Archive for November, 2009

Frank’s Soapbox #3


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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Why do “art books” by comics artists usually have titles like The Art of [Fill in the Blank] and not just show the artist’s name? This has always confused me. Like when you go into Barnes & Noble or Borders, all the books in the Art section usually just have the artist’s name.



Ware is Everywhere


Saturday, November 7, 2009

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In a recent Inkstuds interview, Seth said that that three most influential contemporary cartoonists are Crumb, Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. For Seth, what sets these three apart is not so much the quality of their work, as the fact that they’ve changed the syntax of comics, greatly expanding the range and depth of stories that can be told in the medium. I agree with Seth, with the proviso that Gary Panter and Lynda Barry also belong on this list.

Will Staehle cover of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs

The type of influence Seth was talking about is fairly subtle: in the case of Ware it means making other cartoonists aware that comics can have minutely delicate shades of emotional meaning hitherto unexplored in the medium. But Ware’s influence on some artists is also more blatant in the sense that he’s clearly informed their style and design sense. Recent examples of Ware-inflected design include the cover for the new Michael Chabon essay collection, an art catalogue designed by Ellen Gould, and a illustration by Mark Matcho from the August 24, 2009 issue of Time Magazine.

Ellen Gould’s design for Imaginative Feats art catalogue

Certainly Ware has raised the bar in terms of design, just as he has done for comics, but it is odd to see Ware pastiches popping up all over the place. I’m divided on how I feel about this phenomenon. On the one hand, most of the Ware-influenced art is quite good: if you’re going to steal a style you might as well do it from the best. On the other hand, in Ware’s work his style isn’t just for show but is integral to the total artistic package. To take use his style for other purposes almost seems like your missing the point of what it is that he’s doing.

Mark Matcho illustration for Time

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #15


Friday, November 6, 2009

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Most of the collectors whose libraries we bought were dead years before the libraries came to us, so the only way we could judge the level of eccentricity in the collectors was the books themselves, or from other evidence. …

An Orientalist named Paul Linebarger, whose father, we were told, had been Sun Yat-sen’s lawyer, had absolutely wonderful books, but he had other things, too. He was an early expert on psychological warfare, which I believe he later taught. In one of his closets, for example, we found a huge pile of anticommunist comic books in Mongolian. Paul Linebarger also wrote science fiction, under the name Cordwainer Smith. And he had an interest in ladies’ lingerie. One of the more unusual things we bought from his estate was a bra mannequin, complete with bra. Several drawers full of bras we let lie.

—Larry McMurtry, Books: A Memoir

I realize that most of you have probably never heard of Smith, but that’s okay. We won’t shy away from celebrating the unjustly obscure here. Scanners need no longer live in vain.


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Decoding Steranko


Friday, November 6, 2009

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I had the good fortune of meeting James Romberger at this year’s MoCCA festival. James is, like me, obsessed with color in comics. So, we’re becoming fast friends.

He also has conducted a remarkable interview with Steranko. The magician/escape artist/cartoonist is in rare form. My favorite part: “When the men who created the rules and rhetoric of the comics form got together to decide on the architectural details, they failed to invite me. Consequently I found no reason to subscribe to their tenets. When I joined their ranks in 1967, the narrative devices that had been adopted and sanctioned for about half a century were considered untouchable commandments that were permanently etched in stone. Pages, panels, captions, and balloons were the essence of the comics format, all artifices considered unalterable by my peers.”

I asked Mr. Romberger if he would mind me putting up a link. He said OK but wanted me to mention that it is only an excerpt from a much longer, fairly comprehensive interview that has yet to find a home in print. If we ever print another issue of Comics Comics maybe I’ll beg him to let us publish it.

Check it out here.

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Teach House Styles


Thursday, November 5, 2009

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I studied cartooning at SVA and recently visited CCS, and so how to teach comics has been fluttering around in my mind for a while. What follows is a suggestion of how to run a Cartooning BFA or MFA course, just a potential direction that I think would be worth considering…

Instead of hiring teachers based on their achievements (and many of the current teachers are geniuses, no doubt about it), hire people who previously worked for many years in a now-defunct house style. Someone who drew Archie for years and is now selling their originals at Comic Con? Hire them. Did they draw Hanna-Barbera comics for years? Hire them. Did they ghost draw a daily comic? Hire them. Look for people who knew exactly how to execute a project on a regular basis and know, completely, the ins and outs of that particular assignment. They know everything about how that unique (now outdated) comic job should be done. They lived it.

The courses would be titled their house style—Archie, Hanna-Barbera—or I also think it’d be possible to get someone who has an expert knowledge of something like Little Lulu or Nancy or Astro Boy comics. There would be no courses devoted to “tools,” no penciling or inking classes. People can learn that elsewhere, like in their foundation year drawing classes. When that separation of responsibilities is brought into the cartooning class it’s usually based on an American production model that leads to people struggling with a tool for a whole year when they’re naturally suited to something else. The house style comic courses would require all of the students to draw everything with the same tools: whatever students write with naturally in non-art classes, probably just a ballpoint pen and paper. Everything tool-wise is nuts-and-bolts, no weird “try a Conté crayon” moments or “how to use a rapidograph” lessons. That’s for other classes.

The entire year-long class taught by these teachers would be based solely on teaching their house style. This would do a number of things:

The critiques would actually make sense. The teacher knows exactly how these stories are drawn, paced, structured, etc. Most of the cartooning class critiques I’ve been in are totally scattered, surreal happenings where the teachers are alternating between talking about character design, inking, storytelling, whatever. All of the students have different goals, and they’re often showing four pages of a long project out of context. Believe me: Usually nobody knows what the hell is going on. Everyone having the same goal (example: to tell an Archie story) would level the playing field. The teacher would know what they need to do to make it fit the assignment, how the characters behave, and the students would, over the school year, slowly hone in on the target, critique after critique.

Personal style and originality would be put on hold. In our current cult of originality, the pressure is to have a personal style as soon as possible, and the classroom environments often have this mentality as well. Everyone is freaking out: “What’s my style? What’s my thing?” It’s too much too fast. This race for originality has, over the years, spread from that future-goal timeline to just after college to (now) inside college itself. A safety zone no longer exists. For the most part, hardly anyone is hiring newbies fresh out of college to draw in a house style and then expect them to grow out of it. If these classes are explicitly devoted to learning a specific form, the anxiety for uniqueness would disappear and everyone would breathe out and look at their comics. The college would be the safety zone and after they graduate they’d start doing their own thing.

The more outdated and inapplicable the house style is, the better. They only have the understanding; they’re not being bred for a specific job that currently exists.

These would be year-long courses, so students would devote a substantial amount of time figuring out these comics. Most cartooning courses are extremely rushed-through. That’s understandable, since if you’re trying to teach a general Cartooning course, there’s probably a lot to cover! But these wouldn’t be general Cartooning courses- they’re very specific. And focusing on a specific world of comics for a whole year, I think, would offer more than week-long (one class) samplings of different worlds.

Finally, and maybe this goes without saying, I think there’s a lot to learn from digesting these house styles I’ve suggested. Regardless of what kind of comics you’d want to do later on, it’s probably going to involve some of the same elements that comprise these house styles.

This is all based on the assumption that the students are there (and pay to be there) to learn something, and the teachers exist (and are paid) to try to teach the students things. If they don’t believe that cartooning can be taught, then they aren’t involved in this exchange.

Students will probably hate this plan because they’ll want to work on their own comics. They’ll be pissed off for Sophomore Year, start to do their own thing through/inside a house style Junior Year, and then maybe Senior Year would be open. I donno. I’m still plotting this thing out…


Proto-Graphic Novels: The Prequel


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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In the aftermath of Jeet’s recent post on “proto-graphic novels,” the inimitable Eddie Campbell has generously agreed to let us post his excellent review of an A. B. Frost collection, Stuff and Nonsense, and Rodolphe Töpffer’s Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. The essay originally ran in the 260th issue of The Comics Journal, from May/June 2004. As usual, Campbell’s voice is unmistakable, and his ideas are ignored at the reader’s peril.

Jeez, I’m making this sound too frightening. It’s actually quite funny. As the Coca-Cola company so memorably put it: Enjoy.

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Live Free or Blog La-Z


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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I had planned a better post, but scanning problems are delaying things a bit, so here’s a few links to tide things over.

You know, there’s a prominent comics link-blogger who likes to go on and on about how hard it is to put these things together, but based on my limited experience, it actually seems like a great and incredibly easy way to post stuff online, even when you’re busy with a day job, a baby, election day, scanner foul-ups, early morning meetings, etc. If I was actually paid to do this every day, I bet I could get a routine going with my RSS feeds where it took me less than an hour to round up links to all of the “important” comics blogosphere blogonet sites every morning. Kind of fun!

1. Austin English is a great guy and all, but he has weird ideas about what’s ugly and what isn’t. (And seems to compare Denny O’Neil favorably to R. Crumb, an aesthetic crime that should not go unpunished. (Jk Austin! Sorta.))

2. I knew about Talking Lines, but didn’t realize there was another interesting looking new R.O. Blechman book out.

3. Birthday tributes to Steve Ditko weren’t even a dime a dozen yesterday, unless you pay way too much for your internet service, but this one, despite its brief length, was particularly provocative and original.

4. Naoki Urasawa talks process. [via]

5. A too-rare interview with Peter Blegvad appears in the new Believer. [via]

[UPDATE: And I didn’t realize it when I originally posted, but the issue includes a TON of good comics material that I should have mentioned.]

6. Almost every post Jog writes these days is worth linking to, but since everyone already reads him anyway, what’s the point? That said, this review of J.H. Williams III and Detective Comics is unusually thorough and well-wrought, even for him.

7. And here is an insightful appreciation of last week’s Chris Ware New Yorker work. Click on it; it’s not boring.

8. Finally (but not leastily), for those of you who didn’t notice, this weekend brought the grand debut of our newest online team member, the great Jason T. Miles. Please make him welcome and stay tuned for more. I don’t want to ruin his next post by giving anything away, but it sounds pretty awesome.

That’s it. I hope you found at least most of those worth reading. Nothing is more annoying than linkblogs full of garbage. On second thought, I have to admit that maybe this isn’t that easy to do exhaustively if you hope to maintain any kind of quality control. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m finding less and less of interest in the actual comics blogosphere blogonet these days. Writers outside it seem more thoughtful lately. Still, ninety minutes tops.

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