Jack Kirby’s Machine Man belongs to multiple worlds, both on the level of plot and in the circumstances of its creation. Kirby devised Machine Man (aka X-51, aka Aaron Stack) during his return to Marvel in the late ’70s, as a character in his loose adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the company’s license to publish 2001 comics later expired, Machine Man fell under Marvel IP and fell into the Marvel universe, wrestling with rival robots, the US military, and his own existential malaise. The character’s name sums it up—he’s machine and man, an artificial intelligence that insists on its humanity. Machine Man: The Complete Collection covers the character’s brief post-2001 series, including Kirby’s issues (the first nine), a few installments of The Incredible Hulkfeaturing X-51, and issues 10 through 19, for which Steve Ditko provided art. These comics are not the best-remembered work of either artist, but the exceptional talents of Kirby and Ditko, balanced against the stories’ missteps, make the collection a fascinating, multifaceted book—no ordinary mixed bag.
And in more Ditko-related news, Abraham Riesman at New York magazine reports on Steve Ditko in lengthy and lazy fashion by rehashing Sean Howe's Marvel book and Jonathan Ross's pathetic documentary, hilariously referring to Paul Levitz and Arlen Schumer as "historians", and managing to marginalize the last two decades of Ditko's (frequently brilliant) output as "mail order curios." And that's not even the worst part. That comes when Riesman, after Ditko (of course) has declined to be interviewed, interviews the artist's neighbors about Ditko's mail (!), and waits in his hallway in order to ambush him, with success! He got him! He got the old codger! Scoop! Fanboy scares old man! What, exactly was the point of stalking Steve Ditko? It was not going to result in an interview, so I guess the idea was to just fuck with an 89 year old artist who, for fifty years has asked for privacy? No point. Just fanboyish masturbatory pleasure.
Today on the site, Joe McCulloch brings us his usual indispensable guide to the Week in Comics, highlighting all the most interesting-sounding books being released to stores. His spotlight picks this week include new titles by Taiyō Matsumoto and Dash Shaw.
He also writes at length about the work of La Morris Richmond.
Not a few months ago, at the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival, it was my great pleasure to meet La Morris Richmond; he was present for SÕL-CON: The Brown + Black Comix Expo, a suite of events partnered with CXC and run concurrently in the same venues. I've written about Richmond's work before, specifically the 1993 Northstar horror comic Boots of the Oppressor, one of the most potent among b&w indie shock-horror specimens for its detailed attention to the systemic and linguistic dehumanization of black men and women under slavery. It is probably still Richmond's most visible work, coming half a decade after his comics debut in NOW Comics' The Real Ghostbusters #4, pencilled by a young Evan Dorkin; a rather gentler style of horror.
Indeed, there were not a few black creators active in the '90s indie horror comics scene and its adjacent 'bad girl' boom of sexy occult divas. The late Steven Hughes springs to mind; he was co-creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, titles most commonly associated with their writer, Brian Pulido. The artist Louis Small Jr. was also prominent, having overseen the revival of Vampirella with writer Kurt Busiek and inker Jim Balent. But Richmond's works as a writer were much spikier, and far less common - he only published one other short story with Northstar, the almost oneirically scattershot ".12 Gauge Solution" in Splatter Annual #1 (1994, drawn by Rich Longmore), before embarking on a work ostensibly more populist yet pushed even deeper into intensity - scenes from the life of a black separatist superhero.
—In a bit of good publishing news, Fantagraphics has announced they will begin distributing the books of UK publisher Breakdown Press.
Breakdown Press was founded by Simon Hacking, Tom Oldham, Josh Palmano and Joe Kessler in 2013. Their goal was to put out the work of cutting edge cartoonists and some of the very best alternative manga. Since then, Breakdown Press has become a curatorial publishing force, releasing books by Conor Stechschulte, Lale Westvind, Seiichi Hayashi, Antoine Cossé, and many others.
“Breakdown is the UK’s most ambitious, progressive, and editorially risk-taking comics publisher, so it was logical to partner with someone we considered a kindred spirit.,” said Fantagraphics President Gary Groth. “We look forward to getting their books and authors the wider readership in the US that they deserve.”
Clowes’s most stirring heroines often get to blow the joint at the end. Naomi walks out of David Boring’s warped (after?) life. We can’t help but note how pathetic and inept David looks next to this smart, deserving woman who packs her bags, vowing to escape the coming apocalypse. Good for her! Vida leaves for Hollywood, Violet leaves her bullshit non-marriage and step-family behind, and of course Enid is going to get on that bus before the story’s done.
What is going on here? The women get more choices than Clowes’s men. From Clay Loudermilk to Daniel Pussey to David Boring the men inhabit this spectrum of sad indignities like Fate’s blind somnambulists. The women are operating on a more awakened level I think. Dan Clowes writes women so damn well that they overshadow the men they deal with on every page that they interact together. Why is this so? Is it because of feminism? Post modernism? Punk rock? What’s driving this?
Today on the site we have part one of a two-part sprawling, fascinating conversation between our own Paul Tumey and the author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White (Harper Collins, December 6), Michael Tisserand. I can't wait to read this book, which, from what I hear, will be a landmark in the study of 20th century visual culture. Here's a bit of their dialogue:
Paul Tumey: That leads me to my next question. For almost a hundred years, people have been writing about the life and work of George Herriman. Gilbert Seldes sang his praises in 1924. In 1986, Patrick McDonnell and Karen O’Connell published Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. This has been regarded as the definitive book on the subject. In addition, there’s been a library’s worth of introductory essays to the various reprint volumes of Herriman’s work published over the years by Bill Blackbeard, Richard Marschall and others. One would think all the stories were told, and the subject was exhausted. And yet, in 2016, you’ve given us something new and, I think, quite magical: a 560-page, detailed biography of Herriman. Can you talk a little more about the research methods you used to deepen and broaden Herriman’s story? How did you dig all this stuff up, man?
Michael Tisserand: Patrick and Karen’s work was certainly a foundation. Their writing about Herriman is beautiful and timeless, as is Gilbert Seldes’, actually. But of course none of these writers had the Internet to make it possible to do a more exhaustive search.
But I started there. Patrick and Karen very generously shared all their original research with me, as did many others. When I started out, I was concerned that the comics scholarship community would be suspicious of an interloper, but it was just the opposite. The generosity has been overwhelming.
Paul Tumey: So you built on the work of others?
Michael Tisserand: Yes, exactly. Rick Marschall invited me to his house and beneath a painting by Rudolph Dirks, answered question after question about early newspapers and syndications. I had a most wonderful day with Bill Blackbeard. Tom Inge had once pursued a biography of Herriman and shared with me the letters and other information he’d received, which then led me to contacting Russell Myers, who shared a recorded interview he’d conducted with Bud Sagendorf that focused just on Herriman. Jeet Heer took me under his wing and provided copies of his copious files, and engaged in conversation after conversation about Krazy Kat. Same with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware. Brian Walker, who co-curated the show that sparked this book, opened up his archives and even invited me to lunch with his father, Mort Walker, and Jerry Dumas. One of my happier afternoons of research!
And there were so many more. I learned the extent to which cartoonists are scholars of their art. Not only do they possess the knowledge, but in many cases, they own the historical treasures such as old letters and inscribed pieces of art that are necessary for telling the story.
We must hope for the best, but after Tuesday's election, even the best tastes like ashes. There are innumerable issues that should be of great concern to all Americans: violence against religious and ethnic minorities and immigrants, likely civil rights abuses, an unleashed police-state mentality, the empowerment of white nationalist groups, the potential erosion of press freedoms, the imminent possibility of another economic collapse, almost certain international turmoil, and a gutting of our already far too meager efforts to fight climate change. Among many other things.
Cartoonists have historically played a small but important role in times of political and cultural crisis: giving vent to anger, attacking powerful and oppressive forces, providing emotional comfort to the afflicted, helping to focus attention on absurdities and wrongdoing and means of action. Those of us who value the art form should be vigilant in our support for and defense of those artists who will be brave enough to tell the truth in the days, months, and years ahead. It should go without saying that this is only one small part of a wider range of vital struggles, but it should not be forgotten, here least of all. We will need as many courageous artists as we can get. I hope they are out there.
I would like to look back at this post years from now and feel embarrassed by my dramatic tone. But I don't expect to.
Canadian artist Mark Laliberte has been publishing his 4Panel experiments in the pages of Carousel magazine and on the web for quite some time now. They are the product of a less restrictive version of OuBaPo-style constrictions, which give artists certain parameters they have to work with, like including certain elements on a page, telling the story as a visual palindrome, or using the same images but different words in multiple panels. The sole constriction for this particular project is that each artist has to work with the old comic strip standard of four panels at a time forming a single, coherent unit. What goes into those panels is up to each artist, and for the first print volume of 4Panel, Laliberte chose three artists whose visual styles are certainly varied.
Meanwhile, elsewhere: —News. Former Wizard World convention exec Stephen Shamus has been sued for alleged theft, according to a brief report in the New York Post.
A comic-convention marketing exec raked in $1 million for himself by stealing celebrity-signed merchandise from his own company and then selling it, according to a lawsuit.
Stephen Shamus, 42, helped select celebrities for fan gatherings run by Wizard World, which pays stars to show up and sign autographs for fans — but often fenagled the high- profile figures into signing memorabilia for him personally.
—Interviews & Profiles. The Guardian speaks to Al Jaffee.
What do you think of the current political scene? There’s so much now that’s so far afield it’s a little hard to blow it out of proportion.
You’re absolutely right. I think they’re defeating Mad, because they’re going beyond anything we can think of doing to show the clownish nature of their claims. It used to be that politicians claimed that they would make jobs for everybody in the country within two years or something like that; now they claim that they’re going to make jobs for everybody on Mars. It’s just so outlandish.
GQ talks to Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, about Dr. Strange.
"I think that's what makes Doctor Strange so interesting and also so difficult to adapt," says Howe. "I liked a lot of things about the movie, but the Doctor Strange comics are Exhibit A in the argument that some things that can be done in comics just can't be replicated any other way. There's a lot of great nods to Ditko's visual motifs from the comic book, but it's different to see them on a page. I think there are a lot of people who mistakenly believe that the movies are the realization of what comics really wanted to be, and I think that kind of shortchanges the comics"
Today, wherever I am, I still open the paper to the “funny pages” first thing to start my day with a smile. But I am in increasingly diminished company, as newspapers have consolidated or shut down across the country and readership has dropped dramatically. The numbers tell the tale: In 1960, there were 1,763 total daily newspapers (morning and evening) with a total circulation of 58,882,000; in 2014, there were 1,331 with a total circulation of 40,420,000. Meanwhile, average daily newspaper readers are now in their mid-50s and getting older. And reading the newspaper is not a habit with younger generations, who prefer to get their news online (ironically, often at newspaper websites) or via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Even some of my own contemporaries tell me that they don’t read the print newspaper. “Print, how quaint,” they sniff.
Since the mid-’90s, smaller publishers like NBM have intermittently translated work, but French, Spanish and Italian tomes came in at a mere trickle for more than a decade. As a result, a generation of readers was cut off from a rich wellspring. But that’s begun to change; thanks to the ascendance of publishers like Humanoids, efforts by smaller publishers like Uncivilized Books, New York Review Comics and IDW, which launched a EuroComics imprint specifically to import classics like Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese and Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo’s Alack Sinner, some of the finest comics ever produced are poised to become more accessible.
The first two days of the four-day CXC took place at the Billy Ireland, with programming and special exhibits; the succeeding two days transpired downtown at the city’s Metropolitan Library, where the CXC Expo opened. Spinning out from those two sites, the CXC took over the city with special exhibits at various venues.
CXC replaces the triennial festival of cartoon art that was sponsored by the Billy Ireland for many years. The idea of CXC founders Jeff Smith (Bone) and Lucy S. Caswell (curator emeritus of the Billy Ireland) was to make Columbus the Angouleme of America. Like the International Comics Festival in France in January of every year since 1974, CXC would take over the host city.
For Smith, CXC is a dream come true. “I had this idea,” he said, “What if we could bring these artists together on one weekend in Columbus? This isn’t the kind of event where people come dressed up as Captain America (although they’re free to do that if they want to). These artists are people that are working from their own voice.” As Smith did in creating Bone (which, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary).
This year, CXC took over Columbus from Wednesday evening, October 12, with a preamble event, through the following Sunday.
There’s no registration. No list of attendees. (And people, including Columbus residents, come and go all weekend.) And no head count. Attendance at last year’s “soft launch” was estimated at 600-1,200.
Art is and will continue to be vitally important in the days and months to come, but somehow blogging about comics feels too frivolous this morning.
Still, for those of you who need a distraction, we have published the latest episode of Greg Hunter's Comic Book Decalogue, an interview with an upcoming comics artist named Trungles, who work is engaged with folklore, mythology, and vintage illustration, and who appears in Mirror Mirror 2. In this episode, he talks Carolyn Nowak, Harry Clarke, Watchmen, and picture books.
Today on the site, Tim Goodyear talks to the eccentric British cartoonist Shaky Kane.
Tim Goodyear: The Shakyverse is a real place, it transcends the comics.
Shaky Kane: I like to imagine so. There's a certain familiarity to everything I produce. It's sort of populated or for want of a better word, furnished by the same stylistic tropes.
The very stuff I spent my time conjuring up onto the cheap sketch pads with wax crayons in my room as a child. It's genuinely heartfelt. It's a sincere appropriation of something very American. Something that resonated with me and I've kept close to me for the best part of 60 years.
Insects, especially giant ones; do they gravitate to you?
Giant insects have always held a fascination.When I stayed up watching late night TV, while my father worked nights, the giant ant invasion movie Them! made a real impact.
I thought it was the greatest. Likewise, I was thrilled to see American troops fighting off hoards of giant insects on the Topps Mars Attacks! bubblegum cards which were reprinted in Ireland and distributed over here by a company called A&BC. Giant Insects and GIs were as synonymous as Cowboys and Insects.
Eating bugs, zebras, hamburgers, human flesh; food plays a roll in many of your comix. Do you ask your collaborators to address diet?
Well, it certainly isn't part of my agenda. To be honest I've never really given it any thought. Cowboys and Insects, certain features a lot of Big Insect feasting. But that's what made Bug Town famous.
—Interviews & Profiles. For Hyperallergic, Nicole Rudick interviews Ben Jones.
NR: When I think of Christopher [Forgues]’s work, I think of pencil, but when I think of yours, I think of all the different media you’ve used, and I think of color. How do you know when you want to do something just in pencil?
BJ: I think I know why Chris does it. He lives a strict and severe existence. He’s a true believer. An analogy for Chris is that he’s in a war and he has to go into battle, so [you should] take your bulletproof vest. And he’d be like, “The bulletproof vest will slow me down and will affect my decision-making on the battlefield.” I think that’s what he’s doing with just using pencil and never erasing — he’s forcing himself in the moment to make confident decisions. You can see that in his drawings.
You have to say something very different for why I do it. I think it probably goes back to me copying Far Side comics as a kid. I did it two ways. I did it on a Macintosh SE by tracing them with a mouse, and I did it with a pencil in a sketchbook. Not to make this like a childish escapism thing about my process, but those are two tools that I think are great and I’ve stuck with them.
For The New Yorker, Sarah Larson talks to Richard McGuire, focusing primarily on his spot illustrations for the magazine.
In 2005, the artist Richard McGuire—now, perhaps, best known as the author of the lovely and powerful book “Here”—was living in Paris, working on an animated film, when he heard from one of his editors at The New Yorker. McGuire has contributed covers and illustrations to the magazine for many years. “They wrote me and said they had this idea,” McGuire said recently, at a café in the West Village, where he lives. The idea concerned spot illustrations—the cozy little drawings of, say, a fork, a chair, or a window dotted with hanging plants—tucked into long sections of text. For decades, spots had been drawn by many different artists per issue, as the cartoons are, each one doing its own thing while providing some relief for the eye. In 2005, for the eightieth-anniversary issue, “they said, ‘We want a whole issue done by one person,’ ” McGuire told me. So he began drawing some spots. “I think it was because I was working on the animated film that made me think of it as a sequence,” he said.
Michael Maslin talks to Arnold Roth about his John Updike covers.
I tell this story sometimes, like when I give talks in art schools, because people ask about those covers. We lived in Princeton then. It was a Friday evening. I had my studio in my house, naturally. The phone rang and it was woman who said, “I’m an art director with Knopf. John Updike has instructed us that he wants you to do a cover for a book that will be coming out, Bech a Book.” I was honored. We put it in action — I sent him a bunch of drawings — some of them ran on the cover flaps. About 11 years later, again — I got a call, and she said, “We have another Bech book.” [Bech Is Back] So same thing, I did the jacket. Thirteen years after that, the phone rings, the same conversation. I raced down to the kitchen where Caroline was making dinner, and said, “Hey — I have a steady gig.”
Also in Hyperallergic, Benjamin Sutton talks to Jessica Campbell about her book, Hot or Not: 20th-Century Male Artists.
One of the few rules that I set out for myself was that I could not immediately call to mind what the artist looked like. So, artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock were off the table. They are too iconic, too recognizable.
There are, unfortunately, thousands of artists who needed to be cut from the book, though this means that I can spend the rest of my career working on sequels to fill in the art historical gaps. I’m hoping it will turn in to the Fast and Furious of book series.
—News. The winners of the Joe Shuster Awards have been announced, including best cartoonist Jillian Tamaki.
—Reviews & Commentary. David Sipress remembers the late New Yorker cartoonist Bob Weber.
One afternoon, as we were leaving the restaurant, Bob asked me to walk a few blocks with him. He next reported something to me that I had been vaguely aware of, and more than a little bothered by—that there had been some grumbling about my drawing among the cartoonists.
“I was listening to a couple of guys say that your drawing is too awkward, or that you can’t draw, and I knew they were missing something, so I decided to find out for myself. So over the weekend I sat down and tried to draw like you. I tried and tried, and you know what? I couldn’t do it.”
This act of kindness and curiosity was pure Bob Weber, and it erased forever any anxiety I might have had about what others thought about my work.
Photographer Greg Preston is a good-natured, low-key guy. There’s an ease about him that enhances his subjects’ comfort amidst their already-familiar surroundings. It’s visible enough in The Artist Within, a handsome, generously-sized hardcover from 2007 with roughly a hundred “portraits of cartoonists, comic book artists, animators, and others,” as the book’s subtitle has it. He’s captured a broad spectrum of extraordinary talents, from Al Hirschfeld, Jules Feiffer, and Carl Barks to Jack Davis, Gahan Wilson, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and from Will Eisner, Neal Adams, and Frank Miller to Crumb, Spiegelman and the Hernandez Bros. The lush details and rich tones and textures of his full-bleed monochromes reward repeat visits.