Ink & Pixels

Hello everyone. Frank Young is here this morning with a review of an unusual Italian comics biography, Agustin Comotto's Prisoner 155: Simón Radowitzky.

Writer-artist Agustin Comotto has done his job exhaustively well. Packed with footnotes (most of them essential to understanding what’s going on), the book offers an overwhelm of information in telling the story of Ukraine-born anarchist Simón Radowitzky (1891-1956). Much of the book’s events occur in the early 20th century. There are inescapable parallels to our times. Mankind’s inability to treat itself with kindness, and to accept dissenting views without violence, may never be laid to rest. The struggle remains as real today as it was in the events that shape Comotto’s narrative.

We meet Radowitzky amid his long prison sentence in Argentina—a country he emigrated to, as a teenager, to escape the oppression and brutality of Eastern Europe. Radowitzky has spent most of his adult life behind bars. Much of his time outside prison has been perilous. He witnessed the slaughter of his childhood village in the hands of the Czar’s footmen (an example of the ethnic cleansing and persecution Jewish people suffered in Europe long before Hitler’s rise to power) and took part in a 1905 worker protest in St. Petersburg, Russia—a day known as Bloody Sunday, in which unarmed proletarians were slaughtered in their attempt to present a petition to the Tsar. Radowitzky, by the time of adolescence, was a hardened survivor of a brutal endgame.

A confirmed anarchist by his teens, Radowitzky sought asylum in Argentina, as a step in the process of his family’s relocation to America. At 18, he was part of an attempt to assassinate Ramón Falcón, a Buenos Aires police chief who destroyed the lives of anarchist and Communist protesters in a 1909 demonstration. For this crime, Radowitzky would have been executed, were he of legal age. Instead, he was imprisoned for over twenty years. While imprisoned in Ushuaia Prison in Patagonia, where he was beaten, starved and (in an event not shown in this book) raped by prison guards, he became a cause célebrè to those who sought freedom from political oppression.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. As I'm sure most of our readers know, the San Diego Comic-Con just ended, which means there were lots of awards handed out last weekend. That includes the Inkpot Awards (congratulations to Eric Reynolds), the Prism awards, and the Eisners. Emil Ferris won two of the top prizes (Best Writer/Artist and Best New Graphic Album) and also won Best Coloring. Frequent TCJ contributor Mark Newgarden won for How to Read Nancy (with Paul Karasik), as did contributor Anne Ishii for her recent translation of Gengoroh Tagame. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress won five Eisners, and other prominent winners include Jillian Tamaki, Tillie Walden, Tom Gauld, and Taneka Stotts.

This website won the award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. I've been nominated for that prize without actually winning it a fair number of times now, both for this site and for Comics Comics, so I more or less assumed that was going to be the way things continued indefinitely. I am pleased that we won for 2017, which both honors the work Dan Nadel put into the site for so long, and recognizes the new energy and spirit that Tucker Stone brought with him when he came aboard. I asked Dan if he wanted to make a comment, and he asked to express his gratitude to Gary Groth for the opportunity, and said it was a nice way to cap off his time at the Journal (though I will continue to commission him to write stories). I'm grateful too, especially to our readers — and all of our contributors. It's really their award. Tucker may have something to say tomorrow.

As you probably also know, this week brought the news that The Comics Journal is relaunching its print edition, with familiar faces RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti at the helm. Just as exciting, Rick Marshall is also relaunching his classic comics magazine Nemo.

—Reviews & Commentary. At the Paris Review, Yevgeniya Traps writes about Geneviève Castrée's heartbreaking children's book, A Bubble.

A Bubble, the artist and musician Geneviève Castrée’s posthumously published last work, is, in essence, a children’s board book. It begins with the caption “Maman lives in a bubble,” above a drawing of a little blond child in cat-face knee socks gazing at her mother, who floats in the titular sphere. “I love you very much,” the mother says, her freckled face anxious, her choppy hair concealed under a beanie hat. She may be unwell, sick. Indeed, the next page confirms it, the mother has been ill for some time: “It has been a while now. I no longer remember the time when she didn’t live in the bubble, I was too little.” The mother works on projects in her bubble: embroidery, reading, crafting, drawing. She gets sicker and sicker, her illness progresses, her hair thins, she starts wearing a cannula, she is connected to a tank. She cannot leave her bubble, but sometimes the little girl joins her in it. They eat breakfast together (“She doesn’t mind if I make crumbs with my toast”), nap (“a special time for Maman and me”), make art (“I draw with her, it brings her great joy”). When she goes on excursions with Papa, the little girl makes sure to tell Maman about her adventures. The bubble separates them but cannot keep them apart.

Over at Print, Michael Dooley previewed the Eisner awards, and contemplated their usefulness to readers.

Forget about who’ll walk away with Eisner Awards on Friday at San Diego’s Comic-Con. Sure, there’ll be worthy winners. In my feature on Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which garnered multiple well-deserved nominations, I wrote that it would easily top any comics and design “best of” award. More on that notion momentarily. But honestly, the Eisners are much more a popularity contest among comics industry professionals than it is any real gauge of who and what is most worthy in any given category. Simply put, personal favoritism is the dominating determinant. Nevertheless, the Eisners themselves do serve a valuable and commendable function. Truth is, it’s not only an honor just to be nominated, it’s the only worthwhile honor, inasmuch as the nominee list news we can most usefully use.

At The New Yorker, Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman discuss the work of Saul Steinberg.

Patterson Sims: Did his high visibility and great success at The New Yorker compromise his success and status as an artist in the gallery world?

FM: He talked a lot about that topic to me. He said it was his choice to do magazine covers and drawings, even if it might have done him a disservice and prevented him from reaching the height of fame of some of his friends like Calder or Willem de Kooning. He was surrounded by very famous people, though a greater number of his friends were esteemed writers rather than artists. He talked about the invention of abstract painting, in a broken-down barn by Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. He told me about how the two of them went to Long Island one summer when they were young, unknown, and had no money: the barn that they rented was about to fall apart. They went to the hardware store to buy some paint, basically to hold the planks together so that they wouldn’t blow in the wind. They started rolling on the paint and that’s where Pollock took a bucket of paint and started throwing it on the floor, inventing Abstract Expressionism. Saul said to me (and, again, I wish I could have recorded our conversations), “I could have been an Abstract Expressionist” and noted that he was married to Hedda Sterne, an abstract painter. He said, “I could have thrown a bucket of paint. I could have figured out how to play that game.” But his love of the lowly magazine prevailed.