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Funny But How

Today on the site, we present a debut review from Tessa Strain, who evaluates the latest Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov Punisher comic.

Set dressing aside, this “America Was Never Great” narrative path is a well-trod one, memorably blazed by James Ellroy, among others, in his Underworld USA trilogy. Ellroy’s influence was all over Ennis and Parlov’s Fury: My War Gone By series from a few years back, and like him, Ennis has a tendency to use his cynicism about American self-mythologizing as a moral smokescreen for indulging in violent, macho excess. The nastiness can be exhilarating, but culturally (in both media and real life) it feels like we’re well past the point of saturation for that brand of nihilism, and it makes me wonder if it’s still possible to enjoy these kinds of stories, let alone gain anything from them. This may sound like I’m holding Punisher: The Platoon to an unrealistically high standard, but it would be easier for me to read it as straightforward exploitation fare were the framing device any less naked in its intentions. But when you have characters bludgeoning you with the thematic context of the story every five pages, at a certain point you have to take them at their word.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Misc. Ron Wimberley is Kickstarting LAAB, a new magazine that looks like it will be exploring the intersections of black culture, science fiction, and comics, among other things.

Thi Bui's The Best We Could Do has been nominated for the NBCC Leonard Prize.

IDW's Library of American Comics has launched a podcast.

Here's a 1970s NYU documentary on Marvel artist Herb Trimpe:

 

A School Of Inattention

Today on the site...we got nothing? Shit, pal--that's on me. What can I say? Halloween and early morning flights and bad scheduling. I'm over the moon excited about what we have coming for you soon though. It'll be worth the bumps this week: promise! Here's a picture of what my brother did to his dog.

ELSEWHERE

Publishers Weekly posted their list of the Best Comics of 2017--if that feels early to you, I get it--it is early! But generally speaking, Publishers Weekly gets to look at books months before they come out, so they can get away with it. If you've kept up with PW, the list is an accurate reflection of the books that they've championed this year. While the big news at PW on the comics front is (and should be) Heidi's departure to focus on a Lion Forge-sponsored Beat, it will be interesting to see how their comics coverage changes in the coming year without her at the helm.

The newest episode of Salt and Honey features Rem, and it's as educational as it is fascinating.

I'd never read Remy Charlip's brief essay "The Page is a Door", but I knew it was a big deal to Brian Selznick. I guess I should've just checked his website, because he has it posted there. Handy!

Josh Simmons is going to be releasing another one of his Batman comics at the upcoming Short Run Festival, and to remind you why that's a good thing you can read Mark of the Bat (which is now ten years old) over at Study Group. It's as grotesque as you remember, which is good!

I haven't found much in the way of interesting writing about the new Grandville book by Bryan Talbot, but that will hopefully change in the coming weeks. This video succeeds about as well as any video does in selling a comic, which is to say, not very, but it's still Grandville.

comiXology's Pull List service, which actually predates their digital comics business, will be ending in mid 2018. I know firsthand how useful the service could be to direct market comic book stores, but I also know how frustrated some retailers found it to be partnered with comiXology as their business grew, and it would be interesting to know how many retailers still use that particular service. One could ask, but considering the way Amazon responds to even the most generic of questions, it doesn't strike me as a very productive way to spend one's time.

The Weekly Standard has a review up about some more non-fiction books focused on DC & Marvel. Neither of the books sound that interesting--I can't imagine reading anything with a spine about Stan Lee as a realistic option, the idea seems ludicrous--but I'll always support a mainstream publication of any kind taking shots at Marvel movies on the behalf of the Snyderverse. Go for it, you beautiful asshole!

 

Far Beyond Driven

Today on The Comics Journal, you'll find the conclusion of Alex Deuben's interview with Katherine Collins, which focuses on the difficulties she has had to face in the last two decades, and the lack of support that the comics community had to offer her until quite recently.

In the meantime, it’s hardly a side story, but after a lifetime of not being very happy about being a man and realizing that I should have been female it finally came to the point where I realized that I could do something about it. And I couldn’t live any longer being somebody who I really wasn’t. The transition takes time, so from 1992 to late ’94 I was going through the process, but in mid-1993 I had to announce to the world – or to anybody who was paying any attention – that I was going to start living as Katherine. So I came out and started being Katherine – and that was the end of my career.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

No. I don't think I'll do that today.

Hi. I'm Tucker Stone, and I'm the new co-editor of The Comics Journal. Along with Tim Hodler and Kristy Valenti, I'll be working here from now on. I'm a former TCJ contributor, a former comiXology columnist, a former comic book retailer, and most recently, I'm the former US Sales & Marketing Director for a comic and children’s book publisher called Nobrow. Currently I publish collections of work by Michel Fiffe and Chuck Forsman, and my day job is at a book distributor, where I work with children’s book publishers, libraries, and comics publishers. I've worked in comics now for a decade. I also have a small child and a wife. I’m a straight, cis white male, and officially middle aged.

I don’t have a grand design for what I intend to do at this site. There’s a legacy to the Comics Journal that I plan to honor—but if you pressed me to define that legacy, I would have a hard time explaining what it is. There is a history of pissing people off for reasons both real and imagined, but that is not very useful as an operating principle.

My feeling right now is that the hole the Journal needs to fill is a mechanical one. The speed and accessibility of the internet has come to comics and kickstarted it into action in a way that comics has been sorely in need of for a long time, both as an art form and as an industry. It’s been an amazing time to be involved in this industry over the last 15 years, and anyone who says different is either not paying attention or so consumed with their own singular taste that their opinion is simply useless. Things have changed for the better. To say they have a long way to go is absolutely true, but for me to pretend that I will be leading any of those charges is absurd--I won't. What I will be doing is attempting to document the place we are in as it changes around us, to find the people and the things that those people make and tell you about them, and to work with smart, passionate writers who will find and discover even more. 

I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

But if you're not, it doesn't really matter.

I'm not going anywhere!

 

Late Late Late

Today on the site, we present the first part of Alex Dueben's two-part interview with Katherine Collins, creator of Neil the Horse, member of the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame, and a Doug Wright "Giant of the North." Among other things, they discuss her early radio career, the creation of Neil, and the appeal of musicals.

Around the same time I started to do Neil I did radio shows for the local Vancouver CBC radio. CBC in Canada is like the BBC in Britain, it’s a radio network that is owned and financed by the federal government but the government has no control over it whatsoever – and they dearly wish they did. [laughs] I did an interview about Neil on the local CBC afternoon show. The afternoon shows are a big deal here. Every city has their own independent one. They liked the way I talked and they liked my sense of humor and so I started to get paid to come on and review things and talk about subjects I was interested in. After a couple of years of that I moved to Toronto, which is the big media center in Canada. I moved there because I realized I was not going to get any further in Vancouver. I was given the name of a woman who was working at the CBC Radio National network in Toronto. I went in to talk to her and they immediately put me on the air on the national morning show. Here’s the funny part of it. She told me later that she had belatedly realized that she had misunderstood something that I said and she thought that I was very highly experienced and that’s why they put me on so readily. Of course I was just a rank beginner, but everybody on the show liked me for some reason. That was 1977 and that touched off six years in which I was on the morning show and a number of other shows as well. I practically lived at the network office. I became a producer and writer.

My favorite gig was on the five-days-a-week early morning show, three hours a day, called Morningside. The host of that was Don Harron, who I found out later had been a cartoonist in his younger days. He was a famous comedian and writer. Don and I really hit it off and I started doing these features where I would choose a comic strip to feature on a show – usually an older comic, but not always – and I would do taped telephone interviews with anyone I could find who had anything to do with it; most of the people were still alive. I got lots of wonderful interviews from really great cartoonists. I would fashion the program with clips from these interviews and then I would write an adaptation of the comic for a radio comedy skit. I have a huge collection of old newspaper strips and by that point I had hundreds of old Sunday pages I could go through. So let’s say for example we were doing Bringing Up Father. I would read a huge pile of Sunday pages and find ones that would adapt well for radio. This was a little bit difficult because radio doesn’t have pictures. [laughs] I had to find strips that didn’t depend entirely on the visual gag. We had a wonderful sound effects department in those days, and we would get into the studio with a little group of actors. I’m a terrible actor but I would be one of them because I didn’t cost any extra money. [laughs] Don would play one of the parts and we’d get some good actors and the sound effects guy would sit there surrounded by all sorts of weird devices and he would make the sounds live as we were acting.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Colin Beineke reviews several recentish horror comics for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

If [Gou] Tanabe shows the power of images to bring out nuances in adapting prose fiction, the haunting affects of artist Julia Gfrörer’s work spring first and foremost from her masterful imagery. Borrowing a phrase from Stanford professor of French literature Brigitte Cazelles, Gfrörer’s website avows that “The discourse of romance […] can therefore be characterized as an ideology of suffering, since the experience of human or divine love seems inevitably grounded in pain.” Gfrörer’s art, from her self-published minicomics to her commissionable tattoo designs, is nothing if not grounded in pain (literally so in the latter instance) and an appreciation of the play between suffering and love is essential to understanding her longer works. Following her much lauded full-length debut, Black Is the Color, Gfrörer’s sophomore effort from Fantagraphics, Laid Waste, smoothly surpasses its predecessor with its pitch-black artistry, coldly sparkling pessimism, and devastating humor. Gfrörer’s line recalls both fine-spun gossamer lace and cold-steel etching — bringing to mind a combination of Gary Panter’s ratty line and Kate Beaton’s caricaturesque minimalism — while the black sheet of her narrative is made all the more heartbreaking through interspersed punctures of hope.

—Interviews & Profiles. The most recent guest on Process Party is Tillie Walden, and the most recent guest on Comics Alternative is Julia Wertz.

—Misc. The prolific comics critic and TCJ columnist Rob Clough is looking for emergency help.

 

Hungry

Today on the site, Marc Sobel interviews Ulli Lust about her just-translated graphic novel, Voices in the Dark, which is an adaptation of a WWII prose novel by Marcel Beyer.

Can you describe your approach to sounds in the book, particularly since they are such an integral part of the story?

First, even before the challenge of choosing a story came up, I had some very strange acoustic hallucinations in my inner ear. I heard women weeping, like weeping under the earth from the subsoil of the city. It was like I heard the mourning of the dead, people who had died in bombed houses, or the voices of women mourning over their dead families. I was not having any big troubles at the time; in fact my life was happy and fulfilled, so these sound-visions were irritating. After I had drawn the book, they were gone.

Comics to me are a musical medium. Drawings produce a visual tone (in Germany we call this Bildsprache, or “picture language"), the timing in the sequence of panels produces a rhythm, and staging the movement of the characters is like dance choreography (at least in my mind). In the book, Karnau is very sensitive and highly attentive to sounds. His ears are always wide open for all the incidental sounds in everyday life which normal people rarely even notice. This is one of the inspiring aspects of the book, it makes you more sensitive to the small sounds in the world.

In Germany we usually use English sound effects. There are very few generally understandable German sound words. For this story, I had to invent German sounding ones because English sounds would have been strange in the Nazi milieu. For example, in the bunker the sounds becomes a rhythmic constant din of machines, air conditioning, and warfare. These sounds build like the pressure in a steam engine, rising until it bursts.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews. The most recent guest on Inkstuds is Cambpell Whyte.

—Reviews & Commentary.
Caleb Orecchio ponders Chester Brown's biblical adaptations in Yummy Fur, in response to Brian Evenson.

After reading this, and the rest of Ed vs. Yummy Fur, I can’t help but see YF as anything less than one complete work–as oppose to a book containing many serialized stories. All comics in YF from “Ed” to “Showing Helder” to “The Little Man” to “Fuck”, (AND the letters pages) etc. have an interesting give and take with the Gospels they share a book with. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is an unsevered umbilical chord connecting the early pre-“Ed” material to the later autobio stuff; and going further into Underwater. I see Yummy Fur being the record of a developing cartoonist constantly tinkering with his craft, and a self-aware conscience looking at it’s old-self in the face. When you read the “Playboy” stories, the juxtaposition of the Gospels are impossible to ignore while reading about young Chester’s religious upbringing. It’s like the Gospels and the teachings of Christ are always in the back of Brown’s mind and dictate his actions and motivations for better or for worse.

Becky Morton at the BBC writes about the lack of recognition for women in UK political cartooning.

Out of nearly 180 cartoons featured in last year's edition of Britain's Best Political Cartoons not one was drawn by a woman.

It was flicking through a copy of the book that first highlighted the gender imbalance in the industry for Ella Bucknall, an illustrator currently studying at Camberwell College of Arts in London.

This realisation prompted her to start Whip, a magazine of political cartoons by women, to give them a platform that didn't exist elsewhere.

"Particularly at the moment when there are so many aspects of politics affecting women's lives, from Trump to the DUP, we need to be able to have our own voice. We need to be able to argue back," she said.

 

Book Smarts

Alex Wong is here today to interview Tom Gauld about his latest book, Baking with Kafka, which gathers many of his Guardian literary-themed comic strips. They talk books, the challenges of a weekly strip, why Gauld doesn't solicit feedback, and who should be the next James Bond.

I don’t seek out anybody’s opinion at all. When I’m making a graphic novel, I’ll let some people read it. With these cartoons, I would rather have a handful of them turn out kind of weird, then have all of them turn out as well-functioning ordinariness. If I showed my wife an unfinished cartoon and she didn’t quite laugh enough or in the right way, I’d feel anxious about it and I’d think about it in a way that wouldn’t help. I obviously think about how the audience will read them, but it’s not about me, it’s not some form of primal scream therapy. The cartoons are about communicating to the reader and making a joke happen.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. Forbidden Planet has published Pádraig Ó Méalóid's interview with the late Leo Baxendale.

All the things in the Co-op orders were wrapped in large smooth pale buff paper sheets, and I thus had an unending weekly supply of sheets of paper to draw on.

Beyond all this, I had a yet greater expanse for drawing on. The wall alongside the staircase being distempered, the palest green, I covered it with drawings from top to bottom of the stairs, my parents taking care to provide me with plenty of pencils for the purpose.

Barges hauled by boat horses brought coal to my grandfather’s coal yard from the Wigan coalfields to the south. At the end of our terrace the canal broadened out to a basin where the barges could dock and turn. A wharf on the opposite bank from my grandfather’s coal yard unloaded coal for the steam engine of the weaving mill; and there was the stone-wharf, built for the loading of millstones from Whittle Quarries.

Yet it didn’t occur to me to draw any of this, any more than I thought to draw my grandfather’s great black mare pulling wagon loads of coal past our house. I drew from the imagination, or things from the greater world that I had seen in the newspapers: biplanes or ocean liners or such. I must have thought that my own world was ‘ordinary.’

The SyFy Wire podcast interviews Marvel editor Sana Amanat.

—Commentary. At Mindless Ones, Maid of Nails remembers Steve Dillon.

I met Steve Dillon once, at London Super Comic Con 2016 – his last UK convention. Coincidentally I was dressed as Lady Dogwelder, who of all the characters he created was probably the one he least expected to encounter in cosplay form, let alone from a short foreign woman.

At first I didn’t recognize him at all, since most publicly visible photos of him had been taken years before. Who’s this guy sitting at Steve Dillon’s table? I wondered. Later, I learned that he’d been ill for some time; that plus the toll mortality takes on all of us created a gap between the Steve Dillon I saw and the ruddy, Guinness-hoisting fellow from photographs.

Sophia Foster-Dimino has posted a minicomic she drew about the making of Sex Fantasy.

 

Cheap Things

Matthias Wivel is here today with another installment of his Eurocomics column, Common Currency. This time, he reviews three French-language comics as a way of examining the unexpected challenges that have been created by the huge aesthetic and technical explosions of recent decades.

Each [of Antoine Marchalot’s stories] is graphically distinct, adapted to the tale at hand: the one about the little boy who refuses to eat his fish, and gets invited by it and his suddenly talking dog to record a "hardcore pornographic rap video," is rendered in digital imitation of smudged crayon with irradiant coloring and turns spectacularly expressive toward the end; the one about a renegade scientist in a fancy lab secretly trying to hook two potatoes into a network, and eventually succeeding with two dogs instead, is drawn in black and white in thin, clear lines, with old school zip-a-tone-type texturing (very Elvis Studio); the western spoof with a dog-cowboy riding a tiny horse kept in his pocket features black and white or monochrome figures set against hallucinatory, digitally patterned desert landscapes garishly colored not to look like nature.

All this is obviously done with some skill, and the occasional dialogical exchange or visual surprise hits home, but it really, really helps if you are high. Which basically seems to be the point. Now, far be it from me to dissuade people from getting high, or reading comics while doing so, but there’s something safe, even lazy, in resorting to absurd non-sequiturs and digital psychedelia rather than coherently building a humorous language or crafting a visually compelling environment where the absurd takes on its own meaning. In other words, the difference between disposable fare such as this and, say, Cowboy Henk or Megg, Mogg and Owl. The problem here is not so much the one I've been outlining of mismatched form and content, but rather a digitally-enhanced shortcut taken to update a traditional comics format -- the short-form humor strip.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The most recent guest on the Comics Alternative podcast is R. Sikoryak.

—It must mean something that an artist as well-established as Paul Dini is putting out a new comic book via Kickstarter, though maybe I'm overinterpreting and this particular project is just not very interesting to publishers.

—Shea Hennum pans a reprint of one of Spain Rodriguez's last books, Che.

 

Shallow Dive

Today on the site, we present Kim Jooha's interview with Ron Regé, Jr., about his recent mystical books, What Parsifal Saw and The Cartoon Utopia, as well as his early career and future projects.


Kim Jooha: What does What Parsifal Saw mean?

Ron Regé, Jr.: Parsifal is an opera by Wagner – the last opera that he did. It centers around the holy grail, and Parsifal is a character who, at the height of the opera, has a mystical vision where he’s brought up to see something, and he sees this goddess in the light.

The first three pages of the book are what Parsifal saw. The cover is what he saw. The first image is the spear with the holy grail, and then the next page is this figure led toward it. What he saw is like having a mystical vision, which a lot of my work is about.

I didn’t realize how complicated the title would be. And I realized that no one says it, I don’t like to say it, and it doesn’t say it on the cover, so… A lot of the confusing things about my work aren’t on purpose. For instance, I have Alex Schubert’s Blobby Boys in the book. You and I know what that is, but I realized that most people who buy the book aren’t going to know what that is and say, “What are these little green creatures?” All I had to do was just write a little thing. My work has a lot of confusion like that. A lot of things that are confusing to people are either mistakes or my nearsightedness… To me, it all makes sense!


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The Evening Standard has a story on the creation of Tove Jansson's Moomin strip.

There were just three stipulations when Charles Sutton approached Tove Jansson about creating a Moomin comic strip for the London Evening News in 1952: no politics, sex or death.

This was fine with Jansson; legend has it she replied that she didn’t know anything about the government, sex wasn’t part of the Moomins’ anatomy, and she’d only ever killed a hedgehog.

Sutton, syndication director of Associated Newspapers, had headhunted Jansson for the position after the phenomenal success of English translations of the Moomin books. She prepared day and night for the meeting, with Sutton arriving in Finland to meet her on the first day of the national May Day celebrations; by the end of his visit, a seven year contract had been agreed.

—This Slate story critiquing New Yorker covers is annoyingly written in about ten different ways (for one thing, anyone who truly disapproved of "thirstiness" would never use the term in a headline), but the writer isn't wrong that generally the magazine's topical covers are its least successful.

—Robyn Chapman has written a piece on Eleanor Davis's early works.

Davis discovered zines as a teenager and had published several by the time she graduated high school. She went on to study cartooning at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and during those years she created remarkably sophisticated minicomics (and lots of them). These minicomics generally had a production value beyond your standard fold-and-staple zine. They were cut, punched, printed, stickered, and even burned—and these details were generally relevant to the story within. Her comics were each carefully constructed from cover to cover, and often printed on high-quality paper. So while I see these works as minicomics, those in the fine arts world would see them as artist books.