganzfeld, which it astounds me to realize came out 17 years ago. Dan was the first person I ever regularly discussed comics with; before I met him, I just read books and The Comics Journal and argued with myself. After I met him, I argued with Dan. "Arguing" is actually too strong a word; I agreed with him on most things, and enjoyed disagreeing with him on the rest. He's one of the smartest, most knowledgeable, most provocative people I've ever met. Sometimes he can come off as mean or dismissive, but even his laziest-seeming takes usually have a well-thought-out, sturdy skeleton undergirding them which can be revealed with a little skeptical pushback. He's the kind of critic who provokes strong and productive thought even when he's wrong. There's a lot more to say but I'm not going to say it now. I can't wait to edit his first piece as a contributor. The tricky part will be figuring out ways to get together without having TCJ "editorial meetings" as an excuse. (I'll save the Tucker Stone talk for later. Longtime TCJ readers should already be familiar with him, and if you're not, go through his old TCJ columns and reviews, and check out his many podcasts and blog posts at The Factual Opinion. I am excited to work with him, and to see what he does with the site.)

 

Swissvale Kitchen Table

Today on the site it's the great Ken Parille on the art of the sales pitch in and around superhero comic books

Three recent DC comics Dark Nights: Metal #1, Batman: The Red Death #1, and Batman: The Dawnbreaker #1 include an advertisement for Snickers bars. A reader could be forgiven for momentarily thinking that the ad, which looks a lot like the narratives it accompanies, is part of the story:

As super-villain Gorilla Grodd attacks the stadium, he proclaims that “Events mean nothing to [me]!” But, as Superman discerns, this gorilla’s not what he seems: he’s “just a hungry fan.” After a few bites the Snickers works its magic, soothing the “crabby” fan’s rage.

It’s odd to see an ad with an event-hating fan in these particular comics, all of which are part of what the industry calls a Crossover Event. To follow an event’s sprawling narrative, fans need to buy a lot of comic books released over several months. While “events mean nothing” to villains (and crabby fans who refuse to buy the required books), they mean a lot to companies and their bottom line. Each of the twenty-five comics/chapters in DC’s current event Dark Nights: Metal costs $3.99 or $4.99. In the past, a major crossover from the “Big Two” (i.e., DC and Marvel) occurred every few years. Now they pop up once a season. We’re living in the pricey moment of Perpetual Event.

And hey, I have some news: Tomorrow is my last day as co-editor of The Comics Journal. The reason is straightforward: At the end of the summer I took a research and writing intensive curatorial position at a gallery, so I need to focus my energy there and on some longterm projects, including a few features for this site.

Tim will go solo for a week (it just happens that I’m going to be traveling next week), and then (drumroll) in November he and Tucker Stone will be co-editors. Tucker has long been one of my favorite writers and speakers about comics, and has been on all sides of the medium's equation. I couldn't be happier that he is coming aboard. He'll bring fresh energy, ideas, and contributors to the site.

I want to thank Gary Groth for asking me to take a shot at the site back in 2010 (and Frank Santoro, who told me I had to accept!), and for his unwavering support; Kristy Valenti for offering great support from the Seattle HQ; the Fantagraphics team for its logistical and moral support; Mike Reddy for designing this web site and contributing great drawings long the way; and, of course, all the contributors I've worked with over the last six and a half years. I'm proud of what we've done together, and honored to have been an editor at The Comics Journal. For more than half my life TCJ has helped shape my critical and historical ideas about the medium I love. Gary's generosity in allowing me and Tim to steer his great ship is something for which I'll be forever grateful.

Finally, my deepest thanks to my friend of 20 years, Tim Hodler, a man embarrassed by even the smallest amount of praise. Tim I started both The Ganzfeld and Comics Comics together. There is no one I'd rather work with, and I'm looking forward to submitting texts for his and Tucker's consideration. Tim's precision and rigor have kept this site together, and his willingness to stretch and try new things has helped us grow. He is a great friend and the best collaborator I could imagine. I can't wait to see what he and Tucker do together. Bye for now.

 

Doubling on His Tracks

Today on the site, Greg Hunter brings the latest episode of his Comic Book Decalogue podcast to the site. His guest this week is the cartoonist and TCJ contributor, Annie Mok.

On the twenty-fourth installment of Comic Book Decalogue, Annie Mok discusses Carta Monir, Emily Carroll, Satyajit Ray, and more.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Todd Hignite has fascinating discussion with the underground original art collector Eric Sack.

TH: [Collectors Showcase] was one [published by Leonard Brown and Malcolm Willits’ Collectors Book Store in Hollywood] and Tony Dispoto out of New Jersey put out catalogs [Comic Art Showcase], Jim Steranko [Cartoonists and Illustrators Portfolio]—and Russ Cochran in the Midwest [Graphic Gallery].

ES: Yeah, you would see prices in those, and little by little some artists would command more than others—but the fascinating thing I gradually started to notice is how something, say in the early ’80s, would be an expensive $1,000 and twenty years later would only be close to that still, or maybe $2,000, but other art in that same period would grow to $5,000 or more. So it was interesting to watch the market evolve as the interest in various artists changed. And it didn’t have anything to do with chronology, like I always thought it would coming from that Thomas Nast world—here was this guy doing the most amazing cross-hatching, documenting important historical events, and I could buy his original drawings in the early ’80s for between $200 to say $1,100, and even today some of the good ones can be had for $2,000! You would think because these were so early and well rendered from a godfather of the art form, that for all kinds of reasons those should be $10,000 or $20,000. But they’re not. So it’s an interesting question that I always discussed with other collectors, why such particular multiples started to happen.

TH: I think that’s always hard for collectors to wrap their heads around, especially early on—why aren’t values based on this agreed-upon hierarchy of what is important historically?

ES: Pop culture in general has a strong influence, of course—interestingly, as a parenthetical aside, that was one of the reasons I decided to sell the bulk of my collection when I did—I thought the market had peaked, because the collectors who were buying this stuff drawn in the late ’60s to the mid ’70s were getting to an age of deaccessioning rather than actively collecting, and I wasn’t sure there was another generation of collectors to take their place. But I was wrong!

—Reviews & Commentary. The nominees for this year's Best Online Comics Studies Scholarship award have been announced.

Caleb Orecchio writes about what he learned about color from an old issue of Classics Illustrated.

I’ve been thinking and working with color a lot. In this day and age, where color is an option for cartoonists looking to print their work (color was not always an option for ye olde comics makers, true believer), the quantity of choice of what the colors should be and how to apply them can be intimidating. Fear not. In my opinion, the best way to start in color is the classic CMYK–which is essentially, as you probably know, blue, red, yellow, and black. One reason this is a good choice is that most riso printers carry these four colors (riso being probably the best option in self-publishing in color if you can swing it) AND they are easily acquired in forms of marker or colored pencils, AND because these are the colors comics used in the past and traditions are important to me.

Julia Wertz's new book has been reviewed at both Hyperallergic and the New York Times.

Wertz registers the changes [to NYC] but without polemic. There’s no need; the coda to her project is enough. After 10 years in the city, she was priced out of her Brooklyn neighborhood last year. She wrote this book in California.

Finally, Chris Mautner writes about the mysterious Yuichi Yokoyama.

No one on the globe is making comics like Yuichi Yokoyama. That seems like a foolish thing to say — after all, I haven’t tracked down every cartoonist on the planet to do a comprehensive compare/contrast analysis — but I feel like it’s a pretty safe bet nevertheless. Completely unconcerned with the conventional aspects of storytelling — most notably plot and character — Yokoyama has built a body of work that is utterly unique in its near-relentless exploration of motion, sound, and structure. His comics are enthralling and dynamic, but at the same time drained of emotion, as if an alien race was trying to mimic a typical comic but couldn’t quite get the hang of it.

 

Weird Quick Story

Today on the site, Tim Hanley writes about the new film dramatization of the story behind the creation of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 

On its own terms, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a very good film indeed. It begins in the mid-1920s when married psychologists William and Elizabeth encounter Olive, a student of theirs at Radcliffe College, and follows the evolution of their relationship from intrigue to lust to love. After initial trepidation, the three form a family, with each woman having two children via William. Inspired by these remarkable women, William creates Wonder Woman in 1941, and the film ends in the mid-1940s, shortly before his death. It’s an unconventional love story, and Robinson treats both the polyamorous and BDSM aspects of the relationship with respect and care. The film is sexy without being exploitative, romantic yet frank, and often boldly raw as it delves into the emotional complications of the Marstons’ life together.

Elsewhere:

Brian Nicholson writes compellingly about Connor Willumsen's Anti-Gone, which I'm looking forward to reading. Comics Workbook has a video up about it.

Ryan Holmberg sends word of The Disasters of Peace: Social Discontent in the Manga of Tsuge Tadao and Katsumata Susumu, an exhibition at the Honolulu Museum. Ryan is an advisor on the show and it's of course based on his books. For more Holmberg action, follow him on instagram. His handle is mangaberg. 

Excellent Leslie Stein comic this week.

Drew Friedman is the guest on the great Gilbert Gottfried's podcast. 

Finally, the Skip Williamson documentary is coming soon. Here's the trailer and one clip and now another.

 

Warp

Today on the site, Alex Dueben talks to Kevin Pyle.

You mentioned you edited a prison issue [of WWIII Illustrated] in the 1990s and Prison Town is about a decade old now. How did you get interested in these issues?

In some ways it has to do with the story told in Take What You Can Carry. When I got caught shoplifting, my dad had the idea that we should spend an hour or two in the jail before we left. [laughs] That experience may have made me think about those issues as I feel I’ve been pretty aware of my own white privilege and what the influence of that on my own trajectory was versus what it might have been for someone else under different economic and racial circumstances. It’s something I was always aware of. A theme that runs through all my work is that of the individual versus society and the I think prison is the ultimate expression of that. Lab USA gets at that. Society has certain rules they need to enforce and they do it in a very clumsy manner – at times in a very unfair manner. How individuals get ground up by institutions has been a focus of a lot of my work and I think prison is a real expression of that.


Meanwhile, elsewhere, sickness and other emergencies are making this a short one:

The incredibly destructive California wildfires have affected many in the cartooning community, and burnt down the home of Charles Schulz.

Brian Fies has drawn a comic about the fires.

Douglas Wolk is still insane.

 

The Hand is One

Today on the site, we have Robert Kirby on Ghost Stories of an Antiquary: Vol. II:

For my money, the late Victorian-era ghost stories of Montague Rhoades James, aka M.R. James, are without peer. The classic scenario of his tales is that of a comfortable, upper-middle-class academic gentleman, who, through his own scholarly curiosity and/or carelessness, unwittingly invites a dreadful supernatural entity into his tranquil, privileged existence, an entity that brings with it terror, madness, sometimes even death. James’ narrators relate these tales calmly and matter-of-factly, in a brandies-by-the-fire tone, as reality is slowly engulfed in otherworldly malevolence, incident by incident. The stories perfectly combine uniquely cozy British wit with mounting dread. Though typically noted for their restraint and chilling subtleties, James’ tales also feature flat-out horror. Some climax with appearances by monstrous spiders, a hairy demon, or a toad-like horror; others end in gory death as James reveals what has been lurking just off-camera all along: within that ash tree, underneath that ancient tomb, or in the shadows of that old rose garden.

As with the first edition, this second SelfMadeHero volume of James adaptations by Leah Moore and John Reppion features four stories. They are “Number 13,” “Count Magnus,” “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (along with “Casting the Runes,” this remains James’ most celebrated story), and “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas,” each illustrated by a different artist. While the book is a good introduction for James novices, there’s a buttoned-downed approach to the art that keeps it from truly excelling.

Elsewhere:

The Daily Beast on Megumi Igarashi aka Rokudenashiko.

I'd like to read a longer version, with even more pictures, of this piece about retailer Jim Hanley.

 

 

Pay Attention

Today on the site, Katie Skelly writes a personal account of her experience reporting harassment at a comics festival.

I’ve always — perhaps foolishly — believed I present myself as strong, or maybe even shrewd. I’ve built up a series of protections for shows, signings, and everything in-between: don’t allow yourself to be left alone in a room with one man and no witnesses. Know your exits. Don’t accept gifts. Be generically friendly. Act like you’re about to turn into a pumpkin by midnight (things always get weirder after midnight). The thought that I may not get to enjoy as much of being a cartoonist, especially one coming into a little glimmer of success, just because I am a woman was something I had to let go of in order to stay safe and sane. In a way, I often reason with myself, it has made me tougher, understanding the world around me as a hostile one.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The New York Times checks in with Roz Chast about her latest book.

As Ms. Chast has aged, her characters, often loosely autobiographical, have aged with her, growing into middle age with their neuroses intact. “Some worries I’m probably going to carry with me until the point comes when you stop worrying, which is when you’re dead,” she said. “Where do I start? Driving, medical, electricity, basement, boilers.”

And The Guardian checks in with Chris Ware in advance of his.

Ware’s “own stuff” may appear intricately plotted, but he says his creative process is essentially just sifting through a mess of plans and ideas, some recorded “while I was driving or brushing my teeth or whatever”.

“But once I sit down to draw and am looking at the images as they start to coalesce on the page, all sorts of new ideas start to occur to me,” he says. “And these are almost always much more alive, real and tied unconsciously into whatever the story is actually about than whatever I’ve thought might be interesting, compelling, witty, whatever.”

The 1960s "spy culture" site SpyVibe interviews Trina Robbins about Honey West, Miss Fury, and more female pulp comics characters.

I completely agree with you! It breaks my heart to see what these gorillas [at Dynamite] have done to the wonderful Miss Fury. No, she is not “holding up” in these badly written and badly drawn new books, and my Miss Fury and the REAL Miss Fury will always be the original Tarpe Mills’ Miss Fury. [...]

It isn’t so much the writer as the artist. How can a woman be strong and in control when her back is broken or in real life the weight of her breasts would make her fall forward onto her face? And let’s not talk about running in high heels!

The most recent guests on Virtual Memories are Peter Bagge and Mimi Pond.