Archive for July, 2009

Yokoyama Live Drawing!


Friday, July 31, 2009

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As Tim noted below, I seem to only post PictureBox-related crap. And true to form, here’s another one. But never fear! I am working on a long review of The Hunter. That will happen soon and my good name will be cleared. Anyhow, many moons ago, while in Switzerland for Fumetto, I shot this footage of Yuichi Yokoyama doing a live drawing demonstration. The camera’s a little shaky but it’s still a lot of fun to watch him conjure these faces onto paper. San Francisco denizens take note: Yokoyama will be making his first U.S. appearance on August 15th at the new Viz Pictures store, New People. The store in general looks extremely exciting and Yuichi designed fixtures and other interior details of the store. More details to come. Sadly he’s not able to continue on to NYC or anywhere else this time, but has promised me that he’ll do a proper U.S. tour in the year ahead. So, look out for that! In the meantime, enjoy the picture.

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Happy Birthday Dan! a/k/a Big Blog Announcement!!!


Thursday, July 30, 2009

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Happy 33rd birthday, Dan! (You are now the same age that Jesus was when he was crucified. What have you accomplished so far with your life?)

Most readers have probably already noticed one of the ways we’ve been celebrating Dan’s big day here on the blog: We’re adding a few new voices to the mix. There’s no denying that in recent months Dan, Frank, and I have found ourselves returning again and again to the same old subjects: I dither endlessly trying to figure out which word to use about what, Frank “riffs” on color ad nauseum infinitum, and Dan posts transparent publicity blurbs for PictureBox and/or his friends. It’s getting a little tiresome for all of us.

So it’s my pleasure to welcome two amazing writers to the fold, Jeet Heer and Dash Shaw, comics luminaries who surely need no introduction. (If you do need introductions, click over to their sites and start browsing around—you won’t regret it.) Most likely, they will both be gracing us with their online presence once or twice a month, and we couldn’t be happier that they have agreed to participate. They will undoubtedly enrich the site greatly in the weeks to come.

By the way, there will be more surprises in the near future here at Comics Comics, so don’t forget to keep checking in.

Thanks, everyone.

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Groundwork of Evangelion: 1.0/“cinematic” comics


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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This is my first post here. I’ve never regularly written about comics, or anything else, before so please “go easy” on me and forgive my poor word-writing ability. Thanks to the CC crew for inviting me to participate. I will try to post once a month, unless my previous posts become too embarrassing.
Groundwork of Evangelion: 1.0 (2008) is a collection of preparatory drawings and pencil tests for the (forthcoming to the USA) animated movie. The pencil test drawings usually follow a grid but occasionally a single frame is enlarged to cover two tiers. It reminds me of how sometimes when a newspaper strip was collected into a book format the publisher would print a single panel larger than the others. Since everything was originally drawn to the same scale, a single panel would have larger text and the ben-day dots would be bigger, oppressive. It’d give it a Pop art aesthetic for just one panel. Or the old Crockett Johnson Barnaby reprints where the publisher stacked the panels Yummy Fur style. My favorite example of this is a Little Orphan Annie reprint where all of the panels were spaced out strangely, still following a grid but with unusually large gutters. Each panel was orphaned from the others. I wonder if the cartoonists themselves approved any of these decisions.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a comic book or an ani-manga (stills from a movie arranged as a comic for no good reason- see the Pantheon Scanner Darkly release) although you could read it as a confusing one. And it doesn’t have the fanboy nerd-fest feel of one of those “concept art” books, where you can see endless drawings of how a mecha looks and what all of the parts supposedly do.

This is a book of ephemeral, notational drawings for a movie that I haven’t seen yet. Large portions of it look like if Cy Twombly drew a comic.

Other parts look like portraits of character scenes where the “performance” in the drawings are still being worked out. Since it’s all light-boxed from previous drawings, it has a thin-line traced drawing look like Warhol line drawings.
They’re marked with little notes that I don’t understand. All of the Japanese I once knew is gone, and I don’t know filmmaking vocabulary anyway. Unlike comics, which have a widely-known “insider” language (“these bubbly shaped frames around the words mean the character is thinking- is that cool with everybody?” “yeah, okay”) this is a totally foreign “insider” language used by the people at the studio to communicate to each-other. They weren’t drawn to be published for a wide audience; but here they are, published, and I could go into Kinokuniya in NYC and buy a copy. Awesome.

It seems like “cinematic” is used as a derogatory word for a comic because it suggests that the comic was designed for the reader to use it as a springboard to imagine something that it’s not. Obviously, most cartoonists would like to think that they’re making comics as opposed to imaginary movies awaiting a budget.

Since this is published and I could get a copy before I could see the movie, I’m left with a book that stands on its own in my mind. I know the characters from the animated series, but these drawings are too abstract for me to connect it to a specific scene. It’s too incomplete for me to use the drawings to imagine what the movie will be like.

Chris Ware and other cartoonists have frequently dissed the idea of “cinematic” comics in a variety of ways:

“Some of the best comics, I think, are still from the turn of the century, when the medium was still being developed as a language. And each particular artist developed that language to suit his or her own particular vision, which I don’t think has happened since the 1940s, where it’s just absorbed- this sort of ready made language of, sort of cinematic close-ups and dissolves and long-shots and that sort of stuff.”

I just googled “Chris Ware cinematic interview” and pulled this up. He’s said similar things in interviews I remember reading. I think Ware’s the greatest living cartoonist, but what’s strange about this argument to me is that:

(a) So many of the early newspaper comics that Ware and other cartoonists love and appropriate from have a language based in theater (like Thimble Theater). There’s a lot of theatrical staging in contemporary cartooning. Why is theater somehow more akin to comics than movies? When these early cartoonists were drawing comics, it made sense to be influenced by theater because it was an extremely popular medium, like movies are today. In fact, I think movies are a little tiny bit closer to comics (as a medium) because film is on a 2-dimensional plane while theater is 3-dimensional.

(b) What’s wrong with drawing from a “cinematic” language?

Here’s another Chris Ware quote from

“I don’t like to think of my work as ‘cinematic.’ A movie is passive — you’re watching it, taking it in. Where a comic strip, it’s completely active: you have to read it, search it for meaning, for the connection with your entire experience and your memory. Yes, you do have the illusion of watching something happen in a comic strip — but if it’s done well, it comes alive on the page like a novel. A novel is the most interactive thing ever created.”

I don’t think Ware is creating an either/or argument here. I don’t think he dislikes ALL movies, or feels that ALL movies are “passive.” I don’t know him, but I’d be surprised if that was the case.

This Evangelion book makes me think of “cinematic” comics in a positive way; not passive; one of many modern languages that comics can react to.

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Nabokov and Comics Revisited


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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Vladimir Nabokov’s love of comics has been discussed on this blog before. Equally interesting is the flip-side, the love cartoonists have for Nabokov. Here are a few examples:

1. Jay Lynch interview, Comics Journal #114:

Lynch: Sure. Sometimes, I think that Nard N’ Pat is pretty much derived from James Joyce’s Ulysses and that Phoebe is nothing more than improvisations that spin off from Nabokov’s Ada.

Lait: How many times have you read Ada?

Lynch: Eight or nine. Jackie has known me for years, so he knows that I think Nabokov’s Ada is the greatest, most complex piece of fiction ever written. Once I did a thing for RAW called “The Goodnight Kids.” It’s full of Ada references. I figured if one person deciphered that, I’d be fulfilled.

“The Goodnight Kids” can be found in Raw vol. 1, #5 (1983).

2. Dan Clowes interview, Comics Journal #233, discussing his graphic novel David Boring:

Clowes: I was certainly inspired by Pale Fire, I think, with his undependable narrator, or maybe he is a dependable narrator, it’s hard to say. The way he sort of references this text, that being the old comic book, and sort of re-imagines it into what he wants it to be.

When I was reading Pale Fire, I remember the thing I really responded to was the idea that I had, as a kid, read comics that my brother had left lying around, and I had tried to take from them some unconscious message that wasn’t necessarily there. I thought that was such a great thing in Pale Fire how this unreliable critic who’s sort of mis-analyzing this whole epic poem that John Shade has written, is actually creating this whole new work of art that’s possibly even superior to this great poem itself.

Clowes also included a Nabokov joke in Eightball #17: a gag cartoon titled “The Lepidopterist.” David Boring is full of allusions to Nabokov. Perhaps the most subtle is a statement made by the hero to his lover, “You’re the original of Wanda.” (p. 92.) Nabokov’s last, unfinished book (which will finally be published this fall) is titled The Original of Laura.

3. Chris Ware interview, Comics Journal #200:

Ware: There is a segment in Lolita where Humbert Humbert is trying to describe the accumulative effect of a number of events going on in his visual field as he comes upon an accident scene in his front yard. He has to go through three or four paragraphs to describe what’s happening, and he excuses himself and the limits of his medium for its inherent lack of simultaneity. This is, of course, something you could presumably do in a comic strip, though it wouldn’t be nearly as funny.

4. In his novel Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov described a fictional animated character named “Cheapy the Guinea Pig.” In the anthology Zero Zero, issue #27, Al Columbia did a one-page strip imagining what Cheapy looked like.

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Plodding Along


Monday, July 27, 2009

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As some readers may remember, a while back I suggested that it would be nice if we could all agree on an adjective that could do the same work for comics that “literary” and “cinematic” perform for literature and film. For various reasons, the post proved somewhat controversial. In the end, the most popular suggestions were, if I remember correctly, “cartoonic,” “pictographic,” “Herrimatic,” and “McCloudy.” Later, the great cartoonist Mark Newgarden told me he had thought of the perfect word, but had forgotten it before running into me. It is a maddening thing to reflect upon for too long.

Anyway, in the comments to Friday’s post, gentleman Jeet Heer recommended an essay about Nabokov and comics by the scholar and cartoonist Clarence Brown. Coincidentally, in the piece in question (which mostly concerns instances in Nabokov’s writings which Brown believes are informed by the aesthetics of comics), Brown advocates for another possible contender to the comics-adjective crown:

I needed a word that conveyed the sense of “comicstrippishness” but that would be less clumsy, a word that conveyed something like the soul or essence of the comic strip. …

Chess is essentially an abstract play of force and counterforce constrained within a rigidly measured grid of relationships; as such, it is quite independent of its material incarnation in patterned board and pieces. Similarly, the procedures of pictorial narrative, the left-to-right movement of figures against a ground and in sequential frames, can be adumbrated in verbal patterns. That, at least, is what I attempted to name when I came up with the term “bédesque.”

The French call a comic strip “la bande dessinée,” or popularly “la BD.” My coinage bédesque has passed the test of satisfying the linguistic intuition of native speakers. I tried bédesque on Alain Besançon, the writer and political philosopher, who was on an opportune visit to Princeton. He first countered with bédique but then decided that he liked bédesque better.

—Clarence Brown, “Krazy, Ignatz, and Vladimir”, Nabokov at Cornell, edited by Gavriel Shapiro

“Bédesque” has the advantage of a French etymology, as “cinematic” did, but also has a disadvantage in that “la BD” isn’t as commonly used in English as “cinema” has been. Somehow I don’t think this will take off, though I can’t think of any practical objections offhand other than that comics fans are likely to reject it as pretentious. In any case, I haven’t been able to find any other references to the term online. Oh well: More grist for the mill.

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Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks


Sunday, July 26, 2009

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Paul Karasik is the very first cartoonist I interviewed (well, as an adult. When I was 13 I interviewed Paul Ryan for an 8th grade paper and made a case that he was vastly under appreciated, natch). That first Karasik interview became a lengthy examination of comics history and was published in the very first Ganzfeld back in 2000 with considerable help from our own Tim Hodler and the beloved Patrick Smith. When we debuted the issue, Paul sat behind our table at SPX and helped flog the thing. Why, mine eyes, they grow misty just thinking about it. Ok, wiping away the tears from my keyboard, I now present, nearly 10 years later, Karasik v. Nadel: The rematch. Paul looks better than ever: He’s in lean, tanned, fighting shape, while I am old, graying, bitter, hunched and prone to mumbling. Paul won again. Sigh.

Thanks to Gabe at Desert Island for hosting a fun evening and asking me to interview Paul on the occasion of his book signing for the fantastic second Fletcher Hanks volume, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation. Click below to listen to the interview.

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Lost & Found


Friday, July 24, 2009

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1. A vanishingly small subset of readers will be interested in this, but for those of you who enjoy discovering the hidden connections between Nabokov and comics, under-appreciated great-novelist John Crowley believes he knows the answer to one of the master’s more obscure comic-strip allusions. (An allusion that apparently baffled Alfred Appel Jr. himself, no less.)

His answer is here.

2. These are all over the internet already, but I would still feel remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to the comics coverage at The Onion AV Club and Vice this week. Some of the content in both is a little hinky (Is “hinky” a word? Does it mean what I want it to mean?), but some of it is pretty good and shouldn’t be missed. In particular, I recommend the interviews with Seth (who I was pleased to learn is a fellow Dick Ayers appreciator), Michael Kupperman, and Al Jaffee, as well as a top ten list from Gary Panter.

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