Archive for October, 2009

New Paradigm


Thursday, October 22, 2009

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Brian Chippendale is writing really fucking good criticism. It might be a new paradigm. Connecting images and genres and being damned funny, at that. Oh, also, there is a new Lightning Bolt record out. It also rules. Hi Brian! Hi!

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nose gang


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Hey y’all! Ramblin’ Frank Santoro here with a Comics Comics news report of sorts. Mr. Dash Shaw and I recently traveled to San Franciskie for the Alternative Press Expo. The “Nose Gang” was in full effect. It was a pretty good show for the most part. No complaints, no drama. Some interesting panels; lots of interesting people. I’ll be posting a full report later in the week but just wanted to say hey.

Also, I haven’t seen this linked to so I thought I’d post it here. Mr. Sean T. Collins has conducted an interview with Brian Chippenedale. Pretty great.

P.S. Best portrait of Jon Vermilyea ever.

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Talking Comics in Philadelphia, or thereabouts


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Haverford College, which is just outside of Philadelphia, is holding a conference on comics starting tomorrow and running till Sunday. I’ll be there taking part in a panel discussion. More interestingly and importantly, Eric Drooker and Lynda Barry will also be there. For anyone who hasn’t had the Lynda Barry experience yet, I’ll just say that she’s by far the best public speaker I’ve ever seen in my life. The comic world has some great talkers, notably Spiegelman and Panter, but Barry is in a league of her own. No one who has a chance to hear her talk should miss out.

More information about the event can be found here.

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Quick One #2


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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My hero.

Oh, this a good one. NBM, as part of its Forever Nuts series of reprints (by the way, I like how NBM has carved out a niche doing books like this that are not obvious but have immense scholarly value — the early Bringing Up Father being another wonderful project) recently released Happy Hooligan, which collects a bunch of Opper’s comic strip from 1902-1913. This is stupid art at its best.
Opper was 42 when invented Happy, and unlike a lot of his comic strip peers, an accomplished illustrator. But he seemed taken with grungy new medium and designed a comic strip that is literally knock-kneed and hobbled — a real roustabout — to fit into the century. Nothing so graceful as Nemo for Opper. Nope, it is rough drawing and tumbling antics all the way. Opper seems to have intuited that a handful of wonky lines could add up to a character and that character business and action was the best thing going for mass appeal. But coming to it mature, the man knew how to delineate form, no matter how simply: Each figure is distinctly distressed.

As a storyteller Opper’s gaze never wavers. It’s always that head-on, unmoving view of the action. Poor, good-hearted Happy Hooligan — he gets jobs, tries to help people, attempts transactions, but all for naught. Or at least, all for just our entertainment. He stumbles, falls, and breaks, but never badly. Like a stilted ragdoll, HH always comes back.

The book itself is good. I’m grateful to have a color collection of these strips, even if I’m not always clear on why these particular strips were chosen for publication. The supplementary essays do add up to a solid portrait of the man and where the strip fits in comics history, and include a truly bizarre 1934 photo of Opper and Alex Raymond; the older man was lauding this new young star. Two more different approaches to comics could hardly be found.

The best part is just how entertaining these strips are. They feel contemporary in that Opper went for both nonsense and physical (and often both simultaneously!) gags. In their static staging and reliance on full figured action, some of these strips remind me of Gary Panter’s recent work. Plus, HH is just such an odd looking character with his round head and soup can hat. I mean, just look at some of the non-Opper merch this strip inspired. It couldn’t be any more bad/good if King Terry himself designed it.

Needless to say, I’m starting a HH fanclub. Who’s with me?

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The Proto-Graphic Novel: Notes on a Form


Monday, October 19, 2009

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Artistic innovation always outruns the vocabulary of critics. Artistic forms and genres are created long before there are words to describe them. Cervantes didn’t know he was working on a great novel when he wrote Don Quixote; he couldn’t have: the novel as a distinct form didn’t exist then, nor would it exist for centuries. If you had asked Cervantes what he was up to, he might have said he was writing a burlesque of courtly romances.

On the same principle, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells didn’t know they were writing science fiction novels. Wells might have had some idea late in life when science fiction as a genre emerged and his earlier work, which he might have thought of as scientific romances, were co-opted as pioneering examples of the genre.

The same principal is true of the graphic novel: now that the form exist, we can see all sorts of ancestors of the form. Books that previously existed as isolated oddities can now be seen as precursors of a form.

In the previous post, Dan mentioned that R.O. Blechman’s The Juggler of Our Lady (1953) can be considered as a proto-graphic novel. True. The same can be said of the many woodcut novels of the early 20th century, as well as the much earlier work of Rodolphe Töpffer. Other candidates for the form include Myron Waldman’s Eve (1943), the 1950 thriller It Rhymes with Lust (done by the team of Arnold Drake, Leslie Waller, Matt Baker, and Ray Osrin), Milt Gross’ He Done Her Wrong (1930), Don Freeman’s Skitzy (1955), as well as a number of works from the early 1970s by Martin Vaughn-James. Raymond Briggs probably belongs on this list.

Just today a publisher sent me Dino Buzzati’s Poem Strip, a proto-graphic novel originally published in Italy in 1969, and now available in English thanks to the good offices of the New York Review of Books. I’ll have more to say about the book in another post, but it is an interesting example of Magritte-inflicted surrealism not dissimilar to the contemporaneous work of Vaughn-James.

As more and more proto-graphic novels come to light, we can start seeing some commonalities in the form.

Here are a few things these books tend to have in common (although there are exceptions to every rule):

1. The cartoonists who work on them tend to come from a background outside of commercial comic strips or comic books, either from the fine arts, from children’s literature, or from avant-garde literature. The exceptions here are He Done Her Wrong and It Rhymes with Lust.

2. The works tend to be allegorical or dream-like rather than realistic; that is to say the characters and stories tend to be emblematic rather than follow any of the rules of verisimilitude or psychological realism.

3. In their time, some of these works were very popular and successful. That’s certainly true of Töpffer, some of the woodcut novels, and The Juggler of Our Lady. But there is little sense that they belong to a tradition or are created by a communal context (the woodcut novels might be the exception). Often the cartoonist involved only did one or two such books (Vaughn-James seems to have been more persistent than most).

Most of these books in there time were sports, isolated mutations, freaks of nature. But when we bring all these books together, they do seem to form a sort of tradition: not perhaps a strong tradition like the novel but a quirky, wayward and at times prophetic tradition, like 19th century science fiction.

PS: Someone should make a list of all the proto-graphic novels. That would be a worthwhile resource.

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Quick One #1


Sunday, October 18, 2009

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I’m going to try to sneak out some quick little thoughts on some recent books and ideas knocking around my brain.

I want to begin with Talking Lines: The Graphic Stories of R.O. Blechman. A longtime favorite of mine, Blechman is a master of the shaky line school of cartooning, his mark as unmistakable as, say, Herriman’s. Coming into his own in the 1950s, Blechman absorbed the lessons of linear cartoonists like Steinberg and just kept refining and refining so that each mark actually means something. You won’t find anything extraneous in a Blechman drawing. When combined with a judicious use of spot colors, his delicate images pop to life, becoming communicative graphics on a page. As a cartoonist, he’s unusual these days: he’s a yarn-spinner and a moralist. These tales are subtle examinations of a theme or subject. This, as well as use of the page, rather than the panel, as a storytelling device, seem to bring him in line with 19th century cartoonists like Caran d’Ache. But his urbane concern with current events, social mores, and city life make him resolutely modern. Blechman resolutely looks outward and at the world around him: No moody ruminating or action adventure here. More clear eyed commentary on life. I think of him like I might think of the writer Joseph Epstein: a bemused observer whose wit always surprises.

And Blechman, of course, has had one of the great modern careers (the kind it’s sorta impossible to have anymore) in graphic communication, covering animation, illustration, design, and comics. His other essential book, The Juggler of Our Lady is, as Seth notes in his introduction, one of those inbetween tomes that seems to be a proto-graphic novel.

So, go out and get this fine book. It, like D&Q’s other recent essential archive project, Melvin Monster, is one of those volumes that knocks my vision of the medium slightly askew and reminds why I’m bothering in the first place.

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Time Flies


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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There’s an extensive and entertaining new interview with Benjamin Marra on the computers right now. It feels like only yesterday that I dug the first xeroxed issue of Night Business out of my bag of SPX junk, and read it in astonishment, wondering if Marra was a genyuwine idiot. Turns out he’s not! I’m surprised Paul Gulacy never came up, though… Come on, Ben! You used to admit it. Instead you name Piero della Francesca? Really? Just joking around, of course. All CC readers already know about Night Business. Fun stuff. I’m getting a little punchy lately.

Which brings me to this sorry strategy: I’ve bought and read some new comics worth reviewing recently and I’m just going to announce it online now so I won’t be able to talk myself out of writing about them later. And some seriously provocative “think pieces.” (Actually, I don’t have any of those in mind, but it shouldn’t be too hard to fake.) Really, I would most like to just get a good Cage Match going, but don’t think I’ll be able to dodge crying babies long enough for an all-day event any time soon.

(Note to self: Maybe the others can be shamed into doing one without me. Yeah, this time, I’ll play the Dan role…)

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